“Delivering” a butterfly


Animal rescue is not always a matter of birds and mammals…today, we assisted in a difficult birth, and hope we saved a life which would otherwise have ended.

In the case of mammals, we talk about “breech birth”, where the head is not delivered or brought out to the outside world first, and where, consequently, complications develop.

As we were doing a butterfly walk in Doresanipalya Forest Research Station on 3rd November ’18, Rohit Girotra called me and showed me how, in emerging from the pupa (a process called eclosing), a Three-spot Grass Yellow had got into a very tough situation.

Awkwardly, the feet and wings had emerged first, leaving the head, antennae and proboscis still trapped inside the pupal case. The half-born creature could not emerge. This was, indeed, the butterfly equivalent of a breech birth.

Rohit gently tried prising the pupal case apart.

and the pupa and the butterfly both detached from the plant on which they were hanging, and fell to the ground. But the head still remained inside the pupal case.

We had two choices: either intervene, or leave things to Nature, and walk on.  However, in this instance, our choice was made clear by the fact that leaving things to Nature meant a certain death for the butterfly. If we intervened, we might damage the head or proboscis, but there was a chance of “delivering” the butterfly. So I took the little creature in my hands, and used my index fingernail very, very gently to pry the pupal case apart.

Success! The head, the antennae, and the proboscis emerged, unhurt. Of course, the wings were still crinkled from being in the pupa; the butterfly had not yet had time to spread the wings and dry them. Another friend, Surabhi, with a gossamer touch, lifted the little creature out of harm’s way on to a small plant.

We walked on, without another look back, feeling that we’d done all that we could have done to ensure the survival of this one little marvel of creation; we still do not know how the butterfly fared.

Just one of the many miniscule dramas one sees on a nature walk, even in the middle of the city!

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About Deepa Mohan 12 Articles
Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.