Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | 26 May 2018 | 10(6): 11775–11779

 

 

 

A new record of the lesser-known butterfly Small Woodbrown Lethe nicetella de NicŽville, 1887 (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae) from Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim, India

 

Sailendra Dewan 1, Bhoj Kumar Acharya 2 & Sudeep Ghatani 3

 

1,2,3 Department of Zoology, Sikkim University, Tadong, Gangtok, Sikkim 737102, India

1 dewansailendra1992@gmail.com, 2 bkacharya@cus.ac.in (corresponding author), 3 sghatani@cus.ac.in

 

 

 

Abstract: This study reports the recent sighting of Small Woodbrown Lethe nicetella from Khangchendzonga National Park in West Sikkim District, India.  It was originally described by de NicŽville (1887) based on the collection of males and one female by Otto Mšller from Sikkim but the exact type locality was unknown.  We also reviewed various historical and contemporary reports on the description and distribution of this species.  We did not find any report of collection or sighting of the species from India after Elwes & Mšller (1888).  The occurrence of this species in Sikkim is mentioned in Haribal (1992) but it is not clear whether the report is based on sightings or historical records because sighting location is not given, indicating its description based on museum specimens. Hence, we conclude that the Small Woodbrown L. nicetella was sighted after a gap of around 120 years.  Further, we have provided the first photographic records of a live individual of this species from India.  Our finding indicates a possibility of existence of many cryptic taxa that should be explored using morphological and molecular approaches.

 

Keywords: Butterflies, Lethe nicetella, Sikkim, Small Woodbrown.

 

 

 

doi: http://doi.org/10.11609/jott.3987.10.6.11775-11779  |  ZooBank: urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:AF06A883-FD20-4383-A6F0-D28B3963E1E6

 

Editor: Sanjay Sondhi Titli Trust, Dehradun, India.     Date of publication: 26 May 2018 (online & print)

 

Manuscript details: Ms # 3987 | Received 30 December 2017 | Final received 08 February 2018 | Finally accepted 02 May 2018

 

Citation: Dewan. S., B.K. Acharya & S. Ghatani (2018). A new record of the lesser-known butterfly Small Woodbrown Lethe nicetella de NicŽville, 1887 (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae) from Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 10(6): 11775–11779; http://doi.org/10.11609/jott.3987.10.6.11775-11779

 

Copyright: Š Dewan. et al. 2018. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any medium, reproduction and distribution by providing adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.

 

Funding: This paper is a part of the project ŇDistribution pattern and conservation of butterflies along the elevational gradient in Rangeet Valley, Sikkim, Eastern HimalayaŐŐ funded by The Rufford Foundation through Rufford Small Grants, UK (Grant ID:20758-1). SD was supported with non-NET fellowship of University Grants Commission, New Delhi provided through Sikkim University.

 

Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.

 

Acknowledgements: We thank Sikkim University for providing facilities to undertake this research. We would like to thank Dr. Peter Smetacek and Mr. Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi for helping us with identification of Lethe nicetella and providing valuable historical notes on this species. We thank Dr. Basundhara Chettri for valuable suggestion on taxonomic approaches. We are grateful to the Research Evaluation and Monitoring Cell (REMC) of the Department of Forest, Environment & Wildlife Management, Government of Sikkim for providing us with permit to study butterflies in Sikkim. We would like to thank Mr. Nawangla Bhutia along with other members of Butterfly and Moths of Sikkim, Nature Conservation Society (BAMOS) for their continued support in our field studies.

 

 

 

Lethe Hubner [1819], is a butterfly genus under the subfamily Satyrinae of the family Nymphalidae.  The genus is distributed from Borneo through the Sunda Islands, Japan, Siberia, Himalaya and peninsular India (Mani 1986).  Morphologically, the upperpart of these butterflies are brown with apical spots on the forewing and spots or ocelli on the hindwing. They also bear distinctive ocelli on the under parts of the wings.  The habitat of most of the species of this genus is bamboo forest or grassy patches in the forest.

Sikkim is a small land locked Himalayan state in India covering an area of 7,096km².  It lies in western extremities of the eastern Himalaya, a part of one among the 36 biodiversity hotspots of the world (CEPF 2017).  Due to its steep mountainous terrain, Sikkim experiences rapid changes in climatic condition from sub-tropical type in low elevation to alpine condition in high elevation.  The synergetic effect of elevation, climate and historical factors (pre-historic tectonic movements and paleoclimate) has made it one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, despite its small area (Ali 1962).  Butterflies in Sikkim are represented by 689 species, and genera such as Lethe appear to display high diversity (Haribal 1992).

Eminent naturalists extensively documented butterflies of Sikkim in the 19th century.  Among them were the noted entomologists de NicŽville (1881, 1882, 1883, 1885, 1894) and Elwes (1882, 1887) but most of this literature refers to taxonomy and listing of species.  Haribal et al. (1988) presented a checklist of 103 species of butterflies along with their sighting locations in Sikkim.  Haribal (1992) remains the most exhaustive publication made so far on the butterflies of Sikkim. With a gap of almost two decades, systematic studies on butterflies in the region have increased in recent years (Acharya & Vijayan 2011, 2015; Chettri 2015).  Species protected under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, such as Symbrenthia silana (Kunte, 2010), Lethe margaritae and Neptis nycteus (Rai et al., 2012) have recently been rediscovered in the state after almost 100 years.  All these studies have indicated the probability of occurrence of many species that awaits rediscovery or possibly even new species discovery.

Here, we report the recent sighting of Small Woodbrown Lethe nicetella from Bakhim in West Sikkim District, Sikkim, India. The species is protected under Schedule II of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (Anonymous 1997).  We also reviewed various historical and contemporary reports on description and distribution of this species.  Since very less information is available on this species (and genus Lethe as a whole), our findings add to the existing information on Lepidoptera of the Indian sub-continent in general and Eastern Himalayan region in particular.

 

Distribution, habitat and status based on literature

Lethe nicetella is one among diverse group of species under Lethe genus of subfamily Satyrinae.  L. nicetella was originally described by de NicŽville (1887) based on the collection of males and one female by Otto Mšller from Sikkim but the exact type locality is unknown.  Based on the museum specimen housed in the Natural History Museum, London, Talbot (1947) reported the occurrence of the butterfly in Gangtok and Karponang in Sikkim (1,524–2,740 m elevation).  The other notable mention of this species is by Elwes & Mšller (1888). The authors recorded this species along the Goompahar and the flanks of Tonglo during July and August. ŇGoompaharÓ referred to here is now known as ŇGhoomÓ and ŇTongloÓ as Tonglu, both lies in Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India.  Darjeeling was a part of the then Kingdom of Sikkim, but later managed under the British Empire and now a part of West Bengal State in India (Subba 1992).  Hence, based on ElwesŐs observation (Elwes & Mšller 1888), Darjeeling, West Bengal, should be included in distribution range of the species in the upcoming literatures.  Bailey (1951) reports the occurrence of the species in Chandagiri (1,820m) and Godavari (1,520m) in Nepal, which could be considered as the western most extent of the species.  The species has also been known to occur in Bhutan (Singh & Chib 2015).  Several authors have mentioned the occurrence of this species from India but it is not clear whether the authors collected the specimens or referred to the museum specimens (Table 1).

The male butterfly has been reported to be more common than the female (de NicŽville 1887; Elwes & Mšller 1888); however, this butterfly has been considered to be rare (Evans 1927; Tablot 1947; Haribal 1992; Kehimkar 2008).

 

 

Table 1. Details of historical records of Lethe nicetella from India

 

Scientific Name

Locality and elevation

References

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim (based on Otto MšllerŐs collection)

de NicŽville (1887)

Lethe nicetella

Collected from Ghoom and Tonglu (now in West Bengal), 2,134–2,744 m

Elwes & Mšller (1888)

Sinchula nicetella

Sikkim (Based on de NicŽville 1887)

Moore (1892)

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim, 2,134m

Bingham (1905)

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim, 2,134m

Antram (1924)

Lethe nicetella

Mentioned about museum specimen collected from Gangtok and Karponang in Sikkim, 1,524–2,744 m

Tablot (1947)

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim

Wynter-Blyth (1957)

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim

Haribal (1992)

Lethe nicetella

Sikkim, 1,800–2,800 m

Kehimkar (2008)

 

 

Description of the species

Lethe nicetella is one of the smallest species in the Lethe genus with a wingspan of 45–50 mm.  Moore (1892) referred to this species as Sinchula nicetella but successive authors have followed the original name, i.e., Lethe nicetella.

The key morphological features of this species that distinguishes it from other similar species (Lethe sidonis and Lethe nicetas) are given in Table 2.

 

Recent sightings

We sighted Lethe nicetella in Bakhim (27.910N & 88.190E) at approximately 2,700m elevation in West District of Sikkim, India (Image 1).  Bakhim is one of the resting places along the Yuksom-Dzongri trek, a famous trail for expedition to Mt. Khangchendzonga.  The area falls under Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), a recently designated UNESCO World Heritage site.  The mean annual temperature of Bakhim is around 11.58Ą C, while mean annual precipitation is 1,827mm.  Bakhim is characterized by temperate mixed broadleaved forest. Trees such as Castanopsis sp., Quercus sp. and Rhododendron arboreum are common in the area (Image 2).  Various species belonging to genus Magnolia, Michelia, Ilex, Cinnamomum, Betula can also be found here. Secondary growth consists of Debregeasia sp., Utrica sp., Viburnum sp., Osbeckia sp., etc.

Six individuals of Lethe nicetella were seen at around 11:00hr on a sunny morning on 18 June 2017.  The species was initially mistaken as Common Woodbrown Lethe sidonis, a closely resembling species; however, the absence of ocelli on its forewing provided a clue of it being a different species.  We quickly photographed the species (both underwing and upperwing; Image 3) and matched the characteristic features of the photographed individual to that of the description in literature (de NicŽville 1887; Evans 1927; Haribal 1992; Kehimkar 2008).  On careful examination and with the help of experts we identified the species as Lethe nicetella.  The butterflies were feeding on faeces of cattle and horses and some individuals were basking exposing their golden-brown upperwing.  On being disturbed, the butterflies flew short distances and kept close to the ground.

We did not find any reports of collection or sightings of the species from India after Elwes & Mšller (1888).  While Haribal (1992) mentioned the occurrence in Sikkim but it is not clear whether the report is based on sightings or historical records.  The author also mentions that out of 689 species listed, only 250 species were primarily sighted, and location of sightings has been provided for all of these species.  Since the locality of occurrence of Lethe nicetella is not mentioned in Haribal (1992), we believe that the description was based on museum specimens.  Hence, we conclude that this is the first sight record from India after a gap of around 120 years.  Further, we have provided the first photographic records of the occurrence of this species in India.  Photographic record of this species is also not available in exhaustive online sources such as http://www.ifoundbutterflies (Kunte et al. 2018).

Based on our field study, the species is not very rare in its distribution range, more specifically in the area of recent sightings.  Because of high similarity, researchers and naturalists could easily confuse Lethe nicetella with Lethe sidonis.  Hence, the occurrence and sightings of this species may have gone unnoticed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2. Key morphological differences to distinguish Lethe nicetella from Lethe sidonis and Lethe nicetas (de NicŽville 1887; Elwes & Mšller 1888; Bingham 1905; Evans 1927; Wynter-Blyth 1957)

 

Features

Common Woodbrown

Lethe sidonis

Yellow Woodbrown

Lethe nicetas

Small Woodbrown

Lethe nicetella

Wingspan

45–60 mm

48–55 mm

45–50 mm

Upper part

Deep bronzy brown

Golden brown

Golden to reddish-brown

Underside sub-apical ocelli in forewing

Present

Present

Absent

Underpart ocelli in the hindwing

Subequal with ocelli in 3 and 4 blurred

All ocelli clear

 Similar to Lethe sidonis

 

 

 

Conclusion

The rediscovery of Lethe nicetella after a gap of 120 years in Sikkim has indicated the occurrence of its habitat and host plants in the region.  No literatures, however, on host plants or ecology of this species are available.  We also presume that more such species occur in the region and need further exploration.  There is a possibility of existence of many cryptic taxa that should be explored using morphological and molecular approach.  The conservation focus is more biased towards large and charismatic species but butterflies are also a significant component of the forest ecosystem.  Hence, conservation attention is necessary for protection and long-term survival of underrepresented taxa such as butterflies.

