91 butterfly species found during 20-year Jawaharlal Nehru University census

Delhi: 7 April, 2022 (Hindustan Times)

In 2020, 46 species were sighted in JNU compared to Delhi’s 71, and 52 different species were sighted last year, which was 69.3% of Delhi’s total count of 75 species

 

Over the two decades, rare species that were sighted in JNU include Oriental Common Mime.

As many as 91 different butterfly species have been recorded at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus over a two-decade-long butterfly study, according to the findings published in the Envis Newsletter of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change.

Surya Prakash, zoologist and the lead researcher in the study, who has been studying butterflies on JNU campus since 1985, said based on a combination of different checklists which were analysed by the researchers during the course of the study, it is believed Delhi has around 100 species of butterflies, and JNU has almost all of them.

“Documentation for the study began 2000 onwards, and we have sighted some rare butterflies as well over the course of the study. The most recent being the Oriental Apefly, which was sighted in December of 2021. This was the first sighting of the species in Delhi,” he said. Prakash added that the existing rich floral biodiversity and the introduction of new saplings and plants by the staff and students of the university may have helped attract different butterfly species to the area.

The field study was conducted each year, across different seasons, analysing the different zones on the campus -- Dakshinapuram (Southern Zone), Uttarakhand (North Zone), Poorvanchal (East Zone), Paschimabad (West Zone), Academic Complex, Sports Complex and the portion of campus where human activity is very limited. Prakash said that even the personal gardens of the staff were studied with spotting and digital recording being carried out between 8am and 4pm.

From 2017 onwards, when the Big Butterfly Count began, JNU’s individual butterfly count was also compared to Delhi’s count each year, finding a consistent increase in the number of species in JNU compared to Delhi.

In 2017, JNU recorded 36 different species of butterflies, compared to Delhi’s 73. This figure increased to 38 in 2018, which was 55% of Delhi’s count of 69. Then, 42 species were spotted on JNU campus in 2019 and 69 were found in Delhi. In 2020, 46 species were sighted in JNU compared to Delhi’s 71, and 52 different species were sighted last year, which was 69.3% of Delhi’s total count of 75 species, Prakash said.

Prakash said that could be due to better documentation of butterflies from across JNU, but it was also an indication that the campus’ environment is representative of Delhi’s varied ecosystems.

Established a little more than 50 years ago, in the southern Ridge of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s 1,000 acre or 13.8 sq. kms area was a barren land in 1970s without any significant flora and fauna. However, planning by decision makers saw native Aravalli species being planted, and water bodies being created to sustain them. The campus also has grasslands, gardens, including kitchen gardens, and a nursery where many insects including butterflies and moths can be sighted.

Chandra Bhushan Maurya, an environmentalist and co-author of the study, said vagrants or stray species were omitted from the final count, meaning that all species recorded in the JNU study are those that have not come to the campus by chance. “This showcases the impact of a habitat on the fauna there, which is also representative of good floral distribution. Over the two decades, rare species that were sighted in JNU include Oriental Common Mime, Indian Tailless Lineblue and Indian Common Lineblue. More recently, the Oriental Apefly was among the important sightings,” he said.