28 December 2013

2013 - Looking Back...

ButterflyCircle 2013 - Looking Back...
The Year in Review

This will be the last article on this blog for December, as we wrap up a pretty good year (as far as butterflies are concerned) and bid farewell to 2013. With the inclusion of short weekday articles as 'fillers' to the longer and technically more elaborate weekend articles, we have managed to whip up a total of 188 posts this year (including this one) on this blog! Compared to 2012 where we posted 95 articles, this is a big jump in terms of sharing our beloved butterflies with the nature community in Singapore and globally. Thanks to all our readers and visitors who have continued to visit this blog and especially those who have left encouraging comments on our articles.

All these blog posts, articles and beautiful butterfly pictures would not have been possible without the help of ButterflyCircle members who have contributed their excellent work via our ButterflyCircle Forums. Speaking of the forums, we would also like to take the opportunity to thank Dr Seow TL, who has been of significant help to the group with his vast knowledge of butterflies and helping everyone identify the pesky lookalike species.

Butterflies of the Month - Jan to Dec 2013

Our long-running Butterfly of the Month series progressed into its sixth year, featuring a butterfly for each month of the year. We now have a total of 74 species featured from Dec 2007 to Dec 2013. Given that we have 308 species (and counting!), this Butterfly of the Month series can theoretically continue to run for another 19.5 years!

Kudos once again to Horace Tan, who outdid himself this year, by documenting a total of 25 Life History articles, many of which are complete first-time photographic records of the early stages of the butterfly species. Horace's patience and meticulous documentaries on this blog continue to amaze many followers and researchers alike. The preparation of each article takes weeks and even months, as Horace traces the daily development of the butterfly, from egg to caterpillar to pupa and eventually eclosion of the adult.

A typical box of butterflies from the iconic Fleming Collection

In January 2013, I had the pleasure of seeing the Fleming collection in-situ for the first time in my life. Having studied butterflies as a hobbyist collector for so many years, and referring to WA Fleming's book, Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, it was exciting to finally see the actual specimens that formed the material for Fleming's book. It was a great milestone for the Raffles Museum to have managed to secure the Fleming collection, and very soon, parts of the collection will be featured at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (the new name for the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research) that will open some time in 2014.

ButterflyCircle members at the barbecue party at Oh Farms

The membership of ButterflyCircle continues to grow steadily, and we had our long-overdue gathering in April this year. A special barbecue at Oh' Farms at Bah Soon Pah Road. It was a time of meeting old friends and listening to the stories of our butterfly adventures and the 'ones that got away'. It was also encouraging to see new and younger members enjoying butterfly photography and gaining knowledge of our flying jewels.

ButterflyCircle members at Bay South, Gardens by the Bay

In June, the newly opened Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay invited ButterflyCircle members to help with a butterfly biodiversity survey of the premises. Not many visitors know that there is a good butterfly diversity at the 54Ha Bay South Gardens, as most tend to visit the Cooled Conservatories and miss out on the urban flora and fauna that make the Gardens home. To date, close to 50 species of butterflies have been spotted at Bay South.

The local media also featured Singapore's growing nature photography community and ButterflyCircle was given due mention in the Straits Times on 14 Jun 2013. ButterflyCircle members were out in force at Bay South of Gardens by the Bay to support the photography session whilst ST reporter Lea Wee went around to talk to various members about their passion and enthusiasm for butterflies and photography.

The Vagrant, spotted at Gardens by the Bay, by Koh Cher Hern

As if to add to the excitement and amazement of butterflies at Gardens by the Bay, a species that has not been seen in Singapore for a long time, was re-discovered by newbie ButterflyCircle member Billy Oh. It was subsequently spotted and photographed again by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern. The species, called the Vagrant, was recorded as species #306 in the Singapore Butterflies Checklist.

Down Memory Lane series - featuring extinct butterflies of Singapore

We also started a short series of articles called "Down Memory Lane" to feature butterflies that were previously recorded by the early authors in the Singapore Checklist, but have not been seen in the past 4 to 5 decades or longer. These species are still found in neighbouring Malaysia, and some are even common. But why have they disappeared from Singapore continues to be a mystery.

Butterflies Galore! Series featuring photos by ButterflyCircle members

The long-standing weekday short articles featuring ButterflyCircle members' work that were selected from the Forums, previously called "Random Gallery" was given a new makeover and featured as "Butterflies Galore!" series. More notes and anecdotes to the featured species were added to give additional information to our readers about the butterflies.

ButterflyCircle members at Festival of Biodiversity 2013

Watch ButterflyCircle's Video that was prepared for FOB 2013!

In July, ButterflyCircle also contributed to the Annual Festival of Biodiversity 2013. This time, the public exhibition was held at VivoCity Shopping Mall! The intention was to showcase Singapore's amazing biodiversity to members of the public in a totally "unnatural" setting in the shopping mall. The response from visitors and the numbers who visited the FOB exhibition was very encouraging. ButterflyCircle members contributed their work in a special video collage ably put together by newbie ButterflyCircle member Huang CJ.

ButterflyCircle members' work exhibited at Bay South, Gardens by the Bay

In August, Gardens by the Bay once again invited ButterflyCircle members to feature their work at a public photographic exhibition at Bay South. Called the "Flight of Fancy", the exhibition showcased the flying creatures - birds, butterflies dragonflies and other insects, found at Bay South. Now who says that GB is devoid of any free-ranging natural local flora and fauna!?

August also saw the 6th anniversary of this Butterflies of Singapore Blog. It has been a good and long journey, and the blog has become a good repository of valuable information about Singapore's butterfly fauna. A quick check showed that we have a total of 565 blog posts since the inception of this Blog in August 2007. ButterflyCircle member Simon Sng also designed and helped to get the new ButterflyCircle sew-on patch in Sep this year, so that members can proudly display their membership of this informal online group that has contributed more to the knowledge and conservation of butterflies in Singapore than any other group.

Two more new species added to the Singapore Checklist in 2013

As we were lamenting about the lack of new discoveries or re-discoveries of butterfly species during the year, the Butterfly Fairy must have heard us and threw us two new species to add on to our checklist. ButterflyCircle members Horace Tan and Simon Sng sighted the Malay Yeoman and the Angled Castor respectively, whilst on our regular outings. Both observations were of free-ranging individuals of the species in the forested nature reserve areas in Singapore.

An unidentified Arhopala under investigation for future addition to the Singapore Checklist

With the future availability of DNA testing at the Raffles Museum (soon to be called the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum), there may be a more reliable and scientifically rigorous route to identifying the many lookalike species that we have in Singapore. At this point in time, there are at least 10 or more Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae that are awaiting final verification before recording them on the Singapore Checklist.

A map of the MacRitchie Forest showing the proposed alignment of the Cross Island MRT Line (© Nature Society Singapore)

ButterflyCircle also supported the Love MacRitchie Forest campaign to persuade the Land Transport Authority to reconsider its plans and to realign the proposed underground train tunnel outside the Nature Reserve land. An article "Silent Voices in the Wilderness" featured some of the butterflies that can be found in the MacRitchie Forest area that may be threatened by any development that could alter the delicate ecological balance of the forest within the Nature Reserve.

Varieties of the Prickly Lantana flower

Earlier this month, we featured our third article in the series "Favourite Nectaring Plants" with a blog post on the Prickly Lantana (Lantana camara), a colourful and highly attractive nectaring plant to our butterflies.

Australian Painted Lady - Adelaide, Australia, by Jonathan Soong

Indian Purple Emperor - Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand, by Federick Ho

Chinese Peacock - Taiwan, by Ellen Tan

Glorious Begum - Thailand, by Antonio Giudici

Yellow Pasha - Thailand, by Les Day

Great Black Veined White - Taiwan, by Nelson Ong

Common Duffer - Malaysia, by LC Goh

ButterflyCircle members also continued to make photography outings to our neighbouring countries and shared their photographs on the Forums. Many of these more 'exotic' finds come from Thailand, Myanmar, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and even Australia!

Our FaceBook "Butterflies of Singapore" online group continues to attract members from all over the world, and when we last checked, we now have a total of over 1,400 members! Given the large number of overseas members and their contributions, it would be a misnomer to expect only Singapore's butterflies, as we have photos of butterflies from all over the world.

It has been an eventful 2013 for ButterflyCircle members, and we look forward to 2014 and anticipate more exciting moments with our beloved flying jewels in Singapore and abroad. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all ButterflyCircle members for their support and camaraderie and all our readers out there.

We wish one and all an exciting, fruitful and successful "Happy New Year"!!!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Les Day, Antonio Giudici, Goh EC, Brian Goh, Goh LC, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nona Ooi, Nelson Ong, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong, Ellen Tan, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong & Mark Wong

27 December 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Bigg's Brownie

Butterflies Galore!
The Bigg's Brownie (Miletus biggsii biggsii)

This interesting shot by ButterflyCircle member shows the relationship between what would normally be considered predator and prey. However, for the butterflies that belong to the family Miletinae, there is a symbiotic relationship amongst the butterfly, its caterpillar and the ants and in this case, the scale insects (Coccids) that the ants are 'farming'. In an earlier article on myrmecophily on this blog, more details are discussed.

The Bigg's Brownie (Miletus biggsii biggsii) shown here, appears to be "invisible" to the ants, which are busy "farming" the coccids for their honeydew secretions. The caterpillars of the Biggs Brownie also invade the ant-coccid association, by feeding on the coccids. Some other species of the family also feed on the ant larvae as their primary source of food.

26 December 2013

Butterflies Galore! : Bush Hopper

Butterflies Galore!
The Bush Hopper (Ampittia dioscorides camertes)

This little skipper is local in distribution, but can be common where it occurs. Often, in its habitat where its caterpillar host plant, a type of grass, is abundant, several individuals can be seen fluttering together at low level. With a wingspan of only 20-22mm, it is a small butterfly and can often be missed, as it zips around the grassy patches. Males have a tendency to open and close their wings repeatedly as they stop and perch, unlike other skippers.

The male has more extensive orange on the forewings above, compared to the female, which is predominantly brown in appearance, with smaller yellowish spots. The underside is orange with spots and streaks typical of this species. In the shot above, this pristine male perches on a grass flower as it takes a rest from feeding.

21 December 2013

Butterfly of the Month - December 2013

Butterfly of the Month - December 2013
The Dot Dash Sergeant (Athyma kanwa kanwa)

Twelve months have whizzed by, and it's now the final month of the year 2013. Indeed, time and tide wait for no one, and if you've procrastinated about doing something or visiting somewhere that you've always been wanting to, the year will soon be over if you've still not put your dreams into action.

Over in Singapore, it has been a very eventful month in the local scene. An incident, one that has not happened in Singapore for over 40 years, dominated the news. On the evening of 8 Dec 2013, a fatal accident involving a construction worker of Indian nationality sparked off a riot in the Little India precinct. A crowd of about 400 people, mainly from South Asia, reacted with violent anger at the accident, and a full-scale riot erupted. Police and emergency vehicles were overturned and set on fire. Many uniformed personnel were injured whilst trying to quell the riot and bring the situation under control.

As with any unusual incidents in Singapore, there were many video clips by bystanders that were posted on social media, accompanied by a wide variety of comments from netizens - some downright derogatory to the security agencies, others more level-headed and objective, whilst there were some that were totally hilarious. Whilst the keyboard warriors threw bouquets and brickbats online, the Singapore Police Force went about their jobs of arresting the perpetrators and dispensing the swift justice, that Singapore is well-known for, to the guilty parties.

Then on 16 Dec 2013, a man dressed up in Samurai garb, complete with a real samurai sword, boarded an MRT train. Tailed by police officers, the drama unfolded as passengers on the train gave him a wide berth, because he looked aggressive and wielded the unsheathed sword. After he disembarked, the police officers continued to trail him until they managed to apprehend him without anyone being hurt. News reports later mentioned that he was charged and then sent to the Institute of Mental Health for assessment.

These two "isolated" incidents has one wondering if the pressure-cooker society in Singapore had come to a stage where public displays of rage and violence were inevitable? Is the stress of living in a bustling but over-crowded city, coupled with the pressures of rising cost of living to blame? Or has Singapore become just like another cosmopolitan modern first-world city, complete with warts and all, and the safe haven that our little island nation is globally renown for is beginning to show some insurmountable cracks? As we look ahead to 2014, it will be a time for reflection and for the government and citizens to work hard to put things back in place where law and order take priority, where Singapore is safe and peaceful once again.

For this cold and wet month of 2013, we feature a Nymphalidae butterfly species, the Dot Dash Sergeant (Athyma kanwa kanwa). The butterfly is predominantly forest-dependent, and is usually encountered in the nature reserves of Singapore. It can be considered rare but has been observed with relative regularity within local areas within the forested nature reserves.

The Dot Dash Sergeant is one of five species of the genus Athyma in Singapore. Featuring the typical black-and-white striped wing patterns that all the species share, the butterflies of the genus are collectively called "Sergeants". Skittish and fast-flying, these robust butterflies are often observed sunbathing on the tops of leaves with their wings opened flat.

The species can be observed feeding at flowering plants and ripened fruits - particularly of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum). Occasionally, they have also been seen puddling at wet sandbanks that have been contaminated with animal excretions. The butterfly adopts a flap-glide flight, but is more robust and quick in flight than the closely related and superficially similar-looking Neptis species.

The Dot Dash Sergeant features the usual horizontal black and white stripes across the wings on the upperside. The white cell streak on the forewing is unbroken and separated from the sharp elongated triangular patch adjacent to it. The underside has the same pattern as the upperside, but is greyish brown instead of black.

The caterpillars of the Dot Dash Sergeant feed on various Uncaria spp. and the complete life history has been recorded here.

So ends the year 2013, and we look forward to an exciting year ahead. This Butterfly of the Month series has now completed its sixth year, featuring 74 species of our flying jewels in Singapore over a total of 73 months! All of us at ButterflyCircle would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Ellen Tan, Horace Tan & Bene Tay

18 December 2013

Butterflies Galore! Silver Forget-Me-Not

Butterflies Galore!
The Silver Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops panormus exiguus)

This Lycaenid was considered "extinct" in Singapore by the early authors, classifying it as 'not seen since the late 19th century. However, it was re-discovered in the late 90's during the NParks biodiversity surveys, and small colonies of the Silver Forget-Me-Not turned up in various locations, more regularly near mangrove and back-mangrove areas. The physical appearance of the butterfly is unremarkable, and quite typical of a small Lycaenid of which there are many lookalikes. The underside is greyish white featuring streaks and spots. There is an orange crowned black tornal spot and a pair of white-tipped filamentous tails.

The upperside is a pale silvery blue, mostly unmarked except for a black tornal spot on the hindwing in the male. Females are more heavily marked above with a broad dark grey apical borders and dull-blue wing bases. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern at Pulau Ubin last weekend, shows a resting Silver Forget-Me-Not on a blade of grass.

14 December 2013

Favourite Nectaring Plants #3

Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants
The Prickly Lantana (Lantana camara)

This third article of butterflies' favourite nectaring plants features the Prickly Lantana. One of the all-time favourites of butterflies and other insects, the Prickly Lantana is visited by quite a large number of butterfly species - from the very small diminutive species like the Pygmy Grass Blue, to the large majestic butterflies like the Common Birdwing!

Typically, butterflies' choice of nectaring plants is quite dependent on the structure and size of the flowers relative to the length and diameter of the proboscis of the butterflies. The quality and quantity of the nectar that the flowers of the plants produce is probably another key factor in the popularity of the plants that butterflies frequently visit for their daily food supply.

Plant Biodata :
Family : Verbenaceae
Genus : Lantana
Species : camara
Country of Origin : Tropical America
English Common Name : Prickly Lantana, Shrub Verbena, Tick Berry
Other Local Names : Bunga Tahi Ayam, 马缨丹, 鸡屎花

The Prickly Lantana originated from tropical America The native range of the plant includes Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Central America, Venezuela, and Colombia. It has become naturalized in tropical and warm regions worldwide. It can be seen in the wild and along footpaths, deserted fields, and wasteland areas that have been cleared. It thrives best where the climate is close to its native climate, with high heat and humidity. In some countries the Prickly Lantana is considered an invasive weed.

In Singapore, it can be found growing wild and rather untidily at the fringes of the nature reserves as well as a cultivated plant in urban parks and gardens. The plant is easily propagated by seeds, which are dispersed by birds, or through stem cuttings. It is an evergreen bush that prefers full sun where it can flower profusely throughout the year. It is related to the Snakeweed (another butterfly nectaring plant) and comes from the same Verbenaceae family.

The Prickly Lantana is a perennial multi-branched, upright, arching or scrambling shrub that usually grows 2-4 m tall which forms dense thickets. Stems are long and weak, square in cross section, prickly with glands on young parts. It can occasionally grow like a vine or a "climber" if given support by other vegetation, in which case it can even reach up to 15 m in height.

The mid-green leaves of the Prickly Lantana are matt, deeply veined and usually hairy and rough to the touch. The lamina pear or oval shaped, pointed to broadly-rounded apex, rounded base, with toothed margins. When the leaves are crushed, a strong and pungent odour is exuded, giving rise to its Malay name, "Bunga tahi ayam" which is literally translated as "chicken shit flower". In my opinion, the distinctive odour of the plant is not that offensive to give the poor plant such an unfortunate name!

The small flowers are borne in dense clusters, with each cluster containing about 20-40 flowers. These flower clusters are borne on stalks that originate in the leaf forks. Individual flowers are tubular and come in a great variety of colours (i.e. white, cream, yellow, orange, red, pink or multi-coloured). In Singapore, flowering occurs throughout most of the year. The colourful flowers give the Prickly Lantana a certain attractiveness as a cultivated landscape plant in gardens.

From Left to Right : Newly formed fruits of the Lantana camara to the purple ripened berries

The fruits of the Prickly Lantana resemble 'berries' (they are actually drupes) and are slightly fleshy. The small, round fruits (5-8 mm across) are initially glossy green when fresh, but turn black, purplish-black or bluish-black as they mature and ripen. Each fruit contains a single hard and stony seed (2-4 mm long) at its centre. These seeds are light brown in colour and egg-shaped. The berries are edible when ripe, and is largely eaten by birds, which also aid in the dispersal of the plants.

The plant is believed to be mildly toxic and there have been reports of animals taken ill after ingesting the leaves of the bush. In traditional Southeast Asian medicine, the leaves are pounded and the paste applied to treat wounds, ulcers and swellings. A concoction of the leaf paste is also used to expel intestinal worms and to increase menstrual flow. An extract of the roots is believed to be able treat toothaches, inflammation and even veneral diseases such as gonorrhea!

Variety of colours of several cultivars of Lantana camara flowers

When cultivating the Prickly Lantana in gardens, it should be noted that successful flowering requires the plant to be placed in locations with full sun. It can tolerate poor soil and even slightly waterlogged locations but will not grow well in conditions that are too wet. The plant thrives in lowlands as well as mid-montane habitats such as Fraser's Hill in Malaysia.

Orange-red hybrids of Lantana camara

In a garden setting, it can sometimes inhibit the growth of other species of plants by the allelopathic substances produced by its shoots and roots. In Singapore, the plant is susceptible to leaf mould which damages the leaves of the plants into a wrinkly mess, and dries up the plant and gives it a straggly look. Under such circumstances, it would be better to remove the entire infected plant and start over again.

Butterflies love the flowers of the Prickly Lantana. Whether in the nature reserves or in public parks and gardens, when the flowers of this butterfly-attracting bush are in full bloom, chances are that you will see butterflies visiting the bush and feeding at the flowers. Amongst the various cultivars of the plant, bearing a whole range of colours, the orange-red flowered ones are the most attractive to butterflies.

Papilionidae species feeding on Lantana camara flowers

Despite the perceived small size of the flowers, the larger butterflies of the Papilionidae family also visit the flowers. This suggests that the structure of the flowers are designed such that butterflies of all sizes are able to probe their proboscis into the flower for nectar. It is also very likely that the concentration and quantity of nectar that the flowers produce makes the Prickly Lantana one of the favourite choices of butterflies for their nectar source.

Pieridae species feeding on Lantana camara flowers

Amongst the Pieridae, we have often seen the fast-flying Emigrants stopping at the Lantana flowers to feed, as would the various Grass Yellows as well. Practically all representatives of the butterfly families, perhaps with the exception of the Riodinidae, have been observed feeding on the flowers of the Prickly Lantana.

Satyrinae species feeding on Lantana camara flowers

Even the shade-loving Satyrinae, which are not often seen feeding at flowers, feed on the nectar from the Lantana flowers. The various Nymphalidae subfamilies like the Nymphalinae, Danainae, Heliconiinae and Limenitidinae are known to visit Lantana flowers.

A selection of Nymphalids feeding on Lantana camara flowers

Amongst the small butterflies of the Lycaenidae, many of the urban species like the Grass Blues, Flashes and others have also been observed to feed on nectar from Lantana. It would also be relevant to note that the flower buds and young shoots of the Lantana are also caterpillar food for some species like the Pygmy Grass Blue.

Lycaenidae species feeding on Lantana camara flowers

The fast-flying Hesperiidae, or Skippers also like the flowers of the Lantana, often visiting in the earlier hours of the morning. It is when butterflies are distracted whilst feeding on the Lantana flowers, that photographers can approach the usually skittish butterflies to take a good shot of them.

Hesperiidae species feeding on Lantana camara flowers

Despite the pungent smell of the leaves of the Prickly Lantana, many gardens that are planned to attract and enhance biodiversity often select this plant amongst the flowering horticultural palette. No urban butterfly garden can afford to be without the Prickly Lantana as a 'must-have' plant. Besides featuring attractively coloured flowers, the Prickly Lantana is one of the all-time favourites as a nectaring plant for butterflies.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Horace Tan & Mark Wong

Other Favourite Nectaring Plants in this series :

#1 : Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica)
#2 : Stringbush (Cordia cylindristachya)