de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). The Butterflies of Sri Lanka. Travel SriLanka.
A photo essay.
Butterflies of Sri Lanka

– Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne


Few can fail to be inspired by the beauty of butterflies. In Sri Lanka there are 197 species of what are termed True Butterflies (Papilionoidea) and a further 37 species of Skippers (Hesperioidea). Loosely speaking, this gives rise to the 243 species of butterflies which is often quoted. Both butterflies and skippers are widespread throughout the island and present even in home gardens in the large cities, such as Colombo. Skippers are generally distinguished from butterflies by their habit of holding the fore wings vertically whilst the hind wings are held flat. Butterflies often perch with both pairs of wings held closed and at times holding both hind and fore wings open. As a general rule, the skippers are dull coloured.

Butterflies are beyond doubt the best known group of insects. Their life history is fascinating. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which are voracious feeders on plants. The caterpillars then pupate. The pupa of butterflies are often simply attached onto a branch by a thin line of gossamer wrapped in a girdle. The pupa undergoes a complex metamorphosis where the building blocks of its body are broken down and re-formed in a miraculous transition to give rise to an adult butterfly. Although the adult butterflies are often conspicuous, the life history of many of the butterflies remains unknown.

In Sri Lanka, the study of butterflies is hampered by the lack of even a nomenclature in the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil. In preparing a poster guide to the butterflies, I resorted to writing the English names in Sinhala, as a first step.

Some species of butterfly are restricted to places where good quality patches of forest are found. The Southern Duffer which is seen in Sinharaja is a good example. Some species such as the Indian Admiral, Indian Fritillary and the endemic Ceylon Tiger are found in the highlands. Other species such as the Nigger, White Four-ring, Common Crow, etc are common and widespread.

Butterflies can be attracted to a garden either by planting the food plant of the caterpillar or the nectar plant of the adult. Groves of Citrus will often attract members of the Swallowtail family such as the Lime Butterfly which lays its eggs on the Lime trees. Common wayside plants such as Balu Nakuta attract many small species of butterflies such as various Blues, Physche, Grass Yellows, etc. Ath Hodha, another weed plant, seems irresistible to the Tiger butterflies.

A garden, even in the heart of Colombo can attract over a dozen species of butterfly by creating a butterfly patch. This can simply be a patch which is allowed to run wild or deliberately planted with Balu Nakuta or other nectar rich plants.


Banks, John and Judy Banks (1985, several reprints). A Selection of the Butterflies of Sri Lanka. Published by Lake House Investments: Colombo. 34 pages.
Authored and illustrated by John and Judy Banks. Butterflies are arranged by colour and size. A very useful guide for beginners.

de Silva Wijeyeratne, Gehan. Butterflies of Sri Lanka (2004). 3rd print. An eight page, A5 sized colour booklet with captioned photographs to 63 images representing 58 species, photographed under wild conditions. Some species have both the upper and under wing surfaces shown. A useful booklet for the commoner species as the photographs show the species under ‘field conditions’ and not as curated museum specimens. Rs 100

de Silva Wijeyeratne, Gehan. Gehan’s Butterflies of Sri Lanka (2004).
A beautiful, high quality, large format poster measuring a generous 86 cm x 57 cm. Photographic images of 57 species of butterflies. Rs 300.

The last two publications are available from Jetwing House, 46/26 Nawam Mawatha, Colombo 2 and bookshops including ODEL, Barefoot and Lake House Bookshop Hyde Park Corner.

The writer, the CEO of a wildlife & luxury travel company, has written and photographed several publications on wildlife. With weekly appearances in the media, he is one of Sri Lanka’s most visible wildlife & tourism personalities. E-mail him at to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.