For every nature lover, observer or enthusiast – they have that 1 specie or location that they can never have enough off. You may have many, but there is at-least one. For birders it might be the “Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher” or the “Baza”, for a big cat person it might be the “Leopard” or a “Tiger”, for a snake guy it might be the “Coral snake”; you get my drift now. For me (and when it comes to butterflies) – it has always been the “Monkey Puzzle”.
I know its a pretty common butterfly in evergreen forests & many can be seen on a good day – but it took me almost 12 years to achieve that. My first sighting and one I remember vividly was when I was working with Tekdi as an intern.The year was probably 2006. There was a small canal that flowed right behind our office in this concrete jungle of Paud Road, Pune. Looking out of the window, I saw a butterfly which I had never seen before. I had started observing butterflies only a year-or-so before hence my knowledge was extremely limited.
In 2006, there was only one proper reference book on Indian Butterflies which was written by Krushnamegh Kunte – “Butterflies of Peninsular India”. The moment I saw that butterfly, I knew it was different and rushed home to find this butterfly. The first thing I always used to do was check the end pages of the book which had all these plates with photographs of butterflies. Sadly, there wasn’t a photograph there. Then I went through process of reading descriptions of butterflies in the book (I skipped the ones I knew), but couldn’t really decipher which one it was!
It took me a few days to finally establish that it was a “Monkey Puzzle”. Then it was a rare sighting in Pune city as it had always been recorded in dense forested areas like Tamhini or Sinhagad Valley.
Since then, I have seen this butterfly a few times but never really got enough time to get some good photographs. Fast forward to 2018 & my renewed interest in macro photography. We visited Phansad WLS; a beautiful forest near Murud in Raigad district. After an exciting day 1 outside the park; day 2 we decided to enter the sanctuary.
Walking up this red-mud road we were greeted by quite a few butterflies – Grey Count, Rustic, Ceruleans, Wanderer, etc. We saw a few hundred funnel-webbed spiders along the road and we continued our walk photographing these beautiful creatures.
As we reached the first kilometer and we started to climb this uphill road, something small flew right next to me! As soon as it landed a few feet away that I knew it was my beloved Monkey Puzzle.
As always, when I tried to get a good photograph, it flew away never to be found again. A few minutes walk away, we saw another individual & then another. Every time, it wasn’t to be. A few meters from where I was photographing a Hedge Blue; Pushkar, an expert macro-photographer was photographing something interesting. He wasn’t sure what it was and asked me to come to check it out. Lo-and-behold, it was Monkey Puzzle. But! It wasn’t one – Pushkar, spotted a mating pair of this beauty!
Finally, after 12 years of first seeing a Monkey Puzzle, I got some good photographs of this butterfly that I hold dear. After getting that pair, I saw approximately 10 more individuals & one of them did give me some good photographs!
It has been 13 years since my Aai-Baba gifted me Krushnamegh Kunte’s – “Butterflies of Peninsular India” & I thank them for helping me follow my heart! This journey of observing butterflies that started back in 2005 has given me many new friends along the way, shown me locations that I would have probably never heard of & made me experience moments that I would never have dreamt of.
I leave you with this poem by Madhav Gadgil that adorned the back-cover of this book that always inspire you to leave this concrete jungle & spend time in a forest.
“Our roots are deep in the woods,
Among the mosses, close to the springs,
Our spirits soar high in the sky,
Among the birds & butterflies.”