Thursday, May 30, 2013

Random Gallery - Common Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia)

The Common Tiger is another Danainae that can be found at Gardens by the Bay. This male form-genutia Common Tiger was shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir.  The butterfly, feeding on the colourful flowers of the milkweed Blood Flower (Asclepias curassavica), makes an eye-catching shot against a green background.

Like its close cousin, the Plain Tiger and also belonging to the same genus Danaus, the Common Tiger is relatively widespread in Singapore, occuring from urban parks and gardens, to coastal areas where its caterpillar host plant, the lactiferous vine, Cynanchum sp. grows.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Random Gallery - Yellow Palm Dart

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Yellow Palm Dart (Cephrenes trichopepla)

This new immigrant to Singapore appears to be a resident skipper at Gardens by the Bay, having been seen in several locations around the gardens. It is not surprising to find the species here, as its caterpillars feed on a variety of palms, amongst them the common Coconut (Cocos nucifera), Livistonia sp. and Cyrtostachys renda. These palms are likely to be cultivated at Gardens by the Bay, and would provide this species with adequate host plants to continue to survive in that location.

This Yellow Palm Dart was photographed near the Meadow area of GB, where there are butterfly host and nectaring plants cultivated. The skipper is skittish and fast-flying when on the move, but can often be seen perched and resting with its wings folded upright, showing off its attractive orange undersides.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Random Gallery - Plain Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery 
The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus)

During the butterfly surveys in the mid-90's the Plain Tiger was rarely seen in Singapore. Although observed once in a while, it was by no means common at all, and infrequently seen in parks and gardens. Today, with the cultivation of its caterpillar host plants, Asclepias currasivica and Calotropis gigantea at public parks, schools' eco-gardens, park connectors and so on, the Plain Tiger is a commonly seen butterfly.

This female Plain Tiger feeding on the flower of the Cosmos sp. was shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir at Gardens by the Bay a few days ago. The species can be seen fluttering around the flowering plants at Gardens by the Bay, and in particular towards the Meadow area of Bay South Garden where its caterpillar host plant is grown.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Random Gallery - Peacock Royal

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)

The Peacock Royal is one of a number of butterfly species that feeds on the parasitic mistletoe, Dendrophthoe pentandra. In Singapore, this common parasitic plant is the host for the caterpillars of the Great Imperial (Lycaenidae), Painted Jezebel (Pieridae) and Green Baron (Nymphalidae). Whilst parasitic plants tend to eventually destroy the host on which it grows, the damage done (if any) takes a relatively long time, especially when the parasitic plant is on a large tree. To conserve these butterfly species, it is hence important that Dendrophthoe pentandra is allowed to proliferate naturally without any human intervention and let nature take its course. Besides butterflies, the plant is also popular with birds which go after its fruits. This is how the parasitic plant is spread - through the droppings of the birds when the birds fly to other trees and expel the seeds after digesting the fruits of the plant.

This pristine female Peacock Royal was shot last weekend at Gardens by the Bay by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern. The butterfly is a fast flyer but can often be found feeding on flowering plants like the Ixora spp. The male of the Peacock Royal features an attractive royal blue on the upperside of its wings. Females are light blue. The underside is a pale grey with dark streaks whilst the hindwing bears a pair of white tipped tails.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Life History of the Chocolate Grass Yellow

Life History of the Chocolate Grass Yellow (Eurema sari sodalis)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Eurema
Hübner, 1819
Species: sari Horsfield, 1829
Subspecies: sodalis Moore, 1886
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 35-40mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Archidendron jiringa (Fabaceae, common name: Greater Grasshopper Tree, Petai Belalang).

A Chocolate Grass Yellow puddling on wet ground for minerals.

Another puddling Chocolate Grass Yellow.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are deep lemon-yellow, each with a black border which is regularly scalloped and deeply excavated between veins 2 and 4 in the forewing. Underneath, the wings are yellow with freckled brown spots. There is one cell spot on the forewing which has its apex entirely in dark brown. Males have a brand lying along the cubital vein on the forewing underside.

A Chocolate Grass Yellow taking nectar from Syzygium flowers.

A Chocolate Grass Yellow visiting a tiny flower for nectar.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Chocolate Grass Yellow is common in both nature reserves and urban parks in Singapore. The adults can be readily seen fluttering tirelessly in these areas. They are easily confused with other Grass Yellow spp. while in flight, but their distinctive brown forewing apical area immediately set them apart when they come to a perch. They regularly visit flowers for nectar and puddle on wet grounds for minerals.

A Chocolate Grass Yellow taking nectar from a flower of Leea indica.

A group of puddling Chocolate Grass Yellow sighted on a foot path in the nature reserve.

Early Stages:
Only one local host plant, Archidendron jiringa, has been recorded for Chocolate Grass Yellow. This plant is common throughout the nature reserves, areas in Singapore Botanical Gardens and Southern Ranges. The caterpillars feed on the young and tender leaves of the host plant.

Local host plant: Archidendron jiringa.

A mating pair of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.

The eggs of the Chocolate Grass Yellow are laid singly on a leaflet of the host plant. At times, a number of eggs could be found on a single leaflet from repeated oviposition visits by several females. The spindle shaped egg is laid standing at one end with a length of about 1.4mm. It is whitish in color and has indistinct shallow vertical ridges. The micropylar sits at the tip of the standing egg.

A few eggs of Chocolate Grass Yellow laid on young leaves of the local host plant.

An egg of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.

The egg takes about 2.5-3 days to hatch. The newly hatched has a length of about 2.4mm and has a pale whitish head capsule. It has a cylindrical and pale whitish body covered with dorso-lateral and lateral rows of tubercles running lengthwise. As is the case for other Eurema spp., each tubercle has a seta emerging from the middle of it with the tip of the seta bearing a droplet-like structure. These droplet-bearing setae is a feature seen in all five instars of the larval phase.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.

After hatching, the young caterpillar eats the empty egg shell for its first meal, and then moves on to eat the leaf lamina for subsequent meals. The body colour turns yellowish green as growth progresses. The body length reaches 4.8mm in about 2 days before the moult to the 2nd instar.

Two view of a 1st instar caterpillar, length 3.9mm.

The 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green in body colour. The yellow head capsule has the same tiny setae-bearing tubercles as those on the body surface. Compared to those in the previous instar, these setae carpeting the body and head capsule are proportionately shorter and greater in number. A pale yellowish band runs laterally along each side of the body. This instar is fast paced and lasts about 1 day with the body length reaching 7mm.

Two view of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 5.5mm

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely with a yellow head and a yellowish green body. Its numerous setae are again proportionately shorter compared to the previous instar. Equally fast paced, this instar takes about 1-1.5 days to complete with body length reaching about 10-11mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar.

Two views of 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 9mm.

Caterpillars of the Chocolate Grass Yellow sighted in the field. Two to each of the two panels, can you spot them?

The body and the head capsule of the 4th instar caterpillar are pale greenish to yellowish green. The lateral yellowish bands, first appeared in the 2nd instar, have become whitish and more distinct. This instar takes about 1-1.5 days to complete with body length reaching about 17mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 17mm.

The 5th and final instar caterpillar resembles the 4th instar caterpillar closely. The whitish lateral bands are broader and more distinct. The numerous setae-bearing tubercles are more prominent as they appear in darker green in contrast to the paler body base colour. The 5th (and final) instar lasts for 3.5-4 days, and the body length reaches up to 30mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 17mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 30mm.

On the last day of the 5th instar, the body of the caterpillar shortens and changes to either a dull shade or bright shade of green. It ceases feeding and comes to a halt on the underside of a stem/stalk on the host plant. Here the caterpillar spins a silk pad and a silk girdle. With its posterior end secured to the silk pad via claspers, and the body suspended at the mid-section with the girdle, the caterpillar soon becomes immobile in this pre-pupatory pose.

A pre-pupatory larva of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.

Pupation takes place about 0.5 day later. The yellowish green pupa secures itself with the same silk girdle as in the pre-pupal stage, but with the cremaster replacing claspers in attaching the posterior end to the silk pad, The pupa has a pointed head and a keeled wing pad, and its  body is  mostly unmarked except for a faint pale brownish and narrow dorsal band. Length of pupae: 19-20mm..

The pupation event of two Chocolate Grass Yellow caterpillars in close proximity.

Two views of a pupa of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Chocolate Grass Yellow.
The now transparent wing pad shows the yellow forewing upperside with its black border

After about 5 days of development, the pupal skin turns translucent as the development within the pupal case comes to an end. The yellow coloration and back borders on the forewing upperside are now discernible. The following day, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case.

A newly eclosed Chocolate Grass Yellow clinging onto its empty 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.

Text by Horace Tan, Photos by PF Loke, Antonio Giudici, Federick Ho, Khew S K and Horace Tan
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Random Gallery - Tawny Coster

Random Butterfly Gallery 
The Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)

After settling down in Singapore since 2006, the Tawny Coster has continued to spread southwards into Indonesia. The species continues to thrive successfully in Singapore, as it is able to adapt to several host plants, mainly of the Passifloraceae family. Its favourite caterpillar host plant is still Passiflora foetida a "weed" that grows rapidly in cleared areas and wastelands. As the female lays anything from 20-50 eggs at one go, the species is statistically more successful in terms of its survival, as long as its host plants are found commonly.

Over at Gardens by the Bay, the Tawny Coster has been observed in the areas where there are wildflowers and the less manicured parts of the gardens. Here, ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot this pristine male Tawny Coster feeding on the flower of the Coat Button (Tridax procumbens), balancing itself quite comfortably on the rigid wildflower as its proboscis probes the flower for nectar.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Random Gallery - Gram Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus)

I've always wondered how the Latin name of this butterfly is pronounced! The Gram Blue, as we prefer to know it by for simplicity, is a moderately common species and may occasionally be abundant where its caterpillar host plants, Pueraria phaseoloides and Macroptilium laythroides are found. Both plants are creepers that can be found in cleared wastelands and tend to stay hugging the ground.

The species is now also found at Gardens by the Bay as evidenced by this rather pristine female perched open-winged on some grasses. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Billy Oh last Sunday during the survey.

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Random Gallery - Pea Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus)

The Pea Blue is a butterfly that can be found at Gardens by the Bay. This Lycaenid flies fast and erratic on hot sunny days, but can also be spotted resting amongst the shrubbery in the early morning hours, and also in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plants, Crotalaria retusa and Crotalaria mucronata - both "Pea Plants".

In this shot, taken on Sunday at Gardens by the Bay, ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong managed to capture a portrait of a Pea Blue feeding on the flower of the Coat Button plant (Tridax procumbens). Considered a weed, the Coat Button is a flowering plant from the Asteraceae family (or Daisies). The plant is believed to have medicinal properties and used in traditional Indian medicine as an anticoagulant, hair tonic, antifungal and insect repellent, in bronchial catarrh, diarrhoea, dysentery, and for healing wounds.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Random Gallery - Pale Grass Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

This species was only discovered in Singapore some time in the early 2000's and was identified as the Pale Grass Blue by the late Col John Eliot when detailed photographs were sent to the region's foremost butterfly guru in England, just a few months before he passed on. The Pale Grass Blue has since become a permanent resident in Singapore and is found mainly in urban parks and gardens. The butterfly often flies in the company of the two other "Grass Blues" - The Lesser Grass Blue and the Pygmy Grass Blue, on hot sunny days.

This shot of a Pale Grass Blue was taken by ButterflyCircle member Anthony Wong at the Fragile Forest area of Gardens by the Bay last Sunday. Not commonly known to many visitors, Gardens by the Bay is also home to many species of urban butterflies and on a butterfly survey last weekend, ButterflyCircle members counted at least 32 species of butterflies.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Random Gallery - Two Sergeants

Random Butterfly Gallery
Dot-Dash Sergeant and Colour Sergeant

This is a collage of two shots taken at the same location in Singapore. On the left is the Dot Dash Sergeant (Athyma kanwa kanwa) whilst the one on the right is the Colour Sergeant (Athyma nefte subrata). Closely related, these two Sergeants appear very similar when in flight, and identification can only be reliably done when they stop to rest. The Dot-Dash Sergeant is a forest-dependent butterfly and rarely seen outside the confines of the nature reserves, whilst the Colour Sergeant is more widespread in distribution and appears as regularly at urban parks and gardens as well as in the forested areas.

Both species have a robust flap-glide flight characteristic, but flies more strongly than the lookalike Sailors. They have a habit of perching on high vantage points and then attacking intruders into their space. The female of the Dot-Dash Sergeant looks similar to the male, whilst for the Colour Sergeant, there are two female forms, one of which is brown and black striped, whilst the other is orange and black striped.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Butterfly of the Month - May 2013

Butterfly of the Month - May 2013
The Bifid Plushblue (Flos diardi capeta)

We are well past the half-way mark of the fifth month of 2013 as the weather begins to get hotter in the northern hemisphere as spring gives way to the beginning of the summer months. Over here in Singapore, we are getting 32-34 deg C days, and the heat can be quite unbearable when under the hot sun. I had just come back from a short four-day trip to Beijing, the capital city of China, where the temperatures were warming up but the days were still a comfortable 22-26 deg C. We also had two days of blue skies in Beijing, a rarity, according to the locals.

Over to the north, our neighbours in Malaysia have just completed their 13th General Elections where the ruling party, Barisan Nasional was returned to power. The results indicate an apparent deterioration of popular support for the ruling party, and the opposition coalition raised doubts about the legitimacy of the results with allegations of fraud. That's politics for you. In such situations, there is often more than meets the eye. But who's right and who's wrong? Well, it depends from whose perspective you are looking at the issues.

Singapore has its fair share of politics in the news as the PAP debates the costs of managing town councils with the opposition Workers Party. The Parliamentary debate has been at the top of the media attention, although the conclusion again depends on which perspective one views the 'facts' from.

On the public health front, the number of dengue cases continue to climb. Although quite a lot of effort has been put in by the various government agencies to educate and create awareness, it may be a little while more before the number of infections drop. Interestingly the reported cases and locations where the clusters were found had been largely in the high-rise residential apartments, rather than landed properties, where mosquito breeding grounds were assumed to be more prevalent!

On a related front, a high-ranking National Environment Agency officer shared with me that the fogging of premises using thermal fogging with the pesticide cypermethrin may actually be quite ineffective to control the Aedes mosquito! Last year, a writer questioned the effectiveness of cypermethrin and even suggested that the chemical may be harmful to humans! In a Parliamentary debate just in Feb this year, the Minister for Environment and Water resources even mentioned that fogging as a first line of defence is not recommended.

However, we often see massive plumes of 'smoke' where fogging is used at various sites in Singapore. Bearing in mind that fogging is not 'effective', ignorant residents are still asking for it! Or is it perhaps because the National Environment Agency perceives that it has to carry out fogging so that residents feel that something is being done about the mosquito breeding? Whatever the case may be, fogging is a sheer waste of resources, and may even affect pets and humans in ways that we are not fully aware of!

In the Straits Times forum letter by Dr Ong Siew Chey in March last year, it was quoted that "the US Environment Protection Agency classifies cypermethrin as a possible human cancer-inducing agent. A recent study has linked pyrethroids, to which cypermethrin belongs, to leukaemia and lymphoma. Cypermethrin is a neurotoxin that can affect brain tissue and can damage many other organs."

What does this all have to do with butterflies? It's because these chemicals kill caterpillars and butterflies that are too weak to escape the fogging! It is therefore not surprising that urban dwellers often wonder where all the butterflies have gone!

Fortunately, we still have areas of our nature reserves and even large patches of urban wild greenery that are free from pesticides, and where fogging is totally pointless. It is mainly in these forested areas where butterflies still survive and thrive.

Our Butterfly of the Month for May 2013, the Bifid Plushblue (Flos diardi capeta) is one such forest-depended species that survives in our forests. The species is rarely found in urban areas. Even in the nature reserves, where the Bifid Plushblue prefers the shaded understorey of tall trees, the species is considered rare, and if encountered, is often found singly.

The Bifid Plushblue is one of four species belonging to the Flos genus. The genus is closely related to the Arhopala but the undersides of the Flos are more distinctive and contrasty with usually dark brown markings against a paler brown ground colour. The darker markings are often conjoined, giving the Flos a more banded appearance.

Two of the Flos species, including the Bifid Plushblue, have strong red markings at the wing bases on the undersides. The male of the Bifid Plushblue is dark purple-blue above with very thin borders. The female is coloured a lighter purple-blue with broad dark brown borders on both wings above. The characteristic cleft-shaped costal spot on the hindwing separates this species from the others in the genus.

On the underside, the wings feature the typical Flos cryptic patterns where the tornal area of the hindwing has coppery green scales across a broad area, surrounding two black eyespots. There is a thick white-tipped tail at vein 2 of the hindwing that is relatively long compared to the other species of the genus. The hindwing is also toothed at veins 1b and 3.

The butterfly is alert to movements and is rather skittish. When it is lurking amongst the shaded undergrowth, it may be difficult to approach as it will take off to the treetops if disturbed. It is often encountered on the top surfaces of leaves with its wings folded upright. At certain hours of the day, it may be encountered sunbathing with its wings opened, displaying its purple-blue uppersides.

The early stages of the Bifid Plushblue are known, and the caterpillars feed on several varieties of "Oaks" from the family Fagaceae. The caterpillars are usually found in folded leaf shelters on the host plants, and in the field, is attended by ants. Early Stages expert Horace Tan has documented the life history of the Bifid Plushblue here.

It is rare to see many of the Flos and Arhopala species feeding on flowers or other food sources. However, when the Singapore Rhododendron flowers and fruits, many species of butterflies are attracted to the ripened fruits of the plant. The Bifid Plushblue is one of many forest species that loves the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron and as it feeds greedily, it offers a good opportunity for butterfly photographers to take a good shot of the species.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir ; Federick Ho ; Huang CJ ; Khew SK ; Koh Cher Hern ; Nelson Ong ; Danny Soh; Horace Tan & Tan Ben Jin

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Random Gallery - Perak Lascar

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka)

ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong chanced upon this mating pair of Perak Lascar recently. The species is usually found more regularly in back-mangrove habitats where its caterpillar host plant, Dalbergia candenatensis grows commonly. However due to the species having at least two other alternative host plants, found mainly in secondary forests, the species has a wide distribution, but prefers to remain in the vicinity of forested habitats.

Like its lookalike cousins in the genera Pantoporia and Lasippa, the Perak Lascar is typically orange and black striped in appearance. The distinguishing feature of this species is the two pale orange submarginal lines on the forewing. The species has a weak gliding flight, but is skittish and not easy to approach.

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