Year 2010 – the International Year of Biodiversity dawned with new hopes. It was indeed a happy moment for Puncha & Panchie who planted trees to welcome the Year of Biodiversity. Both of them are now enjoying the gifts given by Santa Claus and exploring biodiversity around them.
“Aiya… what have you done to my plant?” Panchie started the day with a big complaint. “Look Seeya, aiya has torn the leaves of my plant!” Panchie was about to cry. “I haven’t done anything,” shouted Puncha from the backyard. He was busy observing the birds through his binoculars.
Keeping the newspaper aside, Seeya walked into the garden. “Look Seeya, half of the leaves are missing from the lemon plant that I planted to welcome the Year of Biodiversity.””Hmm… Let me see…” said Seeya rubbing his long beard. Puncha came too.
“I haven’t done anything Nangi.” Puncha felt sorry for Panchie. Half of the leaves of the lemon plant were gone. Seeya was busy observing and turning the remaining leaves upside down. “Here is the culprit!” Seeya took a half eaten leaf, and twisted it to the other side. “WHERE… WHAT?” Punchie was furious, Puncha was curious.
“Eeeya…. It is a worm!!” Punchie had taken a step back. “Not exactly! It is a caterpillar,” Seeya said wearing his spectacles. “Look, it has hair on its body. You may start itching, if the caterpillar touched your skin”.
“Ohh.. Is it dangerous? Let’s throw it onto the other side of the road,” Puncha suggested. “Yes, the ugly one has eaten my lemon plant,” Panchie nodded. “Hmm…” Seeya again started rubbing his beard and started searching around. There were a few butterflies flying around. “Look, aren’t they beautiful? ” Seeya asked. “Yes, yes.. they are coming to the flowers in our garden.
I like them very much!” shouted Puncha. “Aha… Then you should not throw the caterpillars away,” winked Seeya. “Yes, I like butterflies, but I hate this ugly worm,” said Panchie. “Well…Well…!! Caterpillars are the small stage of butterflies,” Seeya explained. Puncha still didn’t believe it. “But Seeya, they look totally different. Caterpillars don’t have wings”. “Yes, it is a different cycle. Come, I’ll explain.” Both Puncha and Panchie sat on the lawn.
“First the butterfly mother lays tiny eggs on a leaf of a selected tree. After a few days, a tiny caterpillar comes out of the egg. First it eats the shell of the egg and then starts eating the leaf it lives on. After it gets bigger, it suddenly stops feeding and starts making a small enclosure called a Chrysalis which looks like a cocoon. The caterpillar seals itself in this chamber and inside it, the caterpillar changes clothes and turns into a butterfly,” explained Seeya step by step.
“But how does the caterpillar know it’s time to make the chrysalis?” Puncha asked. “The caterpillar has a chemical called juvenile hormone in its body that is made by its brain. Whenever a caterpillar sheds its skin and the juvenile hormone level is high, it goes to the next caterpillar stage. When the juvenile hormone level is low, the caterpillar wanders around to find a site to make its cocoon,” explained Seeya.
“So will the caterpillar that has eaten my lemon leaves turn into a butterfly soon..?” Panchie was now curious… “Yes, if it can escape the birds that come to eat it, then this little caterpillar too will become a butterfly,” explained Seeya.
“But why did he only eat the leaves of my lemon plant? There are more plants nearby,” Panchie was still sad that the caterpillar ate her plant. “The butterfly mother lays eggs on specific plants. For example, this butterfly variety lays eggs only on lemon trees. We call these plants the host plant of that particular butterfly.””Wait…” Punchie remembered something and ran into her room.
She had a butterfly wing that she had found lying on the ground. “Seeya, I found this a few weeks ago and kept it in my toy box.” She showed her treasure to both Seeya and Puncha. It was a colourful butterfly wing.
“Hey, Punchie… You have lots of dust on your hands. Mother will scold you now,” Puncha had noticed a powder-like dust on his sister’s hand.
“Let me see..” Seeya wanted to check. “This is not dust. Butterfly skin is made out of tiny scales. Your Professor Uncle will call the butterflies scientifically as Lepidoptera.
This name is derived from the Latin language; “lepido” means scale and “ptera” means wing,” explained Seeya.
Now they observed the different coloured butterflies who visited their garden. They sip nectar from one flower and then fly to the other, feeding on the nectar in those flowers. “Do you know this feeding habit of the
butterflies helps plants to pollinate..? Yes, it is very important that the male and female pollen mix in order to produce seeds. So the butterfly helps make sure this function happens properly.”
“Come here little butterfly… Come to me…” Punchie start shouting to the orange colour butterfly that sat on the flower infront of her. “Punchie… Butterflies don’t have ears to hear what you say. However butterflies have sensors in their antennae,” explained Seeya.
Seeya had also drawn a picture of a butterfly with all its parts. Seeya also explained how it drinks nectar from flowers, using a long tube called a proboscis. “Like we drink soft drinks using a straw, the butterfly sips nectar from flowers using its proboscis.”
Punchie came closer to Seeya and asked something shyly. “Ha…Ha… No Punchie… Adult butterflies do not go to the bathroom. Unlike caterpillars that do all of the eating, adults mainly feed on flower nectar. Occasionally adult butterflies drink so much, they must emit a fine liquid spray from the tip of their abdomen but it is almost pure water,” said Seeya.
“Do you know that we have 244 different butterfly varieties in Sri Lanka…? Out of them 20, are endemic, that means these butterfly varieties can be seen only in our country. So it is important that we
protect them. Come, let’s go and place these caterpillars on the large lemon tree full of leaves, so the caterpillar can have enough food and your plant can grow again.” Taking the caterpillar onto a leaf, Seeya got up and walked to big lemon tree.
“Make a wish that this caterpillar will turn into a beautiful butterfly..” Both Puncha & Panchie closed their eyes and made their wish..!!
Some butterflies found in Sri Lanka – Pics by Aruna Seneviratne
Published on 17.Jan.2010 on FundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100117/FunDay/fut_05.html