31 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore! 
The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus)

This all-brown upperside Snow Flat is the last of the four species of the Tagiades genus that is found in Singapore. It is the commonest of the four and is mainly encountered in the forested nature reserves in Singapore. Like the other related species, it has a habit of sunbathing on the top surfaces of leaves with its wings opened flat.

The upperside of the Common Snow Flat is predominantly brown with the usual darker markings on both wings and hyaline subapical spots. However, it does not have the white tornal area on the upperside of its hindwings like the other species, making it a rather drab, moth-like butterfly. On the underside, the hindwing is suffused with bluish-white scaling.

30 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Large Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The Large Snow Flat (Tagiades gana gana)

This is the 3rd member of the Tagiades species in the series. Compare the white tornal area on the hindwing and the spots with the Malayan Snow Flat and the Ultra Snow Flat and you will be able to see the differences between the three. The Large Snow Flat is more often encountered than its two other cousins mentioned above. It displays the same habit of hiding on the undersides of leaves with its wings opened flat.

The Large Snow Flat is dark brown above with diffuse discal and post-discal spots. The tornal area of the hindwing above is whitened and has small and diffused black spots at the marginal area. The whitened area is more extensive on the underside.

29 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Ultra Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore!
The Ultra Snow Flat (Tagiades ultra ultra)

The Ultra Snow Flat is another relatively rare species of the Tagiades genus. Of the four species extant in Singapore, this species is very local, and can often be encountered at certain favourite locations quite regularly. Like its related species, it sunbathes with its wings opened flat on the top surfaces of leaves, and feeds on flowers with its wings opened flat as well. It is a fast-flyer and is often skittish and alert to movements.

The Ultra Snow Flat was not recorded in the early authors' checklists, and is a new discovery for Singapore when it was recorded in the mid 1990's. With the typical dark brown forewings with the usual spots, it also features a whitened tornal area on the hindwing, but with a series of large black marginal spots. This individual was shot by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF.

28 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan Snow Flat

Butterflies Galore! 
The Malayan Snow Flat (Tagiades calligana)

There are four species of the "Snow Flats" belonging to the genus Tagiades that can be found in Singapore. The "Flats" belong to the subfamily Pyrginae, named because of the butterflies' open-winged pose when at rest or feeding. They fly rapidly, but stop to rest frequently with their wings opened flat to sunbathe. When disturbed, they display a behaviour where they fly off and rest on the underside of a leaf, still with their wings opened flat.

The Malayan Snow Flat, shown here, shot by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern, is moderately rare, and where observed, they are usually found singly. Its appearance is typical of many of the species in the genus, with dark brown forewings with several small hyaline spots, and a white tornal area with large dark spots at the marginal area.

25 January 2014

New Record of a 4th Prosotas species

New Record of a 4th Prosotas in Singapore
Discovery of Prosotas aluta nanda 

The Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae species often pose a great challenge to identification, with many lookalikes with very similar features. The challenge of identifying the many lookalikes can sometimes be mitigated with research into their early stages, (where the physical appearances and diagnostic features of the caterpillars can be a great aid to separating the species,) or with voucher specimens to scrutinise.

Field shots are often not the best for reliable identification, especially those where colour or size are diagnostic features, or where the physical markings may be difficult to be used to distinguish between two species, due to perspective distortions of the photographs. In some cases, where the field-shot individual is not pristine or with significant wear and tear on the wings, identification may also be problematic.

Hence for some of these lookalikes, it is often prudent to research and analyse carefully, before jumping to conclusions about the identity of a species. Over the years, ButterflyCircle has had some misidenfications, and has now adopted greater rigour in validation before establishing the identity of a species for inclusion into the Singapore Checklist. In recent years, the identification of the more challenging species has been made less onerous with the invaluable help of experts like Dr TL Seow, Dr L.G. Kirton and others.

So we now announce the inclusion of the fourth Prosotas species to the Singapore Checklist. This latest addition, Prosotas aluta nanda had been recorded several times over the past years, but its identity was kept under consideration until a higher level of confidence could be accorded to its ID. Recently a voucher specimen was obtained from a location in the nature reserves of Singapore, and the specimen scrutinised to validate the ID.

The first record shot of the Barred Line Blue by Horace Tan on 26 Feb 2008

From photographic records in ButterflyCircle's forums, the earliest posted shot of this species was documented by Horace Tan, who shot this species on 26 Feb 2008, feeding on a flower of the Bandicoot Cherry (Leea indica) in the nature reserves. There were many subsequent sightings and photos of this species, usually found puddling at sandy streambanks, that followed in subsequent years.

ButterflyCircle member Mark Wong recorded this individual on 15 Mar 2008

This Line Blue joins three others in the genus Prosotas that are extant in Singapore - Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates), Tailless Line Blue (Prosotas dubiosa lumpura) and Banded Line Blue (Prosotas lutea sivoka).  The last named was only recently discovered in Singapore in Oct 2012. Both these recently-discovered Prosotas were not previously recorded in Singapore before.

This species has been given the common English name "Banded Line Blue" in most Indian and South Asian references, but since this common name has already been assigned to the species Prosotas lutea sivoka in South East Asia (ref : Butterflies of Thailand by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay Vol 2), it would generate more confusion to refer to it by the similar name. In his book, Pisuth has coined the name "Barred Line Blue" for Prosotas aluta nanda. Whilst it would be interesting to understand why "Barred" was coined to refer to this species, we see no reason not to use this common name for Prosotas aluta in the South East Asian region covering Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore - until someone comes up with a better alternative for the English common name of this species!

An annotated visual identification comparison between P. aluta and a N.berenice highlighting the diagnostic features of P.aluta

The Barred Line Blue has been described as "confined to the forested plains and is usually taken singly". It closely resembles the berenice group of the genus Nacaduba. In C&P4, the authors also added that "most examples can be recognised by having the post-discal spot in space 3 on the forewing below shifted in(wards) very slightly basad of the spot in space 4". The striae are also described as "clear white" in Prosotas aluta.

The upperside of the males of this species is blue with a narrow black border whilst the female is brown with a shining greenish-blue discal patch on the forewing. Another consistent feature that separates this species from the other lookalikes (but must be used in combination with the post-discal spot in space 3 of the forewing), is that the marginal spots, particularly the one next to the tornal orange-crowned eyespot, are arrow-shaped or distinctly pointed. In most individuals, the striae in space 4 of the forewing are also dislocated, and distinctly angled towards the termen.

The Barred Line Blue has an erratic flight and is usually skittish, as is the case with the other species in the Prosotas and Nacaduba genera. Thus far, all the sightings of this species have been in the forested nature reserves, and more often, males are encountered puddling at sandy streambanks on hot sunny days, usually attracted to decomposing animal matter or excretions.

And so we add the Barred Line Blue as species #309 to the Singapore Checklist. At this point in time, there are several other Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae that are awaiting further validation, either from their life histories, or with voucher specimens, before adding them to the Singapore Checklist. However, we are in no hurry to do so, until we have a high level of confidence on the ID and concurrence amongst the expert advisers to ButterflyCircle.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Horace Tan & Mark Wong

References :

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012

23 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Lime Butterfly

Butterflies Galore!
The Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

The Lime Butterfly is a common urban species that is widely distributed across Singapore. It is mainly found in urban parks and gardens, although there are regular sightings of the species in the forested nature reserves. During the Lunar New Year period, where there is an abundance of Citrus plants, the caterpillars are more often seen on abandoned plants.

It is a fast-flyer and skittish, although when it stops to rest, either with wings opened to sunbathe, or just perched, like in this photo taken by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong, it will be easier to approach to take a shot of it. Males are also known to puddle at sandy streambanks and footpaths which have been contaminated with animal excretions.

22 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Striped Blue Crow

Butterflies Galore!
The Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber mulciber)

This Crow is the most commonly encountered species of the genus Euploea in Singapore, and probably the most attractive. The iridescent blue of the male's upperside forewings usually attracts the attention of observers. The female has less blue, but the striped hindwings is probably what gave this species its common English name. Males of this species are also known to puddle at sandy streambanks and forest paths.

The underside of the male is predominantly a chocolate brown with a variable series of white spots - some slightly bluish as well. This male Striped Blue Crow was shot by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong.

21 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Two Spotted Line Blue

Butterflies Galore!
The Two Spotted Line Blue (Nacaduba biocellata)

This very small Lycaenid was photographed some time back in 2004 but was kept in the "UFO folder" until more reliable sightings and a voucher specimen was obtained for validation. Finally recorded on the Singapore Butterfly Checklist in 2008, this species makes a regular appearance yearly, and then totally disappears for most of the year. When it does re-appear, there will be a breakout, with the species becoming locally abundant, particularly in the vicinity of areas where its host plant exists. The life history of this species has been recorded here.

