27 September 2014

Butterfly of the Month - September 2014

Butterfly of the Month - September 2014
The Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri)

A Dwarf Crow feeds on a Bidens pilosa flower at Butterfly Hill, Pulau Ubin, Singapore

September 2014 is almost over as we look back at a month that was relatively quiet and uneventful. In Singapore, we had the Formula 1 Night race for the seventh time after its debut in 2008 as the first F1 night race ever. Other than the buzz created by the avid followers of the F1 circuit around the world, it would appear that the majority of Singaporeans went about their lives as usual. Besides some inconveniences for those working in the city, the event seemed to have even lost its appeal with the ordinary residents of Singapore.

That Lewis Hamilton won the 2014 Singapore F1 probably didn't matter much to the man in the street in Singapore. Hogging the news, and creating quite a bit of a buzz in the local kopi-tiams (coffee shops) in Singapore, on the other hand, was a foreign national who was accused of misappropriating a wealthy Singaporean widow's $40M fortune. With a plot that is worthy of a TV soap opera, the accused apparently sneaked into the life of the widow and somehow managed to secure a Lasting Power of Attorney over her fortune.

Social media was ablaze with anti-foreigner sentiment once again, as netizens began to question the legitimacy of how this individual, who possessed nary a requisite paper qualification nor the credentials, managed to become a PR in Singapore. It will be interesting to see how the case plays out, as the plot thickens and even governmental organisations have lodged police reports and conducted investigations against the individual. On the optimistic side of things, the unfortunate widow may have been spared the total loss of her fortune, although it would appear that part of her missing inheritance would be irrecoverable.

Over in Incheon, South Korea, the 17th Asiad is still being enthusiastically followed by sports enthusiasts. Singapore's local boy, Joseph Schooling ended a 32-year gold drought in swimming by finally winning a gold medal in his pet 100m butterfly event. Considering that Joseph is a born and bred Singaporean, the majority of the highly-critical netizens gave him a thumbs up for his wins in the swimming arena.

Dwarf Crows feeding on the flowers of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum)

Our feature butterfly this month is the Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri). When it was sighted on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin back in 2002, the Dwarf Crow was recorded as a re-discovery for Singapore. Though listed in the early authors' checklists, it had not been seen in previous surveys of the Singapore butterfly fauna since the early 1990s, and presumed to be no longer found in Singapore. Then it re-appeared. Even so, this species continued to be reliably recorded only from Pulau Ubin.

For a period of time, it was regularly spotted on Pulau Ubin, often feeding on flowers of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum) and other wild flowers. It was a frequent visitor to the Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin, although in recent years, sightings have become much rarer.

The Dwarf Crow is so named, probably due to the fact that it is the smallest sized species in the genus. Sporting a wingspan of only 50-60 mm, it is certainly smaller than the other "Crows" that are found in Singapore and Malaysia.

The wings are reddish brown with the apical portion of the upperside of the forewings coloured deep blue with a few bluish discal and submarginal spots. The male's hindwings are unmarked on the upperside, but the female's hindwing features small diffused submarginal spots. The underside is a medium brown with the usual Euploea white spotting along the wing margins.

The Dwarf Crow is a slow flyer, usually seen flying calmly from flower to flower to feed. On Pulau Ubin, individuals of this species have also been observed puddling at damp spots as well as dried roots of some plants. During a time when the Indian Heliotrope was found at certain locations, the Dwarf Crow was also recorded in the company of several other species of Danainae butterflies feeding on the dried parts of the plant.

Dwarf Crows shot in Malaysia and southern Thailand are of the same subspecies as Singapore

The subspecies found in Singapore is ledereri and this subspecies also flies in Malaysia and southern Thailand. It is not uncommon in certain locations like the nature reserves in Endau Rompin and even on Fraser's Hill, where it is occasionally seen. However, in Singapore, it is considered rare and very local in distribution. Perhaps the caterpillar host plant should be cultivated in greater numbers to aid in the conservation of this species on Pulau Ubin.

A puddling Dwarf Crow photographed in Endau Rompin forest reserve in Malaysia

Over in Malaysia, this species has been observe to puddle on sandy footpaths that have been contaminated with animal excretions and decomposing organic matter. Individuals have been seen to fly around favoured spots and repeatedly return to puddle and feed at the same areas despite being disturbed.

This species has not been successfully bred in Singapore thus far, although its caterpillar host plant is suspected to be a Cynanchum sp. The early authors recorded the caterpillar host plants to be Malaisia scandens (Fleming) and Mikania cordata (C&P4), although the last-named plant in C&P4 may have been a mistake.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Sunny Chir, James Chia, David Fischer (Australia), Goh Lai Chong (Malaysia), Antonio Guidici (Thailand), Federick Ho, Khew SK, Loke PF, Simon Sng and Mark Wong.

References :

[C&P4] The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Revised by Col John Eliot, Malaysian Nature Society, 1992
[BOT2] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2012
[BOS] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2010
[BWMS] Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, WA Fleming, 2nd Edition, Longmans, 1983

20 September 2014

Life History of the Peacock Royal v2.0

Life History of the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)
An earlier version of the life history of the Peacock Royal can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tajuria Moore, 1881
Species: cippus Fabricius, 1798
Subspecies: maxentius Fruhstorfer, 1912
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 30-34mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae), Macrosolen cochinchinensis (Loranthaceae), Scurrula ferruginea (Loranthaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is royal blue with a broad, black border on both wings, whilst the female is in light pale blue and has a post-discal and a marginal series of black spots on its hindwing. On the underside, both sexes are greyish white. Both wings have a post-discal series of black, disjoint striae, and diffuse/obscure marginal and submarginal fasciae. The hindwing has two large, black tornal spots in spaces 1a and 2 which are orange-crowned; white-tipped tails at end of veins 1b and 2, and a short tooth at end of vein 3.

Field Observations:
The Peacock Royal is moderately common in Singapore. The adults can be found in urban parks and gardens, forested areas, as well as the nature reserves. They have a rapid flight and are typically skittish when approached. They are more readily photographed when they are engrossed in taking nectar from flowers.

18 September 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Darky Plushblue

Butterflies Galore!
The Darky Plushblue (Flos anniella anniella)

Amongst the four Flos species extant in Singapore, the Darky Plushblue (Flos anniella anniella) is the least encountered species. It is usually found in the heavily shaded forest understorey within the nature reserves in Singapore. Normally, they are encountered singly but sometimes in the company of other Flos and Arhopala species.

The Darky Plushblue is skittish and alert, and can fly rapidly if disturbed. This newly-eclosed individual was recently shot within the forested nature reserves. The upperside of the butterfly is a lustrous violet-blue. The apical area of the underside of the forewing is prominently whitened. The species has been successfully bred on Lithocarpus elegans (Spike Oak), Lithocarpus conocarpus and Lithocarpus ewyckii.

13 September 2014

Lacy Encounters

Lacy Encounters
Return of the Plain Lacewing!

The Plain Lacewing (Cethosia methypsea methypsea) is a species that is listed as extant in Singapore in ButterflyCircle's checklist. When it was first discovered in the 1990's by veteran ButterflyCircle member Steven Neo, it was recorded as a new taxon in the Singapore checklist. The first voucher specimen was documented by Steven on 29 May 1991 at the forest edge adjacent to mature nature reserves. Early references did not include this species to be extant in Singapore.

After it was discovered, the species continued to be regularly seen throughout the 1990's but very localised. It did not appear to be extremely rare at that time, and on one occasion, I encountered at least 4 individuals of the Plain Lacewing, feeding together at a large Lantana bush. It continued to be seen but its closely related cousin, the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina) was much more common and widespread in Singapore.

The last known recent observation record of the Plain Lacewing from May 2000 - shot on Fujifilm Velvia 50 slide film and digitally scanned

The last record of the Plain Lacewing was an individual shot whilst feeding on a flower of the Common Asystasia. From my records, this individual was shot on 7 May 2000. After this last encounter, the Plain Lacewing mysteriously disappeared from Singapore, and not seen again...

Until recently, when ButterflyCircle member Koh CH, encountered a Lacewing at around the same location that it was last seen 14 years ago! As suddenly as it had mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, the Plain Lacewing is back. Over the past two weeks, more ButterflyCircle members continued to encounter the Plain Lacewing, and from the shots posted, it appears that there are at least 3 different individuals.

