28 September 2013

Life History of the Large Snow Flat

Life History of the Large Snow Flat (Tagiades gana gana)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tagiades Hübner, 1819
Species: gana Moore, 1866
Sub-species: gana Moore, 1866
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 38-45mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Dioscorea pyrifolia (Dioscoreaceae), Dioscorea orbiculata var. tenuifolia (Dioscoreaceae) and other Dioscorea spp.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are brown with obscure post-discal and discal spots in darker brown. On the forewing, there are three white hyaline sub-apical spots in spaces 6,7,8. On the hindwing, the tornal area is whitened and there are black marginal spots at the end of veins 2, 3 and 4, and in some specimens, another spot at the end of vein 1b. Below, the wings are similarly marked as per above but with the whitened area on the hindwing extended to the basal area and almost to the costal margin.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:  
This species is common in Singapore and can be found in the forested areas in the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves, and several other sites across the island. The adults are rapid flyers and are more active in the cooler hours of the day. As is the case for the other Tagiades species, the adults have the habit of perching on the underside of a leaf between flights, and with wings opened flat. The adults are often seen visiting flowers for nectar.

27 September 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Plain Palm Dart

Butterflies Galore!
The Plain Palm Dart (Cephrenes acalle niasicus)

The Plain Palm Dart is one of two extant species of the genus Cephrenes in Singapore. Males of this species are often confused with the commoner Telicota species which are lookalikes and not easy to identify when in the field. However, the Plain Palm Dart is slightly more unique than the other species in that the females are purple-brown and can be distinguished immediately. The species can be found in urban parks and gardens, and is also quite regularly observed on Pulau Ubin, especially when there are flowering Syzygium trees.

This female Plain Palm Dart was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. The butterfly is feeding on the flower of a common "weed", Bidens sp. Females are rarer than males.  The caterpillar of the Plain Palm Dart feeds on the common coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) and one of the "fan" palms (Livistonia sp).  The life history has been recorded here.

25 September 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Archduke

Butterflies Galore!
The Archduke (Lexias pardalis dirteana)

The large, robust-bodied butterflies of the genus Lexias are forest-dependent species that seldom stray from the sanctuary of the forested nature reserves of Singapore. They are largely ground feeders, preferring to forage amongst leaf litter and fallen fruits on forest floor. Two of the three extant species of the genus display distinct sexual dimorphism in that the male and female look very different from each other.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong, shows a male of the Archduke feeding on some liquid nutrients on a tree trunk. The males are velvety black above with a prominent blue marginal border on the hindwing, which continues to the termen of the forewing. The Archduke is a powerful flyer and is usually skittish.

21 September 2013

Butterfly of the Month - September 2013

Butterfly of the Month - September 2013
The King Crow (Euploea phaenareta castelnaui)

The first week of September saw another unprecedented flood in Singapore - this time on the western side of the island near the National University of Singapore. For the first time, an entire major expressway was completely shut down to all classes of vehicles for about 40 minutes. The Ayer Rajah Expressway, or the AYE was inundated by the sudden downpour in the early morning hours, and coupled with the high tide, caused the flooding of all four lanes.

This 'rainy season' that is known as the South-West monsoon has seen several wet days in September, including weekends, that caused ButterflyCircle members to be cooped indoors (rather unhappily) instead of going out on their regular outings. The 'Sumatras' as these seasonal monsoon winds are called, are forecasted to taper off in October as the inter-monsoon lull will hopefully bring better weather.

For the nature groups, the concerns over the 50km Cross Island MRT line that will start in Changi and end in Jurong will be given a short reprieve as the Land Transport Authority announced that a two-year Environmental Impact Assessment will be conducted to ascertain the impact on biodiversity and the habitats where the line cuts through MacRitchie Nature Reserve. Some initial thought-provoking questions can be found on this site. The NSS also published a position paper on the concerns regarding the initial soil investigation works, as well as the potential ecological damage that the underground tunnelling work may cause during the construction stage.

Dr Wee YC, the author behind the Bird Ecology Study Group, has also penned a series of articles showcasing the biodiversity that may be lost with the Cross Island Line, if it goes ahead as planned. His latest article is posted here. A site to showcase the biodiversity of MacRitchie forest, and to lobby concerned nature enthusiasts and anyone who shares the common cause has been set up. It's called the Love Our MacRitchie Forest site.

Our feature butterfly for the month is the largest species in the genus Euploea often referred to as the 'Crows'. The genus features large distasteful butterflies, usually black or blue, with white spots or stripes on their wings. The King Crow (Euploea phaenareta castelnaui) is the largest member of the genus, with a wingspan between 90-105mm.

