Kerala's Periyar Tiger Reserve is a butterfly hot spot, finds survey

Reserve has 246 of 340 species seen in the Western Ghats

By M Suchitra
Published: Tuesday 28 October 2014

From 162 species in 1992, the Periyar Tiger Reserve is now home to almost 250 butterfly species found in the Western Ghats (Photo: S Ajith Kumar)

A butterfly survey, the largest of its kind in the country, conducted at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala's Idukki district, has recorded 246 butterfly species of the 340 species identified in the Western Ghats. The survey has also revealed that the reserve has around 30 of 32 butterfly species seen only in the Western Ghats.

The four-day survey started on October 23 and was organised jointly by the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundation, an autonomous body under PTR, and Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS), a Thiruvananthapuram-based non-profit.

"In 1992, a butterfly survey had been conducted in this tiger reserve but it was not as extensive as this survey," says G Harikumar, chief wildlife warden and field director for Project Tiger. In that survey, only 162 butterfly species had been recorded.

This time, the survey covered the entire reserve spread over 925 square kilometres. The forest was divided into 26 blocks. As many as 152 persons, including butterfly experts, scientists, ecologists, photographers and students participated in the exercise. They were divided into 26 teams. Apart from the forest department, forest and other research institutes and major nature conservation groups participated in the survey.

Why a butterfly survey?

Butterflies are the indicator species and their diversity has to be studied to assess the health of the ecosystem, points out Sreehari R, ecologist of the tiger reserve. "They are also an indicator of climate change," he says. “The healthier the forest ecosystem, more will be the number of butterfly species.”

The Baby Five Ring butterfly (Photo: Kiran M R)

Surveyors sighted the Baby Five Ring (Ypthima tabella), Pale Green Awlet (Burara gomata kanara), Palm King (Amathusia phidippus), Travancore Evening Brown (Parantirrhoea marshallii) and the Broadtail Royal (Creon cleobis cleobis).

'The Baby Five Ring has been recorded only three times in the last 100 years," says Kalesh S of TNHS. In this survey, the species was recorded in the Eravangalar section of the reserve. The Pale Green Awlet, a rare nocturnal butterfly was recorded in the Vellimala section. Broadtail Royal was reported for the first time in the state in the Eravangalar region, points out Kalesh.

Other interesting species recorded were the rare Evershed's Ace (Thoressa evershedi), Coorg Forest Hopper (Arnetta mercara) and the Golden Base Treeflitter (Quedara basiflava).

The survey recorded 17 species of paplionidae, 25 of pierides, 78 nymphalidae, one ryodinidae, 56 lycenidae and 69 hesperidae.
The teams also recorded around 20 species of mammals, 110 species of birds, 22 species of reptiles, 21 species of amphibians, 36 species of spiders, 20 species of odonates (dragon flies) and 25 species of ants.

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