I always thought only humans queued up, and that too occasionally when they have no choice. Ah… and ants. But on our very eventful tramway trek in Parambikulam, Kerala, we experienced an epiphany. And the evidence of such orderly behaviour came from an unexpected group of insects: Butterflies.
Halfway into our tiring 18-km walk along the abandoned tramway used by the British to transport teakwood, we decided to stop for lunch at the rocky edge of the Chalakudy River. As we wolfed down the humble idlis packed from Hotel Lakshmi (Parambikulam’s answer to five-star dining) we saw a train of white butterflies fluttering by upstream in a very orderly sine wave, one behind the other. One group would constitute the crest, the other the trough, alternating the altitude as they moved ahead. Soon, we found that it was by no means a small group. The sine wave seemed to be unending as the flow of butterflies continued until we finished our lunch and got up to walk the rest of the trail.
|The sine wave
As we walked downriver we saw more butterflies moving in the same orderly sine wave or hovering over rocky islands in chaotic congregations. We still could not identify them as they were constantly on the move, not even stopping to feed. We continued on our walk to the guest house that would shelter us that night. After dumping our backpacks there, we walked down to the river to freshen up.
|Chaos theory in practice!
Here, we noticed a group of these butterflies mud-puddling. Getting closer, we angled for photographs, standing in the water wearing little but our modesty. The butterflies had white upper-wings, duller under-wings and a black tip to the upper wings that was faintly discernible in some individuals. On being disturbed, they would float up like paper bits caught up in a miniature whirlwind, swirling upwards and settling down elsewhere.
|The origin of chaos
Later, upon visiting the information centre at Parambikulam, we would learn that the butterfly was the Common Albatross (Appias albina), which belongs to the Pieridae family. After spending quality time with the albatrosses, we enjoyed a refreshing bath and immersed ourselves in other encounters, which are better told as separate stories.
|Incoming – paper plane!
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