Things that make you to Think

Butterfly – A Gift to Mankind

DSC00737“Wings of blue, drinks the dew
Wings of blue, drinks the dew
Wings of blue, drinks the dew”

This is a line of a mystic verse from a South American folktale on Amazon rainforest. Upon reciting this line three times, a native girl, who lost her way in the forest, turned into a butterfly after meeting a band of magical creatures. She turns into a butterfly in order to flyover a river as she follows a large butterfly which guides her to her home. After reaching her destination she transforms back to her real self.

However, the girl, as a butterfly, found life to be charming, beautiful and mysterious. She learnt that a human being’s life is not as nature-friendly; rather, it seems artificial in comparison. Moreover, it was this artificial quality that led to the gradual destruction of nature and environment.

In the context of Bangladesh the story rings a bell as people living in the cities are becoming disconnected from nature day by day.

On 7 December, the people of Dhaka had the opportunity to experience and witness the beauty of butterflies at the Butterfly Fair that took place at Jahangirnagar University (JU). The event was organised by the zoology department of the university.

Butterfly fair is a very attractive and informative fair that connects the urbanities with nature and for the children the event is simply a treat. Children in large numbers came from areas both close to and far from the campus to enjoy the various colours of butterfly.

A little, six-year-old girl who came from the city had last seen a butterfly in her dadu bari (village home). “I feel very excited to see so many different colours of butterflies together here. There are so many butterflies!” she said.

“If these butterflies were in my house, I would play with them all day long,” she shared with a smile on her face.

Abbu (father), can you buy me some butterflies?” asked another first grader class student, Labib.

His father replied, “They are not for sale. We came here so that you could know and learn about butterflies. After returning home, I will quiz you on butterflies and so remember as many as you can.”

“The sole purpose of this fair is to create mass awareness on butterflies alongside promoting the role of butterflies to help maintain ecological balance in nature,” said Dr Mohammad Monwar Hossain, professor at the zoology department, who has taken the initiative to organise this fair every year since 2010.

For the children the fair featured an art competition on butterflies. Other than that, there was a photo exhibition on butterflies, kite flying, a photography competition on butterflies, a debate, and a live butterfly display in a butterfly hut. Also a documentary on butterflies was shown.

Apart from these activities, a children’s rhyme book titled Chhonde Chhoray Projapoti was launched. The book was jointly written by Monwar, and Professor Khaled Hossain, Chairman of JU’s Bangla department. The book includes 40 rhymes on 40 species of butterflies, along with the picture for each.

“Through this fair children can gather knowledge about butterflies and realise this species’ importance in nature. Moreover, it will raise children’s awareness regarding butterflies and nature at an early age” Monwar said to this reporter.

The daylong butterfly fair, with the theme, “Urley Akashey Projapoti, Prokriti Pai Natun Gati” (If the butterfly flies, the nature heralds new strengths), was inaugurated by the JU Vice-Chancellor Anwar Hossain on the campus auditorium. Several researchers from the university and from outside were present.

In some countries there are butterfly huts and museums but no one in this subcontinent has organised a butterfly fair in Bangladesh before.

Butterflies in Bangladesh

Butterflies belong to the insect order Lepidoptera. Only about 20000 of the 165000 known Lepidoptera are butterflies in the world. For butterfly fauna, Bangladesh is generally known to be rich for its humid tropical climate and unique geographical location. It is expected that in Bangladesh approximately 500 species of butterflies currently exists. Among them 275 species are being identified by Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka University and Chittagong University.

Some of them include Striped Tiger, Common Crow, Common Mormon, Lime Butterfly, Mottled Emigrant, Common Emigrant, Three-spot Gras Yellow, Psyche and Grey Pansy etc. They are most common butterflies found across the country.

Among 275 species of butterflies, 102 species are found at JU, which is considered as a wonderful area of natural diversity for the butterflies. However, “61 species of the 275 species are newly identified by us” said Monwar.

Including them, Common Duffer, Tawny Coster, Plum Judy, Lepcha Bushbrown, Bamboo Treebrown, Common Red Eye, Smaller Darlet, Straight Swift, Chocolate Royal, Monkey Puzzle, Common Brownie, Apefly, Indian Cupid, Quaker, Common Silverline etc are mostly found only in JU campus.

Moreover, 40 species of butterflies are given Bengali names by professor Khaled. For example, Baghballa for Striped Tiger, Shetalkuchi for Glassy Tiger, Kauwa for Common Crow, Konokchapa for Golden Birdwing, Alsindura for Crimson Rose, Barunpakha for Blue Mormon, Tutchil for Common Bluebottle, Shitolpati for Great Zebra, Choitak for Tailed Jay, Keshoboti for Common Batwing, Ruposhi for Jewel Nawab, Chita for Common Leopard etc.

Professor Shafique Haider Chowdhury is the mastermind behind raising awareness regarding butterflies since he was the first to start research work on butterfly in 1968 and has established the first ever butterfly garden in Bangladesh.

Importance and Values

At first glance, a butterfly attracts everyone’s attention with its brightly coloured wings. Even our national and revolutionary poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote a poem on butterfly which starts with,

“Projapoti, O projapoti, kothai pele bhai emon rongin pakha” (Butterfly, O Butterfly, where did you find such colorful wings?).

While no garden is complete without butterflies, once may wonder, with just a few leisurely flaps of their frail wings, these species gain mastery of the air, putting the most sophisticated aircrafts to shame. Thus butterfly grabs aesthetical values from the human being while poets, writers, and artists could hardly keep themselves away from butterflies.

“For their sheer, dazzling colours butterflies have attracted more attention from amateur entomologists and naturalists than any other insects. The butterflies have also been subjected to more intensive professional studies than any other insects” said Monwar.

Apart from its aesthetical value, butterflies are also natural pollinators and good indicators of forest health.

Monwar said that many countries such as England and Malaysia utilise butterflies as pollinators to produce more seeds in order to increase their production. “This idea of harvesting more seeds is being proved around the world; however, it is not practiced in our country. If we practice butterfly pollination, it will help cultivate our land,” he said.

However, “As we do not plant enough seeds in our forest, the forests’ condition has been deteriorating; such pollinator groups which include butterflies have also begun decreasing in number, disrupting the forests ecosystem. Eventually there shall be no natural forests left,” he added.

Interestingly, this year, on 26 March, Tongxiang Fan, a materials scientist at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, and his colleagues reported their findings on solar energy in butterfly’s wing at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in San Diego, reports The New York Times.

The group used actual butterfly-wing structure to collect sunlight, employing them as templates to synthesise solar-collecting materials and transformed them to titanium dioxide by a process known as Dip-Calcining.

The scales on each type of butterfly-wings help butterflies capture a lot of heat. The researchers also built a model to harness solar power the same way the butterflies’ wings do. Fan and his team are now working to create a commercial product that uses the wings as inspiration.

“As technology continues to be developed, if we can also create such solar plant in our country, given our natural resources, it will bring a lot of benefits to the nation,” said Monwar.

Moreover, “Scientists are undertaking research on butterfly’s colour vision system as their colour vision system is more developed than human beings” he added.

He also informed this reporter that research based on molecular biology may help create an anti-cancer medicine from caterpillars.

“So the value of a butterfly is far greater than any other insects. To conserve butterflies, we need to create mass awareness. We should not destroy our forests or jungles for the sake of temporary benefits and business purposes, rather, we should be concerned for the future and cultivate our natural resources since those are our country’s long term assets’” said Monwar.

“Although I hardly get any financial and logistics support from the government, I am working on creating mass awareness among the people across the country because I think it is time someone kept a look out for the prosperity of the future generation, our country, our nature and environment from everyone’s position,” he concluded.

This feature was published at Morning Tea, a weekend magazine of The Daily Sun.

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