Ma'andi: A spectacular valley of butterflies
Ma’andi: A spectacular valley
By Zhang Lin and Wang Dan Photographs by Tourism Administration of Jinping County
From May to July each year, Ma’andi Village in Jinping County, Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, ushers in a rare natural wonder. Hundreds of millions of stichophthalma louisa gather here, and you can easily get close to butterflies across the village. According to statistics, 12 families of butterfly exist in China. In Ma’andi, there are 11. The verified number of butterfly species in the village is more than 200. However, it is estimated that more than 400 species live there.
First butterfly specimen hall in the world
Sunshine passes through the grove and casts its rays on the stone steps of a path. A big group of golden stichophthalma louisa stop close to one another on the steps, waving their wings. It seems as if the numerous butterflies will occupy the whole path. “I took this photo in Ma’andi when I went there this year,” said Pu Jicai, director of Jinping Tourism Administration.
Butterflies usually hide themselves away when the temperature drops abruptly. “When the weather is fine, you can see butterflies everywhere, and you can easily feel them if you stretch out a hand,” said Li, deputy director of the Jinping Tourism Administration.
To know more about the butterflies, we decided to visit the butterfly specimen hall in town. “There are 1,986 butterfly specimens, which belong to 276 categories in 11 families. All specimens are from Ma’andi. I collected one third of them,” Yang Zhenwen, director of the Jinping Butterfly Valley and the Hani Terrace Administration Center, told us. After graduating from Honghe Agriculture Vocational School in 1998, Yang Zhenwen came back to Ma’andi and started to work with butterflies. He united with locals to establish a professional butterfly cooperative. He is also sponsor of the butterfly specimen hall. Talking about the exhibition hall, Yang was very proud and told us that in the world his hall is the first one established in a town to show the variety of butterflies.
The specimen hall is not big, but it looks clear and bright, with specimens displayed on the inside walls. Among the butterflies on display, Yang specially showed us the biggest butterfly in China (a golden birdwing with a wing span of 18 centimeters), the smallest Chinese butterfly (a hairstreak with a wing span of just one centimeter), and the most precious butterfly in China (a teinopalpus aureus collected in Ma’andi). The Chinese treasure is the seventh of its kind in the world, and all the first three are not in China but in the British Museum. Some people spend their lifetimes on butterfly research, but they have no chance to see a teinopalpus aureus. Moreover, Ma’andi houses around 180 million stichophthalma louisa annually, making it the biggest butterfly habitat in China. Each year, the sight of the “butterfly outburst” occurs, and it is presented by stichophthalma louisa.
A grand gathering of varied butterflies
Butterflies love watermelons. “At the village fair, the watermelon stalls are usually surrounded by stichophthalma howqua that far outnumber the villagers buying watermelons there,” said Yang Zhenwen. Ma’andi is called China’s butterfly valley due to its species diversity and large population of butterflies. Besides stichophthalma louisa, Ma’andi also makes habitat for other species, including Teinopalpus imperialis, libythea myrrha, lamproptera curius, thauria lathyi fruhstorfer, thaumantis diores, the golden birdwing, papiliomemnon, kallima inachus, the brush-footed butterfly and polyura arja.
Even in winter, we can see hairstreaks, Lycaenidae and Leptosia nina in river valleys at low latitudes. In early spring, swallowtails and wood nymphs can be found in regions with elevations of 400-800m. In May and June, Ma’andi boasts the most butterfly species, with some precious ones arriving. Later, millions of stichophthalma louisa will gather at certain spots with elevations of 900-1500m, such as Laku Stockaded Village, Maguai Pond, and Biaoshui Rock. In September and October, precious meandrusa sciron can be seen in regions with elevations of 1300-3000m.
According to experts, butterfly valleys fall into three categories: overwintering valleys (a spot where butterflies gather to live through the winter), butterfly channels(a fixed flying route where butterflies can drink water together), and ecological butterfly valleys (formed by climate conditions providing host plants for butterfly larvae). The butterfly outburst in Ma’andi occurs at an ecotype butterfly valley. “Here, butterflies are our local specialty,” the villagers said with pride.
Stichophthalma ‘drinking liquor with villagers’
The daily activities of stichophthalma howquas are regular. They generally come out to have food and copulation between 9:00-12:00-am and 3:00-5:00-pm. Meanwhile, they also gain energy from the sunshine for better flight. Their wings are wide, covering an area 100-times larger than their bodies. Thus, their internal moisture can be quickly dried by sunshine, reducing the weight of their wings. Due to the big wings, the flying speed of stichophthalma howqua is very low, and their wings only vibrate 12 times per second. In general, the wing vibration rate of a butterfly is 30-70 times per second.
Compared with other butterflies, stichophthalma howqua have a distinguishing feature—they are not afraid of human beings. During their outburst, they fly about infinitely, making their way into the clothes, pack baskets and houses of local villagers. In addition, stichophthalma howqua are fond of ‘drinking liquor with local villagers’. “We have a drink called butterfly liquor here. It is not a drink made from butterflies, but a drink that can entertain butterflies a lot.”
In the past, local villagers had a custom of eating a sumptuous meal while they guide cattle collectively in the mountains. Taking some meat, liquor and rice, they make a fire and cook a lunch. As time passes, people find that butterflies always stop on a liquor bottle to drink it. According to Yang Zhenwen, each creature has its own preference for food, and there is a reason stichophthalma howqua enjoy liquor. “When stichophthalma howqua grow mature, they will have a tube-shaped mouth, so they have to rely on liquid for food. Moreover, their lifespan is short. They need energy-rich food to replenish physical loss and sustain their lives during copulation and pregnancy. Apparently, liquor is the best choice. Yang said that beside liquor stichophthalma howqua also like eating rotten leaves.