-Mrs Shakti Bishnoi and A.S. Bishnoi

1.From time immemorial, butterflies have always fascinated humankind and no group of insects is more charismatic than the butterflies.  Among insects they are certainly the most popular, and that is probably why they are among the most studied insects. Today several species of butterflies are used by conservation biologists as indicator species to identify habitats that are critical and need to be protected. Butterflies are also monitored to ascertain degree of purity, climate change and environmental degradation.

2.Their size ranges from the tiny jewels to gorgeous Bird wings with a wing span as great as eight inches. Almost all Indian butterflies are under threat, and some are critically endangered. Reason being their food plants and nectar plants which are mostly found in the wilderness.  Large areas, once forest or wasteland, full of wild plants that caterpillars eat, have now been cleared for agriculture, besides their habitat loss the widespread use of insecticide has drastically reduced numbers. But a butterfly lover and nature lover finds its way and so did we. We created our own one of a kind ?The butterfly garden?.  We have reared more than 373 of them till date.
3.During our brief interaction with Shri Isaac Kehimkar at Oavlekar Wadi(Thane, Mumbai) we were so fascinated by the winged jewels that we thought to have a closer look of these species. Shri Isaac Kehimkar and Sqn Ldr Girish Dantale are our inspiration in this wonderful world of colourful species. 

Our encounter with kingdom of Butterflies

4.During our  stay in Mumbai at Mankhurd( in 2009-11), we thought of having a closer look i.e the life cycle of the butterflies, to appreciate this wonderful creation of God. Book on Butterflies by Isaac Kehimkar was of paramount help to us in knowing their behaviour, but our quest started with finding information on the food plants of different  butterflies. Then we started looking at the food plants, but it seems we were searching needle in hay stack. We narrowed down our search by looking at the caterpillars. The first thing we saw was Lime butterfly laying eggs on lemon plant in our garden. We saw it was just 2 mm spherical white/yellowish ball, underneath the fresh leaf. Fortunately we could capture this phenomenon. Next few days we monitored the egg and witnessed the growth of caterpillar and our joy grew many folds. But nature had something very important in store for us. Around eighth day when we went in the morning to see the beautiful being, we were shocked to see it was eaten by Myna who has positioned herself near a tree. It took us some time to understand law of nature. We decided not to take a chance with the next few eggs left with us. 

5.Very next day we bought some lemon plants from nursery to our home and transferred the freshly erupted caterpillars on it and started monitoring the activities. There was different kind of environment in our home i.e. we both were excited and equally ecstatic to  receive the new born in our family. Very soon it became our family member. We had only one thing to discuss, that was ?the activities of caterpillar?. The life of caterpillar revolved around eating leaves of the lemon plant and excreting. Our prime focus /centre of gravity of house was caterpillar. The life cycle is quite fascinating. We started reading Book on Butterflies to understand their metamorphosis. Nothing was known to us, everything was new and we were quite apprehensive about the behavioural pattern. Rearing blue tiger was quiet a challenge due to its food plant which is wild creeper. Daily we bought  fresh leaves for the caterpillers to our home and cling them on thorns of lime tree. Caterpillers are genetically tuned to the environment they face as there mother`s contribution is to lay them under the fresh blooming food plant leaf. After rupturing they are own their own. Blue tiger food plant is  smooth wild creeper but when we shifted them with few leaves on lime tree they beautifully tuned themselves and without eyes successfully completed their tenure as caterpillar. We reared common mormon, lime butterfly, blue tiger,Memphis Proserpina, danaus plexippus,brown king crow, glassy tiger.  Our lives revolved around the little one. Thereafter when we reached Visakhapatnam, we started our journey with Plain Tiger, and later could manage great mormon. We had only seen the mighty mormon in flight and it came as surprise as we thought the caterpillar resembled common mormon.

