31 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Banded Swallowtail

Butterflies Galore!
The Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion)

The Basket Stinkhorn (Dictyophora indusiata) can be found in our nature reserves.  However, to encounter this beautiful mushroom, one has to go out early, as the netlike white veil will collapse and rot off by noon. The putrid odour emanating from this mushroom attracts flies, carrion beetles and the occasional butterfly.

The Banded Swallowtail shown here, was photographed feeding on the bulbous head of the Basket Stinkhorn. It returned repeatedly to the mushroom to feed and was 'tame' enough to be photographed although it flapped its forewings continuously as it fed, typical of the Papilio species.

Read more about the Stinkhorn mushroom at the Bird Ecology Study Group's website where Dr Wee Yeow Chin elaborates about this species of mushroom found in Singapore's forests.

30 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Sumatran Sunbeam

Butterflies Galore!
The Sumatran Sunbeam (Curetis saronis sumatrana)

The Sumatran Sunbeam is one of two species of the genus Curetis that exists in Singapore. Although other species were recorded before, they remain elusive and besides the Malayan Sunbeam (Curetis santana malayica) the other species recorded by the early authors have not been reliably identified yet.

The Sumatran Sunbeam is usually found in the mangrove habitats in places like Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve, Pasir Ris Park Mangrove swamp and Pulau Ubin. It is a fast flyer, and females are more often seen than the males of this species. The Sumatran Sunbeam has a habit of flying rapidly, then perching on the underside of a leaf to hide. Two weekends ago, ButterflyCircle member Chng CK managed to capture a shot of this species, perched on the underside of a leaf with its wings folded upright.

29 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : White Banded Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The White Banded Flat (Celaenorrhinus asmara asmara)

A colony of the White Banded Flat was re-discovered in Singapore by Nelson Ong and Yiming some time back in Feb 2011. Until then, it had been assumed that this species, recorded in the checklists of the early authors, was extinct. The surprising find ensured that the White Banded Flat would be re-instated to the Singapore Checklist once again.

Last week, ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot the White Banded Flat at its very local hideout. We are glad to know that the colony still thrives and does not appear to be in danger of disappearing just yet. But its existence in the Singapore butterfly list remains highly threatened.

27 July 2013

Life History of the Malay Lacewing v2.0

Life History of the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina)
An earlier version of the life history of the Malay Lacewing can be viewed by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Cethosia Fabricius, 1807
Species: hypsea Doubleday, 1847
Subspecies: hypsina C. & R. Felder, 1867
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 60-80mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Adenia macrophylla var. singaporeana

A female Malay Lacewing showing its underside.

A female Malay Lacewing showing its upperside.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the forewings are black with a white subapical band beyond the cell; the basal area is orange-red for the male (with the red confined to the base of the wings) and black for the female (with a yellowish-white patch in mid space 1b). The hindwing is entirely orange-red (paler in the female) except for the scalloped black distal border. Underneath, the wings are orange-red with white fasciae and adorned with black spots. The forewing cell has several black-edged, pale blue transverse stripes. The wing borders are dark coloured and deeply indented with lace-like pattern of white markings. One distinguishing feature to separate Malay Lacewing from other Cethosia species is the absence of a white submarginal band on the hindwing underside.

A male Malay Lacewing showing its underside.

A male Malay Lacewing showing its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Malay Lacewing is essentially a forest dweller and its local occurrence is confined within the sanctuary of the nature reserves in the catchment areas. It is not uncommon in the reserves, and adults can be spotted visiting flowers of flowering plants such as Leea indica in forest clearings or alongside forest trails. At times, females can also be seen checking out leaves of various plants in search of an ovipositing site.

25 July 2013

Down Memory Lane - Singleton

Down Memory Lane
The Singleton (Una usta usta)

This small butterfly, known as the Singleton, was recorded in the checklists of the early collectors and the authors of the two main reference books on butterflies of Malaysia and Singapore. The male of the Singleton is deep brownish purple above, whilst the female is lighter but has a broad border on both wings. The underside is pale buff brown with prominent black spots on both wings.

It is not known why the butterfly disappeared from Singapore, or when it did. It is reported that the Singleton is nowhere considered common, even in Malaysia. However, on ButterflyCircle members' trips up north, males of this species are quite regularly encountered puddling on damp riverbanks. In looking back at the numerous butterfly surveys in Singapore, starting in the early 1990s, no one has thus far seen the Singleton. Will it be back here again one day? Or will it remain only in our memories and is gone forever from Singapore?

