31 October 2010

Life History of the Malayan Lascar

Life History of the Malayan Lascar (Lasippa tiga siaka)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Lasippa Moore, 1898
Species: tiga Moore, 1858
Subspecies: siaka
Moore, 1881
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 45mm
Caterpillar Host Plants:
Erycibe tomentosa (Convolvuaceae), Bauhinia semibifida (Leguminosae, Caesalpinodeae).

A Malayan Lascar perching at a leaf edge.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The adult has vein 10 rising from the cell on the forewing. Above, the wings are black with broad orange bands and patches arranged in the usual manner. There are two submarginal bands on the forewing, the outer one narrower, and the inner one broader with serrated inner edges. The inner submarginal band typically reaches the costa. A distinguishing feature is that the inner submarginal spot in space 3 on the forewing is usually wider than the adjacent spots in spaces 2 and 4. This is more so in the female than in the male. The male has a greyish speculum in the costal area. Underneath, the wings are marked similarly as on the upperside but with the orange bands/streaks broader and in a much paler shade of yellowish orange.

A Malayan Lascar sunbathing among forest litter.

A puddling Malayan Lascar.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is relatively common in Singapore and can be found in multiple habitats including nature reserves, western wastelands and the Southern Ridges. This is likely due the wide distribution of its host plant, Erycibe tomentosa, in these locations. The sun-loving adults are often observed gliding in a "sailing" fashion. The adults also visit flowers and ripening fruits for energy intakes.

A Malayan Lascar visiting flowers.

Another Malayan Lascar displaying its uppserside.

Early Stages:
The prefered host plant, Erycibe tomentosa, is a woody climber, and locally can be found on hedges, edges of forests and sides of forest trails, in areas such as the Central Catchment Area and Southern Ridges.

Host plant: Erycibe tomentosa.

Another host plant: Bauhinia semibifida.

The caterpillars of the Malayan Lascar feed on the young to middle-aged leaves of the host plant. They typically feed in the open on the leaf surface, and rest on the midrib between feeds. The lamina of each leaf is usually eaten from the tip, leaving the midrib uneaten. As with the Common Sailor and the Short Banded Sailor, the caterpillars of the Malayan Lascar have the habit of cutting and hanging leaf fragments for concealment as part of its feeding routine. In addition, the caterpillars show a preference for leaf fragments which are browning and decaying.

A sequence of three shots showing the cutting of leaf fragments by a 2nd instar caterpillar.

A sequence of 4 shots showing how the first leaf fragment is cut down further in a 5-day period. The caterpillar continues to eat the brown and decaying fragments.

A mating pair of the Malayan Lascar.

A female Malayan Lascar ovipositing an egg at the leaf tip of its host plant.

The eggs of the Malayan Lascar are laid singly at the tip of a leaf on the host plant. The ovipositing female shares the same ovipositing routine with quite a few Nymphalidae species: After landing on a leaf and finding it suitable, the female reverses along the leaf surface, typically along the midrib, until its abdomen tip reaches the leaf tip, and there it deposits an egg.

Two views of an egg laid at a leaf tip. Height: 1.2mm, base diameter: 1.1mm.

The eggs are somewhat globular in shape, with surface marked with hexagonal pits and bearing spines at pit corners, giving them the appearance of minute sea-urchins. The micropylar sits atop. Freshly laid eggs are green in colour, but turning pale green and then yellowish green when maturing. Each egg has a base diameter of about 1.1mm, and a height of about 1.2mm.

Two views of a mature egg.

The egg takes about 3-3.5 days to hatch. The young caterpillar emerges by eating away part of the egg shell. The rest of the egg shell becomes the first meal for the newly hatched which has an initial length of about 2.8mm. Its yellowish green body is cylindrical and covered with many small tubercles and short setae. The posterior segment is whitish, and the head capsule is pale brown in color.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar, length: 2.5mm.

As the caterpillar grows, the body turns increasingly darker green in base colour, and small tubercles turn yellowish green in coloration. Three pairs of subdorsal tubercles becomes larger and prominent on the 2nd and 3rd thoracic segments, and the 8th abdominal segment. After reaching about 4.5-5.5mm in 4-5 days, the caterpillar moults to the 2nd instar.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 4.5mm.

The body color of the 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green. Besides tiny tubercles covering most of its body surface, the 2nd instar caterpillar also features spairs of sub-dorsal branched spines, still rather short at this stage, on the 2nd and 3rd thoracic segment and the 8th abdominal segment. The pair on the 8th abdominal segment is much more tightly spaced on the dorsum compared to the other two.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 4.5mm.

The head capsule is brown and dotted with a number of paler conical tubercles, and has a pair of short apical spines. The outline of a long dorsal saddle (of a lighter shade) ending at the dorsal start to appear at this stage too. A whitish dorsal band can be found on the thorax up to the subdorsal pair of spines on the 3rd segment, and from the pair on the 8th abdominal segment to the posterior end. This instar lasts about 6-8 days with the body length reaching about 7.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, lengths: 6.5mm (left), 7.2mm (right).

The 3rd instar caterpillar is olive brown with varying degree of green undertones. It has similar body markings as the 2nd instar but with the subdorsal spines much longer and featuring prominent branches, with the pair on the 3rd thoracic segment much longer than the other two pairs, and forward bending. The pair on the 2nd thoracic segment, on the other hand, is minuscule in comparison. The long dorsal saddle is now featured prominently. A series of faint oblique stripes appear on the sides of the saddle. This instar takes about 6-8 days to complete with body length reaching about 11mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 6mm

A time-lapse sequence of the movement of a 3rd instar caterpillar along the midrib and through hanging leaf fragments.

Two views of a male 3nd instar caterpillar, later in this stage, length: 10.2mm

Two views of 3rd instar caterpillar, later in this stage, about to moult.

The 4th instar caterpillar resembles the 3rd instar caterpillar closely but with the subdorsal pair of spines on the 2nd thoracic segment much longer proportionately, and forward bending. On the head capsule, the two apical spines (horns) are longer proportionately. This instar lasts 7-8 days with body length reaching about 16.5mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 10mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 14.5mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 16.4mm.

The 5th instar caterpillar is mostly unchanged from the 4th instar in most body markings and features. Again the subdorsal pair of spines on the 2nd thoracic segment grows longer proportionately. Regularly spaced white spots on the dorsum and black spots on the sides also appear. The body colour varies from dark olive brown to greenish brown in a number of specimens.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 14mm.

Two views of 5th instar caterpillar, lenght: 19mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length: 21mm.

The 5th instar lasts for about 12 days, and the body length reaches up to 24mm. On the last day, the color of the dorsal saddle and the spines changes to pale/pinkish brown. The caterpillar ceases feeding and wanders around. Eventually it comes to a half on a leaf underside, where the caterpillar spins a silk mound on the midrib from which it soon hangs vertically to take on the pre-pupatory pose.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Malayan Lascar.

Pupation takes place a day later. The pupa suspends itself via an angled cremastral attachment to the silk mound with no supporting silk girdle. It is almost entirely yellowish brown in color. The abdominal segments are slender. The thoracic portion being larger with wing cases dilated laterally. The dorsum of the thorax is angular. The head is bluntly cleft at its front edge with small pointed vertices. Length of pupae: 11-13mm.

Three views of a pupa of the Malayan Lascar.

After about 6 days of development, the pupal turns dark as the development within the pupal case comes to an end. The orange spots and streaks on the forewing upperside also become discernible. The following day, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case.

Three views of a mature pupa. Orange markings on the forewings are now visible.

The eclosion event of a Malayan Lascar (time-lapsed sequence).

A newly eclosed Malayan Lascar 'drying' its wings on its pupal case.

A newly eclosed Malayan Lascar giving us a full view of its upperside.

  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, The Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, 2006
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Wong Chee Ming, Henry Koh, Koh Cher Hern, Ellen Tan, Sunny Chir, Ben Jin Tan, Khew SK and Horace Tan

27 October 2010

Butterfly of the Month - October 2010

Butterfly of the Month - October 2010
Semanga superba deliciosa

The month of October heralds autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere. The month was originally the eighth month of the ten-month Roman Calendar, but later became the tenth month of the Gregorian calendar which features 12 months in a year. However it retained its name as "Octo" means "eight".

October was an exciting month for butterflies in Singapore, where the most comprehensive Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore to date was launched on the 10th of the month.

However, it was also a month when the dreaded haze, caused by the burning of forests in neighbouring Indonesia, returned. The last two serious haze periods occurred in 1997 and 2003. This time around, the hot spots returned and the PSI index of the National Environment Agency crossed the 100-mark for the first time in several years, when the 3-hour PSI index at 5pm hit 102 on 21 Oct 2010.

The last time a prolonged haze hit Singapore in 1997, I recall that the butterfly population and activity dropped significantly. However, this time around, it appears that the rains helped and the weekend PSI dropped back to the healthy range. The butterflies didn't seem worse for wear this time around, and hopefully, the winds and rains will keep the haze under control.

This month, we feature the very pretty Lycaenid, Semanga superba deliciosa. This dimunitive butterfly is fast-flying and skittish, but occasionally can be found feeding or perched to rest, sometimes with wings opened.

We have not christened a common English name for it yet, but its scientific name is something that is easily remembered and definitely not a tongue-twister like many others.

This diminutive Lycaenid has an interesting scientific name, almost declaring it a “superbly delicious” butterfly! This species is the only one of its genus found in Malaysia and Singapore. Semanga superba deliciosa is a fast flying butterfly and frequents open areas on the fringes of the nature reserves as well as urban parks and gardens. It has been known to feed on a number of host plants and are associated with ants during its early stages. Its early stages has been recorded here.

The male Semanga superba deliciosa is a lustrous purple above with a black border on the forewing and an orange-red distal border on the hindwing. The female is bluer than the male but with a wider forewing border. The buff brown underside has a narrow reddish brown post discal line, and the tornal area of the hindwing has an attractive array of red and black spots with metallic blue and green zigzagged lines.

A male Semanga superba deliciosa feeds off the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

The male has long white-tipped filamentous tails at veins 2 and 3 of the hindwing, whilst the female has an extra tail at vein 4, giving it a total of six tails.

The butterfly occasionally stops to rest whilst sliding its hindwings up and down as if to accentuate the fact that the false head and antennae are active. This is to fool predators into attacking the 'wrong' side of the butterfly.

Though often observed singly, the species is just moderately rare, and from the number of members of ButterflyCircle that have been able to shoot it, it has been encountered with regularity in the various parks and gardens in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Federick Ho, Bobby Mun, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Horace Tan, Tan BJ & Mark Wong

23 October 2010

Maiden Flight - Butterflies of Singapore

Maiden Flight of A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore
Book Launch 10-10-10

And so after three years of work in my spare time, it has come to pass that the Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore is finally completed and launched. Its maiden flight took place on 10 Oct 2010 - an auspicious date indeed, giving the 'perfect' 10 backdrop for a comprehensive book on Singapore's butterflies that has been long-awaited.

After a few initial disappointments and false starts, work on the book began in earnest some time in 2007 after I received a generous offer of a sponsorship for the book by Ms Ho Ching, Executive Director and CEO of Temasek Holdings. I was totally a newbie at authoring a book, and had little idea of the effort and time it would take to embark on such an undertaking. I had estimated about a year's worth of work. How wrong I was - it took me three!

The research and writing didn't take very much time, although I later discovered, with the help of my several proof-readers that there were quite a lot of mistakes, both technical and grammatical. Even the issues of the usage of English and writing style were subjects for debate amongst a few of us.

Then came the collection of photos from members of ButterflyCircle. For this, I must thank the spontaneous and generous contributions of the veterans and newbies of ButterflyCircle alike, who did not hesitate to share their work with me. It certainly made the book more complete and far more comprehensive that I would have been able to make it by myself.

The 370-page softcover book features a total of 291 of the current checklist of 295 species that we have recorded in Singapore. Of the remaining four, I only have voucher specimens and these are amongst the lookalike species for which I would not have been able to reliably identify from field shots. Of course, even as recently as just before the book went into print, ButterflyCircle members were already on the verge of validating a couple of new species, particularly from the Hesperiidae family. But that's another story for another future blog article.

When I started on the layout of the book, I had wanted to put in as much information on the butterfly as possible, but without compromising the size of the photo of the butterfly. I have seen many well-written books, but with only rather small photos, and that would have been a pity and would not have done justice to the excellent butterfly photography that ButterflyCircle members had produced.

Hence the layout of each page had one large primary photo and two smaller thumbnails that would depict either another angle or upperside/underside or male/female of the same species, where available. Scientific data like the author, year of description and so on were added, although the book features the English Common Name more prominently rather than the latin trinominal name. This is because the book is meant for the wider amateur enthusiast audience of all ages. However, care was also taken to ensure biological and taxonomic accuracy as far as possible.

The design, selection of colours, etc., were left in the capable hands of the talented designer from Ink On Paper Communications Pte Ltd, Ms Cressindie Santoso, who was well-advised by her experienced supervisors. Once the layout was settled and the colours for the various families confirmed, it was a matter of getting the best photos available and featuring each species as one would most likely encounter them in the field. In order to avoid a 'regimented' layout, I selected photos where the butterflies would face different directions (left/right/up/down) when viewed in the book, particularly on adjacent and facing pages.

The book launch was timed for 10am on 10 Oct 2010 at the Function Hall of the Botany Centre of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The garden setting, I thought, was befitting of a book on Singapore's biodiversity and also a casual environment that would set everyone at ease.

Guests and ButterflyCircle members mingle outside the Function Hall

Special thanks to Dr Wong Wei Har, Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, for the arrangements that she helped to facilitate to get the premises for the launch.

Guest registration

The invited guests started streaming in as early as 9:15am, and our hardworking volunteers from ButterflyCircle handled all the registration, issuing of book vouchers, ushering and so on very efficiently and without a hitch!

Our official photographers were also out shooting candid shots of everyone! Thanks, Bobby, Loke, Sunny, Ellen and Ke-yang!

Very soon it was time for the Guest of Honour to arrive, and our pretty MC, Kamesha, made the announcement for everyone to be seated in the hall to await the Guest of Honour. Ms Ho arrived on the dot, and the launch proceedings started. I met her at the drop-off point with my wife, and led her to the hall.

We observed a minute's silence as a mark of respect to the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, who had passed away just a week before.

After a short welcome address and a slide show of some of my favourite shots from the book, the MC invited the Guest of Honour to launch the Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore via a short video clip. The launch ended when I presented the first copy of the book to Ms Ho Ching.

Everyone then proceeded to the Function Room and garden deck at Level 2 of the building for morning snacks. Book desks were also set up earlier to present complimentary copies of the book to guests. For those who wished to purchase extra copies of the book, limited copies were also made available.

Everyone enjoyed the food, and mingled around, amongst old friends and making new ones. I obliged everyone who asked me to autograph their copy of the book. Ms Ho Ching also sportingly autographed the books of those who were lucky enough to approach her.

Very soon, it was time for Ms Ho Ching to leave, and we escorted her to her car. Many of the guests continued to enjoy the sunny morning, catching up with each other.

ButterflyCircle members helping at the Book Desk

Guests getting their additional copies of the book

Autographing the book for BC members and guests

All in all, it was a successful launch, and the maiden flight of the Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore. 1,000 copies of the book will be donated to schools, libraries and other public institutions. (Thank you, Ms Ho Ching!) Some copies are expected to be kept as mementoes for special visitors and guests to Singapore.

The Publishing team from Ink On Paper Communications Pte Ltd

Limited copies of the book are available for sale at the following outlets :

  • Nature's Niche
  • Oh' Farms
  • Singapore Botanic Gardens Bookshop
  • Library Shop, Library of Botany & Horticulture, SBG

One for the album - a group of ButterflyCircle members

I also wish to thank everyone who has contributed and helped in the production of this book, without whose help, the Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore would not have become a reality.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Loke PF and Bobby Mun