“Butterflies... flowers that fly and all but sing.” Robert Frost

Pond - Section Cerulian

The Section Cerulean of the Butterfly Sanctuary

It is not surprising that the evolution of butterflies is closely linked to the evolution of flowering plants. The specialized association between today's butterflies and flowering plants suggests that butterflies developed during the Cretaceous Period, which is known as the "Age of Flowering Plants."

From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense since butterflies depend on flowering plants for their survival. And most flowering plants depend on butterflies to pollinate and help in their propagation. Their mimicry, hybridization and co-evolution with host plants had contributed to the speciation and global distribution of butterflies. Today about 18,500 species of butterflies are distributed worldwide except in Antarctica.

This co-evolution of butterflies and flowering plants lends yet to another “Chicken and Egg” question, what came first: the butterflies or the flowering plants?

The earliest known butterfly fossils are from between 40-50 million years ago but the evolutionary history of butterflies’ dates back even further. According to the latest fossil evidence butterflies had evolved more than 200 to 250 million years ago in the Triassic period at the same time as when the first dinosaurs appeared which means moths and butterflies are much older than previously thought, and were probably there before or at the same time as when flowering plants evolved. It is hard to imagine a gently fluttering and flitting butterfly and a ferocious and rapacious Tyrannosaurus in a mutually inclusive situation. It seems as improbable as expecting to meet the Incredible Hulk and little Bo Peep searching for sheep in the same pasture.

Butterfly Evolution

A Butterfly Tale... the Evolution of the Butterflies

Ravi Corea
Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society

On January 18th 2019 we commenced work on our Butterfly Sanctuary in Wasgamuwa which is supported by the prestigious house of luxury Ayruvedic personal and body care products, Spa Ceylon.

On the day we commenced work on the sanctuary I met with Dr. Michael van der Poorten (https://madmimi.com/s/4ad3cd), the eminent Lepidopterist of Sri Lanka to obtain his advice and help for the project. In many ways it was an auspicious day and start to our project because we were very fortunate to have Dr. van der Poorten guide the work as it was going on in Wasgamuwa by phone.

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As I took notes Michael was instructing Chandima over the phone what to do


Volunteers working on the Butterfly Sanctuary


Sectioning off certain areas

The work on the sanctuary has being planned to be done in several phases to make it easy to monitor and evaluate the project as it progressed. The first phase consists of preparing the land: basically removing invasive Manna or Guinea grass (Panicum maximum) and Ipil Ipil (Leucaena leucocephala), planting host plants, and compiling lists of the butterfly species and plants already in the land to establish baseline data for the project.

Up to now we have identified in the land seventeen species of butterflies belonging to four families.


• Tiny Grass Blue (Zizula hylax)


• White Four-ring (Ypthima ceylonica)
• Common Sailor (Neptis hyla)
• Common Indian Crow (Euploea core)
• Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore)
• Bushbrown (Mycalesis sp.)
• Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea)
• Chocolate Soldier (Junonia iphita)
• Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace)
• Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus)


• Crimson Rose (Phacliopta hector)
• Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon)
• Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor)


• Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe)
• Psyche (Leptosia nina)
• Yellow Orange Tip (Ixias pyrene)
• Common Jezebel (Delias eucharis)

With time we hope to attract all the fifty two species of butterflies that have been recorded up to now from Wasgamuwa which includes eight endemic species. We feel this list is not complete, and now with a systematic study in place we hope the number of butterflies species recorded in Wasgamuwa will increase.

Tiny Grass Blue or Zizula hylax

Tiny Grass Blue (Zizula hylax)

White four ring

White Four-ring (Ypthima ceylonica)

Common sailor Neptis hylas matuta Bali I

Common Sailor (Neptis hyla)

Common Indian Crow butterfly open view

Common Indian Crow (Euploea core)

Tawny coster

Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore)


Bushbrown (Mycalesis sp.)

Glassy Tiger

Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea)

Chocolate Soldier Junonia iphita-Kadavoor-2016-08-08-002

Chocolate Soldier (Junonia iphita)

Blue tiger Tirumala limniace exoticus

Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace)

Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus Female by kadavoor

Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus)

Crimson Rose Atrophaneura hector on Waltheria indica W IMG 9899

Crimson Rose (Phacliopta hector)


Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon)

Blue Mormon Papilio polymnestor

Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor)

Common Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe

Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe)

Psyche Leptosia nina

Psyche (Leptosia nina)

Yellow Orange Tip Ixias pyrene

Yellow Orange Tip (Ixias pyrene)

Common Jezebel - Delias eucharis

Common Jezebel (Delias eucharis)

On February 2nd Dr. Michael and Nancy van der Poorten visited Wasgamuwa and stayed two days to provide guidance and supervision to the SLWCS Field Staff. During their visit our staff was given instructions as to what exactly had to be done to create ideal habitats for the various species of butterflies based on their requirements. Michael also helped to identify plant species that were already in the land and also suggested various plant species that could be added to enhance the habitats.