Butterflies Galore! : Orange Emigrant

Butterflies Galore!
The Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia)

Amongst the three species of the genus Catopsilia in Singapore, the Orange Emigrant gets my vote for being the prettiest of the three. Fast-flying and erratic in flight, this Pierid is common and more so whenever its caterpillar host plants, Senna fistula and Senna surattensis are cultivated. The underside of the Orange Emigrant is orange-yellow with brown markings. The upperside of the forewings is white with black borders whilst the hindwings are orange-yellow.

This Orange Emigrant is feeding on the flower of the Lantana, an all-time favourite nectaring plant for butterflies. The pink variety, shown here, is less popular with butterflies compared to the orange and red varieties. The proboscis of the butterfly can be seen coated with pollen from the stamens of the flower. Butterflies are good pollinators of flowering plants when they go about feeding on nectar from the flowers.

24 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Spotted Black Crow

Butterflies Galore!
The Spotted Black Crow (Euploea crameri bremeri)

The subfamily Danainae, often referred to by their collective English Common name of "Tigers and Crows" display aposematic colouration as a warning to predators that they are distasteful and should be avoided. One such species, the Spotted Black Crow is predominantly black in colour, with typical white spots on its wings which is characteristic of several species of the Euploea genus.

This Spotted Black Crow, shot last weekend, kept returning again and again to the flowers of the Stringbush to feed, even when disturbed. A moderately rare species, the Spotted Black Crow is often observed on the landward side of mangrove areas in Singapore. Its caterpillars feed on Apocynaceae plants which are lactiferous. It is the chemical compound in the host plant that gives the adult butterfly its distasteful properties.

23 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Peacock Pansy

Butterflies Galore!
The Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana javana)

The Peacock Pansy is one of four Pansies found in Singapore. Sun-loving butterflies, all the four belong to the genus Junonia, of which there are six species in the Southeast Asian region. Two of them, the Lemon Pansy and the Yellow Pansy are not found this far south. In flight, the Pansies are fast on the wing and adopt a rapid gliding flight.

The Peacock Pansy is predominantly orange with large eyespots adorning both wings. The underside is paler with the same markings and ocelli as the upperside. The caterpillars of this species feed on the Creeping Ruellia (Ruellia repens). The species is fairly common and usually found in open grassy areas. This perching Peacock Pansy was shot by ButterflyCircle member Nona Ooi last weekend.

20 July 2013

Butterfly of the Month - July 2013

Butterfly of the Month - July 2013
The Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes)

Last month's haze is but a memory now, blown away as quickly as the prevailing winds changed. Our northern neighbour, Malaysia received a good dose of the polluted air before the rains came and it was over as suddenly as it started, despite reaching hazardous levels in terms of air quality. The forest fires in Sumatra were blamed on the slash-and-burn method that was used to clear large tracts of land - mainly for the cultivation of oil palm. As we picked up our lives and continued with our daily routines again, after the record-breaking PSI of 401, one wonders when the next wave of the polluted smog will return again.

Whilst regulations are in place to prohibit the open burning of forests and plantations, enforcement and other punitive measures to ensure that such burning does not recur is another matter altogether. It is interesting to see how the Indonesian government gets its act together to prevent such irresponsible burning in future. Fortunately, political pressures at the diplomatic level, together with the favourable change in weather ended the July 2013 haze quickly.

Over in Singapore, after the disruptive conditions caused by the haze, Singapore experienced another abnormal weather phenomenon in the form of a hail storm in the afternoon of 25 June. Hail is a form of solid precipitation and consists of irregular lumps of ice dropping with the rain. Hail is supposedly caused by supercooled water droplets freezing on contact with particles in the air, such as dust, during a thunderstorm. Whilst the authorities declined to conclude that the hailstorm was caused by the haze, we are left to form our own opinions, considering that haze is certainly contributing to "particles in the air" as the rains fell.

July was of course an exciting month for biodiversity in Singapore, with the 2nd Festival of Biodiversity held at VivoCity. ButterflyCircle contributed a video, which basically summarises the group's work in butterfly conservation and research, as well as featured the members' high quality photographs. NParks mentioned that the visitorship over the weekend when the Festival was held was estimated at about 13,000 visitors to the exhibition area, a far higher number than the first festival held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

This month we feature the forest-dependent Swallowtail, the Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes). A rather rare species in Singapore, the Blue Helen is usually observed singly in the forest reserves. It is rarely, if ever, seen in urban parks and gardens. It was not listed in the checklists of the early authors, and was first discovered in the Chestnut Drive area some time back in late 90's. It makes an erratic appearance in various areas of the nature reserves over the years and is believed to be now a resident species in Singapore.

The Blue Helen is only one of two "Helen" species of the swallowtails that occur in Singapore. The other one is the Great Helen (Papilio iswara iswara) which also shares the same localities with the Blue Helen. However, the Blue Helen is the smaller of the two species, and is observed feeding on the flowers of the Common Asystasia, Lantana, Saraca and various Syzygium spp.

Males of the Blue Helen are often observed puddling at sandy stream banks and damp footpaths in the forests that have been tainted with decomposing organic material. Usually flying amongst the treetops restlessly, this species can be approached more easily when it is distracted whilst puddling.

The Blue Helen is a predominantly black butterfly, with four prominent white patches on the upperside of the hindwings extending into space 4. On the underside, there are narrow pale beige submarginal spots but some may be obscure. Near the tornal area of the hindwing there are blue lunules. There is a spatulate tail at vein 4 of the hindwing.

Thus far, the caterpillar host plant of the Blue Helen remains elusive. Although it is likely to share similar host plants from the Rutaceae family like the related Great Helen, the early stages of this species remain unrecorded in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Huang CJ, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong & Mark Wong

19 July 2013

Down Memory Lane - Common Sergeant

Down Memory Lane
The Common Sergeant (Athyma perius perius)

The Common Sergeant, one of the species of the genus Athyma, was recorded as extant in Singapore by the early authors. However, there have been no reliable sightings of this species for the past four decades and is believed to be no longer found in Singapore. Featuring the typical black-and-white markings of the genus, the Common Sergeant is distinguished by the forewing cell streak being divided into four portions. The orange underside has a characteristic series of prominent black post discal spots.

The caterpillars of the Common Sergeant feeds on host plants like Glochidion and Phyllanthus, both of which can still be found in Singapore. It is not known why the species has disappeared from Singapore. There are currently five other species of the genus Athyma extant in Singapore. Was the Common Sergeant's preferred habitat wiped out? Will it be seen back here again one day? Or will it remain only in our memories and is gone forever from Singapore?

17 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Yamfly

Butterflies Galore!
The Yamfly (Loxura atymnus fuconius)

This brightly coloured Lycaenid is one of two species of butterflies currently known from Singapore, whose caterpillars feed on the young shoots of the forest "weed" Smilax bracteata (although there is still some debate as to whether this plant should be called Smilax setosa.) Whilst it has been recorded on some species of Dioscoreacea (Yam) in other countries in the region, the caterpillars in Singapore appear to prefer the invasive, non-native Smilax vine.

The Yamfly is not uncommon, and is quite widespread in distribution across Singapore, but mainly in areas where the caterpillar host plants are found nearby. This shot of a pristine Yamfly perched on a leaf, was taken by ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong recently at the Dairy Farm Nature Park.

16 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Bigg's Brownie

Butterflies Galore!
The Bigg's Brownie (Miletus biggsii biggsii)

The Bigg's Brownie is a species of butterfly that belong to the subfamily Miletinae. The caterpillars are considered "carnivorous" as they feed on other insects - primarily coccids, mealy bugs, aphids or ant larvae. The early stages of this butterfly also have a symbiotic relationship with ants. The caterpillars get protection from the ants in return for sweet secretions often referred to as "honeydew" from their bodies.

The Bigg's Brownie is often seen in the vicinity of ants like shown in this shot. As the ants are known to "farm" the aphids, mealy bugs and coccids for their secretions, the butterfly seeks out these locations to lay her eggs so that the caterpillars can feed on the aphids. This shot was taken by ButterflyCircle member Mark Wong in the forested nature reserves recently.

Also see related article : Mergers, Partnerships & Betrayals

15 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Fluffy Tit

Butterflies Galore!
The Fluffy Tit (Zeltus amasa maximinianus)

This long-tailed Lycaenid, or Hairstreak, is moderately common and widespread in distribution. It can be found in urban parks and gardens as well as in the sanctuary of Singapore's forested nature reserves. It can fly quite rapidly amongst the treetops but comes down to the forest floor to puddle occasionally. In the nature reserves it likes to feed on the flowers of the Bandicoot Cherry (Leea indica).

Males are regularly observed to puddle at moist sandbanks in the nature reserves. This individual was shot puddling by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK at the Dairy Farm Nature Park recently. Note the long white twirling tails and the shorter pair along the vein beside it. There is a characteristic prominent rounded black spot at the base of space 7 on the hindwing.

13 July 2013

Festival of Biodiversity 2013

ButterflyCircle @ Festival of Biodiversity 2013
VivoCity - 13 & 14 Jul 2013

ButterflyCircle at the Festival of Biodiversity 2013!

After last year's successful Festival of Biodiversity held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 26-27 May 2012, NParks and the Biodiversity Roundtable started planning for this year's Festival. After some discussions, the preference was to hold the Festival at a more public venue to encourage more Singaporeans and residents of Singapore to appreciate the diverse biodiversity that can be found on this little island.

At the SBG, a large number of the visitors were already nature lovers, and "converting the converted" was perceived to be limiting the outreach and educational emphasis of the Festival. Hence this time around, the suggested venue for the 2013 Festival would be in a shopping mall, and specifically to reach out to the weekend crowds and families and to showcase what Singapore has, in terms of its amazing biodiversity.

The Festival of Biodiversity (FOB) is an annual event organized by the National Parks Board in collaboration with the Biodiversity Roundtable. The inaugural festival was first held in May 2012. The FOB an event to celebrate Singapore’s natural heritage to bring about greater awareness of the rich biodiversity in Singapore.

FOB 2013 was held at the atrium of VivoCity, Singapore's largest shopping mall. The FOB display area was located at the Central Court B, which was amply lit by natural daylighting via a skylight above the display area. As both the venue and the display set-up were sponsored by corporate benefactors, the location and area for this year's FOB was more compact with an integrated exhibition concept, rather than like the previous year's booth concept.

Overview of the display area of FOB 2013 at VivoCity's Central Court B

The display area was divided into three main sections featuring urban biodiversity, marine habitats and terrestrial habitats. The groups handling the marine exhibits and museum specimens took centre stage with their interesting offerings, especially to the ordinary laymen visitors. The rest of the groups had their opportunity to feature their respective groups' activities and work via videos and slide shows on the 40" flat screen monitors.

President Tony Tan and guests at the opening address of FOB 2013

The event was graced by President Tony Tan (he was also the Guest of Honour last year). This year's FOB also saw the launch of the book "Living in a Garden - The Greening of Singapore" - a celebration of 50 years of greening in our City in a Garden.

At the same event, we also saw the issue of "Our City in a Garden" stamps and first day cover. ButterflyCircle's Horace Tan's Spotted Blue Crow caterpillar was also featured on one of the stamps in the series. Look carefully at the 80 cent stamp below and see if you can spot the caterpillar.

ButterflyCircle members were out in full support of the FOB 2013. The group also contributed to a video clip about BC and our activities. The video, directed and produced by ButterflyCircle member CJ Huang, showcased an amazing array of BC's photos, activities and contributions to the conservation of butterflies in Singapore.

ButterflyCircle members watching our video!

Members of Tampines-Changkat Butterfly Group briefing the President

Also featuring their respective videos and slide shows were groups like the Tampines-Changkat Butterfly group, Nature Photographic Society (S), NParks, Republic Polytechnic, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity and others. As the weekend public visitors streamed in to VivoCity, all the nature volunteers and groups who were at the display area were kept busy, explaining to the public and helping to create a greater awareness of Singapore's biodiversity.

President Tony Tan with the younger generation nature lovers at the kids' nature activity centre

BC members ended our morning with a sumptuous lunch at one of the Chinese restaurants at VivoCity. It was an enjoyable time for everyone, who made the effort to get out there on a Saturday morning to support the FOB and also BC. It was also a proud moment for everyone to view the videoclip featuring BC's high quality work. Veteran BC member Sunny Chir even brought his grandchildren to pave the way and nurture future BC members!

Watch ButterflyCircle's Video that was prepared for FOB 2013!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Huang CJ and Khew SK

12 July 2013

Down Memory Lane - Chocolate Tiger

Down Memory Lane : Gone Forever?
The Chocolate Tiger (Danaus melaneus sinopion)

This relatively large Danainae, the Chocolate Tiger (Parantica melaneus sinopion) is common in Malaysia, particularly at higher elevations like the hill resorts at Fraser's Hill and Penang Hill. Often, they fly in the company of other Danainae, feeding on wild flowers. The Chocolate Tiger has a slow and unhurried flight but can be skittish if approached too quickly.

