Butterfly diversity in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University chronicles hued flights

While over the years, the Delhi Biodiversity Parks have examined these green zones, there are areas that remain in the shadows.

author_img Dyuti Roy Published :  05th May 2022 05:14 PM   |   Published :   |  05th May 2022 05:14 PM
Oriental Dark Palm-Dart (L) and Common Jezebel.

Oriental Dark Palm-Dart (L) and Common Jezebel. (Photo| EPS)

The urban neighbourhoods in Delhi have an overwhelming presence of high-rises. However, amid this concrete jungle, one will find pockets of greenery that are brimming with fauna. While over the years, the Delhi Biodiversity Parks have examined these green zones, there are areas that remain in the shadows. Of those is the sprawling campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

To bring focus on the unmapped spaces in the city, Dr Surya Prakash, a zoologist, conducted a two-decade survey (it started in 2000) to document the butterfly biodiversity in JNU. This survey identified 91 species of butterflies and was published as a research paper titled Butterfly Diversity in JNU campus: A long-term pioneer study in the ENVIS Newsletter of the Government of India's Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in March. 

"We always ignore these small creatures. However, after honey bees, butterflies are major pollinators of almost 70 to 80 per cent of the agricultural crop. Studies like these, therefore, become important because it propels people to be aware of them," shares Prakash.

People and environment

Given the time period of this survey, it remains major documentation of climate change in the city. Prakash shares that the fluctuating density of butterfly species is directly proportional to the overall climate change and anthropogenic causes. "Butterflies need specific microhabitats. With these being affected due to climate change, the insects find it difficult to survive," he said.

Of the 91 species sighted, the Western Striped Albatross, Common Mime, Common Pierrot, Pea Blue, Gram Blue, Indian Lime Blue, and Spotted Pierrot, are few that are threatened and need conservation. However, the COVID-induced lockdowns in the last two years have been a boon to insect biodiversity.

Rare species such as the Jezebel, the Tailless Lineblue, the Tropical Fritillary, and the Oriental Apefly, have been witnessed here. “During the lockdown, there was reduced air pollution and anthropogenic stress on the ecosystem. These helped butterflies to propagate freely,” Prakash elaborates. 

Conserve and protect

"Butterflies are sensitive to environmental changes. So documenting them not just conserves them but preserves the overall environment," says Chandra Maurya, an environmentalist and co-author of the paper.

Pointing out changes that citizens can pay heed to so that these insects are safe, Prakash concludes, "All one needs to do is find out the butterflies around your vicinity and ensure their host plants are available. This simple gesture would go a long way in their conservation as well as help in maintaining the ecosystem."

Major flutters

Of the 91 species documented as part of the survey, the most distinguished species include:

  • Oriental Apefly

  • Common Jezebel

  • Tailless Lineblue

  • Plumbeous Silverline

  • Oriental Common Mime

  • Indian Common Lineblue

Prakash mentions that one of the butterflies - the Oriental Apefly - was first spotted in December 2021, was the first sighting of this species in Delhi.

Maurya shares, "While the Jezebel or the Tailless Lineblue are also rare species to be found in Delhi, we had noticed more than one sighting of them so we can say for sure they are using our habitat. However, there were sightings of butterflies that we think accidentally arrived in the city."