Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 - The Year in Review

ButterflyCircle 2012
The Year In Review

This will be the final weekend feature article for 2012 as we wrap up and close for the year. We look ahead to 2013 with hope and anticipation that our beloved winged jewels will continue to thrive and flourish in our environment on the tiny equatorial island of Singapore. We also look forward to more new discoveries and re-discoveries of species that will be included in the Singapore Checklist of Butterflies.

A Dry-Season Form Bush Brown during the wet season in Singapore?

Throughout the year, this blog recorded a total of 95 articles including this one. A reasonable achievement and an all-time record, considering that in 2011 we did a total of 73 articles which was the highest number of articles since we started this blog. Once again, many thanks to Horace Tan for his meticulous recording of the early stages of Singapore's butterflies, and also to all our members of ButterflyCircle who unselfishly shared their excellent photographs to give that extra quality to the articles on this blog.

Samples of Horace Tan's life history work

Horace recorded a total of 22 excellent Life History articles this year - with the complete photographic record of each species' from egg to all caterpillar instars to pupa. In many cases, video recordings of pupation and eclosion are also captured in vivid detail! There are few, if any, comparable work that records the butterflies' early stages with such meticulousness and detail.

Indeed, it was Horace's efforts that yielded ButterflyCircle's second book on the Caterpillars of Singapore's Butterflies.  This book, published by the National Parks Board, was launched successfully on 26 May 2012.  It was the culmination of many months of hard work by the NParks team (Rachel, Li-San and Linda), Horace and myself to put the book together from design, content, proof-reading and the final printing.  It was indeed a satisfying project for all involved and the effort paid off when we saw the final product.  It was an achievement for ButterflyCircle to have contributed to nature education and sharing of knowledge with specific reference to Singapore's butterflies.

A collage of ButterflyCircle members at the Festival of Biodiversity

Also in 2012, ButterflyCircle was featured at the Festival of Biodiversity.  The Festival was jointly organised by the National Parks Board and the Biodiversity Roundtable as a platform to showcase the nature community's efforts and raise awareness of Singapore's biodiversity.  We are proud to have been featured as a standalone community of butterfly enthusiasts and given recognition for the work that ButterflyCircle has done to promote the conservation of butterflies in Singapore.

Tampines-Changkat Butterfly Garden and Nature Centre featured in a media report

ButterflyCircle members also contributed to the creation of a Butterfly Garden at Tampines-Changkat.  The brainchild of Member of Parliament Ms Irene Ng, the Butterfly Garden was set up by a community group that has seen the Butterfly Garden featured in many publications and media articles.  Following the success of the Butterfly Garden, the new Tampines-Changkat Nature Centre was set up and declared open on 1 Sep 2012 by Ms Irene Ng.  This Nature Centre functions as an education resource for nature enthusiasts and a meeting place for like-minded volunteers in Tampines-Changkat.  More plans are in store for 2013!

Our four new butterfly species discoveries in 2012

A total of four new butterfly species were discovered in the year.  These were the Common Jester, Plain Puffin, Banded LineBlue and the Yellow Flat.  Three of the species were discovered by ButterflyCircle member Federick Ho (he must be extra lucky this year to have the Butterfly Fairy smile on him three times!).  By a "discovery" we mean that the species has not previously been recorded before by the early authors, collectors and researchers.  All four species can be found in Malaysia, but have never been listed on any Singapore checklist before.

There are several other species pending confirmation or further validation, so we will leave those for 2013 or when the species are confirmed with a good level of certainty by experts. Most of these unconfirmed species belong to the families of Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae, of which there are many lookalikes that may give some element of doubt without careful validation.


In March 2012, this blog also started a Random Butterfly Gallery series that showcases the excellent photography of ButterflyCircle's members.  The series adds more colour and frequency to the blog articles in between the longer and more detailed weekly feature and life history articles.  

Favourite Butterfly Nectaring Plants series

In June 2012, we also commenced a new series on Favourite Butterfly Nectaring Plants, starting with the Snakeweed which was followed by the StringBush. More plants will be added in future articles and the information will be useful for those who are planning on setting up their own little butterfly garden or just planting to attract butterflies.

In July 2012, ButterflyCircle also played host to US researcher Melissa Whitaker who is pursuing her Doctorate at the University of California, Davis.  Her subject matter involves the study of butterly-ant relationships or myrmecophily. Melissa was on a tour of SouthEast Asian countries to collect material for her research when she dropped by Singapore for a couple of days to learn more about our local butterfly fauna.

ButterflyCircle and the Caterpillars of Singapore's Butterflies were also featured in NParks online newsletter, My Green Space.  The prolific fellow-blogger, Dr Wee Yeow Chin of the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) also chipped in and shared his stories of breeding the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas).  I have always admired Dr Wee for his hard work and sharing of articles of interest about birds, and has contributed more, in terms of educating nature enthusiasts and the layman alike, than any other birder has done.


The five-year running series, Butterfly of the Month, saw the continuation of the long-running feature articles showcasing our beautiful flying jewels with 12 more species featured in each month of 2012. Which one is your personal favourite Butterfly of the Month in 2012? Do post a message on this blog and let us know.

Exotic butterfles from Sulawesi and Taiwan

ButterflyCircle members also organised group outings beyond Singapore's shores to learn more about butterflies in the region. Trip reports and mouth-watering butterfly photos from various locations in Thailand, Sulawesi, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia can be found at our forums.

A Butterflies of Singapore FaceBook Group was also set up, and the active site has daily posts from members from all over the world. The membership is growing steadily and at the time of this article, has already gone past 460 members.

All in all, it has been a very eventful year for ButterflyCircle.  We hope to continue by sharing our members' works and stories in 2013 and for as long as we can.  It is encouraging that besides the founding senior members and stalwarts in ButterflyCircle, we also have young and talented members who have joined us as well.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our members and readers of this blog a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Federick Ho, Goh Eng Chuan, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan, Tan CP, Lemon Tea, Anthony Wong & Benjamin Yam

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Random Gallery - Common Rose

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris)

The Common Rose would hardly be "common" as its name would suggest, if not for the cultivation of its host plants - Aristolochia spp. in various parks, gardens and landscaping projects in Singapore. Brought back from the brink of extinction, the species is now found in areas where its host plants thrive.  Continued cultivation of its caterpillar host plants will ensure the conservation of this species in the Singapore butterfly fauna.

The butterfly is usually active, flying almost non-stop for long periods of time, continuing to flap its wings, even as it slows down to feed on flowering plants.  Occasionally, it stops to rest with its wings opened flat on the top surfaces of leaves, but it is skittish and takes of quickly if it senses any movement nearby. This shot of an in-flight Common Rose feeding on the flowers of the Snakeweed was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF last weekend at Hort Park.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013!
From ButterflyCircle

Here's wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers and members of ButterflyCircle.

The feature butterfly this year is the recently-discovered Yellow Flat (Mooreana trichoneura trichoneura). Perched as a "tree-topper" decoration on a Christmas tree, this Flat celebrates the end of another good year for ButterflyCircle and its members.

As we prepare for the festive cheer of the season, do be happy and thankful for the little things that we enjoy in life (like butterflies!) and to appreciate everything that we have.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Life History of the Banded Swallowtail

Life History of the Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Papilio Linnaeus, 1758
Species: demolion
Cramer, 1776
Subspecies: demolion
Cramer, 1776VUWingspan of Adult Butterfly: 75-95mm
Caterpillar Host Plants: Luvunga crassifolia (Rutaceae), Luvunga scandens (Rutaceae), Melicope lunu-ankenda (Rutaceae).

A male Banded Swallowtail resting at a leaf perch.

A female Banded Swallowtail resting at a leaf perch.

Partial upperside views of the Banded Swallowtail showing one key difference (circled) between the two sexes.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, both sexes are black with a macular band of pale greenish spots extending from the forewing apex to the hindwing's mid-dorsum. The hindwing has a series of submarginal pale greenish lunules and a black tornal spot embedded in a much larger orange spot. The female has the inner half of the lunule in space 2 further coloured in orange (see above pic). Underneath, both sexes are similar with the macular band and submarginal lunules in the hindwing much broader and the area between them subdivided into two series of black spots by patches of orange and bluish-green scales. There is a moderately long spatulate black tail at end of vein 4 in the hindwing. Mirroring the difference in the hindwing upperside, the female has half of the submarginal lunule in space 2 coloured orange (see highlight A in below pic). The sinusoidal marginal black band is continuous in spaces 6 and 7 in the male, but broken in the female (see highlight B in below pic).

Partial underside views of the Banded Swallowtail showing two key differences (circled, marked A, B) between the two sexes.

A male Banded Swallowtail puddling on wet ground.

