Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nature Ways in Singapore

Nature Ways in Singapore 
Connecting Areas of Biodiversity

A group shot with NParks staff at Singapore Botanic Gardens

This morning, I had a sharing session with a group of staff from the National Parks Board. Most of the staff were from the Landscaping and Arboriculture and Streetscape East Branches of the Streetscape Division, National Biodiversity Centre Division and Community Parks. It was also an opportunity for me to learn a bit more about NParks' Nature Ways and how these are intended to enhance biodiversity in Singapore.

Sharing about butterflies with the NParks staff at Ridley Hall, Singapore Botanic Gardens

The morning started with a talk about butterflies, covering various aspects about their biology, ecology and habitats, their relationship with plants and designing and landscaping to attract butterflies. It was nice to see a very attentive audience, especially on a Saturday (an off-day for everyone!). The staff asked very valid and relevant questions to enhance their knowledge about butterflies and how they exist in the environment.

I was also pleased to note that many of the NParks staff had backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, botany and arboriculture. I was glad that I had customised my talk to focus more on plants, landscape and how butterflies relate to plants, which was more relevant to my audience's areas of interest.

Receiving a token of appreciation from Director, Streetscape Division, Oh Cheow Sheng

So what exactly are Nature Ways? From NParks' Quarterly Newsletter, My Green Space, "Nature Ways are linear, green corridors along roadsides that have been developed to connect areas of high biodiversity to urban areas. The aim is to attract birdlife and butterflies from nature areas and parks to areas where people can appreciate them, and be more aware of the beautiful natural environment around them."

Source : © My Green Space - a Quarterly NParks Publication

To create Nature Ways, NParks designs these eco-corridors to replicate the natural structures of forests as far as is possible. Trees, shrubs and groundcovers would be planted on available roadside planting strips to re-create habitats similar to those found in the emergent, mid-canopy, understory and undergrowth layers of natural forests.

Relevant species of plants are then selected for the emergent, mid-canopy, understory and undergrowth layers to create conducive environments for birds and butterflies to encourage activities like nesting and feeding.  In the understory and undergrowth layers, nectaring and host plants for butterflies are planted to attract various species like the Plain Tiger, Leopard, Mottled Emigrant and so on.

The group also had a discussion about doing a butterfly biodiversity survey that will help to fine-tune the species to attract to the various nature ways, depending on their locations and proximity to the source nodes of high butterfly diversity (e.g. the nature reserves or larger parks)  This is important, as it would then target the correct species and also helps with species recovery of the rarer species by increasing the host plants relevant to the specific location of the nature way.

Source : © National Parks Board - Tengah Nature Way

Currently, the longest nature way is the Tengah Nature Way. Spanning 13km in length, Tengah Nature Way is the Singapore’s longest Nature Way so far.  It refers to the area of largely residential land between the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves and the Western Catchment (SAFTI Live-Firing Area). There are already nature ways at Admiralty, Kheam Hock, Tampines and Yishun.

At the end of my talk, the group went on a short walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to see if we can spot any butterflies. We moved to the Swan Lake area, where there are more nectaring plants. At the edge of the pond, where a row of Cassia fistula and Caesalpinia pulcherrima were grown, a number of Pierid butterflies - Common Grass Yellow, Lemon Emigrant and Orange Emigrant were up and about.

Watching an Orange Emigrant oviposit

As if on cue, a female Orange Emigrant descended from the treetops and oviposited on a leaf of the Peacock Flower bush. The Lemon Emigrants were also flying actively amongst the foliage of the Cassia fistula trees. Walking further towards the Ginger Garden we spotted a number of Common Palmfly in the shaded area. As the weather was hot and sunny, there were a number of butterflies up and about. Over in the rainforest area, the group spotted species like the Painted Jezebel, a Common Mormon and a Short Banded Sailor.

I was pleased to note that quite a few of the NParks staff were already quite conversant with butterflies and could capably identify the more common urban species. It will only be a matter of time and with more field experience that the staff can be competent butterfly guides in the nature ways and be able to educate visitors and members of the public on the butterfly diversity along the nature ways!

It was a worthwhile morning for me to share information about butterflies with the NParks staff and also learn more about the development of nature ways as a strategy to habitat de-fragmentation and conserving our precious biodiversity in Singapore. With 'customised' and selective planting relevant to the locations of the nature ways, these eco-corridors will no doubt help in creating a conducive environment for butterflies to move across the island as well as aid in species conservation in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Jason Yong and Huang CJ

Further References And Reading :

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

Butterflies Galore! : Anderson's Grass Yellow

Butterflies Galore!
Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii)

The Grass Yellows from the genus Eurema, are difficult to identify when they are in flight. Although they have quite distinctive diagnostic features that distinguish the various species, it is necessary for them to stop for a closer look before they can be identified with a fair level of confidence. In this shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Huang CJ, the single cell spot can be clearly seen to identify this butterfly as the Anderson's Grass Yellow (Eurema andersonii andersonii)

Many of the Grass Yellows' males puddle at damp roadside paths and banks of forest streams for nutrients. The puddling butterfly presents the best opportunity for a photographer to sneak up on it and take a good shot of the butterfly. When it is flying erratically it is almost futile to chase the butterfly to try to photograph it.

You have read this article with the title March 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Arhopala amphimuta

Butterflies Galore!
Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta

Amongst the many lookalike species of butterflies in Singapore and Malaysia, this genus is probably one of the most challenging to identify. There are over 80 species in Malaysia alone, and more species are still being described from time to time. Although we have recorded only 16 species of Arhopala in Singapore, it is without doubt that there are more that have yet to be confidently identified and recorded.

Amongst the Arhopalas that are found in Singapore, this species, Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta is relatively common and several individuals can often be found in the same location. This species can easily be confused with the very similar looking Arhopala major major. The distinguishing V-shaped spot in A. amphimuta at the post-discal area of the hindwing generally separates the two species. The caterpillars of this species feed on Macaranga bancana and often in the company of ants. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Nona Ooi.

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

Butterflies Galore! : Yellow Flash

Butterflies Galore!
The Yellow Flash (Rapala domitia domitia)

The Yellow Flash (Rapala domitia domitia) is one of the rarer species in the genus Rapala of which there are currently seven reliably identified species in Singapore. Though rare, the Yellow Flash appears to be regularly observed in the forested areas of Singapore, and is widespread in distribution. It is skittish and a fast flyer and quite averse to the camera's flash at times.

The underside of the butterfly is a bright lemon yellow and largely unmarked except for a few black bars on the forewings and black marginal areas with blue iridescent scales on the hindwing. The upperside of both sexes is a dull brown. This pristine Yellow Flash was shot last weekend by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

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

Life History of the Pale Grass Blue

Life History of the Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Zizeeria Chapman, 1910
Species: maha Kollar, 1844
Subspecies: serica C. Felder, 1862
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 20-25mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Oxalis corniculata (Oxalidaceae, common names: Creeping Wood Sorrel, Yellow Wood Sorrel).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is light blue with broad dark blue border on both wings, whilst the female is dark greyish blue. On the underside, both sexes are pale greyish brown. Both wings have a cell-end bar and a spot in the cell, as well as a post-discal band of dark rounded spots. Both wings also have a submarginal series of pronounced spots flanked with v-shaped striae.

Field Observations:
Pale Grass Blue was discovered in Singapore in 2001 and has since become a common species. It was most probably introduced by human agency. The adults can be found in urban parks, grasslands and even in residential compounds and university campuses. The adults have a weak fluttering flight, and are usually spotted in the vicinity of its host plant, Yellow Wood Sorrel, or visiting flowers of various plants for nectar.

Early Stages:
So far, only one host plant, Oxalis corniculata, has been recorded as the local host plant for the Pale Grass Blue. The caterpillars of the Pale Grass Blue feed on the leaves and sometimes the young shoots of this host plant.

Local host plant :Oxalis corniculata..

A mating pair of the Pale Grass Blue.

A mother Pale Grass Blue ovipositing.

The eggs are laid singly on the underside of a leaf of the host plant. Each egg is about 0.4mm in diameter, and whitish with a yellowish green undertone. It is discoid-shaped with a depressed micropylar at the center of the upper surface. The egg surface is reticulated with a fine pattern of ridges and indentations.

Two views of an egg of the Pale Grass Blue.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, newly hatched, length: 0.7mm.

It takes about 4 days for the egg to hatch. The newly hatched has a pale yellowish body with a length of about 0.7-0.8mm. The body also features long setae dorso-laterally and along body fringe. The young caterpillar feeds by nibblying away a layer of the leaf lamina, causing thin stripes of whitish marks to appear on the leaf. After about 2-3 days of growth in the first instar, and reaching a length of about 1.8mm, the caterpillar moults to the next instar.

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

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 1.8mm.

Two views of a late 1st instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 1.4mm.

In the 2nd instar, besides the long setae which occur dorso-laterally and along body fringe, there are short and fine setae covering the body surface. The caterpillar is yellowish with a strong green undertone, and whitish, narrow, intermittent bands occur dorsally, dorso-laterally and sub-spiracularly. At this stage, the dorsal nectary organ is present but indistinct. The 2nd instar caterpillar reaches a length of about 2.8mm, and after about 3 days in this stage, it moults again.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 1.9mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 2.6mm.

Two views of a late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 2.4mm.

Compared to the 2nd instar caterpillar, the 3rd instar caterpillar bears a denser coat of proportionately shorter setae on its body. The body could be yellowish green entirely or featuring reddish shading dorsally and along body fringe. The dorsal nectary organ and the pair of tentacular organs, on the 7th and 8th abdominal segments, are now readily observed. The 3rd instar takes about 3 to 4 days to complete with the body length reaching about 5.5-6mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 2.6mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 4.6mm.

Two views of a late 3rd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar has a more distinctive appearance, featuring a dense coat of short whitish setae all over the body surface. The body coloration could be entirely green or yellowish green with shadings of red to reddish brown. At this stage, the caterpillar change its feeding habit to devouring the leaf lamina from the edge, rather than "grazing" on the leaf surface.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 7.2mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 10mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 11.2mm.

After about 4 days of feeding and reaching a length of about 10.5-11.5mm, the caterpillar stops food intake and seeks out a pupation site. During this time, its body gradually shortened. Typically the caterpillar chooses a spot on a stem or the underside of leaf for its pupation site. The pre-pupatory caterpillar prepares for pupation by spinning a silk girdle and a silk pad to which it attaches itself via anal claspers.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Pale Grass Blue.

After about 1 day as a pre-pupa, pupation takes place. The pupa is predominantly yellowish green to green and some would feature a number of small black spots dorsally and dorso-laterally. It has a typical lycaenid shape. There are whitish fine setae on its body and at the anterior end. Pupal length: 7.5-8mm.

Two views of a pupa of the Pale Grass Blue.

Six days later, the pupa turns black, first in the wing pad and thorax, then progressively in the abdomen. The presence and absence of the bright bluish patch in the wing pads gives an early indication of the gender of the soon-to-emerge adult. The next day, the pupal stage comes to an end with the emergence of the adult butterfly.

Two views of a mature pupa of a male Pale Grass Blue.

A newly eclosed Pale Grass Blue.

  • 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, Jonathan Soong, Mark Wong, Ben Jin Tan, Federick Ho and Horace Tan
You have read this article with the title March 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Elbowed Pierrot

Butterflies Galore!
The Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira)

The Elbowed Pierrot is a small black-and-white butterfly that flies mainly in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. It flies fast and erratically, usually at low level, searching for food along open footpaths and clearings. It also likes to perch on thin twigs to rest amongst the shrubbery. It is quite a rare sight to see this species open its wings to show the upper side of its wings.

This species is partial to decomposing organic matter on the forest floor, and readily puddles when it finds such a food source. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK, shows a typical puddling Elbowed Pierrot.

You have read this article with the title March 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Horsfield's Baron

Butterflies Galore!
The Horsfield's Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda)

The male Horsfield's Baron is territorial, and often displays a behaviour where it perches on a few preferred vantage points and then fly out to "attack" anything that intrudes into its territory. The characteristic dark brown/black wings with a light blue marginal border across both wings up to the termen of the forewing sets it apart from most butterflies in Singapore. Beginners, however, often confuse this species with the male Archduke & Black Tipped Archduke, which are larger and feature a more robust body. The underside of the Horsfield's Baron is pale buff with light brown markings.

Male Horsfield's Barons are seldom encountered puddling or feeding on fallen fruits in the forest. ButterflyCircle member Loke PF's shot is one such instance where this male was so intent on feeding on what appears to be a rotting fruit that it stayed in the same position for a long time.

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

Butterflies Galore! : Forget-Me-Not

Butterflies Galore!
The Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops strabo strabo)

This Hairstreak is typical of the "Blues" in the family Lycaenidae that has many lookalikes that are challenging to identify, especially if the butterfly is flying erratically and does not stop for an observer to look for the distinguishing characteristics of each species.  The Forget-Me-Not often flies in the company of its close cousin, the Silver Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops panormus exiguus) and separation of the two can be challenging in the field. The Forget-Me-Not is moderately rare, and often encountered singly. It frequents open sunny areas with low vegetation.

The male is lilac-blue above whilst the female has broad black apical borders on the forewings and more heavily shaded markings on submarginal area of the hindwing. The underside is pale buff with the usual streaks. The distinguishing costal spot, which is placed midway between the cell spot and the post-discal fascia on the forewing separates this species from the Silver Forget-Me-Not. This individual, perched on a leaf, was shot by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

You have read this article with the title March 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!
Saturday, March 15, 2014

Butterfly of the Month - March 2014

Butterfly of the Month - March 2014
The Common Jay (Graphium doson evemonides)

A Common Jay perched on a branch after getting its fill of nutrients whilst puddling

It has been an interesting start to the first few months of 2014 ever since the cold and wet months of 2013, where Singapore had to struggle with flash floods and an over-abundance of water everywhere. Then suddenly, the North East monsoon winds dried up, starting in mid January, all the way through February and March. The weather swung from too much rain in November and December 2013, to dry and parched days that saw previously green fields and verdant vegetation turn a sickly brown all over Singapore.

