31 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Tree Flitter

Butterflies Galore!
The Tree Flitter (Hyarotis adrastus praba)

This moderately rare skipper is forest-dependent and is usually encountered in the nature reserves in Singapore. It is a fast flyer and flies rapidly between flowers when feeding on nectar. It tends to remain at low level, flitting amongst the shrubbery but when alarmed it can take off in a flash to the treetops to get out of harm's way.

The Tree Flitter is dark brown above with hyaline spots on the forewings. On the underside of the hindwing, there is an irregular white discal band from mid-costa to mid-dorsum. The hindwing cilia are chequered. The antennae are white-banded just below the elbow of the apiculus. This individual was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK in the nature reserves.

30 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Psyche

Butterflies Galore!
The Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana)

In Greek mythology, the Psyche is often depicted as a princess who was loved by Cupid. She became the personification of the soul. The word psyche also means the human soul, spirit or mind, from which the medical specialty psychiatry is derived. In the butterfly world, the Psyche is a small white and delicate butterfly that flies gently and restlessly amongst low shrubbery and open areas.

The Psyche is white above, with a black apical area and a large black oblong sub-apical spot on the forewing. The underside is white and features greenish streaks across both wings. This shot was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF at the Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin last weekend.

29 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Indigo Flash

Butterflies Galore!
The Indigo Flash (Rapala varuna orseis)

The Indigo Flash is a moderately rare species that has a rather wide distribution, turning up in forested areas as well as urban parks and gardens in Singapore. Both sexes of this species feature deep blue or bluish-green uppersides. It is a fast flyer and sometimes flies and hides on the underside of a leaf when disturbed. On hot sunny days, or in the early morning hours, it can be seen sunbathing with its wings opened flat on the top surfaces of foliage.

The male is indigo blue above and unmarked, whilst the female is a steely-blue and similarly unmarked. The underside is dark brown with broad post-discal bands. There is a strong purple wash on the underside of both wings - more prominently in the male than in the female. This female, shot last weekend at Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill, appeared to be a newly-eclosed individual and was cooperative for awhile during the early morning hours after a rainstorm.

26 July 2014

Butterfly of the Month - July 2014

Butterfly of the Month - July 2014
The Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana javana)

As we move past the halfway mark of the year 2014, we take a look back at the first half of the year with a some trepidation about the safety of air travel these days. Perhaps statistics still show that one is more likely to be killed in a car accident than on a plane, but whenever a whole plane goes down with most or all of its passengers, the news often carries a greater collective impact and shock.

Even as the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 still remains unsolved, the shooting down of yet another Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 over Ukrainian airspace shocked the world. This time around, 298 passengers and aircrew perished. As the world was still coming to terms with another Malaysian Airlines plane lost, another plane, an Air Algerie flight carrying about 118 passengers and crew went down in bad weather and crashed over Mali.

As if to round up a week of bad news, Taiwan's TransAsia Airways ATR-72 turboprop aircraft ploughed into a residential area in Penghu killing 48 people. This time around, there were 10 survivors, as the plane was apparently in trouble during bad weather, before the crash. The TransAsia crash was the third worldwide in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry.

We mark a moment of respect and contemplation, as we can never fully comprehend the grief of the surviving relative and families of those who perished in the air crashes. In some cases, entire families were wiped out. As we ponder about the safety of air travel these days, life still goes on. Perhaps the recent three cases were just a coincidence and an aberration in air travel worldwide? No one can say for sure.

Over in the region, as the summer season is in full swing, Singapore is experiencing hotter and drier weather. A short 4-day weekend trip by a small group of ButterflyCircle members across the causeway to Ipoh for a butterfly photography outing also yielded comparatively poor results. Somehow, butterfly activity seems to be rather low in our favourite places with much lower numbers and diversity than our past visits.

This month, we feature a common urban butterfly, the Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana javana). This bright and cheery orange-coloured butterfly is one of four related Pansy species found in Singapore. The Peacock Pansy is widely distributed, but mainly found in urban parks and gardens, and along the sunlit fringes of Singapore's nature reserves.

It is a sunny-weather species, and often found on hot bright days, fluttering amongst the low shrubbery and flowers. It adopts a flap-glide flight characteristic but can be skittish and alert to any movements or approach by a photographer. When feeding on flowers, it can be approached more easily.