Life cycle

6.   During it lifespan, a butterfly undergoes complete metamorphosis, consisting       of four distinct stages: 


Before the life span begins, it begins with selection of mate, mating, and then egg laying. Here is the sequence:-

Plain tiger(Danus Chrysippus)
Selection of mate, matingand laying egg


7.Soon after mating, the adult female starts searching for an appropriate food plant to lay eggs. The underneath of fresh leaf  egg is protected from predators, harsh sunlight and soft leaf is gift from their mothers to start there journey.  The number of eggs laid by female numerous for ensuring maximum survival. 


8.It takes 3-5 days to hatch. The caterpillar emerges from the egg, and first thing it eats is the egg shell. Thereafter it just scrapes off the soft bud/under surface of leaf, till it gets his jaws stronger to feed on leaves. It spends much of its time in eating whatever comes its way viz bud, leaves, flower and shoot of the plant. Basically it is eating machine.  

9.Curiosity led to another finding when we touched the caterpillar. To our surprise it had another weapon to show its might and fight the perpetrators. Two tentacles producing pungent liquid. These tentacles emit pungent smell, which acts as deterrent.? And when threatened, they cajole themselves, exposing minimum area for exploitation. 

10.They become restless if they don?t find the food. The urge to get food, makes them adventurous and explorer.  One of the restless/adventurous caterpillar came down the plant and hid behind the TV cabinet. We kept on searching for the 3-4 hours early morning, but all in vain. We started making list of predators who could be available in the protected vicinity of the house and the lizard was on our hit list for the time being. but our house had no trace of lizard, then who else?. So we rejected this hypothesis and with our limited detective traits started searching for the caterpillar. After one day?s extensive search, when we gave up and started praying for its soul to rest in peace the naughty caterpillar came in the limelight no less than an awaited celebrity walking on the TV table. Maybe his hunger drove him outside the cabinet and we made him reach again on the plant like the crowd and photographers pave the path for a glimpse of celeb.  We heaved sigh of relief. 


11.   The Caterpillar stage lasts 8days to maximum/depending on weather, food availability and not to forget the predators. It is a hidden development stage and starts with pupation. The stages are,  caterpillar to pupa transition, Pupa and change in color a night before becoming adult.

12.We started working on shifts to capture these moments. We missed many moments but lime butterfly was generous enough to lay eggs on my lemon plant (kept outside the home as bait) and we got opportunity to learn and captured the entire life cycle in our eyes and in our camera

13.A night before emergence, the pupal case becomes transparent, allowing the colours of the butterfly wings to be seen. By dawn the colors get darken and pupal case spilts open at the head. One of the remarkable phenomena is butterfly coming out, of the pupa. 

Plain tiger  emerging from Pupa                          

14.First pupa,  we missed butterfly coming out as we were not aware of the phenomena. But in the second case we noticed changes in the pupa night before coming out. But that too we missed. Finally third Pupa gave us opportunity to record the butterfly coming out. And that achievement completed the life cycle recording. 

Our Journey so far

15.So far  our journey from Ovalaker?s Vadi and brief introduction with Shri Isaac Khemkar,  to this day has been studded with winged jewels. Had it not been the encounter with these venerable flying angels, our life would have been less fulfilling. I respect owner?s grit and determination to carry on with the development of one of a kind butterfly garden without any expectations for returns.

16.My deepest regards to Shri Isaac Kehimkar, who besides having seen most of species in  India has to offer, humbly shared his knowledge with us. It was not new for me to see a butterfly with beautiful patterns and colours, but what brought me close to them was their life span. Today when  have helped 373 butterflies to reach for sky, we feel contented. Numbers are adding each day with few species so far quest is on for entire lifetime. This never ending journey taught me many important aspects of life. For each of the species We know their habits and traits by heart which distinguishes them from each other. All of them were like our own young ones whom we nurtured and to our surprise their life cycle resembled ours except that they had to be extremely quick in each stage. Remember, it will never come back to your home again as a pet. Once taken flight no more looking back, just it will search nectar, mate and life cycle follows....

17.They are harmless species. Their existence is endangered and their survival is critical and needs to be protected. Let us start giving life to these species. If one in 10 can nurture one butterfly, the balance in the ecosystem will increase the survival rate of other species. Just wander, search for the eggs in the vicinity of your house (look for the tiny white dots), bring it home along with the food plant leaves and serve them daily. 

