A group of 50 butterfly enthusiasts, researchers, writers, experts from all states of India got together to elect a national butterfly of India, just like we have a national bird and national animal. And the poll process started in September, the ongoing big butterfly month. The selection process started with the 50 members — including well-known experts like Dr Krushnamegh Kunte and Issac Kehimkar — nominating 3 butterfly species of their choice. After sifting through the initial choices, they shortlisted 50 species.
Common/Indian Nawab: Derives its name from a crown like structure on the head of its caterpillar
Next, these were judged by the 50 specialists on nine criteria — like charisma, should not be a pest, should be too rare or too common, be significant to culture and ecology, be attractive to the younger generation — and polled seven species as finalists — common jezebel, five-bar swordtail, Krishna peacock, yellow gorgon, common nawab, northern jungle queen and orange oakleaf. An important criteria of selection was that the species should not already be a state butterfly (seven states in India have state butterflies).
Common Jezebel, nomadic in nature but found mainly in the north-eastern states and Chhattisgarh
“Tomorrow, ie on September 10 we’ll throw open this poll to citizens of India to vote for a national butterfly. We’ll share the butterfly ballot, which lists names of all the seven, their attributes on relevant social media groups and websites,” said Divakar Thombre a butterfly enthusiast in Mumbai, and part of the 50-member core polling group. “Which ever butterfly the citizens choose will be nominated to the environment ministry. Informal communication over this has already taken place with the environment minister. We’ll be submitting a proposal to the government of India on or before October 10. And then by the end of this year or beginning of 2021, we’ll get a national butterfly,” said Thombre, who has set up three butterfly gardens in and around Mumbai.
Orange oakleaf: A strong flier found in dense forests with good rainfall
Elaborating why we need a national butterfly, Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, part of the 50-member group and an enthusiast said that butterflies are biological indicators. “Changes in the environment, like global warming and increasing pollution, reflect first in smaller creatures like butterflies. They warn us in time,” said Sadasivan, a plastic surgeon practising in Thiruvananthapuram and research associate with Travancore Natural History Society. “And they are an attractive hook to get people interested in nature and conservation,” added Thombre.
While butterfly experts and enthusiasts had been discussing such a poll for the past many years but they got inspired by the burst in butterfly population during lockdown months and decided to go ahead with it this year. “It was crazy to suddenly see so many butterflies. We want to create awareness not just about butterflies but for nature as a whole through this poll. Butterflies are like an attractive hook, only when we admire nature will we care for it. We expect 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh people voting for these winged insects,” said Ashok Sengupta, founding member Bangalore Butterfly Club, member India Butterfly Foundation, and computer science faculty at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Bengaluru.
India has a growing community of butterfly enthusiasts and in the past few years events like butterfly walks have gained popularity, people have set up butterfly parks and butterfly counts have also been organised by the BNHS. In an earlier interview, Sohail Madan of BNHS had said, “Public interest in butterflies has gone up, and the number of people working with them has also increased.” While there’s plenty of awareness around big cats, elephants etc, insect conservation remains largely ignored in the public space. “But butterflies are like tigers of the insect world and are creating buzz for bugs,” said Arundhati Mhatra, a Mumbai-based enthusiast.
Sharan V, an engineer from Tamil Nadu who has been actively involved in conducting the poll, said that this poll will hopefully give butterflies the importance they deserve. Personally, he’s cheering for the yellow gorgon. “Because it’s a rare species and has value. It can inspire people to visit India,” he said.
Seven finalists for national butterfly poll:
Common jezebel: Yellow, red and black. Found in north-eastern states, Andaman & Nicobar islands, Chhattisgarh
Five-bar swordtail: Green, yellow and black. Found in north-eastern states, Orissa, WB, UP, Kerala, Karnataka
Krishna peacock: Green, black, blue, magenta. Found in WB, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh
Yellow gorgon: Black and yellow. Found in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, WB
Common/Indian nawab: Green, black, brown. Found all over India
Northern jungle queen: Orange and brown. Found in Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh
Orange oakleaf: Orange, blue, brown. Found in all over India