Samui Wining & Dining
The Butterfly Effect

Very little was known about one of Samui’s
most beautiful group of residents – until now.

 

102People choose to come to Samui for a myriad of reasons. And some even end up calling it home. A number start small businesses but there’re also those who’ve retired from working though not from enjoying life. Les Day is one of those and he’s turned a lifelong passion for butterflies into a full-time hobby. And become an expert in his field. We caught up with Les on the eve of his latest expedition to find out more about the man and the wonders he’s discovered on Samui.

 

JP: Can you tell us about your background please Les?

LD: I grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex, England. In 1976 I joined the Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) straight from school and worked for them for thirty years. I’ve been visiting Samui regularly since the late 1990s and have lived here permanently since 2007.

 

JP: When and how did you first become fascinated with butterflies?

LD: When I was about seven I caught a small yellow moth called a Brimstone in a seaside bucket and there was just something about it that wholly captured my imagination. I’ve been fascinated by insects, and especially butterflies, ever since.

 

JP: What can you tell us about butterflies in general?

LD: There’re approximately 17,500 species of butterfly worldwide and 1,287 of them are found in Thailand. They’re ubiquitous apart from the polar regions and the highest mountains. Butterflies are important pollinators of many plants and are also considered a ‘benchmark’ group as they act as indicators to the health of the planet. As they are declining in numbers all around the world though the signs are not so good.

 

JP: Before you came here what was known about butterflies on Samui?

LD: Basically, very little. No scientific papers had been published about Samui specifically, but one had been written on the butterflies found around Donsak just over on the mainland. There was also a paper describing a new subspecies in 2006. Samui was also mentioned once in a paper written in 1991 by a Japanese collector.

 

JP: Since you’ve been here what have you added to the knowledge base?

LD: My current species list stands at 321 on Samui. This is the first time that most of them have been recorded and documented. This number is extremely high for an island of Samui’s size. This is primarily due to its geographical position near the Isthmus of Kra. About 20,000 years ago there was a sea connection from the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand. The animal groups from the north of this divide were different to those from the south of it. Since its closure the different species have been able to mingle and Samui has species from both.

 

JP: Dispel a myth for us, what’s the life span of a butterfly?

LD: Most people seem to think that an adult butterfly only lives for one or two days. This is incorrect; the adults can live for anything from two weeks up to several months depending on the species.

 

JP: On Samui are there any butterfly species that are unusual?

LD: The island is home to a large number of species considered to be rare or very rare throughout their range. Samui (and possibly Koh Pha-Ngan) is the only place where you can find a special subspecies called the Adamson’s Rose. It was only described in 2006 based on a specimen collected at Hin Lad Waterfall.

 

JP: Is it likely that further new species will be discovered on Samui?

LD: I have already added two new species to my list this year and I have no doubt that there’re still some more to find. I estimate the true number of species on Samui is probably between 335 and 350. Also, there’re 18 species found near Donsak which haven’t been recorded here yet. It’s possible that some will take the short flight over and settle here in the future.

 

JP: You’re well known for exploring the hills and mountains of Samui, where do you go?

LD: I tend to head for the hills on the less developed western side of the island and I generally look for areas with a rich variety of undisturbed vegetation. Long, rambling hikes don’t usually produce good results, focusing on small specific areas that have the right conditions are best. And you do need to be patient. The new road across the island from Maenam to Lamai is an area I am looking forward to exploring as it has opened up parts of the interior that I’ve not been to before.

 

JP: How do you record your findings and what do you do with the information?

LD: It’s unfortunate that for scientific purposes, if one is to publish a paper in a scientific journal as I am in the process of doing, it is necessary to have a dead specimen for examination. This is not something I am happy about, but rules are rules, photographs are simply not accepted. Accordingly, I do have a small collection of a single example of most species. I far prefer to photograph them in the wild and I have taken thousands of shots over the years.

 

JP: What other wildlife to you encounter on your walks?

LD: I come across many snakes, lizards, birds, squirrels and any number of fascinating insects other than butterflies. The only things I tend to steer clear of are the giant centipedes which have a very painful bite and the red ‘Keranga’ ants as I have discovered that I’m allergic to their stings. Because so little is known about insects from the south of Thailand I always try to take photos of other insects and so far I have found a dragonfly species and two beetle species previously unrecorded.

 

JP: You’ve been on a number of expeditions to other countries tell us a little about them.

LD: I belong to the Butterfly Circle, a group of butterfly photographers based in Singapore. Every once in a while we organize trips to a National Park somewhere. We normally stay deep in the jungle at the research centres set up for scientists. I loved Endau-Rompin in Johore, Malaysia and also the Danum Valley Park in Sabah, Borneo. And I recently came back from the South Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. Every year I also go over to the mainland and travel around one the southern provinces of Thailand, predominately in the jungle areas. They’re what Sir David Attenborough would call ‘my natural habitat’ and it’s where I feel the most relaxed.

 

JP: You’re about to set off on another expedition, what do you hope to achieve?

LD: At the end of June I’m again travelling to Sabah but this time we’re going to the Maliau Basin. This is now a fully protected area and was only discovered by accident in 1948 and was first partially explored in 1982. Around 80% of it is still unexplored. No work on insects has been done there yet so I have no idea what we will find. I know that there’re critically endangered animals there such as the Sumatran rhino and orangutans. I feel very privileged that the Malaysian authorities have allowed us to go there and it’s an incredible feeling to be part of a team that is exploring some of the last true wilderness and jungle areas in the world.

 

JP: Finally Les, how can people find out more about what you do and about the wildlife on Samui?

LD: I have a new website, www.samuibutterflies.com, that you can visit and contact me through. I’m happy to try and provide identifications or help with information on butterflies and indigenous insects. I’m also working on a book about butterflies on Samui and would be delighted if any resorts or corporate organisations would like to get involved in the project. I’m sure that visitors to the island would love to know about the wildlife that’s right outside their hotel rooms and in the gardens they wander through every day.

 

Johnny Paterson

 


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