The Southern Birdwing has a magnificent wing span. I have seen them in Goa and often wondered if it was a butterfly or a small bird! Karnataka plans to announce the Southern Birdwing (Troides minos) as its state butterfly. It’s stunning beauty will leave one in no doubt as to why.
Butterfly lover Haneesh KM says, ” Butterflies symbolise freedom, love and transformation. When they fly around, they bring happiness to the minds of the viewers. But for scientists butterflies are the icon for biodiversity, as the lifecycle of a butterfly depends on many plants and other creatures.”
He goes on to explain that when Karnataka follows Maharashtra in announcing its state butterfly, the Southern Birdwing (Troides minos) beat other competitors easily with its size, colours and its distribution status. Southern Birdwing is the largest butterfly found in India with an amazing wing span of 14 to 19 cm. They can be found only in South India and it can be easily identified with the broad yellow markings on the wings. They can be seen occasionally in the wooded areas in the highly populated cities like Bangalore.
Haneesh says, the Southern Birdwings can be easily spotted in the densely vegetative areas in and around the Western Ghats especially after the monsoon. They are fast fliers, capable of flying long distance without resting or feeding and sometimes, they can be found flying at a height of 40-50 feet above the ground. They visit flowers like Ixora, Hibiscus and Lantana to sip the nectar.
The Southern Birdwings breed on various climbers of the Aristolochiaceae family. Unlike the wandering males, Females prefer to restrict their movement near the host plants and they lay spherical orange coloured eggs on the leaves. Caterpillars are maroon coloured, stout with fleshy tubercles and with an oblique white band. The Pupa of this butterfly is big and usually found on twigs or under the leaves with the support of an encircling silk thread.
Hanees succinctly says, the wings of Southern Birdwing are yellow with broad black borders, females having more black spots on the hind wing. The pinch of red colour at the base of their wings makes it an easier choice for the state butterfly tag, as the turmeric-vermilion flag represents the rich non-divisive culture of Karnataka. Hope with its new tag, the big beauty of Western Ghats can bring conservation awareness among public.
Sammilan Shetty who is the Founder, Butterfly Park, Belvai says, ” The Southern Birdwing is a majestic butterfly with bird like wings. It’s presence can be felt even by, an irregular butterfly watcher. It has drawn the attention of many, for it’s large size and beautiful colours.”
He says, ” It’s a welcome move by the state wildlife board and the government to finalise the state butterfly for Karnataka. I believe this will bring awareness among the general public about butterflies and inspire to learn and understand the role these small creatures play in our ecological system.”
Dr. Prashanth Bhatt, a butterfly watcher remembers his first encounter with this butterfly at Dharwad.
” It was in the month of August my friend found a few caterpillars on Aristalochia indica creepers at Karnatak University Campus, Dharwad, which I could recognize as of southern birdwing. I was surprised since I had not observed the southern birdwing at Dharwad before. Later I found they are found in Dharwad only during June to October, then they disappear”
While Nagendra Bhatt, a nature lover and photographer says, “.From my younger days I have seen this beauty in Sirsi. I however had no idea about it’s name as it is only 3 years since I started my photographic journey with butterflies. Some one suggested joining the Butterfly of India web and fb group. It was there that I started my interest in butterflies.
It was last year in September 2015 that he visited Sammilan Shetty’s Butterfly Park in Belvai. On his first day he spent more than 2 hours trying to photograph different types of Butterflies, but unfortunately was unlucky with the Southern Birdwing. But he says suddenly it is entered the park and he was able to get a number of pictures. ” Finally my dream came true,” he says.
Marianne Furtado de Nazareth is an Independent Science and Environment Journalist, adjunct faculty, St. Joseph’s PG College, Bangalore, PhD scholar with Madurai Kamaraj University)