Sailers and Lascars

Many of the butterflies of India were given their English common names by Charles Bingham, a career military officer in British India, who took up entomology as a very serious hobby after being posted to Burma in 1877. The butterfly genera called Lascars and Sailers were given their English common names by him, in the idiosyncratic manner of the 19th century British in India. Eastern Indian sailors on British vessels were called lascars; the names throw light on British society of that time.

The common lascar (Pantoporia hordonia), one of which you see in the featured photo, was described in 1790. But a common name was given by Bingham in his books on the butterflies of India, published in 1905 and 1907, when he settled in England after his retirement. The sullied sailer (Neptis clinia), which you see in the photo below, has the same overall shape and markings, albeit in different colours.

The sailers and lascars were very common in early April in the Hollongapar forest. They flew at about shoulder and head height. Their flight is weak; every flap of the wing is followed by an interval of gliding, and they easily alight on a sunny leaf, or descend to the ground. Still, they fly up very quickly when they are disturbed.

I used the common names for the whole genus, because there are several species of each, distinguished by slightly different wing markings. You can see a whole lot of similar looking species in the web pages for Neptis, Pantoporia and Phaedyma in the IFoundButterflies web site. You find them all over India, and once upon a time I’d managed to chase down a fair fraction of them. In April I was happy to photograph just the two you see here.

Butterflies of Kaziranga

Butterflies are my style: they get up late, spend the morning lazing in the sun until they feel awake enough to flutter round, then find a patch of flowers to sip on, find a mate or two, descend to the ground occasionally, and curl up below a leaf in the evening for a long rest. To the lazy eye Kaziranga was full of Indian cabbage whites fluttering around low in the bushes. Large numbers were visible on roadsides, feeding on the flowers which sprout perennially on low weeds. Cabbage whites are common, so I don’t photograph them unless they stop right in front of a camera. One did, so you can find it below.

This part of India is full of butterflies, but you have to stop to watch them. In Kaziranga we spent our time zooming around in jeeps, looking for larger things. It was only when we were parked that I could take a photo. The grey pansy is common here, as are sailers of all kinds. I managed to take a photo of the clear sailer through a gap in a bush while we had stopped to look at birds. The grey pansy came to sun itself on a leaf next to us as we were spotting otters; it was an opportunity too good to be missed. Grass yellows and grass blues are everywhere, but they are small and flighty. I spend time on them only when I have nothing much to do. The photo you see above was taken when I was waiting for my companions to finish breakfast. Kaziranga has much more, but you have to walk if you want to see them.