Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Random Gallery - Banded Swallowtail

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion)

The Banded Swallowtail is a very skittish and fast flying butterfly.  Although not rare, encounters of this species can be limited to a few preferred locations. When in full flight, it is very difficult to photograph, and the fleeting moments when it alights to feed at flowers allow a photographer a very narrow window of opportunity to shoot it.

When stalking a speedy feeding butterfly, it's all about anticipation, knowledge of the behaviour of the butterfly, its preferred flower and then positioning oneself at the best position that would yield a good shot with a nice background, and the rest is pure luck and a good dose of skill! In an earlier article, photographing these skittish Swallowtails was also discussed in this article. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir, exemplifies a well-executed shot of a Banded Swallowtail, perched on a Lantana flower, proboscis extended whilst its wings are in motion, ready to fly off in the blink of an eye!

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Butterfly of the Month - February 2013

Butterfly of the Month - February 2013
The Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda leda)

This is the last weekend of the short month of February and it's time to feature another butterfly species for the month again.  Indeed it felt like a very short month, especially with the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays and the break from work made it feel rather short. I celebrated my birthday quietly; which came and went without much fuss. Beyond a certain age, birthdays do come and go without much fuss actually!

It was also a time of soul searching for Singaporeans, as the catch-word of the month, xenophobia was being tossed around like the season's yusheng (raw fish) by all and sundry, and in particular politicians and aggrieved citizens who debated passionately about the government's White Paper on Population. For the first time for as long as anyone can recall, Singaporeans staged a peaceful protest against the prospects of this little island's future population growth. Whether the number of protesters and supporters was 1,000 or 7,000, depending on who reported it, it didn't quite matter. It was still a watershed event that could portend of many heated debates in the near future.


We may be on the threshold of a new era of politics in Singapore, where the citizens' voice grow louder and there has to be even more transparency, open debates, consultations and dialogues between the government and Singaporeans on policies that affect the lives of the citizens of this Little Red Dot. The social media chatter and the cacophony of voices over cyberspace are no longer merely 'noise' that can be ignored by any country's politicians, much less in IT-savvy and well-connected Singapore.  "Whither Singapore?" was a question that a prominent ex-Minister apparently asked.  Whither indeed!


Top : A different form of a newly-eclosed Common Evening Brown bred in Singapore. Bottom : A typical form of the Common Evening Brown photographed on Pulau Ubin, Singapore

February 2013 was certainly a very wet month for Singapore with exceptionally rainy days. For the first time since I can remember, this was the wettest Chinese New Year that I've ever encountered in my life. It rained practically every day since the first day of the Year of the (Water) Snake, and for the next few consecutive days, putting paid to my plans of enjoying the holidays out with our beloved butterflies. Most of our regular butterfly shooters spent their time cooped up at home moping away, if they didn't have to perform the customary visits to family and relatives during the Chinese New Year.

This month's butterfly is the Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda leda) a rather large and drably coloured butterfly sporting a wingspan of between 60-70mm. The English common name gives a hint about the time of activity of this Satyrinae. Indeed, the Common Evening Brown usually flies in the early hours of dawn and is most active shortly before the hours of dusk. It is not often seen during the day, except if disturbed. The flight of the butterfly is rapid and erratic, but it keeps at low level and after short hops, it settles down in thickets and dense vegetation where its undersides' cryptic patterns camouflage it very well.


The Common Evening Brown's upperside is dark brown with black sub-apical white-centred spots and inwardly shaded with orange brown. The very varlable underside it usually buff or grey, with fine dark brown striations. A submarginal row of yellow-ringed ocelli is usually found in the more common form of this species. The variations on the underside patterns seem to be related to the wet and dry seasons in the region.

A heavily variegated form of the Common Evening Brown

The Common Evening Brown is crepuscular and attracted to the lights of homes in the evening hours and the butterfly is quite regularly seen perched on the walls and ceilings of residences in the vicinity of wooded areas where the species occurs. It was reported in a research paper that during the monsoon or rainy months of the year, species such as the Common Evening Brown tend to be attracted to artificial light from human habitats after they are disturbed from their usual resting places by the heavy downpours.

A Common Evening Brown perched amongst dead leaves on the forest floor

This disturbance induces them to move to another safe location, and in the absence of natural light, a source of artificial light may be sufficient to attract them to search for a safe place to roost. Unfortunately, in homes and residences, any insect that is attracted to the artificial lights become fair game for the resident house lizard (or chichak) lying in wait for dinner!

This Common Evening Brown was photographed, perched on a wall at the common corridor of a Housing & Development Board flat on the 16th storey!

In urban Singapore, where the residential apartments are high rise, the appearance of the Common Evening Brown along the common corridor of an apartment block at the 16th storey comes as a surprise! For a butterfly that tends to lurk close to the ground and typically flies at no more than 3m from the ground, flying high up in our urban jungle and perching on the wall of a building at more than 45m from the ground would be something of a remarkable occurrence!


The caterpillars of the Common Evening Brown has been bred on Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum) and certain species of bamboo. The species is widespread and occurs in open wastelands and back mangroves, as well as in parks and gardens where its host plant can be found. But it is by no means considered a common species. At times, the butterfly can be observed feeding on rotting fruits, which it shares with other Satyrinae and Nymphalidae species.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Nelson Ong, Tan BJ, Horace Tan, Mark Wong & Benjamin Yam.

References : 
  • Soumyajit Chowdhury & Rahi Soren : Light attracted butterflies: a review from the Indian sub-region with an inventory from West Bengal, India

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Random Gallery - Common Line Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates)

Puddling butterflies sip water rich in minerals and other essential nutrients (mostly salts and nitrogen-rich solutions) that have leached from soil and rocks, or tainted with organic animal material excretions. Puddlers are usually males of butterfly species (but not always exclusive to males), and across several of the families from Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae, Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae.

This Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates) is one of three species from the genus Prosotas found in Singapore. All three species have been observed to puddle.  This shot of a puddling Common Line Blue was taken within the nature reserves by ButterflyCircle member Lemon Tea Yi Kai.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Random Gallery - Chocolate Demon

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura)

Drab chocolate brown and generally unmarked, the Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura) is not your typical pretty butterfly that would attract much attention from the casual observer. It is one of several species of Skippers (family : Hesperiidae) to have the common name "Demon". The caterpillar host plants in Singapore are the Torch Ginger (Nicolaia elatior) and Pandan (Pandanus amarilyfolius).

In this shot, the adult Chocolate Demon was photographed feeding on the flower of the Torch Ginger by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. So the Torch Ginger is a source of food for the Chocolate Demon's early stages as well as the adult butterfly. Of noteworthy mention, is the butterfly's extremely long proboscis, (which is typical of many of the species in the family) giving an impression that the butterfly is 'fly-fishing' when it unfurls its proboscis to feed on nectar from flowers. 

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Life History of the Tawny Coster

Life History of the Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Acraea Fabricius, 1807
Species: violae Drury, 1773
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 53-64mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Passiflora foetida (Passifloraceae, common names: stinking passionflower, love-in-a-mist), Passiflora suberosa (Passifloraceae, common name: corky-stemmed passion flower), Passiflora edulis (Passifloraceae, common name: passion fruit)

A female Tawny Coster visiting the Ixora flowers.

A male Tawny Coster.

A sunbathing male Tawny Coster .

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the male is deep orange while the female is pale tawny yellow. The forewing has two transverse black spots in the cell, a broader spot at cell-end bar and a discal series of black spots in spaces 2-6 and 10. Its costal margin and termen are black. The hindwing has a black spot in the cell, a basal series of 4-5 black spots, a sub-costal spot and a discal series of spots. The termen is edged with a black marginal band which has a series of small spots in ground colour embedded. Underneath, the wings are salmon orange in the male and pale tawny yellow in the female. Both wings have black markings as per the upperside. The forewing coloration becomes paler and turns whitish towards the apex and the termen. Unlike the smallish spots on the upperside, a series of large, prominent white spots are embedded in the broad black terminal margin on the hindwing. Antennae are black, head and thorax are black spotted with pale yellow and white.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This migrant species was recently discovered in Singapore in 2006 (refer to this blog article for a report of its discovery in Singapore). Since then, it has established a firm foothold and can be considered a relatively common species in Singapore. Across the island, Tawny Coster can be found flying in wastelands and park lands where its favourite host plant, Passiflora foetida, grows in relative abundance. The adults have the habit of visiting flowers for nectar and are sluggish and gentle on the wings.

Early Stages:
The local host plant adopted by Tawny Coster as it spred quickly across the island is Passiflora foetida, a member of the Passifloraceae family commonly found in wastelands. A lesser used plant in the wild is Passiflora suberosa. In captive setting, the Tawny Coster has also been found to feed on Passiflora edulis (Passion Fruit).

Local host plant #1: Passiflora foetida

Local host plant #2: Passiflora suberosa

A group of Tawny Coster caterpillars feeding on Passiflora edulis.

The caterpillars of the Tawny Coster feed on the leaves, young shoots, tendrils and outer surface of young stems of the host plant. They are gregarious throughout all six instars of the larval stage, often eating, resting and moulting together in groups. However, not all caterpillars from the same clutch of eggs develop at the same rate. Of all who survive the larval stage, the leading group could reach the pupal stage earlier than the slowest ones by up to a week or so.

A mating pair of Tawny Coster (male left, female right).

Another mating pair of Tawny Coster.

It is interesting to note that Tawny Coster is one of a group of butterflies where the ovipositing females feature a sphragis (copulatory plug) which is formed after a mating session (caused by a waxy substance deposited by the male) for the purpose of preventing the female from further matings.

A female Tawny Coster in the midst of ovipositing on the underside of a leaf of P. foetida.

Close-up view of the abdomen of an ovipositing female, showing the sphragis.

A mother Tawny Coster lays its eggs in a tight cluster on the underside of a leaf of the host plant. The cluster size varies from just a few eggs (less than ten) or up to 50-60 eggs. Each yellowish egg is olive-shaped with a ribbed surface. It has a height of about 0.8-0.85mm, and a cross-sectional diameter of about 0.7mm.

