Group of colorful butterflies on ground and flying around in forest, golden twilight sunlight, motion blur and bokeh on foreground and background

Butterflies have fascinated us for their attractiveness, frailty and the mystery surrounding its lifetime. For instance immortal, the beauty of butterflies hadn’t just inspired poetic and artistic creativity, but also has caught the interest of even of the tiny children.


It’s apparent that our ancestors were transferred by their own behavior. When they detected thousands of butterflies migrating towards “Sripada” (the sacred mountain that the Buddhists think the Buddha’s foot print was stamped) during the pilgrim season, they considered that the butterflies were migrating to pay homage to the Buddha. Thus they went to the extent of naming the most sacred mountain of Sri Lanka, the Sripada, as “Samanala kanda”.

Currently, though this migration still occurs in some areas of Sri Lanka, it may not been seen in many of the areas, because of human intervention on the environment. Thus it’s sad to note that the majority of the current younger generation, hasn’t seen this character’s fascinating spectacle. Still there’s hope, as environmentalist and others who have taken interest in this subject, has discovered that by providing the essential environment, we could still recreate this evaporating butterfly migration.

Researchers have discovered through fossil evidence, the butterflies have been in this ground for more than 30million decades. When classifying butterflies, some scientists have previously described the butterflies being belonging only, to eleven households, then it changed to two super households and five families. At present most scientists have categorized butterflies belonging to three super households and five families. They are:

      • True Butterflies-(Super household, Papilionoidea)
      • Skippers-( Super household, Hesperioidea)
      • Moth Butterflies-( Super household, Hedyloidea)

And within these super households, the 05 butterfly families, are listed as follows

      • Papilionidae-Described as Swallow tails, Apollo and Bird wing butterflies
      • Pieridae-Mostly White and Yellow butterflies
      • Hycaenidae-Described as, Gossamer-winged, Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks and Harvesters(eat harmful insects)
      • Riodinidae-With metallic stains in wings. They are also known as’metal marks’
      • Nymphalidae–Brush -footed butterflies.

It needs to be mentioned that butterflies, are listed under the sub order Rhopalocera(club-antenna) and Moths, under sub order Heterocera(diverse antenna). These two suborders fall within the order Lepidoptera.

It’s estimated there are approximately 12000-24000 Butterfly species and approximately 120,000-150,000 moth species living on the planet.

According to the 2007, Red List of IUCN, there are 243 species of butterflies in Srilanka, from which 20 species are endemic.

Butterflies and Moths

When studying butterflies, it’s necessary to understand clearly, the difference between butterflies and the moths, since there are large numbers of moths when compared with butterflies thus, there might be confusion in diagnosis. The primary differences between a butterfly and a moth are as follows:


        • The end of the antenna is a bulge. However the skipper butterflies have a formation of a hockey stick at the end of its antennas
        • Normally retains the wings together when resting
        • Have long thin bodies
        • Normally busy in day time, evening and early morning
        • The caterpillar has few spines or hairs. They aren’t poisonous.


        • Some antennas are long and are pointed in the end; many antennas have hairs, like in a bird feather.
        • Normally retains the wings stretched when resting.
        • Have flat or curved bodies
        • Normally busy in night (Get attracted to light)
        • The caterpillar has many spines or hair. They are poisonous

The life cycle of the butterfly starts with the laying of an egg or several eggs on a Host Plant, it changes to a Caterpillar then into a Pupa and eventually emerge as an adult butterfly. Then it flies in search of Nectar Plants with flowers, sip its nectar and get completely ready for re-production.

Now, a question arises, what are Host Plants and Nectar Plants.

Host plants

It’s the plant that’s required for the continuity of its species. It’s the plant which gives it the very first food. Generally each butterfly species have its host plant or several plants. However if we ruin host plants chosen by the butterflies the specific butterfly species become removed from the face of the planet.

Nectar plants

These are plants in which the butterflies go for their nectar intake. However it needs to be noted that all species of butterflies don’t rely for nectar for their own survival. Their food is juices from fallen fruits, sap of the trees or juices extracted from beans of trees, trees from dead animals and petrified meat, and juices from logs of trees that are dead.

