Himalayan butterfly found in Fujairah

Another new butterfly species has been added to the UAE list by locally-based naturalist Binish Roobas – this time a Himalayan species, the Indian Fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius). It was found in the wild in Wadi Wurayah National Park, WWNP, in Fujairah earlier this month.

This latest discovery brings the UAE butterfly total to 58 species. The record may also be a first for Arabia.

The Indian Fritillary is common in the Himalayan regions of Northern India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal, and it has also been found in southern Iran. Now a small number have made their way to Wadi Wurayah, where Roobas was able to photograph both a male and female of the species.

The butterfly was discovered during a visit to update earlier surveys of plant and insect diversity in Wadi Wurayah, following the exceptional fall and winter rains. Joining Roobas in the field were Gary Feulner, Chairman of the Dubai Natural History Group, Sami Ullah Majeed, WWNP Park Ranger, and Nuri Asmita, a WWNP biologist.

The new species is an opportunistic migrant that probably arrived to take advantage of the favourable conditions created by abundant rainfall from October until January. It is unlikely that they will remain for the UAE summer.

The newly found butterfly shows some similarity to the conspicuous but toxic resident butterfly known as the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus). That helps to protect it from predators, but also disguises it from scientific observers. In Wadi Wurayah, it was first seen flying among a group of Plain Tigers, where it was difficult to distinguish.

Roobas told the Emirates News Agency, WAM, that, "It might easily have been overlooked in that group, but I noticed a slight difference in its size and colour and a greater difference in the way it flew." Based on his photographs, he could identify the species quickly from his experience with butterflies in South and Southeast Asia.

Roobas found two other new species of butterflies in the UAE in 2018, and he helped to investigate two other new species in 2014. He is a co-author, with Feulner, of an introductory catalogue of UAE spiders, and the two are principal co-authors of a forthcoming book on butterflies of the UAE, scheduled for publication this autumn.

Feulner commented, "A great deal of our current knowledge of the flora and fauna of the UAE comes from observations and investigations by independent amateur naturalists. Their efforts, including exploration, study and publication, should be encouraged, not restricted."

Roobas worked in Dubai for a number of years but returned to his home in India in 2019. He continues to visit the UAE to continue his work on butterflies, dragonflies and spiders. His research has been recognised by receipt in 2016 of the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Al Nahyan Award for Natural History, presented by Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.

Roobas and Feulner expressed their thanks to the management and staff of WWNP, and in particular Dr. Ali Hassan Al Hmoudi, the Park Manager, for the invitation to visit and extend their earlier investigations in WWNP.

Wadi Wurayah, located in Fujairah, is one of the UAE's largest mountain watersheds and is endowed with the most extensive surface freshwater resources in the country in the form of pools, streams and springs. Wadi Wurayah National Park, the UAE's first mountain protected area and a RAMSAR site and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, encompasses an area of 220 km2. Over 800 species of flora and fauna have been identified in the Park, including a number of plants and animals found only in the Hajar Mountains.

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