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The Gladeye Bushbrown

Adventure... excitement... two great words waiting to capture children, out in the woods. Would you like to go on an adventure? I am sure the answer is yes. This week, we go on a 'flying' adventure.

However, we will not fly ourselves... So, get your backpacks ready. Do not forget to get a pair of binoculars and a notebook, for they are a must. Are you ready? Then let us go, watch those lovely insects coming in many colours. The beautiful, fragile butterflies in the Sinharaja Forest.

Almost all of us love and enjoy the beauty of butterflies. As children, we love chasing butterflies though most of the time, these little creatures flitter away as quickly as they appear. As adults, we take to studying and photographing butterflies. Some of us have become butterfly collectors. However, in Sri Lanka only a handful of people study and conduct research on butterflies. Sri Lanka, known as one of the 25 biodiversity hot spots in the world, still holds many mysteries in plant and animal life.

Butterflies are one such area, where studies and research have been minimal. So, here is your opportunity to become a 'Young Explorer'. Who knows, you may be the next person to find a new species of butterflies!

The location in Sri Lanka we explore this week is the Sinharaja Forest. Sinharaja is one of the least disturbed lowland rainforests remaining in Sri Lanka. It is unique in its biodiversity and therefore has been declared a World Heritage Site, since 1988.

With a length of about 21 km and a breadth of about 3.7 km, it covers an extent of approximately 11,187 hectares. As a tropical wet evergreen rainforest, Sinharaja holds a great diversity of species when it comes to flora and fauna (plant and animal life). There are 40 mammal species, 141 bird species, 29 snake species, 19 amphibian species and 10 fish species.

Out of the 242 species of butterflies in the island, 65 species have been recorded in the Sinharaja Forest.

However, when it comes to endemic (found only in a specific location) species, out of a total of 41 endemic butterflies in Sri Lanka, 21 are recorded within Sinharaja.

The present Sinharaja forest reserve is an ideal place to watch butterflies, for it provides three types of vegetation. The shrub in the disturbed or secondary forest in the areas cleared by massive logging, the transitional forest area and the primary forest.

Many butterfly species are seen in the secondary forest and shrub areas. Sinharaja is home to the Sri Lanka Common Birdwing, one of the largest endemic butterflies in the country. The Sri Lanka Five Bar Sword Tail, a very rare butterfly, could be seen during March and April. Sri Lanka Blue Oak Leaf, another not-so-common butterfly, could be found in the secondary forest canopy, hanging head-down on barks or leaves, trying to resemble a dead leaf.

When to go butterfly watching?

Many species of butterflies could be seen in Sinharaja throughout the year. If it is a clear sunny morning, you will be able to see many butterflies. The new sunlight in the morning brings out butterflies in search of nectar and to bask in the sunlight. Rainy days are not so good, because they do not come out during rain. Of the four entrances to Sinharaja, Kudawa entrance is noted as the best area for butterflies, since it contains a large disturbed secondary forest area. The flowering plants on the sides of the Kudawa nature trail attracts a lot of butterflies.

Butterflies are easy to see because they fly at comfortable heights from the ground level, to about three to four metres. But, you have to be very careful and patient not to disturb them if you want to observe them closely. All you have to do is to select a sunny patch of land with flowering plants such as Bovitiya, and wait there patiently.

Carry your binoculars with you, for it is a useful tool in identifying small butterflies and various species and sub-species that look very much alike, except for a few differences. A butterfly guidebook will help you recognise the different species. Butterflies are also attracted to damp salty patches, mainly to animal urine on the ground. Blue Bottle, Five Bar Sword Tail and the Commander are some of the colourful butterflies that take in the salt content from these patches.

What you need to observe:

If you want to take up butterfly watching as a hobby, it is always good to keep notes on the butterflies you watch. Observe and note down the following points:

1) Date:

2) Time:

3) Location: (it is good to note the type of location - home garden/protected area, the district and the topographical zone - dry zone/wet zone/arid zone and the altitude)

4) Type of weather: (sunny/rainy/windy day)

5) The pose: (whether it was in flight or resting, and if resting whether it was on the ground or the type of tree it was resting on)

6) The type of flight: (some species have fast flight, some weak flight, some just glide while some others have rather erratic flights).

- Vimukthi


Some butterfly species...

Sri Lanka Common Birdwing (Troides helena darsius): One of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in Sri Lanka. The male with velvet black upper forewings and bright golden yellow markings in the upper hindwings. The female generally larger than the male with more markings in the hindwings and pink/yellow stripes in the forewings. Uncommon. Seen in the lowland forests and open country. Flies high. Usually seen in pairs.

Sri Lanka Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor parinda): Another large endemic butterfly who frequents jungles and open woodlands. Upper wings black with white markings, and red markings in the hindwings. Can be seen visiting patches of damp earth on warm sunny days.

Sri Lanka Red Helen (Papilio helenus mooreanus): Found in the wet-zone forests, this is an uncommon and large butterfly. The velvet upperwings are marked in red. When resting with wings open, the forewing is drawn back over the light patch of the hindwing. Found in Sinharaja throughout the year, sometimes flying above streams. Flight fast and strong.

Ceylon Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus jasonia): Another large butterfly significant to Sinharaja. Many tree nymphs of varied sizes can be seen gliding like a group of paratroopers in Sinharaja on a sunny morning. Could be found near streams. Flight gliding and weak. Beautiful silver-white wings are marked with black spots.

Sri Lanka Blue Oak Leaf (Kallima philarchus philarchus): A rare butterfly found in heavy forest areas, now restricted to a few wetland forest patches including Sinharaja. The bright purple-blue upperwing with a diagonal white stripe helps identify this butterfly.

In contrast, the underwing takes the colours and markings of a withered leaf, a form of mimicry to hide from the prying eyes of predator birds. When settled, the Blue Oak-Leaf turns head down so that it resembles a withered leaf hanging from a twig.

Sri Lanka Clipper (Parthenos sylvia cyaneus): An endemic butterfly. Common in Sinharaja. Flight strong and gliding, usually flies high. Grey-blue upperwings. Upper forewings are marked in white. Underwings a tawny brown.

Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon menides): Found in woodland areas. A very common butterfly in Sinharaja, with beautiful black upper wings marked in green spots. Flight - restless.

Vacancies - UNDP

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