The Peacock Pansy can often be observed sunbathing with its wings opened flat to show its bright orange coloured uppersides. When the weather cools down or when there is cloud cover, the butterfly often perches with its wings folded upright, displaying its muted undersides where it can rest amongst the dried foliage with a relatively effective camouflage to avoid predators.

The bright orange upperside of the Peacock Pansy features prominent white-centred ocelli which may have given its English common name "Peacock". Both the fore and hindwings have prominent ocelli with the eyespot on the hindwing larger and resembling an "eye". The underside is much paler and eyespots are smaller and appear more lightly marked.

The life history of the Peacock Pansy has been documented here on the blog, where it has been bred on Ruellia repens a common urban "weed". It is also likely that the caterpillar of the Peacock Pansy is able to feed on other plants as well.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Goh EC, Huang CJ, Koh CH, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Anthony Wong & Benjamin Yam.

25 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Narrow Spark

Butterflies Galore!
The Narrow Spark (Sinthusa nasaka amba)

When it was discovered back in 1995, it was a new record for Singapore. The early authors' checklists did not include this species as extant in Singapore, although it can be found in Malaysia. The Narrow Spark is moderately rare, and is quite local in distribution, often spotted in a few select localities in the forested nature reserves in Singapore. They often lurk in heavily shaded forest, and is skittish.

The underside of the butterfly resembles a Common Tit. However the Narrow Spark is much smaller and possesses a pair of filamentous white tipped tails. The upperside of the male is a deep rich ultramarine blue. This species has been successfully bred on Eurya acuminata and the detailed documentation can be found here.

19 July 2014

Life History of the Cycad Blue

Life History of the Cycad Blue (Chilades pandava pandava)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Chilades Moore, 1881
Species: pandava Horsfield, 1829
Subspecies: pandava Horsfield, 1829
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 22-26mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Cycas revoluta (Cycadaceae, common name: Sago Palm), Cycas rumphii (Cycadaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is blue with thin black borders on both wings and it has a black tornal spot on the hindwing. The female is in paler blue with broad borders on the forewing and it has a series of submarginal spots on the hindwing, of which the spot in space 2 is crowned in orange. On the underside, both sexes are pale greyish brown. Both wings have the usual submarginal, marginal and post-discal series of spots and cell-end bars flanked with white. In the hindwing, there is a black spot in the cell, two black spots in space 7, another one just below vein 1a and orange-crowned tornal spots in spaces 1b and 2. There is a white-tipped filamentous tail at vein 2 in the hindwing.

Field Observations:
Cycad Blue is common in Singapore. The adults are usually observed flying in the vicinity of its host plant, the ornamental Sago Palm which can be found in many gardens in commercial, recreational and private residential areas. They are viewed as a pest by gardeners as their presence usually leaves the prized ornamental plants without new growth. The adults visits flowers for nectar and have the habit of sunbathing with open wings in sunny condition.

17 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Quaker

Butterflies Galore!
The Quaker (Neopithecops zalmora zalmora)

This small butterfly is usually associated with the shaded understorey of the forested areas in Singapore's nature reserves. Seldom seen in open urban gardens and parks, the Quaker is usually encountered fluttering restlessly amongst the low shrubbery in forested areas. Occasionally, males are encountered puddling with other butterflies on damp streambanks in the forest.

The Quaker has the characteristic large black spot at the costa of underside of the hindwing. The upperside is predominantly brown and unmarked in the male, and sometimes with a white patch on the forewing of the female.

12 July 2014

Festival of Biodiversity 2014!

ButterflyCircle @ Festival of Biodiversity 2014!
VivoCity : 12-13 July 2014

ButterflyCircle members at FOB 2014 with CEO/NParks, Mr Kenneth Er and Minister of State, Mr Desmond Lee

This year, the 3rd Festival of Biodiversity returned to VivoCity mall after last year's well-visited event, also held at Singapore's largest shopping mall. Occupying a larger footprint than the previous year's FOB, the 2014 festival promised to be an even bigger showcase of Singapore's rich and diverse biodiversity.

With all the participating members of the Biodiversity Roundtable and several new groups added, each partner group had an individual booth exhibiting its members' work and featuring its contributions and playing its part in the showcasing and conservation efforts of Singapore's biodiversity.

ButterflyCircle's booth at the FOB2014

This year, ButterflyCircle decided to do a collage of our members' work on three large A0 boards, which also described the objectives of the group and its activities. There were also smaller boards that provided additional snippets of information about Singapore's butterflies. The work of collating the photos and putting together the boards was again ably done by our enthusiastic lady member, Huang CJ, assisted by the intrepid twins, Mark and Anthony. Once again, CJ has to be congratulated for assembling the awesome presentation boards that was informative, educational as well as pleasing to the eye.

ButterflyCircle early-bird members helping to set up the booth

The day started very early at 7:15am when ButterflyCircle members CJ, Eng Chuan, Anthony, Jerome and me reached VivoCity. The booths had already been set up the night before, and everything was ready to receive the boards. After a quick discussion the group set about Velcro-ing the boards and sticking them up on the panels. It was efficiently put up and many hands made light work of setting up our booth. Everyone had a sumptuous breakfast at Yakun Kaya Toast after that!

Views of FOB 2014 at VivoCity mall

The Festival of Biodiversity is an annual event organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) that showcases Singapore’s impressive and unique array of island biodiversity. This event celebrates Singapore’s natural heritage and in doing so, hopes to bring about greater awareness of the biodiversity that Singapore has. FOB 2014 had special thematic focus, which highlighted Pulau Ubin, Singapore's island biodiversity and conservation efforts. This year also saw an emphasis on our marine biodiversity.

MOS Mr Desmond Lee delivering his speech at the opening of FOB 2014

At about 11am, the Guest of Honour, President Tony Tan arrived, and was greeted by members of the biodiversity community. The Master of Ceremonies welcomed everyone and invited the Minister of State for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee to deliver his opening address. This year, the highlight of the FOB was the announcement that Singapore will establish its first ever marine park! The Sisters' Islands Marine Park, which will span about 40 hectares around Sisters' Islands and along the western reefs of both St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor, will serve as a platform for outreach, educational, conservation and research activities related to our native marine biodiversity.

President Tony Tan, MOS Mr Desmond Lee and CEO/NParks Mr Kenneth Er launches the FOB 2014

President Tony Tan then launched the FOB 2014 by unveiling a treasure chest of nature wonders containing seedlings and various specimens representing Singapore's biodiversity. The President then toured the exhibits and visited various NGOs and partners' booths.

President Tony Tan, MOS Mr Desmond Lee with ButterflyCircle's Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore

The President visited ButterflyCircle's booths and chatted with us on our group's activities and the conservation of butterflies in Singapore. I presented the President with a copy of ButterflyCircle's A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore.

Our Minister of State, Mr Desmond Lee, and the CEO of NParks, Mr Kenneth Er, also visited our booth and gamely posed for a group photograph with ButterflyCircle members. Thank you, Desmond and Kenneth, for your support and appreciation of ButterflyCircle's efforts!

A mug-shot for the album - CEO/Gardens by the Bay, Dr Tan Wee Kiat and me

The rest of the day was a flurry of activities as members of the public visited our booth and asked questions about butterflies. We had our Field Guide for sale to members of the public and we also took the opportunity to sell Dr Laurence Kirton's recently-launched Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Dr Tan Wee Kiat, the CEO of Gardens by the Bay, picked up two copies of our field guide too! Thanks, Dr Tan. :)

Top : Young ButterflyCircle member Brian Goh sharing his knowledge about butterflies to a visitor
Bottom : Visitors at ButterflyCircle's booth

It was an interesting and tiring first day of the FOB 2014, as we met old friends and made new ones, with every one having a common appreciation and respect of Singapore's awesome biodiversity. For those who have yet to visit the FOB 2014, do come to VivoCity tomorrow (Sunday 13 Jul) and experience for yourself, the amazing biodiversity that can be found on our little red dot!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by various ButterflyCircle members.

Special thanks to ButterflyCircle members who volunteered to man our booth and who turned up to support us - Goh EC, Brian Goh, Loke PF, Nona Ooi, Huang CJ, Simon Sng, Jerome Chua, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong, Chng CK, Horace Tan, Federick Ho, Nelson Ong, Ellen Tan & Jonathan Soong.

11 July 2014

Come visit the FOB 2014!

Festival of Biodiversity 2014!

This weekend, 12-13 Jul 2014, the Festival of Biodiversity will be held at VivoCity mall.

Join us as we showcase Singapore’s impressive and unique array of island biodiversity. This event celebrates Singapore’s natural heritage and in doing so, we hope to bring about greater awareness of the biodiversity that Singapore has. Visitors can look forward to a range of interactive workshops and exhibitions at this year’s Festival.

Come visit ButterflyCircle's booth at the exhibition!

Link : http://www.nparks.gov.sg/festivalofbiodiversity/

09 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Chestnut Bob

Butterflies Galore!
The Chestnut Bob (Iambrix salsala salsala)

The Chestnut Bob is a skipper that is widespread in distribution around Singapore. As one of its caterpillar host plants is the ubiquitous "Cow Grass" (Axonopus compressus) that is the main species of grass planted along road verges, school fields and urban garden spaces in Singapore, the butterfly is common. The shot above, taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF, features an aberrant Chestnut Bob, which lacks the usual white spots on its wings. Aberrations occur occasionally in some species of butterflies where the markings on the wings are atypical of a standard example of the species.

The shot above shows a typical Chestnut Bob with its usual complement of white spots on both the fore and hindwings, and darker brown patches at the post-discal area of the hindwing. It is not known for certain what processes during the early stages of the butterfly cause the aberration.

07 July 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Conjoined Swift

Butterflies Galore!
The Conjoined Swift (Pelopidas conjunctus conjunctus)

The medium sized skipper was a new discovery for Singapore when it was first recorded some time back from Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It is fast-flying, like most skippers and zips around rapidly when feeding at flowers. It has pale yellowish-white hyaline spots on the forewings and a distinctive spot at space 1b of the forewing. The two cell spots on the forewing above are separated.

This large individual was shot last weekend at the newly opened Jurong Eco Garden near the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). It was moving quickly around the Ixora flowers extending its long proboscis as if it were fly-fishing, and each time accurately hitting the mark to feed on the nectar from the flowers.

05 July 2014

Favourite Nectaring Plants #4

Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants
The Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica)

The Plane (Bindahara phocides phocides) feeding on the flower of a Bandicoot Berry

Continuing our series of butterfly-attracting nectaring plants, we feature in this fourth article, the Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica). This predominantly green and unassuming bush, which usually grows up to 3-4 metres in height, is another local "butterfly magnet", commonly found in Singapore's forests, and more recently, cultivated in our urban parks and gardens.

A Common Four Ring (Ypthima huebneri) on the flower of a Bandicoot Berry

From herbarium records, there are four species of Leea in Singapore - L. aequata, L.indica, L. rubra/guineensis and L. angulata. Thus far, only L. indica and L. rubra have recently been cultivated as part of the urban greenery in parks, natureways, gardens and park-connectors in an effort to enhance urban biodiversity in Singapore by the National Parks Board. The flowers of the plants provide nectar for butterflies, bees and wasps, whilst the ripened fruits are food for birds.

Plant Biodata :
Family : Vitaceae/Leeaceae
Genus : Leea
Species : indica
Country of Origin : Tropical Asia
English Common Name : Bandicoot Berry
Other Local Names : Common Tree Vine, 火筒树

The inflorescence of the Bandicoot Berry.  Can you spot the Striped Albatross?

The Bandicoot Berry is widespread throughout Singapore, and in the forested nature reserves, it appears as a common undergrowth shrub along disturbed areas and footpaths. It occurs in various habitats from deep forested areas to backmangroves and more recently, as planting material in urban parks and gardens.

A lush and healthy bush of the Bandicoot Berry at Tampines Eco Green

The plant occurs as a small shrub or treelet, ranging from 2m to as high as 4m, although there are specimens that may grow much taller. It is single-stemmed, though multi-stemmed shrubs are are also commonly encountered, whilst the stems are smooth and not thorned.

Young leaves and mature leaf of the Bandicoot Berry

The leaves are 2-3 pinnate, bearing between 5-7 leaflets per pinna. Each leaflet is ovate-lanceolate, growing up to 24cm in length and up to 9 cm wide. The young shoots of the plant are often reddish-pink when they emerge, turning yellow-green and then to the final dark green as they mature.

The flowers, which are attractive to butterflies, bees and wasps, are small and insignificant, greenish white, and only about 5mm in diameter. The inflorescence range between 5-25 cm across, with these small greenish white flowers spread across the inflorescence. There is no perceptible smell (to us humans) from the flowers, and the plant does not appear to use bright colours nor strong fragrance to attract its pollinators, unlike other species of flowering plants.

