Leisurely flight of the colourful wings

As mentioned earlier in my article Skippers in your garden here the Lantana bush on Cookson Road in Richards Town, Bengaluru attracts a lot of butterflies and one of the most colourful one happens to be the Common Jezebel.

The Common Jezebel feeding on the lantana flowers
Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

The Common Jezebel Delias eucharis belongs to the family Pierdae which has among its members some of the most familiar of butterflies like Grass Yellows and Emigrants. The name butterfly is derived from members of this family which are predominantly white and yellow and are thus also known as “Whites and Yellows “. Butter (butter like wing colour) and Fly.

It is found only in the Indian sub-continent and one of the most prominent butterflies that visit city gardens. The Pierdae is one of the smaller butterfly families in the country comprising just 7.26 percent of the total butterfly population. 109 species of this family can be found here. They are found in all types of habitats from arid grasslands to thick wet evergreen forests. Most of them fly close to the ground at the level of shrubs where their food, nectar, is most abundant. But the Common Jezebel is an exception because it can also be found flying among the tree tops in the tallest of forests.

In Bengaluru, The Common Jezebel prefers to be in tall trees like Rain tree or Gulmohur.  It only comes down to feed on flowers and shrubs.

Description: The Common Jezebel has a wingspan of 66 – 83 mm and the upper side of its wings is white. It has bright yellow underside with black veins and a series of orange red spots on the margins. The females are more heavily marked than the males.

Commonly found: On the trees belonging to the Mistletoe family like Honey Suckle Mistletoe Dendrophthoe falcate or Badanike in Kannada.

Characteristics: The Common Jezebel is at its most active during noon and afternoon. During the morning they can be seen basking on outstretched branches of tall trees with closed wings. They bask with closed wings as all the dark markings which absorb heat to warm their bodies are on the underside of their wings. With their wings closed these dark markings are exposed to the sun.

Nectar from flowers is the only nourishment it relishes. It is assumed that because of this behavior pattern, it has evolved a dull upper side and a brilliant underside so that birds below it recognise it immediately while in flight and at rest. Its bright colouration is a signal to predators that it is unpalatable. The Common Jezebel has unpalatable alkaloids in its body tissue which are accumulated by the larvae from the host-plants. Because of this protection it usually flies in a very leisurely manner. The leisurely demeanour, however does not mean that it has a weak flight or that it cannot fly long distances.

The Common Jezebel lays eggs in batches instead of singly. This is quite unlike the other members of its family. Each batch consists of ten to twenty eggs and is usually laid on the underside of leaves. They are oval, shiny and bright yellow in colour. The eggs of each batch hatch simultaneously and the caterpillars stay together in a disciplined fashion. The caterpillars first make a meal of their eggshell and wander off to the nearest leaf-margin where they devour the leaf, side by side, and then move on to the next one .However each caterpillar has a different growth rate and thus pupation does not happen at the same time and therefore the butterflies emerge at various points of time.

The host plants of the Common Jezebel are various species of plant parasites. They belong to the showy mistletoe family. They are small hanging shrubs that grow on branches of trees. These plants grow strongly on ageing trees particularly somewhere in the middle of old branches.

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