It was recorded from Singapore by the early authors like W.A. Fleming but has not been seen for a long time. Like many of the Danainae, the caterpillar host plant is probably one of the not uncommon lactiferous plants (probably from the Asclepiaceae family) that still grow in our forests. The wings of the Chocolate Tiger are bluish grey with the veins and wing borders coloured a dark chocolate brown. The abdomen of the butterfly is light orange-brown and prominent when it is in flight. Will it be seen back here again one day? Or will it remain only in our memories and is gone forever from Singapore?

Photos by Khew SK & Chng CK

11 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Five Bar Swordtail

Butterflies Galore!
The Five Bar Swordtail (Pathysa antiphates itamputi)

This fast-flying "swallowtail" butterfly is always a crowd-pleaser whenever it appears. Usually easier to approach and photograph when it is puddling, the Five Bar Swordtail is unique in the sense that its long tails taper off in a sword-like shape. The colours on the undersides of the wings are also an attractive blend of black, white, yellow and green.

This well-executed shot of the Five Bar Swordtail was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF last weekend at the Dairy Farm Nature Park. The puddling butterfly's colours are brought out effectively on a clear background of pastel green. Note also the little bubble of pee at the tip of the butterfly's abdomen.

10 July 2013

Festival of Biodiversity 2013

Festival of Biodiversity 2013
Vivocity 13-14 July

The Festival of Biodiversity 2013!

The Festival of Biodiversity (FOB) is an annual event organized by the National Parks Board in collaboration with the Biodiversity Roundtable. It first started in 2012 and was held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The FOB an event to celebrate Singapore’s natural heritage to bring about greater awareness of the rich biodiversity in Singapore.

ButterflyCircle is a partner and a member of the Biodiversity Roundtable. Last year, ButterflyCircle featured a collage of our members' work at our booth. We also launched our book, "Caterpillars of Singapore's Butterflies". See the blog article here.

This year, ButterflyCircle will be doing a video clip showcasing our members' work and ButterflyCircle's objectives, activities and contributions to promoting butterfly conservation and education in Singapore. The video clip will be played on a 40" LCD screen at the exhibition area of the FOB.

There will be activities for the family! Nature workshops are free on a first-come-first-served basis. There will also be several exhibitions (i.e. 'Our Natural Heritage', 'Animals Specimens Showcase', 'Year of the Snakes in Singapore 2013').

The FOB will be held at Vivo City (Level 1 Central court B & West Boulevard) on the 13th & 14th of July (Sat & Sun) from 10am to 10pm. The launch will be at 11:30am on Saturday and President Tony Tan will be the Guest of Honour!

All ButterflyCircle members are welcomed to join in for the Launch/Opening Ceremony at 11:30am at Vivocity. See you there on Saturday!

Please visit this website for more details: Festival of Biodiversity Website

09 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Elbowed Pierrot

Butterflies Galore! 
The Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira)

In butterfly photography, one has to look for both the big and small butterflies to fully appreciate their beauty and diversity. Whilst it is easy to spot the larger and more showy and colourful butterflies, many small butterflies often escape the notice of the casual observer. There are a number of butterfly species that have wingspans of 10-30mm. They also fly fast and erratically, and are not easy to spot, much less photograph! In macrophotography, the beauty of a very small butterfly can be brought to larger-than-life details that our eyes do not normally see when in the field.

One such butterfly is the diminutive Elbowed Pierrot. A black-and-white butterfly with thin, thread-like tails, it only has a wingspan no more than 30mm. ButterflyCircle member Anthony Wong shot a close-up of this small butterfly perched at the edge of a leaf at Dairy Farm Nature Park last weekend.  

08 July 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Little Maplet

Butterflies Galore!
The Little Maplet (Chersonesia paraka paraka)

This small butterfly is forest dependent and rarely strays outside the sanctuary of the nature reserves in Singapore. It has a habit of flying and then perching under a leaf with its wings spread open. It is usually skittish and is difficult to photograph (due to its behaviour of hiding under leaves). It is the only representative of the genus Chersonesia in Singapore. There have been records of other related species of the genus in Singapore, but none have been reliably seen in recent years.

The life history of the Little Maplet has been successfully recorded on the fig Ficus aurantiaceae (Orange Fig) here. This individual was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK last weekend in the nature reserves. What is unusual about this shot, is that the Little Maplet was sunbathing on top of a leaf rather than displaying its usual behaviour of hiding under the leaf. The butterfly has also been observed to puddle amongst the leaf litter on the damp forest floor, and occasionally feeding at flowering forest plants.