Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Butterfly boom sees crowds of yellow visitors suddenly appear

November 17, 2019 Published on SundayTimes on 17.11.2019

A swarm of Lemon Emigrants (c) Dr.Michael van der Poorten

Sri Lanka is experiencing a butterfly boom these days with even suburbs of congested cities such as Colombo seeing an increase in the fluttering visitors.

Many of them belong to the yellow Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona) species that traditionally begin a seasonal movement at this time of year, says butterfly expert Rajika Gamage.

Mr. Gamage, who is observing butterflies in the Thanamalwila area, said about 70 per cent of what he is seeing are Lemon Emigrants and about 10 per cent the Common Leopard and Lesser Albatross species.

Many reports are also coming in of clouds of butterflies such as the Crimson Rose out at sea, several nautical miles from shore. Renowned lepidopterist Dr. Michael van der Poorten confirmed butterfly movements have been observed from the Mannar area westward out to sea and from the Trincomalee area eastward out to sea.

A Female Lemon Emigrant (c) Michael van der Poorten

Until the mid-80s when, for reasons ranging from deforestation to pollution the phenomenon disappeared, it was customary to see thousands of butterflies appearing in clouds in Sri Lankan skies from February to April.

As this is the season of pilgrimage to Sri Pada mountain, Buddhist folklore had it that the butterflies also visited the mountain to pay homage to Lord Buddha. Thus the mountain was given another name, Samanala Kanda or “butterfly mountain.

“Indeed, many butterflies of several species are seen flying towards and up the mountain and are sometimes found dead at the top,” said Dr. van der Poorten.

Lemon Emigrants make this seasonal movement, as do many other species such as the Common Albatross, Lesser Albatross, Pioneer, Common Gull, Blue Tiger and Common Banded Peacock, he said.

Lesser Albatross

In 1949, the lepidopterist, L.G.O. Woodhouse, reported 69 species in this migration but now fewer species are seen, Dr. van der Poorten said.
He explained that seasonal movements occur soon after a boom in butterfly populations, which often happens soon after rainfall breaks a drought.

“A drought can reduce populations of both butterflies and their prey. But when the right conditions arrive the butterfly population can recover fast, leading to a boom,” Dr. van der Poorten said, adding that science knew little about these migration patterns or their causes.

Rajika Gamage said butterfly migrations occur throughout the year but only come to public notice when there is a boom in numbers.

“Continuous rain could help plants to grow lots of tender leaves that could provide healthy host plants for caterpillars to feed on, resulting in a boom,” Mr. Gamage said.

Himesh Jayasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka said society members are sharing reports of butterfly sightings on Whatsapp and these will be analysed to identify migration patterns.

The most extravagant butterfly migration occurs on the American continent when thousands of Monarch butterflies make an annual migration.

These swarms, unlike those found in Sri Lanka, including those that go to Sri Pada, return home after their seasonal migration.

While these swarms – officially a swarm of butterflies is known as a kaleidoscope of butterflies – eventually return home they are then made up of new butterflies. It takes as many as four to five generations to complete the full journey all the way back up to Canada and the US as the Monarchs’ lifespan can be just two to five weeks.Each year, millions of Monarch butterflies leave their summer breeding grounds in the North Eastern United States and Canada and travel almost 5,000km to reach overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Lemon Emigrants in Matara

‘Made for mating’ giant moth causes stir

August 10, 2019

Published on SundayTimes on 04.08.2019

A huge, butterfly-like creature sitting calmly inside a house in Ratnapura surprised its owners earlier this week and, as news spread, curious neighbours flocked in to see a beautiful creature none of them had ever seen before – one of the largest moths in the world.

Male Atlast Moth (Attacus taprobanis) – Nuwan Chathuranga

It was an Atlas moth (Attacus taprobanis) – the largest moth species in Sri Lanka, with a wingspan of 25-30cm and a wing surface area of about 400 square cm.

The giant insect’s visit was perfectly timed as this week is Moth Week, celebrating the hundreds of moth species in Sri Lanka.

“The Ratnapura moth is a female,” moth researcher Nuwan Chathuranga said.

Atlas moth caterpillars are eating machines but the adult Atlas moth cannot eat as its mouth is not fully developed, so its lifespan is very short; the moths’ sole aim is to mate and lay eggs.

This explains why the female moth found in Ratnapura sat in one spot, its birthplace, without straying to look for food as other insects do. After emerging from a cocoon, the female Atlas moth usually perches near its birthplace, waiting for males to be attracted to the strong pheromone or sex scent it emits.

A moth antenna has fine hairs containing smell receptors that can identify chemical compounds from long distance. The male Atlas moth’s antennae pick up sex signals from a long distance and send it rushing to the female’s irresistible invitation.

Moths undergo a complete metamorphosis through four different life stages, like butterflies. The larva of the moth emerges from an egg in the form of a caterpillar that feeds on leaves. The caterpillar then turns into a pupa protected by a cocoon or pupating underground before emerging as an adult moth.

“While we do not see Atlas moths every day, they are not that rare as Atlas moths are often reported even in home gardens,” said Himesh Jayasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka (BCSS). Other large and beautiful moths found in this country include lunar moths, also called moon moths, Mr. Jayasinghe said.

While the Centre for Entomological Studies Ankara (Turkey), published a study of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) in Sri Lanka in 2012 that states Sri Lanka is home to 245 butterfly species and 1,658 moth species, Mr. Chathuranga estimates that there could be more than 2,000 species of moths in Sri Lanka.

“I encounter lot of new species of moths during field observations – Sri Lanka has rich moth diversity and further studies will surely increase the number of moths found here,” he said.

Moths are mostly nocturnal and usually rest with its wings down compared to butterflies, that rest with wings closed upward. Moths’ antennae become thinner at the end whilst butterflies usually have a little bob or ball at the end of theirs.

Many consider moths to be dangerous pests while caterpillars. The fall army worm caterpillars, locally known as “sena”, that were responsible for large-scale crop damage recently, were at the larval stage of the fall army worm moth. “Only about 10 per cent of total moth species are to be considered agricultural pests,” Mr. Chathuranga emphasised.“Out of them, only a handful should be considered major agricultural pests.”

Those interested at studying moths can join the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka at

Lunar Moth – Himesh Jayasinghe.

Endemic Antheraea cingalesa (c) Himesh Jayasinghe.

Getting to know all about those flitting beauties

December 16, 2018

Blue Pansy (Female)

Adam’s Peak is known as ‘Samanala Kanda’ (Butterfly Mountain) because large numbers of butterflies fly towards it during the pilgrim season. According to folklore these butterflies fly to pay tribute to the mountain and with the Adam’s Peak season starting next week, this is probably the best time to launch the ‘Field Guide to Butterflies of Sri Lanka’.

This field guide is by Dr. Michael van der Poorten, the acclaimed butterfly expert together with his wife Dr.Nancy van der Poorten. The authors’ 2016 book ‘The Butterfly Fauna of Sri Lanka’ was widely hailed as a landmark publication for its comprehensive coverage of the biology of the butterflies of Sri Lanka. But it was a large heavy book which was difficult to carry around; so the need for a small, easy-to-carry book that could be taken out to the field arose, giving birth to this compact field guide.

The guide provides a wealth of information on all of Sri Lanka’s 248 butterflies. Each butterfly is described with key information on its appearance, behaviour, habitat, flight period and prime locations for observation. The guide carries close-up images of butterflies taken from different angles featuring the most distinguishable features.

The butterflies of Sri Lanka are broadly grouped as Skippers, Blues, Brush-foots, Swallowtails, Metalmarks, Whites and Yellows. While a swallowtail butterfly could be distinguished easily from a skipper butterfly, some species within the groups are difficult to separate as the markings differentiating them could be hard to pick. While images point out these features, the guide additionally provides ‘identification keys’ assisting identification.

The authors: Nancy and Michael van der Poorten

The book is arranged by grouping together those species that look similar rather than by taxonomic order that scientists often use. This is a notable difference as it helps butterfly enthusiasts to identify a butterfly in the field.The detailed distribution maps showing current and historical records of the range of different butterfly species is another feature that is quite useful to verify specially the sighting of some rare butterflies.

