National Butterfly not strictly national but survival is now on the cards

Photo courtesy Sonam Wangdi, WCD

The sightings of the supposedly Bhutan-reserved Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory in India could mean that the national Butterfly is not endemic to the country. For the species however it is good news as it ups the chances for survival.

Recently on 3 November, sightings of the Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory were reported from the Eaglenest WLS in western Arunachal Pradesh, the North Eastern (NE) part of India. The report which confirmed its occurrence in the area was published by the Indian Foundation for Butterflies.

The report based on the images taken by Pijush Dutta claims or represents the first valid record of the butterfly outside Bhutan. Until 2 November this year, Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis Ludlowii), the National Butterfly of Bhutan was believed to be an endemic butterfly species occurring only in small pockets of Trashiyangtse and nowhere else.

The established fact till date remained that except for areas such as Tobrang and areas north of Tobrang to the international boundary, Tarphel, Pangkhar, Longkhar, Dramar and Barigang under the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Trashiyangtse, the butterfly was supposedly never recorded in any other parts of the world.

The report acknowledged that besides it being an important addition to the Indian butterfly fauna, the species is now known to be endemic to eastern Bhutan and the West Kameng area of western Arunachal Pradesh in NE India.

The report however did not rule out the likeliness of the species to be discovered in western Bhutan and further east in Arunachal Pradesh if these areas were to be surveyed intensively for the species.

Forestry officials with the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) under the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) expressed positivity over such a report.

“With their presence confirmed in other places, the risk of species extinction is dwindled,” said WCD’s forestry officer Sonam Wangdi who was closely involved with research and survey of the Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory in the country.

He said, “We only believed the butterfly could be endemic to Bhutan but never confirmed it.”

This, he said, is because they believed it is possible to find the butterfly in other parts both within and outside the country.” And for that matter, Arunachal Pradesh, he pointed out, shared proximity to Trashiyangtse with similar climatic conditions, vegetation type and altitudinal range favorable to this particular species of butterfly. “So, it is not surprising to hear about the Ludlow’s in Arunachal Pradesh,” Sonam Wangdi said adding that even back home, they still believe it may be found in few other places.

The publication also stated that this species is believed to be very rare, although it may be locally common.  It is written that not much is known about its phenology, flight period and elevation range. What little known is only from the species description (Gabriel 1942), and from the recent rediscovery in 2009 by Karma Wangdi and subsequent surveys in 2011 by a team of Bhutanese and Japanese lepidopterists (Harada et al. 2012).  “In Bhutan, B. ludlowi and B. lidderdalii have not yet been observed flying together. However, in India, both B. ludlowi and B. lidderdalii are now known to fly at the same elevation in the same microhabitat and valley,” stated the post further adding that this sympatric occurrence is significant.

According to their observation, the species is known to occupy evergreen forests and forest openings at elevations of 2,000-2,500 meters above sea level. It is at least bivoltine, flying from July to October. Indian calls it ‘Mystical Bhutan Glory.’

 

Historical Background of Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory

It is believed that the first discovery of this butterfly was made around 1933-34 by Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff during the era of British India. They were famous British plant hunters who happened to pass through the far eastern part of the country during their plant hunting expedition. They’ve collected five specimens of this rare and mysterious butterfly of Bhutan from its only habitat in Trashiyangtse. Hence, the butterfly itself is named after these foreign botanists Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff.

However, no additional record has been obtained after it was described as a new species eight years later in 1942 (Gabriel, 1942). According to Watanabe Yasuyuki, the trustee of the Butterfly Society of Japan (BSJ), it is considered one of the most mysterious butterflies in the world for about 80 years and many researchers and collectors were trying to reveal the veil of this swallowtail.

It was only some 78 years later that a forester, Karma Wangdi then working in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS), rediscovered the particular butterfly in spring of August 2009. He obtained two specimens of this species making it the first confirmed record of re-discovery of the Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory.

Sources claim this species of butterfly to be very similar to Bhutanitis lidderdalii – Bhutan Glory. However, it may be easily identified by its less strongly toothed hind-wing, grey or dirty yellow sub-marginal lunules on the upper side of its hind-wing.  B. lidderdalii has bold and broadly yellow. B. ludlowii has however, broader forewing (Gabriel 1942; Harada et al. 2012).

 

The Bhutan- Japan collaborative research and survey on Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory

The national research team from Bhutan, which comprised forestry officials of Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD), Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) in collaboration with the Butterfly Society of Japan (BSJ) and the filming crew members from NHK, Japan undertook a joint research and survey on Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail. The 14-member joint team conducted their research and survey from 12 to 19 August last year for the duration of 8 days.

It started with the signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 2 August last year between DoFPS and Japanese researchers and film crew from NHK and the Butterfly Society of Japan underscoring the need to take up comprehensive research and filming on Bhutan’s Butterflies with special emphasis on Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail.

Subsequently, field research started on 12 August, coinciding with the historic date of this butterfly being first discovered by Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff in 1933 in the same area during one of their nature expeditions.

 

Findings of the collaborative research team on Ludlow’ Bhutan Glory

The collaborative research and survey team on 24 August last year presented their preliminary findings to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) upon their return from Tobrang at Trashiyangtse.

The team sighted the first butterfly on the morning of 12 August around 8:15 near their campsite in Tobrang. This was followed by their first catch of the butterfly on the same day on their way to a Royal Bhutan Army camp. Few meters away from the first catch the team sighted about five butterflies feeding on nectar from flowers at which point the team spent almost an hour photographing these butterflies.

