Guwahati: Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi, a butterfly enthusiast from Assam, was in search of two species of orange flat butterflies which were last seen in 1890. But then, it required luck and patience.

Driving from Bokakhat to Namdapha through Dhudarali road, Gogoi decided to do a night halt in search for butterflies. He entered the Jeypore range early morning, at around 6.30 am, and decided to take up animal trails rather than the usual forest road.

“I searched for 2 hours but could not find a single rare one,” Gogoi told EastMojo, recollecting the journey which led to the rediscovery of Pintara Tabrica and Pintara Pinwilli from the Namdapha National Park and Dehing Patkai National park in 2021.

 As he decided to finish his survey, Gogoi saw a beautiful Orange butterfly sitting beneath a leaf on a slope. Without wasting any time, he changed the lens of his camera and to capture the butterfly sitting beneath the leaf. He instantly knew it was Hewitson’s Orange Flat P. tabrica, as he had searching for the butterfly for a long time.

The Pintara Tabrica was rediscovered from the Namdapha National Park. Picture by Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi

“It had recently been rediscovered in Bhutan, and was collected from Darjeeling in the 1870s. But since then there was no record from India. The one collected from Assam was Doherty’s Orange Flat P. pinwilli and it was Namdapha which did not disappoint at the end,” Gogoi said.

He found that Hewitson’s Orange Flat P. tabrica was recorded from 1999 from Myanmar’s Kachin, which are contiguous forests reaching Namdapha-Dehing-Patkai. This also made the species’ record highly expected in its historical range of Margherita.

“I was at Namdapha for the butterfly meet. After two days of fieldwork in Deban, butterfly enthusiast Atanu Bose came running to me one early morning, saying ‘Orange Flat… Orange Flat,'” Gogoi recalls.

Saurav Dwari, a wildlife enthusiast from Kolkata, photographed the species thinking it to be an orange moth. Everyone searched for the species but it was never found after that sighting. “On observing the species, I found that it was Doherty’s Orange Flat collected by William Doherty from Margherita in 1888-89,” he said.

Monsoon Gogoi was helped by Dwari in the rediscovery.

The Orange Flat Skipper butterflies belong to the Flat butterfly group of Skipper (Hesperiidae) butterfly family. They fall under the genus Pintara. These butterflies generally rest beneath tree leaves in very dense forest sand are therefore not easily seen.

The butterfly group is of Indo-Malayan origin and most of the species are SE Asian in origin. “Due to lack of record in the last 130 years, the occurrence of the species group was considered doubtful from the Indian subcontinent until the record of one Orange Flat butterfly species viz. Pintara tabrica from Bhutan in 2018,” he said.

The Pintara Pinwilli was rediscovered from the Dehing Patkai National Park. Picture by Saurav Dwari

Both the species were sighted from the contiguous landscape on the Noa Dihing river by Monsoon J. Gogoi and Saurav Dwari in September 2021 at the Dehing Patkai National Park and Namdapha National Park, respectively.

The sightings are the second record of both the species since late 1890s.

“Since occurrences of both these species were considered doubtful in India based on one lone historical record each, their sighting confirms the occurrence of both the species in India. The present record also suggests that both Pintara species (tabrica, pinwilli) occur in the same landscape of NE India, which is a welcome sign for conservation of these two elusive Orange flat butterflies,” he said.

William Doherty, an American entomologist, published his expedition report on butterflies of Upper Assam (Margherita area), Nagaland and Myanmar area  in 1889, which was the first of its kind in NE India.

“Doherty collected Orange Flat butterfly Pintara pinwilli during his expedition, but he did not publish the finding of the species in his list of butterflies. Since then, there was no record of the species in the last 130 years and with time, the occurrence of Doherty’s Orange Flat was considered doubtful by the authors publishing the list of Indian butterflies in 1930s,” Monsoon says.

Monsoon says a similar story followed after with the occurrence of Hewitson’s Orange Flat Pintara tabrica.

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“The butterfly was described from Darjeeling in 1873 based on a single record and later the occurrence of the species was also considered doubtful by authors publishing the list of Indian butterflies in the 1930s. Sighting of the species by Cheku and Smetacek in 2018 from Bhutan confirmed the type locality of Hewitson from Darjeeling to be correct,” he added.

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