Monday, July 13, 2015


It seemed like the other day when Hudhud created a flutter. The fury of the cyclone laid waste veteran trees in its wake and took its toll on birds; the butterflies simply stood no chance. Birds made a modest comeback even before the natural ecology of Dolphin Hill limped back to life-as-usual. Summer has been unbearably harsh, but Nature’s resilience is such that scrubland and woods have rejuvenated on their own steam. Few showers of Vizag’s monsoon have helped the ‘weed’ understory flourish. Now nine months on, something else is creating a flutter. The hillside is trembling excitedly to the rhythm of butterflies once again. They have been tardy in returning, but they are back for sure.

The much-derided lantana camara – the ‘untouchable’ among plant kingdom, has come to the rescue. Sitting on the patio, I had been witness to few swallowtails, which were once the pride of this place, flitting over verge and low trees. Common Rose and Crimson Rose, particularly attracted attention as they doubled in size mating mid-air! The general buzz of these bugs was tantalizing, so this Sunday morning I decided to give in. In my part of the woods, where ‘weeds’ have been allowed to grow, I counted nearly 20 species of butterflies in as many minutes on a 50-metre trail by the fence. Armed with my new DSLR and a macro telephoto lens, I set out on a chase.

Most species give you the slip as they flit from flower to wildflower. Some like this tailless swallowtail – the Lime butterfly – that I went after, flap constantly proving elusive. Others like albatross and emigrants are difficult to pin down frolicking as they are, usually, in twos and threes. Tawny coasters and grass yellows were gliding energetically by a carpet of ‘coat button’ daisies (Tridax procumbens or ‘Ravana-heads’ of our childhood) and Crotalaria. I did arrest the slow flight of a tawny coaster and was surprised to see that it had an oily sheen to its wings. Thankfully, the common leopard and lemon pansy posed as they did surya namaskar (they love to sun-bathe with wings wide open) first thing in the morning.

The Calotropis procera or the Sodom’s apple that grows invasive by the roadside is considered an outcast, but it is another great butterfly magnet. Its bouquet of mauve flowers provides food for variety of butterflies from tigers to pansies and the waxy leaves are a great host for caterpillars.

In all that drama, there was also the side-show. There were caterpillars—that would metamorphose into butterflies, feeding on plants. Crickets leapt out of thickets making me jump. Bugs made my skin crawl. Common Indian Chameleons basked in the sun, lazily, watching me with a curious eye, wondering at my whimsy.

This is backyard biodiversity at its best. Such macro-life can thrive only in ‘hospitable’ conditions that may seem ‘inhospitable’ for us. Most of us think that landscaping, trimmed trees, and regimented rows of pruned foliage with big, bright flowers constitute ‘natural beauty’. That unwieldy grass or scrub with dried twigs is sight for sore eyes. How many of us know that the so-called ‘weeds’ are but wildflowers with medicinal and commercial value to mankind? It is this higgledy-piggledy wasteland we so despise that is the actual breeding ground for bugs, bees, butterflies and birds that constitute the web of life. It is not my contention that, therefore, we encourage indiscriminate growth of invasive weeds. Under controlled conditions, natural vegetation can be co-opted into ‘tree plantation’ and ‘greening’ schemes to help restore soil and micro-climate. Even as we create artificial oases, we must strive to preserve wild pockets.

Lemon pansies feeding on Sodom's apple shrub 

Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus)
Dark Glassy Tiger

Lemon pansy (Junonia lemonias)
Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus)

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnus bolina)
Common Leopard (Phalanta phalanta)

Common Indian Crow 
Tawny Coaster (Acraea violae)


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