Lepidoptera: India

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Faunal Diversity in India: Lepidoptera

This is an extract from


Edited by

J. R. B. Alfred

A. K. Das

A. K. Sanyal.

ENVIS Centre,

Zoological Survey of India,



( J. R. B. Alfred was

Director, Zoological Survey of India)


Lepidoptera, one of the highly specialised insect orders, includes scale¬winged insects of the holometabolous endopterygote series. This includes butterflies and moths that show total metamorphosis and pass through egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. All these stages have characteristic features in structure, habit and habitat so as to readily differentiate butterflies from moths. Lepidoptera is a large and well known group with cosmopolitan distribution of which India is no exception. The members are of great value both for conservation and for environmental planning in local scale. Indi\.iduals ha\'e ,1 great potential for inclusion in the faunistic analysis and environmental monitoring. This is particularly true for the butterflies due to the colour and pilttern of their wings, variegated food plants, wide range of habitats, ilbundant local and weedy species along with diverse forms, etc.

Status Of The Taxon

Global and Indian Status

Hampson (1918) estimated as many as 89 families and subfamilies of Lepidoptera, while Hamlyn (1969) reported about 1,40,000 species comprising 13,000 butterflies ilnd 1,27,000 moths from world. A recent estim,lle shows the occurrence of about 1,42,500 species of Lepidoptera from the globe. I\ecent estimate of diversity within Lepidoptera from the Indian Subregion reveals that the group comprises over 15,000 species and many more subspecies distributed over 84 families and 18 superfamilies.


On the basis of eco-faunistic surveys made at different localities of India by various workers including those of the Zoological Sur",'y of India, it has been revealed that the niches and habitats of Lepidoptera spraWl from the mountains to the mangrove ecosystems and also the major insular belts like the Andaman and Nicobar and the Lakshadweep groups of islands. Though India principally falls in the jurisdiction of the tropical biome, the country nevertheless shows large faunistic affinities with the equatorial, temperate and even, to certain extent, arctic parts of the globe. Such a distributional pattern of Lepidoptera is necessary to be considered to define the geographical units for conservation. Maximum degree of faunistic stagnation is found in the East Himalaya particularly along the Myanmar border, while in other areas like the West Himalaya, southern and insular parts of India, the number of lepidopteran species is proportionately less. Many more species are, however, yet to be explored from the remote corners of plains, arid and wastelands and forest covers in different areas from east to west and north to south of India.

Biological Diversity And Its Special Features

Out of 84 families and 18 superfamilies of Lepidoptera available in Indian Subregion the butterflies belong to five major families, viz., Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae, Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae under two superfamilies, viz., Papilionoidea (including the first four families) and Hesperioidea (including the last family) and constitute about 10% of the total faunal species. The largest representative families of butterflies and moths from India are Nymphalidae (450 species) and Noctuidae (1,500 species) respectively, while only a few families of moths like Castniidae, Neopseustidae, etc., are very poorly known from the country. The largest known tropical Lepidoptera is the Atlas moth, AttaclIs atlas (Linn.) with an expanse of 250 mm and the smallest are the members of Nepticulidae, one of the microlepidopteran families of wide distribution. Likewise, the largest Indian butterfly is the Common Birdwing, Troides Ilelena (Linn.) with a maximum expanse of 190 mm and the smallest, the Grass Jewel, FrelJeria trochilus putli (Kollar) with a minimum expanse of 15 rom. The butterflies are diurnal in habit and the moths, nocturnal. But there is exception to this rule. For instance, some shade-loving butterflies like the Evening Brown, Me1anitis leda (Linn.) are crepuscular, while the brightly coloured moths belonging to Zygaenidae, Agaristidae, Amatiidae, Hypsiidae, etc., are day-flying. Very roughly, some 20-30% if not less, of lepidopterans, still need discovery.

Endemic And Threatened Species

Due to paucity of knowledge it is rather extremely difficult to assess endemism in Lepidoptera in India. Nevertheless, the analysis of distribution of the rare and threatened butterflies shows that there are some endemic species in the country. For instance, in Papilionidae there are five in North West India, one, i. e., Princeps mayo, in the Andaman Islands and three in South India. Similarly, in other families, there may be a few more such species, too. As to the threatened populations, about 30-40% of butterfly species are known from India, of which quite a few belonging to different families and specially Papilionidae are highly endangered. A total of 123 species of butterfly distributed over four most important families, viz., Nymphalidae (58), Pieridae (6), Papilionidae (16) and Lycaenidae (43) are considered as endangered in India. There is, however, no up-to-date mention of threats of moths in literature, as no record of import or export of listed species, as per CITES, is available.


Lepidoptera and particularly the butterflies are immensely beautiful creatures ranging from the delicate Blues of meadows to the large and richly coloured Birdwings of tropical forests in India and elsewhere of the globe. The most beautiful butterfly ever known from India is Princeps polyctor galfesa with metallic blue and green tinges, occurring in the East Himalaya. Some moths are also no less significant in depicting the fabulous pattern of colouration. A few may be worth to be mentioned here as Erasmia pulchella, a metallic blue-green species of the East Himalaya, large and long whitetailed Nyctalemon patroclllS from the Indo-Malay-Papuan region, etc.

In addition to such aesthetic significance, the group also has other values; for instance, scientifically without knowing the taxonomy of Lepidoptera it is sheerly impossible to highlight information and help implement in the applied area of faunistic analysis and environmental monitoring. In brief, the direct and indirect use of taxonomic concept are rather universal and the task of protection of wild fauna and flora depends largely on biologists, conservationists, individual campaigners and in the last but not to the least on the politicians and legislators as well. It may further be stated that lepidopterists are encouraged to follow their interests by means other than collecting, such as colour photography. Over-collecting could be a danger to a small colony of the group, but there is no harm in taking small numbers and to make a proper study, it is necessary to collect only a few representative samples. Ecologically, the adults are useful to plants as pollinators, as observed mainly amongst the butterfles. Besides, for the sake of maintaining nature's balance, overproduction of broods is controlled by predators. The caterpillars may be sporadic or random plant-feeders or pests which, in turn, are important food for their enemies or otherwise. Thus, predation and parasitism are high at all stages of development and only a small proportion survive to adulthood. The cockroaches feed, upon the eggs, birds on the larvae, and the birds, lizards, mantids and spiders on the adults. The eggs and larvae of many species are also attacked by parasitic Diptera or Hymenoptera. Naturally, for protection against such enemies, devices like mimicry, protective resemblance, etc. are adopted by the group. From the viewpoint of economic importance the members are both injurious and beneficial.

The butterflies do little harm or good to mankind, though only a few are known to be pests on lime and cardamon plantations; on the other hand, some of them belonging to the Lycaenidae effect biological control on aphids, coccids, etc. causing serious damage to the kitchen gardens. Of the beneficial moths, notable are the species of Bombycidae and•Satumiidae producing commercial silk; the sericulture industry flourishes entirely on these silk moths. Otherwise, the moths of other families are highly injurious to crops and other plant products, stored grains, etc. Mimetic and symbiotic phoresis are observed amongst certain butterflies. No lepidopteran species has yet been identified as a keystone species from any of the Indian ecosystems.

Since time immemorial, man has been adoring Lepidoptera, particularly butterflies, more for their virtues than vices. The most rewarding pleasure is to observe them flying amidst forests, atop hills and in gardens and orchards or to see them in dry and pinned condition in museum repositories. Their fabulous patterns, designs and texture together with acting as principal agent in effecting pollination of the flowering plants really exert tremendous influence on mankind all over the globe.


In many parts of India, notably in the East Himalayan belt, the Lepidoptera with special reference to the butterflies are becoming scarcer to an approximate estimate of 30-40%. The change of habitat by taking land for building, ploughing up meadowland and chalk towns, cutting down hedges and moving verges cause much more harm than insecticides and herbicides, though there is little doubt that the use of chemicals in agriculture has a harmful effect. Other levels of destruction of the delicate and fragile ecosystems in India include commercial exploitation, industrialisation, etc. Thus, trade in butterflies is a flourishing business in which the smugglers earn huge sum of money through exports. Industrial effluents and smokes are serious threats to wildlife while accelerating demands of charcoal and wood, high level of human population, etc. cause depletion of their population.

Conservation And Future Studies

The CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) of wild fauna and flora controls and monitors import and export of listed species. Appendix I contains no insects and Appendix II contains only some species of the Papilionid butterflies. But National Legislation to protect the butterflies has been enacted. Certain species are protected by law in India under the Revised List of Schedules to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended up to 1986. Accordingly, under Schedule I altogether 114 Indian species and subspecies in four families, viz., Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae and Lycaenidae, have been included; under Schedule II, 306 species and subspecies in the foregone families plus Hesperiidae and under Schedule IV, 19 species and subspecies in all the families minus Papilionidae included. As the threats to such species become more intense, it is the need of the hour for careful management studies of the group particularly related to the endangered species in India. Several suggestive measures are suggested as follows for future conservation of Lepidoptera in nature:

1. The human interference in habitat destruction through deforestation, urbanisation, agricultural extension, etc. should be resisted and measures must be taken to control pollution through industrial effluents and extensive use of pesticides as well. 2. Where natural forests are severely depleted, the plantation forestry should be initiated as a conservation toll. More attention should be paid to the food-plants on which the Lepidoptera thrives. 3. Farming of Lepidoptera, particularly the butterflies, should be implemented on a large scale so that the recolonization of the depleted areas with the fauna facing extinction may be possible. 4. Ranching of the group to meet the demands in trade may be used. 5. The biology of threatened, rare and endemic species should be studied as authentically as possible so as to establish the population size of each such species. 6. Preventive measures should be taken to avoid over-collection of specimens of a given species for scientific studies so as to prevent the population from bringing below the threshold of recovery. 7. More public awareness should be stressed for the sake of better conservation needs of Lepidoptera coupled wIth the requirement of effective implementation of legislation. MONDAL: Lcpidop/L7Q

Selected References

Arora, G. S. & Gupta, I. J. Taxonomic studies on some of the Indian non-mulberry silk months (Lepidoptera: Satumiidae : Satumiinae). Mem. Zool. Sllrv. India, 19 (1) : 63 pp., 17 text figs., 11 pis. Bell, T. R. D. & Scott, F. B. 1937. The Fallna of British India inclllding Ceylon and Bllrma, (Moths: Sphingidae) : 5 : xiv + 537 pp., 15 pis., 1 map. (Published by Taylor and Francis Ltd. London). Bingham, C. T. 1905, 1907. The Fallna of Britishh India inclllding Ceylon and Bllrma, (Butterflies), 1 : xvii + 537. 15 pis. (1905); 2 : viii + 480 pp., 11-20 pis. (1907). (Published by Taylor and Francis Ltd., London). Cantile, K. 1962. The Lycaenidae portion (except the Arhopala GrOllp) of Brigadier Evans' The Identification of Indian Blltterflies, 1932 ; vi + 156 pp., 5 pis. (Published by the Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay). Evans, W. H. 1932. The Identification of Indian Blltterflies. 2nd ed. : 454 pp., 32 pis. (Published by the Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay). Evans, W. H. 1949. A Cataloglle of the Hesperidae from Ellrope, Asia and Allstralia in the British Mllsellm (Natllral History), London; xix + 502 pp., 53 pis. Hampson, G. F. 1892-96. The Fallna ofBritish India inclllding Ceylon and Bllrma (Moths), 1 : xxiii + 527 pp., 333 figs. (1892); 2 : xxii + 609 pp., 325 figs. (1894); 3 : xxvii + 546 pp., 226 figs. (1895); 4 : xxvii + 594 pp. (1896). (Published by Taylor and Francis, London). Meyrick, E. 1905-1914. Descriptions of Indian MicroIepidoptera. J. Bombay nat. Hist. Soc., 16: 580•619 (1905); 17: 133•153 (1906), 730-754, (1907); 18: 137-160 (1907), 437-460,613•638,806•852 (1908); 19: 410-437, 582•607 (1909); 20: 143-164,435¬462 (1910), 706-736 (1911); 21 : 104•131 (1911), 852•877 (1912); 22 : 160•182 (1913),771-781 (1914); 23 : 118-130 (1914). Moore, F. 1890-1907. Lepidoptera Indica. 1: xii) 317 pp., 94 pis. (1890-1892); 2: 274 pp., 180 pis. (1893-1896); 3 : 254 pp., 181-286 pis. (1897-1899); 4 : 260 pp., 287-387 pis. (1899-1900); 5: 548 pp., 379-466 pis. (1902); 6: 231 pp., 467-558 pis. (1903¬ Faunal Diversity in India 1905); 7 : 96 pp., 559-578 pIs. (1906-1907) (Published by Lovell Reeve & Co. Ltd., London). Mondal, D. K, & Bhattacharya, D. P. 1980. On the Pyraustinae (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) from Andaman, Nicobar and Great Nicobar Islands, Indian Ocean. Rec. "Zool. Surv. India, 77 : 293-342, 1 table, 8 pIs. Seitz, A. 1906-1937. Tire Macrolepidoptera of tire World. 16 Vols. (Division I : Fauna Palaearctica Vols. 1-4; Division II : Fauna Exotica Vols. 5-16), Plates issued separately. (Published by Alfred Kernen, Stuttgart). Talbot, G. 1939,1947. Tile Fauna ofBritisII India including Ceylon and Bllrma, (Butterflies). Second ed. 1 : xxi + 600 pp., 184 figs., 3 pIs., (1939); 2 : xv + 506 pp., 104 figs., 2 pIs., 1 map (1947). (Published by Taylor and Francis, London). Wynter-Blyth, M. 1957. Butterflies oftile Indian Region: xx + 523 pp., 72 pIs. (Published by Bomaby Natural History Society, Bombay).


This is an extract from
Protozoa to Mammalia
State of the Art.
Zoological Survey of India, 1991.
By Professor Mohammad Shamim Jairajpuri
Director, Zoological Survey of India
and his team of devoted scientists.
The said book was an enlarged, updated version of
The State of Art Report: Zoology
Edited by Dr. T. N. Ananthakrishnan,
Director, Zoological Survey of India in 1980.

Note: This article is likely to have several spelling mistakes that occurred during scanning. If these errors are reported as messages to the Facebook page, Indpaedia.com your help will be gratefully acknowledged.


The Order Lepidoptera (lepidos =scale, ptera =wings) includes scale-winged insects and exhibits unity in diversity and diversity in multitude. The origin of this Order from ancestral prototype is known from Upper Permian. Therefore, the studies on phylogeny and evolution of the group are largely based on evidences from other disciplinary tools like biology, ecology, zoogeography, etc., of the extant forms.

The butterflies and moths constitUting Lepidoptem, are very familiar to mankind on account of their beautiful colouration, size, and plant relationship. They are cosmopolitan in distribution, occurring in every conceivable environs: from coastal areas and plains to deserts, forests, and Valleys of hills and mountains. The order is supposed to have originated from the Panorpoid Complex and is closely allied to another Order Trichoptera (caddiesflies and water moths). They belong to the holometabolous endopterygote series of insects, with complete metamorphosis passing through egg, larva, pupa and adult. Each of these stages exhibits characteristic features in habit, habitat and structure which afford to differentiate the later evolved butterflies from the earlier evolved moths.

The term 'butterfly' is derived from the butter-yellow colour of the male of the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni Linnaeus) of the family Pieridae. Linnaeus (1758, 1767) described all species of butterflies under genus Papilio and moths under Phalaena and Noctua.


The classification of Lepidoptera at subordinate level has undergone a series of periodical changes. Hampson (1892) attempted division into Rhopalocera and Heterocera on the basis of antenna! structure. On the basis of size two suborders, viz. Macrolepidoptera and Microlepidoptera were recognised. M~yrick (1898) categorised Lepidoptera into Homoneura and Heteroneura on ~e basis of wing venation, whereas Comstock (1892, 1893) based his classification on wing-couplmg apparatus and divided the order into Jugatae and Frenatae. Packard (1895) separated it on the basis of mouthparts into Lepidoptera Laciniata and Lepidoptera Haustellata, the latter was further divi~ed into two namely, Palaeolepidoptera and Neolepidoptera. Pupal characters also aided to categonse the order into Pupae Incompletae and Pupae Obtectae. Besides, the classification of the Order was based on the sets of earlier stages including egg and larva, too. In the recent past, several workers, viz. Busck (1932), Bomer (1939), Hinton (1946) and Bougogne (1951) have prop~sed. a classification primarily based on the female genitalia, into Zeugloptera, Montrysia and Dltrysla. But this system was not agreed upon by Meyrick, Tillyard and others, because separation of most of the families became difficult at the subordinal level, particularly of Ditrysia. The present classification of Lepidoptera up to superfamily level may be summarised as follows:

The Lepidoptera are of great economic importance being both injurious and beneficial. Injurious effects are made by larvae which devour foliage 'and bore into stems and roots, thereby running crops and causing financial loss of crores of rupees. Some of them also attack manufactured goods like carpets, clothings, stored products like grains and flour. Some depredate on the lac insect K erria lacca, while some other are known to be attacking beehive combs containing honey. The beneficial lepidopterans belong mainly to famili~s Bombycidae and Saturniidae. The pure silk is produced by Bombyx mori Linn. of the family Bombycidae. In Saturniidae, Antheraea paphia (Linn.), A. assamensis Helfer and Samia cynthia (Drury) produce wild silks, namely, Tasar, Muga and Eri, respectively. The sericulture industry flourishes entirely on these silk moths and provides job to lakhs of people in urban and rural areas. Besides, larvae of some species are potentially considered of great use in biological control as they devour aphids, coccids and fulgorids, which cause great damage to crops and other plantations. The role of these insects in the pollination needs no explanation.

Historical Resume

i) Pre.. 1900

The earliest faunistic record of Lepidoptera from India is by Linnaeus (1767) based upon his studies of Koenig's collection made from Coromandel and Madras. It was followed by Cramer (1775-83), Fabricius (1775-98), Hubner (1786-1825), Guerin-Meneville (1829-44), Huegel in Kollar (1844,1848), and Butler (1869-74). The lists and catalogue were published by Horsfield (1829), Walker (1854-69), Horsfield and Moore (1857-58), Moore (1857-59), Kirby (1871-1903), Cotes and Swinhoe (1887-89) Elwcs (1888) and Swinhoe (1898). Knowledge enhanced with the revisionary and monographic works of Boisduval (1829), Meyrick (1875) and Moore (1883) on butterflies in Lepidoptera Indica. Three volumes on butterflies published by Marshall and de Nic6ville (1883-90) and four volumes on moths under 'Fauna of British India' series published by Hampson (1892-96) deserve special mention. Foresayeth (1884), Buckler (1886,1893) and Davidson and Aitken (1890) studied the life history of 60 species of Lepidoptera occurring in northern India.

During 1762-1900, a number of explorers namely Koenig, euvier, Delessert, Blanch, Lang, Spraight, Wimberley, StoIiczka. Atkinson, Yerbury, Doherty, Hocking etc., collected large number of specimens from different belts of the vast Indian region. Area-wise works were mainly from Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and adjoining areas of the North West Himalaya and also Yarkand, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Pamir by Lang (1864), Moore (1865, '74, '78, '82), Butler (1800, '81, '86, '88) and Alcock (1898). From the Kumaon hills of Uttar Pradesh of the Western Himalayas, works were mainly made by Doherty (1886), Mackinnon and de Niceville (1897, '98). Fauna of Sikkim, Assam, Manipur, Naga Hills, Chin-Lushai and also Upper Burma of the Eastern Himalaya were studied by Butler (1879, '85), de Niceville (1881-'83, '85, '90) Wood-Mason and de Niceville (1887), Doherty (1889) Snellen (1891), Elwes (1891-'92) and Meyrick (1894)~ The fauna of the peninsular areas were studied, from Madhya Pradesh by Butler (1870), Swinhoe (1886) and Betham (1891); from Gujarat and Maharashtra by Swinhoe (1885): Aitken (1887) and Nurse (1899); from 'Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu including the Nilgiri Hills by Hampson (1889), Fergusson (1891) and Davidson, Bell and Aitken (1896, '97); from Bengal including Calcuttaq and also Orissa by Moore (1865, '86), de Niceville (1885), Taylor and de Niceville (1888); Robbe (1892) and Walsingham (1890). Out of the insular ecosystem, the fauna of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are known through the works of Hewitson (1874), Moore (1877) and Wood-Mason and de Nic6ville (1881, '82). It may be noted that some important illustrated volumes, dealing with the moths in particular, are by Moore (1867, '81), Elwes (1890), Snellen (1890) and Warren (1893) from Sikkim and Bengal and by Swinhoe (1886, 1891-'94) from Himachal Pradesh and the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya.

Contributions on ecological studies were made by de Niceville (1900) dealing with the food plants of butterflies of Kanara, and Meyrick (1879, '81) on the micro-Iepidopterans destructive to potato. Besides, Poulton's (1890-1936) long series of papers highlighted interesting aspects of colurs, their significance and use, cause of mimicry, migration, ethology, gregarious resting habi'ts, etc., of butterflies. Literature on Zoogeography of Lepidoptera were furnished by Wallace (1865) covering the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution of butterflies.

ii) 1901-1947

During this period, contributions on systematics were made by Moore (1901-1907) in Lepidoptera Indica series, Hampson (1901-13) in Catalogue Phalaenae series, Mabille (1903-09), Aurivillius (1904), Bingham, (1905-07) in two volumes on butterflies in 'Fauna ofBritish India' and also Verity (1905-11). Seitz (1906-37) exhaustively dealt with butterflies and moths in Macrolepidoptera ofthe World series (palaearctic and Indo-Australian Regions). Meyrick's (1905¬14) account of 7,327 species of Microcopidoptera includes a good number of species from India. The other important works on Lepidoptera from the region are by Swinhoe (1909-13), Bell (1909¬14), Fletcher (1910-31) in Catalogue ofIndian Insects series, Forbes (1911), Eltringham (1923), Antram (1924), Evans (1932) in 'Identification of Indian Butterflies', Piele (1937), Diaknoff (1938), Bell &Scott (1937), and Talbot" (1939, 1947) in 'Fauna ofIndia' series (previously known as 'Fauna of British India').

Handbooks on Lepidoptera by Meyrick (1928), Ayyar (1940) and Cooper (1942) also deserve mention. Lepidoptera of economic importance were dealt with by Watt (1908) in Commercial products ofIndia, Lefroy (1906, 1911) in 'Insect Pests ofCrops and Stored Grains' and 'Indian Insect Life', respectively, follo\\-ed by Fletcher (1914) in 'Some South Indian Insects' The other notable publications on morphology, classification and phylogeny are by Chapman (1903), Petersen (1904), Bordas (1910), Busck (1914, 32), Braun (1919, 1924), Muir (1929), Mehta (1933), Bomer (1939), Pradhan &Aren (1941), Hinton (1946) and Turner (1946). Studies in biology were made by Lefroy and Howlett (1909), Beeson (1910), Chapman (1911-20), Ghosh (1914, 1923-40), Fletcher (1914, 21, 33) and Sevastopulo (1933, 35, 38, 40-42, 44-46, 48). A number of publications on ecology of the group were made by Marshall (1901, 1908-09), LeCroy (1906), Meyrick (1914,20,27) and Fletcher (1925).

In the field of distributional studies, Meyrick was first to investigate the lepidopteran collections made by Gardiner in 1902 from the Indian Laccadives and Maldives. His other chronological studies include Microlepidoptcra collected during Percy Sladcn Trust Expedition to the Indian Ocean (1905,1911), Zoological Mission to Great Atlas of Morocco in 1927 (1928) and also Oriental Lepidoptera collected by H. R. H. Prince Leopold of Belgium in 1932 C1933). Evans (1927, 1932) provided keys to the butterflies from India and other neighbouring countries. Other workers, viz., Rhe-philipe (1902-05, 08), Fawcett (1904), Hannyngton (1910, 11, 16), Evans (1910, 12), Annandale and Dover (1921) and Sevastopulo (1935) worked on materials from various parts of India. Pagenstecher (1909) studicd pattern of lepidopterous dispersion, whereas Meyrick (1925) correlated the Wagner's 'hypothesis and distribution of Microlepidoptera. Besides, Corbet (1943) dealt upon the biogeography of the Indo-Australian archipelagic fauna.

iii) 1948-1990

Contributions in lepidopteran taxonomy during this period" were made by Evans (1949), Talbot (1940), Wynter-Blyth (1957), Jolly et al., (1975), Watson and Whalley (1975), Satyamurti (1966), Varshney (1981), D' Aberra (1982), Ackery and Vane-Wright (1984), etc. Some publications on nomenclature, systematics, morphology and economically important Lepidoptera are by Kapur (1950, 64), Bhasin and Roonwal (1954), Srivastava (1956, 57, 61, 62), Vasudeva (19S6), Bhasin et al., (1958), Mathur and Singh (1959-61), Common (196.0, 69-70), Munroe (1961), Banerji (1964), Cantlie (1965), Pajni and Rose (1973, 77), Arora and Gupta (1979), Bhattacharya (1981), MandaI (1985) etc. The classification, phylogeny and origin of Lepidoptera are known through the works of Clench (1955). Hennig (1965, 66, 91), Elliot (1973), Razowski (1976), Hancock (1981), Tindale (1981), Mishler and Donahue (1982), William (1983) and Minet (1986). Notable publications on chro~osomal studies on Indian Lepidoptera are by Gupta (1964), Rishi (1975), Murty and Rao (1977) and Mohanty and Nayak (1982). Besides, observations on palatability spectrum of butterflies; haemolymph proteins in taxonomic studies and their influence on growth, moulting and reproduction; physiological, biochemical and histochemical studies on butterflies and moths are due to Varshney and Sundaram (1967-68, 71), Sundram and Varshney (1969), Duffey (1970), Varshney et ale (1970-71), Gupta (1975, 77), Nandi et al., (1976), Shukla (1976), Agrawal et ale (1978), Saxena (1981), etc.

Studies on the biology of Lepidoptera were made by Patel and Kulkarny (1956), Mathur (1959), Mathur and Singh (1963), Bhattacharjee and Menon (1963) and Joshi (1975, 76).

Ecological studies on Lepidoptera are mainly by Hinton (1951), Gupta and Thorsteinson (1960), Simmonds and Rao (1960), Singh (1960) , Batra and Bhattacharjee (1961), Venkatraman and Chacko (1961), Tuli and Mukherjee (1963), Patel et ale (1964), Ganguly an~ Varshney (1970), Mohansundaram and Sivakumar (1970), Sukul and Jana (1972), Mathavan and Muthukrishnan (1976,86), Maity and MandaI (1977) and others.

Studies, reviews and notes on distributional and zoogeographical aspects of Lepidoptera from different belts of India and elsewhere were made by Ferrar (1948, 51), Betts (1950), Bernardi and de lesse (1952), Batra (1956), Mathur and Champakvalli (1961), Kushwaha et ale (1964), Donahue (1967), Varshney and Chanda (1971), MandaI and Bhattacharya (1980), Gupta (1980), Arora and MandaI (1981), Varshney et ale (1981), MandaI and Nandi (1983), Mandai (1984), Mathew and Menon (1984), Bhattacharya (1985 a,b,c), Rose and Pajni (1985), Ghosh and Chaudhury (1986), Gupta and Thakur (1986), Khatri (1986 a,b), Gupta and Shukla (1987, 88), Haribal et ale (1988), Nandi and Varshney (1988), Radhakrishnan et ale (1990), etc.

Meanwhile, several works on distributional studies are 'under preparation, namely, from West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tiger Reserve Areas at Palamau and Sunderban, Maharashtra, Kamataka , Neora Valley, Lakshadweep, Orissa and Gujarat by the scientists of Zoological Survey of India.

Studies from Different Environs

A number of faunistic surveys have been conducted in different ecotonal areas of the Indian region. These areas covered from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the north-south direction and from Arunachal Pradesh to Goa in the east-west direction, together with the insular areas of the Andamans, Nicobars and Lakshadweep archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Thus, the belts represent the major ecosystems covering mountains, forests, deserts, plains, mangroves and islands, in thirty one states and union territories of India. Zoological Survey of India and its various regional stations, have conducted faunistic explorations by their own parties or sometimes in collaboration with foreign agencies, e.g. Indo-Swiss and Mt. Everest expeditions, Tibet Frontier Commissioq etc.

Many surveys in recent times were undertaken by different scientific departments, including Z.S.I., in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kamataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Eastern Ghats, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim,.. Arunachal Pradesh and also the Andaman, Nicobar, Great Nicobar and Lakshadweep groups of islands. Studies on fauna of Orissa, West Bengal and Sikkim have been completed.

The Neora Valley of the Kalimpong subdivision, Darjeeling district (W. Bengal) has been worked out in detail. The Indian Tons Valley Expedition at Western Garhwal Himalaya (Uttar Pradesh); the plains of several south-eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh; Bastar (Madhya Pradesh), parts of Karnataka and Andaman Nicobar Islands have also been surveyed by Z.S.I. At the end of the last century, Gardiner pioneered the work on the insular ecosystem but only at southern Minicoy of Lakshadweep archipelago," and since then insects from these islands could be brought to the Survey in recent times.

Estimation of Taxa

Hampson (1918) estimated as many as 89 families and subfamilies, while Hamlyn (1969) reported about 1,40,000 species comprising 13,000 butterflies and 1,27,000 moths from the world. Out of about 20 superfamilies, a great majority are known from India. According to the recent trend, certain changes in the number of families, particularly of the butterflies, have taken place. For example, the butterflies from the Indian region were earlier distributed over 10 "families, but now reduced to five, since the families Danaidae, Satyridae, Amathusiidae and Acraeidae are treated as subfamilcs of Nymphalidae, and due to synonymising of Erycinidae with Lycaenidae. Presently, about 1000 species of butterflies, in 250 genera under five families and 12000 species of moths in 3000gcnera under 75 families, [excluding Amatidae, Cossidae, Arctiidae and Noctuidae] are known from the Indian region.

The north-eastern part of India along the border of Burma may be considered as the most rich area of the Indian lepidopterous fauna, but other areas are also no way less significant. The members appear in their largest number where there is an abundance of larval food plants, like plenty of young green leaves and shoots amidst suitable weather condjtions. The post-monsoon period ranks second and the south-west monsoon period third. In the arid parts of north and north¬west India, the spring is delayed and the monsoon and post-monsoon periods are the favourable months. In the high hills, the summer is very short and the insects are on the wing for a brief period. In South India, due to the absence of clearly dermed seasons, the individuals occur during the time of local rainfall. Endemism, like distribution, is mostly an artifact of collection. Actually, due to paucity of knowledge it is rather extremely difficult to assess the real endemic position of the Lepidoptera in India.

Classified Treatment

Suborder Rhopaloccra (The Butterflies) Superfamily Papilionoidea

Four families are recognised from India, viz., Nymphalidae (450 spp), Lycacnidae (380 spp), Pieridae (105 spp) and Papilionidae (94 spp). Superfamily Hesperioidea

Only one family, Hespeciidae, with 310 species is known from India. Suborder Hcterocera (The Moths) Superfamily Eriocranioidca Out of three families, the Neopseustidae with three species is known from India. Superfamily Hepialoidea Out of four families, the Hepialidae with 14 species is known from India. Superfamily S tigmelloidea A family comprising the smallest lepidopterans of wide distribution is the Nepticulidae (= Stigmellidae) with 16 Indian species. Superfamily Incurvarioidea

This is represented by three families from India, viz., Adelidae (14 spp), Heliozelidae (10 spp) and Incurvariidae which is, however, scarce in India. SuperfamiJy Tinaeoidea

The classification of this very large and complex superfamily presents difficulties particularly amongst the Tinaeina division that comprises over 20 families. The leading authorities are at variance as to the actual number of families. The families known from India are Tinaeidae (151 spp), Gracillariidae (144 spp), Cosmopterygidae (114 spp), Lyonetidae (106 spp), Oecophoridae (94 spp.), Glyphipterygidae (61 spp), Sesiidae (55 spp), Heliodinidae (53 spp), Plutellidae (25 spp) and Yponomeutidae (22 spp). The other minor Indian families are Scythridae (19 spp), Xyloryctidae (16 spp), Elachistidae (15 spp), Coleophoridae (14 spp), Epetmeniidae (9 spp), Tinaegeridae (4 spp), Omeodidae (2 spp), Copromorphidae, Douglasiidae (1 sp each), etc. Superfamily Gelechioidea

This superfamily is represented by the cosmopolitan family Gelechiidae comprising over 300 species from India. A minor Indian family is the Blastobasidae comprising 17 species. Superfamily Psychoidea

Out of nine families, Zygaenidae (155 spp), Limacodidae (94 spp), Psychidae (39 spp), Arbelidae (4 spp) and Ratardidae (3 spp) are known from India. Superfamily Casblioidea This is a very poorly known superfamily, represented by the Neocastridae (1 sp) from India. Superfamily Tortricoidea

This superfamily is more characteristic of the temperate than the tropical region. It comprises adults with crepuscular habit. The Indian families are Eucosmidae (92 spp), Tortricidae (12 spp). Carposinidae (15 spp), Phaloniidc (8 spp) and Chalidanotidae (1 sp) Superfamily Pyralidoidea

The tropical families which are represented in India are Pyralidae (1160 spp), Thyrididae (67 spp) and Pterophoridae (13 spp). Superfamily Bombycoidea

Out of 8 families. Lasiocampidae (49 spp), Eupterotidae (46 spp), Satumiidae (40 spp), Bombycidae (15 spp) and Brahmeidae (2 spp) are known from India. The Saturniidae has the largest moth of tropical origin, Altacus allas. which has a wing expanse measuring c 25 ems. Superfamily Calliduloidea

The Callidulidae (6 spp) and Pterothysaniidae (4 spp) are known from India. Superfamily Geometroidea

This superfamily consists of eight families, of which Geometridae (1120 spp), Drepanidae (80 spp), Epiplemidae (35 spp), Cymatophoridae (27 spp), Uraniidae (15 spp), and Epicopeidae (12 spp), are known from India.

Superfamily Sphingoidea Family Sphingidae comprises 120 Indian species. Superfamily Noctuoidea

This superfamily has about a dozen families, majority of which are nocturnal in habit. The Indian families are Lymantriidae (171 spp), Notodontidae (139 spp), Agaristidae (35 spp), Hypsiidae (28 spp) and Thaumetopoeidae (1 sp). The Agaristidae and Hypsiidae are, however, largely tropico-diumal in habit

Current Studies

In the Zoological Survey of India studies on the systematics of Lepidoptera from West Bengal and Meghalaya are currently being conducted. These deal with the taxonomy, faunistics, status and abundance of about twenty families of moths and butterflies; amongst the former the microlepidoptera are also included.

Outside Z.S.I., certain other centres in India are actively engaged in different field of researches, including applied aspects. These include the 'Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, Barrackpore; LA.R.L, New Delhi; Regional Tasar Research Station, Manipur; and Department of Zoology, Punjabi University, Patiala and Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Among the foreign organisations engaged in tbis group are : The Papilio International, Denmark; Department of Entomology, University of Queensland,. Australia; National Museum, Zimbabwe; Department of Entomology, British Museum (N.H.) London; Smithsonian Institution, Washington; Department of Entomology, Mississippi ~tate University (U.S.A.); and Entomological Institute, Hokkaido University, Japan.

Expertise India


R. K. Varshney; S. K. Ghosh; D. K. MondaI; D. P. Bhattacharya; I. J. Gupta; B. Nandi; Sanjit Kr. Ghosh; D. N. Nandy; D. R. Maulik &M. Majumdar; all af ZSI, M-Block, New AIipore, Calcutta 700 053.

O. s. Arora, ZSI, Northern Regional Station, Debra Dun.

K. V. Lakshminarayana &C. Radhakrishnan, ZSI, Southern Regional Station, Madras.


P. Singh &Shri A. Chander, Forest-Research Institute, Debra Dun, [Geometridae, Pyralidae].

S. L. Gupta, Division of Entomology, LA.R.I., New Delhi, [Lymantriidae and allied moths].

M. Harlbal, Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay, [Rhopalocera].

H. R. Pajni &Dr. H. S. Rose, Department of Zoology, Punjab University [pyralidae].


J. D.Bradley, British Museum (N.H.) London. [Microlepidoptera].

A. K.Zagulyaev, Academy of Sciences, Zoological Institute Leningrad, USSR [Tineidae, Adelidae].

P. P.d' Entreves, Mus. Inst. Zool. Sistematica, Torino. [Pyralidae].

T. Kumata, Hokkaido University, Entomological Institute, Sopporo. Japan [Graclllaridae].

I. F.B. Common, C.S.I.R.O., Canberra [Pyralidae].

N. B.Tindale, S. Australian Museum, Adelaide, [Hepialidae].

E. G.Munroe, Ent. Res. Institue, Canada. [Pyralidae and Papilionidae].

J. F.Gates-Clarke, Dept. of Ent. Nat. Mus. Nat. hist., Smithsonian Institution, Washington ¬ 1.[Microlepidoptera]. 2.K. Clench, Carnegie Mus., Pittsburg, [Lycaenidae]. Don R. Davis, Smithsonian Inst. Washington. [Tineidae & Psychidae]. Colin Pratt 5, View Road, Peace haven, East Sussex, England. [Geometridae]. 3.R. Ackery &R. I. Vane-Wright Dept. of Ent., Brit. Mus. (N.H.), London. [Danainae Nymphalidae]. 4.Adamski, Dept. of Ent., Mississippi State Univ., P.O. Drawer EM, Mississippi State, MS 39762, [Gelechioidea including Blastobasidae]. 5.Goankar, Skt. Thomas Alee 10, 4, TV. 1824 Frederiksber C, Denmark (C/o Zool. Mus.• Deptt. of Ent. Univ. of Copenhagen). [Rhopalocera]. 6.Haugum, Papilio International Lundhusvej, 33. 7100 Vejle, Denmark. [papilionidae]. 7.L. hancock, Curator, Dept. of Ent. Nat. Mus., P.O. Box 240 Bulawaye, Zimbabwe. [Papilionidae].

Selected References

Arora, G. S. &Gupta, I. J. Taxonomic studies on some of the Indian onon-mulberry silk moths (Lepidoptera: Satumiidae : Satumiinae). M't!m. Zool. Surv. India. 19(1) : 63 pp.. , 17 text figs., 11 pis.

Bell, T. R. D. &Scott, F. B. 1931. The Fauna 0/ British India in~luding Ceylon and Burma, (Moths : Sphingidae) : 5 : xiv + 531 pp., 15 pIs., 1 map. (published by Taylor and Francis Ltd. London). Bingham, C. T. 1905, 1907. The Fauna 0/ British India including Ceylon and Burma. (Butterflies). 1 : xvii + 537. 15 pIs. (19~5); 1 : viii + 480 pp., 11-20 pis. (1907). (published by Taylor and Francis Ltd., London). Cantlie, K. 1962. The Lycaenidae portion (except the Arhopala Group) 01Brigadier Evans' The Identification ofIndian Butterflies, 1932 : vi + 156 pp., index 12 pp., 5 pIs. (published by the Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay). Evans, W. H. 1932. The Identification 0/Indian Butterflies. 2nd ed. : 454 pp., 32 pIs. (published by the Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay).

Evans, W. H. 1949. A Catalogue ofthe Hesperidae from Europe, Asia and Australia.in the British Museum (Natural History), London: xix + 502 pp., 53 pis.

Hampson, G. F. 1892-96. The Fauna of British India including Ceylon and Burma (Moths), 1 : xxiii + 527 pp., 333 figs. (1892); 2 : xxii + 609 pp., 325 figs. (1894); 3 : xxvii + 546 pp., 226 figs. (1895); 4 : xxvii + 594 pp. (1896). (Published by. Taylor and Francis, London).

Meyrick, E. 1905-1914. Descriptions of Indian Microlepidoptera. J. Bombay nat. Hist. Soc., 16 : 580-619 (1905); 17 : 133-153 (1906), 130-754, (1907); 18 : 137-160 (1907),437-460, 613-638, 806-852 (1908); 19 : 410-437, 582-607 (1909); 20 : 143-164, 435-462 (1910), 706-736 (1911); 21 : 104-131 (1911), 8S2~877 (1912); 22 : 160-182 (1913), 771-781 (1914); 23 : 118-130 (1914).

Moore, F. 1890-1907. Lepidoptera Indica. 1 : xii) 317 pp., 94 pIs. (1890-1892); 2 : 274 pp., 180 pIs. (1893-1896); 3 : 254 pp., 181-286 pIs. (1897-1899); 4 : 260 pp., 287-387 pIs. (1899-1900); 5 : 248 pp., 379466 pis. (1902); 6 : 231 pp., 467-558 pIs. (1903-1905); 7 : 96 pp., 559-578 pis. (1906-1907) (Published by Lovell Reeve &Co. Ltd.,•London).

MondaI, D. K. &Bhattacharya, D. P. 1980~ On the Pyraustinae (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) from Andaman, Nicobar and Great Nicobar Islands, Indian Ocean. Rec. zool. Surv.lndia, 77 : 293-342, 1 table, 8 pIs.

Seitz, A. 1906-1931. The Macrolepidoptera of the World. 16 Vols. (Division I : Fauna Palaearctica Vols. 1-4; Division II : Fauna Exotica Vols. 5-16), Plates .issued separately. (Published by Alfred Kernen, Stuttgart).

Talbot, G. 1939, 1947. The Fauna of British India including Ceylon and Burma, (Butterflies). Second ed. 1 : xxi + 600 pp., 184 figs., 3 pIs., (1939); 2 : xv + 506 pp., 104 figs., 2 pis., 1 map (1947). (Published by Taylor and Francis, London).

Wynter-Blyth, M. 1957. Butterflies of the Indian Region: xx + 523 pp.• 72 pIs. (Published by Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay).

See also

Butterflies: India

Lepidoptera Amatidae, Arctiidae &Noctuidae: India

Lepidoptera Cossidae: India

Lepidoptera: India

Mecoptera: India

Neuroptera: India

Strepsiptera: India

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