Butterfly Muse

Monday, May 19, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Cruiser

Butterflies Galore!
The Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella)

This medium sized butterfly is regularly seen in the forests in Singapore. With a wingspan of about 70-80 cm, the brightly-coloured orange male is very noticeable when it flutters amongst the shrubbery and along forest paths. Males are a rich fulvous orange above, with a paler discal band. The underside is similarly coloured, but paler, with a distinct brown post-discal stripe across both wings.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, where the female is pale-greenish grey with a prominent post-discal white band across both wings. The ocelli on the female's wings are larger and orange-ringed. Both sexes have a short pointed tail at vein 4 of the hindwing. The male is often encountered puddling at sandy streambanks in the forested nature reserves as is shown here. More photos of the Cruiser can be found here.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Green Oakblue

Butterflies Galore!
The Green Oakblue (Arhopala eumolphus maxwelli)

The male Green Oakblue is one of three extant species of the genus Arhopala that features metallic green uppersides instead of the usual purple or dark blue uppersides that are more common amongst the species in the genus. The female of the Green Oakblue, however, features purple uppersides with broad black borders on both wings (shown above). The species was re-discovered in Singapore some time in late 2007 in a patch of forested area near a reservoir park. The full life history has been documented here. Click on the link to see the male of the Green Oakblue.

The underside of the Green Oakblue is typical Arhopala - brown with the usual striations. One of the key distinguishing markings is the post-discal spot in space 4 on the forewing being out of line with the spots above and below it. The species is considered moderately rare, but is very local and at times, several individuals may be spotted together. This pristine female Green Oakblue was shot by young ButterflyCircle member, Jonathan Soong.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Plain Tiger

Butterflies Galore! 
The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus)

The Plain Tiger is a common urban species that has been spreading around Singapore's parks and gardens ever since its caterpillar host plants, Calotropis gigantea and Asclepias curassavica, have been cultivated as butterfly-attracting plants. Back in the 1990's, the species was relatively unknown in the urban environment. Today, it can be considered to be abundant in the vicinity of butterfly gardens where its host plants can be found.

A medium-sized and colourful butterfly, it flies slowly and will usually not go unnoticed by the casual observer visiting our parks and gardens. The mating pair perched on the red cultivar of the Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica), shows the male (top) and female (bottom). Note that the male Plain Tiger has an extra black spot on the hindwing. This mating pair was shot yesterday at the Gardens By the Bay's open butterfly garden.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 1 : Changes Due to Socially Unacceptable Reasons

A pair of mating Niggers (!!)

After the excitement and fanfare of our most recent butterfly book, featuring butterflies from the South East Asian countries of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand died down, I managed to find some time to read the book in greater detail. Also, remembering some of the principles elaborated by Dr Kirton at his talk during the launch, I went about analysing some of the background behind the English Common name updates in the book.

Dr Laurence Kirton speaks at his book launch in Singapore

At Dr Kirton's talk, he outlined the basic rationale behind what caused him to change some of the more widely used English common names in the region. Whether these name changes would cause further confusion amongst the butterfly enthusiasts or not, or will become standard usage in time to come, would depend on the general acceptance amongst the stakeholders.

As English common names are certainly not within the exclusive domain of scientists, taxonomists or academics, these names can be coined by practically anyone who has more than a fleeting interest in butterflies. Naming conventions and fundamental rationale can sometimes be illogical and often defy common comprehension. Some names appear logical and obvious - dependent on the physical attributes of the butterfly species concerned, whilst others have dubious associations at best, or even appear questionable.

A Lesser Darkie perches on a leaf

Through common usage, some of these names have spread across the region amongst butterfly enthusiasts - some have stuck through their popularity, whilst others vary depending on the country of origin, and the 'authorities' who have named them. It is often confusing, when a particular species carries different English names in different countries. I will not go into the Chinese common names in this article, though I was told that in certain cases, a single species can have up to 6 or 7 Chinese common names across the Chinese-speaking countries!

© Dr Laurence Kirton, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)

Dr Kirton outlined the following basic principles that he adopted in his latest book, which determined whether he made changes (or not) to the English common names of butterflies in the region :
  1. Where the original name is socially unacceptable / derogatory
  2. Where the name has incorrect syntax or grammar
  3. Where the original name refers to a people group
  4. Where the same name is used for different species
  5. Where multiple names are used for the same species
  6. Where different regions use different names
He went on to clarify that "Common names usually follow as closely as possible to WA Evans' (1927) "The Identification of Indian Butterflies" : Bombay Natural History Society, Madras 302 pp.

Whilst most of us would not have any issue with the principles above, the devil would be in the details and the rationale for the continued adoption of the 'common usage' names or not, would have to be evaluated and discussed from various alternative perspectives and points of view.

For a start, I will discuss the name change for four species of butterflies which I would deem as necessary. The rationale behind the name change would be that the original names in today's politically-sensitive environment, would fall under the category of being "socially unacceptable and/or derogatory". I had, some years back, written a piece on a butterfly that was unfortunate enough to be called a Nigger. Perhaps in an era when life was more simple and straightforward, such names would not offend anyone, but today, such a name would be considered derogatory to certain ethnic groups, and deemed unacceptable.

© Dr Laurence Kirton, FRIM

In Dr Kirton's detailed explanations during his talk about the Nigger made a lot of sense. We support the new name coined for the species Orsotriaena medus cinerea and it will henceforth be called Dark Grass Brown. Other names suggested earlier, either already in print or on the internet are :
  • "Blackie" - by Kazuhisa Otsuka in Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia, 2001
  • "Jungle Brown" - by Smith, 1989
  • "Dusky Bush Brown" and "Smooth Eyed Bush Brown" by Braby 1997 and 2010
  • "Medus Bush Brown" - by Kunte et al, 2014

Three other species found in Singapore, also having names which are considered derogatory and have been changed in Dr Kirton's book, belong to the Miletinae subfamily. The earlier innocuous names are now considered ethnic slurs - labels used used as insinuations or allegations about members of a given ethnicity or to refer to them in a derogatory (critical or disrespectful), pejorative (disapproving or contemptuous), or insulting manner in the English-speaking world.

From Darkie to Darlie - the evolution of a name and logo of a popular toothpaste brand in Asia

The first of the common names is "Darkie". In the list of ethnic slurs, the word "darkie" refers to a black person (similar to Nigger) and is highly likely to cause offense to certain ethnic groups. In the consumer product world, a toothpaste company, Hawley & Hazel, used to market a popular brand of toothpaste called "Darkie". The brand well-known in Asia and Australasia, was subsequently rebranded as "Darlie" some time in 1989 to avoid the politically-incorrect and potentially derogatory reference to Afro-Americans.

Lesser Darkie will now be called Lesser Darkwing

In our butterfly world, there is a species known as the Lesser Darkie (Allotinus unicolor unicolor). The English common name is a bit of a mystery, as the butterfly neither black or has any features that suggest the name. Dr Kirton has renamed this species as the Lesser Darkwing. It is a name that avoids the controversy of an ethnic slur and appears to be safe for use without offending anyone. So Lesser Darkwing it will be!

Bigg's Brownie will now be called Bigg's Brownwing

A third generic common name, which also has ethnically derogatory connotations, particular in common usage in the United States, is the "Brownie". Whilst less well-known than Nigger and Darkie, the word Brownie is generally used as a derogatory slur to refer to a :
a. (US) a person of mixed white and black ancestry; a mulatto.
b. (US) a young, brown-skinned person 1940s–1950s.
c. (US) derogatory name to refer to brown Mexican people.

Blue Brownwing, underside and (inset) upperside of the wings

There was even a recent article that highlights the use of the word "Brownie" (in a non-complimentary way) to refer to US President Barack Obama! Hence, the avoidance of the potentially controversial word "Brownie" is timely and should be removed from our butterflies' names as well.  Having said that, however, I wonder when someone will change the name of my favourite chocolate "brownie" dessert! But that is certainly another debate for another forum.

Blue Brownie will now be called Blue Brownwing

In Singapore, we have the Blue Brownie (Miletus symethus petronius) and the Bigg's Brownie (Miletus biggsii biggsii). Along the same logical lines of naming the Darkwings, Dr Kirton also suggests a name change from Brownie to Brownwing.  So Miletus symethus will now be called Blue Brownwing, whilst Miletus biggsii will be renamed as Bigg's Brownwing.

Bigg's Brownie will now be called Bigg's Brownwing

In summary, these are the four species relevant to the Singapore butterfly fauna that ButterflyCircle will be making changes to - from Nigger to Dark Grass Brown; from Lesser Darkie to Lesser Darkwing; from Blue Brownie to Blue Brownwing and from Bigg's Brownie to Bigg's Brownwing.  We accept these changes due to the rationale that Dr Kirton has articulated in his presentation, and we see no reason to disagree with the reasons behind the change.  However, there is still room for debate, and the changes to the English common names, like the regular taxonomic revisions to species' scientific names, will probably not be cast in stone!

Blue Brownie will now be called Blue Brownwing

Whilst our hardcopy Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore 2010 has used these original names and no amendments can be made at this point in time, any future editions will make these changes accordingly. Our online collaterals will make the changes henceforth. All the four species' names fall under the collective category of "socially unacceptable" or "derogatory" in terms of negative ethnic slurs.

We will evaluate other name changes as proposed by Dr Kirton in our forthcoming blog articles, where various ButterflyCircle members have given their opinions which may not necessarily concur with Dr Kirton's proposed name changes. These will be dealt with eventually, and discussions will be made regarding our opinions which offer contrarian and alternative viewpoints to those raised by Dr Kirton.

Farewell Nigger, Hello Dark Grass Brown!

In the meantime, we will take our time to digest and try to understand the backgrounds behind some of these name changes and we will not rush to make any hasty changes. Some of these original names have sentimental, emotional, historical or even nationalistic (!) connotations, and even if the names are changed, it may take a long time before they become widely accepted for daily usage amongst butterfly enthusiasts.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF,  Tan BJ, Benedict Tay & Mark Wong

References : 

  • List of Ethnic Slurs - Source - Wikipedia
  • List of Ethnic Slurs by Ethnicity - Source : FileSharingTalk
  • A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of P. Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand, Laurence G Kirton : John Beaufoy Publishing 2014
  • [C&P1] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 1st Edition, Kyle & Palmer, 1934.
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Pale Grass Blue

Butterflies Galore!
The Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

This species was first discovered by veteran ButterflyCircle member Steven Neo in 2001. Photographs that were sent to Col Eliot in 2003 were verified by him that this the taxon Zizeeria maha serica which originates from Hong Kong. The Pale Grass Blue may have hitched a ride into Singapore via horticultural material imported from the region. The caterpillar host plant of this species is the Yellow Wood Sorrell (Oxalis corniculata). The full life history is recorded here.

The Pale Grass Blue is often confused with the two local Grass Blue species - the Lesser Grass Blue and the Pygmy Grass Blue. However, when a shot of the three species is available, identification is usually not a problem. The underside markings of the Pale Grass Blue are more pronounced and darker. Males are a light blue on the upperside whilst females are a greyish blue. This shot was taken by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong in his urban garden.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Chocolate Albatross

Butterflies Galore!
The Chocolate Albatross (Appias lyncida vasava)

The Chocolate Albatross is a fast-flying Pierid that has been recorded in Singapore as a rare seasonal migrant.  At this point in time, it has not established a resident colony in Singapore yet, but the species is regularly sighted almost every year during the peak butterfly season in the region. In Malaysia, the species is common and can even be described as abundant during certain times of the year.

This year, in 2014, there have been more sightings of this species in many locations around the island - from urban areas to nature reserves. Many males and females have been sighted over the past weeks in late March and April. Eggs of the Chocolate Albatross have also been observed on its host plant - Crateva religiosa at an urban park. Are we observing the beginnings of the naturalisation of this species in Singapore? We'll have to wait and see. This shot of a male Chocolate Albatross was taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH last weekend.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Life History of the Besta Palm Dart

Life History of the Besta Palm Dart (Telicota besta bina)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Telicota Moore, 1881
Species: besta Evans, 1949
Sub-species: bina Evans, 1949
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 39-48mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Ottochloa nodosa (Poaceae; common name: Slender Panic Grass), Scleria bancana (Cyperaceae; common name: Winged Scleria).

A female Besta Palm Dart.

A male Besta Palm Dart.

A view of the upperside of a male Besta Palm Dart, showing the male brand.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are black with an orange post-discal band on the forewing running from the dorsum and bent over at vein 6 to continue along the costal margin. The orange-yellow post-discal band on the hindwing runs from vein 1b to space 6. The veins crossing the orange-yellow bands on both wings are black-dusted. The male has a grey brand from about the middle of vein 1b to vein 4 on the forewing. The brand is located nearer to the inner edge of the black discal fascia than to tis outer edge. On the underside, the wings are ochreous with post-discal bands outlined with black. The female is greenish ochreous on the hindwing.

A female Besta Palm Dart.

A view of the upperside of a female Besta Palm Dart.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Besta Palm Dart is moderately common in Singapore. The adults are strong flyers and are typically sighted along the forest edge amongst the grassy undergrowth. The swift flying adults have been observed to visit flowers and sunbath with open-wings in sunny weather.

