Agasthya 6.2 Winged beauties of KMTR's evergreen forests
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The two weeks of field work on plant-animal interactions in early May this year in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve KMTR), was my first 'work' experience in a primary wet evergreen forest, first sightings of Nilgiri langurs, lion-tailed macaques and a treebrown palm civet. However, it was the high number of fluttering butterflies, most of them lifers, which fascinated me the most.

The idea of how important butterflies are in the functioning of ecosystems as pollination agents and their intricate relationship with their larval host plants had struck me while taking the plant-animal interactions course as an elective during our Ph.D. coursework. Ever since, I have begun to look at butterflies with a new light and have started observing their host plants and flight patterns which are indicative of their ecology and habits. I observed several butterflies from the forest habitats of the Western Ghats. Some of these included the Nilgiri tiger (Parantica nilgiriensis), the red-disc bushbrown (Mycalesis oculus), the orange oakleaf (Kallima inachus), and spot puffin (Appias lalage). The one that I found to be the most magnificent of all was the Malabar treebrown nymph (Idea malabarica), a large white butterfly with black dots and streaks that sailed high in the forest understory and canopy along the edges of the wet evergreen forests. The Nilgiri tiger turned out to be more common in its habitat i.e. closed canopy wet evergreen forests.

I observed with great interest that all these butterflies had different habits and feeding strategies and was fascinated to see the great diversity at which they occurred in the forest canopy. Some, like the red-disc bushbrown and white-bar bushbrown, belonging to the large butterfly family called Nymphalidae, seemed to be exclusively forest floor butterflies which maintained territory in tiny sunlit patches on the forest floor. On the other hand, the Malabar tree- nymph, a nymphalid, preferred to glide high in the canopy in small gaps in the forest, appearing as a distinct black lined pattern on a white background. In between these two was the red helen of the swallowtail family Papilionidae, weaving rapidly at mid-level height in the forest understory. I found the plum judy (Abisara echerius) of the family Riodinidae, highly endearing for its habit of turning around constantly in short jerky movements after alighting on short herbs and shrubs in the forest floor, something that gave me the impression of it dancing about in the trees! These butterflies, their varied feeding habits and their interactions with plants, vital in ensuring plant pollination and herbivory are something that will remain etched in my memory for a long time.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 2
      April 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Winged beauties of KMTR's evergreen forests
- Vikram Aditya
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