Delicate beauty

An insect that metamorphoses through several stages from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to pupa, the butterfly's beauty is further enhanced at every transformation in its brief life span.

If you were asked to draw a picture of a butterfly, which species would you draw? Which  species would your drawing recall with its pattern and color? A Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi), an American Copper (Lycaena phlaea) or a Fiery Copper (Lycaena ochimus)?

Apart from those of us who have a special interest in butterflies, most of us can't tell one butterfly from another. We know and can recognize birds - sparrows, gulls, crows and storks- but how many butterflies do we know by name? Butterflies take their names from a number of different sources: heroes of Greek mythology, plants whose taste they like, the pattern or color of their wings, the city or region where they live, and even the name of the scientist who identified them.

When we approach a little closer to the world of butterflies, we realize that they are divided into species by their pattern and color and are one of the groups with the richest species diversity in the animal world. We see as well that the different species appear in different seasons, that they do not feed on the same plants, that they are better liked than other insects, and, because they have such a large number of enthusiasts, they are the group of insects about which there is the largest body of knowledge.

In the animal kingdom butterflies fall into the order Lepidoptera because of their scale-covered wings. Among themselves they are divided into two groups: diurnal (Rhopalocera) and nocturnal (Heterocera), which are easily distinguishable. Diurnal butterflies fly during the day and rest at night. Their wings stand up straight on their backs, their bodies are light and thin, and their antennae have knobs on the ends. Their wings are brilliantly colored with decorative patterns, their flight is slow. Nocturnal butterflies with their thick, heavy bodies fly at dusk or in the night, and their thin, hair-like antennae have sharp tips. In some species the antennae are covered with hairs and therefore look like tiny combs. In general their colors are dull. Their flight is rapid and they either fold their wings over their bodies like a roof when resting or leave them completely open. But these rules do not hold for all butterflies. Contrary to popular belief, the lives of these delicate and brilliantly colored members of the animal kingdom last not a few days but two to three weeks on average, and some species may even live up to two or three months. Famous for their migrations, Monarch butterflies survive up to six months on their 3200-kilometer flight from Canada to Mexico.

Situated along the migration routes, Turkey supports the life of a large number of plant and animal species with its varied climatic conditions in close proximity to each other. The south's Mediterranean scrub, the north's moist forests, the green pasturelands of Central and Northeastern Anatolia, and the rocky mountain slopes of Eastern Anatolia provide habitats for a large number of species peculiar to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and even, albeit in smaller numbers, to Africa. Owing to these characteristics, we are one of the richest countries in Europe in terms of species diversity. A large number of butterflies live in the unspoiled natural areas of Central and Eastern Anatolia and in the damp, medium-altitude mountainous regions up to three thousand meters above sea level. The Kaçkar Mountains, the Çoruh River Valley, the Lake Van Basin, Fethiye's Valley of the Butterflies, the Aladağlar Mountains of Niğde and the Antalya region are some of Turkey's areas particularly rich in species diversity.

Turkey plays host to a large number of endemic species of butterfly. Species such as the Anatolian White Argus (Polyommatus manelcas), the Halicarnassus Dark (Maniola halicarnassus), the Anatolian Argus (Plebeius hyacinthus) and the Hyponephele kocaki, which has no common name in English, are endemic species that live only in Anatolia. Some other species whose numbers have declined significantly in Europe can be observed relatively easily in certain well-preserved areas of Turkey. Examples such as the Apollo (Parnassius apollo), the False Apollo (Arcon apollinus), the  Black-eyed Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis), the Himalayan Blue (Pseudophilotes vicrama) and the Bavius (Pseudophilote bavius) can be cited. While species such as the Caspian Blue Argus (Polyommatus caeruleus) and the Siberian Brown (Triphysa phryne) are almost never encountered, others such as the Eastern Orange Tip (Anthocharis damone), the Dark Blue (Scolitantides orion), and the Woodland Ringlet (Erebia medusa) are now observed, albeit rarely.

A key indicator of pristine nature and an unpolluted environment, butterflies have been under threat of extinction not just in Turkey but all over the world in recent years. They face a number of natural predators in all stages of their life cycle. Their sensitive and delicate structures compared with other animals make them one of the creatures most affected by environmental depredation. And shrinkage of their natural habitat is causing their population to decline, even to become extinct.

But it is not only deteriorating environmental conditions that threaten butterflies. Some rare and ostentatious species are gathered for commercial purposes and sold to collectors while others are smuggled outside the country for scientific purposes, and the absence of any legal measures to prevent this means that species such as the Apollo (Parnassus apollo) and the 'Vandenizi güzeli'  (Cimeliidae axia theresiae) in particular are being reduced in number and threatened with extinction.

Butterfly watching has become as popular as birding in recent years. With its rich butterfly fauna, Turkey is one of Europe's leading observation areas for an increasing number of Turkish and foreign butterfly watchers, nature photographers, entomologists and lepidopterists.
Butterflies can be found in every region of Turkey. But to see a large number of them in one place you have to visit their habitats. The Kaçkar Mountains and the Barhal River are literally butterfly paradises in this sense. But the most famous area of all is surely the Valley of the Butterflies at Fethiye in Turkey's Aegean region. The most popular butterfly in this valley, which hosts close to 85 different species of diurnal and nocturnal species, is the Tiger Butterfly (Euplagia quandripunctaria), which emerges in July and August. The valley of the Çoruh River and, within it, the valley of the Kan River especially are also rich in butterfly populations. Other major observation areas include the Eastern Black Sea Mountains, the Gediz River Delta, the Antalya Region, the Aladağlar Mountains of Niğde, the Lake Van Basin and the Tatvan Mt. Nemrud Caldera.

If you observe butterflies more closely, you will realize that they are all unique in color and wing pattern, that the flight of some species ends with the change of season, and that, together with plants and flowers, the flying species vary with climate, region, plant diversity and altitude. You will also come to know them by their names, such as the Grecian Copper (Lycaena ottomana), the Balkan Marbled White (Melanargia Larissa), the Golden Copper (Lycaena thetis), and the Queen of Spain fritillary (Issoria lathonia). You will see which species alight on which flowers, and you will come to realize that with their supreme delicacy and natural elegance butterflies in their brief life spans teach us many things about a world of magical beauty.