Butterflies and bees feeding on the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry. How many can you spot?

However, despite having rather inconspicuous flowers, the Bandicoot Berry flowers appear to be very attractive to butterflies and other insects like bees and wasps. Interestingly, despite the small size of the flowers, we have observed that the flowers are not visited by only small-sized butterflies. Butterflies like the larger Papilionidae and Danainae also feed on the diminutive flowers.

The fruits of the Bandicoot Berry

The unripened fruits of the Bandicoot Berry are apple-green and measure up to about 10mm in diameter, turning a purplish black when ripe. The fruits are attractive to birds, which are probably the main vector for the dispersal of the plants across the island.

The Bandicoot Berry is also considered a herbal plant in many Asian cultures, and has many medicinal uses, particularly in India and Sri Lanka. Herbal practitioners consider it as a natural coolant that gives a “cooling effect” to the body. Many tribal communities have been using Leea indica for treatment of diarrhoeal diseases. It is also used in cases of chronic dysentery. Other medicinal uses include skin problems, gastric ulcers, vertigo and digestive ailments. It is also believed that a paste of Leea indica roots, if applied on the affected portion of the skin gives relief from skin issues like rashes and allergic reactions.

A variety of Hesperiidae species feeding on the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry

Butterflies are attracted to the small greenish white flowers of the Bandicoot Berry. In the forested nature reserves where they usually grow in the shade of taller trees around, Hesperiidae, or skippers, are often found on the inflorescence of the plant. In certain areas, the forest-dependent skipper, Yellow Vein Lancer (Pyroneura latoia latoia) is a frequent visitor to Bandicoot Berry bushes, often in the company of other skippers like the Starry Bob, Chestnut Bob and Common Snow Flat.

Lycaenidae galore on the Bandicoot Berry's flowers

Many species of the Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae) species are also found on the Bandicoot Berry flowers, with many of them feeding greedily on the flowers and staying for long periods of time on the flowers. Despite the small size of the flowers, they must contain a relatively significant amount of nectar to be so attractive to these butterflies.

Even larger butterflies are attracted to the tiny flowers of the plant!

Contrary to the theory that only small butterflies will visit small flowers to feed, the small 5mm flowers are also surprisingly attractive to the larger species of butterflies like the Spotted Black Crow, Blue and Dark Glassy Tigers, Common Bluebottle and many other Nymphalidaes. The range of species that is attracted to the flowers of this plant is quite amazing! This does suggest that the structure of the flower and the nectar available has evolved in such a way that it is able to accommodate the thicker (and longer) proboscis and also larger appetites of larger butterflies.

A stipule from which the young leaves of the plant emerge

Besides the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry, the young shoots and the stipules of the plant appear to secrete some sort of sugary fluid that is also attractive to some species of Lycaenidae. The stems of the young plant appear to be coated with an invisible and odourless substance that attract these butterflies to feed.

A Common Posy feeds on the secretions of a young shoot of the plant

We have observed certain species like the Branded Imperial, Common Posy, Dark Posy and Pygmy Posy feeding for long periods of time on the young shoots of the plant, often staying very still if undisturbed. Ants are also attracted to the young shoots and stipules, probably also going after the same sweet substance that attract the butterflies.

A Pygmy Posy feeds on the secretions of a young shoot of the plant

More recently, the Bandicoot Berry has been added to the palette of horticultural material to be cultivated in urban parks and gardens. This is part of NParks wider strategy of planting to enhance our urban biodiversity and to rejuvenate our urban environment with more "life" - with greenery that provides food for birds, butterflies and other creatures that share our island with us.

Hence, besides our forests, where the Bandicoot Berry can be found naturally, our urban parks and gardens also feature this butterfly-attracting plant and nature enthusiasts will be able to spot many butterflies on the flowers. Locations where this plant can be found include Tampines Eco Green, Gardens by the Bay (Meadow area), various park connectors and NatureWays.

So the next time you are out in our forested nature reserves or our urban parks and gardens in Singapore, do look out for the Bandicoot Berry bushes and their flowers, and you may be rewarded by some butterflies that are sitting pretty on the flowers and allowing you to take a selfie with them!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan & Mark Wong

Further Reading and References :