Butterflies - The Flying Jewels of the Western Ghats

Dec 17, 2008

On the meadow green,
A flight of butterflies was snoozing,
With bated breath & studied gaze…..I stood watching.
When Lo...  All at once they flew up
A curtain of iridescent glow
Stunning my senses with utter delight.

                                        -Julia Pereira

Butterflies and moths are some of the most fascinating and eye-catching flying insects. A vast majority are brightly coloured and are found all over the world, except in the Antarctica region. They are indeed one of the planet’s most beautiful creatures. People from all walks of life, irrespective of race, colour or religion enjoy these beautiful winged flying jewels for their delicate beauty. In India, most butterfly species are found associated with tropical rainforests.

The Western Ghats is home to hundreds of species of rare, endemic and exotic species of colourful butterflies, some of them extremely rare. Some species are so rare that they are found nowhere else in the world. The region boasts of approximately 350 species of butterflies. They come in a variety of sizes with two pairs of large wings. The color pattern varies from species to species and has a definite role to play in the protection of the species. If one were to closely observe the wings, they are covered with overlapping rows of tiny scales.

The word butterfly has curious origins. Butterflies get their name from the yellow brimstone butterfly of Europe that is first seen in the early spring or "butter" season? The Anglo- Saxons used the word Butterfloege because their most common butterfly was the yellow brimstone butterfly. The spread of the English colonies and their subsequent influence on the natives carried forward in the butterfly tradition. In many languages butterfly means “licker of milk”. The Russians call them Babochka, meaning little soul. Ancient civilizations have depicted butterflies as little angels or souls, such that when people die, their souls go to heaven as butterflies.  The importance of butterflies in many early civilizations is recorded in prehistoric caves and their depiction in pottery and fresco paintings. The best known example is the representation of the goddess Xochiquetzal in the form of a two-tailed, swallow-tailed butterfly. In all irrespective of age, people from all walks of life associate butterflies as friendly and soothing to the eyes, mind body and soul.


Biologists estimate that worldwide there are about 150,000 different species of butterflies and moths, in which approximately 30,000 belong to the butterfly species. The size of a few species of butterflies ranges from less than an inch in size to a wing span of about 10 inches. The smallest species are no bigger than a fingernail and the largest swallowtails are larger than the smallest birds. The world’s tiniest known species, the blue pygmy (Brephidium exilis), is found in Southern California and has a wing span of just over half an inch. Both the world’s smallest butterflies occur in peninsular India. The largest species, the New Guineas Queen Alexandria’s bird wing  (Ornithoptera Alexandrae)  can measure up to twelve inches from wingtip to wingtip. The Goliath Bird wing butterfly is the second-largest butterfly in the world. 


The largest moth, The Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) has a wingspan of 1 foot (30 cm). The smallest moth, the Nepticulid moth is 0.1 inch long. Destruction of its habitat is threatening this beautiful creature with extinction.

Butterflies provide aesthetic appeal and are connected with all plants and crops at all stages of their life cycle. Few are aware of the crucial role the butterfly plays in pollination of a large portion of economically important crops and flowering plants, which is second only to the honeybee. They pollinate about 75 per cent of staple crops in the world and 80 per cent of all flowering plants. The economic value of pollination is about $ 200 billion.

Scientific studies have proved beyond doubt that pollinators account for 12% of the value of world ide agricultural production.

Beneficial Aspects of Butterflies:

Butterflies are categorized as keystone species, which enable many smaller species of insects to thrive and reproduce in an ecosystem. In simple terms, it denotes that conservation of butterflies, also conserves, other species of insects.   In fact, the basic health of our ecosystem is directly dependent on the number of butterfly species.                                                                  

  • Butterflies act as indicators in monitoring environmental health
  • Play an important role in food chains and food webs.   
  • Excellent pollinators  
  • Bio control of weeds  
  • Butterflies are very ensitive to pollution and have been used as bio-indicators to detect the pollution levels