Talking on the challenge of getting a good butterfly photograph, Dr.van der Poorten advises that a macro lens from 100 to 200 mm is a useful tool. But patience is what is absolutely essential if you decide to follow butterflies. The time of day too is important; the best time for photography is early morning when the butterflies start to warm up; many will open their wings when settled only at this time, our butterfly expert added.

Most of our gardens are visited by at least a few species of butterflies, so they are special creatures that can bring the beauty of nature to our own doorstep. In the chapter “Through the eyes of a butterfly” the authors give guidance to those who would like to make their garden butterfly-friendly. “In order to have a flourishing butterfly garden, you need to see the space through the eyes of a butterfly: what are the resources that butterflies need to survive. What will attract them to the garden and what will keep them around and prevent their departure elsewhere”. Butterflies are undoubtedly so beautiful and harmless that they are a great introduction for kids, so make your garden ‘butterfly friendly’, Dr.van der Poorten urges.

The Field Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka by Michael and Nancy van der Poorten will be launched on December 20 at 6 p.m. at the Met Department Auditorium, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7. The field guide is priced at Rs. 4,500, but can be purchased at the launch at Rs.3,000

White Orange Tip (Male)



A butterfly guide this season to inspire time with nature

December 13, 2015

Butterfly watching – also called butterflying – involves the observation and study of butterflies. With the main aim of popularising interest among the public, the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka (BCSSL) will be launching the photographic guide ‘Field Guide to Butterflies of Sri Lanka’ that has more than 600 photos and illustrations of all of the 247 butterflies of Sri Lanka including the 26 endemics.

The guide is authored by a trio of young butterfly enthusiasts Himesh Jayasinghe, Sarath Sanjeewa Rajapakse and Chamitha de Alwis. Writing the foreword, butterfly expert Dr. Michael van der Poorten says he is impressed with the authors’ scientific field skills.

He introduces the young trio as butterfly researchers who understand the importance of careful observation, recording accurate field notes and making the proper identification. The guide is also a compilation of 15 years of field research by authors.

Through the photographs, the authors help even an amateur to distinguish butterflies from many different angles. The photos also show behaviour and living habitat of each species in most instances. “Some butterflies feed on fruits, some others on odd foods like bird droppings. Some butterflies perch at the bottom of leaves – We carefully handpicked the best photos that helps anybody to identify butterflies,” said Jayasinghe.

In 2013 the authors together with other butterfly enthusiasts formed the Butterfly Conservation Society, the first such organization in Sri Lanka aimed at studying butterflies and moths. They used different media to reach out to butterfly enthusiasts in the country and conducted several field studies on butterflies with previously unknown information about butterflies, their distribution, their larvae, host plants and feeding. The second edition of the pocket guide will be richer in content and not be a reprint of the first edition published in 2013 say the authors.

The publisher– the Butterfly Conservation Society is still a young organisation but its membership is growing steadily. Most importantly, the members are very active in the field. They meet every last Saturday of the month at the University of Colombo to share their knowledge and listen to a lecture on butterflies. Field visits are organised regularly. The only qualification to join the society is an interest in butterflies!

The Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka – second edition will be launched on Saturday, December 19 at 4 p.m. at the Meteorological Department Auditorium, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.

The guide will be available at a special price of Rs.1500 at the launch. The Butterfly Conservation Society can be reached on 0718181225 or for queries on the book and membership.

published on SundayTimes on

Butterfly Pocket Guide - await pupation Butterfly Pocket Guide Cover front Butterfly Pocket Guide 2 Butterfly Pocket Guide 4

Enter the Banana Skipper butterfly; bad news for banana farmers

September 27, 2015

(note: This article has been published on SundayTimes on 27.09.2015 Please note that the online edition has not included some of the final corrections done for the writeup. While apologizing for this, I invite you to read this blog post or the printed version of SundayTimes for the complete article.) 

Butterflies are beautiful, innocent creatures loved by all. But the larvae of the latest addition to Sri Lanka’s list of butterflies could become a pest to banana plants, warns the young butterfly enthusiast who discovered it.

