30 July 2011

Life History of Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta

Life History of Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Arhopala Biosduval, 1832
Species: amphimuta C & R Felder, 1860
Subspecies: amphimuta C & R Felder, 1860
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 38mm
Caterpillar Host Plants:
Macarange bancana (Euphorbiaceae, common name: Common Mahang).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the male is violet with narrow but regular dark borders; the female is pale purple with broader dark borders than the male. Underneath, for both sexes, the post-discal band on the forewing is slightly dislocated at vein 4, and the post-discal spots in spaces 5, 6 ,7 on the hindwing overlapping and their centres aligned. The spot in space 3 on the forewing is usually an oblique oval. There are tornal green scales in the tailless hindwings which are slightly toothed at the end of vein 2.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is relatively common in Singapore. Sightings of the adults largely occur in the Central Catchment Area and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve where its host plant, Macaraga bancana is present in relative abundance. Typically the adults perch with its wings closed, but in sunny weather, they have the inclination to open their wings fully to sunbathe.

Early Stages:
The host plant Macaranga bancana has often been mistaken as M. triloba (click here for a related article). It is a small tree with hollow twigs inhabited by ants of the Cremastogaster genus
and featuring large broad reddish brown stipules at leaf nodes. Leaves are 3-lobed with leaf base broadly rounded. The immature stages of Arhopala amphimuta feed on the young leaves of M. bancana and has a symbiotic relationship with the inhabitant ants. When not feeding, the caterpillars in all instars have the habit of resting on the leaf underside, typically next to the adjoining main ribs at the leaf base.

Host plant: Macaranga bancana. A far view of its foliage.

Host plant: Macaranga bancana. Close-up view of its stem, showing broad and reddish brown stipules and the inhabitant ants.

A mother Arhopala amphimuta laying egg, during and immediate after the oviposition.

The egg is laid singly on the surface of a young leaf of the host plant. Each egg is about 1-1.1mm in diameter, white in color, depressed dome-shaped and feature many small broad-based spikes.

Two views of an egg of Arhopala amphimuta.

A mature egg with part of the chorion eaten away.

It takes 3-3.5 days for the egg to hatch. The newly hatched has a length of about 1.5mm and has a whitish coloration. It has a rather flattened woodlouse appearance with a large semicircular first thoracic segment. The large prothoracic shield is coloured as per the body base color. This onisform appearance remains as the caterpillar grows through the instars but becoming less flattened in later instars. The body also carries long lateral hairs and short dorsal hairs. As it grows, the body color becomes yellowish green.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, newly hatched, length: 1.5mm

1st instar caterpillar, length: 2mm.

Two 1st instar caterpillars, one in early stage (left) and one in late stage (right) of this instar.

After 3-4 days of growth, and reaching a length of about 3mm, the caterpillar moults to the next instar. The 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green to green in body colour and has moderatlely long lateral hairs. The dorsum is somewhat more raised in this instar than the earlier instar. The dorsal nectary organ (DNO) and the tentacular organs (TOs) are present now, but they are still too small to be easily distinguisable.
The 2nd instar caterpillar reaches a length of about 5mm, and after about 3-4 days in this stage, it moults again.

The same caterpillar. Top: in late 1st instar stage; Bottom: newly moulted to the 2nd instar.

2nd instar caterpillar, length: 4mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely. The body colour is yellowish green initially and for some specimens this remains so for the entire instar but others take on a pale reddish brown coloration on the lateral area of the body surface. The row of whitish spiracles now stand out against the darker body base colour. The 3rd instar takes about 3-4 days to complete with the body length reaching about 8-9mm.

Two 3rd instar caterpillars. Top: newly moulted, 5mm. Bottom: 6.5mm.

Two 3rd instar caterpillars resting against the main ribs at the leaf base.

The 4th instar caterpillar has similar appearance as in the 3rd instar. The intensity and extent of the reddish coloration on the body surface vary from specimen to specimen as depicted in the following series of three pictures. Now the DNO and TOs are all easily discernible. The 4th instar takes about 3-4 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 12-13mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 9mm.

Two views of another 4th instar caterpillar, with lesser intensity of reddish brown coloration, length: 9mm.

Two views of another 4th instar caterpillar, with greater intensity of reddish brown coloration, length: 11.5mm

The 5th instar caterpillar has similar body markings and variation of body colour as in the early two instars. With the increased body mass, the caterpillar has a less flattened body shape. In the field, these final instar caterpillars can be found resting against the reddish brown stipules on the stem.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 18mm.

The nectary organs of a 5th instar caterpillar. Dorsal nectary organ (DNO) on the 7th abdominal segment and the tentacular organs (TOs) on the 8th abdominal segment.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar being attended by ants which are particularly interested in the dorsal nectary organ (left side of the picture).

After about 7 days of feeding and reaching up to a length of 20mm, the caterpillar slows down and stops food intake for about 1 day. During this time, its body length gradually shortened. In the field, the caterpillar has been observed to choose the spot next to stipules as its pupation site. In a home breeding environment, the caterpillar chooses the gaps or space between leaf blades when leaf litter is offered.

A late 5th instar caterpillar resting against the reddish brown stipule in the field.

A pre-pupa of Arhopala amphimuta.

The pre-pupa caterpillar prepares for pupation by spinning a silk girdle and a silk pad to which it attaches itself via cremastral hooks. After 1 day as a pre-pupa, pupation takes place. The pupa, with a length of 13-14mm, has a shape typical of a Lycaenid species, and has a somewhat produced anal segment. It is mostly yellowish brown in coloration with dark brown patches in the wing cases and in mid body segments.

Two views of a pupa, length: 13mm

Eight days later, the pupa becomes darken especially in the thorax and wing cases, signalling that the pupal stage is coming to an end. The next day, the adult butterfly emerges.

Two views of a mature pupa.

A newly eclosed Arhopala amphimuta. Note the aberrated spots on the hindwings.

A 5th instar caterpillar being attended by ants in the field.


  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, The Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, 2006
Further Readings:
  • Immature stages and biology of Bornean Arhopala butterflies feeding on myrmecophytic Macaranga, T. Okubo, M. Yago and T. Itioka, Trans. Lepid. Soc. Japan, 60(1), pp.37-51, 2009
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Henry Koh, Mark Wong, Anthony Wong, Federick Ho, Sunny Chir and Horace Tan

27 July 2011

Butterfly Portraits - Magpie Crow

Butterfly Portraits
Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus)

I still have vivid memories of how I chased and stalked this Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus) on 22 June 2009 in Endau Rompin National Park, Johor. This male Magpie Crow was flitting and puddling on the riverbank. There weren’t any other species for me to shoot on that very quiet morning, so photographing this “Crow” became my focus.

I knelt down to attempt a puddling shot whenever it settled down on the sandy ground. Being  alert and skittish, it took off each time I inched forward. This happened a few times but allowed me to notice its taking-off flight was rather slow and lethargic. The idea of capturing an in-flight shot flashed through my mind, So , for the next few minutes, I didn’t have to “go down” to shoot it, what a relief !

Technically speaking, this was just an ordinary shot - the sharpness and composition are far from good. However, I treasure this shot very much because It was a precious reward for my determined and relentless effort that allowed me to nail this in-flight shot showing the uppersides of the Magpie Crow - a timely capture of an instantaneous moment. To me, nature photography is about how an interesting or a rare moment of any natural phenomenon being captured permanently that would make a person remember and marvel at it for a long time – just like this shot does for me.

Today, trekking cum butterfly photography is my weekend routine. I had many wonderful and fond memories of shootings and outings with friends from ButterflyCircle. Thank you very much and hope we would continue enjoy walking this butterfly photography journey together to scale new heights in the quest of understanding butterfly species and helping them to thrive in nature.

ButterflyCircle Photographer : Federick Ho in his early 50's who works in the education sector

23 July 2011

Butterfly of the Month - July 2011

Butterfly of the Month - July 2011
The Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya)

And so, we gallop past the half-way mark of 2011, and way into the month of July.  In some areas, the global turmoil seemed to have abated and things are returning to normalcy.  However, in this age and time, we have been trained to expect the unexpected.  Singapore's economic recovery stabilised, as our little city state prepares to face new challenges with an uncomfortable trepidation.

The political atmosphere appears to have taken an approach where the citizenry has become more vocal and no punches are pulled when engaging the authorities.  Yet the government is now more willing to listen and to debate policies and new directions.  In some quarters, the old timers opine that the government has gone soft.  But change is here to stay, and we will have to see how the new style of public engagement can continue to see Singapore prosper and grow in the years to come.

On a more day-to-day view of things, the Certificate of Entitlement has breached the S$70,000 mark and rising.  For the less familiar amongst our readers, the COE is a piece of paper that gives a car owner the licence to buy and own a car - for the next ten years at least.  Whenever I explain this quota system of managing the republic's car population on the roads to my foreign friends, I usually get looks of amazement and disbelief.  When the realities of the monetary amounts sink in, my friends will often think that Singaporeans are mad, spending that kind of money (which is now of a higher value than the car itself) on a piece of paper!  Nowhere else in the world has such a system!  Uniquely Singapore, we call it...

The birthstone for July is the Ruby, a pink to blood-red gemstone.  The ruby is considered one of the four precious stones, the others being the sapphire, emerald and diamond.  The red colour of this stone is caused by the element chromium.  I will always remember the rubies that I've seen in Myanmar during my earlier trips there, and the most sought-after and valuable ones came from the province of Mogok, famed for their 'pigeon's blood' stones.   

The glowing ruby shall adorn,
Those who in July are born;
Then they'll be exempt and free
From love's doubts and anxiety.
- Gregorian Birthstone Poems

A mating pair of the Spotted Judy

For July's Butterfly of the Month, we feature the Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya).  The Judys belong to a family of butterflies in the Riodinidae family, usually referred to as Metalmarks.  Of the three extant species of the genus Abisara here in Singapore, two, the Spotted and Malayan Plum Judys are coloured a deep red. 

The Judys are relatively small-sized butterflies usually with a wingspan of no more than 45mm.  They have a unique habit of hopping actively from leaf to leaf with half-opened wings.  Most of the species in the genus favour the shady forest understorey, and are mainly active in the early and late afternoon hours of the day.

The Spotted Judy is recognised by the pale sub-apical patch of the forewing and the black submarginal spots on the hindwing.  One of the characteristics of this species is that the underside of the hindwing's post-discal band is dislocated at vein 4.  This dislocation is variable, and is usually more pronounced in the female than in the male.  The prominently angled hindwing is more rounded in the male, but is more angular in the female.  

Three views of the upperside of the Spotted Judy with varying sidelight angles that reveal the vivid blue colour

The species feature attractive emerald-coloured eyes, and is unique in that the females have six fully-developed legs, whilst the males have only four fully-developed legs.  The males' remaining pair of legs (the forelegs) appear more like hair tufts and are useless for walking.The upperside of the wings of the males, when viewed at certain angles and in a sidelight, feature a strong purple-blue sheen.

The Spotted Judy cannot be said to be very common, but at certain favoured localities, several individuals can often be observed dog-fighting in the late afternoon hours of the day.  They will return again and again to the same favourite perches and then take off to 'attack' another individual that strays into its territory.  

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, James Chia, Sunny Chir, James Foong, Khew SK, Loke PF, Benedict Tay and Benjamin Yam

20 July 2011

Butterfly Portraits - The Plane

Butterfly Portraits
The Plane (Bindahara phocides phocides)

Canon 5D MkII with Speedlight 580EXII, Tamron 180 F3.5, Manual Mode, 1/125s, f/5.0, ISO2000, fill-flash, Handheld.

It was a cloudy Sunday morning when Anthony, Mark and I arrived at our favourite hunting ground within the Central Catchment Area. Today, I had only one objective on my mind - to shoot The Plane. I settled immediately around the area the Plane had been spotted in recent weeks. After a while, I received several SMSes from Mark, reporting that he had seen some rare species along another nearby trail. I was quite tempted to join him but told Anthony to proceed first. This turned out to be the right decision.

Left alone, I went slightly off-trail into an area that was heavily shaded by the thick forest canopy. Scanning around like a predator hunting for its prey, it was when I looked through the gaps of some leaves that I saw a brown butterfly perched at eye level about 2 feet away. I took a second look to check out its wing pattern and the long tail. To my delight, The Plane had landed right in front of me !

The first thing that went through my mind was to take a record shot. A few branches and leaves in front were blocking the lens, so I used the lens hood to carefully find an opening for an unblocked view. With the record shots safely in the bag, I decided to take my chances by moving the obstructing branches and leaves away carefully, knowing from experience that the they might be “connected” to the leaf on which the Plane was resting. Carefully, I managed to move the obstructions away without frightening the butterfly off. This allowed me to go a step forward for a near full frame shot.

My initial shots looked fine, except that the background was messy and dark. I switched to manual mode, pumped up the ISO and opened up the aperture. I lowered myself a little to be more parallel to the wings this time, steadied my feet again while tightening my grip firmly on the 5D MkII before squeezing off another 4 more shots.

Although this shot wasn’t up to the usual ButterflyCircle photography standards, it was an unforgettable one for me. After all, I have finally shot my avatar.

ButterflyCircle Photographer : Chng CK in his 40's who works in the aviation industry.

12 July 2011

Trekking along the Choo-Choo Corridor

Trekking along the Choo-Choo Corridor
A Morning Walk on a future green link in urban Singapore

0500 hrs : The sharp ringtone of my iPhone alarm snapped me out of my blissful slumber as I muttered something unprintable, and reached for the "Snooze" button. I took a peek at the time through my sleep-deprived eyes, and it was 5:00am! A rather unearthly hour for a butterfly enthusiast, as butterflies, as most of us who watch them will know, would also be fast asleep like most of us.

A shot for the album - with BG Tan Chuan Jin along the Rail Corridor

Earlier in the week, I received an email from the Ministry of National Development to invite me to join the Minister of State, BG Tan Chuan Jin, on his walk on the Rail/Green Corridor - the railway track that used to belong to Malaysia. This rail corridor, totalling some 173Ha and stretching 24km from Tg Pagar to Woodlands, ceased functioning on 1 Jul 2011 and the land vested to Singapore after a long bilateral exchange and the agreement was finally settled.

It was still very dark when I got to the meeting point at 5:50am

0515 hrs : I got up and made myself a hot cuppa and had a quick breakfast before gearing up. I headed out for the meeting point at Silat Estate in Bukit Merah. It was still dark, and driving on our usually busy Singapore roads was a breeze at this time of the day. As I was unfamiliar with the area where we were supposed to meet, I decided to give myself a bit more time to get there and look for a carpark.

Some early birds waiting for the main group to assemble

0540 hrs : I parked at a Multi-Storey carpark, tore the requisite parking coupons and then took a brisk walk to the meeting point. The cool morning air and light breeze were refreshing and energising! I must remind myself to get up earlier to do this (but then again, getting up at 5am isn't something that I look forward to). When I got to the meeting point, there were already quite a few people there, and I met some friends from URA, MND, NParks and NSS.

This was the view at the start of the trek - looking towards the KTM railway line

0620 hrs : After a short wait, the group was almost 30-40 strong (just my estimate, as it was still dark, and my brain was supposed to be still asleep!). Led by BG Tan, the group set off into the darkness. Fortunately, there was just enough light from the street lamps and adjacent buildings to light up the railway track. My iPhone clock read 6:25am as the group hit the tracks and started walking on the gravelly trail.

Off into the darkness!

0630 hrs : There was the usual laughter and banter amongst friends and new-found acquaintances and the group was in high spirits. BG Tan zoomed off at SAF Road March pace, leaving the less fit amongst us (including yours truly) huffing and puffing behind. Fortunately, he eased off his pace and spent some time taking photos with his D700 (one up for Nikon!), and walking back to make sure that all the stragglers moved along.

We walked in the dim lighting of the street lights and nearby apartments as dawn was breaking

0645 hrs : As we pounded the loose gravel and skipped on the railway track sleepers, the natural scenery that unfolded was inspiring. The lush greenery that bounded both sides of the track offered a visual relief from the surroundings, and the morning air was alive with birds singing. My favourite butterflies however, were obviously still fast asleep.

Morning has broken!

0655 am : Just before 7:00am, the morning light took on a bluish pall, washing everything in its wake an unnatural pale mauve. The air was still, and the infamous tropical humidity started to take effect on the group. We passed the HDB flats at Bukit Merah, and walked briskly along the tracks, never far from the drone of the morning traffic that was beginning to build up.

Under the Queensway viaduct.

0720 hrs : A curve to right, and we passed Alexandra Hospital - an area that is most familiar to me (and the butterflies). A little further, and we were under the wide expanse of the undercroft of the Queensway viaduct. In the semi-darkness, I could hear crickets scurrying somewhere amongst the loose gravel.

Block 55, Commonwealth Drive

0740 hrs : Pressing on, we could see an Indian temple on the right (Sri Muneeswaran Temple) and other regious buildings. A little further, Block 55, Commonwealth Drive with its eye-catching colour, dominated the vista along the track. The rolling fields and lush greenery of Wessex Estate embraced the few bungalows on the left of the track.

Little house on the prairie?

0800 hrs : A short distance away, we were walking parallel to Tanglin Halt Road, and our first "pit-stop" at the Buona Vista viaduct came into view. Below the viaduct, we could see some "underground creativity" at work. Graffiti artists had left some of their signature work along the walls of the viaduct, totally obscured from public view. The "artwork" had me wondering if the authors were the same as those who had, not long ago, vandalised some MRT trains!

Having a break under the Buona Vista viaduct. Graffiti or Art?

0815 hrs : After a quick rest, the group pushed on, passing the backyards of some nice bungalows that probably housed the rich and famous. The homeowners took full advantage of the borrowed views that the open rail tracks offered, some even appearing to encroach onto the side tables of the tracks for their own use! I wonder if any of these homeowners are having problems sleeping, without the rumble and tumble of the KTM trains passing just a few metres away from their windows daily.

Two big bungalows along the trail

0830 hrs : Moving past the Holland Road area, we reached a nice green patch of forest as the rail track straightened out, heading towards the Bukit Timah Station. Already there were many others on the track, young and old, on two feet and on wheels, out and about on this Saturday morning.

0845 hrs : As the government officially announced that most parts of the rail corridor will be off-limits to the public, to facilitate work on the tracks, I presume that many Singaporean residents took the opportunity to take a last look at a piece of Singapore's (and Malaysia's) history.

Visitors from all walks of life - on two legs, four legs and on wheels!

The Bukit Timah Railway Station

0900 hrs : The little solitary single-storeyed building that was the Bukit Timah Station came into view, as the track split and widened into three different tracks. There was a crowd around the whole area, making me wonder where they all came from!

BG Tan being interviewed by the Media, and surrounded by well-wishers and curious onlookers

A shot with Dr Shawn Lum, President of NSS. A most decent and likeable chap, unlike some unsavoury characters that we know from a certain interest group in NSS.

0915 hrs : The ChannelNewsAsia crew that was following us interviewed the people around, and very soon, there was a crowd around BG Tan as he spoke to the journalists and mingled with the largely Singaporean crowd. I recognised a few familiar faces amongst the nature photographers, toting their professional equipment and shooting everything that they considered worth digitally recording for posterity.

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters?

1000 hrs : A little further, we crossed one of the iron bridges over Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads. The typical black-painted bridge is one of many along the route. There was a small crowd walking to and fro, taking photos and just enjoying the higher vantage point over the busy road.

BCA won't like the safety provisions on this bridge, for sure!

1010 hrs : I remarked to my friend from URA that the authorities would have concern at the level of safety (or lack thereof) on this bridge. The "railings" that stood between the curious visitors and a 5m drop onto two major roads was just a simple strand of barbed wire!

BG Tan (in blue) chatting with friends

10:30 hrs : The compass on my iPhone read NorthEast as we marched off over Bukit Timah Road, and towards our midway lunch stop. After crossing Bt Timah Road, we headed on towards Rifle Range Road. We moved onto a straight track, and I remember a veteran walker who was with us, telling me that the track ran straight for 2km along this stretch. The backyards of the condominiums along Upper Bukit Timah Road were on our left, as we walked on growling tummies towards the last lap of the first half of BG Tan's walk.

A straight 2km stretch of the rail track

This was a lush area, with the greenery of Bt Timah Nature Reserve on the right of the track, and I was beginning to see quite a few butterflies flying around, now that the weather is warmer and they have woken up. But the species were still mainly the urban common ones like the Chocolate Pansy, Striped Albatross, Psyche, Grass Yellows and several Bush Browns.

Makeshift Malaysian-style retaining wall? Using pieces of steel to hold up some planks. I wonder who the Professional Engineer who had to sign for this wall!

Not long after, we saw the tiled roofs of the single-storey buildings of the Rail Mall shops and we knew that it was the end of the first leg of this 24 km walk! A group of us had lunch at Cafe Epicurious and had the opportunity to chat with BG Tan.

Evidence of a "rail kill". This looks like a dog that was run over by a train, leaving a skeleton that was cut in half and a bit of fur left around the tracks. We also saw the skeletons of a dead cat, snake and even a turtle!

After a much needed rest and lunch, BG Tan and about 7 others from the original group continued on their way to Kranji and to the end of the Rail Corridor, whilst the rest of us less fit people hopped on to the chartered bus and headed back to the starting point at Silat Estate to collect our cars.

As for butterflies, a nature link like the Rail Corridor is something that would be useful, like many of NParks' Park Connectors that have been created. Correct planting in relation to the habitats and catchment areas where butterflies can breed, can certainly bring more species into the 24km line, particularly in the areas north of Queenstown.

A rustic kampung-like atmosphere complete with a zinc-roofed shack along the railway track

So what's coming round the bend for this Rail Corridor?

All in all, it was an interesting walk and a new perspective from the railway tracks. Those who are planning on making this walk, please wear robust hiking shoes! The tortuous pounding of trekking on the hard gravel has taken a toll on many poor hikers' shoes. BG Tan made an amusing comment about the number of "lost soles" that he saw along the track. And for those of you who have yet to experience this corridor of nature and history, be quick, before the railway tracks are removed.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Khew SK (taken with a Canon G12) & Ho Moon Shin

Further Reading :