  • The fact of the matter is that most butterfly species have an average lifespan ranging from 20 to 40 days. A few species may live up to nine months
  • Butterflies are found worldwide except on the continent of Antarctica
  • Butterflies can only see the colours red, green and yellow
  • Most butterfly species are dark coloured because they need to absorb heat from the surrounding environment
  • Caterpillars spend most of their time eating leaves using strong mandibles (jaws). A caterpillar's first meal, however, is its own eggshell. A few caterpillars are meat-eaters; the larva of the carnivorous Harvester butterfly eats woolly aphids
  • Butterflies do not have any chewing mouth parts. They are gifted with a tubular straw like appendage known as proboscis which enables them to sip nectar. Butterflies "smell" with their antennae and taste with their feet
  • Butterflies are one of the few creatures on earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude
  • Male butterflies attract females by releasing pheromone chemicals (scent) from their abdomen
  • Butterflies and moths are picky in choosing leaves for egg laying
  • Butterflies and moths are picky in choosing leaves for their diet
  • When folded, a butterfly's wings are usually much less colourful, providing instant camouflage from would-be predators
  • The earliest butterfly fossils are from the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Their development is closely linked to the evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms)
  • Butterflies are the only insects that have scales .Butterfly scales contain pigment, which in combination with light refraction gives butterflies their colors
  • Moth species outnumber butterfly species by 16-to-1 

Butterfly Migration:

Butterfly migration is indeed a amazing and unique phenomenon. Resident species travel short distances to avoid adverse conditions. Many species of butterflies migrate thousands of miles, especially the Monarch species. The annual migration of the monarch butterflies between Mexico and the U S A and Canada covering a trip of 4000 miles is indeed a great wonder of the natural world. To date biologists are yet to solve the mystery pertaining to migration. Birds orient themselves with the help of stars, landmarks and the influence of the earth's magnetic field. However, butterflies with their rudimentary evolution traverse thousands of miles, is something difficult to comprehend.


Butterfly Smuggling:

A global network of poachers and smugglers are wiping out threatened species of butterflies. Smugglers entice the locals and school children by paying them rupees fifty for every butterfly they catch. They are then killed, dried and used in greeting cards, wall plate hangings and for other ornamental and decorative purposes.  In the international market some species of butterflies like the bird wing butterfly found on the Tiger hill of Jammu and Kashmir is sold at $2500. The yellow colour in the wings of some species is permanent and is used in gold ornaments.   The most endangered species are the giant swallowtail Papilio homerus, whose velvety black and gold wings are highly prized as decorative agents. In spite of butterflies being protected by international and national laws, butterfly smuggling is rampant in India, especially from the Western Ghats. Lack of expertise in the identification of butterflies (Endeared, rare, threatened species) helps smugglers get away. Such lacuna in the system needs to be corrected with immediate effect. Believe it or not, trade in endangered species (including wildlife) is worth an estimated 15 billion dollars a year.

Payal and Nihal with the help of posters and miniatures are creating a awareness programmee in and around the coffee zones; educating the local farmers to resist the temptation of butterfly smuggling. Parents can play an important role in inspiring their children to be guardians of nature.

Why the Butterflies Love Sunglight and are Coloured?

Butterflies are cold blooded insects. In simple terms they do not generate enough heat from their own metabolic activities to provide them with the heat and energy needed to fly. They rely on the heat absorbed from the sun. It is for this very reason that they often bask in the sun with wings outstretched. Butterflies can only fly if their body temperature is above 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Relationship between Butterflies and Ants:

It is a fact that ants love to eat caterpillars. However the caterpillars of the Blue butterflies have evolved a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial. Most blue butterfly catterpillrs have glands on the 11th and 12th segments which secrete a sugary solution, like honey dew. The ants harvest the honey dew from the caterpillar and in return protect them from other predators. This co-evolution has resulted in butterflies laying eggs, in places where ants are in abundance.


The Western Ghats, one of the hotspots of biodiversity is unique and should be better protected and managed. There is mounting concern regarding the devastating losses to butterfly colonies because of unprecedented habitat destruction. This is the single greatest threat to butterflies. The rate of deforestation is accelerating and is already higher than the average compared to other parts of India. From egg to adult, butterflies undergo a metamorphosis that is complex and often beset with problems like weather, predators, lack of food and human encroachment on habitat.

Let us begin with the smallest steps by planting flowering plants in our backyards and help native butterflies survive. In schools we need to encourage gardening and so also in public places with green all round. Schools and colleges should conduct training programmes and guided fiels trips, so that students learn firsthand the wild behavior of these beautiful winged jewels. School children from the primary level should be taught about butterflies and the vital role they play in different aspects of human life. Awareness at all levels will definitely help these winged jewels survive and coexist in a world dominated by humans.    

