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The Common Nawab

January 10, 2013

Yesterday’s morning was the coldest this cool season: 13.5°C at 06.30. Consequently the early morning bird chorus and early morning bird activity was significantly stunted. If we just compare with January 5th when it was 18.4°C at the same time, we saw and heard a lot of birds together with German bird-watchers.

An interesting effect of the cold was a butterfly that had fallen down from a rain tree (Samanea saman). The wings were folded and in perfect condition, the feet still clinging to a senescent leaf of the tree. The butterfly was alive, just terribly cold like the rest of us. It turned out to be a new butterfly record for Dokmai Garden: the common nawab (Polyura athamas, Nymphalidae).

Polyura athamas.72.Jan.9.2013

‘Polyura’, coined by the Swedish entomologist Gustaf Johan Billberg in 1820, is Latinized Greek meaning ‘many tails’. Each hindwing has two tails separating this genus from swallowtails (Papilionidae) and many other butterflies. ‘Athamas’ was a mythical king of Orchomenos in Greece. Urdu ‘Nawab’ was the title of a governor during the Mogul Empire and later used as a title for prominent individuals in British India.

We were lucky the cold had stiffened the butterfly so much that it did not move when the leaf fell, because this butterfly species loves tree canopies, and would only occasionally lower itself to the level of humans. Its green larva, which looks like a cross between a Styracosaurus and a slug, feeds on a variety of legumes (Fabaceae) commonly found as ornamental trees in the Chiang Mai gardens: Acacia spp, Adenanthera spp, Albizia spp, Caesalpinia spp, Leucaena leucocephala, Delonix regia, Samanea saman etc.

After taking the pictures, we (Abby Hird from Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Evan Meyer from Harvard University Herbarium and myself) moved it to the sun and wished it good luck.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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