30 October 2012

Random Gallery - Cruiser

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella)

Last Sunday was scorching hot out in the field, and ButterflyCircle member EC Goh managed to nail an excellent shot of this puddling male Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella) within the Central Catchment Area nature reserves.  The Cruiser is a common forest butterfly that makes rare forays into urban areas.  The species is dimorphic, in that the male and female are different in appearance.

This shot was taken under direct sun, and EC did well in maintaining the exposure of the underside of the butterfly without blowing out the details. The added bonus that makes this shot special, are the extended legs of the butterfly, that makes it look like a ballerina on tip-toe.

27 October 2012

Butterfly of the Month - October 2012

Butterfly of the Month - October 2012
The Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia)

"The falling leaves drift by the window... The autumn leaves of red and gold", so goes the lyrics of an oldie, Autumn Leaves.  This version of the Autumn Leaves is in tribute to Andy Williams, who passed away at the age of 85 last month.  This crooner was very much a part of my growing up years as he entertained my family with many of his golden sentimental hits of yesteryear.  As the colours of autumn begin to paint the landscapes of the northern hemisphere, we are now almost at the end of October 2012.   

A heavily-marked female Orange Emigrant feeding on the flowers of Lantana

A couple of months back in my August 2012 article, I mentioned how social media has pervaded many aspects of our lives, and how we interact and relate to the community at large.  Whilst social media platforms like Facebook has its positive side of bringing people and communities together to share information, a grim reminder of the 'dark side' of being too open and vocal with one's thoughts was played out in Singapore recently.

An Assistant Director of the Singapore National Trades Union Congress, probably irritated at the noise from activities at the void deck of her residential block, posted rather inflammatory and racist comments on her Facebook wall.  She was summarily terminated from her employment in all of 24 hours, and the cyberworld was aflame with comments from all and sundry.

A "multi-tasking male Orange Emigrant feeds as it remains mated to the female

A grim reminder indeed, at the seriousness with which racist comments can be dealt with, in multi-racial Singapore, where its delicate racial harmony cannot be taken for granted. And also a timely reminder that in social media platforms like Facebook, one cannot be too careful about saying something and assume that it is only for private viewing. The speed at which socially unacceptable comments can go viral is quite literally, at the speed of light!

Coming back to our world of nature, a definitely more benign and peaceful world, the month of October is associated with the Calendula or Marigold. It belongs to a genus of about 20 perennial or herbaceous plants belonging to the daisy family Asteraceae. The Calendula normally has layered petals that are oval in shape and can grow to be 3-7cm across. The colours range through various shades of yellow and orange.

Also featuring a rich orange-yellow colour, is our butterfly of the month, the Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia).  A predominantly urban butterfly, the Orange Emigrant is often observed in the company of other Pierids, flying powerfully and restlessly in parks and gardens in Singapore.  It has a strong and erratic flight, and is skittish.

A rare upperside shot of a male Orange Emigrant

The Orange Emigrant has white forewings with black borders and deep orange-yellow hindwings on the upperside.  On the underside, both the fore and hindwings are orange-yellow with dark brownish spots and markings.  The female has a series of irregular sub-marginal spots on the forewing above and a broad black marginal border on the hindwing.  The underside markings of the female are more prominent and often of a deeper orange than the male.

The butterfly is often found fluttering around the bushes of its preferred caterpillar host plant, Senna surattensis (Scrambled Egg Bush or Glaucous Cassia).  This roadside plant is common in Singapore, and is cultivated as a popular landscaping bush with its green foliage and bright yellow flowers.

A puddling male Orange Emigrant

The Orange Emigrant is relatively common although the species cannot be said to be abundant or as common as its relative, the Lemon Emigrant. Unlike the Lemon Emigrant, which has many male and female forms, the Orange Emigrant occurs in only a single consistent physical appearance. It is most active on hot sunny days, and flies at treetops as well as coming down frequently to feed on flowers of its favourite nectaring plants.  Occasionally, males of the species are observed to puddle on damp forest paths.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Anthony Wong & Benjamin Yam

23 October 2012

A New Taxon for Singapore!

