30 August 2014

Life History of the Malay Viscount v2.0

Life History of the Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea)
An earlier version of the life history of the Malay Viscount can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tanaecia Butler, 1869
Species: pelea Fabricius, 1787
Subspecies: pelea Fabricius, 1787
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-70mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plants: Palaquium obovatum (Sapotaceae), Pouteria obovata (Sapotaceae), Adinandra dumosa (Theaceae, common name: Tiup-Tiup).

A male Malay Viscount puddling on wet ground.

A sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are pale greyish ochreous brown with submarginal arrow-shaped markings. On the forewing, these markings are embedded in large, whitish spots. On the underside , the wings are paler brown with a faint trace of violet in a side light. The two sexes can be distinguished in the hindwing: the male has two submarginal rows of small distinct, black V-shaped markings, whilst those in the female are very obscure and conjoint.

A male Malay Viscount enjoying the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron.

Another sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Malay Viscount is rather common in Singapore. They are mainly found in the nature reserves, but at times adults can be seen flying in other forested areas. Both sexes have the habit of resting on perches with wings open, and visiting flowers/ripened fruits on flowering/fruiting trees in their habitat. The male have been observed to puddle on damp ground and on fallen (and rotting) fruits. The adults are skittish and readily take flight when disturbed.

25 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : White Banded Awl

Butterflies Galore!
The White Banded Awl (Hasora taminatus malayanus)

The White Banded Awl is rare in Singapore, and is usually associated with the forested nature reserves, rather than urban parks and gardens. It is a fast flyer like most of the "Awls" and appears in the early morning hours of the day, zipping and feeding at damp concrete or stone walls and wooden structures in the vicinity of the nature reserves. In the later hours of the day, it is usually found in deep shady forests where it has a tendency of perching upside down under a leaf, with its wings folded upright.

This individual was encountered much later than usual in the morning, after 10am, perhaps due to the overcast and cool weather last Sunday. It was flying rapidly under the sheltered pavilion at Upper Seleter Reservoir Park, and stopping frequently to feed on some spilt fluids on the concrete table. Note the narrow white post-discal band and the iridescent bluish-green wing bases on both wings, which are diagnostic identification features of the White Banded Awl.

23 August 2014

Butterfly of the Month - August 2014

Butterfly of the Month - August 2014
The Tree Yellow (Gandaca harina distanti)

We move into the 8th month of the year 2014, looking back at a series of alarming human conflicts in the Middle East - all in the name of religion. A paradox of sorts, as no major religion that we know of, teaches its subjects to harm, maim or kill others. The atrocities that have been reported in the daily media only serves to reinforce the view that mankind is the weak link and can be manipulated to lose all sense of human-ness and reason.

Further west to Africa, a deadly virus rears its ugly head again, as the Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever spreads across the African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. First discovered back in 1976 in Zaire (now known as Republic of the Congo), Ebola has no known cure to date, and has a fatality rate of over 65%. On the 8th of this month, the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic to be an international public health emergency. We can only hope that the spread of the disease to other parts of the world can be effectively contained before it explodes into another SARS-like emergency.

On 9 Aug this year, Singapore celebrated its 49th birthday since it became an independent city-state in 1965. It was a time for reflection on the progress of the nation from a struggling 3rd world Asian city to the successful metropolis that many other nations look on with admiration and envy. However, there is much angst amongst the locals these days, if comments on social media are to be taken seriously, as Singaporeans come to terms with the high cost of living and other daily struggles.

I had the opportunity to travel to the UAE this month. For many of us who travel abroad, it is always amazing to learn how well-regarded Singapore is. I was at the Dubai airport immigration, and had waited for the passenger in front of me (a Caucasian) to clear his immigration check. It took quite some time, as I saw him gesticulating angrily to the officer and looking displeased about the delay and being questioned. As he left in a huff, I quickly placed my passport on the counter with apprehension, and smiled at the officer, who appeared irritated at the previous passenger. He took a look at my passport, gestured to me to do the usual video check, and said "you're from Singapore?". I said yes, and he smiled at me, stamped my passport and said, "beautiful city!". I was out in about 30secs!

August is certainly not the best month of the year to travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the daytime temperatures typically hit 40degC. But business calls, and off I went. My last trip to Dubai was some years back, and returning to this city in the sun again, I was no less impressed by the achievements and progress that followed after the global financial crisis.

City skyline of Dubai, with the Burj Al-Arab hotel in the background

An hour's drive to Abu Dhabi, which I visited for the first time, also left a positive impression of the cleanliness and advancements of these two Middle Eastern cities. Five to seven lane highways (and that's in one direction!) were typical of their expressways, with new shiny luxury cars plying the well-built roads. However, looking around the harsh desert landscape made me miss the verdant equatorial greenery that we have in Singapore. Needless to say, I did not see a single butterfly throughout my entire trip, even though I'm sure they must be out there somewhere!

A Tree Yellow feeds on the flower of the Bandicoot Berry

Coming back to our Butterfly of the Month, we feature a common and rather plain-looking butterfly, the Tree Yellow (Gandaca harina distanti). This small and predominantly yellow butterfly is a forest-specialist, and is usually found in Singapore's forested nature reserves and fringe areas surrounding the nature reserves. It is skittish, and is typically fluttering around restlessly as it moves in search for food. It is rarely seen outside the forested areas in Singapore.

A trio of puddling Tree Yellows

The Tree Yellow is common and is regularly observed feeding at flowering plants as well as puddling with other butterfly species at sandy streambanks and damp forest footpaths. Contrary to the early authors' observations that mention that this species does not puddle, the Tree Yellow has been often encountered puddling - at times in numbers that exceed 6 individuals!

A Tree Yellow puddles with an Anderson's Grass Yellow in the background

The Tree Yellow resembles the related Eurema species (Grass Yellows) and are often seen in the company of these other species. However, the Tree Yellow is much paler, slightly larger and totally unmarked on the undersides of the wings.

Except for a narrow black marginal border on the upperside of the forewings, the Tree Yellow is a consistent lemon yellow throughout. Females of the species can be distinguished by a dentate projection in the forewing black border at vein 4, and is generally paler than the males.

A newly-eclosed Tree Yellow clings on to its pupa shell

The recorded caterpillar host plants of the Tree Yellow are Monocarpia marginalis and Mitrephora maingayi.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Khew SK, Koh CH, Nelson Ong, Simon Sng, Horace Tan and Lemon Tea.

22 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Cornelian

Butterflies Galore!
The Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus)

The Cornelian is one of two species of the genus Deudorix that has been reliably observed to be extant in Singapore. The early authors' checklists show other species, but that remains to be validated in recent years. The word Cornelian is usually associated with the gemstone "cornelian" which is a red variety of chalcedony, a type of quartz. Its red colour is due to the presence of iron impurities in the form of iron oxide or hematite. The name of the butterfly, which features a bright red upperside, probably comes from its association with the red coloured gem, cornelian.

The butterfly is usually skittish and able to fly at tremendous speeds. However, it can usually be photographed when it is feeding on flowers, or in this case, feeding on the sugary sap on the young inflorescence of the Tiger Orchid. This shot was taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF.

16 August 2014

Life History of the Palm Bob

Life History of the  Palm Bob (Suastus gremius gremius)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Suastus Moore, 1881
Species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Sub-species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 33-35mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Cocos nucifera (Arecaceae; common name: Coconut), Rhapis excelsa (Arecaceae, common name: Lady Palm).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are brown with the forewing adorned with pale yellow hyaline spots in the cell-end and spaces 1b, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8. The hindwing is unmarked. The tornal cilia are whitish. Beneath, the wings are greyish brown with the hindwing overlaid with buff scaling and featuring a number of moderately large and well defined black spots.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Palm Bob is common in Singapore. Sightings are rather frequent in nature reserves and in urban parks and gardens. The adults are fast flyers and are skittish when disturbed. They have been observed to visit flowers and sunbathe in sunny weather, and to puddle on bird dropping.

14 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Psyche

Butterflies Galore!
The Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana)

In butterfly photography, the background of the picture is often as important as the subject itself. Whilst many photographers who are new to the hobby pursues the butterfly and is quite happy to just get a decent shot of the butterfly itself, the more experienced photographers look for opportunities to get the background uncluttered, so as to emphasise the subject more effectively.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH, is an example of such a photo, which is well-composed with the butterfly nicely perched on a blade of grass, and where the pastel coloured background enables the subject, in this case a Psyche, to stand out prominently in the picture.

11 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Dartlet

Butterflies Galore! 
The Common Dartlet (Oriens gola pseudolus)

The Common Dartlet is one of several species of small skippers that are orange with black markings. In flight and in the field, it can be challenging identifying these skippers due to their similarity in appearance and features. The Common Dartlet, from the genus Oriens, can generally be identified by their less distinct underside markings with the wing veins barely dark dusted.

It is fast-flying like most skippers, but can often be encountered in shaded spots resting with its wings folded upright as shown in the picture above. This individual was resting in the understorey along a forest trail in the Mandai area where it was shot last weekend.

09 August 2014

Favourite Nectaring Plants #5

Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants
The Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra)

In this fifth article introducing Singapore butterflies' favourite nectaring plants, we feature the Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra). This leafy bush was determined to be extinct in Singapore and "was last collected in the wild by H N Ridley in 1909 at King's Road."* The plant has since been reintroduced through horticultural trade, and is a regularly used plant in many urban parks and gardens today.

The Red Tree Shrub has a wide distribution, ranging from the Indian subcontinent, Indo-China, the Malay Peninsula, the Indonesian archipelago and as far east as Northern Australia. It can be found in dry monsoon forests, equatorial rain forests, savannahs and secondary forests up to 500m in altitude, making it more of a lowland forest species.

