25 April 2015

Butterfly of the Month - April 2015

Butterfly of the Month - April 2015
The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus)

After ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai expedition last month, where most of us had an 'overdose' of Thailand's flying jewels for 7 days, Singapore's lack of both diversity and quantity became a bit of an anti-climax. It is quite amazing when the environment is vast and generally unexploited, biodiversity can thrive. On our little island in sun, where we have recorded over 315 species (and counting), it is quite difficult to imagine a puddling spot literally filled with hundreds of butterflies like what we saw in Thailand.

Singapore, despite heavy deforestation due to decades of physical development, still has a lot going for it, as far as our natural biodiversity is concerned. Although we may have had a lot more species in the recent past, it could have been in an even worse state if not for timely intervention by conservationists working with the government authorities.

The pessimists contend that we could have done more to save our biodiversity, but what's the use of just complaining? Strive and work towards conserving what we have, in a positive way. This is Singapore. 715 sq km of it. Hundreds of competing uses for the limited land. What can we do to help biodiversity co-exist with development or mitigate human-animal interaction through education?

Our planning authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, struggles with the longer-term concerns of Singapore's dwindling land reserves as the 'burn-out' rate continues. Precious land is allocated for myriad uses from housing to roads to social infrastructure. Despite the intense development, if we look around us, Singapore is amazingly a city in a garden. Lush greenery. Clean air (most of time, unless our neighbours decide to raze their forests). But there's always room for improvement.

Nature is surprisingly resilient. Perhaps not every species or organism is equally tenacious in surviving on a densely developed island like Singapore. But someone once said, "if we humans have the will, nature will find a way". To survive that is. Where we have done good research, we apply this knowledge and make educated and calculated efforts to conserve what we have. What we don't know enough of, is something that we need to learn more about.

This month, the first custom-designed natural history museum in Southeast Asia will be opened to the public. The spanking new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, with an exhibition area of 2,000 sqm, hopes to educate our resident population on our natural heritage, and why it is important to conserve the remaining biodiversity that shares our island with us. Research and education will be important aspects of the museum.

Our feature butterfly of the month is the Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus). This medium sized butterfly is a moderately common species in Singapore. It is often observed singly, flying in the company of its related cousins, the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus) and the Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia).

The Black Veined Tiger is has broad black apical borders with white spots and the discal area a strong orange. The ground colour of the hindwing is entirely white without any orange tinge along the blackened veins. There are two rows of submarginal spots on both the fore and hindwings.

The Black Veined Tiger resembles the Common Tiger and is sometimes confused with its closely related cousin. Both are about the same size and usually fly in the same localities, feeding on the same flowering plants. The primary distinguishing characteristic is the much broader submarginal black border on the hindwing. The hindwings are almost entirely white compared to form-intermedius of the Common Tiger, which also has white hindwings but with strong orange tint along the blackened veins.

Males of the Black Veined Tiger has a sex brand at vein 2 along the post discal area of the hindwing. Males appear to be the commoner sex of this species. The Black Veined Tiger has a slow unhurried flight, gliding from flower to flower as it feeds. However, when disturbed, it can take off quite capably with a powerful flight.

The butterfly is partial to the pea pods and flowers of the Rattlebox Pea (Crotalaria retusa). An interesting behaviour that the Black Veined Tiger exhibits, is that it uses it "claws" of its legs to scratch the surface of the pea pods and flowers and then feed on the fluid from the "wounded" surface of the pods or flowers.

The caterpillar host plant of the Black Veined Tiger is believed to be the lactiferious vine, Cynanchum ovalifolium. The species is known to be distasteful to predators. In Singapore, the Black Veined Tiger appears to be more common on Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin than on the main island.

Text by Khew SK : Phots by Sunny Chir, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Anthony Wong and Mark Wong.

18 April 2015

Chiangmai Expedition 2015 - Part 2

ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai Expedition 2015
Thailand - A Haven for Butterflies : Part 2

Continuing our story about ButterflyCircle's Chiangmai Expedition 2015...

