26 October 2008

Butterfly Photography at our Local Parks #3

Butterfly Photography and Watching at our Local Parks
Featuring : Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

About Pulau Ubin
Shaped like a boomerang, Pulau Ubin (Granite Island) is situated just off the northeastern corner of mainland Singapore. The 1020-hectare island was once a cluster of five smaller ones separated by tidal rivers, but the building of bunds for prawn farming has since united these into a single island. Two other islets, Pulau Ketam (Crab Island) and Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island), lie to its south. Ubin is largely a series of undulating, granite hills. In the early days, granite mining supported a few thousand settlers. Much of the original vegetation was cleared for the cultivation of rubber and crops like coffee, pineapple, coconut and jasmine. Today, abandoned granite quarries remain as picturesque relics of Ubin's history, while forests and grasslands have regenerated to cover up the ravages of the past. (Source : NParks Website)

Pulau Ubin is well-known for its relatively unspoilt habitats brimming with rich diversity of flora and fauna. Many nature lovers and enthusiasts make their way there on weekends to spend their time observing and enjoying nature in one of Singapore's remaining frontiers of undeveloped tracts of forests.

Besides the usual weekend activities of trekking, cycling, bird watching, etc., not many are aware of a lushly landscaped hillock just to the west of the jetty and Ubin town, along Jalan Jelutong. This hillock, planted specially with butterfly-attracting plants, has been the destination of many butterfly enthusiasts and photographers over the past couple of years.

At least 60 species of butterflies have been spotted on Ubin's Butterfly Hill over the past years - a few of which were first discovered on Ubin, and which were new to the Singapore Butterfly Checklist.

Ubin's Butterfly Hill is a short 5 minute walk from the jetty. Upon landing at the jetty, turn left towards the town and walk until you reach the NParks maintenance base (where there are also public toilet facilities). Continue along the dirt path until you reach the main access point to the Butterfly Hill. A prominent landmark at the hilltop is a pyramidal-roofed hut where one can take shelter from the hot sun (or rain, as the case may be). All around the hut are various plants which were originally selected for their butterfly-attracting properties.

On a typical good day, an observer should be able to spot no less than 20-25 species of butterflies. Amongst the top 10 "resident" species are the Pea Blue, Plain Tiger, Mottled Emigrant, Common Red Flash, Common Grass Yellow, Blue Glassy Tiger, Dark Glassy Tiger, Painted Jezebel, Striped Albatross and Blue Pansy.

A Plain Tiger strikes a menacing pose on Ubin's Butterfly Hill

A mating pair of Pea Blues (Lampides boeticus), a resident species at Ubin's Butterfly Hill.

Station yourself at the various nectaring flowering plants like the Common Snakeweed, Creeping Daisies, Ixora, and so on, and you will be rewarded with sightings of various species of butterflies. The early morning hours are better, as it will be less breezy and more conducive for butterfly photography.

Do look out for the Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri) - a resident Ubin species which was originally discovered on Pulau Ubin, and not found elsewhere on Singapore island. Also first discovered on Ubin, are the Ancyra Blue (Catopyrops ancyra), Dingy Line Blue (Petrelaea dana dana) and the skipper Cephrenes acalle niasicus, and they occasionally visit the flowers at Butterfly Hill as well.

A Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri), a Danainae that was first discovered on Pulau Ubin.

Check out the open plains areas where tall lallang grows. You may often find Tawny Costers (Acraea violae), a variety of skippers and other Lycaenids taking a rest on the lallangs waving in the breeze.

Observe carefully the leaves of Calotropis gigantea, Pomelo and Seven Golden Candlesticks (Senna alata), and you may find the caterpillars of the Plain Tiger, Great Mormon and Mottled Emigrant respectively, as these are the butterflies' host plants.

An assortment of some of the butterfly species (and one large Atlas Moth!) that you may expect to encounter on Ubin's Butterfly Hill

Map of Pulau Ubin

The Butterfly Hill is located at the southern part of the island, just a short distance westwards from the Ubin Jetty (Click on Map to enlarge)

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK

18 October 2008

Life History of the Fluffy Tit

Life History of the Fluffy Tit (Zeltus amasa maximinianus)
Butterfly Biodata: Genus: Zeltus de Nicéville, 1890 Species: amasa Hewitson, 1865 Subspecies: maximinianus Fruhstorfer, 1912 Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 28mm Caterpillar Host Plants: Clerodendrum laevifolium (Verbenaceae) Physical Description of Adult Butterfly: Above, the male is mostly black but pale azure blue on the baso-dorsal area of the forewing and the whole of the hindwing minus the apical area. It has the appearance of a deep lustrous purple in a side light. The female is pale brown and has whitish tornal areas on the hindwings marked with black marginal spots. Beneath, both sexes are white with apical areas on both wings shaded ochreous brown, more broadly so on the forewings. The cell-end bars are darker ochreous brown, and each wing has a narrow post-discal line and an obscure submarginal line. Each hindwing has a small black spot at base of space 7, a large black spot in space 2 and another on the tornal lobe. There are two pairs of white tails with the pair at vein 1b rather long, about twice as long as the pair at vein 2. Sun bathing Fluffy Tit adults displaying their uppersides. Left: male, right: female. One Fluffy Tit adult perching on a leaf in the nature reserves against a sun-lit background Another Fluffy Tit visiting flowers of Leea indica in the nature reserve Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour: This species is relatively rare in Singapore. Sightings are typically made in localities where its host plant is growing. Encounters with the adults typically take place in brightly-lit condition at the fringe of the forest or alongside trails in both the catchment reserves and Southern Ridges. The adults flits around very actively, and elegantly with its long white tails twirling behind. Males have been observed to puddle on forest floor.

Early Stages:
The host plant, Cleorodendrum laevifolium, is a shrub or small slender tree with lanceolate-elliptic or oblong leaves of length 5-15cm. Locally, this plant is rather common in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges. The flowers occur in slender cymes and have pale yellow corolla. Fruits are initially green but turned black when ripened. The early stages of the Fluffy Tits feed on all parts of the flower including the tender pedicles (flower stalks). The host plant,Clerodendrum laevifolium. Flowers of the host plant

A mother Fluffy Tit ovipositing on the flowers of the host plant in the nature reserves.

Eggs are laid singly on a flower bud, the calyx or pedicle of a flower of the host plant. Each egg is light green in color, small and circular with a slightly depressed micropylar. The surface is covered with hexagonal pits which have tiny lumps littering the pit floor. Diameter: 0.7mm.

An egg of the Fluffy Tit laid on the calyx, about 0.7mm in diameter.

Three days later, the egg hatches with the young caterpillar eating away the upper portion of the egg shell to emerge. Measured at a length of about 1mm, its pale yellow body is cylindrical in shape, sporting long setae (hairs) and a yellowish brown head capsule.

A newly hatched caterpillar pausing next to its empty egg shell.

1st instar caterpillar, newly hatched, length: 1mm

The 1st instar caterpillar starts feeding on the flower buds and other tender parts of the flowers in the vicinity. As it feeds and grows, it gradually takes on a light greenish coloration.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 2mm

After 2-3 days of growth and reaching a length of about 2mm, the caterpillar moults to the next instar. Numerous short setae cover the caterpillar body which has taken on a woodlouse shape. It has a yellowish green body color with a faint pinky undertone. In contrast to the features-rich adults, the early stages of Fluffy Tit are all rather unremarkably plain in appearance. Caterpillars in subsequent instars will look rather similar to the 2nd instar caterpillar with only minor changes in appearance.

A 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 4mm The 2nd instar caterpillar reaches a length of about 4.5mm, and after 2 days in this stage, it moults again. Except for the larger size and proportionately shorter body hairs, the 3rd instar caterpillar has a similar appearance as in previous instar. This instar takes 2.5 to 3 days to complete with the body length reaching about 8mm.

3rd instar caterpillar, length: 8mm The 4th (and final) instar caterpillar still has the same general appearance as the earlier two instars, but now the dorsal nectary organ on the 7th abdominal segment has become rather prominent.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar dining on a flower bud, early in this stage, length: 10.5mm. Note the dorsal nectary organ on the caterpillar in the bottom picture.

4th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 15mm

After 2.5 to 3 days of growth and reaching a maximum length of around 16mm in the final instar, the body of the caterpillar gradually shrinks. Soon the caterpillar seeks out a spot on the surface of an adjacent leaf to station itself. At this site, it enters the pre-pupatory phase where it readies itself for pupation by spinning a silk girdle and a silk pad. The caterpillar secures itself to the silk pad via claspers on its posterior end.
Two views of a pre-pupa of the Fluffy Tit, showing a finished silk girdle securing the pre-pupa to the leaf surface. Pupation takes place after 1 day of the pre-pupa stage. The pupa has an interesting shape which is broadened sideway, quite unlike the typical elongated shape for most Lycaenid species. It is greenish in color with two yellowish green dorsal patches, one on the thoracic segments and the other on the abdominal segments. The thoracic has a pair of small brown dots, whereas the abdominal patch has two rows of such dots. The pupa has a length of about 8mm and a width (taken at the broadest part) of about 5.8mm.
An animated pupation sequence for a Fluffy Tit caterpillar. The actual process lasts about 10 minutes.
Two views of a fresh pupa of the Fluffy Tit. Six days later, the pupa becomes darkened in color signaling the imminent emergence of the adult. The next day the adult butterfly emerges from the mature pupa. Two views of a mature pupa of the Fluffy Tit A newly eclosed Fluffy Tit References:
  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Borneo, Vol.2, No.1 Lycaenidae, Y. Seki, Y Takanami & K. Otsuka, Tobishima Corporation 1991.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Khew SK, Sunny Chir and Horace Tan

10 October 2008

Butterfly of the Month - October 2008

The Common Tree Nymph (Idea stolli logani)

The Common Tree Nymph belongs to a genus of rather large and showy butterflies in the Danainae sub-family. Most, if not all, of the species of the genus Idea, to which the Common Tree Nymph belongs, have greyish white wings with black spots and markings.

Four species of the genus are known to exist in Malaysia and Singapore, although only two - the Common Tree Nymph (Idea stolli logani) and the Mangrove Tree Nymph (Idea leuconoe chersonesia) occur in Singapore, the latter being extremely rare and confined to mangrove environments. A subspecies of Idea leuconoe is featured in Butterfly Parks in the region, but this is the subspecies clara, originating from Taiwan.

The Common Tree Nymph is not uncommon in the forested areas of Singapore, usually seen singly gliding at treetop levels, or in numbers whenever there is a flowering tree. It is always a show-stealer when it appears, often drawings gasps of admiration and awe as it floats effortlessly by, and flaps its wings in an unhurried manner as it glides past.

The Common Tree Nymph measures about 160-180mm wingtip to wingtip, with the female being the larger of the two sexes. The males, when alarmed or handled, will extrude a pair of bright yellow hair pencils.

When the butterflies appear during periods of flowering of some forest trees, e.g. the Syzygium spp., they will feed in the early hours of the morning, and continue to fly around the flowering trees throughout most of the day. It is during this slow flying and gliding periods that photographers have good opportunities to shoot in-flight shots of these magnificent butterflies - something that is not often (nor easily) done in butterfly photography.

Also, after gorging themselves with nectar from flowering trees and shrubs, the Common Tree Nymph is very often spotted in the low bushes, resting in the shade with its wings either opened flat, or closed.

The Malays refer to the Common Tree Nymph by its local name - "surat", no doubt on account of the manner in which they float amongst the tree tops like a piece of paper at the mercy of the wind. However, if alarmed or disturbed, these butterflies can make off in a very capable fashion.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Sunny Chir, Terry Ong, Henry Koh and Khew SK