A flutter in Wayanad: the butterflies of Mothakkara

Posted in Guest experiences on Monday, May 13th, 2019

Mothakkara lies in the Western Ghats, which run down the west coast of India and comprise one of the 34 Global Biodiversity Hotspots (UNESCO). The region is replete with bewitching locations that are home to at least 4,050 species of plants, 121 of frogs, 508 of birds, 6 species of turtles and terrapins, 87 species of snakes, 63 types of lizards and a wide variety of large mammals. In 2018 alone, five new species of frogs and snake were discovered.

Around Mothakkara, in Wayanad District, much of the indigenous fauna disappeared with the clearance of forests for farming and tea plantations but In the remaining wooded areas one can see macaque monkey, loris, mongoose, wild cats, jackal and hares. There is even the chance to see the world's largest venomous snake, the King Cobra. Birds also abound: you can see Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Scarlet Minivet, Emerald Dove, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher, Shrike, Black-lored Tit, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Forest Wagtail, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Plum-headed Parakeet, Lorikeet and many more. Indeed, some 350 species have been reported within Wayanad district. Staying in our community-run guesthouse here (pictured below) is a great experience. Guests consistently praise the fantastic food and welcome offered by our dedicated team of guides (all female) and hosts.

But perhaps lesser known are the myriad of butterflies that can be seen around Mothakkara. In 2014, Village Ways enlisted wildlife expert Devadatta Naik to provide training for our guides, particularly in butterfly spotting. In the process, they identified 144 species! Escorted by your guide and armed with a copy of "Butterflies of India” (Gay, Kehimkar & Puneth. 2008. Oxford University Press}, see how many you can spot. The following species are typical:

The Tawny Rajah (pictured above) has a wingspan of about 70–90 mm. The upperside of the wing is reddish brown or pale brown-orange, with dark brown/black speckles at the wing tips and small black marks at the margin of the hindwings. On the under side of the wings there are irregular wavy or tawny brown speckles and whitish zigzag bands.

The Malabar Banded Swallowtail (pictured below) is an endemic butterfly of the Western Ghats, It is similar to common Mormon Cyrus but has two whitish bands on the upper forewing (Mormons have a single band).The underside of hindwing is paler with a white broad band that contains black markings..The Malabar Banded Swallowtail is the species of butterfly in which females are rarely found.

The Buddha Peacock (see below) is one of the most beautiful butterflies in India. It is a locally common species, it is endemic to the Western Ghats and protected by law in India.

In general, all butterflies can directly absorb heat from the sun via their wings to facilitate flight. Studies on Blue Tiger butterflies (see below) show that high-intensity light significantly increased flight activity. They have wing surface patterns composed of both light and dark colours. The dark areas on the wing are the heat absorption areas, which facilitate flight.

Keith Virgo

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