Sightings of Gonepteryx amintha thibetana Nekrutenko, 1968 (Lepidoptera: Pieridae: Coliadinae) from Arunachal Pradesh, India: an addition to Indian butterfly fauna erroneously placed in southeastern Tibet earlier
Sanjay Sondhi 1 & Purnendu Kumar Roy 2
1 Titli Trust, 49 Rajpur Road Enclave, Dhoran Khas, Dehradun, Uttarakhand 248001, India
2 Gabriel’s Wharf, 56 Upper Ground, LONDON SE1 9PP.
1 email@example.com (corresponding author), 2 firstname.lastname@example.org
The genus Gonepteryx Leach, 1815 consists of nine species found throughout Europe, Africa and Asia (Beccaloni et al. 2003; Ratnasingham et al. 2007). Of these nine species, three species are hitherto reported from the Indian subcontinent, G. rhamni, G. mahaguru and G. farinosa, while six other species G. amintha, G. aspasia, G. carnipennis, G. cleobule, G. cleopatra, and G. eversi are extra-limital (Talbot 1939; Savela 2013). Two subspecies of Gonepteryx are usually listed as found within India. The Common Brimstone G. rhamni nepalensis Doubleday, 1847 is recorded throughout the Himalaya from Kashmir east to Kumaon, Nepal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and the hill ranges of northeastern India. The Lesser Brimstone G. mahaguru mahaguru Gistel, 1857 is recorded from Jammu and Kashmir east to Nepal. In neighbouring countries to India, bordering northeastern India, G. mahaguru zanekoides de Niceville, 1897, is reported from upper and western Myanmar while G. rhamni burmensis Tytler, 1926 is recorded from the southern Shan states in Myanmar (Talbot 1939). The Powdered Brimstone G. farinosa chitralensis Moore, 1905 is only recorded from Chitral District in Pakistan. However, this overlooks the Tibetan Brimstone (proposed common English name) G. amintha thibetana Nekrutenko, 1968 whose holotype was collected by Ludlow at Lalung, Pachakshiri, 7000 ft. (2100m), southeastern Tibet, on 06 May 1938. Pachakshiri is nowadays known as Mechuka and is a region located on the upper tributaries of the Siyom River, West Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. We recorded G. amintha thibetana from Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, West Kameng District, western Arunachal Pradesh and from Anini, Upper Dibang Valley District, northern Arunachal Pradesh.
Material and methods: Dr. Ramana Athreya initiated the Eaglenest Biodiversity project in 2003 (Athreya 2006). While the initial surveys focussed primarily on the avifauna and herpetofauna of the area, lepidopteran surveys at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary were conducted over a three-year period from May 2009 to April 2012, and are continuing. During this period, the area’s butterfly and moth diversity and density were assessed as part of a project funded by Rufford Small Grants (http://www.ruffordsmallgrants.org/rsg/projects/sanjay_sondhi). The methodology adopted for the butterfly survey was visual encounter surveys along fixed trails accompanied by photo-documentation of the butterflies seen. For cryptic species, the butterflies were netted, photographed and released. Permission for conducting the biodiversity assessments was received from the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department vide letter no CWL/G/13 (17)/06-07/12-14 dated 6 January 2010.
The Lepidoptera survey at Eaglenest WLS was conducted over three years over the following time periods 21–28 May 2009, 1–10 October 2010, 27–29 March 2011, 20–29 May 2011, 20–26 September 2011 and 20–26 April, 2012 involving 35 days of field work.
For comparison with other Gonepteryx species and subspecies known from the Indian region, specimens at the Natural History Museum, London were examined. Measurements and descriptions of the various Gonepteryx species and subspecies are based on specimens in the collection and existing literature (Talbot 1939; Nekrutenko 1973) (Images 2 & 3).
Discussions: G. amintha was described by Blanchard in 1871. Since then, six subspecies of G. amintha have been described. Of these, G. amintha thibetana was described by Nekrutenko in 1968 with the type locality of Lalung, Pachakshiri, collected in 1938 by Ludlow. We first sighted G. amintha thibetana below Lama camp (27010.171’N & 92027.492’E) at 10:31hr on 20 April 2012 at an altitude of 2,100m. This was an individual whose underside was photographed, but not netted, hence its sex could not be confirmed, though it, is likely to be a male based on its wing coloration. The second sighting of butterfly was a male, sighted at 10:51hr, a few hundred meters away from the first sighting. This individual was netted and examined. A third sighting of a male occurred at 09:25hr on 21 April 2012. This individual was seen flying along the path between Chakoo and Bompu (27005.128’N & 92024.361’E) at an estimated altitude of 2417m. The butterfly was not seen during previous surveys conducted in the same area. Image 1 shows the records of this species covered in this paper.
An earlier unreported record of the same species involved a collection of a butterfly by the second author, during a visit to Anini (28047.733’N & 95054.116’E), Upper Dibang Valley District, northern Arunachal Pradesh in July 1987 at an altitude of 1,830m. This specimen (No. 982924), collected near Anini (28048.6’N & 95054.6’E) is now at the Natural History Museum, London.
The six subspecies of Gonepteryx that have been hitherto reported from the Indian region and the countries surrounding northeastern India are G. farinosa chitralensis, G. rhamni nepalensis, G. rhamni gilgitica, G. rhamni burmensis, G. mahaguru mahaguru and G. mahaguru zanekoides (Talbot 1939). Males of these subspecies can be separated from G. amintha thibetana based on external morphology alone with the size, wing coloration and shape being significant differentiators. Table 1 provides the key to separate these subspecies and their known distributions within the Indian region. Image 2 shows the male and female specimens of G. amintha thibetana, while Image 3 shows the male and female specimens of the other subspecies in the Indian region. Image 4 shows live individuals of G. amintha thibetana, G. rhamni nepalensis and G. mahaguru mahaguru from India.
The males of G. amintha thibetana (Image 2 & 4) recorded from Eaglenest and Anini may easily be separated from all subspecies listed in Table 1 as none of them have orange-yellow fore wings with a large discocellular orange spot on the upperside of the hind wing and a large brown discocellular spot on the underside of the hind wing. The wingspans of G. mahaguru and G. farinosa are significantly smaller than G. amintha. G. amintha thibetana has a crinkled hind wing with a small projection at v4, much smaller than both rhamni and mahaguru. The orange-yellow fore wings contrast strongly with the yellow hind wings in flight so it is quite surprising that this species has been overlooked. The wing shape is also very distinctive and will serve to separate the female from both G. rhamni and G. mahaguru.
G. amintha thibetana Nekrutenko, 1968 whose holotype was collected by Ludlow at Lalung (Lhalung 28038’3”N & 9404’23”E), Pachakshiri, 2100m, southeastern Tibet, 06 May 1938 is currently not reported from India (de Nicéville 1898; Bingham 1907; Evans 1932; Talbot 1939; Wynter Blyth 1957; Haribal 1992; Kehimkar 2008). However, Pachakshiri is nowadays known as Mechuka and is a region located on the upper tributaries of the Siyom River, West Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Sightings of G. amintha thibetana in India are mapped out (Image 1), showing the wide range of the sightings in Lalung, Anini and Eaglenest.
Further confirmation can be also taken from Ludlow’s own journey description given in ‘Takpo and Kongbo, S.E. Tibet’ F. Ludlow (1940). Hence, the holotype of G. amintha thibetana, itself was collected from India; hence its exclusion from Indian fauna is an error of omission. The sightings from Anini and Eaglenest are new spot records of this subspecies, eastwards and westwards of its current known distribution in India and southeastern Tibet.
In addition, there are no records of G. amintha thibetana from Bhutan (Poel & Wangchuk 2007), Nepal (Smith 1994) and Myanmar (Kinyon 2004). A review of existing literature reveal that six specimens of G. amintha were collected by Bailey in an expedition in 1913 in the Lower Tsang Po and Po Chu Valley between 1,560 and 2,187 m in June and July (Evans 1913). Both these locations are in southeastern Tibet, and it is likely that these are the subspecies G. amintha thibetana. Hence, prior to the records in this paper, G. amintha thibetana has been recorded only from southeastern Tibet, in our neighbouring regions, other than its original description from Lhalung, Pachakshiri.
It should be noted that there are no records of any Gonepteryx species from Arunachal Pradesh in previous surveys (Evans 1914; Betts 1950) and more recent ones such as Athreya (2006) from Eaglenest, Borang (2008) from Dihang Dibang Biosphere Reserve and Gogoi (2012) from the Mishmi Hills. The sighting of G. amintha thibetana from Anini, Dibang Valley, too, seems to be the only record of Gonepteryx species from that area.
We had only three sightings of the butterfly in April 2012 and no sightings in the months of March, May, September and October at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. This seems to imply that it is either uncommon and local or simply overlooked. In addition, a review of literature reveals that the previous sightings of G. amintha are in the months of April, May, June and July. With the later months of June and July coinciding with monsoons, it is likely that few surveys have been conducted in these months, accounting for the absence of records. Further surveys are necessary to establish whether the spot records in this paper represent a permanent range extension of this species, and whether its presence has simply been overlooked or whether these records are just sightings of vagrants.
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