A riot of colours unfold on the screen as beautiful butterflies flit from one plant to another, in the opening shots of Life of Butterflies, a comprehensive documentary on the winged insects. Shot at the seven-acre Sammilan Shetty Butterfly Park at Belvai, about eight kilometres from Moodbidri town of Dakshina Kannada in Karnataka, the 100-minute film covers butterfly behaviour in its natural habitat.
The butterfly reserve nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats drives conservation by engaging with people, especially students. Over 100 butterfly species are sighted regularly at the park including the spectacular Malabar banded peacock, Southern Birdwing, Autumn leaf, Gaudy baron, Dark evening brown, Tawny rajah to name a few. The butterfly park also finds a mention in the World Book of Records, London, for hosting awareness programmes and conservation activities.
Official trailer: Life of Butterflies
“Butterflies are fascinating insects that indicate the health of our environment. They play an integral part of the food web. I have been keenly observing them for more than a decade and have dedicated myself to conserving them,” says Sammilan Shetty, conservationist who founded the park.
He conducts lectures and butterfly walks regularly and hopes the film which he shot over a span of four years, motivates students and the general public towards conservation.
The footage covers pre-monsoon showers that trigger butterfly activity, followed by the Southwest monsoon that captures the sights and sounds of the forest, thriving with life. “Every single footage follows a story line and sometimes with surprise twists. For example, the story of symbiosis between the caterpillars of Common ciliate blue and ants. The ants receive honey dew as reward from the caterpillars, and in return the caterpillars get protection against parasitoids and other small insect predators. Unexpectedly, the ants kill a caterpillar for not known reason,” explains Shetty.
Another highlight is the fascinating transformation of Southern Birdwing, a butterfly which is endemic to South India, from egg to a captivating beauty. Right from a male patrolling his territory, courtship and egg laying, to the adult butterfly emerging from the pupa, the challenges they face and how they defend themselves have been recorded in meticulous detail. “Though the butterfly is non-palatable to predators, it still faces threat from ants and parasitoids, and has to defend itself. A female Southern Birdwing shooting eggs onto grass blades appears in this documentary, which has never been known before”, says Shetty.
Later parts of the film show the feeding behaviour in butterflies including nectaring and mud-puddling. It enthralls you with the life history of some of the remarkable butterflies of Western Ghats, including the Malabar banded swallowtail, Autumn leaf and the iconic Malabar banded peacock with its elusive early stages.
The film also throws light on the role of predation in Nature and survival techniques, including the symbiotic relationship of ants with the lycaenidae family of butterflies — one of the most interesting phenomena about butterflies known to scientific community.
Sammilan Shetty plans to hold regular screenings on collaboration with organisations and NGOs across the globe that work towards conservation. “We got an overwhelming response from the audience at a recent screening by Nilgiri Natural History Society. We want the film to make people fall in love with Nature and eventually turn conservationists.”
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