The common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda) is an unusual butterfly. It flies at night, and unlike many of its brightly coloured cousins, it is a shabby brown in colour. One of the first things I found about it was that it comes in two morphs. The dry season morph is really the winter morph, since it lasts from about November to about the end of April. The rest of the year you can see it in the wet season morph.
Through September and October, the end of the monsoon, I’d seen individuals which had strayed into our home, fluttering all evening around lights, and then resting quietly in the mornings. They still had their wet form, characterized by the large eye spots. There is a correlation between appearance and behaviour. These large dots are meant to deflect the attention of predators, and that’s an useful subterfuge since its activity can attract predators. The dry season form has the vestigial eye spots, as you can see in the photos, but they are characterised by the way they blend into fallen leaves. Walking through piles of leaves, you can flush them sometimes. I’ve seen them inside the house now and then, but they usually rest unobtrusively somewhere. Camouflage and this behaviour is their defense.
The word morph had me thinking wrongly about them. It is not the individual which morphs. M. leda is not a long-lived butterfly; it takes about a month, or less, to go from an egg to a pupa, and the adult lives for about two weeks. For it the universe has only one season. The conditions which prevail during the first month of its development choose the colours of the adult. Since environment plays such a big role in its development, you may wonder how much variation there is in colour from one individual to another. I haven’t noticed much variation in the wet season form (maybe I’m distracted by the eye spots), but going through my past photos I discovered that the dry season form is quite variable. Apparently an enthusiast has photographed more than a sixty different variants. Diet makes the butterfly!
The seasons keep changing. Varsha, sharad, hemant… How gender imbalanced! Four seasons give names to men: Sharad, Hemant, Shishir, Vasant. One to women, Varsha. And no one names their babies Grishma. Anyway, the pandemic which started in vasant has now lasted till the change between sharad and hemant.
This is the time of the year when this night-flying butterfly makes an appearance. Like all its cousins, the moths, it is lured indoor by our lights. You would have a hard time telling this wet-season morph outdoor at its normal perch among rotting leaves on the ground. The dry season morph is equally invisible among fallen dry leaves. I suppose it is the humidity during pupation that determines which morph emerges from the chrysalis.
But mostly this is a time when moths fill your house. In recent times in Mumbai I’ve been seeing a lot of the underwing moths, their drab upper wings closing over bright orange hind wings as they come to rest. But here are three beauties which I haven’t been able to identify. They are all small, between half a centimeter and half an inch! The photos show their sizes relative to each other accurately. You need magnifying glasses or a macro lens to examine them, but it pays off.
I was trying to trace a persistent error message in my camera and eventually found that it was due to a lost set of photos taken two years ago. I’d taken them during an early morning walk to look for birds inside Nameri national park, on the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. On the way back we saw a large number of butterflies in a space of about 15 minutes. I managed to photograph a few of them. This is what biodiversity means!
Open wings of the common palmfly, Elymnias hypermnestra
Chocolate tiger, Parantica melaneus
Common evening brown, Melanitis leda, in the morning
Peacock pansy, Junonia almana. There’s plastic inside the forest
Mud-pooling chocolate grass yellow, Eurema sari
Just waking up – a common palmfly, Elymnias hypermnestra
Male and female chocolate albatross, Appias lyncida
A mud-pooling pair of chocolate albatross, Appias lyncida