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Thursday, October 31

Common Mormon bags Butterfly Mumbai Crown

common mormon, Papilio polytes, butterfly Mumbai, BNHS butterfly, BNHS Breakfast with butterflies, beautiful butterflies, butterfly beauty contest
Mating Common Mormon Butterflies at Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India
(Image: Indian Biodiversity Talks)
Common Mormon now decorates the coveted title of Butterfly of Mumbai - the financial capital of India. Mumbaikars have selected the most charming common butterfly in their suburbs in a suspense filled competition between a dozen winged beauties. In the race to win the title of the most charming, common butterfly, Common Mormon overtook a couple of winged beauties like Tailed Jay, Common Crow, and Common Emigrant.

Known as Papilio polytes in scientific parlance, this Swallowtail butterfly grabbed the title when biodiversity conservation research organisation Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) organised a public poll on different common butterfly species, as part of their Breakfast with Butterflies programme, to create awareness among the city folk about butterflies. According to sources, the voting was held at the Facebook page of BNHS also.

During the programme, the 150 participants of the programme voted for butterflies like Common Crow, Tailed Jay, Common Mormon and Common Emigrant. 69 voters elected Common Mormon as the most charming one. Tailed jay, the closest rival in the race, managed to bag 35 votes.

Others beauties failed to make many fans among the voters with Plain Tiger scoring 28 votes and Common Emigrant managing to get 17 votes. Common Crow was the least voted species, with just 9 votes. According to organisers at the BNHS, butterfly species were selected for voting based on their popularity and wide distribution in Mumbai.

“Common Mormon is just like any Mumbaikar”
According to Dr. V.Shubhalaxmi, Deputy Director, BNHS, Common Mormon has a lot of similarity with an average Mumbaikar. “Common Mormon resonates the spirit of Mumbai by being elegant and beautiful yet ‘street smart’ to remain grounded. Like any Mumbaikar, Common Mormon fights the odds of life by adjusting with its environment by adopting strategy of mimicry”, she said.

She sketches out more striking similarities between the newly elected Butterfly Mumbai and the Mumbai life. “As the young love their food with a dash of curry leaf tadka and drops of lemon juice, so does the Common Mormon’s caterpillar”, she said. Next time you see a Common Mormon, remember they are our buddies and let them live and flourish with us, she reminds.

Watch mating Common Mormon butterflies. The female is mimicking Crimson Rose

The swallowtail butterfly belonging to the Papilionidae, is widely distributed in India and other parts of Asia. The female Common Mormon butterflies show an interesting example of mimicry in the insect world. Some female Common Mormon butterflies mimic Common Rose while some other mimic Crimson Rose, both distasteful to birds due to the poisonous food plants they eat during their larval stages. Common Mormon lays its eggs in Curry leaf plant or lemon plant. 

Monday, October 21

Seventh Kerala Bird Race to be Held on Nov 10th in Major Cities

Kerala Bird Race, Kerala’s biggest mass bird watching event, will launch its seventh edition on Sunday, 10th November 2013 in three major cities of Kerala – Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Unlike the yesteryear editions, it will be non-competitive this year as per the information from the Bird Race organizers. 
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Birders participating in an earlier edition of  Kerala Bird Race
Photo Courtesy: K. Ananthan

During the event, birders in small groups will compete to spot and identity as many birds as possible within the time between dawn to dusk from a 100 km radius in the three cities. The teams in each city will join together for dinner at a single place and will compare the performances and discuss the findings. In the yesteryears, the team with the most numbers of spotting used to bag the title. However, this year the event is in non-competitive mode.

Bird Race in non-competitive mode

To promote more public participation, the seventh Kerala Bird Race is held in a non-competitive mode, with no prizes for the winners. “The idea is to see how many birds can be seen in a day by all the teams put together. There are no strict rules and it is only about the fun element in this exercise, which will hopefully help stimulate enormous interest in bird-watching as a highly popular hobby”, says a correspondence from Kerala Birder, an online birder group in Kerala.

The highlight is that the participants will be looking for birds, not for prizes, hint the organizers. According to Sunjoy Monga, an organizer of the event, It will still be a race but all participants will be winners. "We are trying this format with some of the cities. The idea came about after discussions from findings wherein we found little bits of over-enthusiasm for prizes . So in a way, this format will hopefully help provide more factual results since no one is going to come first. By making it non-competitive, we will also know the real passionate from the I-want-to-win types ", he said.

However,  participants may find surprises, not just the feathered ones in the field. As per sources close to the organizers, all participants will receive a special souvenir that is being prepared. All children between the age 6 - 12 are likely to receive a complimentary copy of book on birds for children. 

The race is organized annually to enlighten the public about bird watching and to introduce the beginning birders to the religion of serious birding, to keep the species of birders away from extinction. Bird Races in the country began in the year 2005 as a 100 participant event in Mumbai. According to birders, It has grown into India's largest birding event with 16 cities and more than 3500 participants.

Kerala Bird Race had been attracting birders and fresh hobbyists from all over the state and -in fact, even from outside the state. “We sometimes have participants from Kanyakumari district joining us at Thiruvananthapuram”, says the organizers. Last year, the race witnessed about 350 participants.

