Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Misidentified - twice over!

Taxonomy is difficult, even for Carl Linnaeus, the father of binomial nomenclature. When confronted with butterflies, the difficulty increases manifold. Butterflies have more complexity than many other animal orders; apart from the sexual dimorphism common to most animals, butterflies also have seasonal morphs and, in some cases, locational morphs also.

In the case of this butterfly, Linnaeus had first thought of it as an African species (remember, the taxonomists of the 18th century depended heavily on travellers' memories about where a specimen was sourced from), describing it as Papilio terpsicore in 1758. In 1775, Johan Christian Fabricius, a Danish entomologist studied a specimen that came to him from Africa and described it as Papilio serena - he was very quickly told that his P. serena was none other than the P. terpsicore described by Linnaeus. In 1793, Fabricius got hold of a specimen from India and believing it to be completely new, classified it as Papilio violae. It was later that all the tangles were sorted out; it was then determined that this butterfly, the Tawny Coster, is one of the exceptions, the other being the Yellow Coster - other members of the family have stayed on in Africa.

This one of course was in Chennai, basking in the sun at the Adayar Poonga!

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