Nature is full of miracles with variety of living beings with uniqueness intact whether it is mighty elephant or fragile Lepidoptera. Mother of these young ones does not have time for parenting so, nature has designed them self sufficient. Law of nature is unassailable especially in the wilderness.

(The authors  have reared more than 400 butterflies in their home garden and journey still continues. They have inspired  neighbours and their children and they  have started enjoying the life cycle and this cyclic effect continues for the betterment of this ecosystem.

Did You Know ?

Clean chit to wild-life intervention

Clean chit to wild-life intervention
A controversy about adverse effects of methods used by conservationists has been settled, says S.Ananthanarayanan
The last half century has seen global awareness of biodiversity that the earth has lost to the growth of industry. This has brought in laws where industry needs to be responsible towards the environment, and worldwide efforts to revive the wild-life that remains. In 1992, however, an authority on wild-life conservation arrived at a conclusion that some methods of conservation, since 1964, may be the unwitting reason for extinction of some dwindling species.

Craig R. Jackson, Emmanuel H. Masenga, Ernest E. Mjingo, Andrew B. Davies, Frode Fossøy, Robert D. Fyumagwa, Eivin Røskaf and Roel F. May, of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and the Carnegie Institution for Science, at Stanford, and the, describe in the journal, Ecology and Evolution, their study that enables ecologists to take an informed view about this disturbing notion.

Radio collared tigers in Sariska being tracked
The question was first raised by Roger Burrows, of the University of Exter, UK, in a letter to the journal, Nature, in September 1992. Burrows referred to rising incidence, in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and adjoining conservation areas in Tanzania and Kenya,  of death of whole packs of Lycaon pictus, or the wild dog. Burrows noted that wild dogs, which were among the most endangered of carnivores in Africa, were also the subject of much study and research. Research involved immobilizing the animals and fitting them with radio collars. And some animals were vaccinated against rabies. Burrows noted that in 1989, a whole Kenyan pack had died from rabies, a disease not a disease not usual with African wild dogs. The dogs that died, Burrows said, included some that had been handled by researchers for radio collaring and for vaccination against rabies.  And between 1985 and 1990 in the two conservation areas, four of eight packs, though not vaccinated, died within two to five months after radio collaring. And it was known that one pack had died of rabies.

As rabies was feared, seven other packs that were being studied were then vaccinated against rabies, using air-pressurised darts. All these seven packs, Burrows said, died or disappeared within a year of vaccination. Although there was no evidence of rabies in the area, rabies was suspected. And then, packs that had not been vaccinated, and not fitted with radio collars, had not been affected. This pointed a finger to either radio collaring or to vaccination. The need for vaccination itself was not clear, as there was evidence that the packs had been exposed to rabies and some individuals had significant levels of rabies anti-bodies.

Burrows again noted that the stress of immobilising and ‘handling’ leads to raising levels of cortisol, a substance that suppresses the immune mechanism.  And he proposed that it may have been the stress of handling which led to reduced immunity. Some latent rabies viruses thus got reactivated and came to the surface, Burrows said.

The suggestion was widely contested, and two letters in the same journal, Nature, from the department of zoology of Oxford University, promptly questioned the conclusions and cited evidence to the contrary.  One of the letters regretted that “the debate has been fermented by inadequacy of data of the fates handled lycaon of the ecosystem” and made a plea for more study.  “…but the conservation of this marvelous species in an ecosystem it has helped make famous deserves the highest standards of scientific application,” the letter said.

Roger Burrows and those who agreed with him, however strongly defended what has come to be known as ‘Burrow’s hypothesis’. A paper by Burrows in 2011 strongly indicts conservation intervention, saying , “14 packs ….died or disappeared from two study areas in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of Tanzania and Kenya, in  East Africa, where the species had been considered a 'flagship species' for conservation. …The ecosystem population did not become extinct in 1991 a non study population persisted within and around the ecosystem throughout the study period and persists to date….All study packs were the subject of conservation research by scientists who routinely used invasive research techniques (known as ‘handling’)……”  

The paper also strongly attacked the arguments of opponents, often citing the reason of the data for contradiction being inadequate. As a result, was  the question stayed undecided the value and the safety of research methods was called in question and in many administrations, the practice of immobilization, the radio collar and immunization was stopped.

