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India's Largest Lepidoptera. Photo Credit: Butterfly Research Center Bhimtal

Butterfly Research Center in Bhimtal: Unveiling India’s Largest Lepidoptera Private Collection

May 6, 2024
1 min read

Butterflies are the adult flying stage of certain insects belonging to an order or group called Lepidoptera. Moths also belong to this group. The word ‘Lepidoptera’ means “scaly wings” in Greek. This name perfectly suits the insects in this group because their wings are covered with thousands of tiny scales overlapping in rows. The scales, arranged in colorful designs, are unique to each species. It is the scales that give butterflies their beauty.

In India, there is a Butterfly Research Center at Bhimtal near Nainital, Uttarakhand. According to sources, Peter Smetacek has done for butterflies what few others in India have done. Smetacek is the founder of the Butterfly Research Center (BRC), Bhimtal in Nainital. Peter Smetacek is known as the butterfly man of India. The lepidopterist (an expert on butterflies) has dedicated his life to the conservation of butterflies and moths. He has amassed one of the India’s Largest Lepidoptera private collections of them in India.

Peter’s father, Fred Smetacek, a Central European immigrant, had an insect collection at their home in 1946, long before Peter was born. After World War 2, the family moved to the hills of Uttarakhand. Eventually, they settled in Jones Estate in Bhimtal in 1951. Young Peter absorbed knowledge about butterflies like a sponge. The BRC is located in his colonial-era abode.

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Built about 150 years back, Peter’s house serves as a sanctuary and laboratory. The residence is surrounded by a dense forest. It hosts 243 species of butterflies and more than 800 species of moths. Founded in 2010 by Peter Smetacek, the BRC showcases an extensive collection of butterflies. It includes India’s largest butterfly, the Golden Birdwing. One of the four rooms in his bungalow is devoted only to butterflies.

At the age of 25, Smetacek delivered the Oxford University Entomological Society lecture series. He discussed the use of butterflies and moths as bioindicators—a topic still pertinent. Smetacek’s collection is the India’s Largest Lepidoptera private collection, with 3,500 species. Courses at the BRC are conducted by Smetacek for enthusiasts and scholars alike. Now in his late 50s, Smetacek remains dedicated to his passion for the world of butterflies and moths. He is popularly known as Rishi Muni, which means sage by the local people. Smetacek points out that butterflies are great for your garden as they are attracted to bright flowers. They need to feed on nectar. They pollinate plants in your garden. A majority of plants need pollinators like bees and butterflies to reproduce.

In short, the Butterfly Research Center, founded by Peter Smetacek, is doing yeoman service to environmental protection with its study of butterflies and moths.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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