The Redbreast (Papilio Alcmenor) has been spotted in the Western Himalayas after a period of 110 years. Since butterflies reflect the health of an ecosystem, the reappearance of a butterfly is of great excitement among nature lovers. In today’s context, where there is mostly bad news on the environment front, this news was met with great enthusiasm although no-one is convinced that it is reflective of any significant improvement in the eco-system. Most of us living in the Himalayas are dismally documenting a negative trend.
The last time this particular redbreast was recorded in Kumaon, Uttarakhand was when Hannyngton noted in 1910 that it “occurs sparingly in May and September up to 7000 (feet) ”. Since then it has not been spotted in the Himalayas, west of Nepal.
On 2nd July 2020, when walking in our garden in a village on the periphery of Mukteshwar Forest in Kumaon, Uttarakhand, we observed a Redbreast. It had been captured by a flower spider.
The Papilio alcmenor, the Redbreast, is a species of swallowtail butterfly found in South Asia. Swallowtail butterflies are large, colourful butterflies in the family Papilionidae, and include over 550 species. Though the majority are tropical, members of the family inhabit every continent except Antarctica. The family includes the largest butterflies in the world, the birdwing butterflies.
The forked appearance in some of the swallowtails’ hindwings, which can be seen when the butterfly is resting with its wings spread, gave rise to the common name swallowtail.
Peter Smetacek runs the Butterfly Research Trust in Bhimtal. He is one of India’s foremost butterfly experts. Peter helped me identify it as a male P. Alcmenor. He brought the sighting to the notice of the ‘butterfly community’, both lepidopterist, as well as amateur butterfly observers and photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts and environmentalists.
Later, on 26th August 2020, a male was photographed in Bhatraunjkhan village, Betalghat block, Nainital district by Shankar Kumar. On 16th September, a male was collected in Bhowali market, Nainital District. Subsequently a female specimen was collected in the same area by Ambica Agnihotri.