Wildlife & Biodiversity

A unique institution for a beloved insect

The Tropical Butterfly Conservatory in Tiruchirappallai is a boon to the people of India  

 
By V Sundararaju
Published: Friday 03 April 2020
A butterfly sucking nectar from a flower. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While there are about 1,300 bird species and 370 mammal species in the Indian subcontinent, the diversity of Indian butterflies is assessed to be about 1,501. The major threats to butterfly diversity are destruction, degradation and fragmentation of their habitats, grazing, fires and application of pesticides and weedicides in agricultural and urban ecosystems.

As butterflies form an important part of nature’s food web, it is very essential to protect the species for ecological balance. With this in mind, the Tropical Butterfly Conservatory Tiruchirappalli (TBCT) has been developed in Tamil Nadu's Tiruchirappali to create awareness among the public about the importance of the butterfly and its ecology.

The Conservatory is located in the Upper Anaicut Reserve Forest, sandwiched between the Cauvery and Kollidam rivers in Tiruchirappalli. It is about 7 kilometres from Melur and is spread over 27 acres. This is considered to be Asia’s largest butterfly park.

It was inaugurated during November 2015 at Tiruchirappalli with the objective of propagating the importance of butterflies and conserving the biodiversity of the district through environmental education. The park has an outdoor as well as indoor conservatory, a ‘Nakshatra Vanam’ and a ‘Rasi Vanam’ in addition to a breeding lab for non-scheduled species, an open air theatre, an amphitheatre, an interpretation centre, plant nursery, shade houses, ponds, water fountains, models, an eco-shop and a children’s infotainment park.

So far, about 109 butterfly species have been observed here. Eggs of non-scheduled butterfly species are collected and bred in captivity in the in-house incubation laboratory by keeping them in ventilated plastic containers with the leaves of host plants as feed.

After attaining the transformation of larva (caterpillar) and pupa (transition), the adult butterfly finally comes out with gorgeous colours and at this stage they are released into the natural habitat.

Every now and then, non-scheduled butterfly species are bred and released by the park authorities into their natural surroundings. A Junior Research Fellow (JRF) with a background in entomology is engaged for breeding the non-scheduled species and for monitoring the butterflies.

The JRF serves as a guide for the visiting school and college students as well. Recently, I visited the park during February 2019 and had the rare opportunity of releasing newborn adult non-scheduled butterfly species that had been bred in captivity.

The water fountains erected at salient points of the park help to develop the cooling humidity suiting the requirements of the butterfly species during daytime. Butterflies are found to be active generally from 9 am to 11 am in the forenoon and from 3 pm to 6 pm in the afternoon, collecting nectar and suitable nectar plants have been planted sufficiently to meet the insects’ requirements.

During hot hours of the day, the insects take rest in shaded areas and plants suiting their roosting needs have been planted in plenty at the conservatory. Besides this, larval host plants also have been carefully selected and planted in required numbers in this park and the visit of increased numbers of butterflies is testimony to this.

The park now has 298 plant species. A JRF with a background in horticulture is engaged for maintenance of the plant species.

Out of the 1,501 butterfly species identified so far in India, 109 species have been observed in this park. As butterflies are known for their intrinsic, aesthetic, educational, scientific, ecological, health and economic values, they are considered to be the most universally loved and inspirational of all creatures.

Since butterflies play a key role in pollination of plant species, the global food chain depends on their well-being.

The park has been created in such a way that it provides congenial atmosphere for the butterflies for breeding, procreating and completing their life cycle in the natural surroundings. The park is managed by the District Forest Officer, Trichy forest division. According to the forest officials of the park, the number of butterflies that visit here has also increased in recent years.

The handbook published on the Tropical Butterfly Conservatory Tiruchirappalli by the District Forest Officer is of great use to visitors.

Nakshatra Vanam and Rasi Vanam have been developed with 27 trees corresponding to 27 stars and 12 trees corresponding to 12 zodiac signs of Indian astrology. These gardens have been created with the idea of motivating the people to plant and nurture trees associated to their stars and zodiac signs.

While the seeds are collected for further propagation, the dry leaves and the bark are composted and used as manure for the plants. The amphitheatre in the park is utilised for screening films on the butterfly’s life cycle and the insect’s key role in maintaining the ecological equilibrium.

About 2.5 lakh people visit the park annually according to park authorities. A one-day certificate course has also been conducted fortnightly from 2017 onwards on basic lepidopterology (Study of butterflies).

The visitors are advised to move inside the park either in the mid-morning or in the mid-afternoon to enjoy watching the butterflies at close quarters. They are instructed to wear dull-coloured clothes in order to avoid any disturbance to the insects. 

In a nutshell, the Tropical Butterfly Conservatory Tiruchirappalli can be described as a boon not only to the people of the district but also for the entire country. 

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