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Rediscovery of two rare butterflies Papilio elephenor Doubleday, 1845 and Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889 from proposed Ripu-Chirang Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India

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Two rare butterflies Papilio elephenor Doubleday, 1886 and Moore’s Cupid Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889 were rediscovered from the proposed Ripu-Chirang Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India.
Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | April 2010 | 2(4): 831-834
Rediscovery of two rare butteries
Papilio elephenor Doubleday, 1845
and Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889
from proposed Ripu-Chirang Wildlife
Sanctuary, Assam, India
Kushal Choudhury
Department of Zoology, Science College, Kokrajhar, Assam
783370, India.
Email: kushal.c8@gmail.com
Two rare and hitherto unreported butteries were
sighted in the proposed Ripu-Chirang Wildlife Sanctuary
(henceforth PRCWS) that is part of Manas Biosphere
Reserve in lower Assam, northeastern India. These
butteries are Yellow-crested Spangle Papilio elephenor
Doubleday, 1886 and Moore’s Cupid Shijimia moorei
Leech, 1889. Papilio elephenor is endemic to northeastern
India. Past literature shows that two specimens of Papilio
elephenor were collected and sighted from Khasi Hills of
Meghalaya and Naga Hills by Mr. Sherwill in 1886 and the
female brood was collected by Dr. Standinger in the late
1800’s in Assam province (Wood-Mason et al. 1886) and it
has remained almost unknown since then. Evans (1932)
and Wynter-Blyth (1957) mentioned the distribution of this
species from Assam and southern
Shan States in Myanmar. However,
the subspecies from the Shan States
(schanus) is now under Papilio dialis,
not Papilio elephenor (Talbot, 1939).
Thus, Papilio elephenor is endemic to northeastern India.
Bingham (1907) and Antram (1924) stated the presence
of Papilio elephenor from the hills of upper Assam with
its taxonomic keys. The global distribution of Shijimia
moorei, on the other hand, is in Japan and southern
China. About hundred years ago it was reported from
Khasi hills of Meghalaya by Swinhoe, but there have been
no records in India since 1896. Evans (1932) described
the presence of this buttery from Assam and mentioned
that it was very rare.
The rediscovery of these two new butteries also
needs to be understood in the context of the lack of
past surveys in the region - the ‘Wallacean shortfall’ in
biogeography which states that assumptions of population
size, extinction and rediscovery are underpinned by the
extant knowledge of global, regional and local distributions
of buttery taxa, much of which is inadequate for tropical
regions (Whittaker et al. 2005). Not a single survey on
butteries has been undertaken in the Ripu-Chirang RF
areas till date and although the present author has been
observing the butteries for the past ten years, systematic
study was initiated only in 2007. There is a gap of nearly
sixty years in updating distribution records and hence
claiming the rediscovery of these rare butteries is
justied.
Study area
The butteries are reported from the PRCWS that
extends between 89055’-90030’E & 27015’-26035’N in
western Assam. It is a transitional zone between Manas
Tiger Reserve in the east and Buxa Tiger Reserve in the
west. It also has strong habitat linkages with the Bhutan
Biological Conservation Complex as it is located just
at the foothills of Phipsu Wildlife Sanctuary and Royal
Manas National Park of Bhutan. It is also part of Ripu-
Chirang Elephant Reserve and forms the buffer for
Manas Tiger Reserve and Biosphere Reserve. The total
area of PRCWS is 590km2. The climate is moist tropical
(average ambient temp 15-36 0C) with high rainfall (2000-
2500 mm) and humidity 60-87 % levels. The mean sea
elevation ranges between 60-150 m and the land has a
gentle sloping gradient with a preponderance of rock and
boulder deposits characteristic of Bhabhar region. The
forest types have been classied as ranging from semi-
evergreen to moist mixed deciduous with a predominance
of Sal Shorea robusta (Champion & Seth 1968). The
author has already reported more than 300 species of
butteries (Choudhury 2009) and given the high density
and visibility of butteries, the sanctuary holds immense
potential for developing eco-tourism focused around
OPEN ACCESS | FREE DOWNLOAD
Date of publication (online): 26 April 2010
Date of publication (print): 26 April 2010
ISSN 0974-7907 (online) | 0974-7893 (print)
Editor: Maan Barua
Manuscript details:
Ms # o2303
Received 03 September 2009
Final received 23 March 2010
Finally accepted 04 April 2010
Citation: Choudhury, K. (2010). Rediscovery of two rare butteries
Papilio elephenor Doubleday, 1845 and Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889
from proposed Ripu-Chirang Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India. Journal of
Threatened Taxa 2(4): 831-834.
