31 May 2013

Random Gallery - Common Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia)

The Common Tiger is another Danainae that can be found at Gardens by the Bay. This male form-genutia Common Tiger was shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir.  The butterfly, feeding on the colourful flowers of the milkweed Blood Flower (Asclepias curassavica), makes an eye-catching shot against a green background.

Like its close cousin, the Plain Tiger and also belonging to the same genus Danaus, the Common Tiger is relatively widespread in Singapore, occuring from urban parks and gardens, to coastal areas where its caterpillar host plant, the lactiferous vine, Cynanchum sp. grows.

30 May 2013

Random Gallery - Yellow Palm Dart

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The Yellow Palm Dart (Cephrenes trichopepla)

This new immigrant to Singapore appears to be a resident skipper at Gardens by the Bay, having been seen in several locations around the gardens. It is not surprising to find the species here, as its caterpillars feed on a variety of palms, amongst them the common Coconut (Cocos nucifera), Livistonia sp. and Cyrtostachys renda. These palms are likely to be cultivated at Gardens by the Bay, and would provide this species with adequate host plants to continue to survive in that location.

This Yellow Palm Dart was photographed near the Meadow area of GB, where there are butterfly host and nectaring plants cultivated. The skipper is skittish and fast-flying when on the move, but can often be seen perched and resting with its wings folded upright, showing off its attractive orange undersides.

29 May 2013

Random Gallery - Plain Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery 
The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus)

During the butterfly surveys in the mid-90's the Plain Tiger was rarely seen in Singapore. Although observed once in a while, it was by no means common at all, and infrequently seen in parks and gardens. Today, with the cultivation of its caterpillar host plants, Asclepias currasivica and Calotropis gigantea at public parks, schools' eco-gardens, park connectors and so on, the Plain Tiger is a commonly seen butterfly.

This female Plain Tiger feeding on the flower of the Cosmos sp. was shot by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir at Gardens by the Bay a few days ago. The species can be seen fluttering around the flowering plants at Gardens by the Bay, and in particular towards the Meadow area of Bay South Garden where its caterpillar host plant is grown.

28 May 2013

Random Gallery - Peacock Royal

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)

The Peacock Royal is one of a number of butterfly species that feeds on the parasitic mistletoe, Dendrophthoe pentandra. In Singapore, this common parasitic plant is the host for the caterpillars of the Great Imperial (Lycaenidae), Painted Jezebel (Pieridae) and Green Baron (Nymphalidae). Whilst parasitic plants tend to eventually destroy the host on which it grows, the damage done (if any) takes a relatively long time, especially when the parasitic plant is on a large tree. To conserve these butterfly species, it is hence important that Dendrophthoe pentandra is allowed to proliferate naturally without any human intervention and let nature take its course. Besides butterflies, the plant is also popular with birds which go after its fruits. This is how the parasitic plant is spread - through the droppings of the birds when the birds fly to other trees and expel the seeds after digesting the fruits of the plant.

This pristine female Peacock Royal was shot last weekend at Gardens by the Bay by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern. The butterfly is a fast flyer but can often be found feeding on flowering plants like the Ixora spp. The male of the Peacock Royal features an attractive royal blue on the upperside of its wings. Females are light blue. The underside is a pale grey with dark streaks whilst the hindwing bears a pair of white tipped tails.

25 May 2013

Life History of the Chocolate Grass Yellow

Life History of the Chocolate Grass Yellow (Eurema sari sodalis)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Eurema
Hübner, 1819
Species: sari Horsfield, 1829
Subspecies: sodalis Moore, 1886
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 35-40mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Archidendron jiringa (Fabaceae, common name: Greater Grasshopper Tree, Petai Belalang).

A Chocolate Grass Yellow puddling on wet ground for minerals.

Another puddling Chocolate Grass Yellow.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are deep lemon-yellow, each with a black border which is regularly scalloped and deeply excavated between veins 2 and 4 in the forewing. Underneath, the wings are yellow with freckled brown spots. There is one cell spot on the forewing which has its apex entirely in dark brown. Males have a brand lying along the cubital vein on the forewing underside.

