18 July 2015

Butterfly of the Month - July 2015

Butterfly of the Month - July 2015
The Colonel (Pandita sinope sinope)

We have just edged past the halfway mark of the year 2015. A relatively quiet month so far, compared to the more tumultuous preceding months. The summer heat is upon us as Singapore's outdoor ambient temperatures move into the 30's - and made worse by the high humidity. On my short business trip to Delhi and Ranchi in India at the end of last month, I experienced even higher temperatures, although fortunately, the monsoon rains have just started there.

ButterflyCircle members had an enjoyable weekend at the Festival of Biodiversity 2015 at the end of June. More forthcoming community projects with NParks are on the cards, with the NParks Butterfly Count project in September. A challenging project, considering that it involves the general community and sightings of butterfly species in urban parks have to be recorded and counted. Unlike birds, sighting and identifying butterflies requires a bit more experience and training. It will be a good platform to learn how best to deal with field surveys with beginners.

On the local political front, the signs of general elections (GE) are in the air. A lot of chatter in social and mainstream media and speculation on when our PM is going to announce the date of the GE. In an era of greater awareness and a more educated electorate, Singapore is at a "first-world" level of democracy where high majorities for the ruling party are probably something that can no longer be expected. Again, food for thought, as we wait with bated breath for GE.

Across our northern border, the political arena is even more complex. Allegations of corruption of unprecedented proportions at the highest political office gripped Malaysians of all walks of life. Alleged "indisputable" evidence from a prominent western media giant pointed to large sums of money being misappropriated. Again, as the drama unfolds, this will be another significant event in the political history of Malaysia. We will have to wait and see what pans out.

Further drama was in the news in the global scene, when the Greeks voted on a referendum regarding the bailout conditions of their country's debt. On the economic scene in Asia, China's stock markets took a bashing dropping a third over the past month. It is no wonder that economic soothsayers are predicting more doom and gloom in the global economy - a situation that would no doubt affect Singapore as well.

Let's leave the worldly woes for awhile as we introduce our Butterfly of the Month for July 2015 - the Colonel (Pandita sinope sinope). This Nymphalidae is one of many species in the family that has been christened with military names. In my article on this blog some time back, I gave some possible reasons how this came to be.

A Colonel feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)

The Colonel is a mid-sized orange butterfly that may be considered moderately rare. However, it is quite local in distribution and often observed in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plants. Sporting an average wingspan of about 50mm, it is not an unusually large butterfly, and may be confused, when in flight, with several other orange-coloured butterflies.

The Colonel is a bright orange above, with the fore and hindwing bases shaded with brown streaks. The outer half of both the fore and hindwings is a prominent brown post-discal band and three dark submarginal lines. The underside is similarly marked, but lighter, with the basal wing area a greenish-grey.

The butterfly is skittish and active and flies with rapid beats of its wings and glides in a manner that is quite consistent with many related species in the sub-family Limenitidinae. Often it may be encountered at the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), on which it feeds greedily. In the early morning hours, it may be encountered gliding amongst the shrubbery and settling to sunbathe with its wings fully opened.

The full underside of the Colonel in this in-flight shot

It is a forest butterfly, and rarely observed in urban parks and gardens. At times, it takes on a territorial behaviour, returning repeatedly to a few favourite perches after flying around to explore its environment. When feeding, it also tends to move its wings often and is very alert. Any threatening movement by an observer will quickly spook it off to the treetops.

A newly-eclosed Colonel clinging on to its pupal shell

The complete life history of the Colonel can be found on this blog article. The host plant on which the species has been successfully bred in Singapore is Uncaria. It has also been bred in Malaysia on another plant - Nauclea subdita also from the Rubiaceae family.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Khew SK, Huang CJ, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Horace Tan and Mark Wong.