Posted tagged ‘butterflies’

Rare plants need to be propagated to protect them!

16 May 2015

Guest post by Nandan Kalbag

Certain wild plants, native to India, need to be introduced in gardens. One such climber is Oxystelma esculentum. Its common names are Dudhani and Dugdhika (in Marathi) as well as Rosy milkweed vine (in English). It is a medium size climber with very dense foliage. Flowering occurs mainly in Summer & Monsoon.The common variety is with flowers having pink center. However, I als0 found a pure white variety in CME Pune.

It is easily propagated from stem cuttings. It is a host plant for caterpillars of Common Tiger butterfly.

Purple variety of

Purple variety of “Oxystelma esculentum” creeper, also called as “Dudhaani” (Marathi).

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White variety of “oxystema esculentum”

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Twin pods of Dudhaani, typical of the family it belongs to, Asclepiadaceae

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Elongated, narrow leaves of Dudhaani

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The Striped Tiger “Danais genutia” is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Dadiinae, Family Nymphalidae) commonly found in India. It has a variety of host plants, including “Oxystelma esculentum”. (Image credit : JM Garg on Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-SA 3.0)

The caterpillar of the Striped Tiger. Watch out for these on “Oxystelma esculentum”. (Image credit : School of Ecology and Conservation, UAS Bangalore , Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-2.5)

Note: Images other than those with specified credits are copyrighted to Nandan Kalbag.

The Study of Butterflies – by Peter Smetacek

3 January 2011

It is uncommon, even now,  to find online well-written general articles on nature in India, especially about a particular group of organisms. The usual fare from the subcontinent consists of blog posts and a few instructive emails, with the bulk of nature websites providing nothing or next to nothing for the normal reader. It was a pleasant surprise for me to discover recently a series of articles on butterflies, written by one of India’s leading aurelians, to use an old-fashioned world for someone who loves Lepidoptera, i.e. butterflies and moths, Peter Smetacek. Peter lives in Bhimtal, has loved and studied butterflies and moths all his life and is also a taxonomist. He has a small venture for nature trails.

 

Peter Smetacek identifying insects. (Image credit:Rufford Small Grants. Used under "fair use".)

I could write more extolling Peter and his virtues to you but prefer to let his writing speak for itself. They were written for the open access journal on science education, “Resonance” of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Each is a short, lucidly written essay, easily understood by any reader and which explores a different facet of the magical world of butterflies. They are :

Smetacek (2000) The naming of butterflies.

Smetacek (2000) Flight, fuels & senses.

Smetacek (2001) Intraspecific variation.

Smetacek (2002) Congregations, Courtship and Migration.

Smetacek (2002) Defences & defensive behaviour.

A teaser from one of these articles…

One tale attributed to ‘Hindu mythology’ tells how Brahma, watching caterpillars gorge themselves, turn into pupae and finally emerge as butterflies in his vegetable garden was filled with great coalm. Thereafter he was sure of reaching his own perfection in the final incarnation. However, no one seems to know where and when this tale originated.

The naming of butterflies

“Resonance” may be open access but downloading the pdfs is problematic especially in the case of the first article where only the first page can be downloaded, and url twiddling in the browser is required to access the other pages. To make things easy for the readers of this blog, I have placed the pdfs in my allotted storage with links for downloading these. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I know Peter Smetacek from the Indian butterfly community, have visited him once in Bhimtal and also corresponded by email. These articles are being publicised by me solely at my initiative based on the merit of the nature writing.  I have not asked Peter for his assent nor been approached by him in this regard.

Violent Butterflies!

6 June 2010

Patterns from Meso-American cultures

I came across something really interesting some time ago – butterfly patterns occurring in the architecture of the Meso-American cultures. However, there is a gruesome twist – they do not represent beauty or peace or harmony but instead represent warfare and bloodshed.

To get a feel of the patterns , an introduction to this unique civilisation on the other side of the world to India is in order.

Meso-America is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua. A number of pre-Columbian societies, such as the Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and many others flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.

 

Location of Meso-America with relation to North and Central Americas.

The region is peppered with the fascinating ruins of great cities such as Teotihuacan, Tikal, Tenochtitlán, Palenque, Chichen Itza and many others. Over time the peoples declined and by the seventeenth century these cultures had vanished or dispersed. The story of the discovery and excavation of these great cities, some of which are completely masked by thick forest, to the extent that you can travel through them and not realise that they are there, while others were still occupied over the centuries after their sack, makes fascinating reading.

 

A view of the Classic Maya city of Palenque which flourished in the sixth and seventh centuries. (Image:Jabob Rus in Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The Meso-American cultures had a rich heritage. They had a pictorial script – this is one of only five regions in the World where writing originated independently. The Mayans had a number of calenders and an elaborate culture of astronomy. They had elaborate systems of water-irrigation. They also had pyramids but of the stepped kind.

 

Mayan glyphs from Palenque. (Image:User:Kwamikagami in Wikimedia Commons)

Pyramid in the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, Mexico. (Credit:User:AlexCovarrubias on Wikimedia Commons)

These cultures represent the change of man’s lifestyle from hunter-gatherer to sedentary in the Americas. Corn or Maize, one of our major staple foods was discovered here.

 

Corn, or maize, descended from a Mexican grass called teosinte. (Image:New York Times)

It is interesting to note that Meso-Americans played a ballgame for over 3000 years. A modern version of the game, ulama, continues to be played in a few places.  It was probably similar to volleyball, where the object is to keep the ball in play. In the most well-known version of the game, the players would strike the rubber ball (weighing 4 kg or more) with their hips, forearms, rackets, bats, or hand-stones. Over 1300 ball-courts of different sizes have been found throughout Meso-America.They resemble a modern day squash court in that they all feature long narrow alleys, with side-walls against which the balls could bounce. The game was played casually for simple recreation, perhaps by children and women too but it also had important ritual aspects. Major formal ballgames would be held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice.

 

Drawing of Aztec ballplayers performing for Charles V in Madrid in 1528 drawn by Christoph Weiditz. (Image:Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain).

The Aztec and Mayan cultures are clouded in our minds today due to their practice of human sacrifice. The Aztecs, in particular, were fearsome practitioners. In the Mayas, human sacrifice was reduced and more ritualistic. For a feel of the horror of human sacrifice, I would advise you to see Mel Gibson’s film “Apocalypto“. The film has raised many controversies but gives a graphic feel of Meso-American life.

There is no doubt that the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs and the other cultures of Meso-America were great cultures. In some aspects, terrible, but definitely great.

Nature and wildlife are a recurrent theme in these cultures. Take the case of Teotihuacanits murals depict many living organisms such as quetzals, jaguars, doves, fish, felines, serpents, shelled animals, shells, sea creatures, water lilies, and seeds. Flowers, shells, and feathers abound.

 

Kukulcan's Jaguar Throne at Chichen Itza. (Image:Bonomojo & Alvinying on Wikimedia Commons)

The butterfly was an especially popular motif – more than 45 works from sites throughout Puebla and Oaxaca in Meso-America include the butterfly in their compositions. The Courtyard Palace of the Quetzalpapalotl in the center of in Teotihuacan is one such example – thought to have been the royal residence of the city, the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, the quetzal butterfly, it has a large, square patio, lined with columns decorated with bird and butterfly motifs.

A butterfly motif from Ancient Mexico. (Artist : Jorge Enciso)

The butterfly in Meso-American cultures appears to be symbolically associated with militaristic expansion. The butterfly symbol was worn by warriors as a pectoral or head ornament in Teotihuacan architecture and later carried over into the Chichen Itza culture also. Besides war and warriors, butterflies also represented fire, soul, death, travelers and hummingbirds.

Many Aztec Gods and Goddesses had animal features. In Teotihuacan,  Itzapapalotl,  the great Goddess, is a patroness of warfare; she assumes a butterfly guise and demands sacrifices, both locally and in distant lands.

 

Itzpapalotl - the Obsidian or Clawed Butterfly. A skeletal figure with jaguar claws and butterfly wings. (Image:www.azteccalendar.com)

Another minor deity – “Metztli”, ruler of the moon, is depicted as an old man with a giant seashell attached to his back which also sports a pair of colorful butterfly wings.

These then are the highly stylised butterfly wings found in the architecture of Aztecs and other cultures.

Nine Butterfly patterns from Meso-American cultures.

A-B. Clay flat Stamp with butterfly motif from Teotihuacan.

C. Hieroglyphic from the town of Ocuilán, representing a caterpillar with the head of a butterfly.

D-F. Clay flat Stamp with butterfly motif from Azcapotzalco.

G. Incomplete stamp with a butterfly motif containing complex wing patterns from Teotihuacan.

H-I. Clay flat stamp with butterfly motif from Azcapotzalco.

Mexico, which forms part of Meso-America and whose flora is shared with other Meso-American countries, has a rich and wonderful diversity of Lepidoptera (see Mariposas Mexicanas and Nelson Dobb’s web-site).

An interesting book, unfortunately inaccessible to us being in Spanish, has been written by Dr. Carlos Beutelspache, a Mexican lepidopterist,  who has documented the multifarious ways that butterflies and moths were woven into ancient Mexican Cultures. These range from transient and simple uses of the lepidopteran form for adornment of pottery and in featherwork, to deeply religious symbolism hewn in stone. A review is available here.

A likely model for Pattern A - Three-tailed Tiger-Swallowtail, Pterourus pilumnus (Boisduval, 1836). (Image:Nelson Dobbs)

 

Another model? Mexican Kite-Swallowtail, Protographium epidaus (Doubleday, 1846). (Image:Nelson Dobbs)

 

The Bloody Spot (Phocides polybius), a beautiful skipper from Mexico. (Image:mariposasmexicanas)

Sadly though, butterflies in Meso-America reflect not aesthetic values as in the civilisations further East across the Atlantic Ocean, but bloodshed, warfare and human sacrifice.

Ironically, the Aztec butterfly may also be considered as symbol of this blog being a curious mixture of butterflies and the life of a military man (though with the violence carefully excluded).

I found the main image of butterfly patterns on this extinct web-site, still existing but abandoned since the mid-nineties. The image was bereft of information - looking up on the internet brought out the gruesome association.

Images: As attributed. Copyrighted images reproduced under “fair use” policy.

Butterflies, beetles and dragonflies declining in Europe!

25 March 2010

The Violet Copper Lycaena helle (Endangered) is a rare and threatened butterfly in Europe. Photo : Chris van Swaay

Habitat loss is having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said today. Nine percent of butterflies, 11 percent of saproxylic beetles (beetles that depend on decaying wood) and 14 percent of dragonflies are threatened with extinction within Europe, the Switzerland-based conservation organization said in a news release.

Read more on Vijay Barve’s Biodiversity India blog post here.

Download the section of the IUCN Red List on European butterflies here.

The situation is far worse in India. Even worse our scientific footprint is so weak, we don’t even have comparable data. God preserve my beloved country’s wildlife!

Image credit : IUCN. Displayed under “Fair use”.