31 December 2011

Butterfly of the Month - December 2011

Butterfly of the Month - December 2011
The Scarce Silverstreak (Iraota rochana boswelliana)

On this New Year's Eve, we feature the last of our series of Butterfly of the Month feature species for the year 2011. This is the 49th species that we have on the Butterfly of the Month series since this monthly feature was started way back in Dec 2007 with the Malay Lacewing.  It's been four years already?!

The year 2011 has indeed been a tumultuous year around the world. The most significant phenomenon that has affected lives all across the globe would have to be the protracted financial crisis that has plagued the US and then Europe. Businesses and the economies in the rest of the world, and in particularly in Asia which is of relevance to many of us in Singapore, were also affected.

Between the twin disasters in Japan, the earthquakes in New Zealand, the floods in Thailand and a whole series of 'natural' occurrings, these events give us an indication that ol' Mother Earth is not exactly in the pink of health. A sign of the effects of global warming?

Even in Singapore, where unprecedented "once-in-50-years" floods happened like every few months, engineers are scrambling to review design capacities of drainage systems. Conventional Codes of Practice may be way outdated and grossly inadequate for the deluge of water coming down from the heavens these days!

At a personal front, 2011 has indeed been an eventful year, with changes in my workplace that took many of us by surprise. As the company looks forward to a new future with a new shareholder in 2012, there is optimism ahead, as we put behind us 7 years of 'colonialism' under a foreign shareholder that spent very little effort to grow the business. The potential new shareholder, of Chinese origin, can hopefully bring the company forward, with Asia, and particularly China, being at the forefront of driving the world economy in the years to come.

For our beloved butterflies, it has also been a good year, with several new discoveries and re-discoveries recorded in 2011. As the Singapore Checklist crossed the 300 mark in March this year, ButterflyCircle has consolidated its expertise and had been more rigourous in recording new finds with further validation by experts in the region and even abroad. In particular, many other new finds in the Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae families remain unannounced as validations continue at the scientific level behind the scenes. We are confident that many of these discoveries will be unveiled in the year ahead.

It has also been encouraging to see more community effort in butterfly conservation projects, as government organisations like the National Parks Board moves up another gear into better nature conservation and biodiversity enhancement efforts at a strategic level. Even so, there are those who consider these efforts inadequate and too late for Singapore. However little that can be done, there is always still hope for nature, and for our flying jewels.

The birthstone for December is the turquoise. This precious gemstone is an opaque blue-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium. The stone has been used in a very wide range of applications, from the usual rings, bracelets and pendants in jewellery, to the inlays of the famous burial mask of King Tutankhamen, to entire domes of Iranian palaces and mosques!

If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.

- Gregorian Birthstone Poems

For the month of December and on this last day of 2011, we feature the elegant Lycaenid, the Scarce Silverstreak (Iraota rochana boswelliana). With a wingspan of about 36mm, this robust hairstreak is a zippy butterfly and is able to fly around at high speeds.

The Scarce Silverstreak is not really as scarce as its English common name suggests, although we would hardly describe the species to be very common either. Due to the fact that its caterpillar host plant, Ficus microcarpa is cultivated as a common roadside bush at many of our parks and as low barrier roadside hedges in Singapore, the butterfly is more often seen in urban areas and parks than in the nature reserves.

The males are a shining greenish-blue, reminescent of a pretty turquoise jewel. With jet-black broad apical borders, the upperside of the butterfly is a sight to behold if and when the male Scarce Silverstreak opens his wings to sunbathe (which unfortunately, is a rare occurrence). Females are a dull bronzey brown above and unmarked.

The underside of both sexes feature cryptic patterns of brown and silvery-white streaks, with dashes of blue and gold on the hindwings. There is a large black eyespot at the tornal lobe and blue-green scaling at the tornal area. The hindwing sports 3 tails, with the one at vein 3 slightly more pronounced in the female.

The butterfly is a rapid flyer, with females more often seen than males. Perhaps this is more due to the fact that females are more regularly encountered when they descend from the treetop canopies to oviposit at their host plants in urban areas. Sightings are more often made in the late mornings and early afternoons. The life history of the Scarce Silverstreak has been recorded here.

The Scarce Silverstreak is quite regularly observed at the Southern Ridges in Singapore, primarily at the hillside parks at Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hills Park and Kent Ridge Park. They usually stay at treetop level, descending to feed at flowers or the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum). Females tend to open their wings to sunbathe more often than the rarely-seen males.

And so on this final day of December 2011, we feature this pretty Lycaenid, as we look forward to many more years of butterflying ahead. On behalf of all the members ButterflyCircle, I wish all our readers and friends all around the world a Happy New Year ahead!   Three Cheers to our Butterflies!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Goh LC, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong and Horace Tan

This blog article is specially dedicated to Sunny Chir, who goes by the nick 'Silverstreak' in our ButterflyCircle community.  Sunny is an amazing photographer and butterfly watcher who has single-handedly delivered some of the best photographs of rare species that I've seen anywhere!  He has also contributed to many discoveries and re-discoveries to the Singapore checklist due to his untiring efforts out in the field, and exceptionally eagle-eyed observations of our butterfly fauna. 

28 December 2011

A New Butterfly Garden at Tampines

A New Butterfly Garden at Tampines
Tampines-Changkat Community Garden

Some time back on 3 April 2011, a small 'ground-breaking' ceremony took place at the open space next to Block 124, Tampines Street 11. The ceremony was for the community residents to be introduced to a new butterfly garden. The brainchild of the Member of Parliament for Tampines-Changkat, Ms Irene Ng, the butterfly garden would be a new eco-friendly initiative to create a butterfly-conducive habitat for residents and nature enthusiasts to enjoy.

Noting that "there are few butterflies around Tampines as they are sensitive to fogging and pesticides" MP Irene Ing said that the butterfly garden is intended to create a natural setting with butterfly hostplants and nectaring plants to attract these flying beauties to this little patch of green amongst the residential blocks.

As the butterfly garden and the construction of a circular enclosure took place, the community centre's staff and a group of enthusiasts from the Residents' Committee realised that they were not familiar nor knowledgeable enough with the ecology of butterflies to attract them to the proposed garden. One of them approached me to give the community members and enthusiasts a talk about butterflies.

When I visited the new butterfly garden that was under construction, I noted that there were a few improvements that could be made to the design of the enclosure. For one, due to the flat top design of the circular enclosure there were 'angles' that would trap the butterflies within the enclosure. Another oversight was a stepped concrete bridge that allowed an elevated platform within the enclosure. This was not particularly handicapped-friendly. However, as the construction of the enclosure was already at an advanced stage, there was little that could be done to improve the design.

On 23 Sep 2011, I conducted an introductory talk about butterflies at the Tampines-Changkat Community Centre's hall. I was pleasantly surprised at the rather good turnout of about 80 residents and enthusiasts, many with their children in tow. There to grace the occasion, was the MP for Tampines-Changkat, Ms Irene Ng, and her husband, Graham Berry.

The attentive crowd was entertained by the many new facets about butterflies that they weren't aware of. And they also learnt not to kill off the 'ugly-looking' caterpillars that would one day turn into beautiful butterflies!

At the end of the talk, there were many questions from the residents, and Brian Goh, ButterflyCircle's youngest (but very knowledgeable!) member, sportingly helped to answer some of the questions. He impressed the crowd with his knowledge about butterflies - even at his tender young age!

Before Irene left for another function, she presented me with an autographed copy of her recently-launched book, "The Short Stories and Radio Plays of S. Rajaratnam". Of course, I reciprocated her generosity with a copy of my book in return.

For those who did not know, Irene is also a fellow-Penangite. Before joining politics, she was the Senior Political Correspondent of The Straits Times. Irene has won several journalism and writing awards. She is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, besides being a Member of Parliament with a very busy schedule!

Upon completion, the Tampines Butterfly Garden was finally launched on 26 Nov 2011. Irene penned a short article on her Facebook page. Prof Edwin Thumboo even wrote a short poem, reproduced here from Irene's FB page :


Below circling, housing skies
Lovely, delicate patterns glow.
Touch gently, with your eyes,
Then feel radiant colours flow

Into each busy, bustling day,
Enriching all you do, and say

Prof Edwin Thumboo

With help from the National Parks Board, the right balance of host and nectaring plants was selected, and coupled with tender-loving care from a few enthusiasts amongst the Tampines residents, the little enclosure is now teeming with butterflies. Although the netting material of the enclosure is unsuitable for smaller species of butterflies, it does well enough to contain the larger and more showy species.

When I visited it recently, there was quite a decent amount of butterfly activity with the common urban species like the Mottled Emigrant, Common Mormon, Plain Tiger, Autumn Leaf, Common Mime, Great Mormon and Common Grass Yellow flying and feeding on the Lantana and Pagoda Flowers.

There were even a couple of photographers who told us that they came all the way from Toa Payoh after learning about this new Butterfly Garden at Tampines!

I hope that the external areas around the enclosure can be expanded with more plants and walkways so that more butterflies will visit the area, so that visitors can enjoy free-ranging butterflies, and not just those that are flying within the enclosure. It was encouraging to see that many enthusiastic residents of the area were already helping to tend to the plants and also breeding various species of butterflies to release at the Butterfly Garden.

So here we have, thanks to MP Irene Ng, a new community garden for butterflies at Tampines, and for the residents to enjoy the beauty of nature's flying jewels! It will hopefully be another shining example of community gardens within the heartlands that would encourage other constituencies to set up their own butterfly gardens to encourage the conservation of Singapore's butterfly fauna.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Gilbert Quek & Khew SK

24 December 2011

A Season for Red, Green and Black!

A Season for Red, Green & Black
ButterflyCircle Wishes One and All a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012!


It's the Chrismas and the holiday season again.  As people from all over the world are preparing for a nice sumptuous dinner, merry-making and spending time with family and friends on Christmas Eve, let's remember to spread a little cheer and love to those who are less privileged or alone. 
On the personal front, it has been an extremely busy and challenging year, as my company prepares for an exciting future ahead with a new shareholder.  2011 has been a year of new experiences - both happy and sad, where I bade farewell to long-time colleagues and welcomed new ones.  The year ahead will be fraught with challenges and new relationships, but one which I look forward optimistically to.  It will be a time for great change and many personal quests. 
I am also glad that ButterflyCircle has had many new and capable members joining us and taking the high-quality photography and research work to newer heights.  The spirit of sharing and camaraderie has never been stronger, and we even have active and knowledgeable junior and senior members coming on board with us. 
We look forward to many new discoveries for Singapore in 2012, many of which are already under preparation for addition to the Singapore checklist after final scientific validation by a few experts.  I am optimistic that the Singapore butterfly checklist will reach 310 species by the end of the new year! 
ButteflyCircle would like to take this opportunity to wish all our members and friends from around the world a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012!  May our Beloved Flying Jewels continue to survive and thrive on our lil' island in the sun! 
Note on Photo : A shot of Singapore's little 'red spitfire', the Common Red Flash (Rapala iarbus iarbus) sunbathing on a blade of grass in the nature reserves.  The little fast-flying butterfly is very local in distribution but can be common in the special locations where they are found.  Males tend to dog-fight in the late hours of the day and stop with their wings spread open as in the photo, showing their attractive crimson uppersides. 

17 December 2011

Life History of the Common Posy

Life History of the Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Drupadia Moore, 1884
Species: ravindra Horsfield, 1828

Sub-species: moorei Distant, 1882
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 20-32mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants:
Saraca cauliflora (Leguminosae, common name: Yellow Saraca), Desmos chinensis (Annonaceae, common name: Dwarf Ylang Ylang), Dimocarpus longan var. malesianus  (Sapindaceae, common name: Wild Longan), Lithocarpus elegans (Fagaceae, common name: Spike Oak), Agelaea macrophylla (Connaraceae).

A male Common Posy.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the male is dark brown on the forewing (which also bears an obscure orange discal patch in some specimens) and is purplish blue on the hindwing for most of the lower portion; the female is dark brown on both wings (with traces of an orange discal patch on the forewing) and a series of marginal black spots on the pale bluish tornal area of the hindwing. Underneath, both sexes are alike in having mostly orange forewing and mostly white hindwing. The forewing has post-discal and discal series of faint black striae while the hindwing is marked with prominent bold black bands and spots. The tornal area of the hindwing bears bluish scales up to vein 3. A long filamentous tail occurs at the end of vein 2. In contrast, two much shorter tails occur at the end of veins 1b and 3 respectively.

A female Common Posy.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Common Posy is relatively common  in the nature reserves of Singapore, but with its occurrence mainly confined to the Central and Bukit Timah catchment reserves. The adults typically fly in a hopping fashion, and they have been observed to sunbathe with their wings opened flat in sunlit conditions. The species have been observed to be attracted to the plant sap exuded by young shoots of Leea indica and Smilax bracteata.

Early Stages:
The immature stages of Common Posy are polyphagous. To date five plants have been recorded as its local hosts. Caterpillars of all instars feed on young and tender leaves of the host plants. They are also polychromatic in the early instars, occurring in either a green form or a pink form.

Local host plant : Desmos chinensis.

A mating pair of Common Posy.

Eggs are laid on the underside of a young leaf or other parts of a young shoot of the host plant. The white egg, about 0.9mm in diameter, is shaped like a lightly flattened chinese bun with its surface  covered with numerous polygonal pits. The polar pit holds the depressed micropylar.

An egg laid on the young shoot of Desmos chinensis.

Two views of an egg of the Common Posy. Diameter: 0.9mm.

Each egg takes about 2 to 2.5 days to hatch. The young caterpillar emerges after nibbling away sufficiently large upper portion of the egg shell. Measured at a length of about 1.3mm, its pale yellow  body bears long whitish setae dorso-laterally and laterally. Its head capsule is pale yellowish, and both its prothoracic shield and anal plate are colored as per the body base colour.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar of the Common Posy, length: 1.3mm

As the caterpillar grows, raised tubercles become apparent on the dorsum, one pair to each of 2nd-3rd thoracic segments, and one to each 1st-7th abdominal segments. The body colour is pale yellowish green as the caterpillar grows and feeds on the plant materail.This instar lasts for about 2 days with the body length reaching up to 3mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 2mm.

Covered with numerous short setae, the body of the 2nd instar caterpillar is either whitish with a pale green undertone or yellowish with a dark brown undertone. Each of the 2nd and 3rd thoracic segments has a pair of dorso-lateral conical projections, whilst each of the first six abdominal segments have a short conical projections, taller than those on the thoracic segments. These projections are yellowish brown around the tip and whitish at the base. The growth in this stage brings the caterpillar to a length of about 5-5.5mm, and after about 2 days in this stage, it moults again.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 3.3mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar of a different colour form,  length: 4mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely with minor changes observed. The dorsal projections on the abdominal segments are now longer and pointed than those on the thoracic segments. This instar takes about 2 days to complete with the body length reaching about 8.5-9mm before the next moult.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, pink form, length: 7mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, green form, length: 8mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, dormant prior to its moult, length: 8.5mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar ushers in a drastic change from the 3rd instar: A diamond-shaped marking formed by a reddish brown line running from the dorsum of the 1st abdominal segment to the side of 5th abdominal segment, and then back to the dorum of the 7th abdominal segment, and straight on to the posterior end. The dorso-lateral pairs of projections seen on the 2nd-3rd thoracic segments in earlier instars are no longer discernible. The body base colour is yellowish green in one form and yellowish pink in another.  This instar lasts about 3-4 days with length reaching 17-18mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 13.5mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 16.5mm.

Two views of another 4th instar caterpillar, length: 17mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 17mm.

Towards the end of the 4th instar, the caterpillar ceases eating and wanders around for a pupation site. At this time, the caterpillar's body changes to a dark purplish brown coloration, and in some specimens, with a green underdone in the abdominal area. It typically chooses the underside of a stem or branch for its pupation. Here, the pre-pupatory larva spins a silk girdle and a silk pad and then anchors itself on it in a head-down posture.

Two views of a pre-pupatory larva of the Common Posy.

A Common Posy caterpillar molts to its pupal stage.

Pupation takes place after one day of the pre-pupal stage. In a typical colour form, the pupa is brownish with with whitish streaks/patches in the thorax and wing pads, and has a large and similarly coloured dorsal patch on the abdomen. In another form, the brown is replaced by black and the abdomen is coloured similar to the thorax. Length of the pupa: 12-13mm.

Two views of a typical pupa of the Common Posy.

Two views of another pupa of the Common Posy.

7 days later, the mature pupa turns dark in the dorsal and wing case areas, and yellowish brown elsewhere. The next day the adult butterfly emerges from the pupa.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Common Posy.

A newly eclosed Common Posy resting near its pupal case.

  • [C&P4] 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 Benedict Tay, Mark Wong, Loke PF, Anthony Wong, Federick Ho, Khew SK  and Horace Tan