In a first authentic research conducted in a span of 125 years, scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Somaiya Vidya Vihar University have found nearly 140 butterfly species and made more than 22000 butterfly observations at the famous hill station of Matheran, known for its butterfly diversity.
“A total of 140 species of butterflies belonging to six families were recorded from Matheran. The species include 77 new records for Matheran. We observed a strong seasonal variation in butterfly diversity,” BNHS scientist Mandar Sawant said.
In a research paper published in the peer-reviewed ‘Biodiversity Data Journal’ on the forgotten butterflies of Matheran, the researchers have said: “This research emphasises the fact that the butterfly diversity in the region is quite stable and chances of emigration to, or immigration from, surrounding regions are very low”.
“A strong seasonal gradient for activity patterns was not observed; however, we did observe a 'pocket effect' of dry season on butterflies. Butterflies during the dry season tend to aggregate near damp and shady places,” the research paper said.
“We introduce a novel barcode system for denoting seasons and activities of Indian butterflies and hope that this will help butterfly biologists to concisely and effectively present the data,” the researchers said.
Located on the Western Ghats range at an elevation of around 800 m (2,625 feet) above sea level, Matheran is a picturesque hill station situated in Karjat Tahsil in the Raigad district in Maharashtra. It is 90 kms away from Mumbai.
Revisiting the butterflies of Matheran after 125 years, with the introduction to the novel colour barcode for depicting seasons and activity of the Indian butterflies' is an outcome of 8 years of fieldwork and usage of Colour Bar-Coding system by Mandar Sawant, Dr Nikhil Modak & Sagar Sarang in the forests of Matheran.
In a survey that he carried out at Matheran April-May 1894, JA Betham in April and May 1894 had reported 78 butterfly species back then and had hoped that someone from Bombay (now Mumbai) would take up a future survey and might report some more butterflies.
“A total of 140 species of butterflies were recorded belonging to six families. Amongst them, 15 species were either listed under Schedule I, II or IV of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972,” the research paper stated.
“We also list the habitats of the species along with the data for their activity at the time of recording the observation. We propose a uniform colour code system for representing season and activity for the Indian butterflies,” the researchers said.
“Examples of colour barcodes are provided with the images of rare and very rare butterflies. The lack of abundance data is a limitation of the study for which we propose long term monitoring with dedicated efforts,” they added.
“While roaming in the forests of Matheran and clicking these flying beauties, we never thought that somewhere in future we will be working on this data so as to give it a form of a research paper”. About 140 butterfly species and more than 22000 butterfly observations were made during this study from 2011 to 2019,”a BNHS researcher Mandar said.
“The research paper published along with the Somaiya Vidya Vihar University was the result of countless trips to Matheran, record keeping of interesting sightings and elaborate discussions about the fluttering insects,” the researcher added.
Co-author Dr Nikhil Modak from BNHS has been instrumental in using bio-statistical techniques. The introduction of the Colour Bar-Coding system has been the salient feature of the manuscript which makes it easier and presentable for readers to understand effectively. The scientists recommend use of colour coding while uploading records on open databases which will help in conveying information regarding the seasons and activities of butterflies.