The Plain Lacewing is very similar in appearance to the Malay Lacewing, and quite similar to the recently (in 2005) discovered Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane). The Plain Lacewing can be distinguished from its lookalike cousins by the thin white submarginal band on the hindwing. The male Leopard Lacewing may also be confused with the Plain Lacewing, but the former has larger black submarginal spots and a wider white band on the hindwing, and also a very thin submarginal orange band on the underside of the forewing compared to the other two species.

The upperside of the Plain Lacewing also appears much redder than its two cousins. The male and female of the Plain Lacewing look alike, compared to the sexes of the Malay and Leopard Lacewings, which are distinctly different enough to be separated easily.

The Plain Lacewing's caterpillar host plant is very likely to belong to the Passifloraceae family. It is curious why, or how it appeared again, after 14 years, and where this current batch originated. Were they still here in Singapore all these years, but only not seen? Or are these immigrants from nearby Malaysia that has started to colonise the same localities where they were previously seen?

The Plain Lacewing is the more common species found in Penang where it outnumbers the Malay Lacewing by at least a 3:1 ratio when I was collecting butterflies on the island many years ago. C&P4 also mentions that the Malay Lacewing is "not uncommon..." and the Plain Lacewing is "...nearly as common in the same situations". (pp 157, C&P4). Whilst the Malay Lacewing is common in Singapore, why is the Plain Lacewing so rare, as to be classified under the status of "Critically Endangered" in the Red Data Book 2008?

Indeed, if it had been absent in Singapore for the past 14 years, it would be considered a very rare butterfly here. What can be done to conserve this species and help it to thrive? More observations and studies, particularly of its early stages, will certainly have to be done. In the meantime, we hope that the Plain Lacewing will continue to stay in Singapore for a few more years to come, so that we can take it off the "critically endangered" list.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Koh CH, Loke PF and Nelson Ong

References :

[C&P4] The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Revised by Col John Eliot, Malaysian Nature Society, 1992

06 September 2014

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 2

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 2 : An Analysis of Name Changes

We had earlier discussed the changes to the common names of butterflies in Part 1 of this series, where we agreed with Dr Kirton's changes due to "socially unacceptable reasons". In that article we featured butterflies with names like Nigger, Darkie or Brownie, which carried ethnic slurs that would be politically incorrect in today's social context.

Nigger no more...

In Part 2 of our discussion on the changes to the common names of butterflies, we take a look at some of the name changes and in some cases, offer an alternative perspective to these changes. In the study of zoology, and in particular, Lepidoptera, scientists often divide the world into eight specific faunistic zones, often referred to as ecozones. An ecozone is the broadest biogeographic division of the Earth's land surface, based on distributional patterns of terrestrial organisms.

The eight ecozones are, (based on World Wildlife Fund definition) the Palearctic, Nearctic, Afrotropic, Neotropic, Indo-Malaya, Australasia, Oceania and Antarctic.  The Indo-Malayan region, which is the area of interest as far as butterflies of Malaysia and Singapore are concerned, comprises South Asia covering India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, the Large Sunda islands (Sumatra, Borneo and Java), the Philippine Islands, Sulawesi and Lesser Sunda Islands as far east as Timor.

Sundaland map

The zoogeographical subregion of the Indo-Malayan ecozone, known as the Sundanian Subregion (or often called Sundaland) comprises the Malay Peninsula (including Singapore), Sumatra, Borneo, Java and their satellite islands, and Palawan in the Philippines. It is largely the Sundaland subregion which we are concerned with, pertaining to the butterfly fauna of this region, and from which we base our literature reviews of books published about the butterflies in these countries.

Left : Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 1st Edition (1934)  Right : The Identification of Indian Butterflies (1927)

Whilst there is no doubt that one of the first published literature which coined English common names for butterflies was already available for butterflies in the Indian subcontinent, e.g. "The Identification of Indian Butterflies by W.A. Evans in 1927, we also take into account that the earliest reference to the butterflies in Malaya/Malaysia and Singapore is "The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" by A.S. Corbet & H.M. Pendlebury in 1934.

Left : Common Malayan Butterflies (1960)  Right : Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction (1983)

In the 60's and 80's, two more reference books, targeted for the amateur butterfly enthusiasts were published. The use of English common names (or trivial names) was more evident in these two references. These were "Common Malayan Butterflies" (CMB) by R. Morrell (in 1960) and "Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction" (MBAI) by Prof Yong Hoi-Sen (in 1983). In the meantime, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions of "The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" were printed in 1956, 1978 and 1992 respectively.