Copyright: © Kushal Choudhury 2010. Creative Commons Attribution
3.0 Unported License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any
medium for non-prot purposes, reproduction and distribution by providing
adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Krushnamegh Kunte, Harvard
University, USA for his help in identication of the specimens and valuable
suggestions for writing this note. Sonali Ghosh, DFO, Wildlife Division,
Kokrajhar, Hilloljyoti Singha, Lecturer Assam University, Silchar and
Rajen Choudhury, DFO, Holtugaon Division are thanked for their constant
support and encouragement. Special thanks remain for my friends Tribeni
Mandal, Kaliprasanna Mandal and Manashi Choudhury for their constant
help and moral encouragement. I also thank the anonymous referees for
important suggestions. CEPF and ATREE are also acknowledged for their
funding support for the Swallowtail Buttery Status Survey and this nding
is one of the outcomes of this project.
JoTT No t e 2(4): 831-834
831
Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | April 2010 | 2(4): 831-834
Rediscovery of two rare butteries from Assam K. Choudhury
832
buttery watching and conservation.
Detailed description of the species
A. Yellow-crested Spangle Papilio elephenor
Doubleday, 1845
0n 05 May 2009, around 1330hr, I observed and
photographed a black-bodied swallowtail mud puddling
on a forest trail along with few other black-bodied
swallowtail butteries of Singimajuli Block (26044’05.6”N
& 90008’25.2”E) (Image 1) under RCRF. The weather
was dull and cloudy when the buttery was rst spotted
sitting on a shrub (Clerodendrum) at the height of about
1.5m from the ground. It was basking and on approaching
nearer, it suddenly dropped down on wet soil. Here it
began to probe a portion of cattle excrete with its proboscis
for extracting minerals etc. It was photographed at that
moment and later it was identied with the references
of Wood-Mason et al. (1886), Bingham (1907), Antram
(1924), Evans (1932), Talbot (1939), Winter-Blyth (1957)
and K. Kunte (pers. comm.) as the Yellow-crested
Spangle.
Morphology: The individual was identied as a male
due to the presence of abdominal claspers. The upper
side of the fore-wing was dull black with brilliant blue
scales that formed a pattern of cellular and inter-nervular
streaks. Anal red marks on the hind-wing above were
larger, rounded, marginal and included a small black spot
dusted with violet scales. The underside of the fore-wing
was found to be blackish-grey with a black stripe and the
underside of the hind wing had a series of red marginal
crescents sprinkled with violet scales that were very
prominent. The head portion was yellow while the sides
of the abdomen were buff in color (Image 2).
Habitat: The buttery was sighted on a forest track
made of sand and gravel. The habitat predominantly
comprised evergreen trees and shrubs mainly of
species such as (Lagerstroemia parviora, L. speciosa,
Terminalia bellerica, Cinnamomum tamala, Bauhinia
purpurea, Clerodendron, Leea, Premna, Mussaenda,
Blumera etc.). The forest type can however generally be
classied as moist mixed deciduous with a predominance
of Sal Shorea robusta trees. Heavy incidence of grazing
and illegal felling (selective removal of trees with timber
values) was observed in most of the region. Soil is
lateritic to sandy loam. Phipsu River and its tributaries
are the major sources of water.
Similarities and dissimilarities between Yellow-
crested Spangle and Spangle Papilio protenor:
Similarities: Both the spangles are similar in their
wing span i.e. 100-130 mm without tails. The upper
side of both the wings is dusted with blue scales with a
prominent black-centered red spot in tornus of hind wing.
Both the species have cellular and inter-nervular streaks
Dissimilarities: Papilio elephenor is easily distinguish
from P. protenor by the yellow marking on the head and
buff colour on the side of the abdomen. The hind wing
is much narrower and the under side has a series of
red marginal crescents sprinkled with violet scales; the
crescents form a conspicuous patch at tornal angle upto
the dorsum bearing two black spots whereas in P. protenor
the red marginal crescent is conned to the tornus and
inter space 6-8. Head and abdomen are black like other
black-bodied swallowtails.
Behaviour: Like other swallowtails it also basks by
opening its wings by approximately 1800. It vibrates its
wings when threatened, but otherwise keeps its wings
closed. Flight is leisurely but rapid when alarmed. The
species I observed was a male individual and he mud-
puddled for about 18 minutes in the same spot.
B. Moore’s Cupid Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889
Three individuals of this buttery were spotted on
a sunny day at around 1200hr when they were mud-
puddling on a damp area near the forest road along with
few other lycaenids and skippers. The forest road runs
Image 1. Distribution of Yellow-crested Spangle Papilio
elephenor Doubleday, 1845 from proposed Ripu-Chirang
Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam. India.
Image 2. Yellow-crested Spangle Papilio elephenor
© Kushal Choudhury
Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | April 2010 | 2(4): 831-834
Rediscovery of two rare butteries from Assam K. Choudhury
Image 3. Distribution of Moore’s Cupid Shijimia moorei
Leech, 1889 from proposed Ripu-Chirang Widllife
Sanctuary, Assam, India.
