30 March 2013

Life History of the Malay Tailed Judy

Life History of the Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Abisara C. & R. Felder, 1860
Species: savitri C. & R. Felder, 1860
Subspecies: savitri C. & R. Felder, 1860
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 40-50mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Embelia ribes (Myrsinaceae), Embelia canescens (Myrsinaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are rusty brown with two diffuse white transverse stripes on the forewing, the inner one being more sullied and stretching from mid-costa to the dorsum before the tornus. The hindwing has a similar diffuse white postdiscal band. There are two black marginal spots in spaces 4 and 5 on the hindwing separated by an orange bar. A long, white-tipped tail is present at the end of vein 4 on the hindwing. Underneath, the wings are similarly marked as per above but are more distinctly coloured with bright shades of white in the stripes set against a ground colour of yellowish brown. The basal halves of the wings are in a paler shade of yellowish brown.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The adults are moderately rare and are typically sighted in the forested areas of the nature reserves, and in a hill park where its host plant is growing in relative abundance. The timid and skittish adults are often seen perching on leaves with half open wings, turning and hopping from one perch to the next.

27 March 2013

Random Gallery - Cycad Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Cycad Blue (Chilades pandava pandava)

This little butterfly is common, especially in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, Cycas revoluta and other Cycad species. It can be found in urban parks and gardens, and in areas where various Cycads are planted - even in the nature reserves. At the main entrance of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where two large trees of Cycas rumphii are present, the Cycad Blues are regularly seen fluttering around the plants, chasing each other in rapid flight.

This shot of a pristine Cycad Blue was taken last weekend by ButterflyCircle member Tea Yi Kai. The butterfly is perched on the edge of a Nepenthes tendril in Yi Kai's suburban garden. As long as pesticides are not used in urban parks and private gardens, butterflies are able to survive for the enjoyment of nature enthusiasts. We have often considered the wanton spraying of pesticides as 'weapons of mass destruction' because not only do these pesticides kill mosquitoes (albeit inefficiently) they destroy a large part of our urban biodiversity in the process!

23 March 2013

Butterfly Bubbles

Butterfly Bubbles
Formation of bubble droplets when a Butterfly "pees"

When I was thinking of a title for this blog article, I had originally thought of a more catchy "Bubble Butts" or something to that effect.  However, a quick Google uncovered a series of rather uncomplimentary definitions that this particular pair of words alluded to, so I had to decide on a more decent title, lest this blog be subject to a more stringent censorship scrutiny!

Over the years of photographing butterflies, particularly those that were puddling, ButterflyCircle members have come across the puddlers forcefully excreting liquid from the business-ends of their abdomens. When puddling, it is quite obvious that butterflies take in copious amounts of mineral-enriched fluids that they require for various biological functions.

Jet-propelled FiveBar Swordtail!  The butterfly ejects a stream of fluids whilst puddling

The biological processing of these fluids within the bodies of the butterflies to extract the requisite minerals must be extremely efficient. Once the minerals are absorbed, the remaining fluids are ejected from the butterfly's body, so that there is no superfluous build-up of the excess fluids that the butterfly does not need.

The power of high speed photography -  A stream of droplets ejected from a puddling FiveBar Swordtail

However, it has been observed that in many cases, the excretion of the waste fluids is much slower, as the butterfly passes the fluids slowly, creating a droplet of fluid that remains attached to the tip of the abdomen of the butterfly. Given the viscosity of the liquid that the butterfly excretes, and the low speed at which the liquid forms, a droplet is formed.

Before we delve into the physics of the formation of drops of liquid, let us first recall the reasons why butterflies puddle.  In an earlier blog article, puddling was discussed. Adults of many butterflies, principally males, frequent mud puddles, stream banks that have been contaminated with animal excretions, carrions and bird droppings where their imbibe sodium, chlorides and nitrates that are essential to their biological functions. A study showed that virgin females have reduced longevity. This is attributed to virgins not obtaining important nutrients which the males transfer to females during mating.

When settled down to puddle, some butterflies can remain still for long periods of time, often to their own detriment, as they become vulnerable to nearby predators. At times, their preoccupation with puddling can prove fatal. We have observed, for example along forest road in Malaysia, where puddling butterflies are so engrossed in puddling, that they even forget to fly out of the way of an oncoming vehicle's tyres!

