of a rainbow
By Renu Warnasuriya
Small, colourful and extremely timid, they flutter away when you
move too close. Watching them requires both patience and vigilance.
But once spotted these creatures are a treat to the eye. Insignificant
as they sometimes seem, butterflies are an important part of Sri
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, has not only the perseverance to track
these creatures but the skill to capture them on film. There are
242 species of butterflies in Sri Lanka, including Skippers.However
there is still no account of the exact number of endemic species."In
Sri Lanka we don't have a tradition of looking at the smaller animals,"
says Gehan explaining that, we are too engrossed with the leopards
and elephants to notice these small beings. He however feels that
the lack of vocabulary to identify individual species is also a
contributing factor. " The only way to refer to a butterfly
in Sinhala is to say samanalaya," says Gehan.
has published a number of booklets and other material on wildlife,
including birds, dragonflies and butterflies. His latest publication
is a colour poster of 57 species of butterflies in Sri Lanka. Photographed
under wild conditions, the poster is so far the only one of its
kind. Fortunately his hobby of wild life and photography fit in
well with his work as the CEO of Jetwing Eco Holidays.
interest in butterflies began while he was living in England, where
he was a member of the London Natural History Society and the London
Wildlife Trust. "Like their members I also began looking at
the smaller things," he says adding that they even examined
moths. Once he came back Gehan continued to study more on butterflies
He started photographing butterflies recently, though his interest
in photography goes way back to teenage days. " If they settle
on a flower and you move very carefully and slowly, you can get
close enough to get a shot," explained Gehan admitting however
that certain butterflies are indeed impossible to photograph.
far he has been able to capture around 90 species on film. "There
are some that I have not even seen," says Gehan adding that
some are also quite difficult to identify. Then Gehan turns to Michael
and Nancy van der Poorten, who according to him " really know
their Sri Lankan butterflies!" Certain species are confined
to particular areas of the country depending on their habitat requirements.
Ceylon Tiger and The Indian Red Admiral are found in the highlands
and Horton Plains is an ideal place to spot both these types. The
Soother Duffer on the other hand is most likely to be seen in rainforests
or thick forest areas like Morapitiya and Sinharaja. Some of the
more common butterflies found in the lowland areas include the Common
Tiger, the Plain Tiger, the Blueglass Tiger, the Three Spot Grass
Yellow, the Common Indian Crow, the Grey Pansy, the Great Egg Fly,
the Common Sailor Torny Coster and the Dark Grass Blue. Gehan also
mentioned that certain butterflies like the Striped Pierrot are
generally confined to the Mannar area.
explained that butterfly watchers usually stick to the same places
as bird watchers mostly the rainforests and highlands. Wetlands
like Thalangama are also good butterfly spots. Gehan however mentioned
that you are more likely to find butterflies in areas where there
is less human habitation. Though they seem to be everywhere, Gehan
believes that the Sri Lankan butterflies are in fact threatened
by pollution and pesticides.The loss of their habitats, with deforestation
is also a problem.
there's much we can be done to save them. " People can start
butterfly friendly gardening," said Gehan explaining that it
is possible to attract around 15 to 20 kinds of colourful butterflies
even to a garden in Colombo provided that it has the right kind
of food plants. Native species of plants like Athhonda and Balunakuta,
rich in nectar could attract certain kinds of butterflies.
for instance attracts butterflies belonging to the Tiger family,
including the Common Tiger and the Plain Tiger while Balunakuta
attracts butterflies of the Yellows family. He also mentioned that
citrus plants attract butterflies of the Swallow Tail family. Though
considered 'weed species' these plants are extremely good for our
fluttery friends. 'Butterfly patches' popular in Europe, where people
separate a small area to grow these kinds of plants for the butterflies
are also a good method, he says adding that there are certain species
like the Common Barron who are attracted to rotting fruit!
Gehan's butterfly poster is now available at Jetwing House, 46/26
Navam Mawatha, Colombo 2, for Rs.300.