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Take a lesson from the butterfly


LANGKAWI, Malaysia, 26 June 2020: During the uncertain times of the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone is facing dramatic life-changing challenges and the holiday island of Langkawi is no exception.

Along with the rest of the island’s communities, Langkawi’s travel and hospitality sectors are rolling out travel-safe measures as everyone adapts to the “new normal.” It’s a new way of life that most of us are still figuring out, but Langkawi is ready having made the adjustments to host visitors confidently as the lockdown eases. 

Normal now is about having a space to stay safe and using alternative ways to establish a human connection. We need to rethink our health, leisure activities as well as our work and home settings. Whether this transition is comfortable or not, it is a move that we have to make in order to survive and build better for the future.

Looking at the bright side, this new normal is also about humans allowing nature to take its course and living in harmony with the environment.

During the long break to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, we let trees foliage prosper. Sea creatures returned to our shores and birds once more inhabit trees at the edge of beaches once crowded with visitors. An insect that we could all relate to at this moment would be the majestic butterfly. Every stage of its life cycle takes its body into a different shape and size. A fascinating phenomenon to watch as they break from their eggs into caterpillars that feed and moults up to seven times until they are ready to become their adult form. The outer skin hardens, forming a protective shell for the caterpillar to develop its body and wings. Once ready, the new butterfly will come out of its shell and spread its wings.

This fascinating transformation can be studied up close on Langkawi Island, one of the best spots for butterfly watching in Malaysia. Of course, the island’s beaches, recreational pursuits, the diversity of its resorts and duty-free attractions all come to mind before the humble butterfly. Still, for enthusiasts and nature lovers, Langkawi is home to more than 500 butterfly species.

For those who are new to or are interested in butterfly watching, mark Gunung Raya and TelagaTujuh on your map and plan for a trip in the near future.

And yes, one of the challenges for new butterfly watchers is how to differentiate a butterfly from a moth?  Generally, butterflies are active during the day while moths are active at night. The best way to identify a butterfly is with its club-like antenna that looks like a matchstick. Moths are heavy-bodied with antennas that are usually hairy.

Butterfly watching becomes more interesting if you know what to look out for when exploring Langkawi. You could start off with identifying the six families of the insect. Ranging from small to large, they are Lycaenidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae and Papilionidae. And if you are lucky, you’d be able to find some rare ones like the Riodinidae. These are called the “true” butterfly families.

The Lycaenidae is the smallest of the six families with measurements between 20 mm to 35 mm for each butterfly. A common name for this family is the Blues as most of them are blue in colour. You could find the Blue family members, Cycad Blue and Grass Blue fluttering by the roadsides or in gardens. The other non-Blue butterfly family are Coppers, obviously for its copper-orange wings and the Common Pierrot with black and white pattern wings. That is just the very few Lycaenidaes among the 140 species documented in Langkawi.

The Pieridae family is made up of medium-sized Whites and Yellows. Out of 24 species, the little white butterflies flying close to the ground are called Psyche. They are about 30 mm to 40 mm in size with all white wings. As for the Yellows, look out for the pale Tree Yellow with a dark tip on the upper side and the Banded Yellow with a dark ring around the edge of its forewings. The Great Orange Tip is the largest of the Whites and Yellows family in Asia. Approximately 80mm to 100mm in size, its wings are white with bright orange tips on the forewings.

The Nymphalidae family has so many different shapes and colour wings. They are also known as the four-footed butterfly because their front pair of legs is non-functional. Common Tiger is one of the Nymphalidae that stands out for its bright orange forewings and white hindwings wrapped with dark veins. The checkerboard black and white Tree Nymph is known as surat, which means letter in Bahasa Malaysia. The nickname might have come about from the way it ‘floats’ in the air, flapping its wings slowly like a piece of paper.

The dark and mysterious Papilionade usually has black wings with markings of various colours. If you take the road up to Gunung Raya, you may spot the black and yellow Golden Birdwing flying high in the air. The Great Mormon has a soft metallic grey or blue sheen on its velvety wings. But they are pretty rare and can only be found in thick forests.

The Hesperiidae, on the other hand, is known as the Skippers. The Skippers are usually small or medium-sized with antennas tapered at the end. It might be a bit hard to spot a Skipper due to their fast-flying style and the dull earthy coloured wings.

Let these butterflies remind us of the metamorphosis of life. We need to stay hopeful and endure this journey together, and not forget the importance of finding joy in the simplest of creatures.

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(Source: Tourism Department, Langkawi Development Authority)


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