Green groups in action

The race is being held with the active co-ordination of major green groups in the state. While the race in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will be organized and coordinated by the WWF-Kerala team, Cochin Natural History Society will organize it in Cochin. Malabar Natural History Society will be the coordinators of the event in Kozhikode. 

According to the organizers, anybody interested can take part in the race with their own team, provided one in the team is familiar with almost all of the bird species found in the locality. However, if a beginning birder with no connections wants to participate in the event, he or she can contact the coordinators to enroll as part of a team. The event is organized with the support of Kerala Birder along with The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) and Yuhina Eco-Media.

Friday, October 11

The Story of Finding Callerebia dibangensis: An Interview with Purnendu Roy

Callerebia dibangensis (Image Courtesy: Purnendu Roy)
A pleasant surprise hit us recently from the lush greenery of Dibang Valley in Arunchal Pradesh, when Purnendu Roy, a naturalist, discovered a new butterfly species Callerebia dibangensis from Mithun Valley, approximately 5 kilometres from Aini. The surprise was double-fold. First- The butterfly was present in the region at least for the last 26 years,(as we know now) but was overlooked so far. Second- Roy was not a full-time scientist, but just a naturalist, with a particular interest in the eastern Himalaya. 

So when we contacted Roy to know more about the story behind this discovery, he responded to us in detail. Here we share our email interview with Purnendu Roy for our readers.

Q. What was the most difficult part in deciding the identity of the new species?

A. The only field guide I had in 1987 was a reprint of Wynter-Blyth "Butterflies of the Indian Region".  Though pretty comprehensive it poorly covered the northeast, the plates were of an extremely poor quality and some of the keys were not sufficient to identify all the species you would come across in the NE.

At the end of my trip in 1987 I had several species of interest which I could not identify. I tried to identify them by checking the literature available at the Zoological library. I had some success in some of the species, but the literature on Callerebia was not very illuminating and very few species were actually illustrated so I reached a dead end trying to identify that specimen.

In April 2012 I assisted Sanjay Sondhi of the Titli Trust(a non-profit nature conservation organisation based in Dehradun) with a biodiversity survey of Pakke, Sessa and Eaglenest in Arunachal Pradesh. At Eaglenest we saw Gonepteryx amintha thibetana which I had previously collected from the Dibang valley in 1987, but never reported. In the preparation of that paper, I took the opportunity to look again at some of the specimens I was not able to identify in 1987.

It was through the assistance of Dr David Lees at the British Natural History Museum, London that some of the species were finally determined, but there was nothing quite like this Callerebia in the NHM collection and it was suggested that I should describe it as a new species.

Not having access to comparison materials is the biggest obstacle for identification and is one of the main reasons why I am strong supporter of open access resources. The more materials we have on open access the easier it will be for naturalists to document and make discoveries.

Q. It appears to have a long gap between collecting the specimen and publishing the study (almost more than 25 years). Why was it so delayed?

A. As I said earlier, I reached a dead end in trying to identify some of the species. I subsequently concentrated on my work in fair trade. In 2012, my partner insisted that I take a sabbatical from work and go back to my interest in butteflies and this led to me to the work of Sanjay Sondhi.

I was a member of the Bombay Natural History society earlier, but I never really made contact with anyone else interested in butterflies in that society. The internet has made it easier now to connect with people and I think this is encouraging a resurgence in Indian butterfly interest and is also enabling me to keep up my interest. 

Q. In the study, you point out that Upper Dibang valley has certain geographical characteristics which increases the endemic nature of the species found here. Does it increase the conservation significance of the place?

A. I think so. In addition the whole of the Dibang river watershed lies within India. It is relatively intact with unbroken stretches of sub-tropical forests to the permanent snow line of the main Himalayan range. I am not sure if there is any comparable region in India.

Q. Is there any specific threat for the species in particular and the other insect diversity in the area?

A. At the elevation it was collected there are no specific threats. The proposed Dibang dam is however a serious threat to the riverine forests at lower elevations as highlighted by the MoEF forest panel which rejected the clearance.

Q. It is interesting to see that the species was overlooked for such a long period. Is it actually pointing out that there could be more unknown species in the area? Do you think there is need for more systematic surveys in these areas?

A. If in a well studied group such as butterflies a new species has been overlooked then I think it does illustrate that more new species especially in the less studied fauna will be discovered. There is certainly a need for more systematic studies so that a greater range of altitudes and seasons are covered.

Q. After the publication of the study, did you get any correspondence from any other part regarding the report of the species?

A. None as yet. Recently though another one of the species I recorded in the Dibang valley has been photographed and an article on that species will be published at a later date.

As I work very much with communities in fair trade. I would very much like to see community and grass roots involvement in any conservation initiatives. I am hope that I do get some correspondence in this respect.

Discovery of Callerebia dibangensis, is a pleasant surprise. However, what Purnendu did, adds to the pleasant part of it. From age immemorial, the knowledge of the biodiversity was vital for survival of the human. So the earlier communities handed over the knowledge through their folk songs, tales and traditional customs. When we started devouring the nature and entrusted the responsibility of studying nature upon university courses and arm chair scientists who hate field trips, we left out that vital knowledge, which will decide the fate of being human. 

It is again the time when we need people’s participation in indexing and conserving biodiversity at local level. Purnendu’s attempt, even after a long delay, is a good sign in that way. Let’s hope it will inspire the umpteen people biodiversity initiatives budding around the country.