Not long ago, I had been going down every day to watch and admire the flight of our beautiful, winged jewels – the butterflies. Every day I went with excitement and joy as though nothing else could make me happier than their bright colours and gentle flight. They dazzled in the morning sun, their wings as steady as a plane and their flight as elegant as a swan. I loved watching them.
And then came a day, just as every day, I went down to admire the butterflies, but to my surprise they were gone. I thought, maybe it’s just today that they are not visible, and they will be back tomorrow. But day after day, for over a week I went down, but they did not return. I began to wonder what could have gone wrong.
At that time, I was doing a course with iNaturewatch Foundation to study about butterflies and their nature. Our teacher was Isaac Kehimkar, who is known as the butterfly man of India, during one of his lectures, mentioned about butterflies being indicator species. It meant that their presence indicates a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem.
That is when I remembered that there was a new construction which had started near our garden. With the drilling of the ground and dumping of cement there was nothing but loud noise and dust in the air. I now knew why the butterflies had suddenly disappeared. As indicator species, butterflies are sensitive to the slightest environment change and destruction of their ecosystem. With the construction they must have flown away to another area.
Now you must be thinking why would I want the butterfly population to grow? That is because butterflies are important pollinators to many fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowering plants. They also serve a huge role in the wilderness food chain. Predators like birds, spiders, lizards, ants and other small animals survive eating butterflies and their caterpillars. Without them the ecosystem will lose its balance and pollinating dependent flowers won’t exist.
Butterflies are in danger because of increase in pollution, loss of their natural habitat, and change in climate which affects their migration pattern. It is time we start taking caution of our environment and preserve these beauties.
For us to work towards butterfly conservation, we should start by taking these three important steps:
Preserve Natural Habitat: Do not destroy their natural habitat by cutting native plants and replacing it with fancy ornamental plants. Why you may ask? That is because, every species of butterflies breed and grow only on a specific plant type. For example, Common Mormon Butterflies prefer to lay eggs on Curry Leaf Plants or Lime Plants, whereas Monarch Butterflies prefer Milkweed, they will never ever interchange.
By cutting down native plants we are taking the butterfly’s host and nectar plants away, which mean they can’t lay their eggs, they and their caterpillars will not have food to eat, and their population will soon become extinct.
Instead, we can identify some of the butterflies in and around our locality, read about the host and nectar plants of these butterflies, and plant them in our gardens. We could also ask your building society or builder to select native flowering plants for garden decoration, instead of fancy ornamental plants that does not belong to the region. Ixora, Petunia or any bunch flowering plants attract many butterflies.
For butterfly identification I use the iButterflies app, once I know the butterfly name I search online to find the host plant, and then buy it from my local gardener.
Use Organic Manures and Insecticides: The harsh chemicals used as insecticides affect caterpillars. Butterflies and moths that land on them to drink nectar can get poisoned. We could avoid using harsh pesticides on plants. Instead use organic manure and compost to keep the soil healthy which will keep the plant blooming and full of life.
Raring Displaced Caterpillars: Another way to conserve butterflies is raring lost or displaced caterpillars. Raring means taking care of the caterpillars until they become butterflies. Next time when a grown-up is cutting vegetables like ladyfinger, brinjal or pealing peas, keep an eye out. There may be weird looking crawling creature inside it, which you otherwise would have thrown away. They are the caterpillars of butterflies or moths. You can create a DIY terrarium and grow them. It is beautiful to see the complete lifecycle, save a caterpillar from dying, and also is a perfect science project. Just remember to release the butterfly/moth after they emerge, they will make the environment thrive.
Let’s get planting and rearing and make a difference to our world and save our winged beauties.
- Take a plastic box and make small holes on its lid for air to pass
- Keep the caterpillar in the box
- Feed the caterpillar vegetable or the leaves of the vegetable in which you fond the caterpillar
- Keep a stick inside the box for when the caterpillar wants to pupate
- The caterpillar can be either of a butterfly or a moth, rare it to find out
- Butterflies pupate on the stick while many moths pupate in the soil; when your caterpillar becomes big keep an inch of clean dry soil for it to choose
- Some butterflies/moths takes weeks to emerge, so don’t throw away the pupa if nothing happens in a few days
- Do not disturb a newly emerged butterfly/moth; they take some time to dry their wings and pump blood into it, before they take their first flight
Release the butterfly/moth in a nice green plant
(Writer is a 12-year-old homeschooler)