 

References

 

Acharya, B.K. & L. Vijayan (2011). Butterflies of Sikkim with reference to elevational gradient in species, abundance, composition, similarity and range size distribution, pp. 207–220. In: Arawatia, M.L., S. Tambe (eds.). Biodiversity of Sikkim: Exploring and conserving a global hotspot. IPR Department, Government of Sikkim, Gangtok.

Acharya, B.K. & L. Vijayan (2015). Butterfly diversity along the elevation gradient of eastern Himalaya, India. Ecological Research 30(5): 909–919; http://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-015-1292-0 

Antram, C.B. (1924). Butterflies of India. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta (Kolkata), 226pp.

Anonymous (1997). The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (as amended up to 1993). 4th updated edition. Natraj Publishers, Dehradun, 158pp.

Bailey, F.M. (1951). Notes on butterflies form Nepal. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 50(1): 63–298.

Bingham, C.T. (1905). The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma (Butterflies), Vol. 1. Taylor and Francis, London, 537pp.

CEPF (2017). Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. http://www.cepf.net. Date accessed 17 December 2017.

Chettri, N. (2015). Distribution of butterflies along a trekking corridor in the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, Sikkim, Eastern Himalayas. Conservation Science 3(1): 1–10; http://doi.org/10.3126/cs.v3i1.13767

de NicŽville, L. (1881). A list of butterflies taken from Sikkim in October. Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 50(2): 49–60.

de NicŽville, L. (1882). Second list of butterflies taken from Sikkim in October. Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 51(2): 54–66.

de NicŽville, L.(1883). Third list of butterflies taken in Sikkim. Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 52(2): 90–100.

de NicŽville, L. (1885). Fourth list of butterflies taken in Sikkim. Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 54(2): 1–5.

de NicŽville, L. (1887). Descriptions of some new or little-known butterflies from India, with some notes on the seasonal dimorphism obtaining in the Genus Melanitis. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 55: 448–467; http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1887.tb02988.x

de NicŽville, L. (1894). A list of butterflies of Sikhim, pp. 116–176. In: Risley, H.H. (ed.). Gazetter of Sikhim. Low Price Publications, Delhi.

Evans, W.H. (1927). The Identification of Indian Butterflies. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, 454pp.

Elwes, H.J. (1882). On the collection of butterflies from Sikkim. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 50: 398–407; http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1882.tb02746.x

Elwes, H.J. (1887). Description of some new Lepidoptera from Sikkim. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 55: 444–447; http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1887.tb02987.x

Elwes, H.J. & O. Mšller (1888). A catalogue of the Lepidoptera of Sikkim; with additions, corrections, and notes on seasonal and local distribution. Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society, London 36: 269–465; http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2311.1888.tb01313.x

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Haribal, M., N.D. Mulla & N. Chaturvedi (1988). The butterflies of Sikkim. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 85: 271–280

Kehimkar, I. (2008). The Book of Indian Butterflies. Bombay Natural History Society & Oxford University Press, Mumbai, 497pp.

Kunte, K. (2010). Rediscovery of the federally protected Scarce Jester Butterfly Symbrenthia silana de NicŽville, 1885 (Nymphalidae: Nymphalinae) from the Eastern Himalaya and Garo Hills, northeastern India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 2(5): 858–866; http://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2371.858-66

Kunte, K., S. Sondhi & P. Roy (2018). Butterflies of India, v. 2.35. Indian Foundation for Butterflies. http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org.

Mani, M.S. (1986). Butterflies of the Himalaya. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. New Delhi, 181pp.

Moore, F. (1892). Lepidoptera Indica, Family Nymphalidae. Subfamilies Euploeinae and Satyrinae, Vol. 1, Lovell and Reeve, London, 277–317pp.

Rai, S., K.D. Bhutia & K. Kunte (2012). Recent sightings of two very rare butterflies, Lethe margaritae Elwes, 1882 and Neptis nycteus de NicŽville, 1890, from Sikkim, eastern Himalaya, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 4(14): 3319–3326; http://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2965.3319-26 

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