Serengeti ecosystem covers 30,000 square kilometers in Tanzania, has rivers, forests, wooded mounds, grasslands and is home to seventy mammal and five hundred bird species. And then to large numbers of lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and panthers. The seasonal migration of, 260,000 zebra, 1.7 million wildebeest, 470,000 gazelles and hundreds of thousands of other game, following grazing plains,  through the reserve, into Kenya in the north, is surely the largest known, in parallel with long distance migration of humpback whales and in numbers,  with the migration of birds or insects, and bats.  The mass movement of grazing animals is a bonanza for carnivores and large numbers of the animals never reach their destination, including hordes that fall to crocodiles during the crossing of rivers. 

Development of Serengeti as a major biodiversity and wild-life ecosystem has led to sophistication in the methods of observation, census taking and management of resources or topography. An important technique is the placing of camera traps, which captures animal movement, unobtrusively, and with automation, over months together, enabling huge data collection. In this context of massive data collection, the group writing in Ecology and Evolution decided that if it was lack of data that was in the way of deciding the truth of the Burrow’s hypothesis, then it was time to collect the data needed.

The group saw that while the wild dog population had disappeared inside Serengeti National Park, the animal was not extinct and there were packs that lived in ranges just outside the National Park. To assess the hypothesis that ‘handling’, by way of immobilization and fitting of radio collars, would reactivate latent rabies viruses, the group collected data of wild dog immobilizations carried out in the park since 1991.  Data was collected of 121 immobilisations between 2006 and 2016, using the same method of air-pressure-driven darts, and the  welfare of the 121 wild dogs in the next three, six and twelve months was monitored. To allow for the objection that a single immobilization was a ‘short term’ stress, six packs of wild dogs were immobilized, between 2012 and 2016, in the adjoining Loliondo Game Controlled Area . The animals were then captured, loaded in crates, transported, confined and released in the unfamiliar setting in Serengeti. This, in comparison with immobilisation  fitting the collar,  was severe stress, and according to the Burrow’s hypothesis, should have resulted in increased mortality.  The survival in the group of wild dogs that had been handled and relocated was compared with that of a similar group that had been exposed to ‘short term’ stress of only handling, without relocation.

Radio telemetry being used to track tigers translocated from Ranthambhore
Of the 121 animals relocated, it was found that 95.9% survived for three months, 91.7% for six months and 87.6% for a year or more. This certainly did not suggest that severe stress could cause reactivation of rabies viruses or other causes of mortality. In fact, it had been seen that in six packs that had been handled and translocated to Sernegeti, the survival rate for a year, 95.5%,was greater than, that, 77.8%, of animals that had been handled but not translocated. Another significant fact noted was that while numbers  of wild dogs increased around the Serengeti  park, creating pressure for new packs to seek territory,  camera trap records showed that there was no recolonisation of Serengeti.

The evidence thus shows that handling, for fitting radio collars, which enables monitoring of numbers and movement of animals, do not compromise their safety. “Consequently, in the case of the African wild dog, information gained through research involving radio telemetry and other interventions has most likely contributed to the conservation of the species as a whole, rather than compromised it,” the paper says.
[the writer can be contacted at response@simplescience.in]