A Chocolate Grass Yellow taking nectar from Syzygium flowers.

A Chocolate Grass Yellow visiting a tiny flower for nectar.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Chocolate Grass Yellow is common in both nature reserves and urban parks in Singapore. The adults can be readily seen fluttering tirelessly in these areas. They are easily confused with other Grass Yellow spp. while in flight, but their distinctive brown forewing apical area immediately set them apart when they come to a perch. They regularly visit flowers for nectar and puddle on wet grounds for minerals.

24 May 2013

Random Gallery - Tawny Coster

Random Butterfly Gallery 
The Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)

After settling down in Singapore since 2006, the Tawny Coster has continued to spread southwards into Indonesia. The species continues to thrive successfully in Singapore, as it is able to adapt to several host plants, mainly of the Passifloraceae family. Its favourite caterpillar host plant is still Passiflora foetida a "weed" that grows rapidly in cleared areas and wastelands. As the female lays anything from 20-50 eggs at one go, the species is statistically more successful in terms of its survival, as long as its host plants are found commonly.

Over at Gardens by the Bay, the Tawny Coster has been observed in the areas where there are wildflowers and the less manicured parts of the gardens. Here, ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot this pristine male Tawny Coster feeding on the flower of the Coat Button (Tridax procumbens), balancing itself quite comfortably on the rigid wildflower as its proboscis probes the flower for nectar.

23 May 2013

Random Gallery - Gram Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus)

I've always wondered how the Latin name of this butterfly is pronounced! The Gram Blue, as we prefer to know it by for simplicity, is a moderately common species and may occasionally be abundant where its caterpillar host plants, Pueraria phaseoloides and Macroptilium laythroides are found. Both plants are creepers that can be found in cleared wastelands and tend to stay hugging the ground.

The species is now also found at Gardens by the Bay as evidenced by this rather pristine female perched open-winged on some grasses. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Billy Oh last Sunday during the survey.

22 May 2013

Random Gallery - Pea Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus)

The Pea Blue is a butterfly that can be found at Gardens by the Bay. This Lycaenid flies fast and erratic on hot sunny days, but can also be spotted resting amongst the shrubbery in the early morning hours, and also in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plants, Crotalaria retusa and Crotalaria mucronata - both "Pea Plants".

In this shot, taken on Sunday at Gardens by the Bay, ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong managed to capture a portrait of a Pea Blue feeding on the flower of the Coat Button plant (Tridax procumbens). Considered a weed, the Coat Button is a flowering plant from the Asteraceae family (or Daisies). The plant is believed to have medicinal properties and used in traditional Indian medicine as an anticoagulant, hair tonic, antifungal and insect repellent, in bronchial catarrh, diarrhoea, dysentery, and for healing wounds.

21 May 2013

Random Gallery - Pale Grass Blue

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The Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

This species was only discovered in Singapore some time in the early 2000's and was identified as the Pale Grass Blue by the late Col John Eliot when detailed photographs were sent to the region's foremost butterfly guru in England, just a few months before he passed on. The Pale Grass Blue has since become a permanent resident in Singapore and is found mainly in urban parks and gardens. The butterfly often flies in the company of the two other "Grass Blues" - The Lesser Grass Blue and the Pygmy Grass Blue, on hot sunny days.

This shot of a Pale Grass Blue was taken by ButterflyCircle member Anthony Wong at the Fragile Forest area of Gardens by the Bay last Sunday. Not commonly known to many visitors, Gardens by the Bay is also home to many species of urban butterflies and on a butterfly survey last weekend, ButterflyCircle members counted at least 32 species of butterflies.

20 May 2013

Random Gallery - Two Sergeants

Random Butterfly Gallery
Dot-Dash Sergeant and Colour Sergeant

This is a collage of two shots taken at the same location in Singapore. On the left is the Dot Dash Sergeant (Athyma kanwa kanwa) whilst the one on the right is the Colour Sergeant (Athyma nefte subrata). Closely related, these two Sergeants appear very similar when in flight, and identification can only be reliably done when they stop to rest. The Dot-Dash Sergeant is a forest-dependent butterfly and rarely seen outside the confines of the nature reserves, whilst the Colour Sergeant is more widespread in distribution and appears as regularly at urban parks and gardens as well as in the forested areas.

Both species have a robust flap-glide flight characteristic, but flies more strongly than the lookalike Sailors. They have a habit of perching on high vantage points and then attacking intruders into their space. The female of the Dot-Dash Sergeant looks similar to the male, whilst for the Colour Sergeant, there are two female forms, one of which is brown and black striped, whilst the other is orange and black striped.

18 May 2013

Butterfly of the Month - May 2013

Butterfly of the Month - May 2013
The Bifid Plushblue (Flos diardi capeta)

We are well past the half-way mark of the fifth month of 2013 as the weather begins to get hotter in the northern hemisphere as spring gives way to the beginning of the summer months. Over here in Singapore, we are getting 32-34 deg C days, and the heat can be quite unbearable when under the hot sun. I had just come back from a short four-day trip to Beijing, the capital city of China, where the temperatures were warming up but the days were still a comfortable 22-26 deg C. We also had two days of blue skies in Beijing, a rarity, according to the locals.

Over to the north, our neighbours in Malaysia have just completed their 13th General Elections where the ruling party, Barisan Nasional was returned to power. The results indicate an apparent deterioration of popular support for the ruling party, and the opposition coalition raised doubts about the legitimacy of the results with allegations of fraud. That's politics for you. In such situations, there is often more than meets the eye. But who's right and who's wrong? Well, it depends from whose perspective you are looking at the issues.

Singapore has its fair share of politics in the news as the PAP debates the costs of managing town councils with the opposition Workers Party. The Parliamentary debate has been at the top of the media attention, although the conclusion again depends on which perspective one views the 'facts' from.

On the public health front, the number of dengue cases continue to climb. Although quite a lot of effort has been put in by the various government agencies to educate and create awareness, it may be a little while more before the number of infections drop. Interestingly the reported cases and locations where the clusters were found had been largely in the high-rise residential apartments, rather than landed properties, where mosquito breeding grounds were assumed to be more prevalent!

On a related front, a high-ranking National Environment Agency officer shared with me that the fogging of premises using thermal fogging with the pesticide cypermethrin may actually be quite ineffective to control the Aedes mosquito! Last year, a writer questioned the effectiveness of cypermethrin and even suggested that the chemical may be harmful to humans! In a Parliamentary debate just in Feb this year, the Minister for Environment and Water resources even mentioned that fogging as a first line of defence is not recommended.

However, we often see massive plumes of 'smoke' where fogging is used at various sites in Singapore. Bearing in mind that fogging is not 'effective', ignorant residents are still asking for it! Or is it perhaps because the National Environment Agency perceives that it has to carry out fogging so that residents feel that something is being done about the mosquito breeding? Whatever the case may be, fogging is a sheer waste of resources, and may even affect pets and humans in ways that we are not fully aware of!

In the Straits Times forum letter by Dr Ong Siew Chey in March last year, it was quoted that "the US Environment Protection Agency classifies cypermethrin as a possible human cancer-inducing agent. A recent study has linked pyrethroids, to which cypermethrin belongs, to leukaemia and lymphoma. Cypermethrin is a neurotoxin that can affect brain tissue and can damage many other organs."

What does this all have to do with butterflies? It's because these chemicals kill caterpillars and butterflies that are too weak to escape the fogging! It is therefore not surprising that urban dwellers often wonder where all the butterflies have gone!

Fortunately, we still have areas of our nature reserves and even large patches of urban wild greenery that are free from pesticides, and where fogging is totally pointless. It is mainly in these forested areas where butterflies still survive and thrive.

Our Butterfly of the Month for May 2013, the Bifid Plushblue (Flos diardi capeta) is one such forest-depended species that survives in our forests. The species is rarely found in urban areas. Even in the nature reserves, where the Bifid Plushblue prefers the shaded understorey of tall trees, the species is considered rare, and if encountered, is often found singly.

The Bifid Plushblue is one of four species belonging to the Flos genus. The genus is closely related to the Arhopala but the undersides of the Flos are more distinctive and contrasty with usually dark brown markings against a paler brown ground colour. The darker markings are often conjoined, giving the Flos a more banded appearance.

Two of the Flos species, including the Bifid Plushblue, have strong red markings at the wing bases on the undersides. The male of the Bifid Plushblue is dark purple-blue above with very thin borders. The female is coloured a lighter purple-blue with broad dark brown borders on both wings above. The characteristic cleft-shaped costal spot on the hindwing separates this species from the others in the genus.

On the underside, the wings feature the typical Flos cryptic patterns where the tornal area of the hindwing has coppery green scales across a broad area, surrounding two black eyespots. There is a thick white-tipped tail at vein 2 of the hindwing that is relatively long compared to the other species of the genus. The hindwing is also toothed at veins 1b and 3.

The butterfly is alert to movements and is rather skittish. When it is lurking amongst the shaded undergrowth, it may be difficult to approach as it will take off to the treetops if disturbed. It is often encountered on the top surfaces of leaves with its wings folded upright. At certain hours of the day, it may be encountered sunbathing with its wings opened, displaying its purple-blue uppersides.

The early stages of the Bifid Plushblue are known, and the caterpillars feed on several varieties of "Oaks" from the family Fagaceae. The caterpillars are usually found in folded leaf shelters on the host plants, and in the field, is attended by ants. Early Stages expert Horace Tan has documented the life history of the Bifid Plushblue here.

It is rare to see many of the Flos and Arhopala species feeding on flowers or other food sources. However, when the Singapore Rhododendron flowers and fruits, many species of butterflies are attracted to the ripened fruits of the plant. The Bifid Plushblue is one of many forest species that loves the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron and as it feeds greedily, it offers a good opportunity for butterfly photographers to take a good shot of the species.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir ; Federick Ho ; Huang CJ ; Khew SK ; Koh Cher Hern ; Nelson Ong ; Danny Soh; Horace Tan & Tan Ben Jin

17 May 2013

Random Gallery - Perak Lascar

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka)

ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong chanced upon this mating pair of Perak Lascar recently. The species is usually found more regularly in back-mangrove habitats where its caterpillar host plant, Dalbergia candenatensis grows commonly. However due to the species having at least two other alternative host plants, found mainly in secondary forests, the species has a wide distribution, but prefers to remain in the vicinity of forested habitats.

Like its lookalike cousins in the genera Pantoporia and Lasippa, the Perak Lascar is typically orange and black striped in appearance. The distinguishing feature of this species is the two pale orange submarginal lines on the forewing. The species has a weak gliding flight, but is skittish and not easy to approach.

16 May 2013

Random Gallery - Common Palmfly

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Palmfly (Elymnias hypermnestra agina)

The Common Palmfly is one of three representatives of the genus Elymnias here in Singapore. The rarest one, Elymnias penanga (Pointed Palmfly) was last seen on Pulau Ubin in the early 90's and remains elusive to this day. The Common Palmfly is by far the most common of the three species and is found in urban Singapore, as well as in the forested areas. It has a good range of caterpillar host plants, usually species of Palmae, and many of the host plants are ornamental palms found in urban gardens.

The butterfly very rarely opens its wings to show its more attractive uppersides. The shot here, taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF, features the Common Palmfly on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron. It is interesting that whilst food is available, even the ants leave the butterfly alone whilst they share the spoils together.

15 May 2013

Random Gallery - Colonel

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Colonel (Pandita sinope sinope)

This predominantly orange coloured butterfly is considered moderately rare and is a forest-dependent species. It belongs to the subfamily Limenitidinae which features many species with common names that are associated with military ranks and aristocratic peerage. (See earlier blog article on Origin of Some Common Names of Butterflies) The Colonel's wings are dark orange above with dark brown shading in the basal halves of the wings. The underside is a paler orange but with the basal area of both wings a greenish-grey.

This perching Colonel was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir as it was taking a rest from feeding and flying around in a forested patch in the nature reserves. The butterfly is skittish and very alert to potential threats and hence is a challenge to get a good shot of, except perhaps when it is distracted whilst feeding.

14 May 2013

Random Gallery - Knight

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Knight (Lebadea martha parkeri)

Last week, we featured the underside of a male Knight on the gallery. Today, we show the upperside of a female Knight. Males have a distinct white apical area on the forewings, whereas the females do not have this characteristic. Featuring a more subdued colour, the female Knight also has the upperside of the hindwing marginal area pale violet-blue. The female Knight has a slightly weaker flight than the male, and prefers to glide gracefully amongst the shrubbery, looking for its caterpillar host plant to lay its eggs on. ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern shot this pristine female Knight perched on a leaf last weekend.

13 May 2013

Random Gallery - Purple Duke

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Purple Duke (Eulaceura osteria kumana)

The Purple Duke is a sexually-dimorphic species with the male and female appearing different from each other. Both sexes are skittish and fast-flying and have the habit of flying quickly to the underside of a leaf to hide when alarmed. The brown upperside of the female is reminiscent of the Tanaecia and Euthalia species which share the forested nature reserves with the Purple Duke.

In this shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK last weekend, the female Purple Duke adopts a rather interesting pose with her proboscis extended almost horizontally to reach the juices of the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron.

11 May 2013

Life History of the Painted Jezebel

Life History of the Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Delias
Hübner, 1819
Species: hyparete Linnaeus, 1758
Subspecies: metarete Butler, 1879
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 60-75mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are white with veins black-dusted towards the outer margins. The female has its veins more heavily black-dusted than the male. Underneath, the wings are white with black-dusted veins. In the hindwing, the basal half is bright yellow and the marginal border is bright orange-red.

A female Painted Jezebel showing us its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Painted Jezebel is common throughout Singapore with occurrence in multiple habitats in both nature reserves and urbanised areas. This is likely due to its host plant, Dendrophthoe pentandra, being a common mistletoe on many trees in these areas. The adults can be readily seen fluttering tirelessly at tree-top levels during most of the daylight hours. They only descend to take nectar from flowers or to rest in the shaded understorey towards the later part of the day.

10 May 2013

Random Gallery - Knight

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Knight (Lebadea martha parkeri)

The subspecies parkeri of the Knight that was originally discovered by Norman Parker in Singapore has its submarginal area on the upperside of the hindwing a pale violet-blue. This subspecies is believed to be endemic to Singapore. The south Malaysian subspecies, malayana has the submarginal area of the hindwing a reddish brown. In recent years, this subspecies has been observed in Singapore, and hybrids with the hindwing showing intermediate characteristics between subspecies parkeri and malayana have been observed.

This pristine male Knight (identified by its white wingtips) was feeding on the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron when I managed to take a number of shots of it with its wings folded upright. Although skittish, it has a weaker flight than the more alert Commander but has the same habit of perching on the top surface of a leaf, just out of reach of the photographer's lens.

09 May 2013

Random Gallery - Plain Palm Dart

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Plain Palm Dart (Cephrene acalle niasicus)

The Plain Palm Dart is one of two species of the genus Cephrenes found in Singapore. The other one, the Yellow Palm Dart, is an immigrant from the Indo-Australian region. The existence of the Plain Palm Dart was probably overlooked as the male of the species appear very similar to the lookalike Telicota spp. The Plain Palm Dart was added to the checklist as as re-discovery only when the very distinctive female was reliably seen and photographed in Singapore. (See life history article)

The male Plain Palm Dart, with is sharper arrow-like markings on the undersides of its wings, sets is apart from the closely allied Telicota. This individual, shot by ButterflyCircle member Federick Ho, perches in the usual skipper fashion, with its forelegs drawn tightly against its body, and resting only on its mid- and hind legs. Only moderately rare, the Plain Palm Dart is widespread in distribution in Singapore and can be found in urban parks and gardens, mangrove areas and also on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin.

08 May 2013

Random Gallery - Commander

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Commander (Moduza procris milonia)

The Commander is a skittish butterfly and is usually very alert to movements and is a difficult butterfly to photograph. However, there are times when it is hungry and is sufficiently distracted whilst feeding or puddling. In the photograph above, ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir took the opportunity to photograph the Commander whilst it was busy feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron in the forested nature reserves. Note the well-balanced position with the spread mid- and hind legs of the butterfly as it probes its proboscis into the sweet fermenting juices.

07 May 2013

Random Gallery - Blue Jay

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus)

The Blue Jay is a common "swallowtail" of the Papilionidae family. Most of the time when encountered, it is fast-flying and skittish. Its powerful and erratic flight makes it very frustrating for a photographer who is tracking its movements. Even to the casual observer, a Blue Jay in flight is very often just a flash of blue that zips by. However, the butterfly is easier to photograph when it is puddling on sandy streambanks and muddy footpaths as shown in many shots in this earlier article.

At other times, the Blue Jay can occasionally be observed to take a rest amongst foliage especially after feeding. This is one instance when ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong encountered when the butterfly was at rest on a leaf of the Singapore Rhododendron, capturing the Blue Jay in its environment.

04 May 2013

Of Prostitutes, Gigolos & a Busy Brothel!

Of Prostitutes, Gigolos & a Busy Brothel!
Featuring the Courtesan

Just in case you did a double take and wondered if you are reading an article about butterflies or had inadvertently stumbled on some undesirable website, rest assured that you are in the right place. (Unless of course, it was your intention in the first instance to visit some dubious website for a little RnR!) But now that your curiosity has been piqued by the strange title of this article, do read on...

This weekend's blog article revolves primarily around a species of butterfly that has been christened the rather unfortunate common name of "Courtesan". A quick search across various online dictionaries would give you the definition that clearly refers you to the world's oldest profession! Wikipedia puts it more diplomatically across, as it traces the historical meanings of courtesan, but stating that in our contemporary era, the word courtesan "has become a euphemism to designate an escort or a prostitute, especially one who attracts wealthy clients."

How such a pretty butterfly came to be associated with a lady of the night, we can only guess. Perhaps one of the early collectors saw in the physical appearance of this butterfly, a resemblance with someone or something that reminded him of his previous night's recreational activities? Or perhaps someone was having some morbid fun in coining such a name for this butterfly. Of course the search also suggested that courtesans are normally applicable to women. So what do we call male Courtesans then?

The Courtesan (now I'm referring to the butterfly) is considered a rarity in Singapore. Between infrequent appearances in urban parks and gardens, there were long intervals during which the species was not seen. Over the past few weeks, however, after ButterflyCircle members stumbled on one or two individuals within a very localised area in the nature reserves, the sightings of the Courtesan became more regular and frequent, but still largely within the vicinity where it was first spotted.

A few weekends later, ButterflyCircle members located the mother lode (or should we say a very active brothel!) where there were more numbers of this species than we have ever encountered before! True that the recorded host plant,Trema tomentosa grows commonly in this area, but the plant can also be found in many places and is certainly not rare. So what makes this place so special?

An observation was made that the location where the host plant species was found in abundance, was actually an area that had been affected by tree falls and the heavily shaded forested area was naturally "cleared". The opened patch of forest that was wiped clean was then a subject site for replanting by the authorities, most probably the National Parks Board. Evidence of reforestation with Syzygium and other species of plants in that area was obvious by the support poles that accompanied the young saplings. Other secondary growth species quickly took root, and examples are Melastoma, Trema and a number of the usual creepers and "weeds".

Forest ecology and habitats are dynamic and evolve all the time. In nature, nothing is static. Trees fall, clearings are created, new plants grow, the structure of the forest evolves as new plants colonise the site and edge out other plants, habitats change from open sunny areas to shaded forests as the trees grow tall, and the cycle repeats itself. With change, biodiversity and the species that come and go, will closely follow the evolution of the structure of the forest as one habitat replaces another. Where were the Courtesans before the large trees fell and opened that patch of the forest? Probably nowhere near. What happens when the trees grow, the understorey becomes heavily shaded, and the smaller shrubs die out? The Courtesans will probably move somewhere else where the habitat is conducive for the species to survive. 

The abundance of the Courtesan's host plant, Trema tomentosa and also another related species, Trema cannabina meant that a small colony of the butterfly could be supported at this patch of forest. Indeed it became so, when we spotted up to nearly a dozen individuals of the species, both males and females, over the period when they were active. Suddenly, a rare butterfly became common, even if it were only temporarily.

A male Courtesan perches alertly with its legs taut and ready to spring to attack any intruders

The males were up and about quite early in the morning, usually perched on higher vantage points, surveying their territory for intruders and also for potential mates that come along. Females tend to fly slowly in search for their host plants to lay their eggs on.

The Courtesan is a classic example of sexual polymorphism in the female, with two forms occuring in Singapore and Malaysia. Indeed over the weeks that they were observed at this forest patch, both the females form-isina and form-eupleoides were present. The females are excellent examples in Batesian mimicry, where they resemble the distasteful Danainae Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus) for protection against predators.

The female form-isina of the Courtesan and the model, the male Magpie Crow for comparison

The female form-isina mimics the male Magpie Crow and is more than just a passable mimic. If not for the earlier observations of the male Courtesans in that area, one could be forgiven for mistaking the female form-isina for the ubiquitous Magpie Crow. Even the submarginal blue spots are copied! The other female form-eupleoides is a good mimic of the female of the Magpie Crow, with its more extensive white markings.

The female form-eupleoides of the Courtesan and the model, the female Magpie Crow for comparison

It was also interesting to note that the eyes of the male Courtesan is always a bright yellow, whilst the eyes of the females can range from dark grey to yellow. Another noteworthy observation would be that the differences between the male and female Courtesan extend to their wing shape, patterns and even size! The typical male is only about 60% of the size of the larger female.

Nature always throws interesting surprises and unexpected discoveries, even on our little island. If not for the access created by the network of park connectors to reach this forested area, these observations may not have been possible, and we would have been none the wiser about the behaviour of the Courtesan in this habitat. Indeed, if not for this fortunate encounter, ButterflyCircle may not have been able to document the full life history of the Courtesan so soon! Horace Tan, our early stages expert, managed to record the life history of the Courtesan on this blog resulting from the first observation of this species in that area.

There are certain quarters who advocate that Singapore should leave all its wild greenery alone and not develop them. However, there are benefits in creating nature-related facilities and accessibility to some of these areas so that nature enthusiast groups like ButterflyCircle can continue to study, document and share our natural heritage with the community at large.

The re-forested clearing where the Courtesans thrive, at least temporarily, as the forest structure evolves and changes over time

No one is saying that we should support the clearing of all our remaining forests and replacing them with steel and concrete buildings. Given our land-scarce island, we have already done a lot better than many other countries around us, in terms of planning the city, and providing a delicate balance between sensitive and sustainable development whilst conserving our greenery and biodiversity. The keyword is balance, and not at the absolute expense of one or the other.

A male Courtesan perches on its caterpillar host plant, Trema cannabina

Whither now our lady of the night? After the re-forested area regenerates itself, and the key plant species are replaced by others naturally as forests evolve, will the Courtesan still remain? Perhaps, perhaps not. Nature is unpredictable. But we are thankful that we have managed to study this species in greater detail than we would otherwise have been able to, given this window of opportunity. And it has certainly been a very educational lesson in nature's outdoor classroom.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Sunny Chir; Chng CK; Khew SK; Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Horace Tan & Benjamin Yam