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Saturday, July 11

Banded Tit: A Butterfly new to science from Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh

Banded Tit (Hypolycaena narada) specimens at the Research Collections Facility, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore [Image Courtesy: Krushnamegh Kunte/LRF/JRL]
In a very significant discovery for butterfly lovers, a researcher has described a Lycaenidae butterfly yet unknown to science from Namdapha National Park in eastern Arunachal Pradesh in North-East India. Now known as Banded Tit (Hypolycaena narada), this winged beauty is usually found along the stream sides in the mixed evergreen forests of Namdapha National Park.

According to a research paper published in The Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera about this discovery, Banded Tit can be easily identified with its distinctive combination of features like “shining purple-blue upper side forewing with a dark, diffused androconial (special scales found on male butterflies, mainly to discharge chemicals to attract females) patch, underside wings with narrow discal bands ending in black costal spots, and coastal black spot near the base.”

Krushnamegh Kunte, a research scientist and faculty member with the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and a prominent butterfly researcher in India, who has described the new winged beauty, says that zeroing in on the identity of this mysterious butterfly was not an easy task. According to his paper, the butterfly was recorded by his several colleagues during recent butterfly surveys conducted in Namdapha National Park as part of assessing the butterfly diversity in North East India.

Finding it difficult to correctly match this specimen with any of the known species of Hypolycaenina genus, he checked it with specimen collections in major Natural History Museums. “A comprehensive examination of Hypolycaenina in the British Museum of Natural History (now the Natural History Museum, London), and in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, revealed that this species was distinct and new to science”, says he.

According to Kunte, Banded Tit male butterflies love puddling on mud and wet bird droppings. When disturbed, it flies to the nearby vegetation to come back in a while to the same puddling spot. Like its relatives in the genus, Hypolycaena narada also has a not-so-fast, fluttering flight. Though nothing much is known about this butterfly like its specific larval food plant or even the female of the species, informal records from butterfly surveys from the region show that Banded Tits are usually seen during the month of March.

“In the past 20 years, various teams have surveyed butterflies in the Namdapha area practically throughout the year, but all the 15 or so sightings of this species have only been in the first three weeks of March.”, says the paper. It indicates that Banded Tit may be having a single brood per year, with its adults emerging in early March and persisting until late March.

However, the specific name of the butterfly points to some inside story among butterfly researchers in India. Usually, newly described species are either named based on the locality, name of the person who spotted it or based on the local names, etc. However, the researcher has christened this butterfly as ‘Narada’, a mischievous sage in Indian mythology known for his pranks. The name appears to be a hint to one of his friends who tried trick him which eventually led to the discovery of the distinct identity of Banded Tit.

According to Kunte, the name is given as a nickname of a friend who shall remain secret. “The name is applied here to the species as a remark on a mischievous—and at the same time wise—prank by a friend, who shall remain unnamed, that led to this species description.”, says he.

Several new and rare butterfly species have been recorded from Arunachal Pradesh recently indicating the need of further systematic documentation of the diverse flora and fauna of the region. 

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