It is with the background of these references, that we base our discussions and opinions on the English common names of butterflies in Malaysia and Singapore, and any revisions or publications that come thereafter, on butterflies of the Sundaland subregion.

In the review of the English common names suggested in Dr Kirton's latest book "A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand" (BPMST) we will start with a discussion on the species that are found in Singapore first. Future discussions will dwell on the species beyond Singapore's shores.

Dealing with the names by the butterfly families, we first take a look at the genus Graphium. In particular, the species Graphium evemon eventus. Based on our literature research on the early references, the name "Lesser Jay" was first used by Evans in his 1927 book. Other early authors declined to give a common name to this species. In the 90's the name "Blue Jay" was coined for the Singapore butterfly fauna, and through regular usage over the years, the name stuck.

Text excerpt from Evans book "Identification of Indian Butterflies" 1927

ButterflyCircle's "Butterflies of Singapore" (BOS) launched in 2010, the name Blue Jay was also adopted for Graphium evemon eventus. Many online references also used Blue Jay. To be consistent with the names used in the Indo-Malayan ecozone, the common name Lesser Jay should be adopted for this species henceforth.

Recommendation : Graphium evemon eventus should be referred to as the Lesser Jay.

The next species in the list is Ypthima horsfieldii humei. This species was given the common name the Malayan Five Ring by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay in his book, Butterflies of Thailand 1st Edition (BOT1) in 2006. The same name was also used in BOS. None of the early references by Evans nor C&P had a common name for this species.

In BMPST, Dr Kirton used the name Horsfield's Five Ring for this species. We do not see the rationale nor necessity to change the name, as the name does not appear to be used for any other species nor is confusing. The closely related species, Ypthima baldus newboldi is called the Common Five Ring, which causes no ambiguity with Ypthima horsfieldii humei.

Recommendation : Ypthima horsfieldi humei should retain its name Malayan Five Ring.

We move on to the subfamily Danainae and start with the Euploea or commonly referred to as the "Crows".  The first proposed change in BPMST was Euploea phaenareta castlenaui. The English common name is the Great Crow. This name was first coined by Evans for the species Euploea corus corus. This species was later revised to E. phaenareta, hence the reference to the Great Crow.

Closer to home, BOT1 and BOT2 also refers to E. phaenareta as the Great Crow. Through regular usage in Singapore, the English common name for this species is the King Crow, and is used in BOS as well as many online checklists. Again, for consistency and due to the taxonomic changes to the species' latin name, we acknowledge that E. phaenareta should be changed to Great Crow.

Recommendation : Euploea phaenareta castelnaui should be known as the Great Crow.

© Dr Laurence G Kirton : Explanation for the rationale of name revision for Striped Black Crow

The next species for discussion is Euploea eyndhovii gardineri. Evans gave the name Striped Black Crow for E. doubledayi. Dr Kirton explains that there was a split in the two species to E. doubledayi and E. eyndhovii and proposed that Striped Black Crow is retained for E. doubledayi and Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii. BOT2 also uses Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii but calls E. doubledayi the Greater Striped Black Crow. In his book, (MBAI), Prof Yong Hoi-Sen calls E. doubledayi the Larger Striped Black Crow.

It appears to be logical to retain the original name of Striped Black Crow for E. doubledayi and adopt the new name of Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii. Hence we support Dr Kirton's proposed change for the smaller species that flies in the southern parts of Malaysia and Singapore. In practice, however, the four-word name for this species may be a mouthful and butterfly enthusiasts may continue to use Striped Black Crow for this species this is more common, compared to its cousin up north.

Recommendation : Euploea eyndhovii gardineri should be called the Lesser Striped Black Crow.

The next species in the Danainae sub-family belongs to the Tigers. In BPMST, Dr Kirton calls Danaus melanippus hegesippus the White Tiger. This was also the name given to the species Danaus melanippus indicus by Evans. In Borneo, there is a subspecies Danaus melanippus thoe which is completely black and white. In recent years, various Indian butterfly groups have begun to call their subspecies the Indian White Tiger.

