16 February 2008

Life History of the Suffused Flash

Life History of the Suffused Flash (Rapala suffusa barthema)

Butterfly Biodata :
Genus : Rapala Moore, 1881
Species : suffusa Moore, 1879
Subspecies : barthema Distant, 1885
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly : 35mm
Caterpillar Host Plants : Talipariti tiliaceum (Sea Hibiscus), Falcataria moluccana (Albizia)

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly :
Above, the female is entirely dull brown whereas the male is brownish red with forewing border diffuse and shot with purple in a side light. The underside of the male is ochreous to pale buff brown, and the underside of the female is distinctively yellow. The markings on the undersides are typical that of Rapala spp, with cell-end bars on both wings, and brown postdiscal lines edged with white on the sides nearer to the termen. The hindwing carries a white-tipped tail with a tornal lobe between veins 1a and 1b.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour :This species is common in coastal areas such as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve where the host plant Talipariti tiliaceum (Sea Hibiscus) is common. In sunny weather, the adults can be seen flying around the host plants and taking nectar from flowering plants in the vicinity. Typical of Rapala spp., the adults are strong and rapid flyers, darting around from one perch to another at high speeds.

Female Suffused Flash with abdomen curved to oviposit on the leaf underside

Early Stages :
In one field observation, a female adult was found to oviposit on the leaf underside and a seed pod of Asystasia intrusa. A single egg was laid each time. However, A. intrusa is not the host plant for Suffused Flash. At that location, A. intrusa grows in abundance in the shade of the actual host plant Talipariti tiliaceum.

Each egg is green in colour, small (about 0.5mm in diameter) and circular with a slightly depressed micropylar. The newly hatched caterpillars have to find their way to the host plant nearby. In a home-breeding environment, the caterpillars have no problem accepting leaves of Falcataria moluccana as alternative food source.

Two views of the same egg

After 3 days, the caterpillar hatches from the mature egg. The tiny young larva only eats parts of egg shell as it makes its exit.

Mature egg (above) and empty egg shell (below)

The newly hatched caterpillar is about 1mm in length. The 1st instar caterpillar is yellowish in base colour and has a faint dorsal line. Light brown patches are visible on the 1st, 6th to 8th abdominal segments. Rows of fine-line setae are found along the side of body. It grows to about 2mm before the moult to 2nd instar . Number of days in 1st instar : 3.

1st instar caterpillar

The 2nd instar caterpillar has dark brown patches in the thoracic segments, as well as in the1st, 6th-8th abdominal segments. There are also two brown spots on the anal plate. From above, the 7th to 10th segments appear to have fused together to form a saucer-like structure. The body length reaches about 4mm before the moult to 3rd instar. Number of days in 2nd instar : 3.

2nd Instar caterpillar

The hair-like setae in the first 2 instars give way to paddle-like setae in the 3rd instar. These paddle-like setae are mostly black, remaining ones being light brown or colourless. Brown sub-dorsal and sub-spiracular bands are also visible along the side of the body. The saucer-like structure at the tail segments is now more prominent. The caterpillar grows to about 8mm before the next moult. Number of days in 3rd instar : 3.

3rd Instar caterpillar

The 4th instar caterpillar carries similar markings as in 3rd instar but the sub-dorsal band has become dark brown and more striking. The caterpillar reaches a length of about 15mm before it moults again. Number of days in 4th instar : 4.

4th Instar caterpillar

The 5th and final instar caterpillar is much bigger with increases in both body length and width. It has similar markings as in the previous two instars. It reaches about a maximum length of 20mm before turning reddish brown and its body shrunk in preparation for the next stage. Number of days in 5th instar : 6.

5th Instar caterpillar

About 19 days of larval growth, the caterpillar ceases its feeding activity and its body colour becomes reddish brown. At the same time its body length has shrunk to about 12-13mm. The caterpillar then goes into the pre-pupation stage for one day.

Two views of a preparatory pupa

The pupa has a shape typical of most lycaenid species with a length of 11-12mm. It is bright brown with numerous small black spots/patches. The wing pads are more yellowish in ground colour. After 8 days, the pupal matures and its shell becomes transparent revealing markings on the forewing upperside. Finally, the adult butterfly emerges in early afternoon on the next day.

Two views of a pupa

Mature pupa of a male

A newly eclosed male still drying its wings

A newly eclosed male Suffused Flash ready to take flight

A noteworthy point is that the appearance of early stages of R. suffusa is very different from those of other Rapala species such as R. pheretima, R. manea, R.nissa and R. dioetas recorded thus far in the literature. Two distinguishing features are the paddle-like setae and the saucer-like structure which appear in R. suffusa but not in other above-mentioned Rapala species. Instead of paddle-like setae, these other Rapala species have short fleshy tubercles running along the sub-dorsal and sub-spiracular lines.

A close-up on the tail-end of 5th instar caterpillar of R. suffusa

A 3rd instar caterpillar of R. suffusa being attended by ants on the Sea Hibiscus leaf

Host plant: Sea Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus)

Text & Photos by Horace Tan

References :

  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • The Butterflies of Hong Kong, M. Bascombe, G. Johnston, F. Bascombe, Princeton University Press, 1999


Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written with lots of detail and passion, I salute you sir!

Horace said...

Thanks, Henry for your kind words.

chan said...

Thanks Horace & Commander for your wonderful information on butterflies in Singapore. My children are currently working on the topic of lime butterfly and found your site really useful with its wonderful pictures. Is it possible that you can post more information on that if you have any. Thanks.

Commander said...

The Life History of the Lime Butterfly has been posted. Hope that's helpful to your childrens' projects!