Also See:

by Dr Anand T & Geeta N Pereira
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Comment on this article

  • Iona Andrade, Mumbai

    Mon, Apr 28 2014

    I would like to know if you have any excursions for us youth to learn more about wild life

  • vivek colaco, fieldview estate sakleshpur

    Mon, Jan 25 2010

    Dear Anand and Geetha Thank you for all the patienece you took to get the very good pictures of butterflies. I really loved the pictures and the article of butterflies because I like butterflies.


    Thu, Apr 30 2009

    Congratulations Dr. Anand Pereira & Mrs Geeta.Good to see you dedicated to the nature

  • Charles Govias, Mangalore/Dubai

    Thu, Jan 08 2009

    Anand, It was nice meeting you after so many years. I was deeply touched reading your articles. Thanks to James Pinto

  • Jude Fanton, Byron Bay, Australia

    Sun, Dec 28 2008

    Dear Anand, Geeta, Romola, Payal and Nihal, How lovely to relive our wonderful time at Kirehalli two years ago through your flutterby photos. Your enthusiasm for everything natural comes through clearly in this website. So infectious. Darlings, one day I hope you will have the experience of our gardens here at the most easterly point of Oz. We love being with you, especially in nature. Lots of love, Jude and Michel Fanton

  • Leah Govias, Muthukadu,Chennai

    Sun, Dec 21 2008

    Dear uncle Anand, I saw all the butterflies in your estate they are very beautiful I have only a few of those butterflies in my garden. Thanks for showing them to me.Sara also says hi to both of you.


    Sun, Dec 21 2008

    Hello Anand... Thank you for the link to the pages on Butterflies......My Father, Michel Fanton sent me your link email. It brought back memories of when I was 14 and staying at Kirehalli Estate. I so much enjoyed chasing butterflies with my sister Aimee Fanton when I was there staying with you and all the family.


    Sun, Dec 21 2008

    Dear Anand & Geetha, I must commend you on your patience to collect those beautiful butterfly pictures and for compiling it into the informative article. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Mohan H Naik, Mangaluru

    Sun, Dec 21 2008

    Colourful butterflies.

  • Pousha Prabhu, UDUPI

    Sat, Dec 20 2008

    Colourful Butterflies in the Beautiful nature.


    Fri, Dec 19 2008

    Dear Anand & Geeta, Wonderful article and cute pictures.Remembered our good old days when we used to go for butterfly catching in your estates !

  • Liza Gina Pais, Mysore

    Fri, Dec 19 2008

    Dear Dr Anand. The article speaks a lot about affection & love towards living species,The photographs are beautiful,The butterflies are stunning & can be only photographed by you,You are not only a writer but also a good photographer,I will tell all my friends in school to go through this beautiful article.Lots of Love-Liza Gina Pais-Mysore

  • Leander Pais, Mysore

    Fri, Dec 19 2008

    Dear Dr Anand. I liked the pictures of butterflies & very impressed that i had an opportunity to know more about butterflies.It will help me a lot in school,I will now access this link to create a nice article for my school,I will now have to type Dr Anand in Google under Daijiworld & i will get all the information i require for my school projects.Thank you Dr Anand & Wishing you all the best-Leander Pais

  • Leona Pais, Mysore

    Fri, Dec 19 2008

    Dear Anand. Excellent articles,overwhelmed to see the beautiful pictures on butterfly's,seeing is believing,you have yet again proved to be one of the finest writers,Your contribution towards nature should be always recognized by some Environmental NGO that can fund to help you spend more time towards developing nature all over INDIA,you are always an asset to the present generation,Keep up your good work,Wishing you & your Family Merry Christmas & A Very Happy New Year 2009,Warm regards-Leona Pais

  • Allen Pais, Siddapur

    Fri, Dec 19 2008

    Dear Anand. You have been very consistent with your articles & day by day you are coming out with very interesting subjects that we could have never imagined,The caption of the article can be only dreamed by some one with a caliber like you.Keep up the good work & all the best in your future articles.Merry Christmas & A Very Happy New Year 2009.

  • jayasheela dsouza, bantwal/kuwait

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    those beautiful butterflies, the coffee leaves and the ripe coffee fruits.....lantern flowers ...everything reminded me of my beautiful childhood at the same place. what about the coffee flowers???? i really missed them & the fragrance... beautiful case study of butterflies...thanks to daiji and the pereira couple...