Story Of The Month

Snakes of the Lake- A story of Rock Python

Snakes of the Lake- A story of Rock Python

-Vikas Sharma

During the evening walk at Sukhna Lake,Chandigarh, I found some people gathered around something. Upon approaching I found that was a snake slowly crossing the road. There was a confusion between Russell’s Viper and Rock Python which was cleared after clarification from group members of Chandigarh Bird Club. I tried keeping people away from the snake and give way so that it could go back to the forest, but the snake was too slow which could be due to a hearty meal it might have had or an injury. The excitement of people was beyond their control as they were making videos & taking photographs randomly and quiet close to it too. I noticed one of the mothers’ standing nearby calling out to her son to come and see the snake. The chap was least scared while I was still making sure that the snake should be given way so that it doesn’t get frightened and attacks someone. One of the passer by picked a stick and was going near the snake. I insisted him not to kill it. He said he just wanted to place the snake at a safe place. While he placed the stick near to the snake, it took some time to realize that it could be a better way to climb the stick. We made sure that the snake be placed from where it could be easy for it to go back to the forest area. We kept it near the water and saw it going comfortably. Last to last week I saw a beautiful snake was killed by the security persons near the light house (Suicide tower).  Due to lack of awareness about the snakes being venomous & non venomous these are being killed at Sukhna Lake. The Forest department must ensure that  a task force be deployed to handle snakes, so that such incidents can be avoided in the future and the serpents can be saved. The nonfunctional lights may aggravate the problem of snake bites. 

Story Of The Month

My visit to Dudhwa National Park

My visit to Dudhwa National Park
When I was young I always had a fascination for jungles and had imagined extensively about visiting jungles.   I had the first chance to be inside a tiger reserve in December 1977 when I visited Wayanad for some work. Though I did not see any tigers or leopards, I was totally thrilled with just seeing the “beware of tigers” sign boards struck on trees, when we entered the Waynad forests. I was awestruck with its thick undergrowth and could sense the presence of wild animals.  We could see an occasional deer or two and their movements in wild were stimulating.  I could understand how difficult it is to spot any wild animal, in such thick undergrowth providing wonderful camouflage.

Later after I passed my CA final exams, I was posted in February 1980 to Sitapur for inspection of State Bank Of India branch there.  When I entered Sitapur from Lucknow, I noticed a big sign board at the entrance of the town, advertising Dudwa National Park. I began imagining my visits to this tiger forest with a fond hope of seeing the great cat in the wild. 
As we went about our chores of inspection of SBI, one day I broached the subject of visiting Dudwa, to the SBI branch Manager Mr. Raj Kumar who was non committal about the possibility of such visit. I also did not bother to push my request.

During the course of inspection, it was felt that we may have to visit the SBI branch in Chandanchowki for some confirmation as required by inspection.  Hence Mr. Raj Kumar arranged for a jeep to visit SBI Chandanchowki branch which is 10 kms inside Dudwa National Park close to Nepal border.
We started around 6 am in the morning from Sitapur and I was delighted with the prospect of being in thick jungles about which I had only read and dreamed about.
Dudwa is a good four to five hours way from Sitapur by road.  We reached Lakhim Pur Kheri and then Hargaon. It was then we crossed Sharada River. There were no bridges at that time to cross this river and one tried to cross where the river is not deep. It was quite cloudy by that time. The driver was a bit nervous as we were crossing the river, there may be flash floods which comes quite suddenly. However there were no flash floods and we crossed the river and reached Palia, about 25 kms before Dudwa National Park entrance gate. I was very surprised to see wheat fields just like the ones you see In Punjab and it was beautiful. Later I learnt a lot of farmers from Punjab have settled there in that area and brought their farm skills to make that area bloom with wonderful wheat fields. 
We reached the entrance of the Dudwa National Park and we met the forest officers who gave us directions to reach the SBI branch in Chandanchowki. I was nervous and thrilled to be in the canopy of very thick forest having some really tall trees. We came across a fork road leading in two directions and we were not sure which way we had to take to the branch. The driver stopped the vehicle and we all got out of the jeep to stretch ourselves and feel the jungle.

I walked some 100 feet from the jeep in the forest just to feel the forest. Just then the driver switched off the engine of the jeep and got out to check some persons for directions.  I was suddenly engulfed in a most powerful silence I have ever experienced in my life. My entire body became very alert and my ears were straining to hear any noise in the forest. It was very remarkable feeling of awareness.  I was rudely shaken from eerie silence when clutter of a leaf falling just behind me and this  shook me up completely.  I could never imagine a simple fall of a dried leaf can create so much impact.  It was my first experience of jungle in my life and has created a tremendous impact in me to understand and appreciate silence in every form of communication including music.
Later we reached the SBI branch at Chandanchowki which is situated near a tribal area called ‘Tharu’. The premises of the branch were small and only three persons were posted there; branch manager, an accountant and a security person with a double barrel gun.

