The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
The month of September is popularly known as the Big Butterfly Month. In 2020, India has dedicated this month to choosing its National Butterfly!
Among the 17 megadiverse countries of the world, India hosts nearly 1,400 species of butterflies. As The Weather Channel (TWC) reports, these beautiful winged wonders are an intricate part of the ecosystem, and act as an important biological indicator in determining the health of the environment.
The Big Butterfly Month is a celebration of butterflies aimed at conducting a nationwide citizen science survey to help assess the health of the environment. A first of its kind event that was launched on 5 September 2020, it will run through the whole month. More than 25 organisations from across the nation covering 22 states and 2 Union Territories are involved in this survey. Various competitions, talks, quizzes and webinars will be also organised as part of the outreach to students and the public at large through the whole month.
One of the most important initiatives has been led by a group of 50 butterfly enthusiasts, researchers, writers, and experts from across the country to select the ‘national butterfly’ of India.
The selection process to elect the national butterfly was carefully examined by well-known experts and scientists in this field. While they had initially shortlisted nearly 50 species of butterflies found across India, the experts later ranked all the 50 candidates on the basis of several characteristics.
These characteristics included the following prerequisites, as reported by TWC. The butterfly should have cultural, ecological and conservation significance for the nation as well as internationally; it should be charismatic, and must have an inherently attractive biological aspect that is engaging to the public; it should be easily identified, observed, and remembered; the species should not have multiple forms; the butterfly caterpillars should not be harmful or a pest; it should not be too commonplace, and nor should it be a species that has already been designated as a State Butterfly.
The aforementioned characteristics helped the experts narrow down the list to seven finalists. These species, and the Indian states in which they are found, are (1) Common jezebel: Northeastern states, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and Chhattisgarh; (2) Five-bar swordtail: Northeastern states, Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka; (3) Krishna peacock: West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh; (4) Yellow gorgon: Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, West Bengal; (5) Common/Indian nawab: All across India; (6) Northern jungle queen: Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh; and (6) Orange oakleaf: All across India.
Another major initiative during this month is counting butterflies across India from September 14-20, and sharing the count on platforms such as the India Biodiversity Portal, iNaturalist, or ifoundbutterflies.
Counting butterflies is extremely important as these butterflies are under severe threat so records need to be maintained to help check this decline, institute conservation measures and help preserve them. They are key biodiversity indicators for scientists as they are very sensitive to changes in the environment. This is where the project comes in as tracking these numbers is crucial in their conservation.
Survey organisers are calling on the public to count butterflies in their area during bright days during the Big Butterfly Count Week. Records are welcome from anywhere: from parks, school grounds and gardens, to fields and forests. Government guidelines on large gatherings and travel restrictions imposed in the region due to COVID 19 pandemic must be strictly adhered to.
Interested participants must download one of the three Apps iNaturalist, ifoundbutterflies and India Biodiversity Portal, create an account and start clicking and uploading. The web versions of the same can also be used to upload the records from home. Instructions are available on the YouTube channel on how to upload records on each of the Apps which cover various topics from introduction, advanced search use, utilities and tips and tricks to ease the work flow. Or participants can click on one of the provided links. One can do as many counts as one wants to. Separate records for different dates at the same place, and for different places that are visited can be submitted. Any counts sent in on paper, text or phone will not be accepted but records can continue to be submitted throughout the year and forever through the app.
This initiative is being organised and coordinated by the Big Butterfly Monitoring Network – a consortium of conservation organisations working together to raise awareness on the sharp decline in butterfly populations and create widespread acceptance of the actions needed to reverse this trend.