Recent local references, CMB (Morrell), BMAI (Yong HS), BOS (KhewSK) and even Kazuhisa Otsuka's Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia all refer to Danaus melanippus as Black Veined Tiger. Over regular usage in the past six decades, the species has come to be referred to as the Black Veined Tiger in Malaysia and Singapore. As the descriptor "white tiger" may be a misnomer for this species, we propose that the English common name Black Veined Tiger be retained for this species.

Recommendation : Danaus melanippus hegesippus should retain its name Black Veined Tiger.

The next species of interest is the large black and white butterfly, Idea stolli logani. The current local English common name is the Common Tree Nymph. It is interesting to note that Evans coined several names for the subspecies of Hestia (now known as Idea) lynceus, ranging from Malabar Tree Nymph, Ceylon Tree Nymph, Kanara Tree Nymph, Tavoy Tree Nymph and so on. It may be confusing, as it would appear that it would be quite exceptional to have English common names for so many subspecies of I. lynceus when the physical differences between two or more subspecies may not be very apparent.

Multiple subspecies and multiple English Common Names for a single species - Idea lynceus

Subsequently in C&P1, Hestia lynceus reinwardti was called the Tree Nymph. This was repeated by Prof Yong in MBAI. In CMB, Morrell referred to Idea jasonia logani as the Common Tree Nymph. The revised scientific name for Idea jasonia logani is Idea stolli logani. Hence we continued the name coined by Morrell in 1960 for this species - Common Tree Nymph.

Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus). Note heavier shading on the wings

In BPMST, Dr Kirton adopted the name Ashy-White Tree Nymph for Idea stolli logani. It would appear that this 'newly invented' name originated from BOT1 by Pisuth. The descriptor "ashy-white" would normally refer to something that is greyish in colour (ash), and does not appear to be appropriate for Idea stolli which certainly appears much whiter than Idea lynceus. If anything, this name could be more suited to Idea lynceus. But it is already called the Tree Nymph. Hence we propose that the name Common Tree Nymph continues to be adopted for Idea stolli logani.

Recommendation : Idea stolli logani should retain its name Common Tree Nymph.

The final species of Part 2 of this series on English Common Names is the related Idea leuconoe chersonesia. In Evan's book, he called this the Siam Tree Nymph - largely due to the subspecies Idea leuconoe siamensis. The common name for this subspecies name is also used in BOT2 by Pisuth. There are many other common names coined for this species, ranging from Paper Kite, Rice Paper, White Tree Nymph, Large Tree Nymph and others. In BOS, we used the name Mangrove Tree Nymph for this species.

There are many subspecies of I. leuconoe and certain subspecies are easily bred as display species in many butterfly parks all over the world. In particular, the subspecies from Taiwan, ssp clara appears to be the one that is abundant in butterfly parks. However, the subspecies that occurs as a native species in Malaysia and Singapore (including the Indonesia islands close to Singapore) is ssp chersonesia. Morrell in CMB and Corbet in C&P4 both describe this subspecies as "a seashore species and frequents mangrove areas" and "confined to mangrove swamps". In BPMST, Dr Kirton refers to Idea leuconoe as Large Tree Nymph. It would be more definitive and appropriate to refer to Idea leuconoe chersonesia as the Mangrove Tree Nymph to better describe its association with mangrove habitats in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Recommendation : Idea leuconoe chersonesia should retain its common name as the Mangrove Tree Nymph.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Goh LC, Khew SK, Loke PF, Simon Sng and Anthony Wong

References :

[BPMST] A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of P. Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand, Laurence G Kirton : John Beaufoy Publishing 2014
[C&P1] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 1st Edition, Kyle & Palmer, 1934.
[C&P4] The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Revised by Col John Eliot, Malaysian Nature Society, 1992
[BOT1] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2006
[BOT2] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2012
[CMB] Common Malayan Butterflies, R. Morrell, Longmans Malaysia, 1960
[MBAI] Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction, Yong Hoi-Sen, Tropical Press, Malaysia, 1983
[BOS] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2010
[BBSEA] Butterflies of Borneo & South East Asia, Kazuhisa Otsuka, Hornbill Books, Malaysia, 2001
[IIB] Identification of Indian Butterflies, W.A. Evans, Diocesan Press, India, 1927