As soon as we reached the branch, the manager requested us to make ourselves comfortable with what was available there. Then after some thoughts, he requested us for our vehicle to get some tea and sweets. We requested our driver to help him. When we had our tea and sweets, the branch manager informed us that he had sent the Jeep across the Nepal border which is just one or two kilometers away from the branch to get us tea and sweets.  I was feeling very funny to savor imported hot tea and sweets from across the border.
After the niceties were over, the branch Manager sheepishly asked for some ball pens and stationery. I was a bit surprised. I was always under the impression that such requests are made by the inspectors or auditors. I have not come across such a request from an auditee. I was quite amused and we collected some ball pens between ourselves and handed them over to the branch staff.

Then the story unfolded. The previous night the branch manager had to go to meet his family in Palia around 35 kms from the branch. He went in the motor cycle ably assisted by the gun man.  When they were returning in the evening through the jungle, they found a herd of elephants blocking the road. Hence they had to wait for several hours before these elephants left. They reached the branch well past midnight.  During their ordeal with the elephants elsewhere in the jungle,  some small time dacoits riding bicycles ( Not riding  horses as they show in films), who had raided the nearby village and were scooting to Nepal , saw the SBI branch . They decided to try their hand looting the branch as well. They were confronted by the part time night watchman, whose resistance was promptly and efficiently brushed aside. When they entered the premises they were dismayed about not being able to lay hand on cash and other valuables which were kept in a chest which was locked overnight. Then they checked for some valuables but had to be content with looting some stationery items like paper weights, pencils, scales and ball pens. This they did and on the way back to their cycles along with the loot, they gave some tight slaps as well to the part time watchman. The watch man pleaded that he can do nothing about cash that has been closed and he had co-operated by allowing them to loot the stationery items and hence he should be spared. However even dacoits have their fair sense of karma and fair play. They told him that without some effort they are not supposed to take anything and enjoy the benefits as the same will not stick with them. Hence to do the effort (parishram), they had necessarily to beat somebody even though he might have looked the other way and not confronted them. The watchman requested them to allow him to have at least a torch so that he can find his whereabouts in the dark; which they allowed. Now we understood why the branch manger requested us for some ball pens.

After we finished our task for which we had visited SBI Chandanchowki, we made some visits into the jungle in our jeep with a forest guard arranged by the branch manager. It was really thrilling to be amidst very lush undergrowth and tall trees. I certainly felt good to see a group of Barasinghas which made me feel very nice.  I was told by local Tharus, that it is easy to spot a tiger which crosses the road very close to the branch around late evenings. However our driver was not amused and he wanted to be back in Sitapur by night and did not want an experience of facing elephants blocking the road.
We also visited a dwelling of Tharu tribal, in Dudwa. I was completely surprised at the cleanliness of their dwelling. The kitchen utensils were spotlessly clean and were gleaming in sunlight. I was informed that they simply use river sand for cleaning their utensils which removes the grime and oil in the utensils leave them sparkling. The entire area of their dwelling was litter free and it was a great lesson in hygiene to me. I was certainly reminded of my visit to a local tribal area in Waynad, where I found them spotlessly clean and their small huts were clean and they were dressed immaculately. I somehow felt that we have to learn a lot from them as they were in sync with Mother Nature and have an understanding and insight beyond city dwellers about health, hygiene and laws of Nature.

I had to be content with sighting of Chitals and Barasinghas in Dudwa and reluctantly returned to Sitapur. The experience of going through the jungle left a great impression on me. It never mattered to me that I could not spot the great cat. At least I could understand how tough it is to watch it in its natural habitat and that is an experience and lesson of life in itself. When we returned, the wheat fields near Palia glowed in gold in the sunset and that was an experience to behold. 

(R.Mohan is a chartered accountant based in Bangalore and can be contacted at 

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