29 May 2021

Butterfly of the Month - May 2021

Butterfly of the Month - May 2021
The Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri)

A Malay Tailed Judy perched on a fern in its typical shaded habitat in the forest understorey

The daily global news of Earth's battle with an "unseen" enemy is beginning to sound like a sci-fi movie, with each battle won or lost and which side is gaining ground in this war. It is not like the storyline hasn't been thought of already, with movies like Outbreak (1995), Contagion (2011), Flu (2013), Containment (2016) Pandemic (2016) and Virus (2019). Today, what the world is experiencing is a real-life experience of fighting Covid19 and trying to get a semblance of what our lives used to be before it struck more than a year ago.

Different countries' effectiveness in combating the pandemic is often a combination of political leadership, residents' compliance, human rights, healthcare facilities, affluence, geography, weather and a whole host of variable factors. Whilst China, a country of over 1 billion people (and where the virus purportedly originated) is able to keep the pandemic at bay, its equally populous neighbour, India is struggling hard to control the outbreak.

A Malay Tailed Judy feeding on a fallen fruit

The US continues to be top on the infections leaderboard, with over 33 million infections, but India is slowly but surely creeping up with 27 million infections and counting. Over the past few weeks, the average rate in India outstrips the US, even as each country manages its own population in their own unique way. Being a producer/exporter of the Covid vaccine, the US certainly has an advantage over India as it moves towards herd immunity across the country.

Closer to home, our neighbours in Malaysia have been scrambling to keep the lid on rising infection cases, which crossed the 8,000 mark yesterday. This prompted the government to announce a full 2-week lockdown from the 1 June. Whilst being mindful of keeping the economy buzzing, each measure of control has to balance the possibility of a resurgence in infections. To add to the confusion, more variations of the virus are being discovered as it mutates and fights back against human interventions.

The sudden surge of daily cases, particularly those that are unlinked, in Singapore caused its slowly re-opening control measures on the backfoot. The appearance of infections attributed to the mutant strain B1-617 sparked off a possibility of a 2nd wave of infections in the community. Swift action by the government and a largely cooperative population appeared to have stemmed the initial exponential increase in daily infections over the past two weeks. And so the story continues...

Our May 2021 feature butterfly is the Riodinid, the Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri). There have been recent changes to the taxonomic classification of the genera in the family Riodinidae and a recent scientific paper has proposed that this species be placed under the genus Archigenes. However, taking after the latest edition of the Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 5th edition (2020), we will leave the genus as Abisara for the time being, until the taxonomic changes are updated in successive reference literature.

The Malay Tailed Judy is a moderately rare species and prefers the shaded understory of our forested areas in Singapore. It is rarely seen, if ever, in urban parks and gardens. The species belongs to the family better known as the "Metalmarks" which are characterised by reddish-brown butterflies, some of which have pretty iridescent metallic scales on their wings.

The species has a unique habit of stopping with partially opened wings on the top surfaces of leaves in heavily shaded habitats, and then twisting and turning and hopping from perch to perch. They are generally timid and skittish, moving quickly away from any threatening movements. Occasionally, they appear to stop and remain stationary as though to "sleep".

A typical partially-opened wing pose of a Malay Tailed Judy in its natural habitat

The Malay Tailed Judy has been observed to puddle on forest footpaths amongst leaf litter, often foraging for damp decomposed matter and overripe fruits. Like its other cousins in the family, it is seldom seen feeding on flowers but instead uses its proboscis to feed on the surfaces of leaves for some unseen matter.

A rare open winged shot, showing the upperside of the Malay Tailed Judy

The Malay Tailed Judy differs from the other species in the genus in that the ground colour of the butterfly is a pale purple-brown instead of dark red. It has a pair of prominent white tipped tails at vein 4 of the hindwing. On the forewings is a pair of sullied white transverse sub-apical stripes, which is more distinct on the underside of the wings than on the upperside.

A newly-eclosed Malay Tailed Judy perched above its empty pupal case

The basal area of both wings are paler on the underside,  There are large black eyespots at the apical and tornal areas of the hindwing.  The eyes of the species are dark brown and nearly opaque.  The species has been successfully bred in Singapore on the local host plants Embelia ribes and Embelia canescens.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Richard Ong, Nona Ooi, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Benjamin Yam.

25 April 2021

Butterfly of the Month - April 2021

Butterfly of the Month - April 2021
The Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea)

A Malay Yeoman puddling at a sandy streambank

Almost a third of 2021 has flown by, and the world is still playing a see-saw game with Covid19. Whilst the virus is under control in some countries, others are just beginning to feel the wrath of the virus.  A grim reminder to be constantly vigilant and not succumb to complacency. The surge of infections in India over the past week has cause for concern, and many countries, including Singapore have revised their border controls with India.

The appearance of a "double-mutant" and a potentially more contagious version of the virus in India is under close scrutiny. Mutations in the spike gene can make the virus inherently more efficient at infecting people or can help the virus to escape neutralising antibodies. This means if the virus mutates in the "right way", it can reinfect someone who has already recovered from Covid-19, or render some of the current vaccines ineffective.

The US still takes the pole position with the number of confirmed infections at over 32 million of the population in America, outpacing even India by twice the number of infections. Although vaccination numbers are steadily climbing across the world, it is as though the virus is keeping pace with the "remedies" by constantly mutating and possibly out-maneuvering the vaccines that have been rolled out in many countries. Sounds like a sci-fi movie?

Puddling Malay Yeomen shot at the Dairy Farm area in Singapore

Over in Singapore, whilst the situation appears to be under control and life in our city is beginning to feel like "normal" again, the appearance of the South African and UK strains of Covid19 positive infections within the community is cause for concern. Whilst the government is slowly easing on the safety measures, there is always the possibility of reverting to more draconian controls if the number of infections should suddenly spike again.

A Malay Yeoman perched on a leaf with half-opened wings in the Central Catchment Nature Reserves

Recent reports of positive infections in either recovered individuals or fully-vaccinated residents showed that the virus works in strange ways and there are no absolute guarantees in any mitigation measures, vaccinations included. A visitor to Singapore today would encounter a city of "masked men and women" as it is still mandatory to wear a mask in the community.

Back to our Butterfly of the Month for April 2021, the Malay Yeoman, a butterfly that was recorded as a re-discovered species in Nov 2013. This species is not uncommon in Malaysia but was considered as a "species which, so far as known, have not been taken again in Singapore in the 20th century". Today, the Malay Yeoman has been quite regularly sighted, mainly in the forested areas within the Central Catchment Nature Reserves and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

A Malay Yeoman puddling at a damp rocky path

The Malay Yeoman is a fulvous orange on the upperside with black marginal borders on both wings. A distinctive orange subapical spot on the forewing above is a diagnostic feature of this species that separates it from its lookalike cousins. The underside is a paler silvery orange with the post-discal band that is constricted at spaces 5 and 6 on the hindwing.

When illuminated by a flash, the underside of the Malay Yeoman shows a silvery sheen

The species is often found in forested areas and in Singapore, may be mistaken for the male Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella), which is a much more common species. The Malay Yeoman, however, is smaller and is sometimes observed to perch under a leaf with its wings folded upright. It was believed to be a seasonal migrant after its re-discovery in 2013, but it appears that a small breeding population has established itself in Singapore today.

Males of the Malay Yeoman are regularly spotted to puddle at damp sandy streambanks or muddy footpaths. On hot sunny days, they are sometimes seen perched on the tops of leaves in the forested areas with wings fully opened to sunbathe. When alert, the species is skittish and hard to approach.  The best time to photograph the Malay Yeoman is when they are puddling.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Alan Ang, David Ho, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Koh CH, Marcus Ng and David Ong

27 March 2021

Butterfly of the Month - March 2021

Butterfly of the Month - March 2021
The Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka)

A Perak Lascar perched on the fruit of the Singapore Rhodendron

In a few days' time, the first quarter of the year will be over, with March 2021 ending on a relative positive note in Singapore, as far as the COVID19 pandemic is concerned. With daily infections in the low single digits within the community, the situation can be considered well under control. The national vaccination exercise is progressing well, as the invitation for citizens and residents in the next age group of 45 and 59 to be vaccinated went out at the beginning of this week.

The further lifting of restrictions on pandemic safety measures is a good sign that Singapore is gearing up for an eventual recovery and moving towards a new norm. Companies evaluate the prospects of workers going back to work once the government raises the limit of staff within the premises of offices to 75%. But with many staff working from home (WFH) for nearly a year now, will the workforce be happy to get back to the office?

Vaccination programmes being rolled out in many countries give hope that international borders will be opened for business and leisure soon. The pent-up demand for travel may soon see an end, as governments negotiate mutual recognition of vaccination 'passports' and travel bubbles between their respective countries.

Over in ASEAN, the Myanmar riots created cause for concern as the military used deadly force to contain the protesters in various cities across the country. Although each side has their own story to justify the coup against the democratically-elected civilian government, the use of firearms against largely unarmed groups of fellow citizens is something that is hard to comprehend.

A Perak Lascar perches on a leaf with its wings opened flat

Our Butterfly of the Month for March 2021 is the Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka). This relatively small Nymphalidae is one of two extant species from the genus Pantoporia in Singapore, although a possible third species is still under investigation. The Perak Lascar is not uncommon, and frequently found near back-mangrove habitats where one of its caterpillar host plants, Dalbergia candenatensis (Leguminosae) frequently grows.

The species has the typical orange/black bands on the upperside of its wings, with the underside a paler orange-yellow. The unique diagnostic characteristic that separates the Perak Lascar from its lookalike cousins, is the pair of pale orange submarginal lines on the forewings above. One, or both the lines are often bent in space 3.

A mating pair of Perak Lascar.  Male - Left, Female - Right

The Perak Lascar has the usual flap-glide-flap flight characteristics, and is usually skittish and challenging to approach. It usually stops on the top surfaces of leaves with its wings opened flat to rest or sunbathe. Males have larger areas of orange compared to the black stripes, giving it a brighter orange appearance compared to the other lookalike species. Females have more distinct black outlines on its orange stripes on the underside.

A Perak Lascar feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron
A Perak Lascar puddling at a muddy footpath

The Perak Lascar is sometimes seen feeding on the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), or when Syzygium trees flower in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. Occasionally, males are also observed to puddle at damp footpaths in the forested areas. 

The caterpillars of the Perak Lascar have been bred on three host plants, namely Dalbergia candenatensis (Leguminosae), Dalbergia rostrata (Leguminosae), Cnestis palala (Connaraceae). The caterpillar of the Perak Lascar has the habit of cutting rachis and petiole of the leaf it resides on and using silk threads to attach pieces of cut lamina to the exposed midrib. Its diet consists mostly of the brown and withered leaf lamina created in this process.  For a small species, the early stages is unusually long - taking as many as over 40 days from egg to eclosion.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Khew SK,  Loh MY, Nelson Ong, Richard Ong, Horace Tan and Bene Tay

28 February 2021

Butterfly of the Month - February 2021

Butterfly of the Month - February 2021
The Burmese Sailor (Neptis leucoporos cresina)

A Burmese Sailor feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

Today is the last day of February 2021. The Lunar New Year, heralding the Year of the Ox, has come and gone almost in a flash. The COVID19 situation in Singapore appears to be under control, with low daily infection numbers in the community. The vaccination programme is under way, and moving along pretty well without any major incidents. The government hopes to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year, although vaccination is still voluntary.

The month of February has not been particularly auspicious, considering the number of fatalities. From 'preventable' site accidents to a major explosion in a factory that claimed the lives of three migrant workers, the number of fatal cases was extraordinary in a month. And then there was that accident where a speeding BMW crashed into a building in the early hours of the morning and burst into flames. The accident was reported as one of the worst in recent years where 5 men lost their lives.

A pristine Burmese Sailor sunbathing on a granite rock

And as if to add to Singapore's woes, the air quality in some parts of Singapore worsened. A grim reminder of the dreaded haze where air quality was so bad that much of the population had to stay indoors to avoid health issues. The hot dry season is here and the potential of fires burning out of control in neighbouring countries increases significantly. Let us hope that we will not get a repeat of the years where the PSI ratings hit the 'hazardous' range.

A mating pair of Burmese Sailors

Our Butterfly of the Month for February 2021 is a forest-dependent Nymphalidae, the Burmese Sailor (Neptis leucoporos cresina). One of four "Sailor" species found in Singapore, the Burmese Sailor is not uncommon, but usually sighted in the forested nature reserves and nature parks. This is probably due to the fact that the species' caterpillar host plant, Gironniera nervosa, G. subaequalis, and G. parviflora are all forest plants that are not normally found in urban parks and gardens.

Superficially similar to the Common Sailor and Short Banded Sailor, the Burmese Sailor is also one of the black-and-white striped species that can be difficult to identify in flight. The white median band on the underside of the hindwing in the Burmese Sailor does not reach the costa. The underside of both wings is greyish-brown and white, which distinguishes it from the orange-and-white underside of the Common Sailor and Short Banded Sailor.

A Burmese Sailor feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

Sometimes also called the Grey Sailor, the species is sometimes spotted singly along forest paths, gliding amongst the shrubbery. It is skittish, and is not easy to approach. Both sexes are often spotted at flowering trees like Syzygium spp., and takes to the over-ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum).

The eyes of the Burmese Sailor are transparent and has a reflective blue-green hue. The upperside of the thorax and abdomen has an metallic coppery-green sheen, whilst the abdomen is always white-ringed next to the discal band on the hindwing.

A Burmese Sailor puddling at a damp forest footpath

Whilst it is more often seen feeding at flowering plants or at the over-ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron, it is sometimes seen feeding on bird droppings on leaves in the forest, and also puddling at damp forest footpaths.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Chng CK, David Ho, Federick Ho, Khew SK and Jonathan Soong