Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Lime Butterfly

Butterflies Galore!
The Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

The caterpillars of the Lime Butterfly are often considered a pest of the domestic lime plant that is commonly cultivated as a garden plant. Used in Asian cooking, the green fruit of the lime plant is a common ingredient in many local dishes, usually as a garnishing. We have heard of the caterpillars of this species feeding on lime plants along the corridors at the 13th storey of our local public housing!

The butterfly is large and pretty, with black and yellow markings giving the butterfly an almost chequered appearance. The underside is predominantly yellow with black markings. The Lime Butterfly is fast flying but can often be photographed whilst it is visiting flowers, puddling, or just perching on shrubbery to rest. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Nona Ooi, shows the butterfly at rest.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Banded Swallowtail

Butterflies Galore!
The Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion)

The Basket Stinkhorn (Dictyophora indusiata) can be found in our nature reserves.  However, to encounter this beautiful mushroom, one has to go out early, as the netlike white veil will collapse and rot off by noon. The putrid odour emanating from this mushroom attracts flies, carrion beetles and the occasional butterfly.

The Banded Swallowtail shown here, was photographed feeding on the bulbous head of the Basket Stinkhorn. It returned repeatedly to the mushroom to feed and was 'tame' enough to be photographed although it flapped its forewings continuously as it fed, typical of the Papilio species.

Read more about the Stinkhorn mushroom at the Bird Ecology Study Group's website where Dr Wee Yeow Chin elaborates about this species of mushroom found in Singapore's forests.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Sumatran Sunbeam

Butterflies Galore!
The Sumatran Sunbeam (Curetis saronis sumatrana)

The Sumatran Sunbeam is one of two species of the genus Curetis that exists in Singapore. Although other species were recorded before, they remain elusive and besides the Malayan Sunbeam (Curetis santana malayica) the other species recorded by the early authors have not been reliably identified yet.

The Sumatran Sunbeam is usually found in the mangrove habitats in places like Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve, Pasir Ris Park Mangrove swamp and Pulau Ubin. It is a fast flyer, and females are more often seen than the males of this species. The Sumatran Sunbeam has a habit of flying rapidly, then perching on the underside of a leaf to hide. Two weekends ago, ButterflyCircle member Chng CK managed to capture a shot of this species, perched on the underside of a leaf with its wings folded upright.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : White Banded Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The White Banded Flat (Celaenorrhinus asmara asmara)

A colony of the White Banded Flat was re-discovered in Singapore by Nelson Ong and Yiming some time back in Feb 2011. Until then, it had been assumed that this species, recorded in the checklists of the early authors, was extinct. The surprising find ensured that the White Banded Flat would be re-instated to the Singapore Checklist once again.

Last week, ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot the White Banded Flat at its very local hideout. We are glad to know that the colony still thrives and does not appear to be in danger of disappearing just yet. But its existence in the Singapore butterfly list remains highly threatened.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Life History of the Malay Lacewing v2.0

Life History of the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina)
An earlier version of the life history of the Malay Lacewing can be viewed by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Cethosia Fabricius, 1807
Species: hypsea Doubleday, 1847
Subspecies: hypsina C. & R. Felder, 1867
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 60-80mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Adenia macrophylla var. singaporeana

A female Malay Lacewing showing its underside.

A female Malay Lacewing showing its upperside.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the forewings are black with a white subapical band beyond the cell; the basal area is orange-red for the male (with the red confined to the base of the wings) and black for the female (with a yellowish-white patch in mid space 1b). The hindwing is entirely orange-red (paler in the female) except for the scalloped black distal border. Underneath, the wings are orange-red with white fasciae and adorned with black spots. The forewing cell has several black-edged, pale blue transverse stripes. The wing borders are dark coloured and deeply indented with lace-like pattern of white markings. One distinguishing feature to separate Malay Lacewing from other Cethosia species is the absence of a white submarginal band on the hindwing underside.

A male Malay Lacewing showing its underside.