This time in 2014, ten years after a single individual was photographed, it makes its reappearance again. ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir shot this pristine individual last weekend. For those who have yet to get a photo of this species, now's the time to go hunting for it!

18 January 2014

Life History of the Chocolate Demon

Life History of the Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Ancistroides Butler, 1874
Species: nigrita Latreille, 1824
Sub-species: maura Snellen, 1880
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 42-50mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Etlingera elatior (Zingiberaceae, common name: Torch Ginger), Hedychium coronarium  (Zingiberaceae, common name: White Ginger Lily, Butterfly Ginger), Zingiber officinale (Zingiberaceae, common name: Ginger), Alpinia aquatica (Zingiberaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Chocolate Demon is a relatively large skipper. On the upperside, the wings are dark brown and unmarked. On the underside, the wings are brown with marginal areas of both wings paler than the ground colour. The proboscis is particularly long compared to other skipper species.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Chocolate Demon is moderately common in Singapore. The adults are typically found in parks, park connectors and gardens where one of its host plants in the Zingiberaceae is cultivated. The adults fly in an erratic and hopping manner amongst low shrubbery. They visit flowers for nectar, and puddle on birding droppings and other animal excretions.

16 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Rustic

Butterflies Galore!
The Rustic (Cupha erymanthis lotis)

The Rustic is a skittish and active butterfly. Very often, when it is encountered - usually in the forested areas of the nature reserves, it is actively flying around and is difficult to shoot. Even when it is feeding at flowers, it tends to continuously flap its wings and twist and turn, making it a species that is challenging to get a good shot of.

There are times when it is observed to puddle at sandy streambanks or forest paths. There are also occasions where it comes down to puddle on a sweaty backpack or towel (it is partial to human sweat!), giving a photographer a much better chance to get a good shot of it. This individual, shot by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF, was puddling on some forest litter.

13 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Cornelian

Butterflies Galore!
The Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus)

This robust-bodied Lycaenid is one of two species from the genus Deudorix that can be found in Singapore. It is observed at urban parks, as well as in the forested nature reserves, usually feeding at flowers. In this shot taken last weekend, ButterflyCircle member Nelson Ong encountered the Cornelian feeding at the flowers of the Mile-A-Minute (Mikania micrantha) weed.

The upperside of the males of this species features crimson wings with broad black borders, whilst the females are a drab copper brown. Caterpillars of the Cornelian have been recorded to feed on pulpy fruits like the Lychee and Pomegranate. More details about this butterfly can be found in an earlier article on this blog here.

11 January 2014

Butterfly of the Month - January 2014

Butterfly of the Month - January 2014
The Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus)

A new year, and new challenges and opportunities await us, whether at work, at home or our everyday lives. 2014 is here - galloping at full speed, as the Lunar New Year will herald the Year of the Horse on 31 Jan this year. If you've made your New Year resolutions, I'm sure you'll try to keep them (like you did last year, didn't you?!)

It was a very eventful 2013, some good, some bad.  But life goes on, and we now face the new year with anticipation and optimism, putting the unpleasant events and failures behind us; not forgotten, but learning from the experiences as we move on.

For Singapore, it has been a time of strange flashbacks in the past few years - floods, strikes, riots, and just this month, even a kidnapping, complete with ransom payment! It is almost a re-run of some of the events that were quite prevalent in the 50's and 60's. Over the years as Singapore grew from third world to first, some of these civil unrest events and criminal activities faded for over four decades before re-surfacing like some terrifying kaijus, just biding their time to re-appear and cause havoc to our peaceful little island.

Are all these flashback events just coincidental, or are they ominous signs of worse things to come? Has the world, and Singapore 'progressed' to such a level where the stress and tensions of crowded city living have begun to manifest itself in these normally unusual events in this time and era? Only time will tell.

For our first month of 2014, we feature a common urban species, the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus) a medium sized "Swallowtail" that is more often seen in urban parks and gardens than in the forested nature reserves. Very recognisable with its black wings, a yellowish-white band on the hindwing, consisting of a series of ovoid-shaped spots, and a spatulate tail on the hindwing.

The Common Mormon is a sexually dimorphic species, where the male and female have different appearances. There are two forms of females in Singapore - the form-cyrus which is almost indistinguishable from the male, other than a red lunule in space 1a of the hindwing above, and the form-polytes which has red submarginal spots on the hindwing.

It was believed that the female form-polytes mimics the distasteful Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris) for protection against predators. However, recent debate has questioned this theory, as field experiments have shown that there is a spectrum of unpalatability that suggests a variable range of distastefulness that affects the frequency of predation. Hence the theory of Batesian mimicry in the female form-polytes Common Mormon and the Common Rose is not so clear cut.

The Common Mormon is not a particularly fast flyer, but is often alert and can be skittish when approached. It is often seen in urban parks and gardens where its host plants, mainly plants from the Rutaceae family, can be found. Amongst these host plants are the Citrus species like Pomelo (Citrus maxima) and the Common Lime plant (Citrus aurantifolia). In gardens where the Indian Curry Leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) is cultivated, the butterfly will very often be seen fluttering around.

When the Common Mormon alights to feed at flowers, it continues to flap its forewings rapidly whilst its hindwings are kept relatively still. This is one of the characteristics of the Papilionidae species in terms of flight behaviour. All the six legs of the Papilionidae butterflies are fully developed in both sexes.

The Common Mormon is a frequent visitor to gardens where the Prickly Lantana and the purple Snakeweed are cultivated. It also likes the small white flowers of the Common Asystasia (Asystasia gangetica). Males of the Common Mormon are also often observed puddling at damp streambanks and muddy footpaths.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Sunny Chir, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF, Jonathan Soong & Anthony Wong

09 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Palm Dart

Butterflies Galore!
The Common Palm Dart (Telicota colon stinga)

The genus Telicota comprises of several lookalike species that can be difficult to separate in the field. These Palm Darts are swift on the wing and skittish. Their general appearance is black to brown, with orange bands and spots on the fore and hindwings. The caterpillars of the Common Palm Dart has been bred on Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum) and Coconut (Cocos nucifera).

The Plain Palm Dart is often found in urban parks and gardens and is relatively common. This male was shot feeding on the flower of Bidens pilosa at the Tampines Eco Green park. This urban park has an area that has been planted with butterfly host and nectaring plants and is a good place for a beginner to try his hand at butterfly photography.

07 January 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Lesser Darkie

Butterflies Galore! 
The Lesser Darkie (Allotinus unicolor unicolor)

This relatively plain looking butterfly belongs to the subfamily Miletinae, whose caterpillars are known to be "carnivorous" in the butterfly world. These butterflies' caterpillars feed on other insects like mealy bugs, coccids, aphids and even ant larvae. The Lesser Darkie is the only reliably identified species of the genus Allotinus in Singapore. Butterfly-watching enthusiasts are encouraged to look out for the other similar-looking species and hopefully record some re-discoveries of the other species that have been known to exist here in Singapore before.

The Lesser Darkie is a dull brown above. The underside is greyish with brown-grey speckles and spots on both wings. The hindwing has a dentate appearance. The butterfly flutters weakly in the shady forest understorey, sometimes for long periods of time without stopping to rest. This shot of a Lesser Darkie was taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH at the end of 2013.

04 January 2014

Life History of the Common Three Ring

Life History of the Common Three Ring (Ypthima pandocus corticaria )

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Ypthima Hübner, 1818
Species: pandocus Moore, 1858
Subspecies: corticaria Butler, 1879
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 40-45mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Ischaemum muticum (Poaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are greyish brown with a moderately large, bi-pupilled, yellow-ringed, subapical ocellus on the forewing, and two yellow-ringed ocelli in spaces 1b and 2 on the hindwing. The male has a greyish black  sex brand in the distal area of the forewing. On the underside, both wings are pale greyish to bluff brown and are traversed by numerous fine dark brown striae. The forewing has a large, bi-pupilled, yellow-ringed, subapical ocellus. The hindwing has three yellow-ringed ocelli in spaces 1b, 2 and 6 with the one in space 1b bi-pupilled.

A female Common Three Ring sun-bathing  between oviposition runs in a grass patch.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Common Three Ring is moderately common in Singapore, and is mostly sighted in the nature reserve. Adults are typically observed flying low among vegetation in and around grassy patches on open areas within the nature reserve. As with other Satyrinae members, the adults have a feeble flight. They typically fly in an erratic and jerky manner as their wings are closed for a relatively long period during flights. In sunny conditions, the adults have the tendency to sun-bath with fully open wings.

Early Stages:
Only one local host plant, a moderately common grass species, Ischaemum muticum, has been recorded so far. The caterpillars feed on leaves of the host plant, and have been observed to forcefully ejecting their frass pellets, a larval habit rarely seen outside the skipper/flat families.

Host plant:Ischaemum muticum.

A mating pair of Common Three Ring.

The eggs are laid singly on the leaf blade or the stem of its host plant, or on other plants or objects in close proximity to the host plant. Each egg is globular in shape (about 0.95mm in height, and 0.9mm in diameter) and lime green in colour. The surface is reticulated with numerous, small polygonal faces.

A mother Common Three Ring laying an egg on its host plant.

An egg of the Common Three Ring laid on a web in a grass patch.

Two views of an egg of the Common Three Ring.

Two views of a mature egg with the head faintly visible through the egg shell.

The egg takes about 3 days to mature. The young caterpillar nibbles away a portion of the egg shell to exit and proceeds to devour the rest of the egg shell. It has a pale yellowish body tinged in pink in the lateral and posterior portion of its body. The body has an initial length of about 2.5mm, and is covered with dorso-lateral and lateral rows of long setae. At the posterior end, there is a pair of backward-pointing processes. Its yellowish brown head features a number of setae and has a pair of short and rounded horns, and a few lateral protuberances which are smaller.

Two views of a newly hatched caterpillar, length: 2.5.mm

As a result of its leaf diet, the 1st instar caterpillar soon takes on a strong greenish undertone. The first instar lasts about 4-5 days with the body length increases to about 5-5.5mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 4mm.

Two views of a late 1st instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5mm.

In the 2nd instar, the head turns pale greenish in colour and the cephalic horns become more pointed, though still small in size. The body color is pale yellowish green. There are numerous, tightly spaced, tiny, whitish protuberances on the body and the head, each of which has a setae emanating from it. The two anal protuberances are now proportionately longer and more pointed. The 2nd instar lasts about 5 days with the body length reaches about 7.5-8mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, 5.2mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 7.5mm.

Two views of a late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 7.5mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar mostly resembles the previous instar. Many whitish and narrow bands, running lengthwise across the body segments, are now prominently featured. The two anal protuberances are mostly pink in color. This stage also takes 5 days to complete with body length reaching about 13-14mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 3nd instar caterpillar, length: 8.5mm.

Two views of a 3nd instar caterpillar, length: 11.5mm.

Two views of a late 3nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 12.8mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar bears a strong resemblance to the 3rd instar caterpillar with no obvious change of any features or markings. The 4th instar lasts about 6-7 days with body length reaching 20-21mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 4th instar caterpillar, length: 13mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 20.5mm.

Two views of a late 4th instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 19.5mm.

Common Three Ring caterpillars in the act of catapulting frass pellets.

The next moult brings the caterpillar to its 5th and final instar. Now the caterpillar could appear in two colour forms: a brown form which is mostly pale to dark beige brown and a green form which is yellowish green. In a period of 8 days, the body grows to a maximum length of about 30-31mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar, length: 19mm.

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

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, green form, length: 30mm.

A 5th instar caterpillar, brown form, length: about 30mm.

Toward the end of the 5th instar, the body gradually shrinks in length. Finally the caterpillar finds a spot on the underside of a leaf blade to spin a silk pad. It then secures itself there via its anal end, and assumes its upside-down pre-pupatory pose.

A prep-pupa of a green form Common Three Ring caterpillar. Left: early in this stage; Right: late in this stage.

After 1.5-2 days in the pre-pupal stage, pupation takes place. The pupa could appear in either a brown form or a green form. It is interesting to note that the colour form in the pupal stage need not correspond to the form in the larval stage. It has been observed that a green form caterpillar could moult to either a green or brown form pupa. The lone brown form caterpillar bred moulted to a green form pupa. The pupa is somewhat angular and longish, with a dorsal keel on the thorax and ridges defining the dorsal wing margins. Length of pupae: 12-13mm.

A Common Three Ring caterpillar moults to its pupal stage. Pupa is brown form.

A Common Three Ring caterpillar moults to its pupal stage. Pupa is green form.

Two views of a pupa of Common Three Ring, brown form.

Two views of a pupa of Common Three Ring, green form.

After 8 days of development, the pupa becomes darkened in color, and the subapical ringed-spot on the forewings can now be seen through the pupal skin in the wing pads. The next day the eclosion event takes place with the adult butterfly emerges to start the next phase of its life cycle.

Three views of a mature pupa of Common Three Ring.

A Common Three Ring caterpillar emerges from its pupal case.

A newly eclosed Common Three Ring.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S.K., Ink On Paper Communications, 2010.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Benjamin Yam, Ben Jin Tan, Khew SK and Horace Tan