A New Taxon for Singapore!
Discovery of the Banded Lineblue (Prosotas lutea sivoka)

Our new addition to the Singapore Checklist, Prosotas lutea sivoka

It's rather intriguing that when we least expect it, a species that may have been hiding in certain localised patches of forests in Singapore suddenly turns up out of the blue.  In this particular instance, a very small butterfly at that!  Last weekend, ButterflyCircle member Federick Ho was out exploring the relatively urban forested area of Bukit Brown cemetery when he came across something that looked strange fluttering amongst the bushes.  He managed to take a relatively good shot of it that sufficed to identify it as the Banded Lineblue (Prosotas lutea sivoka)

According to the two tomes about butterflies of Malaysia and Singapore - Corbet & Pendlebury's "Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula (C&P4) and W.A. Fleming's "Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore", this species is normally found in primary forest below 2,500 ft.  It has not been recorded from Singapore before.  

Another shot of a Prosotas lutea sivoka taken at Fraser's Hill in Malaysia for comparison

Another recce trip a couple of days later by ButterflyCircle member Horace Tan also yielded a further sighting of this species at the same location, validating Federick's earlier find.  We now add this diminutive Lycaenidae to the Singapore Butterfly Checklist as species #304.  Whilst a number of new species to be added to the checklist are still under investigation by various experts, this little Prosotas, that is so distinctly marked as to eliminate any doubt as to its identity, will be henceforth included in the checklist.  

A heavily cropped shot of another individual of the new find shot by Horace Tan on a different day

The hindwing subapical spot in space 6 and sometimes in space 5 as well as the two tornal spots, one in space 2 and a much smaller one in space 1b, puts it beyond doubt that this is Prosotas lutea sivoka.  It is a new find for Singapore, and more importantly first found in the 0.86 km2 Bukit Brown cemetery - an area that had sparked off some controversy when the Land Transport Authority announced plans to construct a new road across the site.  

Why is it that after all these years, this species eluded all the butterfly watchers in Singapore?  Did it just recently appear, or was it hiding in the Bukit Brown area, just waiting for someone to discover it?  We cannot say for sure.  We only hope that with the adjusted alignment of the proposed road at Bukit Brown, this species will still continue to survive at its current habitat, and perhaps other parts of Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Federick Ho, Lemon Tea & Horace Tan


20 October 2012

Life History of the Yellow Vein Lancer

Life History of the Yellow Vein Lancer (Pyroneura latoia latoia)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Pyroneura Eliot, 1978
Species: latoia, Hewitson, 1868

Sub-species: latoia, Hewitson, 1868
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 34-36mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Oncosperma horridum (Arecaceae, common name: Mountain Nibung Palm).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, both sexes are dark brown with the forewing having a number of hyaline spots: two small sub-apical spots in spaces 6 and 7; four decreasing-size pale yellow spots in spaces 2-5; and two elongated cell spots with lower one larger and closer to the wing base There is a yellow streak running from wing base to the costal margin, and a broader one in space 1b. In the hindwing, there is a post -discal series of hyaline spots in spaces 2-5. A streak runs from this post-discal band to the cell-base and another runs to the base of space 1a. Underneath, the wings are marked in spots as per the upperside and in a brown base colour. The veins are marked broadly in yellow with opalescent spots and streaks between them. The cilia are orange in both wings. The antennae are coloured yellow in both the shaft and apiculus in the male, and only the apiculus in the female.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species occurs mainly in the nature reserves where it is relatively common. Adults are typically found taking nectar from the inflorescence of the forest plant Leea indica. It is not uncommon to observe several individuals on the same inflorescence. The adults are fast flyers and prefer to perch on the upperside of a leaf to rest.

Early Stages:

Local host plant: A partial view of a leaf of Oncosperma horridum.

Local host plant: Oncosperma horridum.

The local host plant, Oncosperma horridum, is a tall clustering palm with pinnate leaves, and with its stem covered in black and downward pointing spines. This palm can be found growing in the Central Catchment Reserve in relative abundance at certain localities. The caterpillars of the Yellow Vein Lancer feed on leaves of this plant, and live in shelters made by joining edges of leaf fragments together with silk threads.

A mother Yellow Vein Lancer laying an egg on the upperside of a leaflet of the host plant.

The eggs are laid singly on the upperside of a leaflet of the host plant. Each dome-shaped egg has a thickened whitish rim surrounding a circular polar region which houses the micropylar. A number (18 and 19 in the two eggs observed) of radial whitish ridges run from the rim to the base. The base diameter is about 1.5-1.6mm. When freshly laid, the egg is pinky red to salmon red. The colour changes to pale yellow or greyish white as the egg matures over the new few days.

Two views of an egg of the Yellow Vein Lancer.

A mature egg with the young caterpillar already nibbled away the polar part of the egg shell.

It takes about 4 days for the egg to hatch. The young caterpillar eats just enough of the shell to emerge, and has a length of about 4mm. Its body is mainly yellowish orange and its head black in colour. There is a black collar on the prothorax. The newly hatched proceeds to consume the rest of its egg shell soon after emergence. With its first meal consumed, it will then build its first leaf shelter by cutting a leaf fragment, folding it over and securing it to the opposing leaf lamina with silk threads.

A sequence of three pictures showing the construction of the first leaf shelter.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 3mm.

The body color changes to pale yellowish green after a few feeding sessions on the leaf. Between feedings, the caterpillar retreats to its shelter for rest and security. The 1st instar takes about 3 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 5.5-6mm.

1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5mm.

The 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green in body colour. A touch of reddish orange on its dorsum can be seen in the early part of this instar. A colour change in the head results in it being dark yellowish brown with a broad black band lining its periphery. The black collar on the prothorax seen in the 1st instar is no longer present. This instar lasts about 4 days with the body length reaching about 7.5mm-8mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 4.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 7.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult.

The 3nd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely in body markings and coloration. The only visible change is in the lightening of the shade of yellowish brown colouration of the head capsule. This instar lasts about 4 days with the body length reaching about 11-12mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 3nd instar caterpillar, eating its exuvia.

Two views of a 3nd instar caterpillar, later in this stage. length: 9.5mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar is pale yellowish white in body color with a green undertone. The head capsule has a faint black stripe along the front cleavage line. The base colour of the head capsule is paler than in the earlier instar. Two elongated whitish marks, rather faint in this instar, appear in the area between the mouth and the stemmata (eyes) on each side. This instar lasts 4 days with the body length reaching up to about 16-17mm.

A newly moulted 3nd instar caterpillar, eating its exuvia.

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

The 5th (and penultimate) instar caterpillar resembles the 4th instar caterpillar closely with the only change occurring in the head. The black stripe lining the front cleavage line is now broader, and in some specimens, two small black "cheek" marks appear. The two elongated marks lying between the mouth and the stemmata (eyes) on each side, which first appear in the previous instar, are now more prominent. A dorso-lateral white band, faint in appearance, one on each side of the body, runs lengthwise from the prothorax to the anal plate. This instar takes about 4-6 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 24-25mm.

A newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length: 25mm.

The 6th (and final) instar caterpillar resembles the 5th instar caterpillar closely with the body colour lightened to a pale shade of yellow. In the head capsule, the "cheek" marks become a fixture, and all black markings are now bolder and prominent. Likewise, the two dorso-lateral whitish bands spanning the body length are now more eye-catching. This instar takes about 8-9 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 35-37mm.

A newly moulted 6th instar caterpillar.

A 6th instar caterpillar, length: 31mm.

Towards the end of the 6th instar, the body of the caterpillar shortens and its coloration changes to a very dark shade of yellowish green with a strong purplish undertone. Colour darkening is also seen in the head capsule. Soon it becomes dormant in its leaf shelter and enters the prepupatory phase, during which it secretes a white waxy substance and spins a silk pad and a silk girdle to ready itself for the pupation event.

A 6th instar caterpillar, late in this intar, length: 36mm.

A 6th instar caterpillar, with colour changes taken place, and after cessation of food intake, length: 30.5mm.

A pre-pupa of the Yellow Vein Lancer.

After a pre-pupal period of about 2 days, pupation takes place within the leaf shelter. The pupa secures itself with a (weak) silk girdle and cremastral attachment to transverse silk bands on the substrate. It is dark brown in the anterior end (including the head, thorax and the wing case), and pale yellowish brown in the abdomen. Length of pupae: 20-21mm.

Two views of a pupa of the Yellow Vein Lancer.

On the last day of the pupal period, the pupa becomes mostly dark brown with yellow markings (on the forewing upperside) visible in the wing cases. Finally after a pupal phase of about 9.5-10 days, eclosion takes place with the adult emerging from the pupal case.

Three views of a mature pupa of the Yellow Vein Lancer.

A newly eclosed Yellow Vein Lancer.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, 2006.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of SIngapore, Khew S K, Ink on Paper Comm. Pte. Ltd, 2010.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by C K Chng, Anthony Wong,  Khew SK and Horace Tan

17 October 2012

Random Gallery - Black Veined Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus)

Canon 5D MkIII : ISO 1250 ; 1/2500s ; f/9 ; Tamron 180mm ; fill flashed

The Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin is a good place to do butterfly watching and photography.  The hill has been planted with butterfly-attracting plants by NParks, and on most sunny days, a visitor will be able to see many species of butterflies fluttering amongst the flowers of the various nectaring plants at the hill.  ButterflyCircle members had an outing at the Butterfly Hill last weekend and were greeted with many butterflies on the hot and humid morning.

The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus) were out in numbers and we spotted at least 3-4 individuals flying around the flowers of Bidens alba.  This shot, captured by Simon Sng, portrays the subject in a well-balanced composition where the gentle arch of the flower complements the butterfly perched comfortably as it extends its proboscis to feed.

13 October 2012

A Rare Young Talent

A Rare Young Talent 
Featuring ButterflyCircle's Jonathan Soong

Butterfly watching has been catching on in Singapore and many countries in the region.  In particular, countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and India stand out, especially where the number of enthusiasts and books written on their butterfly fauna are concerned.  There are several groups in social media and formal societies dedicated to butterfly watching, education and conservation that have sprung up in these countries, and making their presence felt in the scientific and amateur hobbyist communities.  

In Singapore, the groups dedicated to butterfly watching are slowly growing, but generally with not as many members as compared to those in our neighbouring Asian countries.  However, there is a number of young and enthusiastic members who show great potential for the future of butterfly conservation and education in Singapore.  

An example of such a young and talented member of the butterfly watching community in Singapore is ButterflyCircle's own Jonathan Soong. Starting at the very young age of only 11 when he first came on to the butterfly watching scene, Jonathan has learnt fast and has accumulated a good knowledge of local butterfly species.

Taking a look at some of the photos that Jonathan has taken in recent months, one would be amazed to discover that this is the work of a 13-year old Secondary 1 student in a premier school in Singapore! His eye for detail and aesthetics gives him an edge when it comes to butterfly photography, and his work is very much on par with many of the more experienced and older photographers in the group.

But Jonathan's talent and determination to improve both his knowledge of butterflies and photography cannot have been realised without the outstanding support from his family.  There have been many outings that ButterflyCircle members have had, where Jonathan's mom, dad and sister have accompanied the group on long walks in the scorching sun and humid weather in Singapore.

Jonathan's unbridled enthusiasm for butterflies would have all been in vain without parental support. Especially in Singapore where 'kiasu' (overseas readers please google this colloqial Singapore term) parents are more concerned with good academic grades and going for extra curricular activities like music, swimming and so on, which would be more relevant to giving their children a leg up in the adult world's rat race. So kudos to Jonathan's mom and dad for the support that they have given to him to further his interest in this hobby.

A sample of his works are featured throughout this blog article, and one can be forgiven if one assumes that all these excellent photographs of butterflies are of the work of someone much older, using more sophisticated equipment. But no, these are Jonathan's personal efforts, using his humble entry-level Canon DSLR coupled with a Tamron 180mm macro lens.

Jonathan is also game to "rough it out" in the field, often in wild places where young urbanised kids would scream in terror at a cockroach or a lizard. But not this young talented boy. Given his age and size, there are times when I know that Jonathan wished that he were taller and sturdier when holding his heavy photographic equipment in the forests of Singapore whilst chasing after an elusive rarity! But his determination and tenacious focus often make up for these temporary physical disadvantages.

Beyond his above-average intellect, Jonathan is also a well-mannered boy with respect for those older than him.  But his other talent in art, particularly in nature paintings done in oils, stand out. When he has the time away from his books, Jonathan does amazing oil paintings of birds and butterflies that would put many of us to shame!  His remarkable skill in portraying nature subjects, particularly birds, in his oil paintings is something that not many can match.  I am quite certain that his works would have a decent commercial value amongst nature art collectors!

Given his young tender age and exceptional talent, there is definitely a bright future for this teenager. Besides his academic achievements, there is certainly hope for the future of butterfly conservation in Singapore and beyond, if there are more of our younger generation kids like Jonathan who are willing to take up the hobby of butterfly watching and conservation, and becoming a future leader in the protection of our nature and environmental heritage in Singapore.

Young Jonathan (right) at the launch of ButterflyCircle's Caterpillar book, with another young member, Brian Goh

Text by Khew SK  : Artwork pieces by Jonathan Soong ; Photos by Jonathan Soong, Sunny Chir, Anthony Wong & Khew SK