The greens looked a shade lighter under the blanket of the early winter fog that morning. A dirt-track gently meandered into the forest. Sunlight was yet to slice through the forest canopy. The tranquil silence was occasionally broken by the chirps and sounds of songbirds, hidden away from sight. The forest looked soothing with all the greens and browns, sprinkled with vibrantly coloured, tiny wildflowers.
I was in Guwahati, working on some writing assignments with a wildlife NGO based in Guwahati. Naturally, I had had opportunities to speak to the talented biologists and researchers there, one of whom invited me to join their little hike to the Garbhanga Reserve Forest on a weekend. Guwahati is a prominent city of Assam – a beautiful state in the Northeast of India. I had nothing planned for that weekend, so I gladly accepted the invitation – with only two things on mind, both my favourites – a quiet hike and a serene place. I had no pre-notion or expectations as such, which is probably why I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced the following day.
All I knew about Garbhanga forest was that it is (primarily) a birder’s paradise, along with other animals. It turned out to be a haven for another winged beauty – the butterflies. In my opinion, forests are often not associated with these flying jewels enough as opposed to the other big animals or birds. Could it be because butterflies are found in abundance and we find nothing striking about these tiny insects apart from their brightly coloured wings? But the truth is, beyond being beautiful, butterflies are, apparently, great indicators of the health of the ecosystem and therefore quite important for the planet. Their numbers have certainly dwindled in the urban settings, even though we don’t notice, due to quite a number of factors. Even though I grew up in a city, I remember seeing hundreds of butterflies in my locality. And as a child I was fascinated by those pretty insects. After monsoon, hundreds of butterflies with their bright lemon-yellow wings would flutter around. Now, however, I hardly see any butterflies around. So, when it comes to the conservation talks, I feel, maybe it’s time to give some attention to these flying jewels, too.
Thankfully, there still are some places that provide a safe haven for the butterflies to thrive. Garbhanga Reserve Forest in Guwahati, Assam, is one such place. It is set quite close to the city, in fact, I took public transport to reach there. Nestled at the Assam-Meghalaya border and enriched by the adjoining forests and hills of Meghalaya, the forest is home to plenty of animals and birds, but this day was about butterflies. More than a hundred species of blues, yellows, coppers, whites, and bird-wing butterflies have been studied and reported here, along with skippers and moths.
I was amazed when in a span of about 6ish kms, we came across about 70 species of butterflies and skippers! Given that the best time for butterflies is around monsoons, it was a pretty good number for the cool winters. Our small group was led by a butterfly expert. On that butterfly trail, I learned about numerous butterflies (and their names) including Red Lacewings, Banded Tree Brown, Common Imperial, Common Cerulean, Peacock Pansy, Common Five-ring, Common Mormon, Common Nawab, etc. I found some names to be simply delightful, like Nawab, Sergeant, Emigrant, Sailor, to name a few.
These colourful creatures with interesting names can be identified based on their shape, colours of open and closed wings, wingspan etc. The behaviours and defence mechanism was fascinating to learn about. A lot of resources are available on the internet for those interested in learning more about these pretty insects. Connecting to a butterfly expert or picking up books on the subject can also help understand a lot of things. Or even if one can slow down a bit and stop once in a while to look around, a lot can be learned by simply observing these pretty, non-human neighbours.
Check these resources, if you are interested to learn more about butterflies:
- Butterflies of India – Isaac Kehimkar: This guide is expensive but has extensive information on the subject. You can rent it from the library if not too keen on buying. Or click here to purchase.
- A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies of India – Peter Smetacek: Rent it from your nearest library or purchase here.
- You can also find more about butterflies here, join the forum, or contribute/volunteer here: https://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/