Jay-flying in Mumbai's streets

Anand Pendharkar If you are a vehicle driver, you would know how infuriating it is when someone abruptly steps onto the road and decides to cross the street at undesignated locations, putting you and many other vehicles at risk. This is popularly called jaywalking! As a pedestrian, we all wish that we could fly and cross over, instead of having to either wait endlessly or wade through the traffic. So thumbs down to humans, as the fluttering butterflies in our cities do exactly that!'

It is common to sight butterflies in Mumbai. The commonest and most universal among them all is the restless and bright green-coloured Tailed Jay. This butterfly is literally an open challenge to amateur photographers, as their general speed and preference for the higher canopy, makes them tough to capture. However, if you have trees such as the false Ashoka (Asupalav), Custard Apples (Sitaphal and Ramphal), Champa (Michelia champaca) or nectar-bearing flowering plants such as Hibiscus, Jamaican Spike, Lantana or Ixora, you may be lucky to see the adults, eggs, caterpillars and pupae of the tailed jay, right in your building.

Tailed Jay
Tailed Jay

Tailed Jay butterflies are distributed in areas which have a lower altitudes in India and they are active throughout the year. Due to their short breeding cycle of 30-33days (from egg to adult), in some areas, as many as 7-8 breeding cycles have been observed within a single year. Tailed Jay eggs are absolutely oval and pearl white in colour and generally laid singly on the tip of the larval host (food) plant. Their caterpillars are greenish brown in colour and the lines and markings on its body perfectly merge with the veins and cuts of the false Ashoka leaves, making it tough for predators such as tailor birds to locate them. But wasps, spiders, house geckos and garden lizards can easily detect their movements. The pupae, which are the sleeping days of the butterfly, are attached by a single thread to the edge of a matching leaf and are the most helpless days of a butterfly’s life.

Most butterflies emerge from their pupa during the late hours of the night, as they need to fill air in their crumpled wings and dry them too, the predators are active. The fluorescent green wings of the freshly emerged males are almost translucent and it takes a while to be able to sight their blurring wings. The females of the Tailed Jay are comparatively shy and are on the constant lookout for larval host (egg-laying) plants. The best time to sight them is during night time as they close their wings over their back and sit still below a leaf.

There is good news even for those living in the newly- developed, artificial lawn and treeless towers. You can easily attract tailed jay butterflies to your window sill by setting up a butterfly garden with the plants mentioned in the copy above. They can frequent balconies up to the seventh floor.

I recollect a peculiar incident where a courting pair of Tailed Jays mindlessly entered a packed double decker bus near the jam-packed Kurla station. All passengers were aghast and gave out heart-stopping gasps while the pair flew across many rows of seats to finally exit from another window. The act left a flutter of excitement among the generally fatigued passengers.

I’m of the firm opinion that the Tailed Jay is true representative butterfly for Mumbai city, as it is the epitome of energy, speed, zest and they ensure that no Mumbaikar has a dull moment, be it spring, summer, winter or rain!

Anand Pendharkar is an ecologist, who is the founder of SPROUTS, an outdoors and eco-tourism company and SPROUTS Environment Trust, an NGO which works with youth and underprivileged groups and aims to provide a sustainable environment for all

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