09 December 2017

Book Review - Two Indonesian Butterfly Books

Book Review - Two Indonesian Butterfly Books
Featuring : "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies" and "Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden"

A female Common Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon)

In a previous weekend's blog article, we took a look at the literature available (or lack thereof) on Bornean butterflies. This weekend, we shift our attention to the 14th largest country in the world, in terms of land mass. Amongst the ASEAN nations, Indonesia is the largest country amongst the 10 southeast asian countries. Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world, after China, India and the US.

The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia has about 1,919,000 sq km of land mass

Given the land mass of 1.9 million sq km (or about 3.5 times the size of Thailand), and the very diverse ecosystems and habitats of its 17,000 islands, any effort to document the butterflies of the entire country would be almost a superhuman feat! Hence it is not surprising that no researcher has ever attempted a comprehensive book covering all of Indonesia yet! It is with this background that Pisuth Ek-Amnuay's Butterflies of Thailand (two editions) should be lauded for the author's effort to document Thailand's butterfly fauna, as writing a book that covers over 1,000 species would certainly not have been easy.

A male Common Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon) clings on to its leaf perch

Indonesia has an estimated number of 2,500 species of butterflies, or about double the number of butterfly species found in Thailand or Malaysia! It is home to many endemic species, some of which are so unique and beautiful, they should rightfully be also given protection status under the CITES list. Many of the larger species of swallowtails and birdwings found in Indonesia are amongst the largest butterfly species found in the world.

This article takes a look at two (out of four) books authored by Dr Djunijanti Peggie, which introduces a selective sample of butterflies found in Indonesia. The first book is entitled "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies". This book basically features some CITES-protected species, particularly the Ornithoptera, Trogonoptera and Troides butterflies found in Indonesia. Several of these species are endemic to the country.

The format of the book, in B4 dimension, is clean and easy to read. Written in English and Bahasa Indonesia, the book is targeted at both the local Indonesian enthusiasts as well as international readers. Due to the small number of species featured, a nice visual quick index to the species helps to orientate the reader to the butterflies featured in the book.

The CITES list of the butterflies featured in Dr Peggie's book

The introductory section of the book efficiently summarises the Indonesian bio-geography and where the featured butterflies can be found. This section covers a short introduction to butterflies, nomenclature, handling collected specimens, butterfly morphology and terminology and some distinguishing features of each species. A list of of the species protected under CITES Appendix II is also included.

A page from the book featuring the very beautiful Violet Lacewing (Cethosia myrina sarnada) which is endemic in Sulawesi

The remaining pages of the book shows a double-spread of each species with useful data on the common and scientific names, wing dimensions, distinguishing features, distribution and protection status. Only photos of collected and set specimens accompany the write ups. But these are very useful to allow the reader to view the upper and underside of each species, and male/female photos also highlight the sexual dimorphism amongst these species.

The tailed male of Paradise Birdwing (Ornithoptera paradisea) is one of the beautiful birdwing butterflies in Indonesia

Specific distinguishing features of each species highlighted in the text are also annotated on the photos to visually show these features. Annotations by numbers is also helpful to guide the reader to understand the corresponding descriptions in the text box. A centimeter ruler is added under each butterfly specimen to help give an approximate scale to the photo and an indication of its wingspan.

Wallace's Golden Birdwing (Ornithoptera croesus), a spectacular species that was first described by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859 and had a prominent mention in his book, the Malay Archipelago. This species is endemic to northern Maluku.

This 72-page book provides a good introduction to some of Indonesia's most spectacular butterflies. The book is simple and well-organised, with the key information and photographs effectively laid out to present the maximum information without any distracting clutter. The synopsis on the back cover of the book is written by Prof Dick Vane-Wright of the UK.

The second book, co-authored by Dr Peggie with Mr Mohammad Amir, is a small pocket-guide entitled "Practical Guide to the Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden". This guide book features a total of about 96 species of butterflies found at the Bogor Botanic Garden, which covers about 87 Hectares in Bogor City in western Java. This botanic garden is apparently initiated by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles some time in the early 19th Century.

A diagrammatic location map of Bogor Botanic Garden shows the various sub-gardens where the species featured in the book were observed.

The pocket guide is also bi-lingual in English and Bahasa Indonesia. A few quick introduction-to-butterflies pages precede the main species pages. There is also a short section about Bogor Botanic Garden with a diagrammatic map of the gardens and some specific areas within the premises where the butterflies were observed.