  • roshan, sakleshpur/bengaluru

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    there are 2 ways to study butterflieschase them with nets then inspect their dead bodies,or sit quietly in a garden & watch them dance among flowers.

  • rakesh, sakelshpur

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    I'm sure God has taken time in creating these "bright colors of nature",and thanks again to Him that He's sent a person like U who can show them to the world !


    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    Butterflies show you the way of life. great work. congratulations

  • Michael S Baptist, Chikmagalur

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    It is very good article . I appriciate Mr and Mrs Pereira for their efforts and dedication to study the complete history of butterfly and bringing the information to us. Really Great. I also thank Daiji World to for publishing the article. Best Regards- Michael S Baptist Rainy Rainwater Harvesting Filters Bangalore

  • Mahalasa Narayini, Udupi

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    Good collection I think in day to day busy life we forget to enjoy the beauty by nature... Just remembered the trecking camp to Kodachadri when I was in college.

  • Pushpanath, Oxford

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    Superb presenation - words and pics. Very valuable information to all. The promise and the profound challenge to revive the population and diversity of "Milk Suckers"- is more than an indication of forest destruction. what about climate change?

  • payal ruth pereira, mangalore

    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    the breath taking beauty of the butter flies makes me think of god 's wonderful creation gud luk for the future


    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    I belong to a plantation family and these beautiful pictures remind me of the incredible biodiversity inside coffee forests.I appreciate your work.


    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    brilliant pictures. We have a estate at Sakleshpur and it rekindled fond memories. Thank you for the effort and time


    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    Photography of those Jewels remind me of the days when I used to catch them with a net and pin them down for our insect collection.. What a CRIME. Reading the article brought back fond memories of the Estate.


    Thu, Dec 18 2008

    Ijust had a project work on butterflies. These beautiful butterflies need to be protected for pollinating fruit and other crops.

  • A.D'Cunha Shenoy, Mangaluru

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Immensley beautiful Nature's creatures. Humans are the destroyers. Can we preserve and protect them in todays clearcutting of forests and their habitats?

  • Bolwar Basheer, Abu Dhabi

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Baa baa chitte bannada chitte... super pictures....thanks daiji...u have a wonderful photographers...good luck...

  • Max & Jessie Rasquinha, Mangalore/Houston, Tx

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    We wholeheartedly agree with you on the "flying jewels" of the Western Ghats. We are indeed proud of the scenic beauty that lies far and beyond the Western Ghats. Our only and major concern lies on the fate of the road conditions that prevail to travel back and forth in that region. The pot holes are dangerous. You get scared to drive in that area any time of the day or night because the roads are a total safety-hazard. The beauty of the "flying jewels" and many other precious species can only be fully realized by being able to travel slowly, steadily and safely in that beautiful part of Karnataka. We simply love our beautiful ranch in that area but travelling by road is a mere thought that is frightening.

  • Clara Fernandes, Mangalore

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    I am still crazy for butterflies. When I was a young kid, had enough spankings for catching butterflies. Now even after being a mother of two, when I go on vacation, I still run after them:) The article is very informative and made a good reading.

  • S N Bangs, Mumbai

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Dayanand's pictures of Birds & Pereira`s Butterflys made my day.Thanks Daijiworld

  • Alvisha Fernandes, Panakaje/Qatar

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Congratulations Dr. Anand Pereira & Mrs Geeta keep it up. We really thankful to Almighty God who creates this beautiful Butterflies.

  • Richie John Pais, Mangalore

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    When I spotted some varities of buterflies over a period of months in Chikmagalur region I was feeling that I have seen them all.A few days back I met an old person with a camera near a cofee estate in Koppa. After a conversation with him I was told that he has been a photographer of flies for years. I was given a chance to view his photographs. Again I saw more varities of butterflies (and other flies too). Now I find some more varities I have never seen and an informative article on them. Very good work. More should come from you couple. Keep it up.

  • prescilla, mangalore

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Wonderful. Thank you God for granting me eyes to see the beauty of your wonderful creations. Thank you Daiji and Pereira couple.

  • Dr. Ben Rebello, Sunkasale\Germany

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    very informative article, fantastic photos. Congratulations Mrs Geeta & Dr. Anand Pereira, keep it up. I am proud to be a part of the western ghat region, due to the sacrifices of my parents.

  • Hasan Yusuf, Mangalore / Kuwait

    Wed, Dec 17 2008

    Amazing,wonderful and Unique Creation. All praises to Almighty God.

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