12 April 2014

A Sneak Peek : New Butterfly Book

A Sneak Peek
Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand

There are, by far, many more books on birds in the Southeast Asian region than books on butterflies. Perhaps it is because there are more competent authors who are birders besides the assumption that birders in the region probably outnumber butterfly watchers by a ratio of 10:1! Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but would someone care to hazard a guess?

Green Commodore (Sumalia daraxa) shot at Telecoms Loop, Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

On 24 April 2014, John Beaufoy Publishing, a UK-based publisher of books on natural history, travel and adventure, food and fiction, will be launching a new butterfly book entitled "A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand". The 176-page book, authored by renown entomologist and butterfly expert, Dr Laurence G. Kirton, will be launched here in Singapore at the Gardens by the Bay.

Dr Kirton, a friend of ButterflyCircle, is currently the Head of the Biodiversity and Conservation of Fauna Programme at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM). His interest in butterflies began in his childhood years, together with his brother, Colin, and has continued into his professional career as a researcher. Laurence holds a PhD in entomology from Imperial College, University of London, and has authored many papers on Malaysian butterflies in the Malayan Nature Journal and other publications. Back in June 2009, Dr Kirton gave a talk on Butterfly Conservation to ButterflyCircle members and guests at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

It was a chance meeting with Ken Scriven* up on Fraser's Hill in Malaysia some time back in August 2011 that started ButterflyCircle's involvement with Dr Kirton's book. That evening, Geoff Davison from NParks, who was with Ken, introduced me as someone who had earlier published a book on butterflies in Singapore. Ken spoke to me about Dr Kirton's book, and asked if I would be able to help with providing photos for the book. Ken then put me in contact with John Beaufoy.
*Ken Scriven founded the WWF office in Malaysia and was its Executive Director from 1972 to 1991. He helped found the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Foundation of which he is Chairman. Although retired from WWF-Malaysia’s staff in 1991, Ken Scriven is still active as Vice-President Emeritus.

Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris) shot at Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

John subsequently visited Singapore and we met over coffee near my office. This started the whole process of helping Dr Kirton with the contacts of photographers who would be able to provide their butterfly photos from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. After 3 years, the book is now a reality and is already ready for sale, even before the official launch date later this month.

The new book, published in the same size of the Naturalist's Guide series by John Beaufoy Publishing measures 7" by 5", or equivalent to 5R in the standard photographic paper size. The book contains a total of exactly 408 unique photographs, of which ButterflyCircle members from Singapore (21 members), Malaysia (2 members) and Thailand (2 members) contributed 305 photos, or about 75% of the photos in the book.

Malayan Grass Yellow (Eurema tilaha) shot at Bunker Trail, Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia

The book starts with an introduction to the countries of reference in the book, covering geography, climate, vegetation and habitats and where to go looking for butterflies in the three countries.  The introduction goes on to deal with butterfly behaviour, predation, defence, life history, seasonality and the biology of butterflies. The rest of the book is organised by taxonomic classification covering the six families of Rhopalocera (butterflies).

A total of 280 species of butterflies are featured in the book, with descriptions of an additional 190 species. Each species is described in relative detail - identifying features, distribution, subspecies, habits and habitats. There is also a complete classification of the butterfly genera of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand at the concluding chapter of the book.

So, on the 24 April 2014, let us welcome a new addition to the references of our South East Asian butterfly fauna. The book will be sold during the launch. The author, Dr Laurence Kirton, will be on hand to autograph copies of the books at the launch, which is a private and by-invitation only event.  

The book will be available for sale at major bookstores as well as Amazon and various online portals.  For our overseas readers and members of the public who would like to order a copy of the book, please contact the distributor at :

Pansing Distribution Pte Ltd
1 New Industrial Road, Times Centre, Singapore 536196
Tel : +65 6319 9939
Email : infobooks@pansing.com

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK.  Book photos courtesy of John Beaufoy Publishing, UK

10 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Baron

Butterflies Galore!
The Baron (Euthalia aconthea gurda)

The Baron can usually be found in urban parks and gardens in the vicinity of where its caterpillar host plant, the mango (mangifera indica) is grown. It is a powerful flyer, like most of its related species in the Euthalia genus. Characteristic features are its robust body and flap-glide flying style.

This female Baron was shot just outside my driveway, puddling on the tarmac road where there were some damp patches after I had just watered my plants during the recent dry spell. The butterfly was probably looking for moisture that it could not find in the environment after more than a month of rainless weather. The post-discal spots on the forewing of the female Baron can be quite variable, as described in this earlier blog article.

07 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Black Veined Tiger

Butterflies Galore!
The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus)

This "Tiger" is a moderately common species in Singapore, but is usually seen singly. It is attracted to the flowers and dried plant of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum) whenever this plant is grown. The species resembles the more commonly-encountered Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia) but its broader hindwing marginal border and white hindwings sets it apart from its closely-related cousin. Both species are distant relatives of the famous American Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

This individual was photographed at the newly re-opened Butterfly Garden at Hort Park, returning again and again to the pale violet flowers of the Indian Heliotrope to feed.

05 April 2014

Life History of the Common Rose

Life History of the Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Pachliopta Reakirt, 1865
Species: aristolochiae
Fabricius, 1793
Subspecies: asteris
Rothschild, 1908
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 65-85mm

Caterpillar Local Host Plants:  Aristolochia acuminata (Aristolochiaceae, common names: Indian Birthwort, Dutchman's Pipe), Aristolochia elegans (Aristolochiaceae, common names: Calico flower, Pipe Vine).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, both sexes are black with the distal part of the forewing grey-shaded between the veins.The hindwing has a large white post-discal patch and a number of greyish-red submarginal crescent-shaped spots. Underneath, both sexes bear similar markings as per the upperside, but with the submarginal spots on the hindwing rounded and in striking red. The hindwing has a moderately long tail at vein 4. The body is bright red. The female has rounder wing contours than the male.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Common Rose is moderately common in Singapore and are often observed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Zoo, Hort Park and other locations where its host plants, Aristolochia spp., are cultivated. The adults are strong flyers and have been observed to visit flowers and puddle on wet ground.

03 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan

Butterflies Galore!
The Malayan (Megisba malaya sikkima)

The Malayan resembles the more frequently-encountered Common Hedge Blue (Acytolepis puspa lambi) at a glance, but is much smaller, and features short filamentous tails at vein 2 of the hindwing. It is skittish but often stops to perch at its favourite leaves on warm sunny days. Unlike the Common Hedge Blue, the Malayan is brown and largely unmarked above except for a paler discal area on the forewing.

The jet-black eyes of the Malayan are large relative to the size of the butterfly. It can sometimes be found puddling at damp forest paths and along the sandy banks of forest streams. The Malayan is widely distributed and can be found in forested areas as well as urban parks and gardens.

29 March 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 :

28 March 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.