Right from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis, butterflies are regarded as one of nature’s miracles. Despite the fact that they are vital and necessary contributors to our environment, just a few studies and researches have been conducted on them.
Nature enthusiasts and butterfly lovers around the world are enthralled by ‘Life of Butterflies’, India’s first ever comprehensive documentary made on butterflies by Sammilan S. Shetty, Conservationist and Founder of Butterfly Park, Belvai, located in the foothills of India’s Western Ghats. The butterfly park was also honoured by the World Book of Records, London, for hosting awareness programmes and conservation activities.
Over 150 butterfly species are recorded at the park. Species like Malabar Banded Peacock, Southern Birdwing, Malabar Banded Swallowtail, Clipper, Autumn Leaf, and Tamil Lacewing are showcased in the documentary.
The 100-minute documentary exclusively depicts the beautiful journey of butterflies at different stages of its life. It shows the natural history of butterfly behaviour in a way that will both astound and educate both students and general public.
In an interview with News Karnataka Sammilan said, “for more than a decade, I’ve been fascinated by butterflies and have committed my life to their conservation. Through speeches, field walks, and short videos, I have been raising awareness about butterflies to people. It was then that I decided to make a full-fledged film about butterflies in order to reach people across the globe.”
Sammilan S. Shetty
Sammilan believes that through his documentary, he will be able to change people’s perspective on butterflies. “Apart from few aerial shots, I captured the visuals for this documentary over the course of four years, within the butterfly park,” he added.
He further explained that, “We begin the documentary with habitat shots, followed by introduction to insects. After that, we take the viewers to the amazing world of butterflies. The life cycle of the Southern Birdwing, an endemic to South India, is shown in the documentary, beginning with a male choosing and patrolling his territory, females visiting his kingdom, courtship ritual, egg laying, pupation, and eclosion, challenges they face, and defences they employ.”
Sammilan went on to say that the documentary also portrays the threats the caterpillar faces as it comes out from the egg and the techniques it uses for defence. The documentary also shows feeding behaviour of butterflies including mud-puddling. As butterflies are part of the food web, predators are shown in the film as well.
Malabar Banded Peacock
Life of Butterflies’ was initially screened in Alva’s College, Moodbidri, when it was completed in 2019. After that, he planned to screen it in educational institutions in 2020. But due to Covid he couldn’t do it and had to screen it online later. “Initially, we didn’t consider online streaming. Then it was presented online for the first time by Nilgiri Natural History Society a month ago. Due to wonderful responses from audience, now the documentary is screened every Saturday free for the students, nature enthusiast and for general public,” said Sammilan.
He also mentioned that though they had the limit of 200 people, they ended up with roughly 380 to 400 bookings every week.
The hundred-minutes documentary is not completely played for the audience, but the first part is shown, which covers the entire story of Southern Birdwing. “I enjoy the online screening because it allows me to interact with a wide range of people from various backgrounds. Following the 35-minute screening, there will be an opportunity for interaction too,” he added.
Newly eclosed Southern Birdwing Male
The film closes with a presentation of various defences and survival methods, including the symbiotic relationship between ants and butterflies of the Lycaenidae family, one of the most fascinating butterfly phenomena known to Science.
Viewers of the documentary share their experience
According to Dr. Shakha Sharma, Assistant Professor at GGM Science College, Jammu, ‘Life of a Butterfly’ is an exceptional documentary featuring beautiful butterflies that is undoubtedly one of the best ones ever made. “The amount of work that goes into creating excellent cinematography is unbelievable. Gorgeous flickering butterflies were filmed in clear, colourful, and magnificent nature, and the depiction of the life cycle of the Southern Birdwing is stunning. The importance of these beautiful creatures cannot be overlooked, and this documentary is an excellent explanation of why we must protect them,” she emphasised.
Suraj Ramesh, a Research Scholar at the Department of Studies and Research in Zoology, Tumkur University told News Karnataka, “I saw the documentary twice and was quite excited to view it because observing butterflies in nature is always a fascinating experience for people of all ages. He has made a careful study, and one thing that astonished me was seeing how butterflies shoot eggs into the air. These are unusual events that most people would never see otherwise. I was so engrossed in the visuals that I didn’t want to miss a single minute. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the documentary and to visit the park.”
Malabar Banded Swallowtail
Najiha Thasneem, a III-year BSc Zoology student of Providence Women’s College, Calicut mentioned that Butterfly watching is something that both she and her friends enjoy doing. “Life of Butterflies is quite informative, and it clearly demonstrates the difficulties Sammilan must have faced in capturing even the tiniest information about the life and struggles of butterflies from egg to butterfly stage, as well as the journey that follows. I was delighted to see how he depicted the threats that the butterflies encountered at various stages. This truly is highly recommended documentary that everyone must watch,” she added.
Ajay Singh explained that he was impressed by the programme’s format, professionalism, and execution but he was slightly disappointed with the fact that the entire movie was not screened and the poster is little misleading in this sense. “However, considering the exceptional job, he did the right thing to profit from his efforts. It’s wonderful that you took such care with the copyright aspect of your production,” said Ajay.
“People’s response was actually double than what we had anticipated. We look forward to making such informative documentaries in the future too. ‘Life of Butterflies’ which will be screened in the coming days, hopefully will inspire at least a few,” Sammilan concluded.