Female of Banana Skipper

Female of Banana Skipper

Male of Banana Skipper

Male of Banana Skipper

Tharindu Ranasinghe had observed the larvae of this butterfly, identified as Banana Skipper, for the first time, on September 6, in his home garden in Kandumulla in Yakkala. He observed a tube-like formation in the Banana leaves. A closer inspection revealed a worm-like caterpillar taking refuge in these tubes. A single banana leaf had about 3-4 larvae and the entire plant had as many as 22-25 such creatures. A subsequent study revealed many other banana plants had been infested by these caterpillars.

Tharindu identified that the ‘tube maker’ belonged to a group of butterflies known as Skippers. Tharindu also alerted Himesh Jayasinghe – the president of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka of this discovery. Himesh who lived in Yatihena in Malwana, also observed similar larvae on banana plants in his area.

Since it was important to verify what would emerge from these larvae the young enthusiasts collected a few samples and put them in glass containers. They took good care of the caterpillars by cleaning the excrement and giving them banana leaves regularly. After a few days, a butterfly with unique red eyes emerged from the pupa (inactive immature form between larva and adult).

A Skipper or the Skipper butterfly belongs to the family of Hesperiidae. They are named after their quick, darting flight habits. The butterfly enthusiasts soon realised that the butterfly was different from the other three species of ‘red eyed’ butterflies already recorded in Sri Lanka namely Common Red-eye, Giant Red-eye and Banded Red-eye. The Common Red-eye caterpillars are found on Bamboo varieties while the other two lay eggs on cane plants.

When the two enthusiasts studied the feeding patterns, the technique of rolling banana leaves and other features of the new red-eye they were found to be similar to the behavior of the species that belong to Erionota torus or Erionota thrax which are called the Banana Skippers. Since over the years there has been confusion over the identification of these two species even in its adult stage, further studies and bar coding should be carried out to clarify the exact species, the young researchers say.

Consumed banana leaves with leaf shelters of larvae

Consumed banana leaves with leaf shelters of larvae

Until now this butterfly species was not known to farmers here nor found in the literature, so it is believed that the Banana Skipper could be a fairly new arrival to Sri Lanka. The Banana Skipper is found in India and in some East-Asian counties. Researchers believe the species could have come here with imported banana varieties. Ornamental Banana plants too are imported to Sri Lanka as a garden plant, and the eggs or larvae of this butterfly could easily have come into the country this way too, they say.

The adult butterflies may also be crossing over from India to Sri Lanka on fishing boats as butterflies are attracted to the light from the lamps of these boats.

The young enthusiasts later found larvae infected banana trees in areas including Kaduwela and Soragune. So although they are not yet commonly found, the Banana Skipper may not be good news for banana farmers as they could easily turn into an invasive species.

An immediate study should be done on the distribution of this butterfly in Sri Lanka and agriculture specialists should annalyse whether it was becoming a pest. The two young butterfly enthusisasts plan to carry out research on the Banana Skipper and have asked the public to alert them if they find the leaf rolling larvae on banana plants. They can be contacted on 0718181225 / 0779914227 or through email

The Culprit on its last stage before transforming to butterfly

The Culprit on its last stage before transforming to butterfly

Beware of ornamental plants

In addition to the Banana Skipper, two other exotic butterfly species are here to stay through the importation of ornamental plants. They include the Orange Migrant (Catopsilia Scylla) and the Yellow Palm-dart (Cephrenes trichopepla).

It is feared that many other unknown insects and micro-organisms that could become invasive species, could come via the exchange of plants. Experts warn that these plants should be quarantined before they are introduced to the native soil as they could pose a threat to our wildlife.

It is important that the Sri Lanka Customs continues to raid plant materials that are imported without proper quarantine procedures. In the past few months Customs had made such detentions.

Butterfly diplomacy 

India’s Maharashtra state recently selected the Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor) found in India and Sri Lanka as their state butterfly. The Blue Mormon is a large and beautiful butterfly that sports velvet black wings with bright blue spots. In Sri Lanka, they are second only to the Sri Lanka Birdwing –Sri Lanka’s National Butterfly. 

India’s media reported that Maharashtra State’s Forest Minister Sudhir Mungatiwar announced that his department would be collaborating with the Sri Lankan government to study the species in detail. The report claims Mahashastra’s forest minister Mungantiwar and Sri Lankan ambassador Saroja Sirisena have requested this country’s assistance for the study. The report quoting a forest ministry official said, “Once complete, papers will be published and measures will be implemented to promote the butterfly in the state as well as in Sri Lanka,”

Last year Sri Lanka, too, named a butterfly for each of the 9 provinces to raise awareness of these beautiful insects.


