In Greek mythology the term ‘nymph’ refers to a creature of haunting beauty. And anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed a Ceylon tree nymph butterfly (Idea iasonia) would attest to how aptly it is named. Predominantly found in the wet evergreen forests, it is characterized by having translucent, slivery-white wings adorned with black veins, and numerous oval black spots.
It was while wandering down a gravel road through the Knuckles forest that I encountered one. There in a pocket of sunlight opened up in the forest canopy ahead, was its shimmering form gliding just below the trees. It is this slow, effortless, ‘falling leaf’ like descent that renders the tree nymph its magical, alluring nature. Making the spiraling flight males perform, sprinkling the female with dust-like scent particles during courtship, represent an aerial waltz.
Delicate as it may be this creature is not entirely defenseless. Its body contains toxins procured as a caterpillar, as well as certain chemicals gained from adult food sources. And their striking black-and-white coloration signals this, deterring their predators, like in the case of small mammals such as the skunk. Which is why sometimes the tree nymph is spotted leisurely flying amidst groups of birds unharmed.