Butterflies of Sri Lanka

Butterflies of Sri Lanka

Butterflies of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (read more on  Sri Lanka) popular Green Island in southern Asia is home to a large collection of butterflies species. Eventhough Sri Lanka is not a top-notch wildlife holiday destination, the island harbours a large collection of Faun and Flora species.

A Large number of travellers, especially the foreign travellers make wildlife tours to national parks on the island such as Yala nationa park, Udawalawe national park and jeep safari in national parks is a very popular activity on the island.

There are 244 species of butterflies identified on the island and they are divided into six families. 24 species of the total number of 244 species are endemic to Sri Lanka.

The number of butterfly species recorded at the elevation of 4000ft is far lower than the foothills of the island. A small number of Butterfly species 20 (species) are inhabited in the low land dry zone (below 500ft). Sighting of butterflies is very common especially during the South-West monsoon (March-April) and North-East monsoon (September-October).

Number of Butterfly (Papilionoidea) species in the island estimated to be 197 while the numbers of Skipper (Hesperioidae) species are 37.  Butterflies and Skippers can be observed throughout the island, even in gardens of very busy cities such as Colombo. There are several differences between the Skippers and Butterflies. Skippers are holding their front wings more vertically than Butterflies; butterflies keep their front and rear wings open, both front and rear wing pairs held closed and Butterflies use both pairs of wings while they perch. Generally, skippers are in dull colours and not as attractive as Butterflies.

Butterflies are grouped under the insects and they suppose to have a fascinating life history. Caterpillars are born from the hatched eggs and then pupated. The pupas are attached to a branch by gossamer that has a girdle around it. After a highly complex metamorphosis of pupas is resulted in the existence of a butterfly.

Butterflies are considered to be one of the most sensitive groups of animals for the environment and even slight disturb in the environment make them find another place to live. Some species can be found only in places where there are undisturbed patches of forest. Ceylon rose butterfly is a good example to convince the habitat sensitivity of butterfly. Earlier it was recorded in many parts of the country but now they are available only in few places including Sinharaja rain forest.  Speeches such as Indian Admiral, Ceylon tiger and Indian Fritillary are recorded only in the mountains. Some species, for example, Common-crow, White Four ring and Niger are having wider distribution on the island.

Best ways to attract butterflies is having the plants that provide food for Caterpillars or having plants that provide nectar for Butterflies. Butterflies of Swallowtail family (Lime Butterfly) can be attracted by groves of citrus. Many species of butterflies can be observed on wayside trees and plants for example species of Psyche, Blues, and Grass yellow etc. butterflies are attracted by many nectar-rich trees and plants, that commonly seen in gardens around the island.


Most of the butterflies and Skippers can be observed in the lower elevations of the island up to 3000ft from the sea level. Common birds wing the largest butterfly species of the island mostly seen in the lower elevation of the country. Blue moon is another species observed often at the lower elevations. Slowly flying Ceylon tree nymph which is endemic to the country mostly seen in wet zone forests in the low-land.

The number of butterfly species recorded at the elevation of 4000ft is far lower than the foothills of the island. A small number of Butterfly species 20 (species) are inhabited in the low land dry zone (below 500ft). Sighting of butterflies is very common especially during the South-West monsoon (March-April) and North-East monsoon (September-October).

Threats for butterflies

The population of butterflies in Sri Lanka is drastically reduced for the last few years. Losing the natural habitat is being identified as the main reason for the reducing butterfly population on the island. Environmentalists are appealing to the general public to protect the natural habitat of butterflies. Most of the butterflies of Sri Lanka are categorized under the endangered animal list and they could be diminished forever if no action is taken to protect them.

Development and construction activities are being identified as the main reason for the habitat loss through the deforestation of this magnificent animal. Reducing food resources and breeding places in many places caused by the deforestation has been severely affecting the existence of larvae. There are 20 species of butterflies are identified as endemic to the country. The recorded number of species in the country with skippers and darters are estimated to be 243. Other than the habitat loss due to deforestation, another noteworthy reason for the reducing number of butterflies in the air pollution and agricultural pollution (pesticides).

Existence of species

The existence of butterflies is closely related to its living habitat. The butterfly is one of the most sensitive creatures in the world and slight disturb of its environment due to some reason cause them to flee the area. Not being able to find a similar environment may result at the end of it, while their existence inextricably connected to the feeding plants. Most of the times butterfly species depend on single species of plant for food. Removing the particular plant species make an adverse effect on survival of the particular butterfly species. Adams peak (Holy Mountains) is one of the well-known places to see butterflies on the island and it is being visited by millions of butterflies every year. Naturalists claim that the number of butterflies sighted around Adams peak has been reduced in large amount and it is a clear alarm signal for the animal lovers.

The Sri Lankan Rose is classified as a critically endangered animal in the Red List of IUCN, which is endemic to Sri Lanka.

National butterfly

One aspect of declaring the national butterfly is to make public awareness among the local people, about the fast disappearing butterflies in the country. Butterflies can be rescued by directing the attention of people about their importance for nature. Enhanced awareness among the people will help to save the valuable sensitive habitat of butterfly species. Naturalists believe it is a timely decision taken by the authorities to save this valuable species with participation and partnership of community.

Declaring the national butterfly of Sri Lanka was recommended by the group of butterfly experts who were designated to create an action plan to conserve the butterfly fauna in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Birdwing (Troides darsius) is an endemic butterfly species chosen as the national butterfly of the country.

Being the largest butterfly of the country, the width of Birdwing is 165-180 mm across the expanded wings. Wings are mainly in two colours, glossy back forewings and bright yellow hind-wings. Caterpillars of Birdwing mainly feed on the plants of Aristolochiaceae family and this is one of the very few endemic species of butterfly that is not categorized as an endangered fauna in the country. Birdwing had been chosen as the national butterfly based on the following reasons

  1. Largest butterfly of Sri Lanka
  2. Wide distribution
  3. Endemic to the country
  4. Attractive colour pattern
  5. No pest behaviour throughout the life
  6. No negative cultural or spiritual belief involved with it
  7. Not a vectoring agent of disease.