Published: 30th September 2021
This documentary capturing butterflies and their behaviour will leave you in awe. Here's why
Life of Butterflies is being screened online and its director, Sammilan Shetty, who also started Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park at Beluvai, tells us what we can expect from it
There is no such thing as too many butterflies. So, the number of these winged creatures, about 30-35 of them that have featured in the documentary Life of Butterflies will surely make your heart flutter. The fact of the matter is that Sammilan Shetty started capturing these visuals about four to five years ago and the documentary was released by the 'Butterfly Man of India', Isaac David Kehimkar, in 2019. At first the pandemic played spoilsport but when, in May 2021, the Nilgiri Natural History Society screened it online, Sammilan took a leaf out of their book and started to do the same. All their screenings are pre-planned, announced via their social media channels and are carried out over Cisco Webex. In fact, their tenth screening conducted recently saw over 450 participants, including Isaac David Kehimkar himself. These screenings are done almost every weekend and are followed by a rich Q & A session that lasts nearly an hour, where the 36-year-old will answer all your questions patiently.
The park where butterflies go
If the name Sammilan Shetty still hasn't rung a bell, let us do the honours. He's the same youngster behind Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park at Beluvai, almost near the foothills of the mighty Western Ghats in Karnataka. While studying at Alva’s College, Moodbidri, it was Sammilan's Zoology professor who implored him to study the local species of butterflies. By 2011, drawing huge inspiration from Isaac David Kehimkar's The Book of Indian Butterflies, the nature enthusiast started planting nectar and host plants in his own backyard, which is now Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park that stretches across an impressive 7.3 acres of private land, including four acres of secondary forests and a bit of a paddy field. "We have recorded over 152 species of butterflies at the park among the 339 found in the Western Ghats. The latest species we spotted was the Blue Admiral and it was a thrilling experience. Till today, we learn something new every day that we venture into the park," says the Beluvai-born.
Back to the documentary! Life of Butterflies is primarily about the behaviour — courtship, feeding, egg-laying, defence and mimicry — of these delicate creatures. One of the most wonderful experiences Sammilan had was trying to capture the Southern birdwing butterfly (also called Sahyadri birdwing) via his lens. "It was flying around to find a host plant to lay its eggs. We got the shot, but it was only in the editing room that we noticed that the butterfly's abdomen was curling in a particular way it does when it pops out eggs. We were thrilled beyond measure," says Sammilan, who was a lecturer at Laxmi Memorial College of Hotel Management in Mangaluru until he quit his job in 2015.
Here's more. As you might know, ants are natural predators of butterflies but interestingly they do not attack the common ciliate blue butterfly or even its pupa, a fact which is well-known. This is because as a 'protection fee' the ants feast on the honeydew secretion which is secreted by the caterpillar, this fact depicts their symbiotic relationship. But the documentary features a clip wherein weaver ants attack a caterpillar of this very butterfly, going against their very nature!
Patience is a virtue, my friend
Being able to capture the Malabar banded peacock in its early stages, as early as coming out of its pupa, is a sought-after sight for many butterfly enthusiasts. You'll be happy to note that even these visuals find their way into the 100-minute documentary. Plus, the shot of a crab spider trying to hunt a grey pansy butterfly is marvellous. You'll have to watch the documentary to see if the chase was really successful for the spider.
"To spot these kinds of behaviour takes years, which is why I shot the documentary painstakingly over a long period of time," Sammilan reminds us. Cameras like the Sony RX10 II were used for slow motion shots, while the Canon EOS 70D was eventually upgraded to a Canon EOS 80D with a 100 mm macro lens. The compilation was done by Sammilan himself while the first edit was done by a student of his, Joy, and the final edit and voiceover was done in Bengaluru.
On a butterfly trail with students
The Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park was, at one point, bustling with activity but now, it's at its bare minimum, though visitors have started to trickle in again. Officially inaugurated on August 18, 2013, many school and college students have been given guided tours to understand the importance of conservation of butterflies. "When we say conserve butterflies, we automatically mean the floral diversity and their whole ecosystem itself. Creatures like butterflies are actually indicators of how rich and diverse the flora of the land is. They also play a significant role in pollination," says Sammilan. To let that message sink in a bit more deeply, catch one of their online screenings and stay tuned to their social media channels for an update.
Some of the butterflies spotted at the park
Malabar banded peacock butterfly
Red pierrot butterfly
Tamil lacewing butterfly
Autumn leaf butterfly