The research team also observed that the butterfly has a very gentle flight with very less or almost no fluttering of its fore-wings and absolutely no fluttering of its hind wings. It flies at a height as high as tree canopy height and can come as low as few meters from ground. They also confirmed that the larva, like all other species of genus Bhutanitis (which also includes the similar looking Bhutan Glory) feeds on the leaves of host plant Aristolochia grifithii, a climber with a heart-shaped leaves found in this area and also in other areas of Bhutan.

The sighting of four more butterflies was also made near Longkhar after crossing the army camp, in the same location where Karma Wangdi rediscovered it in August 2009.

S. Yamaguchi, an expert on species survey in the team, also found a site with many more butterflies.

The researchers also claimed that the first new behavioral discovery on Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory was made when Sonam Wangdi of the team could document the first mating pair on 15 August last year.

Further, the first cluster of eggs was also found by Mr. Motohiro Harada, expert on Butterfly’s early stages, the team leader and Japanese member of the team on 17 August last year which was confirmed as eggs of the Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory after Dr. Yago, expert on Butterfly’s early stages and conservation, pushed out an egg from a female abdomen. The eggs were further confirmed beyond doubt when a female was sighted in oviposition on the same day.

Further, the research findings states that many adults of Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory was observed in the field. It was also during such collaborative research that Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory has been confirmed its species status against previous claim by some researchers as a subspecies of the Bhutan Glory

Researchers also recorded that eggs are much smaller than the other three Bhutanitis spp viz. B.mansfieldi, B.thaidina and B.lidderdalii and laid in different arrangement often in piled cluster unlike the single layer arrangement.

Other findings includes, Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory lays eggs for more than three hours and adult butterfly prefers Viburnum cylindricum flowers, while larva feeds on Aristolochii griffithii leaves.

The Japanese team published a journal titled, “Butterflies” which became instant hit with many people from Japan and other countries wanted to purchase the issue. “This swallowtail was just like a “holy grail” for all butterfly enthusiasts in the world,” reads the online synopsis of the journal.

Bhutan donates Japan with two specimen of Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory

As a gesture of true friendship between the two countries, Bhutan donated two specimen of rare Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail on 16 November, last year. The donation of the specimens to the Butterfly Society of Japan was done at the state guesthouse in Tokyo.

The donated specimens were to be housed at the University of Tokyo Museum and the Research Institute of Evolutional Biology in Japan. As a gesture of goodwill and friendship, Their Majesties the King and the Queen who were in Japan last November gifted the specimen of the male and female swallowtail butterflies.

 

Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory named the National Butterfly of Bhutan

It was in a presentation during the initial stage of the research and survey, at the signing of MoU that Mr. Saito Motoki, Team leader, NHK first mentioned about its potential to designate as National Butterfly of Bhutan. His presentation excerpt read, “Extremely rare and endemic to Bhutan,” it fulfils most of the criteria required to be recognized as the national significance.

Later, following the proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, about possibility of designating or naming the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail as the National Butterfly of Bhutan, the 123rd sitting of the Cabinet on Thursday, 16 February, this year approved the proposal. With the endorsement, Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail or Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory was officially declared Bhutan’s National Butterfly, with its scientific name as Bhutanitis ludlowii.

On what would be the reason for making the insect our national butterfly, a team member from WCD was quoted saying it would be because of its beauty and the endemism to Trashiyangtse. Endemism of course for now is no more. Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail epitomizes Bhutan’s uniqueness and specialty.

 

The Conservation issue of Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory

After having named the National Butterfly and in addition to its rarity, species protection and conservation was deemed to be of utmost importance.

Officials have said that protecting and conserving Ludlow’s Bhutan swallowtail butterfly is not a challenge as of now. But they were quoted saying, it could be in future.

However, provision of easy access to the habitat both to the local and tourist was seen as one potential threat. This included the construction of the road from Bumdeling to Tobrang which was known to have been planned.

“If the roads come closer to the habitats then illegal entry into the habitat area and illegal trade might happen if proper strategies are not taken,” said officials.

Construction of roads means more travelers could hop into the habitat area for any purpose at anytime. The officials expect no affect to the Bhutanitis ludlowii’s habitat unless their host trees are disturbed or cut down.

IUCN Red data book also mentioned the Butterfly as data deficit and listed under the category of vulnerable.

 

Boosting of conservation status of Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory

According to Sonam Wangdi the areas are given ‘increased protection’ status and entry is restricted from any route for foreigners including Bhutanese researchers except with prior permission and in accordance with the provisions of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995.

After identifying many areas as prime habitat for the rare butterfly, Tobrang and areas north of Tobrang till the international boundary, Tarphel, Pangkhar, Longkhar, Dramar and Barigang in which this species of butterfly is restricted to, have been designated as areas to be given highest protection status.

“To protect this important species and its habitat, the areas as listed above shall henceforth be given increased protection status and further restricted for entry from any routes for foreigners including Bhutanese researchers except with prior permission in accordance with the provisions of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995,” states the Executive Order issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.

It is also the first butterfly species to be included under Schedule I of Forest and Nature Conservation Rules. Inclusion of the butterfly in the Schedule I means listing it under the totally protected species. FNCR states that, “regardless of any provision of these Rules or of any schedules, Technical Regulations or other documents, all species listed in Schedules I shall be totally protected throughout their range”.

 

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