Butterflies on Stamps
Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera (derived from the Greek words Lepis meaning scale and pteron meaning wing) under the class Insecta which is one of the largest classes of the animal kingdom. The first vague traces of these insects occur in the Cretaceous period (about 135 million years ago), and they appeared as a well developed order in the Tertiary era (about 65 million years ago). The Lepidoptera comprise about 220 thousand species of which nearly 45 thousand are butterflies.
There is no region on earth that can offer a richer variety of butterflies than the tropics. The tropical forests, profusely adorned with elegant grasses, varieties of beautiful flowers amidst the verdant foliage are the haven of some of the most resplendent and exquisitely fascinating butterflies.
Few other insects can boast of wings as large or as beautiful as those of some of the butterflies - their soul and their very existence seem to be in their wings. According to the American naturalist, Donald Culross Peattle, "Man with all his looms and dyes cannot create anything half so exquisite as a butterfly's wing". At the same time butterflies are among the weakest creatures oil earth and can exert little force against their enemies. Nature therefore has provided them with an ample measure of wiles which they use for survival. "Protective resemblance" and "mimicry" are two such specialisations resorted by butterflies and moths for self preservation. The most dramatic example of protective resemblance, is seen in the beautiful Kallima butterfly which at rest looks like a decayed leaf clinging to the stem. The Viceroy butterfly mimics the inedible Monarch to escape from predators.
The sublime beauty of these winged wanderers with their endless variety of hues, and patterns has provided the theme for poetry and lore of both East and West. Their grace and beauty have inspired bards and artists of all ages to capture their essence in poetry and art. It is unfortunate, however, that many species of butterflies are in danger of extinction due to the ruthless devastation of their habitat by man. It is with a sense of grave concern for them that the P & T Department brings out a set of stamps on four of the several species of butterflies endemic to the Indian Subcontinent.
This lovely large butterfly, sometimes referred to as the ‘Northern Jungle Queen’, measures 90 square centimetres in good specimens. It frequents the forested hilly regions of Sikkim from May to September. Being powerful, Camadeva holds its own against small predators. The markings and colours on its wings are predominantly shades of brown on the upperside and yellow on the under. Though normally conspicuous, they provide camouflage near the ground and among the dense vegetation where it flies.
This glorious butterfly is popularly known as the 'Red Lace Wing' because of the intricate patterns on its wings. It is found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Assam, Sikkim and the adjoining regions,, at elevations up to, 2100 metres. From March to December, and abundantly during the wet weather, it is seen on flowers within forests and along their borders at river edges. An inedible species, it has a fearless demeanour and indulges in the luxury of slow flight, during which it flashes its underside warning colours of red and orange at any predator. The food plant is the passion -flower, whose blooms are as gorgeous as the butterfly itself.
This is a well known member of the ‘map’ butterflies, so named because the wing markings simulate the lines of latitude and longitude of a world map. It settles on the underside ,of leaves with wings spread like a grounded aeroplane, a habit common in a moth but unusual in a butterfly. It lays eggs on the underside of banyan and related species of Ficus, on which the larvae feed, in large groups. This species is common in Karnataka and the adjoining regions.
Popular as Kaiser-e-Hind, this butterfly is a renowned member of the Swallowtail group so called because the protuberances on the hindwings remind us of the forked tail of a swallow. A swift flier, the double- brooded 'Kaiser-e-Hind' can be seen from April to May and again from August to September in Sikkim, Assam and the adjoining areas at altitudes of 1,980 to 3,050 metres. It prefers open mountains surrounded by thick forests, and often keeps to tree-tops, though on a fine sunny day it may come down in the early and mid-morning. The females with a wing-span of 11-12 cms., are slightly larger than the males and have three wing-tails instead of one. The food-plants are Daphne species, including the Nepal paper-plant.
The first Day Cover depicts Papilio buddha, or the Malabar Banded Peacock, a member of the Swallowtail group. Unlike the closely related Indian species Papilio blumei, "ranked among the most delightful butterflies of the world", the Buddha renounced showmanship and is much admired by butterfly-lovers. It flies quickly and high, and can be seen throughout the year, except in June and July, in the hill regions of southern India. The green caterpillars feed on Xanthoxylum rhetsa.
(Consultant for text: S. N. Tata)
Date of Issue : 20.10.1981