31 January 2015

Life History of the Common Four Ring

Life History of the Common Four Ring (Ypthima huebneri )

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Ypthima Hübner, 1818
Species: huebneri Kerby, 1871
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 30-35mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Ottochloa nodosa (Poaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The adults are typically small as compared to other Ypthima spp. present in Singapore. 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 four yellow-ringed ocelli in spaces 1b, 2, 3 and 6 with the one in space 1b bi-pupilled.

A sun-bathing male Common Four Ring showing its upperside.

A sun-bathing female Common Four Ring showing its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Common Four Ring is moderately common in Singapore, and is mostly sighted in localized areas within the nature reserve. Adults are usually observed flying low among vegetation in and around grassy patches on open areas. 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.

24 January 2015

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 4

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 4 : An Analysis of Name Changes

In Part 4 of our continuing discussion, analysis and recommendations of the butterflies' English Common Names, we complete the remaining species in the family Nymphalidae whose names have been amended by Dr Kirton. To reiterate our scope and biogeographic extent of the butterfly species, we had, established in our earlier discussions, the zoogeographical subregion of the Indo-Malayan ecozone, known as the Sundanian Subregion (or often called Sundaland) is the area of interest where species of butterflies have been assigned common names by various authors.

For the benefit of our readers who are viewing Part 4 of this discussion series, we would like to explain that a number of proposed changes were made by Dr Laurence Kirton in his recent book, A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. We analyse these changes and state our agreements or alternative views, and recommendations for future publications to consider.

Singapore species - Chocolate Sailor (Neptis harita harita)

We will now discuss the group of butterflies that come under the two genera Neptis and Phaedyma. If we refer to the earliest reference literature, The Identification of Indian Butterflies by Col W.H. Evans 1927, we note that the butterflies under these two genera comes under the collective generic name of "Sailers". Of interest to the Singapore butterfly fauna, are four species that fall under scrutiny.

Singapore species - Common Sailor (Neptis hylas papaja)

There has been quite a bit of debate as to the collective English common name of the Neptis and Phaedyma species. Certain countries refer to them as "Sailers", whilst others refer to them as "Sailors". In researching the basis of both names, I have come across arguments which support one or the other. It is interesting to note that the first option - Sailer was purportedly coined to describe the manner in which the butterfly flies i.e. it "sails".

A mating pair of Short Banded Sailors (Phaedyma columella singa)

This descriptor probably had some reference to the common names of some butterflies called "Gliders" also referring to the way the butterfly flies. In particular, searching for the name Neptis sappho would generally refer to a common name of Common Glider or Pallas Sailer. The name "Sailer" appears to be the preferred English common name used for the genera Neptis and Phaedyma in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.

The other English common name "Sailor" which refers to a seaman or mariner, is also often used as the collective common name for the Neptis and Phaedyma butterfly species. The reference to the name "sailor" could have originated from a number of sources. One origin could be the black-and-white striped wing patterns of the butterflies that are reminiscent of the colour of a navy sailor's uniform, which is white, with the navy blue collar detail.

The other possibility is related to the common English names that have their origins in military titles and ranks. In my earlier article on this blog, I made some postulations as to the origins of the butterflies' common names and their connections to British military titles and also gentry. Besides the land-based military titles, there are naval titles and naval ranks. After all, we have Admiral, Yeoman, Commodore and Commander - all of which are naval titles (mainly of the Royal Navy). So why not "sailors"?

A page from the book - Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern Africa by Ivor Migdoll, Struik Publishers, Capetown, 1987 featuring Neptis saclava or the Small Spotted Sailor

A page from the book Common Butterflies of Vietnam by Alexander Monastyrskii and AlexeyDevyatkin, Labour and Social Affairs Publishing House, 2002.

The name "sailor" is the preferred English common name used by authors for Neptis and Phaedyma in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore, South Africa and China. In tracing the earliest reference book that uses the common name "sailor" for the Southeast Asian region, we have the "Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" by Corbet and Pendlebury 1st Edition (1934). Hence there is undeniable evidence that even in the early 1930's or earlier, the British authors in Malaya who were writing their book were already using "Sailor" for these butterflies.

A page from Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, 1st Edition by A S Corbet and H M Pendlebury, Kyle, Palmer and Co, 1934.

In his latest book, A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Dr Kirton reverted to "Sailer" to describe the Neptis and Phaedyma species. Of all the authors of the references below which include Pisuth, Steven Neo, Yong Hoi-Sen, Ohtsuka, Morrell, Corbet and Pendlebury, Igarashi and Fukuda and many others covering the Southeast Asian region, the name "Sailor" is preferred.  Given that there are more books covering the Southeast Asian region using "Sailor" rather than "Sailer", we recommend to retain this common name for the Neptis and Phaedyma butterflies.

Recommendation : All the species of butterflies in the genera Neptis and Phaedyma to retain their collective English common name of "Sailors".

A page from Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, 1st Edition by A S Corbet and H M Pendlebury, Kyle, Palmer and Co, 1934.

Amongst the Sailors in Singapore, there is one species, which warrants a change of name, if we take reference to the name given by the early publication for Southeast Asia, Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet and Pendlebury, 1st Edition 1934. In the book, the species known then as Neptis nata cresina was given the common name Burmese Sailor.

Burmese Sailor (Neptis leucoporos cresina)

The scientific name of this species was later renamed to Neptis leucoporos cresina. It was, however called the Grey Sailor in Singapore. The recommendation should therefore be to refer to this species as Burmese Sailor as was the intention by the early authors who named Malayan butterflies back in 1934.

Recommendation : Neptis leucoporos cresina should be renamed Burmese Sailor.

Malay Baron (Euthalia monina monina)

The next butterfly name that was changed in Dr Kirton's book, is the Malay Baron. It was amended to Malayan Baron. The rationale cited for the change was "where the original name refers to a people group". In Part 3 of this series, we discussed the rationale for retaining "Malay" in the original common names of butterflies, instead of changing to "Malayan". Hence we recommend that the species Euthalia monina monina should retain its name Malay Baron, which is used in the majority of literature, papers and publications in the region.

Recommendation : Euthalia monina monina should retain its name Malay Baron.

Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea)

The other related species that bears a similar background for a name change is the Malay Viscount. Hence by the same token mentioned above, the species Tanaecia pelea pelea should retain its well-known and widely-used name of Malay Viscount, instead of being changed to Malayan Viscount. Here, it should be clarified also that there are several other butterfly species bearing the name "Malayan". However in the case of the Malay Viscount, this is the name that it was referred to as early as the 1930's and we do not see a strong reason why it should be changed.

Recommendation : Tanaecia pelea pelea should retain its name Malay Viscount.

The next species of interest comes from the genus Lexias. Usually referred to as "Archdukes", these are medium-sized butterflies with robust bodies and are swift fliers. Dr Kirton amended the name of the species Lexias dirtea merguia from Black Tipped Archduke to Dark Archduke. In researching the rationale for this name change, we discovered an original name in Evans' book, Identification of Indian Butterflies, W.A. Evans, Diocesan Press, India, 1927, Dark Archduke, given to the species Adolias khasiana khasiana. The diagnostic description of the species corresponds with Lexias dirtea merguia (Black Archduke), and in particular where the description states that the "antennae black above".

In the same book, the name Archduke was given to the species with "antennae prominently yellow-tipped above" and described as Adolias dirtea jadeitina.  The two species were subsequently renamed from Adolias khasiana khasiana to Lexias dirtea merguia and Adolias dirtea jadeitina to Lexias pardalis dirteana.  The name Archduke will be retained for Lexias pardalis dirteana (previously Adolias dirtea jadetina) and the name Dark Archduke kept for Lexias dirtea merguia (previously Adolias khasiana khasiana).

Recommendation : Lexias dirtea merguia should revert to its original name of Dark Archduke.

The genus Eulaceura features only a single species in Malaysia and Singapore - Eulaceura osteria kumana. In Evans' book, the species is called the Elegant Emperor. This species was, however, called the Purple Duke in Singapore. Through regular usage, the Purple Duke name stuck. To be consistent with our policy of establishing the common name of the species based on the earliest valid publications for the Southeast Asian region, or, if unavailable, the reference to Evans' book, this species should henceforth revert to its original name of Elegant Emperor.

Eulaceura osteria kumana should now be called Elegant Emperor

It is also noted that Butterflies of Thailand, 2nd Edition by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, also followed Evans' name for this species and called it Elegant Emperor. Further search did not turn up any other publications at this point in time that named this species as Purple Duke, except for Singapore-based publications and websites. It may take some time before the name is reinstated due to usage, but it would be appropriate to now call this species as Elegant Emperor.

Recommendation : Eulaceura osteria kumana should revert to its original English common name, Elegant Emperor.

Rounded Maplet (Chersonesia peraka peraka)

The next species in the series of renamed butterflies is the sole representative of the sub-family Cyrestinae in Singapore.  This species is Chersonesia peraka peraka. This species was given the name Little Maplet in Singapore references. Dr Kirton amended its common name to Rounded Maplet in his 2014 book. Upon checking with Evans, this name was in use since 1927. Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition also called this species Rounded Maplet.

Given that the English common name was originally known as Rounded Maplet, it would be appropriate to adopt this name henceforth to remain consistent with the relevant references in the region.

Recommendation : Chersonesia peraka peraka should revert to its original English common name, Rounded Maplet.

The final species of concern in the family Nymphalidae is one from the genus referred to collectively as Pansies. This species, Junonia hedonia ida, was not known from Evans time, as the species was absent from the Indian subcontinent. The closely related species, Junonia iphita, was given the common name Chocolate Soldier. There are some publications in the region which refers to Junonia iphita as Chocolate Pansy. However, since the earliest known coinage of the name for this species was Chocolate Soldier, that name should rightfully remain as such.

Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida)

Hence the next most appropriate name for Junonia hedonia ida should be Chocolate Pansy. Dr Kirton amended the name of this species to Spotted Chocolate Soldier. Pisuth, in Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition, incorrectly named Junonia iphita as Chocolate Pansy. Perhaps it is because Junonia hedonia is unknown in Thailand. As Evans had precedence, then Junonia iphita should retain its name as Chocolate Soldier.  Hence Junonia hedonia should take the name Chocolate Pansy.

Recommendation : Junonia hedonia ida should retain its common name Chocolate Pansy.

This ends the common name changes in Dr Kirton's book for Nymphalidae. In the next article in the series, we will investigate the families Riodinidae and Lycaenidae.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Goh EC, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong and Mark 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
[GCBOS] Guide to the Common Butterflies of Singapore, Steven Neo, Science Centre Singapore, 1996
[BSA] Butterflies of Southern Africa, Ivor Migdoll, Struik Publishers, Capetown, 1987
[BOV] Common Butterflies of Vietnam, Alexander Monastyrskii and AlexeyDevyatkin, Labour and Social Affairs Publishing House, 2002

Further Reading :

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies : Part 1
A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies : Part 2
A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies : Part 3

17 January 2015

Life History of the Small Branded Swift

Life History of the Small Branded Swift (Pelopidas mathias mathias)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Pelopidas Walker, 1870
Species: mathias Fabricius, 1798
Sub-Species: mathias Fabricius, 1798
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 32-36mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Axonopus compressus (Poaceae, common names: Wide-leaved Carpet Grass, Cow Grass).

A male Small Branded Swift giving a view of the upperside of its forewing.

A close-up view of the forewing upperside, illustrating post-discal spots in spaces 2-4, 6-8, two cell spots and the brand.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are brown, greenish at the base. There are white post-discal hyaline spots in spaces 2-4, 6-8 and two cell spots in the forewing. The male has a narrow oblique brand in the forewing running from the spot in space 2 towards the dorsum (the brand is angled in such a way that a line drawn from and through the two cell spots would intersect it). The female has additional white spots in spaces 1b, consisting of one minute upper spot and one larger lower spot. On the underside, the wings are pale brown with a greyish tone. The forewing has the same spots as per the upperside, and the hindwing has a cell spot and post-discal spots in space 2 to 5.

The upperside view of a female Small Branded Swift, showing the two additional post-discal spots in space 1b.

A female Small Branded Swift observed at the forest edge in the nature reserve.

The same female Small Branded Swift in the above picture partially opens its wing to sun-bathe.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Small Branded Swift is common in Singapore. The adults have been sighted in multiple locations including nature reserves, wastelands, urban parks and gardens across the island. The adults fly with a swift, strong and darting flight. They have been observed to sunbathe with open wings in sunny condition, visiting flowers and puddling on wet grounds.

10 January 2015

Butterfly of the Month - January 2015

Butterfly of the Month - January 2015
The Long-Banded Silverline (Spindasis lohita senama)

A new year has begun! 2015 has started cautiously for the global economy, with the falling oil prices threatening to dampen and even negatively affect many countries' economic recovery and growth. Whilst only certain countries are feeling the effect on their currencies, the world today is inextricably connected in terms of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, and when more countries are affected, it is likely that even those which appear unscathed will feel the strain. Oil is a mineral that affects practically every aspect of our daily lives and it is hard to escape any severe fluctuations in price - whether up or down.

Towards the end of an eventful 2014, a third plane disaster struck in our Southeast Asian region. Whilst we thought that two crashes affecting Malaysian Airlines Flights 370 and 17 was more than any country can take in terms of loss of innocent lives in civilian crashes, the AirAsia flight QZ8501 crash was something totally unprecedented for Malaysia in terms of a single country's flight safety record in a single year. The Airbus A320 plane carrying 162 passengers and crew from Surabaya to Singapore did not make it, and it is feared that everyone on board perished in the crash.

Murder (in whatever form you call it) in the name of religion continues to rear its ugly head even as the New Year celebrations to herald 2015 were still fresh in our minds. This time, extremists or terrorists, massacred 12 people in the unlikely city of Paris. Angered by the satirical cartoons of the the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which purportedly pokes fun at Islam (and other religions and political leaders), two fanatical brothers stormed and shot dead a number of the cartoonists at the office of the newspaper, along with some police personnel as well.

"These madmen, fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion," France's President Francois Hollande said in a televised address. Indeed. Which religion's God teaches its subjects to murder innocent unarmed people? This form of extremism is not expected to go away in 2015. If anything, it will worsen as the world struggles with intolerance and human ego - driving fanatics to continue to eliminate people who do not subscribe to their way of thinking.

This month, January 2015, we continue with our long-standing series of featuring a butterfly species every month. Our 87th butterfly species to take the limelight on our blog is the Long Banded Silverline (Spindasis lohita senama). This small, but very attractive butterfly starts our new year with a bit of optimism and hope for the year ahead.

The Long Banded Silverline belongs to the family Lycaenidae, often known by its generic name of "Blues and Hairstreaks" - featuring many small sized butterflies with prominent tails. The tails and eyespots on the hindwings of the family Lycaenidae are often described to perform the function of a decoy which fools predators into attacking the "wrong" part of the butterfly, thereby allowing the butterfly to escape a fatal blow to its real head.

Our feature butterfly of the month is one of a few species which is attractive both on the upper and underside of the wings. There are many species showing beautiful bright colours and patterns on either the upper or underside, but not many species features such beauty on both.

The Long Banded Silverline is one of two species of the genus Spindasis found in Singapore. Both species are widely distributed, and can be found more regularly at urban parks and gardens than in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. The Silverlines are characterised by their banded appearance on the undersides of their wings, centred with silvery markings. The hindwing bears a pair of delicate filamentous white-tipped tails.

The butterfly is moderately common, and at times, several individuals are spotted together. The Long Banded Silverline is a fast-flyer, but often stops to perch at its favourite leaf or branch repeatedly. At rest, they often stop with their wings folded upright. However, when conditions are right at certain hours of the day, they can be observed to open their wings to sunbathe.

A male Long Banded Silverline showing off its upperside

The male of the Long Banded Silverline is deep blue above with broad black apical borders on the forewing. The female is a plain brownish-blue above and generally unmarked, although the underside markings can often be perceived through the wings. The underside is an yellowish-cream ground colour with red streaks infilled with silvery streaks.

The distinguishing markings between this species and its closely-related cousin, the Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana) can be found in the basal area on the underside of the forewing. The basal streak is L-shaped in the Long Banded Silverline, but club-shaped in the Club Silverline. The hindwing has two white-tipped tails emerging from a prominent orange tornal patch.

Long Banded Silverlines feeding on the Mile-A-Minute flowers (top) and Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra) (bottom)

The Long Banded Silverline can often be observed feeding on the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) and the Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra). In other areas, we have seen a number feeding on the inflorescence of the Mile-A-Minute creeper (Mikania micrantha).

The butterfly is often observed to rest with its head facing downwards

When disturbed, the butterfly flies rapidly and hides under a leaf. At times, it also displays this habit of perching on the underside of a leaf, upside down. When at rest, individuals are also often observed to stop on a vertical perch with its head facing downwards. This may be related to a defensive behaviour of posing with its "false head and eyes" facing upwards to fool predators into attacking that part of the wings.

This species' caterpillars have been successfully bred on a number of host plants that include the guava and Singapore Rhododendron. It is also believed to be able to breed on the exotic Australian tree, Acacia auriculiformis which can be found growing wild in many parts of Singapore, where a female of the species was observe to be ovipositing on a leaf of the tree.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Koh CH, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Mark Wong, Benjamin Yam and Zhuang YY