27 November 2022

Butterfly of the Month - November 2022

Butterfly of the Month - November 2022
The Tailless Line Blue (Prosotas dubiosa lumpura)

A mating pair of Tailless Line Blues perched on the top of a leaf

The atmosphere of Christmas is in the air, as we stand on the threshold of December. Shopping malls and offices in Singapore are beginning to be decorated with festive paraphernalia and Christmas songs are being played over the audio systems. The cooler (and wetter) weather at this time of the year also reminds us that the monsoon rains are upon us, and the final month of 2022 is nigh.

A Tailless Line Blue feeding on the flower of the Stringbush (Cordia cylindristachya)
A Tailless Line Blue puddling at a damp footpath

There was much excitement with the election fever gripping our northern neighbour as Malaysians waited with bated breath, anticipating who would be proclaimed Malaysia's 10th Prime Minister. As expected, the results of the elections were not conclusive, and it was left to the Yang DiPertuan Agong to decide who would lead Malaysian politics into the coming years. As it came to be, the 75-year old Anwar Ibrahim become Malaysia's next PM.

A Tailless Line Blue feeding on the remains of a dragonfly nymph
A Tailless Line Blue puddling at a red brick path

With his colourful history, particularly having served a prison sentence before, PM Anwar is a shining example of "never give up" spirit. Not many would have given him a chance of ever being Malaysia's PM after so many attempts to return to power, and the intriguing twists and turns in his political fortunes - one that would make a very interesting plot for a drama!

A pair of Tailless Line Blues puddling together
A Tailless Line Blue feeding on the flower of the Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) in Hong Kong

Over in Qatar, soccer fans were treated to their first FIFA World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world. Held once every four years, the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup supposedly costs over US$220B to host - a sum that would even be significant to the wealthy emirate with the 4th highest GDP per capita in the world. This edition of the World Cup is being held in the "winter" months as the unbearable heat and humidity in the region would have posed challenges to playing soccer in the summer months.

Back home in Singapore, the rising interest rates, rents and general cost of living and the impending adjustment of the Goods and Services Tax by 1% in 2023 and another 1% in the following year was cause for concern for the residents. For example, rentals of residential units rose by an eye-watering 46% from 2019, and is set to continue on its trajectory upwards. This would certainly put a severe strain on the working population, particularly the foreign workforce in Singapore. Already, there is talk of an imminent recession in the months ahead, adding to the woes of Singaporeans.

Back to our butterfly world, we introduce our 181st Butterfly of the Month since the start of this series.  For the month of November 2022, we feature the diminutive Tailless Line Blue (Prosotas dubiosa lumpura). This tiny species, with a wingspan of just over 20mm, is widely distributed across Singapore, and is sometimes abundant where several dozens may be flying around and dogfighting amongst the shrubbery.

A Tailless Line Blue taking in perspiration from a human

It can be found in Singapore's urban parks and gardens as well as in the nature reserves. It has a weak but erratic flight but is skittish and waiting for an individual to stop and perch for a good photograph is often challenging. Amongst its caterpillar host plants are Bridelia tomentosa and the non-native Acacia auriculiformis.

A glimpse of the upperside of a male Tailless Line Blue
A female Tailless Line Blue sunbathes on the top of a palm leaf

The Tailless Line Blue is bluish purple on top with an almost imperceptible border in the male. The female is brown on top with blue discal patch and wing bases. The underside is greyish with the usual striations of the genus. At the tornal area is a large black spot that is crowned with orange. There are also some light greenish blue iridescent scales on the tornal spot.

Puddling Tailless Line Blues on various food sources

The eyes are jet black and large, and the antennae black-and-white banded. As its common name suggests, it is tailless, unlike many of the other tailed species in the genus. It can be encountered feeding at small flowers and can easily be approached when puddling on damp sandy streambanks and decomposing organic material.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Janice Ang, David Chan, May Chan, David Ho, Khew SK, Koh CH, Ann Kong, Loh MY, Michael Soh and Zick Soh.

30 October 2022

Butterfly of the Month - October 2022

Butterfly of the Month - October 2022
The Dark Banded Ace (Halpe ormenes vilasina)

A Dark Banded Ace feeding on the flower of the Spanish Needle (Bidens alba)

October 2022 has come and almost gone. Another month has slipped past and the world chugs on. It has been a rather wet year, driven largely by the La Niña weather effect, where a drop in sea surface temperatures create low pressure areas causing heavy storms and heavier rains. There is a strong correlation between the strength of La Niña and rainfall - the greater the sea surface temperature and Southern Oscillation difference from normal, the larger the rainfall change.

And so it has been for the southeast asian region where wetter months have been the norm. The negative effects of climate change have been more pronounced in recent years where the built environment that has been effective in mitigating adverse weather in the past have come under strain. Drains that have served well in the past are now in critical need of widening and upgrading to take on the abnormal and intense rainfall not previously experienced.

A mating pair of Dark Banded Ace

Sea level rises have been modelled and predicted by scientists and engineers. It is not a matter of when, but by how much. Governments are painfully aware of the potential damage of just a few centimeters of sea level rise per annum and the cost of damage to infrastructure in the future. Singapore has embarked on studies towards solutions for the coastal protection of our tiny island-state and this forward planning will benefit future generations.

A Dark Banded Ace feeding on the flower of Syzygium zeylanicum

2022 will also be remembered as an economically watershed year in Singapore as home prices and rentals soar in tandem with bank interest rates that have not been seen in the past 3 decades. However, the strengthening of the Singapore dollar makes it cheaper to satisfy Singaporeans' retail therapy appetites and also enjoy holidays abroad.

We feature another skipper as our Butterfly of the Month for October 2022 - The Dark Banded Ace (Halpe ormenes vilasina). This species belongs to the genus Halpe which comprises no fewer than 16 very similar-looking species in Malaysia and Singapore. It was the only representative of the genus in Singapore until 2022 when another species - Halpe porus (Moore's Ace) was spotted and recorded as a new discovery for Singapore.

Upperside shot of a Dark Banded Ace showing the forewing spots

The Dark Banded Ace is brown on the upperside with the usual Halpe pattern of small white hyaline spots on the forewing. On the underside of the hindwing, is a prominent white post-discal band extending from space 1b to the apex. The basal area of the wings is speckled with golden-yellow. The white post-discal band on the underside of the hindwing is outwardly jagged. The antennae are yellow banded just below the apiculus.

The Dark Banded Ace is relatively uncommon, and not often observed, although it makes regular appearances over the years.  It usually frequents forested areas where its caterpillar host plant, bamboo can be found. Occasionally, it can be observed feeding on flowering plants and on bird droppings. The species is skittish and flies rapidly in the usual skipper fashion.

Caterpillar of the Dark Banded Ace on bamboo sp.  Inset : Head of the caterpillar with "false eyes"

The caterpillar can be found on some species of bamboo and builds a leaf shelter to hide from predators. It moves away from the leaf shelter to feed on other leaves and then returns to the shelter to rest.  The face of the caterpillar is unique in that it appears to display a set of prominent black "eyes" on its head.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY, Jonathan Soong. Horace Tan and Mark Wong

30 September 2022

Butterfly of the Month - September 2022

Butterfly of the Month - September 2022
The Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas)

A Metallic Caerulean feeding on the flower of the Red Tree Bush.  Note its raised hindwing showing the bright metallic blue upperside

The ninth month of 2022 whizzes past and very soon we will be in the final quarter of the year. Over in the United Kingdom, the longest serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, passes away. For as long as us baby boomers can remember, England always had a queen and the image of her appeared from commemorative stamps to the British currency notes and coins. Crowned the Queen in 1952, she ruled the United Kingdom until her death in 2022, setting a historical record as the UK's longest serving monarch.

The world waits with bated breath as China prepares itself for its 20th National Congress next month. China’s ruling Communist Party will hold its five-yearly congress beginning on October 16, with President Xi Jinping poised to secure a historic third leadership term and cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

With an economy battered by its unique zero-Covid policy characterised by lockdowns and quarantines, will China start accepting the virus as endemic and deal with it like most countries around the world are already doing? Or will it continue to exercise its own brand of managing Covid19 and continue on its track of controlling the spread by isolating entire cities? It is expected that the directives set at the National Congress will shed some light on the way forward.

Over to our closest neighbour Malaysia in the north, the prediction that former Prime Minister Najib Razak will be released from jail in September did not quite materialise. He has remained in jail after being sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and fined RM210M by the apex court in Malaysia. Behind bars but not forgotten, will the former Prime Minister and son of the 2nd Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Razak, be back in politics again one day soon? In Malaysia, anything is possible.

Leaving the current affairs of the human world behind, let us turn to our Butterfly of the Month for September 2022, the Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas). Re-discovered in 2008 at the now-demolished Mandai Orchid Garden, the species is relatively widespread and is probably the 2nd most common species in the genus after the Common Caerulean (Jamides celeno aelianus).

A Metallic Caerulean showing a glimpse of its metallic blue upperside
A mating pair of Metallic Caeruleans

The Metallic Caerulean is described as the largest species in the elpis subgroup, which is characterized by the post-discal band on the underside of the forewing being completely dislocated at vein 3. The male of the species has a black diffuse border on the forewing, expanding to about 1mm at the apex and a series of black marginal spots on the hindwing. The female has the forewing border extending narrowly along the costa to the base.

A Metallic Caerulean feeding on the flower of the Red Tree Bush

The Metallic Caerulean has bright metallic blue uppersides, and grey ground colour on the undersides with the usual white banding. On the hindwing, there is a black-centred orange-crowned eyespot at the tornal area, with some additional submarginal orange markings along veins 1b and 4. There is a white-tipped filamentous tail at vein 2 of the hindwing.

A Metallic Caerulean ovipositing on the flower of its caterpillar host plant, Torch Ginger

The species is an erratic and active flyer, often flying restlessly on bright sunny days and frolicking amongst the shrubbery. It is often found in the vicinity of the Torch Ginger plants and the flowers, on which the caterpillars of the Metallic Caerulean feed. At certain times of the day, it will perch with its wings folded upright, on the uppersides of leaves to rest in the shaded understorey.

A Metallic Caerulean puddling on bird dropping
A Metallic Caerulean feeding on the flower of the False Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

Both sexes are regularly seen feeding on a variety of flowering plants, like the Red Tree Bush, Bandicoot Berry, False Heather and others. Males have been observed puddling on bird droppings and other decomposing organic material. The species has been successfully bred in Singapore on the Torch Ginger and Yellow Saraca.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Henry Koh, Loh MY, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong and Mark Wong

28 August 2022

Butterfly of the Month - August 2022

Butterfly of the Month - August 2022
The Tree Flitter (Hyarotis adrastus praba)

A Tree Flitter feeding on the flower of Ixora javanica

The last weekend of the month of August 2022 brings some good cheer and optimism in Singapore's handling of the Covid19 pandemic. Over a period of more than 2 years, our island nation has been facing ups and downs of handling a historically unprecedented viral pandemic that turned lives upside down and handed the economy a knockout punch. But in his National Day Rally, the Prime Minister announced that wearing of face masks in the majority of situations will soon be optional as Singapore deals with Covid in its own way of co-existing with the disease in our midst.

August is also known as the Hungry Ghost month in most Asian nations where the the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth during the festival, and these ghosts can get up to mischief if ignored. Just as the Americans have Halloween, the Chinese have the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Chinese), a festival held in honour of the dearly departed. According to traditional customs, all sorts of offerings are made during this period, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar.

August is also the month when Singapore celebrates its National Day every year.  This year, we celebrated our 57th year of independence. This little island nation has come a long way from its early years of uncertainty and struggle. Today, it is a bustling and successful metropolis that many other countries use as a benchmark to match up to - in areas ranging from public housing, security, urban planning, low corruption and systems that work efficiently.

Globally, the war in eastern Europe continues to rage on, affecting other countries economically as the spectre of food shortages and energy loom ahead of the winter months of 2022. Closer to Asia, the US-China spats have continued and slowly reaching levels that have not been seen for many decades. A China that is growing in confidence, economically and militarily, is beginning to challenge the US position as the world leader and this does not bode well for world peace in the coming years.

Our Butterfly of the Month for August 2022 is a skipper, the Tree Flitter (Hyarotis adrastus praba). The Tree Flitter is moderately rare, but is regularly found at the forest edges of the nature reserves. It is rather widely distributed. It can sometimes be spotted in urban parks and gardens as well as in coastal forests in back-mangrove habitats.

A Tree Flitter sunbathing on the top surface of a leaf with its wings partially opened in the typical skipper fashion

It is a fast flyer, zipping from flower to flower as it feeds on nectar. It is often seen sunbathing with half-open wings in the skipper fashion, or lurking in shady spots with its wings folded upright. It forages amongst low shrubbery and flowering bushes but is alert and often takes off to the sanctuary of the treetops if alarmed.

The Tree Flitter is dark brown above with large hyaline and subapical spots on the forewing.  The underside of the hindwing is crossed by an irregular white discal band from mid-costa to mid-dorsum. The hindwing cilia is chequered and this is more obvious in pristine individuals. The antennae are white banded just below the elbow of the apiculus.

A Tree Flitter feeding on bird dropping on a leaf
Tree Flitters feeding on nectar from a variety of flowers

The species is often seen feeding at flowering Ixora bushes, flowers of the Chinese Violet, and flowering trees like Syzygium spp. It also feeds on bird droppings and can occasionally be seen pudding at muddy footpaths which have been contaminated with animal excretions. The Tree Flitter has been successfully bred on the common rattan, Daemonorops augustifolia.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Gavin Chan, Chng CK, Khew SK, Loh MY, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Horace Tan and Anthony Wong