A location map of Bogor Botanic Gardens.  The garden is about an hour's drive from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia

The species pages are organised by taxonomic families of butterflies, with the exception of Riodinidae, which is not found in Bogor Botanic Garden. Details of host plants, distribution, and some description of the butterfly are included for each species. There is a small pictorial diagram of Bogor Botanic Garden on each page to depict the locations where the species was observed within the garden.

Each species photo is of a set specimen with the upper/underside cut into half and digitally "sewn together" to depict the butterfly in one photo. This is useful to save space and keep the book concise and affordable. Description of the butterfly behaviour and other notes of interest are included. Photos of the species in the field, where available, are added to the bottom part of the page to complement the species described.

Some of the specimen photos shown are not in the best of condition, but they were probably of specimens that were actually captured and set on location from the Bogor Botanic Gardens. It should be noted that no English common names are indicated in this particular pocket guide, and only the scientific names of the species are used.

On the left page, the awesome caliper-tailed Polyura dehanii was also observed before at the Bogor Botanic Garden! 

At Rp45,000 or just under S$5, this pocket guide is a good companion for any butterfly-watching enthusiast visiting Bogor Botanic Garden. And who knows, you may be lucky enough to spot the awesome caliper-tailed Polyura dehanii at the gardens!

Text and Photos by Khew SK.

Photos from the books "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies" and "Practical Guide to the Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden" are copyrighted property of their respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.

03 December 2017

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Springleaf Nature Park

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Springleaf Nature Park

A tranquil view of the water and lush greenery at Springleaf Nature Park

We continue our exploration of the many public parks in Singapore managed by the National Parks Board (NParks). There are currently over 300 parks in Singapore, big and small, and 4 nature reserves under the management of NParks. In keeping with Singapore's "City in a Garden" vision, the planning of Singapore has taken into account the preservation of greenery in our intensively developed island. This is to ensure that Singapore does not become a jungle of concrete, bricks and mortar.

Signboard at Springleaf Nature Park, showing the 6 Ha park, the streams and park connector

This weekend's blog article features a small park of about 6 Ha in size. What is unique about this nature park, is that it is situated at the confluence of two streams from the catchment in the Mandai and Sembawang precinct. The water from these two streams drain into the the Lower Seletar Reservoir towards the east of this park.

Landscaping around the managed part of the park is aesthetically pleasing, but with the wrong plants, very low butterfly activity is observed.

This nature park, called Springleaf Nature Park, is located in an area formerly known as Chan Chu Kang (曾厝港) village. This village was named after the village headman by the name of Chan Ah Lak 曾亞六 (1813-1873), who owned the land in this area, where he cultivated pepper and gambier cash crops in the 1850's. The village was later renamed to Nee Soon Village after Lim Nee Soon established a rubber plantation there.

With the rapid urbanisation of Singapore, the area became part of Yishun New Town. Opened in Nov 2014, Springleaf Nature Park is the first of four new nature parks which will serve as green buffers to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. These parks - which include Chestnut, Thomson and Windsor Nature Parks - will help to reduce visitorship pressure on the Reserve by providing an alternative venue for the public to enjoy nature-related activities. The development of these nature parks in Singapore is part of a holistic approach to conserve the biodiversity in our nature reserves.

The entrance pavilion at Springleaf Nature Park - designed by CPG Consultants.

Access to Springleaf Nature Park is via Upper Thomson Road. There is a small carpark (chargeable) with about 20 lots if you are driving. The main single-storey visitor pavilion and rest rooms are located next to the car park and adjacent to the main road. A small cafe, run by Verdure forms part of this visitor pavilion. A convenient location for some refreshments after an outing at the park!

The elevated viewing platform that encompasses a tree into its design

The view out to the promontory where the two streams converge

Setting out from the visitor pavilion will bring you to a simple red 'rubble' concrete path that winds sinuously towards an elevated circular platform that encircles a tree. From this platform, a visitor can look at the scenery beyond and the confluence of the two streams and the promontory where they intersect. A wide canal then extends beyond, where the edges are 'softened' with grass verges, instead of a hard concrete engineered canal.

Areas with good potential for planting butterfly-attracting plants or creating a small butterfly garden

Moving towards the left, one is greeted by an open space with cultivated trees. A tall hedge of Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) and Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra) line the edge of this open grassy field. You can then make your way to the side table of the canal and walk alongside the edge of the green verges.

The resident Gram Blue butterflies and their caterpillar host plant, the creeper weed Vigna reflexopilosa

Along these areas, you can find wild-growing patches of Vigna reflexopilosa, the caterpillar host plant of the Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus). Once you reach this area, it is very highly likely that you will encounter several individuals of the Gram Blue, both males and females, fluttering restlessly amongst the low shrubbery. This butterfly feeds on the wildflowers in the vicinity, and the males have also been observe to puddle on carrion and bird droppings on the forest floor.

Skippers found at Springleaf Nature Park

Amongst the tall grasses like Lalang and Guinea Grass that grows along the forested edges, you can expect to see several species of Hesperiidae like the Contiguous Swift and Small Branded Swift zipping amongst the bushes and opening their wings to sunbathe. Skippers are also seen feeding at the flowers of the Chinese Violet (Asystasia gangetica)

There is good bird diversity at Springleaf Nature Park

Walking along the canal, you can observe the active bird life and the resident Kingfishers, Blue Tailed Bee Eater and Swallows will often be around to entertain you with their flying and hunting prowess. Up on the branches of the tall trees, you can often hear the calls of the raptors that nest in the upper reaches of these majestic trees.

Other urban butterflies that flutter around the area are the Plain Tiger, Chocolate Pansy, Leopard and Lemon Emigrant. However, due to the lack of the preferred nectaring plants for butterflies, Springleaf Nature Park's butterfly diversity is somewhat low. This is a pity, as the location of this park that is close to the Central Catchment Nature Reserves would have given it the advantage of being able to attract a wider diversity of butterfly species to this park.

A patch where Lantana camara used to grow, but now removed and covered with wood chips

Even at the main entrance area, where large patches of Lantana camara used to be planted, are now gone. Perhaps it was too much of a maintenance issue that resulted in the removal of these butterfly 'magnets'. The Javanese Ixora bushes appear to be unhealthy and there are very few flower heads that would encourage visiting butterflies to feed on them.

More tranquil views of blue and green at Springleaf Nature Park.

Walking on the other side of the canal after crossing the bridge along Nee Soon Road and heading back to the entrance pavilion, again the planting of orchids and other non-butterfly attracting plants did not do anything to attract the potential species of butterflies that can be found in the area. All in all, whilst this Nature Park has a lot of potential to attract butterflies, the current planting palette completely misses any opportunity to do so.

Male and female Gram Blues sunbathing

Other than an almost 'guaranteed' sighting of the Gram Blues in this Nature Park, the butterfly diversity is left much to be desired. A more judicious selection of both nectaring and host plants would have made a big difference, as could be seen in the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden, which is also near the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. Until that happens, visit the Springleaf Nature Park for its rich bird life and tranquil green and blue scenery. But all is not lost - its butterfly diversity can easily be improved by planting the right plants to attract butterflies.  It has the potential to stand equal with some of the more successful butterfly-watching parks and gardens in Singapore.

How to Get There :
By Public Transport : Take bus service SBS 138, SMRT 167, 169 or 980 and alight at bus stop outside the former Nessea Club along Upper Thomson Road.

By Car : See map for details. Parking charges apply.

Text and Photos by Khew SK

26 November 2017

Butterflies of Borneo

Butterflies of Borneo
Time for new Field Guides?

Glorious Begum (Agatasa calydonia mahasthama) but called "Eight Coloured Jack" by Otsuka in his book

A visitor from Europe recently left me an email to inquire about local references and literature about South East Asian butterflies, and in particular, Borneo where he planned to spend a week. Whilst I was able to point him to several decent works about butterflies in the region, I was quite hard-pressed to refer him to good field guides about Bornean butterflies. Continued searches on the internet, good nature book stores and amongst like-minded butterfly enthusiasts did not turn up anything other than what was already currently available.

A map of Borneo island.

The island of Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world. It is politically divided among three countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indonesia to the south. The island covers 751,936 sqkm (that's more than a thousand times the size of little Singapore!). About 73% of the island is Indonesian territory known as Kalimantan. In the north, the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak make up about 26% of the island. Additionally, the Malaysian federal territory of Labuan is situated on a small island just off the coast of Borneo. The sovereign state of Brunei Darussalam, located on the north coast, comprises about 1% of Borneo's land area.

Banded Faun (Faunis stomphax stomphax) - Bako National Park, Sarawak

Borneo has extensive primary rainforest cover that is believed to be over 140 million years old, making it one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. In recent years, infrastructural development, logging and oil palm plantations have continued to decimate the natural rainforests. In the past decade, severe massive forest fires further reduced pristine rainforests to ashes. The island is home to a large number of endemic species, and the number of species new to science cannot be underestimated as researchers rush to document Borneo's rich biodiversity.

Kinabalu Swordtail (Pathysa stratiotes) a Bornean endemic. Mahua Waterfall, Sabah, Malaysia

There are nearly a thousand species of butterflies that have been discovered in Borneo. Of these, close to 10% are endemic to the island - meaning that these species are found only on Borneo and nowhere else in the world. Over the years, species new to science continue to be discovered as previously inaccessible parts of the rainforest are opened up. Mount Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, is the highest peak on Borneo, rising to 4,101m. There are many endemic montane species of flora and fauna found in Borneo.

One of the best taxonomic references on the Butterflies of Borneo is the out-of-print Butterflies of Borneo, Vol 2 No 1 Lycaenidae (published in 1991). However, this book only deals with the Lycaenidae species in Borneo, whilst the elusive Vol 2 No 2 covers Hesperiidae.

Currently the most comprehensive field guide on the butterflies of Borneo

Another book by the same author Kazuhisa Otsuka, is a 224-page hardcover Field Guide. A selection of about 200 species of butterflies found in Borneo is featured in the book. The book is rather short on the introduction of butterflies in Borneo and taxonomic details about butterflies. Searching for species in the usual organised taxonomic families is difficult, as the author organised the book by habitats. Even the index to the species pages are ordered by habitats and there is no easy way of searching for each species alphabetically, either by scientific or common names.

The author organises the book by the following habitats and sub-habitats :
Lowland Butterflies (by sea shores and islands)
Lowland Butterflies (around villages and farms)
Lowland Butterflies (in forests)
Low Mountain Butterflies (by streams)
Low Mountain Butterflies (edges of forests)
Low Mountain Butterflies (in forest)
High Mountain Butterflies (by streams)
High Mountain Butterflies (by ridges)
High Mountain Butterflies (in forest)

Although meant to facilitate easy reference to the species found in their natural habitats, it is extremely difficult to navigate the book to look for a particular species, as many species have overlapping habitats. This makes the book less useful as a field guide to the less experienced butterfly watcher. The author has also chosen to coin new English common names for quite a number of the species featured in the book, which are totally unfamiliar across the available literature on South East Asian butterflies. This makes the search for different species by their common names even more challenging!

A pocket guide featuring 100 species of Borneo - by Prof Dr Fatimah Abang

A second book, referred to as a "pocket guide", is a 130-page paperback by Fatimah Abang, a Professor in Entomology from Department of Zoology of the University Malaysia Sarawak. This book is intended to serve as a very basic guide to assist butterfly enthusiasts in the identification of some of the butterflies found in Malaysia. This book, entitled "Butterflies of Malaysian Borneo - a Pocket Guide", showcases a total of 100 species of butterflies.

The first 20 pages of the book starts with a useful introduction to butterflies and explanation of some of the various aspects of their habitats and host plants, morphology, life cycle and classification. The rest of the book is organised by the families of butterflies, albeit the photos of the species are from museum specimens and very few field shots are found in the book.

A useful index can be found at the end of the book, which aids in the search for species pages found in the book - by alphabetical order of their scientific and common names. Some of the English common names used in the book may have been influenced by the author of the previous book and appear to deviate from the typical names used by authors in the region.

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia borneensis) - Poring Hot Spring, Sabah, Malaysia

Whilst both these field guides on Bornean butterflies may have their shortcomings, they are nevertheless the only currently available books dealing with species found in Borneo. This leaves a big gap in the educational literature about the butterflies of Borneo for other authors to fill.

A soon-to-be published Guide to the Butterflies of Borneo - © Beaufoy Publishing

At the moment, Beaufoy Publishing has indicated that a 'coming soon' 150-species Butterflies of Borneo book is in the works. Authored by Honor Phillipps, the book is described to contain the full checklist of the butterflies of Borneo as at 2012 and their status in each state of Borneo. However, a quick check on the internet websites show that this book is still yet to be available.

Common Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus) - Poring Hot Springs, Sabah, Malaysia

Friends in the photography groups have also indicated that another book is also in the works. This book, will be published by renowned publisher of all things Borneo, Datuk Chan Chew Lun who owns the Natural History Publications (Borneo) Sdn. Bhd. a Kota Kinabalu-based publishing house. It is one of the leading English language and natural history publishers in Malaysia and Southeast Asian region. The company has published numerous works relating to the biological richness of the region, with a focus on the island of Borneo.

Butterfly enthusiasts will certainly look forward to these new publications on the Butterflies of Borneo.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Goh LC, Rod Eldie and Khew SK

Photos from the books "A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia" and "Butterflies of Malaysian Borneo - A Pocket Guide" are copyrighted property of their respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.

Further references :

Taxonomic List of the Butterflies of the Labi-Teraja Area - by Vic Hitchings