02 September 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Painted Jezebel

Butterflies Galore!
The Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete)

The Painted Jezebel is widespread in Singapore. It is regularly observed in urban areas, parks and gardens and also in the forested areas of our nature reserves. The butterfly flies restlessly, often at treetop level, but sometimes comes down to feed at flowers. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Horace Tan, shows a Painted Jezebel feeding on the flower of Bidens pilosa, a common "wildflower" that has been spreading rapidly across the island.

The Painted Jezebel is known to be distasteful to some predators, and its aposematic or bright "warning" colours are a sign to predators that it should be avoided. Even its caterpillars are bright yellow and very obvious when feeding on its caterpillar host plant, the mistletoe Dendrophthoe pentandra. Whilst the Painted Jezebel shares this host plant with other species like the Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli) and the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius), it is curious why only the Painted Jezebel is able to extract any protective benefit from the plant, whilst the other two species are not known to be distasteful to birds.

30 August 2014

Life History of the Malay Viscount v2.0

Life History of the Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea)
An earlier version of the life history of the Malay Viscount can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tanaecia Butler, 1869
Species: palea Fabricius, 1787
Subspecies: palea Fabricius, 1787
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-70mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plants: Palaquium obovatum (Sapotaceae), Pouteria obovata (Sapotaceae), Adinandra dumosa (Theaceae, common name: Tiup-Tiup).

A male Malay Viscount puddling on wet ground.

A sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are pale greyish ochreous brown with submarginal arrow-shaped markings. On the forewing, these markings are embedded in large, whitish spots. On the underside , the wings are paler brown with a faint trace of violet in a side light. The two sexes can be distinguished in the hindwing: the male has two submarginal rows of small distinct, black V-shaped markings, whilst those in the female are very obscure and conjoint.

A male Malay Viscount enjoying the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron.

Another sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Malay Viscount is rather common in Singapore. They are mainly found in the nature reserves, but at times adults can be seen flying in other forested areas. Both sexes have the habit of resting on perches with wings open, and visiting flowers/ripened fruits on flowering/fruiting trees in their habitat. The male have been observed to puddle on damp ground and on fallen (and rotting) fruits. The adults are skittish and readily take flight when disturbed.

25 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : White Banded Awl

Butterflies Galore!
The White Banded Awl (Hasora taminatus malayanus)

The White Banded Awl is rare in Singapore, and is usually associated with the forested nature reserves, rather than urban parks and gardens. It is a fast flyer like most of the "Awls" and appears in the early morning hours of the day, zipping and feeding at damp concrete or stone walls and wooden structures in the vicinity of the nature reserves. In the later hours of the day, it is usually found in deep shady forests where it has a tendency of perching upside down under a leaf, with its wings folded upright.

This individual was encountered much later than usual in the morning, after 10am, perhaps due to the overcast and cool weather last Sunday. It was flying rapidly under the sheltered pavilion at Upper Seleter Reservoir Park, and stopping frequently to feed on some spilt fluids on the concrete table. Note the narrow white post-discal band and the iridescent bluish-green wing bases on both wings, which are diagnostic identification features of the White Banded Awl.

23 August 2014

Butterfly of the Month - August 2014

Butterfly of the Month - August 2014
The Tree Yellow (Gandaca harina distanti)

We move into the 8th month of the year 2014, looking back at a series of alarming human conflicts in the Middle East - all in the name of religion. A paradox of sorts, as no major religion that we know of, teaches its subjects to harm, maim or kill others. The atrocities that have been reported in the daily media only serves to reinforce the view that mankind is the weak link and can be manipulated to lose all sense of human-ness and reason.

Further west to Africa, a deadly virus rears its ugly head again, as the Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever spreads across the African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. First discovered back in 1976 in Zaire (now known as Republic of the Congo), Ebola has no known cure to date, and has a fatality rate of over 65%. On the 8th of this month, the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic to be an international public health emergency. We can only hope that the spread of the disease to other parts of the world can be effectively contained before it explodes into another SARS-like emergency.

On 9 Aug this year, Singapore celebrated its 49th birthday since it became an independent city-state in 1965. It was a time for reflection on the progress of the nation from a struggling 3rd world Asian city to the successful metropolis that many other nations look on with admiration and envy. However, there is much angst amongst the locals these days, if comments on social media are to be taken seriously, as Singaporeans come to terms with the high cost of living and other daily struggles.

I had the opportunity to travel to the UAE this month. For many of us who travel abroad, it is always amazing to learn how well-regarded Singapore is. I was at the Dubai airport immigration, and had waited for the passenger in front of me (a Caucasian) to clear his immigration check. It took quite some time, as I saw him gesticulating angrily to the officer and looking displeased about the delay and being questioned. As he left in a huff, I quickly placed my passport on the counter with apprehension, and smiled at the officer, who appeared irritated at the previous passenger. He took a look at my passport, gestured to me to do the usual video check, and said "you're from Singapore?". I said yes, and he smiled at me, stamped my passport and said, "beautiful city!". I was out in about 30secs!

