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WILDLIFE: Dainty dancers

July 27, 2013



FROM late spring right through until late autumn, the ‘meadow brown’ butterflies of varying sizes and shades, flutter and dance from flower to flower throughout the northern Punjab right up in to the forested high mountains of the northern areas, all across the frontier region and on down to Balochistan.

Often seen in fairly large numbers in areas where flowers and deciduous trees abound, such as on the edge of evergreen pine forests or, being surprisingly versatile, on exposed, rocky mountain slopes where drought tolerant, hardy alpine flowers put on a seasonally splendid show. These diverse members of the ‘Maniola’ family are an absolute joy to watch as, being slightly slower flyers than some other butterfly species and not shy at all, it is possible to closely observe them as they feed, and to study their intricate markings which are predominantly, as their name suggests, in varying shades of brown.

The eight most common species of meadow browns are the dusky meadow brown or maniola pulchra which has a wingspan of 41-44 mm, the ‘tawny meadow brown’ or maniola pulchella with a wingspan of 38-45 mm, tawny banded meadow brown or maniola narica with a wingspan of 48-50 mm, the ‘branded meadow brown’ or maniola lupinus with a wingspan of 45-50 mm, ‘white-ringed meadow brown’ or maniola davendra latistigma with a wingspan of 52-55 mm, ‘lesser white ring meadow brown’ or maniola tenuistigma with a wingspan of 48-50 mm, ‘oval spot meadow brown’ or maniola wagneri wingspan 50-52 mm and ‘Pamir meadow brown’ or maniola hilaris with a smaller wingspan of 34-36 mm.

This attractive family of butterflies lay barrel-shaped eggs, just one here and one there, on a wide variety of grasses and the emergent larvae are difficult to spot as they hide themselves away in the base of the grasses until nightfall when, under the cover of darkness, they emerge to feed. Slow to develop into recognisable caterpillars as compared to many other species of butterflies, the caterpillars too are fairly secretive in habit before pupating and going through a magical period of metamorphosis to eventually emerge as the butterflies described above.

Like butterflies all over the world, these beautiful meadow browns are under severe threat from agricultural pesticides, herbicides, weedicides and associated chemicals which many home gardeners have developed a bad habit of using too. Atmospheric pollution from industries, cars and even from homes is another problem as is the largely uncontrolled environmental destruction of precious habitats. If you can and even if you happen to reside in the heart of a city such as Islamabad, grow some butterfly-attractant flowers to help these delicate and fragile insects to survive — you will be amazed at what turns up to enjoy your bounty!