Floating about like flying colours and always a little out of grasp, butterflies are graceful creatures. To shed light on why these alluring insects exist and what seemingly-underrated role they play in nature, the Butterfly Park and Research Centre was opened at Jahangirnagar University in 2015.
Inaugurated via JU's annual event, otherwise known as the Butterfly Fair, the park enchants visitors and students, scientists and enthusiasts alike. Open to visitors from 10 AM to 3 PM on Sundays through Thursdays, the park truly salutes nature in all its glory. And behind the curtains is Professor and Chairman of the Zoology Department of JU and Founder of the Butterfly Park and Research Centre, Dr Md Monwar Hossain.
“The whole idea of the park is to first let people know what is a butterfly and to answer burning questions like what is it they do and how can we preserve them,” explains Dr Monwar Hossain.
“The park attracts thousands of people each year and is a great way for us to observe and study butterflies from a very close distance,” he further elaborates.
Ten years in the making and the product of 20 years of relentless research, the park was established by accumulating larval host plants, or butterfly host plants from different parts of Bangladesh. And these plants are important when creating a butterfly garden as they provide a site for butterflies to lay eggs on and food for the emerging caterpillars.
Housing over 110 different species and breeding about 80 of them, the Butterfly Park and Research Centre is taking huge leaps in achieving what it set out to do. Catching the eyes of visitors, glimpses of the delicately-pink Acacia Blue, the unique Tailed Jay, the faded white Quaker, and the intricately-patterned Monkey Puzzle can be seen. Moreover, the velvety black Common Rose butterfly with streaks of crimson makes a beautiful sight for sore eyes, among many others, of course.
If the vibrant and majestic butterflies are the first things that grab your attention, the netted domes will have you curiously on your toes next. The three canopy-like domes are interconnected with one leading to the next, the third and final net being the tallest at 150 metres. Positioned at the centre of the park and bombarded with fragrant plants, there's even an earthenware pot, usually containing pineapple juice for the butterflies to feed off of.
With April being the ideal month due to rising temperatures, the campus of JU is enchanted with thousands of butterflies gracefully fluttering about.
These flying creatures invoking happiness do not just paint the perfect picture; they are also the ideal models for research, according to Dr Monwar Hossain.
“Butterflies process images and colours in a far better way than humans and since the method of colour vision and image processing is a field where scientists still don't have all the answers yet, butterflies are the perfect models to study,” noted the professor.
And that's not all. “Butterflies support the forest ecosystem by performing a very important role in nature, which is pollination,” goes on Dr Monwar Hossain.
To clarify, pollination is when butterflies flutter about from one flower to another, collecting nectar. This transfers pollen grains from the winged insects into the plants which, then allows for fertilisation. This leads to plants multiplying in number and thus, eventually sustaining trees and forests.
Moreover, butterflies are an indicator of a good environment. “Butterflies are very host-specific. More times than not, a butterfly is attracted to just one species of plants. So, it can roughly be deduced that in an area containing a 100 species of butterflies bloom 100 different plants,” explains Dr Monwar Hossain.
So far, we have covered one part of the Butterfly Park and Research Centre, which is the stunning array of butterflies at the park. The second part, the research bit, is up next.
The insects are studied at the Wazed Miah Science Research Centre's section of Enhancement of Entomological Research Capability using DNA Barcoding.
Using modern equipment and facilities, samplings of butterflies are amplified in the DNA lab. This is followed by mapping individualistic DNA patterns of the insect and thus, identifying what kind it really is. Findings are documented and sent to international research centres like NCBI, a part of the United States National Library of Medicine.
To put it simply, research conducted at Jahangirnagar University's laboratory are, thus, a matter of public record and can be accessed by any researcher around the globe for reference.
“The research centre is a project to identify insects. Before, we used to categorise insects via external features only but with DNA sequencing we can use molecular identification, which is the correct method of identifying butterflies and other common insects,” shares Abdul Jabber Howlader, Professor of Zoology Department and Dean of Faculty of Biological Sciences at JU.
"DNA analysis of common insects is an exciting prospect and the research centre, along with the park is an effort to break new ground into making great contributions in the field of science," he further shares.
When envisioning a goal down the road for the Butterfly Park and Research Centre, Dr Monwar Hossain sees a museum in the distance. A bio-diverse museum, the first of its kind in the country, can showcase preserved insects, including the glorious butterflies, and is something that the Butterfly Park and Research Centre can eventually expand to.
But until then, butterflies bred and nurtured at JU's Butterfly Park and Research Centre will continue to flitter through the breeze and ascend to the skies. They will forever invoke a sense of theatre and are truly a national treasure worth preserving. And if American biologist, Jeffrey Glassberg is to be believed, "Butterflies will lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine.”
Photo: Dr Monwar Hossain/Shihab Khaledin Aungkur