A male Malay Lacewing showing its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Malay Lacewing is essentially a forest dweller and its local occurrence is confined within the sanctuary of the nature reserves in the catchment areas. It is not uncommon in the reserves, and adults can be spotted visiting flowers of flowering plants such as Leea indica in forest clearings or alongside forest trails. At times, females can also be seen checking out leaves of various plants in search of an ovipositing site.

Early Stages:
The local host plant is a member of the Passifloraceae family. Also known as Singapore Adenia, it is a botanical variety of Adenia macrophylla which occurs only in Johor and Singapore. One prominent feature of this tendrillate climber is the pair of spatulate glands at the leaf blade base. Caterpillars of the Malay Lacewing feed on the young shoots and immature leaves of the host plant. The Malay Lacewing caterpillars are gregarious throughout all five instars, often eating, resting and moulting together in groups.

Caterpillar Local Host plant : Adenia macrophylla var. singaporeana

The eggs of the Malay Lacewing are laid in a moderately large cluster on the underside of a young leaf, on a young stem or even a tendril. Each egg is pale yellow, barrel-shapped with a ribbed surface. Height: ~1.3mm, diameter of cross section: ~1mm.

A female Malay Lacewing flying near an ovipositing site.

A cluster of fresh eggs of Malay Lacewing laid on a young shoot of the host plant.

Each egg takes about 5-6 days to mature. The young caterpillar nibble away sufficiently large portion of the egg shell to emerge, and does not bother to eat the remnant of the egg shell. The newly hatched has a cylindrical body in yellowish brown, and an initial body length of about 3mm. The body is covered in a grid of dark tubercles, each with a single long seta. The head is black and there is a pair of short black spines on the first thoracic segment. When feeding, the young caterpillar either skims the lamina on a young leaf or nibbles away at the tip of a young stem.

Close up views of an egg of the Malay Lacewing. Left: 2-day old; Right: mature egg with head capsule and setae discernible.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar, length: 3mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 4mm.

As the 1st instar caterpillar grows, the body color darkens to orange and finally to wine-red. A faint white saddle mark appears on the 4th abdominal segment initially, but turns prominently white when the caterpillar lies dormant to moult. After 2.5-3 days in the 1st instar and reaching a length of about 6-7mm, the caterpillar moults to the next instar.

A group of 1st instar caterpillars, dormant prior to their moult, length: 6-7mm

The 2nd instar caterpillar has a dark wine-red body colour, and the rows of tubercles in the 1st instar are replaced by 6 longitudinal rows of dark fine-pointed spines, 3 to each side of the body. The spines in uppermost two rows are the longest. A pair of short and black coronal spine appears on the head. The white saddle is prominently marked. This instar lasts about 2-2.5 days with the body length reaching about 10-13mm before the next moult.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 7.5mm.

A group of 2nd instar caterpillars, length: 11-13mm.

A late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 12.5mm.

The 3rd instar does not bring along any drastic change in physical appearance except for proportionately longer coronal spines (now about the same length as the height of the head capsule), and the larger and more distinct white saddle mark. This instar takes 2-3 days to complete with body length reaching about 16-18mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 13mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 18mm.

A group of 3rd instar caterpillars of the Malay Lacewing.

The coronal spines in the 4th instar caterpillar are again longer proportionately with the length of each spine about equal to the 1.5x height of the head capsule. The spines in the white body segment are now coloured entirely white except for their pointed tips. The upper half of the body is bright wine red, while the lower half is dark red. The 4th instar lasts about 3 days with body length reaching about 25-27mm.

A group of 4th instar caterpillars, early in this stage.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 24mm.

A group of 4th instar caterpillars, late in this stage, dormant prior to their moult.

The next moult brings the caterpillar to its 5th and final instar. The caterpillar retains the same body features as in the 4th instar. Now the coronal spines are about 2x the height of the head capsule. This instar lasts for 4 days with the body length reaching up to 35-40mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar.

A group of early 5th instar caterpillars.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length: 33mm.

A 5th instar caterpillar, length: 37mm.