Blue Mormon (C) Himesh Jayasinghe

SundayTimes - 27.09.2015

Provinces get their own butterflies

March 12, 2014

Everybody loves a butterfly and perhaps Sri Lankans more than most: four years after the Sri Lanka Birdwing was declared the national butterfly each of the nine provinces are to get their own butterfly.

The nine are considered flagship species due to their attractive colour patterns and have been selected because they are endemic to Sri Lanka, charismatic and readily seen. None of the butterflies are a pest at any stage of its life cycle nor a vectoring agent of disease.Researchers have also satisfied themselves that these species have no negative cultural or spiritual beliefs attached to them.

Sri Lanka is home to 245 species of butterflies and 26 of them are endemic to the country.

The chosen butterflies have been evaluated for their suitability for each province by the Butterfly Expert Group operating under the Biodiversity Secretariat of Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy.

“The establishment of provincial identity through declaration of the provincial butterflies will create further regional awareness and ensure conservation of the butterflies and their habitats,” the Biodiversity Secretariat said.

The Butterfly Expert group has set up an action plan for butterfly conservation.

The biggest threat to butterflies is habitat loss and degradation as well as pollution – we hardly see the large swarms of butterflies that could be observed 20 to 30 years ago. The National RedList named 99 species in a “threatened” category, highlighting the kind of trouble these beautiful creatures are in.

Life-cycle needsOnce a butterfly emerges from its tiny egg it spends its first few days as a caterpillar feeding on vegetation. Then it reaches its pupa or chrysalis stage to complete the transformation to a beautiful butterfly. Because of this life style butterflies need a range of resources including plants and flowers for nectar. Some butterflies also feed on the sap of ripe fruits and dung of animals. Butterflies also absorb minerals by sucking on damp soil. They have varied distribution patterns depending on climate, topography and geology as these factors determine the types of vegetation that grow in a particular area. Many species survive on a wide range of resources and can migrate widely. A few species, however, display a very local and restricted distribution because they are constrained by resources.

published on 09.03.2014

Our National Butterfly

April 8, 2010

Hi Kids…

We all know about Sri Lanka’s National Bird – the Sri Lankan Junglefowl (wali kukula), National Tree – Ironwood (na tree) and National Flower – the Blue Water lily (nil manel). Add one more to that list – we now have a National Butterfly – the Sri Lanka Birdwing.

The Sri Lanka Birdwing is a beautiful butterfly with yellow and black wings. It is also the largest butterfly that lives in our country.

Different varieties of Birdwing butterflies can be seen in other parts of the world, but the Sri Lanka Birdwing scientifically known as Troides darsius is a unique species that can be found only in our country.

Here are the reasons for selecting the Sri Lanka Birdwing as our National Butterfly…

  • Birdwing is the largest butterfly in Sri Lanka.
  • Birdwing is distributed all over the island.
  • Birdwing is endemic to Sri Lanka so can be found only in our country.
  • Birdwing is a beautiful, attractive butterfly that can be easily identified.
  • Birdwing is not a pest that harms crops.
  • Birdwing does not spread any disease.
  • No bad cultural or spiritual beliefs are associated with Birdwing.

Though the Birdwing butterfly was common in our gardens earlier, they have disappeared from some areas because we have cut most of the trees and bushes that the butterflies feed on and lay eggs on.

The Birdwing mother always lays eggs on sap sanda vines, so by planting these you can try to attract Birdwings to your garden again. They also like to feed on nectar in flowers such as Ixora and Pinna – so plant lots of those too. Tell your friends to make their gardens Butterfly-friendly by planting lots of plants that attract butterflies.

Look at the Butterflies around you !

Go out and have a look at the butterflies that visit your garden during this school holiday. You’ll be able to observe different varieties of butterflies – sometimes the Birdwing too if you are lucky. There will be brown butterflies, orange butterflies, white and yellow butterflies with different kinds of patterns on their wings.

They have different names such as Crimson Rose, Common Jezebel, Lemon Emigrant, Common Crow etc. Kids, why don’t you go out, observe these butterflies and draw their pictures..?

You can send them to the Funday Times to share with your friends. We will send your drawings to one of our Butterfly experts and get them identified. We will also present a Butterfly Guide Book for the best drawing…!!

So hurry, go out and observe the butterflies in your garden, and send your drawings to
The Funday Times, by April 30, 2010.

Guide to draw your butterfly…

Step 1:

Go out and spend some time looking at different butterflies that visit your garden. Choose one
variety that you would like to draw.

Observe its shape and patterns on its wing. The wings may have stripes and round shapes that are in different colours. Observe these patterns very carefully (but never touch the butterfly).

Step 2:

Start drawing. A butterfly basically consists of three shapes, a triangle, oval and a cone. So what you need to do is sketch out these shapes and then position them like in Sample 2.

Step 3:

The shapes are a guide and now that you have the basic shape down you can start to add detail. So now what you need to do is erase the lines that overlap like in Sample 3, and using the shapes as a guide you can draw in your own wings and body shapes.

Step 4:

Now erase the guide and add a pattern within the wings like in Sample 6. You need to observe the butterfly first before you start drawing. Pay attention to the shape of the forewings.

Step 5:

It is important to have a clean image before you start to add colour. So you may want to consider drawing around the whole image with a much neater line and erase any unwanted lines or marks, like in Sample 7.


Please send answers to competitions to:Funday Times
C/O the Sunday Times
P.O. Box 1136, Colombo.
8, Hunupitiya Cross Road,
Colombo 2. Sri Lanka.

Please write the name of the competition clearly at the top of your entry and include the following details:

Full Name, Date of Birth, Address, Telephone No. (if any) and School.

Please underline the name most commonly used. All competition entries should be in your own
handwriting and certified by a teacher or parent as your own work.

Closing date for weekly competitions : April 28, 2010

Telephone: 011-2479337 / 2331276


Published on FundayTimes on 04.04.2010

Sri Lanka names its national butterfly

March 28, 2010

Endemic SriLanka Birdwind Butterfly – Troides Darsius flits to fame

It is the largest Sri Lankan butterfly with a wingspan spreading 165-180 mm. Its large forewings are glossy black and hindwings bright yellow with a black margin making it ‘hard to miss’ when in flight.  Scientifically classified as Troides darsius, this black and yellow butterfly – the Sri Lanka Birdwing found only in Sri Lanka has just been named Sri Lanka’s national butterfly.

The declaration of a national butterfly is aimed at raising public concern on butterfly conservation. Sri Lanka Birdwing was recommended as the National Butterfly by the Butterfly Expert Group established under the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Environment Ministry.  The recommendation for Sri Lanka Birdwing has been made considering its unique characteristics-that it is endemic and also the largest butterfly found here. Other facts – that the butterfly does not show pest behaviour at any stage of its lifecycle; is not a vectoring agent of disease; and is not associated with any negative cultural or spiritual beliefs, were also considered in the selection.
“Another reason for choosing Birdwing as Sri Lanka’s National Butterfly is its wide distribution,” says butterfly expert Dr. Michael van der Poorten. The Sri Lanka Birdwing is common in rainforest habitats in the wet zone, but is also seen in the intermediate zone and dry zone. However, more than the dense forests, the Birdwing prefers forest edges – even home gardens.

“The Birdwing can even be found in Colombo suburbs. By planting its host plant, it can be attracted to home gardens,” Dr. Van der Poorten adds. The Birdwing lays its eggs on the Sap sanda plant and prefers to feed on ixora and pinna flowers.

The Butterfly Expert Group is also preparing a Butterfly Conservation Action Plan. Sri Lanka is home to 243 varieties of butterflies of which 20 are endemic. Of these, 66 species have been listed in a ‘threatened’ category, due to habitat destruction and environmental pollution.

Published on SundayTimes on 28.03.2010

Explore Biodiversity with Kids: BUTTERFLIES

January 16, 2010

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

White Four-Ring

Peacock Pansy

Lemon Pansy

Crimson Rose

Common Tiger

Published on 17.Jan.2010 on FundayTimes