Friday, January 31, 2014

A Chiangmai Expedition

A Chiangmai Expedition
Mark Wong shares his Thai adventure

In recent years, many ButterflyCircle members have made forays further afield to shoot butterflies. After many years of recording the butterfly activity in Singapore, it is always exciting to see and photograph butterflies that we cannot find on our tiny little island. From Malaysia to Thailand and Taiwan to Korea, such destinations begin to beckon to the photographers of ButterflyCircle. This is one story by ButterflyCircle member Mark Wong, who made a recent trip to Chiangmai, Thailand, with friends from the Hong Kong Lepidopterists' Society (HKLS).

Left to right: Dr Lee Ping Chung, Gigi Lai, Lai Kwai Yin, Mark Wong, Mason Chan, Arex Li

"After a quick discussion with HKLS member Mason Chan, during his brief visit to Singapore in October, I decided to join their forthcoming trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. On our first day on 21 Dec 2013, I rendezvoused at the Chiangmai Airport with five other members of the HKLS. After a good dinner, Dr Lee and Arex Li, briefed us on the locations that we will visit over our 6-day stay in Chiangmai.

Each day started at 5:45am, with the standard routine of meeting at the hotel cafeteria for breakfast and chats before setting out to the nature reserves. It was good fun catching up with our HKLS friends that I have not seen in a while.

Day 2 – Chiang Dao National Park

The cold weather left most butts very lethargic in the morning until the warm rays of the sun “woke” them up. Most were resting on the foliage which made them easy to shoot, provided we could find them.

There were plenty of Leptosia nina nina (The Psyche), and this individual was perched nicely on a flower for a nice portrait.

Along the same trail where we were exploring, a cooperative Pithecops corvus corvus (Forest Quaker) was spotted in the undergrowth. It allowed each of us to take a couple of shots before it took off into the treetop canopy.

Amongst the undergrowth, I found an Eurema hecabe hecabe(Common Grass Yellow) resting under a leaf.

Clockwise from top left : Junonia lemonias lemonias (Lemon Pansy), Tagiades gana meetana (Large Snow Flat), Castalius rosimon rosimon (Common Pierrot), Catochrysops strabo strabo (Forget Me Not) 

Clockwise from top left : Jamides celeno DSF (Common Caerulean), Pseudergolis wedah wedah (Tabby), Lethe sinorix sinorix (Red Tailed Forester). Catopsilia pyranthe pyranthe (Mottled Emigrant) 

When the sun came out and started warming up the place, the activity of the butterflies was greatly increased. Most of the butterflies started basking in the sun to warm up their wings. This Notocrypta feisthamelii (Spotted Demon) came down to perch on a leaf.

Later that morning, we headed towards the caves. Even though he was driving, the eagle-eyed Dr Lee managed to spot this Hestinalis nama nama (The Circe) fluttering around amongst the shrubbery, and we all leaped out of the car to take some shots before continuing on.

We wandered around the area outside the Chiang Dao Cave, behind a temple with 5 snake heads, there was a small colony of Psedocoladenia dan fabia (Fulvous Pied Flat) that were dogfighting around the bushes. I managed to shoot a more pristine individual which was sun bathing.

Clockwise from top left : Polyura athamas athamas (Common Nawab), Udara sp.Cyrestis thyodamas thyodamas (Common Map), Leptotes plinius (Zebra Blue), 

After awhile, we realised that there wasn’t much activity so we headed back to the park entrance to check for puddling butterflies. We are pleased to find a number of individuals that came down to puddle.

We spotted a pair of Delias belladonna hedybia (Hill Jezebel) that were flying around non-stop amongst the vegetation. After some time, they seemed to sense that they has teased us enough and became more cooperative, allowing us to take plenty of shots, and made our day!

Appias nero galba (Orange Albatross)

Symbrenthia lilaea lilaea (Common Jester)

Towards the late afternoon, many of the butterflies took the opportunity to feed on the flowers and absorb the last rays of the sun before settling in for the night. For us butterfly shooters, it was an extremely fun day with many butterflies to keep us busy throughout.

Day 3 – Doi Inthanon National Park

The day started rather foggy at first as we drove out to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest mountain. Fortunately, the weather started to clear up as we headed higher up. The small patch of wild flowers along the driveway seemed quite productive, as many butterflies zipped down for a quick feed before heading up towards the treelines.

Clockwise from top left : Heliophorus ila nolus (Restricted Purple Sapphire) - upperside and underside, Eurema hecabe hecabe (Common Grass Yellow), Zemeros flegyas allica (Punchinello)

We then headed into the forest trails to have a look. The cool moist air made our hike a breeze. Accompanied by the sound of the gushing water from the nearby waterfalls and streams, the area had its own serene character that was very calming to the mind.

It was rather dark along the forest paths, as the sun could not penetrate through the think forest canopy. I managed to spot a puddling Caleta elna noliteia (Elbowed Pierrot) on our way out.

After lunch, we drove to another spot were very pleased to chance on a Sumalia daraxa daraxa (The Green Commodore) puddling on the damp path. It was very skittish, but fortunately it returned repeatly to a few favoured spots around the same area. After countless time having to prone down and getting up, I managed to get a few shots (very good exercise I must say). After having its fill, it also took off to a nearby fern to bask in the sun, allowing us some good shots of its upper side.

Day 4 - Mae Sa (Suthep/Near Queen's Botanical Garden)

The next morning, we headed to the north of Doi Suthep, near the Queen’s Botanical Garden. We visited Mae Sa waterfalls, and the scenery was breath-taking! The waterfall has ten cascades, each with a unique mini-waterfall. The walk up and down was a bit tiring but there were many butterflies along the trail that made up for the exercise.

Clockwise from top left : Surendra quercetorum quercetorum (Common Acacia Blue), Loxura atymnus continentalis (Yamfly), Lebadea martha martha (Knight), Neptis hylas kamarupa (Common Sailor)

We were very fortunate to encounter the Thaduka multicaudata multicaudata (Many-Tailed Oakblue). The butterfly has many short tails on its hind wing.

Graphium agamemnon agamemnon (Tailed Jay)

We ended the day by visiting the Siam Insect Zoo. There was a little butterfly enclosure inside, most of the species are what we have in typical enclosures though.  This Insect Zoo was set up the by author of the Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition, Mr Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, who is also an Adjunct Professor in Entomology at the Graduate School of Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

Day 5 - Mae Takri (Doi Saket District) / Monthatarn Waterfall (Suthep South)

It was Christmas Day, and also our last day to find butterflies. We headed to Mt Suthep, and our first stop was a coffee plantation. There was some butterfly activity in the sun lit spots along the trail. We then moved to an area around the Anti-Gravity Yoga Sanctuary. There were quite a number of skippers in the area and a bunch of Delias fluttering up at the tree tops. We waited a while for them to come down to a lower perch but they seemed to enjoy themselves better up at the top.

We then headed to the Monthatarn Waterfall, but weather seemed to be a bit too cold so there were no puddling butterflies. We explored the surrounding campsite to find other butterflies. There was a very cooperative Castalius rosimon (Common Pierrot) that was hanging around a small wild flower feeding. All of us took turns to shoot it on the lovely perch.

Ypthima sp.

Despite the cold season, we were very glad to have observed a good number of species during the trip. The incredible landscape and scenery in Chiang Mai is breath-taking, and that alone is already worth the trip!  I cannot wait for my next trip to Chiangmai again.

Nacaduba bochus bochus (Dark Caerulean)

I’d also like to express my gratitude to the HKLS members for planning and making this trip possible.  For those of you who are keen to visit Chiangmai, I understand from Arex that the information available online was a bit jumbled up and he had to cross reference a few maps to pinpoint the locations that we went to.

Potanthus sp.

Here is a video that is made by HKLS member Arex Li that summarizes the trip."

Text and Photos by Mark Wong; Video by Arex Li
References : Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Thursday, January 30, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore! 
The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus)

This all-brown upperside Snow Flat is the last of the four species of the Tagiades genus that is found in Singapore. It is the commonest of the four and is mainly encountered in the forested nature reserves in Singapore. Like the other related species, it has a habit of sunbathing on the top surfaces of leaves with its wings opened flat.

The upperside of the Common Snow Flat is predominantly brown with the usual darker markings on both wings and hyaline subapical spots. However, it does not have the white tornal area on the upperside of its hindwings like the other species, making it a rather drab, moth-like butterfly. On the underside, the hindwing is suffused with bluish-white scaling.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Large Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The Large Snow Flat (Tagiades gana gana)

This is the 3rd member of the Tagiades species in the series. Compare the white tornal area on the hindwing and the spots with the Malayan Snow Flat and the Ultra Snow Flat and you will be able to see the differences between the three. The Large Snow Flat is more often encountered than its two other cousins mentioned above. It displays the same habit of hiding on the undersides of leaves with its wings opened flat.

The Large Snow Flat is dark brown above with diffuse discal and post-discal spots. The tornal area of the hindwing above is whitened and has small and diffused black spots at the marginal area. The whitened area is more extensive on the underside.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Ultra Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The Ultra Snow Flat (Tagiades ultra ultra)

The Ultra Snow Flat is another relatively rare species of the Tagiades genus. Of the four species extant in Singapore, this species is very local, and can often be encountered at certain favourite locations quite regularly. Like its related species, it sunbathes with its wings opened flat on the top surfaces of leaves, and feeds on flowers with its wings opened flat as well. It is a fast-flyer and is often skittish and alert to movements.

The Ultra Snow Flat was not recorded in the early authors' checklists, and is a new discovery for Singapore when it was recorded in the mid 1990's. With the typical dark brown forewings with the usual spots, it also features a whitened tornal area on the hindwing, but with a series of large black marginal spots. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Monday, January 27, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore! 
The Malayan Snow Flat (Tagiades calligana)

There are four species of the "Snow Flats" belonging to the genus Tagiades that can be found in Singapore. The "Flats" belong to the subfamily Pyrginae, named because of the butterflies' open-winged pose when at rest or feeding. They fly rapidly, but stop to rest frequently with their wings opened flat to sunbathe. When disturbed, they display a behaviour where they fly off and rest on the underside of a leaf, still with their wings opened flat.

The Malayan Snow Flat, shown here, shot by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern, is moderately rare, and where observed, they are usually found singly. Its appearance is typical of many of the species in the genus, with dark brown forewings with several small hyaline spots, and a white tornal area with large dark spots at the marginal area.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Friday, January 24, 2014

New Record of a 4th Prosotas species

New Record of a 4th Prosotas in Singapore
Discovery of Prosotas aluta nanda 

The Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae species often pose a great challenge to identification, with many lookalikes with very similar features. The challenge of identifying the many lookalikes can sometimes be mitigated with research into their early stages, (where the physical appearances and diagnostic features of the caterpillars can be a great aid to separating the species,) or with voucher specimens to scrutinise.

Field shots are often not the best for reliable identification, especially those where colour or size are diagnostic features, or where the physical markings may be difficult to be used to distinguish between two species, due to perspective distortions of the photographs. In some cases, where the field-shot individual is not pristine or with significant wear and tear on the wings, identification may also be problematic.

Hence for some of these lookalikes, it is often prudent to research and analyse carefully, before jumping to conclusions about the identity of a species. Over the years, ButterflyCircle has had some misidenfications, and has now adopted greater rigour in validation before establishing the identity of a species for inclusion into the Singapore Checklist. In recent years, the identification of the more challenging species has been made less onerous with the invaluable help of experts like Dr TL Seow, Dr L.G. Kirton and others.

So we now announce the inclusion of the fourth Prosotas species to the Singapore Checklist. This latest addition, Prosotas aluta nanda had been recorded several times over the past years, but its identity was kept under consideration until a higher level of confidence could be accorded to its ID. Recently a voucher specimen was obtained from a location in the nature reserves of Singapore, and the specimen scrutinised to validate the ID.

The first record shot of the Barred Line Blue by Horace Tan on 26 Feb 2008

From photographic records in ButterflyCircle's forums, the earliest posted shot of this species was documented by Horace Tan, who shot this species on 26 Feb 2008, feeding on a flower of the Bandicoot Cherry (Leea indica) in the nature reserves. There were many subsequent sightings and photos of this species, usually found puddling at sandy streambanks, that followed in subsequent years.

ButterflyCircle member Mark Wong recorded this individual on 15 Mar 2008

This Line Blue joins three others in the genus Prosotas that are extant in Singapore - Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates), Tailless Line Blue (Prosotas dubiosa lumpura) and Banded Line Blue (Prosotas lutea sivoka).  The last named was only recently discovered in Singapore in Oct 2012. Both these recently-discovered Prosotas were not previously recorded in Singapore before.

This species has been given the common English name "Banded Line Blue" in most Indian and South Asian references, but since this common name has already been assigned to the species Prosotas lutea sivoka in South East Asia (ref : Butterflies of Thailand by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay Vol 2), it would generate more confusion to refer to it by the similar name. In his book, Pisuth has coined the name "Barred Line Blue" for Prosotas aluta nanda. Whilst it would be interesting to understand why "Barred" was coined to refer to this species, we see no reason not to use this common name for Prosotas aluta in the South East Asian region covering Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore - until someone comes up with a better alternative for the English common name of this species!

An annotated visual identification comparison between P. aluta and a N.berenice highlighting the diagnostic features of P.aluta

The Barred Line Blue has been described as "confined to the forested plains and is usually taken singly". It closely resembles the berenice group of the genus Nacaduba. In C&P4, the authors also added that "most examples can be recognised by having the post-discal spot in space 3 on the forewing below shifted in(wards) very slightly basad of the spot in space 4". The striae are also described as "clear white" in Prosotas aluta.

The upperside of the males of this species is blue with a narrow black border whilst the female is brown with a shining greenish-blue discal patch on the forewing. Another consistent feature that separates this species from the other lookalikes (but must be used in combination with the post-discal spot in space 3 of the forewing), is that the marginal spots, particularly the one next to the tornal orange-crowned eyespot, are arrow-shaped or distinctly pointed. In most individuals, the striae in space 4 of the forewing are also dislocated, and distinctly angled towards the termen.

The Barred Line Blue has an erratic flight and is usually skittish, as is the case with the other species in the Prosotas and Nacaduba genera. Thus far, all the sightings of this species have been in the forested nature reserves, and more often, males are encountered puddling at sandy streambanks on hot sunny days, usually attracted to decomposing animal matter or excretions.

And so we add the Barred Line Blue as species #309 to the Singapore Checklist. At this point in time, there are several other Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae that are awaiting further validation, either from their life histories, or with voucher specimens, before adding them to the Singapore Checklist. However, we are in no hurry to do so, until we have a high level of confidence on the ID and concurrence amongst the expert advisers to ButterflyCircle.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Horace Tan & Mark Wong

References :

  • [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

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Lime Butterfly

Butterflies Galore!
The Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

The Lime Butterfly is a common urban species that is widely distributed across Singapore. It is mainly found in urban parks and gardens, although there are regular sightings of the species in the forested nature reserves. During the Lunar New Year period, where there is an abundance of Citrus plants, the caterpillars are more often seen on abandoned plants.

It is a fast-flyer and skittish, although when it stops to rest, either with wings opened to sunbathe, or just perched, like in this photo taken by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong, it will be easier to approach to take a shot of it. Males are also known to puddle at sandy streambanks and footpaths which have been contaminated with animal excretions.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Striped Blue Crow

Butterflies Galore!
The Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber mulciber)

This Crow is the most commonly encountered species of the genus Euploea in Singapore, and probably the most attractive. The iridescent blue of the male's upperside forewings usually attracts the attention of observers. The female has less blue, but the striped hindwings is probably what gave this species its common English name. Males of this species are also known to puddle at sandy streambanks and forest paths.

The underside of the male is predominantly a chocolate brown with a variable series of white spots - some slightly bluish as well. This male Striped Blue Crow was shot by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Monday, January 20, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Two Spotted Line Blue

Butterflies Galore!
The Two Spotted Line Blue (Nacaduba biocellata)

This very small Lycaenid was photographed some time back in 2004 but was kept in the "UFO folder" until more reliable sightings and a voucher specimen was obtained for validation. Finally recorded on the Singapore Butterfly Checklist in 2008, this species makes a regular appearance yearly, and then totally disappears for most of the year. When it does re-appear, there will be a breakout, with the species becoming locally abundant, particularly in the vicinity of areas where its host plant exists. The life history of this species has been recorded here.

This time in 2014, ten years after a single individual was photographed, it makes its reappearance again. ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot this pristine individual last weekend. For those who have yet to get a photo of this species, now's the time to go hunting for it!