Toward the end of 5th instar, the caterpillar stops feeding and moves around in search of a pupation site. Finally the caterpillar finds a spot on the underside of a leaf, stalk or stem to spin a silk pad to which it secures itself with the claspers at its posterior end. Now the caterpillar is an immobile pre-pupa, hanging vertically from this pupation site. At times, several of the pre-pupae could be found in close proximity. The pupation site needs not be on the host plant itself. In the wild, Malay Lacewing pupae have been found on other plants several metres from the host plant.

Three pre-pupatory larvae of the Malay Lacewing found on the underside of a leaf.

Three pupae of the Malay Lacewing, from the three pre-pupae shown in the picture above.

A Malay Lacewing caterpillar moults to its pupal stage.

Pupation takes place a day later. The pupa hangs vertically. It has two pairs of slender pointed white processes at the middle of its body and a number of less prominent dorsolateral processes. A pair of black foliaceous processes adorn the head. Body color is pale brown mottled with white and black patches, and several dorsal spots of bright gold. Length of pupae: 26-29mm.

Three views of a pupa of the Malay Lacewing. Left: lateral view; Middle: ventral view; Right: dorsal view.

After 6-7 days of development, the pupa becomes darkened. The next day the adult butterfly emerges to kick-start the around round of the life cycles for this species.

Three views of a mature pupa of the Malay Lacewing.

A Malay Lacewing emerges from its pupal case.

Newly eclosed Malay Lacewing clinging on to its pupal case. Left: female; Right: male.

  • [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.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Bobby Mun, Nelson Ong, Sunny Chir, Khew SK and Horace Tan.
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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Down Memory Lane - Singleton

Down Memory Lane
The Singleton (Una usta usta)

This small butterfly, known as the Singleton, was recorded in the checklists of the early collectors and the authors of the two main reference books on butterflies of Malaysia and Singapore. The male of the Singleton is deep brownish purple above, whilst the female is lighter but has a broad border on both wings. The underside is pale buff brown with prominent black spots on both wings.

It is not known why the butterfly disappeared from Singapore, or when it did. It is reported that the Singleton is nowhere considered common, even in Malaysia. However, on ButterflyCircle members' trips up north, males of this species are quite regularly encountered puddling on damp riverbanks. In looking back at the numerous butterfly surveys in Singapore, starting in the early 1990s, no one has thus far seen the Singleton. Will it be back here again one day? Or will it remain only in our memories and is gone forever from Singapore?

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Orange Emigrant

Butterflies Galore!
The Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia)

Amongst the three species of the genus Catopsilia in Singapore, the Orange Emigrant gets my vote for being the prettiest of the three. Fast-flying and erratic in flight, this Pierid is common and more so whenever its caterpillar host plants, Senna fistula and Senna surattensis are cultivated. The underside of the Orange Emigrant is orange-yellow with brown markings. The upperside of the forewings is white with black borders whilst the hindwings are orange-yellow.

This Orange Emigrant is feeding on the flower of the Lantana, an all-time favourite nectaring plant for butterflies. The pink variety, shown here, is less popular with butterflies compared to the orange and red varieties. The proboscis of the butterfly can be seen coated with pollen from the stamens of the flower. Butterflies are good pollinators of flowering plants when they go about feeding on nectar from the flowers.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Spotted Black Crow

Butterflies Galore!
The Spotted Black Crow (Euploea crameri bremeri)

The subfamily Danainae, often referred to by their collective English Common name of "Tigers and Crows" display aposematic colouration as a warning to predators that they are distasteful and should be avoided. One such species, the Spotted Black Crow is predominantly black in colour, with typical white spots on its wings which is characteristic of several species of the Euploea genus.

This Spotted Black Crow, shot last weekend, kept returning again and again to the flowers of the Stringbush to feed, even when disturbed. A moderately rare species, the Spotted Black Crow is often observed on the landward side of mangrove areas in Singapore. Its caterpillars feed on Apocynaceae plants which are lactiferous. It is the chemical compound in the host plant that gives the adult butterfly its distasteful properties.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Peacock Pansy

Butterflies Galore!
The Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana javana)

The Peacock Pansy is one of four Pansies found in Singapore. Sun-loving butterflies, all the four belong to the genus Junonia, of which there are six species in the Southeast Asian region. Two of them, the Lemon Pansy and the Yellow Pansy are not found this far south. In flight, the Pansies are fast on the wing and adopt a rapid gliding flight.