A Common Grass Yellow feeds on the flower of the Red Tree Shrub

From herbarium records, there are four species of Leea in Singapore - L. aequata, L.indica, L. rubra/guineensis and L. angulata. In recent years, L. indica (Bandicoot Berry) and L. rubra (Red Tree Shrub) have 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 both plants provide nectar for butterflies, bees and wasps, whilst the ripened fruits are food for birds.

A healthy bush of the Red Tree Shrub at Tampines Eco Green in the company of other plants

Plant Biodata :
Family : Leeaceae
Genus : Leea
Species : rubra
Country of Origin : Myanmar/Laos
English Common Name : Red Tree Shrub
Other Local Names : Red Tree Vine, Red Leea, Mali-mali puchok merah (Malay), Katangbai (Thai), 紅葉火筒樹

In Singapore, the Red Tree Shrub can be mainly found in urban parks and gardens, where it was a recent introduction as an ornamental shrub that also attracts biodiversity to the parks and gardens. It is not commonly seen in the forested nature reserves or growing wild naturally, like its closely related species, the Bandicoot Berry.

Young (top) and mature leaves (middle, bottom) of the Red Tree Shrub

The Red Tree Shrub is a small, semi-herbaceous shrub growing up to between 2-3m tall. The leaves are bright green, with the young leaves displaying a reddish margin. Mature leaves are green. The leaves are compound, 2-4 pinnate with each leaf about 20-40 cm long. Leaflets are ovate to ovate-oblong or elliptical to elliptical-lanceolate with the margins crenate to shallowly serrate.

The attractive crimson inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub

The inflorescence ranges between 5-15 cm across and an attractive crimson red. Flowers are small and whitish yellow, about 4mm in diameter, and randomly spread across the inflorescence. There is no perceptible fragrance from the flowers, but they are still attractive to a variety of butterfly species and other insects like bees and wasps.


The fruits of the Red Tree Shrub in various stages of ripening

The fruits are about 8-10mm in diameter and initially olive-green turning to reddish-green to crimson red and finally purple-black when ripened. The fruits are attractive to birds, and the Yellow Vented Bulbul has been regularly seen eating the fruits at the Tampines Eco Green. There are about six seeds per fruit, each measuring about 4mm in diameter.

An inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub showing buds, flowers and fruits together

In Malaysia, the ground root mixed with arsenic is externally applied as a poultice against yaws, while the sap of the plant is drunk simultaneously. In Indonesia, the leaves are externally applied for poulticing wounds, the fruits are eaten as a remedy against yaws and dysentery. In Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, a decoction or tincture of the root is taken as a remedy for stomach-ache, rheumatism and arthritis. In Thailand, the roots are used as an antipyretic and diaphoretic.

One, Two, Three!  Long-Banded and Club Silverlines on the Red Tree Shrub flowers

The attractive crimson inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub is unmistakable where it is found in our urban parks and gardens. At specific locations like Tampines Eco Green, the Long Banded and Club Silverlines are regular visitors to the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. At certain times of the day the flowers are also popular with the Grass Yellows and various Hesperiidae.

Over at Gardens By the Bay, the flowers of this plant are visited by various Lycaenids, in particular the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus teatus) and the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius). The profusion of the red buds create an attractive sight to behold, when the flowers are in full bloom amongst the lush green bushes of the Red Tree Shrub.

Top : Metallic Caerulean  Bottom : Singapore Fourline Blue

At other locations where it is cultivated, like the Dairy Farm Nature Park, Hort Park and Sg Buloh Wetland Reserves, various resident butterfly species of these parks can often be observed feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. The Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas) used to be found at the now defunct Mandai Orchid Garden, feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. Over at Sg Buloh, the rare resident Singapore Fourline Blue (Nacaduba pavana singapura) can sometimes be observed at the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub.

Larger butterflies also feed on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub

Larger butterflies like the Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) and the Common Mime (Chilasa clytia clytia) have regularly been photographed feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. Despite the small size of the flowers, these large butterflies do not seem to have any problems feeding on them.

Skippers also like the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub

As the plant is easy to propagate by seeds, it is likely that the Red Tree Shrub will be more commonly found in parks and gardens, including private residential gardens in future. This is a plant that would certainly be welcomed by our local butterflies as an attractive food source. The berries are also food for birds, hence this plant would be useful in increasing the biodiversity of our urban gardens.

The next time you are attracted to the crimson flowers of the Red Tree Shrub, do take a closer look at the inflorescence and see if you can spot any butterflies feeding greedily at the flowers of this plant. You may be delighted to see more than a few butterflies sharing the nectar from the flowers!

On a sea of red...

And with the red and auspicious flowers of the Red Tree Shrub, all of us at ButterflyCircle would like to wish all our Singaporean readers a .....

Happy 49th Birthday to Singapore!!!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Loke PF, Jonathan Soong & Zhuang YY

Further Reading and References :

*Leea of Singapore (from Nature in Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum)