‘Abrupt rain brings out rare butterflies’ Desert-goers wreck flora, fauna

KUWAIT CITY, May 5: The earlier concerns of entomologists in Kuwait regarding the disappearance of a rare species of butterfly, Painted Ladies, has been put to rest by the recent bouts of rain, says Mohammed Marafie, Entomologist at Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAAFR).

The insect enthusiast told the Arab Times that there has been a sudden spurt in butterfly sightings with a majority of them belonging to the species that was feared to be on the brink of extinction in Kuwait. The abundance in Painted Ladies is great news for entomologists.

Trying to explain the phenomenon, Marafie said that the recent unexpected showers must have caused the re-emergence of a particular variety of plant called the Malva, which the butterflies are attracted to.
Another explanation is that these butterflies are migratory, “going to another location via Kuwait. However, that is a theory that is not much favored.” Butterfly specialists like to believe that these species are here for breeding.

In December last year, when the butterflies were supposed to have appeared, there were hardly any sightings. While, the current burst of butterflies is good news, entomologists still think that it has not reached the levels of abundance seen earlier.

Painted Ladies breed on Malva, a species of plant that is endangered due to the onslaught of urbanization. The colorful flowers of the plant are attractive to butterflies, and it’s believed to have some unique properties that make it more preferred by Painted Lady butterflies, especially in the development of their caterpillars.

The Painted Ladies are a subgenus of Vanessa in the Family Nymphalidae. They are well known throughout most of the world.

In general, the Painted Lady is a large butterfly with a wing span of 5-9 cm, and noted for its black-spotted wings. It has five white spots in the black forewing tips and while the orange areas may be pale here and there. The lifespan of a Painted Lady is 2 to 4 weeks.

Malva has been around in Kuwait for so long that some scientists consider it native to Kuwait. Although, not officially verified, Marafie felt that the rains could have led to these plants sprouting in Kuwait.
Malva was once widely seen throughout Kuwait. It grew naturally in Kuwait’s environment. The plant is widespread throughout the temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Europe.
The plant is more commonly known as “mallow” in English. It has attractive flowers, which is a reason for attracting butterflies.

Marafie said that the plant is almost extinct in Kuwait. PAAAFR in Rabiya has this species growing in its premises.

The irresponsible use of deserts in Kuwait is leading to a degradation of the country’s biodiversity and the loss of some unique species of insects, he added.

“The desert in Kuwait is almost fully destroyed, and the indigenous species are probably finding it so hard to survive. Because when you drive over the plants you destroy the flora, and nature is so closely interconnected that when the flora is destroyed even the fauna gets destroyed.”

Marafie explained how the nature is delicately interconnected and how when one link snaps, the rest of the chain is affected in domino fashion.

 “People don’t have any restrictions, they just go out into the desert and drive over the plants and shrubs and destroy them. When you kill the plants, you kill the insects.”

He is a strong advocate of preserves to protect Kuwait’s ecology. There is a preserve in the North of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Preserve, which he says is rich in plants, animals and insects.

The entomologist stressed the need for creating awareness among the public and to educate them on the preservation of natural environment. “Earlier the camping period in the deserts was only 15 or 20 days.

But now it extends from October to March. So people spend more time in the deserts, and as a result the environment is getting destroyed.

It’s a whole natural cycle. When it rains in the desert, there is vegetation, they bear fruits, animals and birds eat them and scatter the seeds. The seeds get buried in the soil and when the next rain comes, they sprout. This way the cycle of life continues. But that’s not happening now. The plants are dead before they bear seeds and the cycle is disrupted.”

By: Valiya S. Sajjad Arab Times Staff

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