The Peacock Pansy is predominantly orange with large eyespots adorning both wings. The underside is paler with the same markings and ocelli as the upperside. The caterpillars of this species feed on the Creeping Ruellia (Ruellia repens). The species is fairly common and usually found in open grassy areas. This perching Peacock Pansy was shot by ButterflyCircle member Nona Ooi last weekend.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Butterfly of the Month - July 2013

Butterfly of the Month - July 2013
The Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes)

Last month's haze is but a memory now, blown away as quickly as the prevailing winds changed. Our northern neighbour, Malaysia received a good dose of the polluted air before the rains came and it was over as suddenly as it started, despite reaching hazardous levels in terms of air quality. The forest fires in Sumatra were blamed on the slash-and-burn method that was used to clear large tracts of land - mainly for the cultivation of oil palm. As we picked up our lives and continued with our daily routines again, after the record-breaking PSI of 401, one wonders when the next wave of the polluted smog will return again.

Whilst regulations are in place to prohibit the open burning of forests and plantations, enforcement and other punitive measures to ensure that such burning does not recur is another matter altogether. It is interesting to see how the Indonesian government gets its act together to prevent such irresponsible burning in future. Fortunately, political pressures at the diplomatic level, together with the favourable change in weather ended the July 2013 haze quickly.

Over in Singapore, after the disruptive conditions caused by the haze, Singapore experienced another abnormal weather phenomenon in the form of a hail storm in the afternoon of 25 June. Hail is a form of solid precipitation and consists of irregular lumps of ice dropping with the rain. Hail is supposedly caused by supercooled water droplets freezing on contact with particles in the air, such as dust, during a thunderstorm. Whilst the authorities declined to conclude that the hailstorm was caused by the haze, we are left to form our own opinions, considering that haze is certainly contributing to "particles in the air" as the rains fell.

July was of course an exciting month for biodiversity in Singapore, with the 2nd Festival of Biodiversity held at VivoCity. ButterflyCircle contributed a video, which basically summarises the group's work in butterfly conservation and research, as well as featured the members' high quality photographs. NParks mentioned that the visitorship over the weekend when the Festival was held was estimated at about 13,000 visitors to the exhibition area, a far higher number than the first festival held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

This month we feature the forest-dependent Swallowtail, the Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes). A rather rare species in Singapore, the Blue Helen is usually observed singly in the forest reserves. It is rarely, if ever, seen in urban parks and gardens. It was not listed in the checklists of the early authors, and was first discovered in the Chestnut Drive area some time back in late 90's. It makes an erratic appearance in various areas of the nature reserves over the years and is believed to be now a resident species in Singapore.

The Blue Helen is only one of two "Helen" species of the swallowtails that occur in Singapore. The other one is the Great Helen (Papilio iswara iswara) which also shares the same localities with the Blue Helen. However, the Blue Helen is the smaller of the two species, and is observed feeding on the flowers of the Common Asystasia, Lantana, Saraca and various Syzygium spp.

Males of the Blue Helen are often observed puddling at sandy stream banks and damp footpaths in the forests that have been tainted with decomposing organic material. Usually flying amongst the treetops restlessly, this species can be approached more easily when it is distracted whilst puddling.

The Blue Helen is a predominantly black butterfly, with four prominent white patches on the upperside of the hindwings extending into space 4. On the underside, there are narrow pale beige submarginal spots but some may be obscure. Near the tornal area of the hindwing there are blue lunules. There is a spatulate tail at vein 4 of the hindwing.

Thus far, the caterpillar host plant of the Blue Helen remains elusive. Although it is likely to share similar host plants from the Rutaceae family like the related Great Helen, the early stages of this species remain unrecorded in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Huang CJ, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong & Mark Wong
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