18 August 2019

Butterfly of the Month - August 2019

Butterfly of the Month - August 2019
The Indian Cupid (Everes lacturnus rileyi)

The year moves into the peak of summer and the heatwave that is spreading across the globe is a constant reminder of climate change and global warming. Again, reports of unprecedented high temperatures in many countries are in the news - from Europe to Japan. Back in Singapore, it has been quite a few weeks since we had ample rainfall, and we can see wilting plants, dried undergrown and brown grass patches all over the island.

The National Environment Agency's Meteorological Service Singapore said earlier this month that it forecasts drier-than-normal weather conditions here and in the surrounding region in the coming weeks, following a record dry July. Drier weather can be expected from August to October this year. This followed two bush fires in Singapore recently where parch-dry wastelands are vulnerable to anything that sparks the dried grasses and twigs to start a fire going.

Always in the news, the continuing trade war between China and the US, and how it is going to impact the global economy and change lives. More countries seem to be jumping on to the bandwagon to start their own trade disputes. However, the impact of the trade war between the two economic giants will be felt throughout the world and little Singapore will certainly not be spared. Already, local trade reports point to a technical recession in the coming quarter and a possibility of a worse outlook ahead in 2020.

And then the Hong Kong protests. It is almost impossible to read news - whether online or in hardcopy print, without some mention about the civil unrest in Hong Kong. It is amazing to see how the citizenry, when pushed to a corner, can retaliate in a way that may almost irreversibly affect a country's stability. Singaporeans reflect over what is happening in Hong Kong, and many say that it would/could never happen here because of different circumstances and political outcomes.

A mating pair of Indian Cupids

The hot and dry weather in Singapore seemed to have some impact on our butterfly activity. Other than very dry undergrowth that affects plants in general - the lifeline of butterflies, activity across the island has only reduced somewhat. Curiously, certain species that have not appeared for quite some time have suddenly reappeared, whilst some trees reacted to the harsh weather by flowering and attracting butterflies to come out from their forest hiding places.

A pristine male Indian Cupid with its wings opened partially

Our August Butterfly of the Month is the diminutive and rare Indian Cupid (Everes lacturnus riley). With a wingspan of only about 20-25mm from wingtip to wingtip, this small butterfly frequents open grassy areas in sub-urban wastelands in Singapore. It was first observed in various areas on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong, but then appeared in wastelands at Punggol and parts of Central Catchment along the forest edges.

The Indian Cupid (or referred to as the Tailed Cupid in some literature) is the only representative of the genus Everes in Singapore. The male butterfly is purple-blue on its uppersides, with narrow black borders on both wings. The female is a drab brown above with a pair of orange-crowned spots at the tornal area of the hindwings.

An Indian Cupid perched on a grass flower with its proboscis partially unfurled

The ground colour of the underside is a pale grey, marked with the usual Polyommatinae spots and streaks. The pair of large orange-crowned black spots at the tornal area of the hindwing helps to distinguish this species from several other lookalikes in Singapore e.g. the Gram Blue. The pair of long filamentous white tipped tails at vein 2 of the hindwing also helps to separate the Indian Cupid from other similar species.

An Indian Cupid perches on a grass blade on a hot sunny afternoon

The Indian Cupid has a weak erratic flight and typically flies low amongst shrubbery. The butterfly can often be found in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, Desmodium sp. that thrives in newly cleared roadside tables and wastelands. When active, it is skittish and not easy to approach for a good shot. However, after some time of flying restlessly, it rests with its wings upright on grass blades or on the tops of leaves.

Being a small butterfly, it can be overlooked, or confused with other lookalike Lycaenidae like the Nacaduba, Prosotas or Euchrysops. Its flight characteristic is similar, hence any small butterfly fluttering erratically amongst low bushes and grassy areas should be given a second look to ascertain its identity. Where it occurs, there are often sightings of more than just one individual. However, it can disappear from a location for years, before re-appearing again elsewhere.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY and Jonathan Soong

10 August 2019

Red and White

Red and White
Happy 54th Birthday, Singapore!

Our little red dot celebrated its 54th Birthday on 9 Aug 2019. This marks 54 years after separation from Malaysia back in 1965, where Singapore became an independent nation. This year, the theme “Our Singapore” commemorates Singapore's bicentennial and allows us to tell Our Singapore story from past to present. 1819 was one of the key turning points that set Singapore on a new trajectory. It was the year that Sir Stamford Raffles, along with William Farquhar, arrived in Singapore. The Singapore Bicentennial in 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the British arrival in Singapore.

In a volatile and troubled world - from global trade wars to climate change, a small island-state like Singapore is subject to all manner of uncertainties and turbulence in international affairs. This year's National Day Theme, "Our Singapore" focuses on galvanising the population to face the challenges ahead. “Our” emphasises the collective ownership of Singapore. The residents are now living the dreams of our pioneers, and we ourselves are now the pioneers of our future.

The Merdeka generation, those born between 1 Jan 1950 and 31 Dec 1959, is also featured prominently this year's National Day Celebrations. "The Merdeka Generation grew up with Singapore, worked hard, and laid the groundwork for generations to come. Because of their sacrifices, Singapore stands tall and proud today."

Red on White. Singapore's national flag colours

For this long weekend's blogpost, we feature the red and white butterflies of Singapore in celebration of our National Day, and showcase the colours of our national flag. The colour red symbolises "universal brotherhood and equality of man", and white, "pervading and everlasting purity and virtue".

The bright red upperwings of Singapore's Flashes and Cornelians

Amongst the red coloured butterflies found in Singapore, the most striking are from the genus Rapala and Deudorix. Both these genera feature small butterflies in which the upper surfaces of their wings, in particular the males, are predominantly red. A typical behaviour of the males of these species is sunbathing with their wings opened to show their red uppersides during certain hours of the late afternoon. Amongst those that feature red uppersides are the Common Red Flash, Scarlet Flash, Cornelian and Eliot's Cornelian.

The deep reds and maroons of the Judys and Harlequins in Singapore

The species of "metalmarks" from the family Riodinidae are also largely red butterflies, albeit mostly coloured a deep red or maroon. A few species have a base colour of reddish brown but adorned with silver-grey or silver-blue spots. Examples of these red butterflies are the Malayan Plum Judy, Spotted Judy, Harlequin and Lesser Harlequin.

Some of our white butterflies from the family Pieridae

White butterflies are mainly found in the family Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs) which feature predominantly white and yellow butterfly species. In Singapore, some examples of white butterflies are the Striped Albatross, Psyche and Cabbage White.

The white undersides and orangey-red uppersides of two of Singapore's Sunbeams

White is also the colour of many of the Lycaenidae butterflies, especially on the undersides of several species amongst the Curetinae, Polyommatinae and Theclinae subfamilies. Both the extant species of the Sunbeams feature silvery-white undersides with light markings. The uppersides are a orangey-red.

White undersides dominate these Lycaenidae species in Singapore

Amongst the tiny Polyommatinae are species like the Quaker, which is has a clean white underside but with some black spots. The Theclinae subfamily also features a couple of butterflies that appear white to the eye. Examples are the Peacock Royal and the White Royal, with greyish-white clean undersides with light streaks and markings.

Happy National Day to Singapore!

On behalf of ButterflyCircle members, we would like to take this opportunity to wish all our Singaporean readers a Happy 54th Birthday to Singapore. Majulah Singapura!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Khew SK, Jonathan Soong and Bene Tay 

04 August 2019

Demons of Singapore

Demons of Singapore
Featuring Demon Butterflies in Singapore

A Chocolate Demon feeding on the flower of the Torch Ginger. whose leaves also happen to be its caterpillar host plant

Since the beginning of August 2019, one can almost encounter the burning of joss paper, joss sticks, candles and food offerings in most housing estates. The Hungry Ghost Festival, which falls on the 7th month of the Chinese calendar, started on 1 Aug and will continue for a month. The Festival, where Buddhists and Taoists believe that the Gates of Hell opens for a month, to allow spirits and souls from the netherworld to roam freely on Earth, seeking food and other offerings.

The Chinese believe that demons guard the Gates of Hell that are opened during the Hungry Ghost Festival to allow spirits of the departed to roam freely for a month.

A traditional stage set-up during the Hungry Ghost Festival

Other than burning paper offerings, raucous and loud musical and Chinese traditional performances will also liven up heartlands areas as tents are set up to house massive dinners, auctions, operas and, of course, getai­ (“song stage” in Chinese) shows. The last named shows often feature scantily-clad girls who sing a variety of songs in local dialects and Mandarin. If you are planning to catch any of these shows, just be sure to leave the front row seats empty for the “spirits” and demons who supposedly crave such entertainment too!

There are also many superstitions that are followed during this season include refraining from leaving umbrellas open inside the home, as that is believed to invite homeless spirits. Some avoid killing insects (butterflies too!) as they could be deceased ancestors who have been reincarnated. Other no-nos include walking around in dark lonely places like cemeteries or forests, especially at night.

So whilst the spirits, demons and other denizens of the netherworld roam around and seek their freedom for the next 25 days before the Gates of Hell close again for another year, let us take a look at our local demons flying around in Singapore. Our butterfly Demons that is...

1) The Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura)

A pristine Chocolate Demon perches on a leaf in the shade

This urban Hesperiidae (skipper) can usually be found in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, the Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior) and other ginger-type plants. It is relatively common and is well distributed across the island. The Chocolate Demon is a large skipper and flies with an erratic and bobbing flight amongst low shrubbery.

The Chocolate Demon has one of the longest proboscis amongst the butterflies found in Singapore

The Chocolate Demon is dark brown above and unmarked. On the underside, however, the marginal areas of both wings appear paler than the ground colour. A unique feature of this butterfly is its long proboscis with which is uses to probe deep into flowers for nectar.

A Chocolate Demon sunbathes in a typical skipper fashion

The species often stops to sunbathe in a typical skipper pose - with its hindwings opened flat whilst its forewings are opened at a 45deg angle to the body. It is often observed to feed on bird droppings and other animal excretions, but is also equally regularly encountered feeding on a variety of flowers, one of which is the Torch Ginger's attractive pink flowers.

2) The Banded Demon (Notocrypta paralysos varians)

A mating pair of Banded Demon

The Banded Demon is another skipper that often stays in the vicinity of its host plant, Costus lucanusianus a species of ginger that grows in the shady understorey in Singapore's nature reserves and other forested areas. It is a rapid flyer and can be skittish as it zips around low amongst the shrubbery. It can also be found in urban parks and gardens, besides the nature reserves.

The Banded Demon is a deep brown above with a distinct white discal band composed of large rounded contiguous spots on the forewing. There is usually a white hyaline spot in space 4 of the forewing, but this spot can be absent in some individuals. The underside, which is a paler purplish-brown is distinctly paler along the wing margins.

The butterfly is usually encountered in the early morning hours of the day, sunbathing with its wings in the usual skipper fashion. It likes to feed on the flowers of the Chinese Violet (Asystasia gangetica), and flies rapidly from flower to flower, using its long proboscis to reach inside the flower for nectar.

3) The Grass Demon (Udaspes folus)

A Grass Demon feeding on the flower of Mussaenda

The last Demon extant in Singapore occurs mainly in urban parks and gardens in the vicinity of its preferred host plant, Turmeric (Cucurma longa), and other gingers. It is regularly found in herb and spice gardens in Singapore, where ginger and turmeric are cultivated. It is a fast-flyer but usually zips around at a low level.

The Grass Demon is dark brown above, with the forewing featuring a white discal fascia comprised of several large white spots. The hindwing has a large white discal patch on the upperside. The underside is paler and appears reddish brown in pristine individuals. The hindwing cilia is chequered in freshly eclosed individuals. The antenna has a whitish band just below the club.

A Grass Demon sunbathes in typical skipper fashion

The butterfly is observed to feed on flowers in the early morning hours. It also likes to puddle on bird droppings and other animal excretions. An often-observed behaviour of the Grass Demon is that when it perches on a top surface of a leaf to sunbathe, it opens and closes its wings rhythmically.

And so we are introduced to the three Demons in Singapore that are not part of the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, but are part of Singapore's butterfly diversity.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Tan CP and Anthony Wong