A mid-sized cluster of (29) eggs of the Tawny Coster.

Another view of the same cluster of eggs.

A close-up view of two eggs in the cluster.

Each egg takes about 3-4 days to hatch. The infant caterpillar nibbles away an upper portion of the egg shell in the hatching process. The newly hatched has a pale yellowish brown cylindrical body with an initial length of about 1.8mm. The body is covered in a grid of greyish tubercles, each of which has a single black setae exuding from it. The head is black. The young caterpillar feeds by either skimming the lamina on a young leaf or nibbles away at the tip of a young shoot.

Mature eggs with the black head visible through the egg shell.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar, length: 1.8mm.

A group of newly hatched caterpillars next ot their empty egg shells.

As the 1st instar caterpillar feeds and grows, its body segments take on a bright yellowish brown coloration. It grows to a length of 4mm in the 1st instar which lasts about 2-2.5 days.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 3mm.

A group of 1st instar caterpillars feeding gregariously on a leaf of P. foetida.

A group of 1st instar caterpillars, dormant prior to the moult to the 2nd instar, on the remnant of leaf which the group had devoured.

The 2nd instar caterpillar is orangy brown in body base colour and features a dark brown to black head. The fine and long setae in the 1st instar are replaced by rows of black spines which occur dorso-laterally, laterally and sub-spiracularly. This instar lasts 2-3 days with the body length reaching about 6.5mm before the next moult.

Two views of a newly moulted 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 3mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 5mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar does not feature any drastic change in physical appearance from the 2nd instar. Small and inconspicuous pale whitish patches occur ventrally. The body length reaches up to 11mm in 2-3 days before the moult to the next instar.

Top: newly moulted 3rd instar with both spines and head yet to turn black and dark brown respectively. Bottom: a 3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 11mm.

A late 3rd instar caterpillar (bottom) seen next to a late 4th instar caterpillar (top), both from the same clutch of eggs and are dormant prior to their respective moult.

The 4th instar caterpillar has a close resemblance to the 3rd instar caterpillar. There are minor changes such as the paler coloration in the first two thoracic segments, the head as well as larger ventral patches which are now more whitish in coloration. The 4th instar lasts about 3-5 days with body length reaching about 14-15mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 10.5mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 14.5mm.

A clip of a Tawny Coster caterpillar moulting from 4th to 5th instar, complete with stages of spine inflation and eating of exuvia.

The next moult brings the caterpillar to its 5th and penultimate instar. The caterpillar is little changed in appearance coming into this instar. Visible changes are the continuing paling in coloration of the head and first 2-3 body segments, and the increase in the size and prominence of the ventral whitish patches. This instar lasts for 5-7 days and the body length reaching up to 21-22mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in the stage, length: 15mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 21mm.

A group of late instar Tawny Coster caterpillars nibbling away the outer skin layer of a vine of P. foetida in a wasteland.

The sixth and final instar caterpillar has its head capsule turning almost entirely orange. Its first 2-3 and the last 2-3 body segments bear greater infusion of orange compared to the earlier instars. The ventral white patches invariably turn yellowish green in the last few days of this instar. Growth rate is rather variable among individuals and this final larval stage could last between 9 to 13 days with the body length reaching up to 35mm.

Two views of a 6th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 21mm.

Two views of a 6th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 35mm.

On the last day of 6th instar, the caterpillar ceases feeding and wanders around in search of a suitable pupation site. This mobile pre-pupatory larva has two large white patches on the side of the 2nd and 3rd thoracic segments. Both patches will morph to the wing cases in the pupal stage. Typically the caterpillar finds a spot on the underside of a stem or a tendril where it spins a silk pad to which it secures itself with graspers at its posterior end. From this anchor, the caterpillar hangs vertically head-down and becomes a pre-pupa.

An early pre-pupa of the Tawny Coster, with its posterior end positioned at the silk pad.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Tawny Coster. Left: early stage; Right: late, moments prior to the pupation event.

Pupation takes place a day later. The slender and whitish pupa hangs vertically with a short cremaster securing it to the silk pad on the substrate. It has two slightly-raised angles in the thorax. There are black dorso-lateral, lateral and ventral bands spotted with orange spots. Black stripes can also be found in the middle, and costal and dorsum margins of the wing case. Length of pupae: 19-21mm.

A Tawny Coster caterpillar molts to its pupal stage.

Three views of a pupa of Tawny Coster; yellowish brown form.

After about 5 days of development, the mature pupa turns dark in the thorax and wing cases, and salmon orange in the abdomen. Eclosion takes place the next day.

Three views of a mature pupa of Tawny Coster.

A Tawny Coster butterfly emerges from its pupal stage.

Newly eclosed Tawny Coster drying its wings on the 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, 1st Edition, 2006.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S K, Ink on Paper Comm. Pte. Ltd, 2010.
  • Wikipedia: Acraea terpsicore.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Lemon Tea Yi Kai, Jonathan Soong, Mark Wong, Bobby Mun, Loke PF, Anthony Wong, Sunny Chir, Khew SK and Horace Tan
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