A Burmese Batwing forms a little bubble of fluid (taken in Thailand)

Butterflies from the families Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae, Hesperiidae, and to a lesser extent, Nymphalidae, engage in puddling activities. In many instances, the process of excreting the excess fluids from the abdomen has been photographed. Besides the jets of fluid excreted, we have often observed the formation of small bubbles of fluid oozing out from the tip of the abdomens of butterflies.

In physics, a drop is a small column of liquid, bounded completely or almost completely by free surfaces. A drop may form when liquid accumulates at the lower end of a tube or other surface boundary, producing a hanging drop called a pendant drop.  When a butterfly excretes the liquid that flows slowly from its anal tube, the liquid forms a drop due to surface tension. A simple way to form a drop is to allow liquid to flow slowly from the lower end of a vertical tube of small diameter.

Source : Wikipedia

The surface tension of the liquid causes the liquid to hang from the tube, forming a pendant. When the drop exceeds a certain size it is no longer stable and detaches itself. The falling liquid is also a drop held together by surface tension. As the drop detaches itself from where it previously hung, surface tension will pinch it and the drop falls as a sphere.

Top : A drop of water falls off after exceeding a certain size when gravity exceeds surface tension forces. (© Wikipedia) Bottom : An Eurema simulatrix excretes a drop of fluid from its abdomen

In butterflies, it is interesting to observe the variations of the size of the drops of excreted fluids before they detach from the anal tube. There doesn't appear to be any direct relation of the size of the droplet to the size of the butterfly. In many cases, the smaller butterflies hold much larger droplets in relation to the size of the butterfly.

The drop of fluid can vary in clarity from crystal clear and totally transparent, to a muddy and cloudy constituency. This is probably dependent on the fluids that the butterfly is feeding on, or the process of digestion that the fluids go through in the alimentary canal of the butterfly.

Two examples of slightly cloudy/murky drops of excretion, compared to the usually crystal clear drop

When feeding on bird droppings, the Hesperiidae exhibit an interesting phenomenon of "recycling" their excretion.  With its proboscis extended whilst feeding on a bird dropping, a skipper has often been observed to arch its abdomen and deposit a drop of its own excreted fluid onto the bird dropping and then feeding off the mixture. It repeats the process as it adds its own excretions to the bird dropping to wet it, and then feeds for extended periods of time in this manner, if not disturbed.

Skippers recycling their pee onto the bird dropping that they are feeding on

Amongst the puddlers, butterfly species from the families Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae tend to display the "bubble drop" phenomenon as they puddle. Of those Nymphalidae that do puddle, we have rarely come across any of the species retaining a bubble at its abdomen. Could it be perhaps that they imbibe smaller amounts of fluid as they puddle? Or maybe they have a slower metabolic process that retains in their bodies, most of the fluids that they imbibe?

In the meantime, keep observing and recording any interesting notes that could yield a better understanding of this simple phenomenon and how each different species of butterfly displays different behaviour. Click on the individual photos for a larger view of these bubbles on the butterflies.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Antonio Giudici, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Lemon Tea, Anthony Wong & Mark Wong

21 March 2013

Random Gallery - Yamfly

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Yamfly (Loxura atymnus fuconius)

In nature photography, and in particular butterfly photography, the result of a great shot is often a combination of knowing the subject, its habitat and environment, lots of patience and a good dose of luck! At times, it also depends on the photographer's ability to "see" beyond the obvious, and create quick compositions in his mind's eye, whenever an opportunity presents itself - even for a fleeting moment.

In this case, the artistic quality of this shot far outweighs the butterfly itself, because a photographer can seldom dictate the pose of his subject, nor determine exactly where it will land. The three curved leaves of the ferns draws the observer's eye towards the left and beyond the frame of the shot, but the subtle intersecting overlaps of the leaves suggest that they belong to the same plant, even though the main plant is out of sight. The butterfly sitting on the middle leaf gives a well-balanced composition to the shot, whilst its facing towards the left aligns with the directional curves of the leaves towards the left of the frame. The contrasting orange butterfly on the lime green background presents an eye-pleasing colour combination. A well-executed shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir. Never mind that the butterfly itself has lost one of its tails. In a perfect world, that would have been the icing on the cake that would make this an award-winning shot.

20 March 2013

Random Gallery - Yellow Palm Dart

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Yellow Palm Dart (Cephrenes trichopepla)

The Yellow Palm Dart is a relatively recent immigrant to Singapore and Malaysia. It is now quite widespread and found with regularity in Singapore, and in many states up north in Malaysia. This is an Indo-Australian species that found its way to SouthEast Asia probably due to human agency via the horticultural trade.

This interesting pose of a Yellow Palm Dart was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. The butterfly appears to be perched quite majestically on the young shoots of a plant, surveying its surroundings, all ready to take off on its high speed flight at a moment's notice.

19 March 2013

Random Gallery - Blue Glassy Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina)

The Blue Glassy Tiger is a common butterfly in Singapore, and is quite widespread in distribution. It is found in parks, gardens, mangrove areas and even in the nature reserves. As its caterpillar feeds on lactiferous "milkweeds" the butterfly is distasteful to predators. It is a model for other species to mimic for protection from predators.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Terence Kok, was taken at Pasir Ris Park's butterfly garden. It is feeding on the flower of Cosmos caudatus or commonly called the Ulam Rajah. The plant is a member of the Asteraceae family.  It is a popular herbal salad amongst the Malay community. The young leaves of the plant are eaten raw with sambal and the plant is believed to have medicinal properties.

17 March 2013

Life History of the Common Snow Flat

Life History of the Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tagiades
Hübner, 1819
Species: japetus Butler, 1879
Sub-Species: atticus Fabricius, 1793
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 38-45mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Dioscorea pyrifolia (Dioscoreaceae), Dioscorea glabra (Dioscoreaceae), and other Dioscorea spp.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are dark brown. On the forewing, there is a white hyaline spot in each of spaces 3,6,7,8 in both sexes, and additional spots in the female in spaces 4 and 5. These spots are larger and more distinct in the female than in the male. Darker brown discal/post-discal patches are found in spaces 1b to 8 and in the cell in the forewing. Similar but smaller post-discal patches are also found in spaces 1b to 6 in the hindwing. Underneath, the wings are pale buff brown and are similarly marked as per above. The underside of the hindwing is suffused with white scaling.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:  
This species is the most commonly found species of its genus in Singapore. They are typically found in forested areas of the nature reserves and other hill parks and wastelands. As is the case for the other Tagiades species, the adults have the habit of perching on the underside of a leaf between flights, and with its wings opened flat. The adults have the habit of visiting flowers and puddling on bird droppings.

13 March 2013

Random Gallery - Malay Baron

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Malay Baron (Euthalia monina monina)

The Malay Baron is one species that displays polymorphism in one of the sexes. In the case of this species, the males occur in three distinct forms, f-monina, f-gardineri and f-decorata. Often, a range of intermediates of these forms occur. The Malay Baron is largely a forest-dependent species and is predominantly found in forested areas in the nature reserves rather than in urban parks and gardens. 

This male f-gardineri Malay Baron was photographed at a park connector near a forested area by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. The males of this species are robust and fast flyers, but often return to sunbathe on favourite perches. They are also known to feed on fermenting fruits on the forest floor. Females of this species are typically larger, often with 30% or more wing area compared to the males.

09 March 2013

Butterfly of the Month - March 2013

Butterfly of the Month - March 2013
The Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus)

Our butterfly of the month for March is very impatient to be featured, so this blog article is coming out earlier than usual on this third month of 2013. As far as the wet weather is concerned, it's been warming up from the rainy days that we experienced in February. Though there have been really hot days, there are afternoon passing showers that can strike unexpectedly and then leave the rest of the day hot and extremely humid again.

Over here in Singapore, the government presented the budget for the fiscal year 2013 that spurred lots of debates from the residents - from coffee shops to corporate board rooms. Touted to be a progressive budget, the various packages affected practically everyone in Singapore, from individuals to businesses; Singaporeans and foreigners; singles and families. But like all things, not everyone will be pleased, and there will always be some disgruntled quarters.

The hotly-debated issues of congestion and crowdedness that grew worse in Singapore over the years continue to dominate social media websites, print media and formal and informal discussions all over the island. There have, however, been debates that border on racism, and coming from purportedly Singaporean netizens, this cannot be good for anyone in the longer term at all.

On the issue of the high cost of living, one sought-after commodity stands out prominently - car ownership. In Singapore, we have the unique Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system where one has to first procure a certificate to entitle one to own a car. It would appear like a logical solution to alleviate congested roads in Singapore, until one realises that to procure a piece of paper that is the COE may cost in excess of SGD90,000! In some neighbouring countries, that amount could land you a decently-sized house!

Speaking of neighbouring countries, the recent month-long incursion by armed Filipino Islamic militants is something that is virtually unheard of in recent years. The normally peaceful SouthEast Asian region was rocked with news of the clashes between the insurgents and the Malaysian police and military forces that left over 60 dead. Scores of followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan landed in the state of Sabah on Borneo island last month to assert a long-dormant territorial claim in what has become Malaysia's worst security crisis in years. In military parlance, this could be well considered an invasion of sorts that would provoke retaliation of the highest order.

Let us leave the woes of the human world aside and come back to our butterfly of the month. For March 2013, we feature a Danainae species that is fairly common in Singapore and Malaysia, the Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus) Although the butterfly cannot be described to be abundant, it is widespread in distribution and on some occasions, several individuals (usually males) were encountered in the same location. They are usually attracted to flowering trees e.g. Syzygium spp., damp wooden structures and decomposing organic matter.


Male Magpie Crows puddling on decomposing organic material on sandy streambanks

The Magpie Crow is so named, probably because of its black-and-white appearance, reminescent of the typical Magpie, a group of birds of the family Corvidae. The upperside of the wings of the Magpie Crow is bluish-black, with submarginal pale blue spots and white patches on the discal area of the forewings and long white streaks on the dorsal area of the hindwings. Males feature a pale blue brand on the forewings above.


The male Magpie Crow is by far the commoner of the two sexes, and appears in urban parks and gardens as well as in forested areas of the nature reserves. When attracted to either flowers or the pungent odours of decomposing organic material that it likes, the butterfly will often stay for a some time, circling around its target and repeatedly returning for a taste of its preferred 'cuisine'. Even when disturbed, it will stubbornly stay in the vicinity and return to the food source when the threat passes.

A male Magpie Crow puddles on the efflorescence from a plastered building

We have encountered the male Magpie Crow puddling on sandy streambanks which have been tainted by decomposing organic material, as well as damp timber structures. On one occasion, a male Magpie Crow was found feeding on the efflorescent salts from a plastered building. It was probably looking for the chlorides that were oozing out from the efflorecence. The butterfly also appears regularly when there are flowering trees where it feeds greedily on the flowers in the company of many other species of butterflies. The Magpie Crow is sometimes also partial to human sweat, and can be brazen enough to alight on an observer and stay to feed off the salts from a sweaty finger!

A male Magpie Crow feeds on the sweaty finger of ButterflyCircle member Les Day, quite brazenly confident that it will not be caught, killed and pinned in a collection.

The female Magpie Crow is rare, and appears almost brownish compared to the male's deep bluish-black colouration. However, the female sports larger areas of white, making it much whiter in appearance when it flies around. The submarginal spots on the female's wings are white, instead of pale blue as in the male. Females are more often encountered at flowering plants, or just flying around treetops and shrubbery. We have thus far not observed any female Magpie Crows puddling like the males.


Male Magpie Crow (top) and female Magpie Crow (bottom) : Compare the patch of white on the hindwings

The Magpie Crow flies slowly in an unhurried manner, but is often very skittish and alert to any intrusion into its space. Like many of its other related species in the genus Euploea (or commonly referred to as "Crows"), the Magpie Crow is believed to be distasteful to birds and displays aposematic colouration that warns would-be predators of its distastefulness. The early stages have not been recorded in Singapore yet, but the caterpillars are believed to feed on a lactiferous host plant.

Male Magpie Crow (top) and female Magpie Crow (bottom) : Note the colour of the submarginal spots on the wings - pale blue in the male and white in the female

It is noteworthy to mention that the two female forms of the rare Courtesan (Euripus nyctelius euploeoides) both mimic the male and female of the Magpie Crow for protection against predators. The female form-isina is a good mimic of a male Magpie Crow, with its bluer colour and smaller patches of white, whilst female form-euploeoides that has more extensive white patches on the wings and is pale brown, mimics the female Magpie Crow.

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