A puddling male Banded Swallowtail.

Another puddling male Banded Swallowtail.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Banded Swallowtail is moderately common in Singapore. The adults can be found in the nature reserves, wastelands, mangrove habitats and in offshore islands like Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. The fast flying adults are frequently seen in flights along trails/tracks and while making occassional stops to visiting flowers growing in the surrounding vegetation. During cooler hours in early morning and late afternoon, adults could be found resting on leaf perches in an open wing manner. The males have been observed to puddle on wet grounds.

A Banded Swallowtail visiting flowers of a Syzygium plant.

A male Banded Swallowtail visiting Lantana flowers in a wasteland.

Early Stages:
The local host plants noted in recent breeding records are Luvunga crassifolia, Melicope luna-ankenda and Citrus spp., while Luvunga scandens was reported by Morrell in his 1957 paper in the Malayan Nature Journal. All these larval hosts belong to the Rutaceae family. The caterpillars of the Banded Swallowtail feed on leaves of the host plants, with those in early instars focusing on the young and tender leaves. They feed and rest in a gregarious manner in all 5 instars.

Local host plant #1: Luvunga crassifolia.

Local host plant #2: Melicope lunu-ankenda.

The eggs of the Banded Swallowtail are laid in a stacked manner, with varying number of eggs to each stack, either on a young shoot, a petiole or leaf surface of the host plant. Each yellowish egg is spherical with a diameter of about 1.1-1.2mm. The eggs are adhered to the substrate and to each other with a yellowish substance.

A female Banded Swallowtail laying its eggs in a stack on Melicope lunu-ankenda

A stick of 16 eggs of the Banded Swallowtail

A stick of 11 eggs of the Banded Swallowtail

Eggs of Banded Swallowtail. Left: 6 eggs; Right: 8 eggs.

Each egg takes about 3-4 days to hatch. The young caterpillar eats its way out of the mature egg, and then proceeds to finish up the rest of the egg shell. The emergence from eggs in the same stack is not synchronized in any particular order. Those emerging earlier and lower down the stack have been observed to not completely eating away the egg shell there, thereby avoiding the breaking of the stack. The whole stack is typically consumed fully by the group of newly hatcheds before they move on to their first leaf diet.

Left: Mature eggs. Right: newly hatched eating egg shells.

Each newly hatched is pale yellowish brown with a a body length of about 2.9mm-3mm. The head capsule is brown. On the body, there are two rows of short dorso-lateral tubular processes, each of which comes complete with a tuff of setae. Among these dorso-lateral processes, those on the prothorax, 8th and 9th abdominal segments are longer and larger. There are short lateral setae too.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 4mm.

As the 1st instar caterpillar grows up to a length of about 6-6.5mm, the body colour becomes yellowish to orangy brown throughout with a faint green undertone. The body appears enlarged and broadened laterally in the 3rd thoracic and the 1st abdominal segments. After about 3 days in this 1st instar, the caterpillar moults to the next instar. Typically a few of them would stay dormant together prior to the moulting event, and the moulting times could stagger over a span of 1 day.

A group of 1st instar caterpillars, early in this stage.

A group of four 1st instar caterpillars, late in this stage, length: 6.5mm.

The 2nd instar caterpillar has a few changes in its appearance as compared to the 1st instar caterpillar. Now the lateral setae and setae on dorso-lateral processes are much shorter and inconspicuous to the naked eyes, whereas the dorsal-lateral processes on the prothorax and on the 9th abdominal segments are much longer proportionately. Each of the two dorso-lateral processes on the 8th abdominal segment now has an enlarged circular base, giving it a conical appearance. The head capsule has changed to the same yellowish/orangy brown coloration as that on the body segments. This instar lasts about 2.5-3 days with the body length reaching up to 10.5mm-11mm before the next moult.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 7.5mm.

Dorsal views. Top: A late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult. Bottom: A newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar.

Lateral views. Top: A late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult. Bottom: A newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar.

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely. One change, visible in the late 2nd instar caterpillar, is the presence of white dorso-lateral spots on the 1st , 4th, 5th, 6th abdominal segments and the 3rd thoracic segment, with additional white lateral spots on the 3rd thoracic and 6th abdominal segments. There are additional small dorso-lateral and lateral protuberances on the thoracic segments and the 1st abdominal segments. This instar takes about 3-4 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 19mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 14mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 19mm.

A group of Banded Swallowtail caterpillars, likely in 3rd instar, sighted duirng a field trip.

The 4th instar caterpillar resembles the 3rd instar caterpillar closely. The dorso-lateral processess on the 8th abdominal segment, prominent and conical in earlier instars, are now much reduced in size and no longer conical in appearance. Additional lateral white spots are also visible on the 1st abdominal segment. This penultimate instar lasts about 4-5 days with body length reaching about 27-29mm. On the last day of this instar, the body colour of the dormant caterpillar has a strong dark green undertone. Moreover, on its body, the bands and stripes due for the next instar are vaguely visible.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 25mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 29.5mm.

A group of 4th instar caterpillars.

Left: late L4 caterpillars, dormant prior to moulting. Right: early L5 caterpillars, newly moulted.

The next moult brings the caterpillar to its 5th and final instar with a drastic change in appearance. There are still dorso-lateral processes on the prothorax, 5th and 8th abdominal segments, but they are much shorter, inconspicuous and tubular in appearance. Among the newly introduced markings are two dorso-lateral dark eye spots at the leading edge of the 3rd thoracic segment. The eye spots are linked with a dark yellowish brown transverse band which has several embedded white spots. Another transverse band, bright yellowish brown in colour, can be found at the posterior edge of the same body segment. A similarly coloured oblique bar, embedded with dark brown patches and blue spots, stretches from the base of the 4th abdominal segment to the dorsum of the 5th abdominal segment. A much shorter version can be found in the 6th abdominal segment. After the moult to 5th instar, the body ground color is initially dark green, but this changes gradually to an attractive shade of turquoise within a few hours.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in this instar, length: 33.5mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 41mm.

The 5th instar lasts for about 6-7 days, and the body length reaches up to 41-42mm. In the last 2-3 days, the body colour assumes a stronger green tone, and yellowish brown bands/stripes becomes much paler in colour tone, with some parts even turning whitish.

A group of late 5th instar caterpillars.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 42mm

As in the case of all Swallowtail butterflies, the Banded Swallowtail caterpillars in all instars and even the pre-pupal stage possess a fleshy organ called osmeterium in the prothoracic segment. The osmeterium is reddish brown in earlier instars but reddish to pinky red in the final instar. Usually hidden, the osmeterium can be everted to emit a foul-smelling secretion when the caterpillar is threatened.

The osmeterium of a pre-pupatory larva of the Banded Swallowtail.

Toward the end of the 5th instar, the body gradually shortens in length with the body base colour turning to bright green. Eventually the caterpillar comes to rest on the under surface of a stem or the petiole of a leaf. Here it stays dormant for a while before performing a purge of loose and wet frass pellets. It then spins a silk pad and a silk girdle to become an immobile pre-pupatory larva.

A pre-pupatory larva of the Banded Swallowtail. Left: early in this stage. Right: late, moments prior to pupation.

A Banded Swallowtail caterpillar molts to its pupal stage.

Pupation takes place a day later. The pupa suspends itself with a silk girdle from the substrate. There are two color forms. In the green form, the pupa is is mainly green with large yellowish green triangular patches on the dorsum of the abdominal segments. In the brown form, the pupa is mainly greyish brown with dark patches. Each pupa has a pair of cephalic horns and a dorsal thoracic hook-shaped process. The pupal body is angled in side view. Length of pupae: 31-32mm.

Lateral views of two forms of Banded Swallowtail pupae: brown form (top), green form (bottom).

Dorsal views of two forms of Banded Swallowtail pupae, brown form (left), green form(right).

  A green-form pupa of  Banded Swallowtail pupa observed in the field.

Three brown-form pupae of  Banded Swallowtail on the same branch.

After 12 days of development, the pupa turns black as the development within the pupal case comes to an end. The pale greenish band of spots on the forewing becomes visible through the pupal case. The next day the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case.

A mature pupa of the Banded Swallowtail.

A Banded Swallowtail adult emerges from its pupal case.

A newly eclosed female Banded Swallowtail clinging onto its pupal case.

A newly eclosed male Banded Swallowtail clinging onto its pupal case.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • 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.
  • Miscellaneous notes on Malayan Butterflies, Morrell R., Malay. Nat. J. 11: 95-100, 1957.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Henry Koh, Goh Lai Choon, Mark Wong, Ellen  Tan,  Chng CK, Anthony Wong, Sunny Chir, Khew SK and Horace Tan
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