Nepal offers fabulous destinations to see Great Orange Tips, Purple Sapphire Circles, Oakblues or common Brimstones.
Beautiful specimens of butterflies have for ages attracted butterfly experts to Nepal. These delightful creatures have been studied in Nepal for over 150 years. In the early days of the Raj, the British residents and their subordinates took considerable interest in butterflies and managed to collect quite a number of species which they meticulously studied and cataloged. But such activities have been banned in Nepal.
After 1950, it was the Japanese who took particular interest in collecting butterfly species through scientific expeditions. This later resulted in the establishment of the Natural History Museum at Swayambhu in 1974.
According to official records, Nepal has 651 species of butterflies which is 3.72 percent of the world’s butterflies. Favored by Kathmandu Valley’s mild day time temperatures which hovers around 18ºC in mid-winter, there are butterflies all year round. The best seasons for butterfly watching are late March/April, mid May/mid June and late August/September.
The forested areas in the valley are still home to many species of butterflies, and they include open country near Chobar gorge and there is very little activity except for the very common Oriental species.
About 10 percent of the butterflies in Nepal are Palaearctic species found at above 3,000 m, and about 90 percent Oriental species are found around Swayambhu, the base of the hills and forest streams at Godavari, Nagarjun, Budhanilkantha and Sundarijal.
The forested hilltops of Phulchowki, Jamachowk and Shivapuri, and the open scrubby bush areas of Nagarkot, Suryavinayak and Chandragiri are good areas for butterfly watching.
Nepal has some 660 butterfly species. Specimens of most of them have been collected in the Pokhara butterfly museum also known as the Annapurna Natural History Museum. Some of the rare species have not been seen since they were first reported or collected, but many more common species can be identified by amateur butterfly watchers. The ridges around Pokhara, including the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge and the Astam Annapurna Eco-village are excellent places to watch butterflies. At Tiger Mountain 250 species have been recorded. Godavari near Kathmandu is another prime area. The Terai sees butterflies throughout the year, but in alpine areas they only fly during the summer. Due to environmental changes butterflies may extend or contract their home ranges. Some species such as the Common Palmfly used to be very rare in Pokhara, though nowadays it is common.
Nepal’s butterflies belong to five families: swallowtails, whites, blues, nymphalids (or brushy-footed butterflies) and skippers. Butterflies differ from moths in that they have clubbed antennae, while moths have pointed or feathered antennae. Butterflies are usually more colourful and mostly fly during the day, although a few are crepuscular: they fly at dawn or dusk. Moths are often more hairy and mostly fly at night.
Many of the swallowtails have, as the name suggests, tails like swallows. They are relatively large and live longer than the average butterfly. The Yellow Swallowtail and the tailless Apollos are found at high altitudes. Many swallowtails are big and black such as the Windmills, Mormons and Peacocks. The latter are recognized by their bright blue spots. Krishna Peacock has been proposed as the national butterfly of Nepal, but politicians have more rewarding things to spend their time on.
The whites are mostly white, including the well know Cabbage Whites, and yellow, such as the Common Brimstone. The latter is according to some, to blame for the English name ‘butterfly’, which is claimed to be derived from butter-coloured or butter-stealing fly. However, others claim it is a change of the original name “flutter-by”. The Dutch “vlinder” and the French “papillon” both point in this direction.
The blues are usually small, but not all of them are blue. Some are reddish, others brown, white or green. Many are so similar that even experts need to dissect their genitalia to determine which species it is. However, this is not very helpful for an amateur field “butterflyer”. The iridescent colours of many of the males make them stand out. Some, such as the Fluffy Tit, have long tails that birds sometimes mistake for antennae, making them attack the wrong end of the butterfly. The judies are lumped in with the blues, but are a bit larger and not as colourful.
The nymphalid family is very large and variable and includes the Orange Oakleaf, but also the world’s most wide-spread butterfly, the Painted Lady. The very similar Indian Red Admiral is a close relative of the British Red Admiral. They are not related to the Red Baron, who was a German war pilot, but the Grey Count and the Gaudy Baron are family members.
Tigers also belong to the nymphalids. Some of them are slow flying and sailing butterflies which give the impression of a carefree species that is just hanging out. The Common Tiger has, like its mammalian counterpart, stripes, but is a lot easier and less dangerous to spot. The Plain Tiger is mimicked by the female Danaid Eggfly. Birds cannot see the difference and leave both of them alone, but only the Plain Tiger is poisonous, due to its caterpillars feeding on poisonous plants. The male Danaid Eggfly looks very different and more often ends up in the stomach of a bird. But then females are more important than males to keep a species going.