Day 6

When you need to get that "perfect" shot, you need to endure contortionist poses as demonstrated by our lady ButterflyCircle member here

After our usual set breakfast at the Dome, we decided to head out to a small area near the Mae Jo University where we had quite a fruitful time shooting some rarities last March. This area had a stormwater pond surrounded by lush vegetation. Unfortunately, the area around the water bodies had been trimmed and the butterfly attracting plants were gone. There were the usual Arhopalas and some common butterflies around, but nothing that would match the excitement that our group had the past 3 days in Chiang Dao.

Disappointed, we decided to head back to Doi Suthep to see if we could spot some of the uncommon butterflies that were posted by a couple of our Thai friends on FaceBook. Our first stop back at the picnicking spot yielded a much poorer catch than our first day. Most of the species were nowhere to be found by the time we reached the favourite puddling spot around 11am in the morning. After entertaining a small bunch of Archdukes and some common Lycaenids, we hopped back into Antonio's car and headed up to the waterfall area.

Top : Grey Commodore (Bhagadatta austenia austenia)
Middle : Grey Count (Tanaecia lepidea cognata)
Bottom : Nonsuch Palmer (Creteus cyrina cyrina)

There appeared to be some activity, but no sign of the pristine Grand Duchess that was seen the day before. Even so, we encountered a couple of rare skippers and managed to shoot them as they were more cooperative puddling on the sand banks. Some luckier members of our group managed to shoot a Grey Commodore (Bhagadatta austenia austenia) whilst some Lethe spp kept the others busy.

Dinner at Maya Mall, and our three Amigos - one from Singapore, one from Malaysia and one from Thailand, posing with Pisuth's and Kirton's books at the bookstore

It was a rather disappointing outing for butterflies, both at Mae Jo and at Doi Suthep, so we decided to call it a day at around 3:30pm and drove back to Chiang Mai. Dinner was at the upmarket Maya Mall, a short walking distance from the Dome Hotel. The mall featured facilities that would match any Singapore regional malls, with branded goods and modern facilities. The next day would be the last full-day outing for the main group, and our destination would be the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon.

Day 7

The butterfly-hunting dozen, with Inayoshi-san and Les Day joining in the fun at Doi Inthanon

Up and about early on a Friday morning, the group looked forward in anticipation as we headed out to the tallest peak in Thailand. We were expecting at least an hour and a half drive to the area. This time around, we had Les and our Japanese butterfly expert, Inayoshi Yutaka with us. Cramming into the large 4x4 SUVs wasn't much of a problem and the 12 of us hoped to see the elusive Blue Oakleaf, which was supposed to be in season.

The trip up was rather uneventful, as we took in the sights along the winding road uphill. The parched and dry grassy landscape morphed into nice lush greenery as Antonio's GPS showed us breaching the 1,000m altitude level and up the mountain road. The environment cooled somewhat and we thanked our lucky stars for the clear blue skies above.

View of Siribhume Waterfall

Our first stop was the Siribhume Royal Garden. The nicely maintained gardens was impressive, and the group searched for butterflies amongst the lush greenery. We stopped at the Siribhume Waterfall and enjoyed the serene atmosphere in the cool morning air.

Top : Green Commodore (Sumalia daraxa daraxa)
Middle : Hairy Angle (Darpa hanria)
Bottom : Black Forester (Lethe vindhya vindhya)

There were some butterflies that kept the group busy. Of particular mention were the Green Commodore, Black Forester, Hairy Angle, and an uncooperative Brown Gorgon that refused to stop for us.

The attractive French Duke (Euthalia franciae raja)

We headed up to another location and parked our cars along the road verge to search for the Blue Oakleaf, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. Maybe next time. However, there were quite a few other attractive species that kept us busy. We also found a small number of the pretty French Duke, which obliged us by posing to show off its upperside and underside of its wings.

The Variable Sailor - a subspecies named after our Japanese expert, Yutaka Inayoshi

Of special mention was the Variable Sailor (Neptis zaida inayoshii), of which the subspecies found here at Doi Inthanon had the distinction of being named after our Japanese friend, Yutaka Inayoshi. Although skittish, the Variable Sailor appeared to be relatively common and we saw quite a number of individuals puddling along the pathways.

After having our fill of shooting the different species along the road (which was a bit hazardous because of the heavy traffic), we moved to our third location of the day. This time, we headed for another waterfall called Huay Saai Leung Falls. We saw more Variable Sailors here, some Jezebels, and many other species, but it was not easy to shoot them.

The Grand Duchess (Euthalia patala taooana), a Yellow Jezebel (Delias agostina agostina) and ButterflyCircle members queueing up patiently to get a shot of this attractive butterfly

The catch of the day at this location must be the Grand Duchess (Euthalia patala taooana) which was on Antonio's hit list. A cooperative female was puddling and all of us got our fill of shots of this usually skittish species. There were a few other individuals of this species in the area, but they were not too keen on getting photographed.

Buying strawberries and other local produce at a roadside row of stalls

Our day ended some time past 3:30 pm and we made our way downhill back towards Chiangmai. Along the way, we stopped at a fruit market to buy some of the local produce like fresh strawberries, nuts and other munchies.

We decided to have some local Thai cuisine in the evening, although our favourite seafood joint was closed. After cruising around the town, we stumbled on a restaurant that specialised in fish dishes. We had our fill of local gastronomic delights, washed down with Chang beer. The bill for the 10 of us came up to something like S$60 (with two towers of beer thrown in!). It's no wonder that many retirees from all over the world made Chiangmai their home to stretch their retirement dollar to the max!

Day 8

This was the final day of our trip, and our flight was scheduled at 5:30pm in the evening. Not willing to waste the morning, we had a quick breakfast and made a quick foray up to Doi Suthep for one last fling with the Thai butterflies. In light traffic, the journey from our hotel to Doi Suthep can be done in less than half an hour.

We reached the picnic ground next to the stream just after 8:30am, and waited for some action. It was still early and we saw a few of the 'resident' species in the cool morning air. The family of Archdukes, Knights and Barons were already active. A single Stately Nawab (Polyura dolon grandis) puddled cooperatively and posed for us to shoot it.

Top : White Punch (Dodona deodata deodata)
Middle : Tufted Jungle King (Thauria aliris intermedia)
Bottom shots : Four Bar Swordtail (Graphium agetes agetes)

Butterfly activity was much better today than it was, when we were at the same location two days ago. This time around, a Tufted Jungle King (Thauria aliris), a White Punch (Dodona deodata), a Shan Nawab (Polyura nepenthes), a Fourbar Swordtail (Graphium agetes) and a few Skippers turned up to visit the puddling grounds.

The Green Flash (Artipe eryx eryx)

We were pleasantly surprised by two Green Flashes (Artipe eryx) that appeared all of a sudden, and at least stopped long enough for us to take some record shots of them. This species is unique in that it features green undersides, and can camouflage itself very well amongst green foliage. So, on this last day of our expedition, we were rewarded with this elusive species!

A final group shot of the Singapore gang and Les Day at Doi Suthep

Just past noon, our group called it a day and drove back to Dome hotel to check out, grab a quick bite and head to the airport. The other group, led by Antonio, who were extending their stay in Chiangmai, went up to the mid-level waterfall to look for the Grey Commodore that was spotted the day before. After settling our hotel bills and checking out, we had a quick lunch and Antonio was kind enough to cut short his butterfly outing today and returned to the hotel to give us a warm send-off.

Bags all packed and ready to go home!

It was a fruitful trip for most of us, experiencing the high diversity and numbers of butterflies in Chiangmai province, and we were quite convinced that we will be back here again soon! Special thanks to Antonio, LC and Chng who did most of the driving, and to Antonio for making all the arrangements for accommodation, food and selecting the locations for us to visit.

Our gentle giant Italian tour guide par excellence, Antonio Giudici

For those of you butterfly enthusiasts who would like to make a trip to Chiangmai to enjoy its amazing butterfly diversity, please contact Antonio Giudici, our friendly Italian giant tour guide, via his website at www.antoniogiudici.com for his butterfly tours. You can be assured of very exciting and fruitful outings with Antonio, as we have experienced the past week, and he is an accomplished butterfly photographer himself!

Log on to Antonio's website to arrange for Butterfly Tours in Thailand

So, adios Chiangmai, and we will be back soon!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Antonio Giudici, Goh LC, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF and Simon Sng