Harvard scientist on trail of new species of butterflies

Gangtok: A scientist of Harvard University, who has been trekking all over Sikkim, is hoping to find new species of butterflies in the Himalayan state which has a rich repository of over 650 varieties.

The scientist, Krushnamegh Kunte who is here as part of a 3-year research study on butterflies in Sikkim said, "In Boston, there is a museum on butterflies where many species are on display tagged `From Sikkim`.

"But actually most of them have been collected from the eastern Himalayas and not from Sikkim. I want to update this collection and if possible, create maps of each species of butterfly in Sikkim," Kunte, the president of the Indian Foundation for Butterflies, told PTI.

The eastern Himalayas comprise Darjeeling in West Bengal, the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya and the Indo-China border.

"There are more than 650 species of butterflies in Sikkim. Dzongu, the Lepcha reserve in North Sikkim is one area where where most of the species are found and hopefully new discoveries can be made," he said after completing a 10-day tour of East, West and North Sikkim districts.

Kunte, for whom this was the third trip to the state after the first in April 2008, said that he trekked from Phademchen to Pakyong in East Sikkim, but did not find any butterflies.

"We then went to Rongli and Rolep, and that was where we found lots of butterflies, some were rare, while others were the common types," he said.

"We then continued on to Kumrek and also visited the Kitam Bird Sanctuary in South Sikkim. But our most productive was the survey at Dzongu, where we found butterflies which are listed under the Schedule I and II of the Wildlife Protection Act."

There was also a possibility of discovery of new species in small forests in Sikkim, which could be developed for eco tourism.

"This survey does prove that wildlife is not only found in sanctuaries and national parks, but much can be found in and around small forests," Kunte said.

"If the right type of plants are grown in your garden then one does not have to go looking around forests for butterflies," he said.

Kunte suggested that butterfly lovers of Sikkim should keep photographing different species.

"Just keep going out and take photographs of everything. Who knows what you may find or of which species, because butterflies are very shy and one does not get opportunity to get very close."

Speaking about the habitat and lifespan of the butterflies, he said that they were very territorial and depending on species, could restrict their movement to very small areas or fly many miles.

"The same goes for their lifespan, they can either live for one to one and a half weeks while others can live upto one to one and a half months."