You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Saturday, January 18, 2014

Life History of the Chocolate Demon

Life History of the Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Ancistroides Butler, 1874
Species: nigrita Latreille, 1824
Sub-species: maura Snellen, 1880
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 42-50mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Etlingera elatior (Zingiberaceae, common name: Torch Ginger), Hedychium coronarium  (Zingiberaceae, common name: White Ginger Lily, Butterfly Ginger), Zingiber officinale (Zingiberaceae, common name: Ginger), Alpinia aquatica (Zingiberaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Chocolate Demon is a relatively large skipper. On the upperside, the wings are dark brown and unmarked. On the underside, the wings are brown with marginal areas of both wings paler than the ground colour. The proboscis is particularly long compared to other skipper species.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Chocolate Demon is moderately common in Singapore. The adults are typically found in parks, park connectors and gardens where one of its host plants in the Zingiberaceae is cultivated. The adults fly in an erratic and hopping manner amongst low shrubbery. They visit flowers for nectar, and puddle on birding droppings and other animal excretions.

Early Stages:
The early stages of Chocolate Demon are polyphagous with its recorded host plants belonging to the Zingiberaceae family. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of the host plants, and live in leaf shelters constructed by cutting, folding and securing leaf fragments with silk threads.

Local host plant: Etlingera elatior (Torch Ginger).

The eggs of the Chocolate Demon are laid singly on the under surface of a leaf or the stem of the host plant. The dome-shaped egg is milky white with very fine longitudinal striations. It has a base diameter of about 1.25mm.

Two views of an egg of the Chocolate Demon.

Left: mature egg with portion of the egg shell already devoured; Right: remnant of the egg shell after the emergence of the caterpillar.

The egg takes about 4-5 days to hatch. The newly hatched has a length of about 3.2mm and has a black head capsule and a whitish body. A few relatively long setae adorns the posterior end. A black collar mark is present in the prothoracic segment.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar of the Chocolate Demon.

After hatching, the young caterpillar eats the remaining egg shell for its first meal, and then moves on to construct its first leaf shelter, typically at the leaf tip or the leaf edge. From the shelter, it then ventures out to eat the nearby leaf lamina for subsequent meals. The body takes on a green undertone as a result. The growth in this first instar is moderately paced and the body length reaches about 6.5mm in about 5 days before the moult to the 2nd instar.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length 6.2mm.

A late 1st instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 6.5mm.

The 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green in body colour. The head capsule is still black, but the black collar mark on the prothorax is now absent. At the posterior end, the relatively longer setae are longer present. This instar lasts about 4 days with the body length reaching 10.5-11.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length 9mm.

A late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length 11.5mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely. This instar takes about 4 days to complete with body length reaching about 17.5-21mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length 16.5mm.

A late 3rd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 17.5mm.

The only obvious change seen in the 4th instar caterpillar is the whitish ground colour of its body, and many tiny circular green speckles dotting the body surface. This instar takes about 5 days to complete with body length reaching about 28-31mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length 18mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, later in this stage, length 24mm.

A late 4th instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 29.5mm.

The 5th and final instar caterpillar assumes a stronger tone of white in its body colour and more prominent speckled appearance compared to the 4th instar. The head capsule is dark brown to black with the paler brown patches occurring laterally in some specimens. This instar lasts for about 6-7 days, and the body length reaches up to 48-51mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length 29mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length 40mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 51mm.

On the last day of the 5th instar, the body of the caterpillar shortens and changes to a translucent shade of pale green. It ceases feeding and comes to a halt on the under surface of a leaf of the host plant. Here the caterpillar spins a short transverse silk band and a silk girdle. At the same time, a moderate amount of white waxy substance is secreted by the caterpillar and spread over the pupation site. With its posterior end secured to the silk band via claspers and the body secured at the mid-section with the girdle, the caterpillar enters its immobile pre-pupatory stage.

A pre-pupatory larva of the Chocolate Demon.

Pupation takes place about 1.5 days 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 transverse silk band. The long and slender pupa has a moderately long and pointed rostrum, and is unmarked. It features a long proboscis tube extending well beyond its posterior end. Length of pupae: 37-39mm or 60-62mm if the proboscis tube is included in the measurement.

Two views of a pupa of the Chocolate Demon.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Chocolate Demon.

After about 8 days of development, the pupa turns black in the thorax and wing cases as its skin turns translucent with the development within the pupal case coming to an end. The following day, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case.

A newly eclosed Chocolate Demon resting next to its empty pupal case.

  • [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 by Horace Tan, Photos by Simon Sng, Chng CK, Loke PF, Federick Ho and Horace Tan
You have read this article with the title January 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!