Kerala is a haven for butterflies. There are about 332 species of butterflies in Kerala. Of them, 37 species are endemic to Western Ghats. The butterflies seen in Kerala vary greatly in colour, habits and size. The largest butterfly of India, the Southern Birdwing has a wingspan of up to 190 mm, while the smallest butterfly of India, the Grass Jewel has a wing span of 15mm. Both of these species occur in Kerala.
The butterflies seen in Kerala are classified in five families such as Papilionidae (Swallow tails), Pieridae (White and yellows), Nymphalidae (Brush footed mutterflies), Lycaenidae (Blues) and Hesperiidae (Skippers).
Low and evergreen forests of Thattekkad Bird sanctuary and Arippa “Ammayambalam Pacha” (Kulathupuzha range) are rich in butterflies. Open degraded forests, riverine vegetation along streams and open deciduous forests of Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, vazhachal-athirappalli reserve forests, Kallar-Ponmudi reserve forests, peppara wildlife sanctuary, peechi-vazhani reserve forests and neyyar wildlife sanctuary are abounding with butterflies. The evergreen, semi evergreen and riparian forests of Shenduruney wildlife sanctuary, aralam wildlife sanctuary and silent valley national park attract rare and endemic butterfly species to Western Ghats.
The southern Birdwing is seen in gardens of cities also. The shoe flower, lantana and blue spike flowers attract this beautiful golden yellow and black colour butterfly to our residence and courtyard. Common Mormon, Crimson Rose, Common Rose, Blue Bottle, Tailed Jay, Common Jay, Blue Mormon (Krishnashalabham), Common Emigrant, Grass Yellow, Common Jezebel, Psyche, Common Evening Brown, Chocolate Pansy, Blue Tiger, Plain Tiger, Common Fourring and Commandor are the common butterfly species seen in Kerala villages, cities and towns.
The streambeds of our forests have several species of butterflies. Common Albatross, Five Bar Swordtail, Indian Cruiser, Tawny Rajah, Red Helen, Fluffy Tit and Malabar banded Swallow tail, Paris Peacock and sunbeam butterflies congregating at the forest streams for mudpuddling.
Tropical temperate forests and shola forests of Kerala are abodes of rare, endemic and endangered butterflies to Western Ghats. Other endemic and endangered species like Red Disk Bush Brown, Tamil Cat’s Eye, White disc Hedge Blue, Nilgiri Tiger, Sithala Ace, Nilgiri Fourring and Palani Fourring are seen in shola forests of Kerala. The Indian Fritillery, Red Admiral and Painted Lady are seen on the top of Anaimudi hills, Agasthyakoodam Peak and Vallakad in Silent valley national park.
Travancore Evening Brown is considered a rare and endemic species to Western Ghats, seen in the reed forests of Ponmudi-Kallar valley, Idamalayar, Bhoothathankettu, Thattekkad and Anakayam-Pathadippalam-Sholayar forests. Spot Puffin, an uncommon white butterfly is seen in Iravikulam National park and Agasthyakoodam-Athirumala region of Neyyar wildlife sanctuary.
Butterflies are particularly active in the end of south west and north east monsoon. They are also active after summer shower (Mid April) and pre monsoon month (May). Apt time for butterfly watching in Kerala is during the period of December to May. Butterfly migration occurs in February-March. Large congregation of butterflies is seen flying over the forest streams and valleys during this period.
Endemic butterflies to Western Ghats
The 35 butterflies that one can see only in Western Ghats are Southern Birdwing, Malabar Rose, Malabar banded swallowtail, Malabar Raven, Malabar banded peacock, Nilgiri Clouded Yellow, Clouded Yellow, Lesser Albatross, Travancore Evening Brown, Small long brand bush brown, Pale brand bush brown, Red eye bush brown, Red disc bush brown, Lepcha bush brown, Tamil catseye, Nilgiri Four ring, Palani four ring, Blue oak leaf, Nilgiri tiger, Malabar tree nymph, tarucus Indica, White disc hedge blue, arhopla alea, abnormal silverline, Shiva sunbeam, spotted small flat, pigmy scrub hopper, bipolar ace, madras ace, sitala ace, unbranded ace, Evershed’s ace, coord forest hopper, vindhyan bob, golden tree flitter, Tamil Darlet and kanara swift.
Malabar tree Nymph (Slowest butterfly)
Malabar tree nymph locally known as vanadevatha (forest nymph) is endemic to Western Ghats and is endangered. The satin like partially transparent back veins and black spots are very attractive. Its slow and sluggish fight- somewhat a slow motion movement- in the evergreen patches is worth watching. It gives the feeling of a slow moving kite that has lost its direction. This species is the largest among the milkweed butterflies and also the slowest flier among Indian butterflies.
Malabar banded peacock
Malabar banded peacock is one of the beautiful butterflies seen in Kerala. They are jet black and tailed, heavily dusted on the wings and body with a dazzling greenish blue band and glistening blue colour on their wings. This beautiful butterfly is endemic and endangered species to Western Ghats seen in wet evergreen forests and moist deciduous forests and are commonly seen in Thattekkad and Idamalayar forest regions.
Endemic and endangered butterfly to Western Ghats, Southern birdwing is the largest of Indian butterflies. The upper side of its forewings is deep black and the colour of hind wings is golden yellow with black borders. The females are less shiney compared to males. They also have triangular black spots on the yellow coloured part of the hind wings. This golden yellow colour on its hind wing glitters in the sunlight. They slowly and sluggishly hover over the flowers for nectar. Southern birdwing is more commonly seen during the monsoon and post-monsoon months. The best time to see this butterfly is in the early morning, near Lantana bushes. The food plant of this largest butterfly is Aristolochia Indica, a medicinal plant. The Malayalam name of Southern Birdwing relates with its food plant “Garudakodi”.
The smallest of Indian butterflies, Grass jewel is common throughout the country and may be seen fluttering among low growing plants. The upper side and under side of this tiny butterfly is brown. Underside is spotted with light brown. Grass jewel is tail less with a row of jeweled metallic orange crowned spots bordering the undersides of its hind wings.