Also it’s interesting to note that although butterflies have particular host plants in which the female identifies by its odor, when moving in search of nectar, they would go for any plant using flowers with nectar. The only difficulty is that those butterflies using a short proboscis, can’t take nectar from big flowers and they’ll need to be happy with little flowers having nectar.

Butterflies Relationships with other creatures

As stated previously, although the butterflies rely on the host plants for survival, there’s one species of butterfly in Sri lanka, namely the Ape Fly, which is an exception. In this species, the female butterfly lays its eggs on plants with white spider mites(Coccidae) because she understands that her offspring’s food is the spider mite.

However the most interesting relationship the butterflies have is with rodents, particularly with green and red ants. Normally such butterfly species that relates with rodents, lay their eggs on a stem or branch where there are red ants. The red ants won’t ever attack or eat the butterfly egg. They allow it to flourish and absorb the soft leaves of the host plant. Once the caterpillar grows in size, from its own body a juice such as honey , and the ants drink it with pleasure. Instead of, this food supply, ants don’t damage the butterfly and protect it from enemies also. When the caterpillar is ready for transformation for a Pupa and then as an adult butterfly, the ants takes the butterfly caterpillar to its nest, and protect it. When the adult butterfly emerges from pupa, the ants again direct or take the adult butterfly from the nest and launch it, to continue its lifetime.

Most of these butterflies belong to the Lycaenidae family. It’s reported that in Srilanka the next species have a relationship with ants: The Lesser Grass Blue, The Centaur Oakblue, The Cal Blue, The Gram Blue, The Grass Jewel, The Common Cerulian, The Large Roble Blue, The Common Acacia Blue, Yam fly, The Long-banded Silverline and the Slate Flash

Additionally it is reported that from the 135 species of the Lycaenidae family,in Australia, half of these have connection with green ants as stated above. However a species named Moth Butterfly,living in Australia, whose caterpillar is similar to a Military tank, enters the ants nest,consume the ant larva and escape unscratched, after it becoming trans formed as a Butterfly from the ants nest.

Behavior to conquer attacks from predators

Like any other animal butterflies also have enemies. Generally, adult butterflies and their caterpillars fall prey to their enemies. They’re the Birds, Wasps, Lizards, Serpents, Frogs, Dragonflies, Praying Mantis, Spiders and Compact animals’. Also action of man in addition to fungus and lichens also impact the Butterfly lives. It’s been estimated that 95 percent of butterfly species become destroyed by enemies, before they become adults.

Hence caterpillars and adult butterflies, embrace many ruses to conquer their preditors. Some of them as are follows:

      • Having poisonous bodies – The Tiger butterflies who is host plant is the’Wara’ shrub (Milk Weed), are prevented by Birds. The reason being, the caterpillar which absorbs the leaves of the poisonous plant, in addition to the butterfly that emerges from the pupa are poisonous. By mistake if a bird consumes such a caterpillar or a butterfly, it’s been observed that the bird fall sick and vomits the meals.
      • Camouflage – The caterpillar of the Lime Butterfly species, embrace the pattern of a bird dropping, and this ruse helps it to prevent the assault from birds, and thus escape death. The endemic Blue Oakleaf butterfly is world famous because of its camouflage. The cover of the fore wings are Blue, White and Black colored. Undersides of the wings are completely brown with unique marks. The wings when folded appear like a dried leaf. When it’s pursuit by a bird, it flies and perch on a branch or a trunk of tree, upside down. Then, it flutters its body, like a leaf of this tree is moving as a result of end, completely creating the bird perplexed, and the bird, fly away not able to locate it.
      • Display of False Eyes – Some species such as the Blue Mormon, Common Mormon and Red Helen, have caterpillars with marks on their bodies such as big eyes. This assists them, to frighten away enemies.
      • Hide – Most of the caterpillars hide under leaves, or on stalks during day time to prevent being captured by predators.
      • Injecting a noxious Gas – Some butterflies like Common Blue Bottle, Common Jay and Tailed Jay have caterpillars, with appendages in their heads called Osmaterium. It’s been observed that when they’re attacked, they inject vaporous bad smelling gases, which keep their enemies at bay.
      • Mimicry – Scientist have observed that butterflies that are prevented by birds have a similar body formation in addition to a similarity in flight. This phenomenon was noted by Fritz Miller and given the title Millerian Mimicry in his honour. Example of these butterflies is Blue Tiger, Glass Blue Tiger and Glossy Tiger. However some butterfly species recognizing that should they take the kind of such butterflies that escape death from enemies, take the prior butterfly species form. The poisonous butterfly is treated as the Model and the non poisonous butterfly is treated as the Mimic. This sort of Mimicry is called Batecian Mimicry, so named in honour of H. W Bates who found this Phenomena. A fantastic illustration of, such a mimicry is the non poisonous Common Mormon. The female of the species mimic Crimson Rose and Common Rose butterflies that are poisonous. Additionally, the Common Mime, is also a renowned butterfly that imitates poisonous butterflies.
      • Speed – Some butterflies utilize rate of flight to escape from enemies. Some examples are Great Naranja Tip, Pioneer and Painted Lady who flies in a fantastic rate to avoid predators.

Special Behavior of Butterflies

Enhancing strength

To make sure laying of eggs, and to compete with other butterflies to have a female companion, they want added strength. It’s been now established, that Butterflies congregate at mud puddles not only to quench their thirst, but to get minerals and other substances to strengthen their bodies. Species which indulge in such actions are Roses, Emigrants, Tigers, Crows, Rajahs, Oak Blues, Line Blues, and Hedge Blues etc.. We should not forget gram they get their strength from flower nectar also. Butterflies that prefer other types of minerals from rotten fruit, juices of dead creatures etc as Black Rajah, Twany Rajah, Baron, Gaudy Brown, Baronet, Southern Duffer and Blue Oakleaf utilize these minerals to boost their strengths.

Territorial Behavior

We know that birds sing from the top of a branch or a building in the mornings and evenings, mainly to demarcate their lands as well as to get a mate. Scientists maintain, that the custom of butterflies Perching and Patrolling, are actions of demarcating lands, in addition to mate locating flights. Sometimes this sort of activity is named Hill topping, because some species await for females, perching in a higher altitude, at the top of a boulder. Such butterflies species are Bird wings and Roses.

Spraying of Perfume

It’s fascinating to understand, to bring a partner male butterflies spray perfumes called Pheromones on female butterflies. It’s been recorded when the man butterfly identifies a suitable female, it flies behind her and squirt her body from a brush like appendage, at the conclusion of her body having about 400 hairs, sticky perfumed pheromone. The female get drawn to the court and male together for approximately 04 hrs. The Common Jay, and Dark Blue Tiger are a few of the species identified as indulging in these practices.

How to Set a butterfly garden

To protect the gorgeous butterflies, observe their interesting behaviour, and also to make certain that they’ll live for future generations to appreciate, it’s the job of educated Sri lankens to set up butterfly gardens in their home gardens, in addition to any land they have jurisdiction.

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society with the help of IUCN, as a pioneering move, based, 100 Butterfly Gardens in colleges in 10 Districts of the Nation. Colombo’ s Lady Ridgeway Hospital includes a lovely Butterfly Garden Due to dedicated Doctors. Some Government Departments are also, now establishing Butterfly gardens in spaces that are available.

To establish butterfly gardens you should have few Host plants, Nectar plants and property space. At the inception, it’s suggested to plant ‘Adana Hiriya”Wara”Aththora”Akkapana”,Kiri Aguna wel’, as Host plants and’Balunakuta’, Shoe blossom, Trdex, Zeeniyas, Ixora as Nectar Plants. A used earthen curd milk pot with sand, sunk to ground level and a container to hold some ripe fruits will be adequate for a small garden. To set a large garden expert advice is required.