Michael and Nancy

Michael and the SLWCS Team

Michael advicing cf - to leave naural weedy plants

Michael explaining to CF about the finer points of a Butterfly Sanctuary

Michael showing how to check eggs of butterflies 1

Michael showing how to look for butterfly eggs

Micheael instructing about foot paths
Micheal and Akila Identifying some plants

Michael identifying plants with Akila

At our request, Dr. van der Poorten visited the Wildlife Ranger of the Department of Wildlife Conservation based at the Gallay Bungalow to advice him about setting up a butterfly garden.

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Gifting several plants to one of the Wildlife Rangers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Wasgamuwa

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Based on the discussions with Dr. van der Poorten and taking into consideration the scale and magnitude of the project, the land has been divided into three sections, and will be enriched and developed for different guilds of butterflies over the year. The three sections are:

• Jezebel
• Cerulean
• Pansy

Section Jezebel consist the main butterfly sanctuary and will have a large open garden area with a mix of dark and light areas. This section already harbours a wide range of native plants that attracts a lot of butterflies belonging to different guilds.

Aerial-Image- Section-Jezebel

Aerial View of Section Jezebel

Enhancing micro habitats - Section Jezebel

Enhancing micro habitats in Section Jezebel

Ipil Ipil trees cut down -Section-Jezebel

Section Jezebel with Ipil Ipil trees removed

Planting host plants - Section Jezebel

Planted host plants in Section Jezebel

New foot paths 01

New trails....

New foot path 02 section Jezebel

...in Section Jezebel

Preparing a pond - Section Jezebel

Building a pond in Section Jezebel

Removeing Mana gras - Section Jezebel

Removing Mana or Guinea grass in Section Jezebel


Aerial Image of another part of Section Jezebel

The section that has been named Pansy includes tall and low rocky outcrops, densely grown weeds, open short grass areas and the home garden with various fruit trees. In this section the rocky outcrops are being planted with Akkapana (Kalanchoe laciniata) also known as Cathedral Bells in English.

Aerial-image- Section- Pansy North

Aerial image of Section Pansy

Dense weed - Section Pansy North

Dense weed - Section Pansy North

Rocky habitat - Section Pansy North

Rocky habitat - Section Pansy North

New host plant on the rocks- Akkapan

Akkapana host plants planted in the rocky terrain

Pansy South

Section Pansy South

Creating pathways - Section Pansy North

Making new Footpaths in Section Pansy North

Aerial image Pansy South

Aerial image of Pansy South

The Section known as Cerulean includes two existing ponds, an orchard, a dense short weedy area and bordering thick bushes with some woody plants. This section is going to be left as it is with no enhancement.

The land preparation is forging ahead and our volunteers are a tremendous support and help in this effort. By the next rainy season there will definitely a huge difference in the landscape and will result in an increase in the number of butterfly species inhabiting the land.

Orchad- SectionCerulian

The Orchard-in Section Cerulian

Short dense weeds - Section Cerulian

Short dense weeds in Section Cerulian

Pond - Section Cerulian

One of the Ponds in Section Cerulian

We would like to say a sincere thank you to Spa Ceylon for supporting the Butterfly Conservation Project, Dr. Michael and Nancy van der Poorten for their invaluable advice, knowledge and guidance and to our volunteers for their support to our wildlife research and conservation efforts.

Michal educating slwcs staff

Appreciating all the great support we are getting for our Butterfly Conservation Project

Dr. George Michael van der Poorten and Nancy van der Poorten have two recent publications on the butterflies of Sri Lanka which we highly recommend:

The Butterfly Fauna of Sri Lanka (2016)
Field Guide to the Butterflies of Sri Lanka (2018)

The books are available at all leading bookshops in Colombo and online at: http://lepodonbooks.com/

Please stay alert for further updates on the progress of our Sri Lanka Butterfly Conservation Project.

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FieldGuide cover

Big, rumbling thanks to our Corporate Partners for their kind support and to everyone who has donated and supported our wildlife conservation efforts!

Photo Credits:

Chandima Fernando/SLWCS
Indika Samapth/SLWCS
Ravi Corea/SLWCS

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