Insects are the most abundant group of animals. They account for
nearly three quarters of all life forms on earth. Their body is divided into
three segments: head, thorax and abdomen. All insects have three pairs of legs
and usually two pairs of wines.
Butterflies are among the most beautiful and frequently seen
insects. The zoologoical order of Lepidoptera (Lepidoptera "scale wing")
includes butterflies (sub-order Rhopalocera) and moths (sub-order Heterocera).
Lepidoptera contains as many as 120,000 species: 100,000 species of moths and
20,000 species of butterflies.
Seven percent of the world's butterflies occur in India (1,400
species). In India, the maximum butterfly diversity occurs in the Western Ghats
and Eastern Himalayas. The wide range of habitats in the Western Ghats is the
reason for the rich butterfly fauna that occurs here. All ten butterfly families
found in India are represented in the Western Ghats, and practically all
butterflies recorded in South India occur here. Nilgiri and the hill ranges of
the Kanara region of Karnataka are particularly rich. Both the largest Indian
butterfly (Common Birdwing) and the smallest (Southern Grass Jewel) occur in the
Value of butterflies
· Butterflies pollinate flowers
and help plants produce fruit and seeds.
· Some species of butterflies
are poisonous. They are being studied to produce ecologically safe pesticides.
Certain species are used for experiments in genetic engineering.
· Butterflies-and especially
caterpillars, their larval form-are important sources of food for other animals
such as birds.
· Butterflies add color to
wilderness areas in the Western Ghats.
· Some butterfly caterpillars
are pests on cultivated crops.
Gay, Kehimkar and Punetha. Field guide to common Indian
Wynter-Blyth. Butterflies of the Indian Subcontinent. Bombay
Natural History Society.
Mimicry in butterflies
Some butterflies mimic other species to protect themselves from
predators. Two types of mimicry are:
· Batesian mimicry:
Edible species look like inedible species. E.g., the Common Mormon mimics the
· Mullerian mimicry: Two or more
inedible species look alike. E.g., the Striped Tiger and Plain Tiger look
Inedible species are normally brightly colored (red and black,
orange, blue and black). They contain toxic chemicals.
Some butterflies and larvae resemble non-living things. For
instance, the Oakleaf butterfly resembles a dried leaf; the Common Mormon larva
resembles a bird dropping.
Life cycle of butterflies
· Habitat destruction in the
Western Ghats is probably the single most important threat to butterflies. Some
butterflies rely only on certain plants; for instance, the Plain Tiger lays its
eggs on the Giant Milkweed-larvae hatch and feed only on these plants. If a
plant species disappears, the butterfly species that depends on it may also be
· People like to collect
butterflies as ornaments and wall hang ings. Over-collection, especially of
large, colorful butterflies, threatens many species. Both commercial and casual
collectors are to blame.
· Preserve the habitat in the
Western Ghats. This is no doubt the best way of saving many species of
· Educate people on the role and
importance of butterflies and discourage collection.
Butterfly farms are a unique and interesting way to introduce
butterflies to people and breed endangered species in captivity.
A butterfly farm is an enclosed area which houses a variety of
butterflies. Conditions to sustain these beautiful insects are artificially
provided. Visitors can enter the farm and experience the thrill of butterflies
sitting on their shoulder or head. Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the
United Kingdom and the United States have butterfly farms.
Some butterflies of the Western Ghats
Southern Grass Jewel
Butterfly or moth?
· clubbed antennae
· most are diurnal
· tapering or feather-like
· most are nocturnal
Butterfly or moth?
Prepared by Srinivasan