A campus habitat for butterflies

By Geeta Padmanabhan on Dec. 31, 2015 in Environment and Ecology

(Left to right) Sanjay, Vignesh, Lavanya, Ramashree and Aparajitha.

It is a boy-meets-girl-on-the-campus story, with a “beautiful” ending. It started with Sahana Balasubramaniam of Venkateswara Engineering College, Chennai, being accepted for internship with ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment). She stayed at the Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Sanctuary's Research Centre, documented the butterflies in the area. Back home, she passed on her butterfly expertise to BFF Ramashree.

Ramashree went butterfly-watching at Chennai's Theosophical Society. Vignesh Krishna of the same college happened to be there for a walk. They met, struck up a conversation, Vignesh was impressed with Ramashree’s skill at identifying butterflies, and, before they left, they decided to make the identification of the butterflies on their college campus an eco-club (CARE) activity. As their survey got underway, their conversation turned to establishing a butterfly park on the campus. Biology professor T. Murugavel had no hesitation green-flagging the idea.

MICROHABITAT

Coincidence helped in the conceptualisation. The club submitted the butterfly park as a project for “Hand-Print Challenge,” an initiative of the South Asia Youth Environment Network (SAYEN), aimed at promoting the idea of sustainability. Log on to http://bit.ly/1Q6bwGe to read this paragraph: Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, Tamil Nadu (India) … [with others] were the winners of the Challenge... The winning projects included creation of a micro-habitat for butterflies... And the first campus butterfly park in Chennai was born.

Vignesh Krishna, Sanjay D., Aparajitha Sriram and Lavanya — final-year students of Computer Science/ Bio-tech Engineering — and Ramashree, who has joined the workforce, were happy to take me for a walk in the park. “We first made a list of the species and then looked for space for the park,” they said, adding, “We have a great gardener, and that's an advantage.”

The park had to be in a place that was not too open, as butterflies don’t tolerate gusty winds. They found one that had buildings on three sides and a couple of trees — all acting as windbreakers. For nectar-yielding plants to attract butterflies, rattlepot, oleander and milkweed were planted. For variety in the menu, fruit-waste from the juice shop is placed around. “No invitation was issued, we didn't have to trap them,” said the students. Added Dr. Murugavel, “Once we grow host and nectar-yielding plants, butterflies gradually adopt the garden. It should also have some rocks where they can sunbathe. Some wet ground where adult butterflies can mud-puddle and get nutrients and salts, is also necessary.”

It had been raining and I could see them flitting around and basking in the sun to dry their wings. “Most parks, including the one in Vandalur Zoo are enclosed, but this park is open, it is unique.” I agreed. I could see clusters of them hanging from stalks, sitting together “mud-puddling.” It was a great feeling to stand on open ground and be surrounded by a thousand butterflies — a scene from a movie set!

CELEBRATING SPECIES

Stripe/plain tiger, chocolate/blue pansy, great eggfly, small cupid, common crow are some of the species the students have identified. Students are thrilled “the locals have invited others and the species count has increased.” It was great to see new species of butterflies adopting our garden as their haven, said Dr. Murugavel. “The butterflies move around… last year before summer we had thousands of these winged jewels fluttering all over the campus.”

The opening of the park has had surprising results. Vignesh said he and his mom now bonded over butterflies. She takes pictures and asks him for names. “Friends go ‘ooh!’, ‘Aah!’, and we tell them, ‘they sense humans by vibrating wings, so approach gently’,” said Ramashree. “it certainly brings kudos to the college even if you don't recognise their importance to the environment.” Sahana, who is studying abroad, called to say, “We left behind a beautiful legacy for others to protect, cherish.” Aparajita has done a survey of butterflies around Block V since the park opened. “Tending to the park and watching butterflies promotes overall development,” said the students. ““We are ready to create a garden in other campuses if asked. Can there be a better hobby than chasing butterflies?”

Dr. Murugavel sees micro-habitats as a way to ensure biodiversity. “This garden supports not only butterflies but bees, dragonflies, spiders, etc.” Said Principal R. Parthiban, “Documenting the flora/fauna of educational institutions takes students close to nature. It is needed for engineering students since their jobs involve issues related to environmental ethics. They need to know the impact anthropogenic activities have on ecosystems. Also a protected and undisturbed area on a campus acts as a living laboratory to study nature.”

Perhaps the most tangible result of the park is the glossy little handbook Pocket Guide to the Butterflies. It lists the varieties of butterflies on the campus and follows it with all the information you might need to start a park.

Imagine a butterfly park in every college/school campus!

First published by The Hindu

Additional Information pasted from https://www.svce.ac.in/departments/newbio/newsofmonth.php

  • Ms. Ramashree & Ms.Sahana (2011-2015 Batch Biotechnology students) wrote a book entitled on "Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of SVCE" with the help of Dr. T. Murugavel.




Story Tags: biological diversity, biodiversity, butterflies, conservation of nature, conservation, ecological, education

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