The King Crow is a moderately rare species, although it can be regularly observed in local areas, particularly where its caterpillar host plant grows. It is often spotted in the back-mangrove areas of Pasir Ris Park, Pulau Ubin and even in urban areas in the vicinity of its host plant, the Pong Pong Tree (Cerbera odollam).

On the upperside the predominantly dark brownish-black butterfly features a series of violet-tinged apical spots on the forewings. There is a series of white marginal and submarginal spots on both wings. The spots on the underside are smaller although there are some individuals where some of these spots appear violet in colour.

On the upperside of the hindwings, male King Crows feature a raised scent patch in the cell, and there is a certain obvious discolouration at the tornal area of the hindwing. The forewing dorsum of the female is straight, whilst in the males, the forewing dorsum is strongly bowed. Females are typically larger, with a wider wingspan.

The King Crow flies slowly but can be alert and skittish. It tends to fly at higher levels amongst the treetops, stopping occasionally to rest with its wings folded shut. At times, the butterfly is observed to rest with its wings opened flat, as if to sunbathe. It can also be observed feeding on a variety of nectaring plants, and is particularly attracted to the flowers of the Syzygium trees.

The caterpillar host plants were previously planted as a roadside tree and in some housing estates. But in recent years, the tree has fallen out of favour, as the large apple-like fruits have been known to drop and damage parked cars, prompting the authorities to remove the Pong Pong as a roadside tree. It is now more often seen in backmangrove areas and parks, away from carparks.

The complete life history of the King Crow has been recorded in this blog here.  The photo below shows the eclosion sequence of the King Crow.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Horace Tan, Tan Ben Jin & Benedict Tay

19 September 2013

ButterflyCircle : Embroidered Patch

Embroidered Patch

ButterflyCircle members now have a new embroidered patch or 'badge' that they can wear proudly to display their membership of the group. The patch features the Common Tree Nymph, which is the 'mascot' on the logo of ButterflyCircle, resting on a green leaf. The group's tagline "A Tribute to Nature's Flying Jewels" frames the top of the circular patch above the butterfly. The group's name, ButterflyCircle, sits at the base of the circle, completing the design of the patch. The patch is made possible through the effort of ButterflyCircle member Simon Sng who designed and saw through the production of the patch.

18 September 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Branded Imperial

Butterflies Galore!
The Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti)

This pretty long-tailed Lycaenid that typically stays within the safe confines of forested areas never fails to impress butterfly watchers. Its bright orange-red undersides, contrasted with the black and white tornal area and long tails make it a very attractive butterfly. The upperside of the Branded Imperial is a jet black, except for the tornal area, which is similar to the underside. At certain times of the day, the butterfly can be observed to sunbathe in sunlit spots with its wings opened flat. However, at most times of the day, it flies around and stops with its wings folded upright, as is shown in this photo.

This pristine Branded Imperial was shot last week in the nature reserves by ButterflyCircle member Anthony Wong. As the caterpillars of this species feeds on the young shoots of the invasive creeper, Smilax bracteata, it is common and is quite widespread in the forested areas of Singapore, particularly in the vicinity of where its caterpillar host plant can be found.

15 September 2013

Life History of the Great Imperial v2.0

Life History of the Great Imperial (Jacoona anasuja anasuja)
An earlier version of the life history of the Great Imperial can be viewed by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Jacoona Distant, 1884
Species: anasuja
C & R Felder, 1865
Sub-species: anasuja
C & R Felder, 1865
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 34-38mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants:
Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae), Scurrula ferruginea (Loranthaceae).

A sunbathing  Great Imperial  displaying its upperside.

A male Great Imperial.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the male is dark brown with lower halves of both wings in shining blue. In the forewing, there is a short and oblique blue band in the apical area, and a black oval band in the outer part of the cell. The female is mainly brown. In its hindwing, the tornal area is white with embedded black spots in space 1b, space 2 and in the tornal lobe. Underneath, both sexes are mainly yellowish orange with the lower half of the hindwing white. Black post-discal striae are present in the tornal half of the hindwing. In the forewing, the basal part of vein 12 is black (this is a key characteristic for distinguishing the Great Imperial from the Grand Imperial). There are tails at the end of veins 1b and 2 in the hindwing. For the tail at end of vein 2, the one for the male is little more than a tooth, while that of the female is moderately long. As for the tail at end of vein 1b, the one for the male is long and sword-like, while that for the female is even longer and fluffy in appearance.

A newly eclosed male Great Imperial resting on its pupal case.

A male Great Imperial taking nectar from Syzygium flowers.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is rare in Singapore. The handful of sightings take place mainly in the Central Catchment Reserve, as well as small pockets of wooded area to its west and north. The Great Imperial appears to be a tree-top dweller. The fast flying adults typically perch with its wings closed upright between flights. In sunny weather, however, they have been observed to sun-bathe with wings fully open.

13 September 2013

Down Memory Lane - Burmese Caerulean

Down Memory Lane
The Burmese Caerulean (Jamides philatus subditus)

This species, referred to as the Burmese Caerulean, was recorded in Singapore by the early authors. Both the reference books, Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet & Pendlebury and Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore by WA Fleming listed this species as extant in Singapore in the checklists found in the books. It is described as uncommon.

The Burmese Caerulean has distinctive black wedge-shaped submarginal spots on the underside of the hindwing and sets it apart from the other lookalike species of the Jamides genus. The upperside is a pretty light sky blue. It has a filamentous white-tipped tail at vein 2 of the hindwing.

These shots, taken this year in Malaysia, show the Burmese Caerulean puddling at a sandy streambank. It would be awesome to see this species again in Singapore. Will it be back here again one day? Or will it remain only in our memories and is gone forever from Singapore?

09 September 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Tree Yellow

Butterflies Galore!
The Tree Yellow (Gandaca harina distanti)

The Tree Yellow resembles the "Grass Yellows" from the genus Eurema. Although there are at least six species from the Eurema, the Tree Yellow, the sole representative of its genus, is slightly larger and lighter yellow in appearance. The absence of any markings on the underside of this species will easily distinguish the Tree Yellow from its commoner relatives. The Tree Yellow is mainly a forest denizen and rarely seen in urban parks and gardens. The butterfly is unmarked except for a narrow black border on the upperside of the wings.

In Singapore, the Tree Yellow is often seen puddling at moist footpaths and sandy streambanks. However, it is very skittish and not easily approached. There are occasions, however, when the butterfly is more cooperative and allows a photographer to sneak up close to it for a good shot. This individual was photographed in the nature reserves by ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong.

07 September 2013

It's a Bird! No, it's a Butterfly!! Part 2

It's a Bird! No, it's a Butterfly!! Part 2
Crows and Tits

A Dwarf Crow feeding on the flower of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum)

Following up from my earlier article about bird-butterfly name sharing, this second article looks at two more groups of butterflies which bear the same collective name as birds.  Obviously, the authors who coined the names for these butterflies probably captured the physical attributes of the butterflies that resemble their avian namesake.  

The Crows

The first group deals with predominantly dark coloured butterflies of the Danainae subfamily. The characteristic black or blue butterflies with prominent white spots and streaks belonging to the genus Euploea are collectively called "Crows". In the avian world, Crows are members of a widely distributed genus of birds, Corvus, in the family Corvidae.

A screen capture of images after googling "Crows"

Here in Singapore, crows are considered pests that are unhygienic, tearing apart rubbish bags and leaving a mess. They are also known to pinch food and leftovers from hawker centres and even homes. There have been reports of crows attacking passers-by in housing estates. It is also a common sight to see crows chasing after the local refuse trucks and scavenging scraps of anything edible from the truck. When the crow population spiralled out of control, the local gun clubs were recruited to cull the large birds. The population of these unwelcomed birds reached a peak of 120,000 individuals in 2001 before regular culling dropped their numbers to a more manageable 10,000 in 2007. Although they are still quite evident in the local environment, their numbers appear to be under check.

Local superstitions put the crow as a bringer of bad luck. Their loud "caws" are also considered undesirable and whenever they appear in human habitations, they are rarely accepted as a welcome visitor. However, crows are known to be amongst the most intelligent of birds, being able to use their resourcefulness to get at their food.

A female Striped Blue Crow feeds on the flowers of a Syzygium tree, shot against the blue sky

In our butterfly world, Crows belong to the genus Euploea.  There are eight extant species of Crows in Singapore, of which one species is very rare. The known species of Crows that exist in Singapore are :

  • Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber mulciber)
  • Striped Black Crow (Euploea eyndhovii gardineri)
  • Blue Spotted Crow (Euploea midamus singapura)
  • Spotted Black Crow (Euploea crameri bremeri)
  • King Crow (Euploea phaenareta castelnaui)
  • Malayan Crow (Euploea camaralzeman malayica)
  • Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus)
  • Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri)

A male Striped Blue Crow perches on a leaf

Amongst these species, the Striped Blue Crow is the commonest species. It is found in urban areas as well as in the nature reserves. The species is named after the female, which features a striped hindwing. The upperside of the males is a deep iridescent blue that is attractive when it flies slowly past an observer.

A Magpie Crow feeding on a fallen fruit

The Magpie Crow is the next most common species. This species is often observed puddling in the nature reserves and on damp timber structures like shelters and railings. The Magpie Crow is the model that is mimicked by the Courtesan for protection against predators.

A Blue Spotted Crow feeding on the flowers of a Syzygium tree

The Spotted Black Crow and the Blue Spotted Crow are quite similar in appearance. Both are black with almost identical white spots on both the fore and hindwings. However, the spots on the Spotted Black Crow are more elliptical, and on the forewing apical area, it has an extra spot when compared to the Blue Spotted Crow.

A Spotted Black Crow feeding on the flower of a String Bush

The King Crow is the largest member of the genus, and is a moderately rare species. It can be quite local, and is regularly seen in back-mangrove areas where its caterpillar host plant, the Pong-Pong tree (Cerbera odollam) grows. It can be seen in urban parks and gardens, as well as in well-vegetated areas in the vicinity of its host plant

A King Crow feeding on the flowers of a Syzygium tree

The Striped Black Crow is rare, but occasionally appears at urban parks when flowering trees are in full bloom. The hindwing features a series of white submarginal streaks. It has been observed puddling on concrete floors and structures in the vicinity of the nature reserves in Singapore.

A Striped Black Crow feeding on a Bidens sp flower

The Dwarf Crow was first discovered on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin in Singapore, and was regularly observed, sometimes in numbers in the mid-2000's. However, in recent years, it has almost completely disappeared from Pulau Ubin, and has not been reliably spotted for several years after 2010.

A puddling Dwarf Crow

The Malayan Crow is the rarest of the species in the genus in Singapore. This fairly large black butterfly with white marginal and submarginal white spots, has only been seen on a few occasions in Singapore. Thus far, the observations of this species has been in the forested areas of the nature reserves. Although its known host plant is available in Singapore, it is curious as to why the species is not found more often, and whether the earlier observations of the individuals were of non-resident migrants or not.

A male Malayan Crow resting on a leaf in the nature reserves

The Tits

If one innocuously googles the word "tits" with well-meaning intention, looking for pictures of birds or butterflies, the result may not be as expected. Doing so usually brings forth pictures of well-endowed women and in particular featuring a part of the female anatomy that men tend to admire. Coming back to our avian variety of "tits", we find birds belonging to the Paridae, a large family of small passerine birds which occur in the northern hemisphere and Africa.

A screen capture of images after googling "Tits Birds"

These birds are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They range in length from 10 to 22 centimetres. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. They are found in urban areas and around human habitation.

A male Common Tit displays its spectacular ultramarine blue uppersides

In the world of butterflies, the Tits are small tailed butterflies from the Lycaenidae family. In Singapore, there are three extant species - The Fluffy Tit (Zeltus amasa maximinianus), the Dark Tit (Hypolycaena thecloides thecloides) and the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus teatus). It is not apparent why these butterflies are called "Tits" as they generally bear very little resemblance of any sort to their avian friends.

A female Common Tit perches on a leaf

Of the three species, the Common Tit is the most often seen in urban parks and gardens. The caterpillars of this species are polyphagous, with at least five different host plants. The caterpillars display a symbiotic relationship with the weaver ant. The male Common Tit features an attractive deep ultramarine blue on the upperside of its wings. The hindwing features a pair of tails and a large orange-crowned black tornal spot and another black spot at the lobe.

A Dark Tit shows off its uppersides whilst sunbathing

The Dark Tit, usually found on the landward side of mangrove areas, is much rarer. Unlike its commoner cousin, its caterpillars feed on a monocotyledon Flagellaria indica. The upperside of the Dark Tit is predominantly dark brown, except for the orange tornal area of the hindwing. Both the Common and Dark Tits are fast-flying butterflies, but often perch on the tops of leaves. During certain times of the day, both species have been observed to sunbathe with their wings opened flat.

A male Fluffy Tit feeds on bird droppings

The last species of the three to bear the name "Tit", is the Fluffy Tit. Belonging to a completely different genus, the Fluffy Tit is a pretty long-tailed Lycaenid. There are two pairs of white tails with the pair at vein 1b rather long, about twice as long as the pair at vein 2. The species is skittish, and flies rapidly, with its long white tails prominently trailing behind. Males are often observed to puddle on bird droppings and sandy banks of forest streams.

And so we have two more groups of butterflies that share the same English common name as birds.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Loke PF, Bobby Mun & Jonathan Soong

05 September 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Blue Nawab

Butterflies Galore!
The Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus)

The Blue Nawab is a moderately rare species in Singapore. It is, however, widely distributed and is as often seen in urban parks and gardens as well as the forested nature reserves. Its caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants that include the Rambutan, Red Saga, and even the invasive non-native tree, Australian Wattle. Usually alert and skittish, the Blue Nawab is a strong flyer and is not easy to photograph.

Featuring two pairs of thick pointed tails, the Blue Nawab is a dark velvety black above with a light blue band across both wings. The underside is silvery white, marked with brown and purple-blue patterns. This rare open winged shot of a recently eclosed individual was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern.