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I thought I saw the fallen flower

Returning to its branch

Only to find it was a butterfly....

Kerala, in South India, is home to more than 480 species of  birds and 330 butterfly species, 37 of which are endemic to this region. Many believe that after the Indian subcontinent detached itself from the African continent about 100 million years ago, and before it collided with Asia (80 million years afterwards) it had no butterfly fauna of its own. Although once connected to the African continent, India now is a part of the oriental Zoogeographic region. Its flora and fauna have their origin and present distribution in the tropical areas stretching from India to Southern Chinas and from there South to Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. Though there are quite a few species that are found only in the Indian subcontinent, they really belong to oriental groups. A good example is the Common Sailer (Neptis hylas) which is found in India and throughout Asia. Another is the prettiest visitor to Kerala’s gardens – the Common Jezebel (Delias eucharis). The delicately winged Map butterfly (Cyrestis thyodamus) is yet another but it is found only in reasonably wet jungles. Of all biospheres, the tropical rain forests are the richest in flora and fauna. The Western Ghats complex that starts from South Gujarat in the North and extends upto Kanyakumari in the South, has some of the finest tropical rainforests. 

Of all biospheres, the tropical rain forests are the richest in flora and fauna. The Western Ghats complex that starts from South Gujarat in the North and extends upto Kanyakumari in the South, has some of the finest tropical rainforests. It is here that we find some of the finest and most interesting butterfly species anywhere in India. Among some species that are found in both these areas, the best example is Five Bar Swordtail (Pathysa antipathes) which is found in the wettest forests of Western Ghats. Western Ghats also has certain representatives from the Afrotropical region like the Joker (byblia ilithyia), the small Orange & Red Tips (colotis sp.) which frequent the drier tracts of Maharashtra, Karnataka & Kerala. Some are also from the Palaearctic region like the Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta), common Grass Yellow ( Eurema hecabe).

The study of Indian butterflies started with the arrival of a Danish medical doctor Gerhard Koenig, a naturalist and student of Carl Linnaeus in South India in the year 1767. During the 18 years of his life here he made extensive collections of plants, insects and butterflies. His butterfly collection was sent to JC Fabricius in Copenhagen and 35 of them which were probably the first ever scientifically described butterfly species in the world, are still preserved in the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen. Carl Von Linne’s Systema Natura contained many Indian species and many more were described by Fabricus and Cramer. Soon after, the Nilgiri mountains were visited by professional and amateur explorers and naturalists. The first of these was the Austrian nobleman and naturalist Baron Von Hugelin the late 1830’s. But the first systematic account of the Nilgiri butterfly dates back to more than a hundred years when Sir George Hampson (1888) made a comprehensive list of butterflies he came across during his five year stay in Nilgiri – Wayanad as a coffee planter. His list contains about 260 species in all.

A little earlier (1878) in Travencore, (Princely state that is now Kerala), the famous planter naturalist H S Ferguson started collecting butterflies from Ponmudi and Ashambu hills. He continued collection for about 2 years and published his findings in the JBNHS of 1891. He reported 220 species from this part of the Western Ghats.The next list of butterflies of Nilgiris was by Wynter Blyth who from 1944 to 46 worked as Headmaster of a school near Coonnor, near Ooty. His list came to 290 species. Then again 40 years later elapsed before an extensive documentation of Nilgiri butterflies was carried out by D Torben Larsen, an authority on South Indian, Arabian and African butterflies. He listed 299 species from the Nilgiris. However, the most recent compilation of butterfly species of South India has been done by Harish Gaonkar of Copenhagen Zoological Museum, Denmark. He has made several visits to Kerala. He firmly believes that all the 330 species of butterflies found in South India can be met within Kerala.

For those interested in the butterfly life of Kerala, it would be possible to organise dedicated tours in the company of our experts. The tour will take you through  some of the most beautiful regions of India. For more details of the tour, CLICK here.



(For those on a short holiday to Kerala)

(7 Day swing through Kerala)

(15-Day Tour of Kerala)

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Last Updated: September 15, 2003