August is certainly not the best month of the year to travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the daytime temperatures typically hit 40degC. But business calls, and off I went. My last trip to Dubai was some years back, and returning to this city in the sun again, I was no less impressed by the achievements and progress that followed after the global financial crisis.

City skyline of Dubai, with the Burj Al-Arab hotel in the background

An hour's drive to Abu Dhabi, which I visited for the first time, also left a positive impression of the cleanliness and advancements of these two Middle Eastern cities. Five to seven lane highways (and that's in one direction!) were typical of their expressways, with new shiny luxury cars plying the well-built roads. However, looking around the harsh desert landscape made me miss the verdant equatorial greenery that we have in Singapore. Needless to say, I did not see a single butterfly throughout my entire trip, even though I'm sure they must be out there somewhere!

A Tree Yellow feeds on the flower of the Bandicoot Berry

Coming back to our Butterfly of the Month, we feature a common and rather plain-looking butterfly, the Tree Yellow (Gandaca harina distanti). This small and predominantly yellow butterfly is a forest-specialist, and is usually found in Singapore's forested nature reserves and fringe areas surrounding the nature reserves. It is skittish, and is typically fluttering around restlessly as it moves in search for food. It is rarely seen outside the forested areas in Singapore.

A trio of puddling Tree Yellows

The Tree Yellow is common and is regularly observed feeding at flowering plants as well as puddling with other butterfly species at sandy streambanks and damp forest footpaths. Contrary to the early authors' observations that mention that this species does not puddle, the Tree Yellow has been often encountered puddling - at times in numbers that exceed 6 individuals!

A Tree Yellow puddles with an Anderson's Grass Yellow in the background

The Tree Yellow resembles the related Eurema species (Grass Yellows) and are often seen in the company of these other species. However, the Tree Yellow is much paler, slightly larger and totally unmarked on the undersides of the wings.

Except for a narrow black marginal border on the upperside of the forewings, the Tree Yellow is a consistent lemon yellow throughout. Females of the species can be distinguished by a dentate projection in the forewing black border at vein 4, and is generally paler than the males.

A newly-eclosed Tree Yellow clings on to its pupa shell

The recorded caterpillar host plants of the Tree Yellow are Monocarpia marginalis and Mitrephora maingayi.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Khew SK, Koh CH, Nelson Ong, Simon Sng, Horace Tan and Lemon Tea.

22 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Cornelian

Butterflies Galore!
The Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus)

The Cornelian is one of two species of the genus Deudorix that has been reliably observed to be extant in Singapore. The early authors' checklists show other species, but that remains to be validated in recent years. The word Cornelian is usually associated with the gemstone "cornelian" which is a red variety of chalcedony, a type of quartz. Its red colour is due to the presence of iron impurities in the form of iron oxide or hematite. The name of the butterfly, which features a bright red upperside, probably comes from its association with the red coloured gem, cornelian.

The butterfly is usually skittish and able to fly at tremendous speeds. However, it can usually be photographed when it is feeding on flowers, or in this case, feeding on the sugary sap on the young inflorescence of the Tiger Orchid. This shot was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF.

16 August 2014

Life History of the Palm Bob

Life History of the  Palm Bob (Suastus gremius gremius)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Suastus Moore, 1881
Species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Sub-species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 33-35mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Cocos nucifera (Arecaceae; common name: Coconut), Rhapis excelsa (Arecaceae, common name: Lady Palm).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are brown with the forewing adorned with pale yellow hyaline spots in the cell-end and spaces 1b, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8. The hindwing is unmarked. The tornal cilia are whitish. Beneath, the wings are greyish brown with the hindwing overlaid with buff scaling and featuring a number of moderately large and well defined black spots.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Palm Bob is common in Singapore. Sightings are rather frequent in nature reserves and in urban parks and gardens. The adults are fast flyers and are skittish when disturbed. They have been observed to visit flowers and sunbathe in sunny weather, and to puddle on bird dropping.

14 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Psyche

Butterflies Galore!
The Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana)

In butterfly photography, the background of the picture is often as important as the subject itself. Whilst many photographers who are new to the hobby pursues the butterfly and is quite happy to just get a decent shot of the butterfly itself, the more experienced photographers look for opportunities to get the background uncluttered, so as to emphasise the subject more effectively.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH, is an example of such a photo, which is well-composed with the butterfly nicely perched on a blade of grass, and where the pastel coloured background enables the subject, in this case a Psyche, to stand out prominently in the picture.