Image 4. Moore’s Cupid Shijimia moorei.
through Ultapani Block (26048’02.52”N & 90015’01.45”E)
(Image 3) under Chirang Reserve Forest of Haltugaon
Forest Division in Assam. Individuals were photographed
and were later identied as Shijimia moorei in consultation
with K. Kunte (pers. comm.) and by cross-referencing with
Evans (1932), Varshney (1997) and Winter-Blyth (1957).
Morphology: The upper portion of the wings are dark
brown. Underneath, both the wings are white in colour
with black markings arranged irregularly (Image 4). Two
unequal black spots are present on the base of the hind
wings with slightly larger prominent black spots near the
costa. There is a dark thin border line on both the wings
without having a tail in the hind wing.
Habitat: The buttery was sighted near the damp
patches on a motorable forest road made of sand and
gravel. The habitat predominantly comprised deciduous
trees and shrubs mainly of species such as (Michelia
champaca, Terminalia belerica, Sterculia villosa, Imperata
spp., Clerodendron spp., Litsea spp. etc.). Soil is lateritic
to sandy loam. Laopani River and their tributaries are the
major sources of water.
Similarities and dissimilarities between Moore’s
Cupid and Common Hedgeblue Acytolepis puspa:
Similarities: The underside of both the wings of each
species have white ground colour and the black spots of
the hind wings are irregular and of unequal size. Hind
wings tailless and orange marking on the tornus absent
Dissimilarities: In S. moorei the upper side of both
the wings is dark brown whereas in Common Hedgeblue
Acytolepis puspa it is glossy pale blue.
Behaviour: The species were observed to undertake
mud-puddling for prolonged periods (for over two and half
hours) if they were not disturbed. During this time they
kept their wings closed and it is likely that their preferred
habitat was the high litter concentrated areas near mud-
puddling sites. It was observed mud-puddling on cloudy
as well as on sunny days. I have observed this behaviour
in certain nymphalids such as Tanaecia lepidea and
Tanaecia juliln as well. The buttery is tiny and its ight
is very fast. The species was sighted (3-4 individuals)
at the same spot throughout the monsoon period but it
disappeared just before the onset of winter in October.
No individual was spotted in subsequent years.
Discussion and Conservation Implications
Butteries and particularly swallowtails have played
an important role in our understanding of some of the
fundamental evolutionary processes such as principles
of genetic variation and sexual dimorphism. These
in turn have aided our understanding of other cryptic
polymorphisms such as human blood groups thereby
clearly indicating the need to conserve these species for
the greater benet of mankind (New & Collins 1991).
Northeastern India harbours at least 62 species of
swallowtail (papillionid) butteries (Evans 1932) and very
few reports could be found that describe their present day
status and threat assessments (Collins & Morris 1985;
New & Collins 1991; Gupta & Mandal 2005). The author
did not have access to the complete reports written by
these previous authors and therefore providing a complete
description of their views is not possible. Similarly the
online search of red list report for threatened species
(IUCN 2009) did not return details for Papilio elephenor
and Shijia moorei. Nevertheless, the summary chapters
of all the previous reports clearly indicate that the precise
conservation status of several of the species including the
Yellow-crested Spangle and Moore’s Cupid is unknown in
the Indian subcontinent.
The ongoing survey and reporting by the present
author has therefore contributed towards future red list
assessment in this region. It has also indicated the need to
undertake detailed surveys including behavioural studies
on least known butteries in areas such as PRCWS that
have been hitherto unsurveyed. The proposal to declare
Ripu-Chirang as a Wildlife Sanctuary that will federally
protect its biodiversity under the highest wildlife law in India
has been pending for 20 years (Rodgers & Panwar 1988).
833
© Kushal Choudhury
Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | April 2010 | 2(4): 831-834
Rediscovery of two rare butteries from Assam K. Choudhury
The lack of reliable biodiversity information combined with
insurgency and lack of political will has also resulted in
keeping the issue on a backburner for some time. As a
consequence to this, other issues such as settlement of
forest rights for tribals and forest dwellers, encroachment
and extraction of forest produce as a source of legal and
illegal income is gaining momentum. The rediscovery of
two rare butteries will perhaps refocus the need to come
up with a species-based approach to wildlife conservation
in this region.
It also opens up the opportunity for attracting more
research and funding in lesser known taxa such as
butteries in remote regions of northeast India. Buttery
watching is an important component of eco-tourism
worldwide where buttery ranching has been encouraged
thereby giving a legitimate source of income to local
communities on a sustainable basis. Whether rare
butteries such as Papilio elephenor and Shijimia mooeri
can be ranched and whether it will help in enhancing
community conservation is a matter of research that can
be an outcome of this study. The author expects to gather
further ecological information on these butteries in the
near future and further reiterates the need to conserve
and bring the forests of Ripu-Chirang under a protected
area network.
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834
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