Early Stages:
Locally in Singapore, Besta Palm Dart has thus far been observed to utilize a common grass species, Ottochloa nodosa, and a moderately common sedge species Scleria bancana as larval food plants. The caterpillars feed on leaves of the host plant in all instars and live in leaf shelters. As the caterpillar grows in size through progressing instars, it migrates to ever larger shelters constructed by joining cut leaf fragments or the opposite edges of a single blade.

Local host plant #1: Ottochloa nodosa.

Local host plant #2: Scleria bancana.

A leaf shelter of the Besta Palm Dart observed in the field.

The eggs are laid singly on a leaf blade of the host plant, typically on the underside. Each dome-shaped egg is creamy white and appears to be smooth to the naked eyes. A closer inspection reveals numerous short, discontinuous and irregular tiny ridges running in a longitudinal direction. Each egg has a diameter of about 1.1mm.

An egg of the Besta Palm Dart laid on the underside of a leaf blade.

Two views of an egg of the Besta Palm Dart, diameter: 1.1mm.

It takes about 4 days for the egg to hatch. The young caterpillar eats just enough of the shell to emerge, and then immediately proceeds to finish the remaining egg shell. The newly hatched has a length of about 2.9mm. Its pale yellowish body is cylindrical in shape with a small number of very short and tiny dorso-lateral and lateral setae. There is a tuff of long setae on the posterior segment. It has a black head and a black collar on the prothorax

Two views of a mature egg with a portion of the egg shell already eaten.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar eating its egg shell.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, early in this intar, length: 2.9mm.

After consuming the egg shell, the newly hatched caterpillar constructs its first leaf shelter,  typically at the tip of a leaf blade. The body takes on a dark undertone after a few feeding sessions on the leaf. The 1st instar takes a total of 4 days to complete with body length reaching about 6mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 4.8mm.

A late 1st instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5.8mm.

The body of the 2nd instar caterpillar resembles that of the first instar, but with the dark collar on the prothorax now vaguely present. The setae at the posterior end are now proportionately shorter and the anal plate takes on a greyish coloration. The body colour is mainly yellowish green with a dark green undertone. This instar lasts about 4 days with the body length reaching up to 10mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 7.8mm.

The 3nd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar except for a more yellowish green body colour and the nearly indistinguishable collar mark on the prothorax. In contrast, the anal plate is now marked prominently in black. This instar lasts a total of 3-4 days with the body length reaching about 15mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 9.8mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 11mm.

Two views of a late 3rd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 14.5mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar resembles the 3rd instar caterpillar closely. In some specimens, the head capsule has pale grey or brown lateral patches which are rather indistinct. This instar lasts 5-6 days with the body length reaching about 23-24mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 4th instar caterpillar.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 20mm.

Two views of a late 4th instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 23mm.

The 5th instar brings along a prominent change in the head capsule which now has two large pale brown lateral patches separated by dark band lining the epicranial suture. The body is now predominantly yellow with a a green undertone. The black marking on the anal plate has been observed to vary in size and shape among different specimens.

A newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar, length: 21.5mm.

Two views of a male 5th instar caterpillar, length: 26.5mm.

The 5th instar takes about 10-11 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 34-36mm, In the last day of this instar, the body gradually shorten and changes colour to beige purplish brown. The caterpillar ceases feeding and whitish powdery substance begin to appear on its ventrum. Next it proceeds to seal the shelter it is in with silk threads. Soon the caterpillar becomes dormant in this pupation shelter. This prepupatory phase lasts for about 1 day.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 31mm.

A pupation shelter opened to reveal  a pre-pupa of The Besta Palm Dart.

Pupation takes place within the leaf shelter. The pupa does not have a cremastral attachment nor a silk girdle and it is mainly secured with tightly woven silk threads in the shelter. It has a short thorax, a rather long abdomen, and a few tuffs of setae at the anterior segment. The body is dark brown in the thorax and wing pad areas, but orangy brown in the abdomen. Length of pupae: 22-23mm.

Two views of a pupa of the Besta Palm Dart, length:22mm.

Close up views of the anterior end of a pupa of the Besta Palm Dart.

After 9 days, the pupa becomes dark brown with the thorax and wing pads mostly black. The orange markings present on the forewing upperside are now visible through the now translucent pupal skin. Eclosion takes place the next day.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Besta Palm Dart.

A newly eclosed Besta Palm Dart.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S.K., Ink On Paper Communications, 2010.
Text and Photos by Horace Tan.
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