The National Environment Agency's website recorded day after day of fair sunny weather and after more than a month with virtually no rain, we've moved from worrying about flash floods to worrying about whether the government would start water rationing. Reservoir levels began to drop alarmingly, as with many ponds and water features all over the island. It was reported that over the past six weeks, a paltry 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month at Changi climate station. This is the least rain that has fallen since 1869!, and is well below the previous record of 6.3mm recorded in February 2010 and the mean February rainfall of 161mm.

Interestingly, although the urban butterfly population suffered quite drastically as a result of the parched vegetation and plants, the forest butterfly population did not seem to be affected much. Strangely, over the past few weekends, ButterflyCircle members have spotted a higher diversity of butterfly species within the forested nature reserves, with some rare ones making their appearance all of a sudden. It would be interesting to have a reason for this strange phenomenon, but we have none to postulate at this present moment.

A Common Jay puddling at a muddy footpath

Social and mainstream media were abuzz with the news of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH 370 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, with 239 passengers and crew on board. On 8 March, the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur on a standard scheduled flight to Beijing. That it suddenly disappeared without a trace over the sea somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam is something that continues to stump the experts. A multi-national search effort involving many countries over the past week turned up nothing so far.

A whole range of theories and speculations swamped the media - from pilot suicide to terrorist attack, hijacking and plane malfunction. But no wreckage nor any evidence has been found thus far. Latest news suggest that the plane's transponder and communications has been intentionally switched off, pointing to an "inside job" and someone who is technically conversant with avoiding civilian radar and rendering the plane "invisible" to all but military radars. This alludes to a hijacking of some sort, but until the facts are established, even this theory remains speculatory until someone claims responsibility for it.

A puddling Common Jay shows a glimpse of its upper forewing blue spots

No matter what the reasons are for the disappearance of the plane, we must remind ourselves of the agony and grief of the families all the 239 passengers on board MH 370. Lots of unanswered questions add to the ever-increasing anxiety of these families, who have feared the worst for their loved ones. When will the answers come? How is it that no one can explain why something as huge as a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, can disappear without a trace, with all the fancy technology and electronic gizmos that our generation is endowed with? Let us hope that we will know soon, and that there is still hope for the unfortunate 239 on flight MH 370.

This month, we feature a butterfly that was recently discovered in Singapore. First seen on Pulau Ubin some time in March 2004, it regularly appears and is resident on Pulau Ubin. On the main island of Singapore, another individual was spotted at an urban hill park some time later in late 2006. After close observation of the species, the early stages of the Common Jay was recorded by Horace Tan and documented in detail here. The caterpillar host plant that an egg-laying female was discovered ovipositing on Pulau Ubin, is Desmos chinensis (Dwarf Ylang Ylang).

A newly eclosed Common Jay clinging onto its pupal case

As the caterpillar host plant is not uncommon in several locations on Pulau Ubin, the Common Jay continues to survive as an extant species on Ubin to this day. The Common Jay is one of several lookalike butterflies of the Graphium genus. Over in Malaysia, there are at least five "Jays" which are basically blue in colour with black margins. We have only two in Singapore - the Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus) and the Common Jay (Graphium doson evemonides).

The distinguishing red-centred costal bar which separates the Common Jay from its lookalike cousins

The Common Jay is fast-flying, like the other species in the genus, and is often seen flying erratically along open paths and also at treetops. The wings are black above with a blue macular band across both wings. There are sub-marginal blue spots on both wings. The distinguishing feature of the Common Jay is the dark, red-centred costal bar which is separated from the inner and distal black bars.

Its status in Singapore can be considered endangered, due to the very localised occurrence on Pulau Ubin. Although the species is common in Malaysia, it has not yet become as widespread on the main island of Singapore, where only one reliable sighting has been recorded thus far. This means that its existence is limited to only Pulau Ubin at the moment, and is critically dependent on the availability of its main caterpillar host plant, Desmos chinensis for its continued survival on the island.

The Common Jay was not recorded by the early authors and hence taken as a new discovery for Singapore. Despite being an endangered species, it has regularly been observed on Pulau Ubin and it is hoped that there will be no significant developments in the near future that would wipe the colony out.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK & Horace Tan

You have read this article with the title March 2014. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!