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An unexpected outcome of the coronavirus lockdown imposed in India - the population of butterflies has increased significantly in the country and it is great for the environment.

The phenomenon is due to a reduction in air and noise pollution amidst the nationwide lockdown to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lepidopterists, or people who study butterflies, are happy the brightly coloured flyers are flourishing in the lockdown period. For most butterfly species March and April are mating months, so thousands of them are flying around Delhi, especially seen around green areas.

Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in charge of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, has noted thousands of pioneer butterflies (Belenois aurota) at the Nature reserve, Indian English-language daily, The Times of India reported.

Reduced pollution, plants prospering

“Moving vehicles cause heavy metal toxicity, and high sulphur dioxide in the air is particularly harmful for butterflies,” he told Times of India.

“During smog episodes, for instance, the caterpillar mortality is very high and only a few to survive to turn into full-fledged butterflies. With the pollution load dropping due to the lockdown, butterflies seem to be doing extremely well,” he added.

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The lockdown is helping Nature prosper and that is attracting more and more butterflies. For example, the amount of sonchus and launaea from the dandelion family has increased at the park.

The other species being sighted in large numbers include the lime butterfly, common castor, grass yellow and common leopard.

Sohail Madan, centre manager, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), reported a similar spike at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. “Butterflies have a short life, so it wasn’t easy to determine the effect of the lockdown in the beginning, but over the weeks, it is evident that the butterfly populations have gone up dramatically. They may have been aided by stoppage in human activity,” Madan was quoted as saying.

Madan explained that lack of de-weeding, sweeping or clearing in parks is helping insect populations. “Every year, scores of caterpillars and eggs are lost during such gardening practices,” he said.

Earlier this month, thousands of butterflies also descended on Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) on the outskirts of Bengaluru, Indian news outlets reported.

The brief stopover is part of their annual mass migration from the Western Ghats (hill range) to Eastern Ghats. The last time the park saw such an extensive migration was reportedly several years ago.

Why are butterflies important for the environment?

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An increase in butterfly population can lead to a number of positive environmental changes.

According to onegreenplanet.org, butterflies act as pollinators so that plants can grow in sufficient amounts.

Also, “butterflies also provide assistance for genetic variation in the plant species that they collect nectar from. Many species of butterfly migrate over a long distance, which allows pollen to be shared across groups of plants that are far apart from one another. This helps plants to be more resilient against disease and gives them a better chance at survival,” onegreenplanet.org stated.

These insects are also a vital part of the food chain. Butterflies are eaten by many species of birds and mice.

Indian news outlets have also reported that scientists have experienced an increase in bird populations during the lockdown and butterflies have helped.

Lockdown helping Nature heal

As humans have slowed down their activities and are choosing to stay home, many are noticing the positive affect it is having on the environment.

Tweep @AmarjeetkPoddar wrote: “The government and the people of India should think once that many of our day to day problem are shorted with this #lockdownindia like #Ganga clean itself, pollution under control, birds and butterflies in the sky, lots of water saved and many more.”

Twitter user @noshortcut_ from India posted a picture of a butterfly and wrote: “Look outside your window all is not lost during lockdown. Plenty of these around this one was shot yesterday.”

User @nahluwalia20, who describes herself as an “environment campaigner” highlighted India’s biodiversity and urged people to take care of Nature: “Wildlife Institute of India has documented 413 plant, 159 butterfly,113 spider, 14 amphibian, 31 reptile, 230 bird and 21 mammal species within this project area. Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary 12 kms away has recorded tiger presence in the vicinity. #StopEcocide #SaveIndianBiodiversity.”