The most common of Indian butterflies are becoming uncommon these days. Mega species like tigers and elephants get a little attention but insects are regarded more like pests or mere things of beauty that have no bigger roles to play. But experts say it is this loss of interest in saving small sized species like butterflies that is most fearsome because with the disappearance of these fluttered friends, plants too will lose their pollinators and fail to bloom, bear fruit or provide food for the planet.
Of the 20,000 butterfly species known in the world, about 1300 are found in India. But of these more than hundred are threatened and face extinction.
According to Surya Prakash, a professor at the department of life sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University, “Few are aware of the crucial pollination role the butterfly plays, which is second only to the honeybee.”
There is problem with the bees too.
As per the director of the Zoological Survey of India, Dr. K Venkatraman, over the years the number of honeybees too has decreased as per their survey conducted in the Sunderbans.
Pollination is the way plants reproduce. It is also a process that leads to flowers, fruits and formation of seeds. Therefore, from the human point of view it is a crucial step that ensures that we get ample grains, crops, vegetables etc. to eat.
Around 70% of all food crops are pollinated by insects, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. In Europe, the proportion is 84%. While no corresponding data is available for India, there’s nothing to suggest that food crops here are pollinated by other means. This means that a decline in the number of pollinating insects could have catastrophic effects.
“If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go on with little change, but if insects were to disappear, I doubt the human species could last more than a few months,” wrote noted American biologist E.O. Wilson.
Isaac Kehimkar, general manager (programmes) at the Bombay Natural History Society and author of The Book of Indian Butterflies, fumes, “Lack of knowledge and obsession with mega-fauna is killing entomology as a subject. It has become professionally unsustainable today as there is a fight for the same set of funds which inevitably go to the tiger or one of the mega-fauna species,” he says.
But the ignorance about the important role of the pollinators like honeybees and butterflies has only been lifted in the US too in recent years.
S. Ramani, project coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Honey Bees and Pollinators says that it was in the past few years that US farmers noticed the absence of bee hives in their property and then started questioning whether that harmed their crop yield.
“The expected direct reduction in total agricultural production in the absence of animal pollination has been estimated to range from 3% to 8%, showing that agriculture has become more pollinator-dependent. It has been suggested that we may be in the middle of a global pollination crisis,” adds the researcher.
In India, it is still not possible to ascertain the direct threat that crops yields may have to the decreased number of pollinators in the insect world, but it is certainly news that needs attention.
A report put out by the United Nations Environment Programme says,
“When large habitats are fragmented into small isolated patches, food sources become scarcer for resident animals. Populations may then decline to the point that they are no longer able to benefit plants. As certain wild pollinators need undisturbed habitat for nesting, roosting, foraging and sometimes specific larval host plants, they are very susceptible to habitat degradation and fragmentation in particular.”
“Human activities have impacted the landscape through fragmentation, degradation and destruction of natural habitats and the creation of new anthropogenic ones.”
The clear problem that arises again is the human interference with nature. Tigers, Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Crocodiles, Vultures, Monkeys, Deers, Turtles, Fishes, Corals, Frogs, Butterflies and the Honeybees – They are all victims of the unplanned actions of human beings that wipe out forests without once thinking of the consequences of the actions.
For big species at least information and funds are comparatively easy to get, but for the small but no less significant species like the butterflies, the dearth of information is as responsible for pushing them to oblivion as the lack of protection and conservation.
Of course, we must save the tigers. But we cannot neglect the butterflies either.