UWICE: At least five new butterfly subspecies are likely to be discovered in Bhutan if claims from Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) are confirmed.

Subspecies are a division of species of plants or animals considered lower than the species distinguished genetically from other such similar species.

UWICE’s research assistant, Karma Wangdi who also re-discovered the national butterfly, Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) said five butterflies photographed over last few years are probable of being new sub-species.

The probable butterfly sub-species are Bhutan Mountain Hopper (Carterocephalus), Common Birdwing (Troides helena), Nepal Comma (Polygonia agnicula), Mountain Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Pieris erutae.

Karma Wangdi said that the subspecies are being further verified and examined with international lepidopterists from Italy, Japan and India. Photographs of probable subspecies were sent for photographic examinations to butterfly experts after observing differences in its physical features such as on its hind-wings.

“If any differences in the spots or patterns are found, the photographs are forward to the experts to verify if it’s a new subspecies,” Karma Wangdi said.

For instance, pictures of male subspecies for Common Birdwing was forwarded to lepidopterists after noticing a difference in spots on its hind-wing from the ones found in Nepal, India, Laos and Thailand.

The salient difference between Common Birdwing subspecies of India and Bhutan is the distinct black spots on lower branch under-sight of its golden hind-wing.

The subspecies of Common Birdwing found in Bhutan has two identical black spots on lower branch of its golden hind-wing on the under sight. It has no such spots on its upper branch hind-wing while Indian Common Birdwing has no such distinct spots.

The subspecies found in Bhutan also differed from similar Common Birdwing (Helena Cerberus) subspecies found in Nepal.

The difference of Common Birdwing subspecies found in Bhutan and Nepal were of the type of spots on their lower branch and upper branches of hind-wings.

The Common Birdwing subspecies of Nepal has hind-wing with elongated spot on lower branch, which looks like a bud while it has a spot on the upper branch.

Bhutan’s Common Birdwing subspecies have two identical black spots on its under-sight lower branch of its golden hind-wing. It has no such spots on its upper branch hind-wing.

Common Birdwing sub-species also differed from those recorded in Thailand and Laos.

Karma Wangdi said although only genetic and genital scientific examinations can confirm whether these sub-species are new to science, the distinct physical features however has credible influence on its potential of being a new specimen.

“Even a difference of one spot in a butterfly can lead to discovery of new sub-species,” he said.

Photographic evidences from UWICE also have intrigued international lepidopterists.

“International experts have advised us to collect specimens for further scientific examinations as their likelihood of being sub-species couldn’t be ruled out,” he said.

Japanese lepidopterist also recognised Pieris erutae, which was discovered in Bumdeling as possible new sub-species.

UWICE will release a checklist of butterflies of Bhutan soon, which would become the basis for butterfly studies in the country. As of today, 533 different butterflies are recorded in the checklist of various species such as Swallowtails (Papilionnidae), Brush-footed (Nymphalidae), Skippers and Darts (Hesperiidae), Blues (Lycaenidae) and Whites and Yellows (Pieridae).

“The number of butterflies in Bhutan however is expected to soar to over 800-900 since new species are discovered with every fresh field visit,” Karma Wangdi said.

UWICE is also aiming a compendium of butterflies of Bhutan in future that would include even texts on features, behavioral information, host plants, food and distribution.

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang