31 December 2016

2016 - Looking Back...

ButterflyCircle 2016 - Looking Back...
The Year in Review

2016 will probably be remembered as a year of surprising disruptions around the globe. It was also a year in which many talented musicians and artistes left us, leaving only fond memories of their achievements in music, film, art and so on. As I pen this final blog article for 2016 on the last day of the year, we take a look at the year's worth of information that was shared with the nature and butterfly-loving community.

The year started out pretty well for the butterflies, and was admittedly much better than 2015. However, there seems to be a perceptible decline in both numbers and diversity in Singapore compared to, say, a decade back. The environmentalists will probably point at the irreversible damage done by the relentless development across the island.

But then again, there are promising signs preserving more greenery in our environment and efforts in habitat enhancement and biodiversity conservation initiatives. I recall in the mid 1990's when I was doing butterfly surveys for the National Parks Board, the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus) was actually quite uncommon! The intentional planting of its caterpillar host plants in urban parks and gardens has made this species quite common today, and one can regularly see this pretty butterfly fluttering slowly in our parks and gardens.

Could climate change be another factor? After all, we did experience the 'hottest day' on record here (and globally) in 2016. With the constant increase in average ambient temperatures, how would the butterflies' ecological survival be under threat? Fortunately, the annual scourge called the "haze" didn't affect us much this year, as it appears that some concerted effort by the Indonesian government did some good to minimise the burning of forests by large corporations driven by commercial gain.

A butterfly survey at Pulau Ubin in 2016

In our review for 2015, we take a look back at the key activities that ButterflyCircle contributed to - from butterfly education, conservation and awareness-promoting activities. Our efforts continued to feature prominently in collaboration with NParks and community activities. This year, our buddy group from Nature @ Seletar Country Club lent a much-needed helping hand to our activities.

Our social media platform, the Butterflies of Singapore FaceBook Group, continues to be very active, with members from all over the world coming in to share their photos and passion for butterflies. Membership is almost 6,500 on the group, and there are many daily posts from enthusiasts from all over. The sharing and learning is useful to everyone who is keen to find out more about butterflies.

ButterflyCircle's forum is still maintained to store a repository of information, photos and discussions all the way back to 2004 when it was first started. Despite not being as active as before, historical discussions and identifications of new discoveries are useful to look back on for reference, as new information surfaces. We have to thank Dr TL Seow, whose expertise and keen eye for details has helped in a big way, in the identification of cryptic and hard-to-ID species. Thanks also to Anthony Wong, who helped set up the forum and maintaining it all these years.

The Butterflies of Singapore Blog continued to be a repository of butterfly-related articles which shared information, not only with the community in Singapore, but around the world . The blog, now into its 9th year, has featured over 800 informative articles to anyone with more than just a fleeting interest in butterflies - from biology to ecology to life histories to plants and photography.

To have the endurance and determination to maintain the blog takes a lot of effort. The research, sourcing for and selecting photographs, composing and writing takes quite a bit of single-mindedness and focus. Maintaining a steady flow of at least one article per week for 9 years is not easy. This is where I must always acknowledge the help of Horace Tan, who has penned so many articles in this blog, especially for his ever-popular life histories series.

The regular Butterfly of the Month series continues into its ninth year in 2016, and has thus far featured a total of 110 butterfly species. Every article features multiple photos of each species (featuring the excellent work by ButterflyCircle members) with a write-up that weaves in personal stories and observations, and more detailed descriptions of the feature butterfly of the month.

Our early stages expert, Horace Tan added nine more detailed and meticulous documentation of the life histories of Singapore butterflies this year. A total of 193 fully documented life histories are now featured on this blog - an awesome digital library of the early stages of butterflies that are "made in Singapore". Work on Vol 2 of the Caterpillars of Singapore's Butterflies is in progress.

Horace's series on the larval host plants of butterflies continues in 2016, with the detailed documentation of 7 local host plants that the caterpillars of various species of butterflies feed on. Each article comes with more detailed botanical data on the plant, as well as how the plant serves as a host for the caterpillars of various butterflies.

Two favourite butterfly nectaring plants in Singapore

We also featured two species of our butterflies' favourite nectaring plants - the Spanish Needle and Singapore Daisy. Both are considered "invasive weeds" but nevertheless packed with nectar that our winged jewels love. These two plants are found more commonly than before, as creators of new butterfly gardens in Singapore add them to their palette of butterfly-attracting plants.

ButterflyCircle's overseas outing group shots in 2016 (Beer usually features prominently at our meal sessions)

ButterflyCircle group outings also brought members to Fraser's Hill, Chiangdao, Betong and other places further up north. It has always been exciting to photograph new species and for that moment of euphoria when encountering that 'lifer' amongst the rarities that can be found in the forests of our neighbouring countries.  Special thanks, as always to Antonio our friendly Italian giant for facilitating our butterfly tours in Thailand.

Nature @ Seletar CC and ButterflyCircle at FOB2016

Our community engagement and education activities continued in 2016. This year, with added reinforcements from Mr Foo and his enthusiastic bunch from Nature @ Seletar CC group, we co-participated in many surveys, outings and talks. The 5th Festival of Biodiversity was helmed by Mr Foo and his gang, who put up a butterfly ID station as part of the activities of FOB2016.

Group outings and surveys in 2016

Together, ButterflyCircle and Nature@SCC also participated in the OBS Ubin Field Survey, Ubin Day 2016, a "Planting for Butterflies" talk at NParks' Parks Festival in November and the Ubin BioBlitz survey in early December. It was also encouraging to see the younger generation who are passionate about nature conservation and green issues, coming forward and being more active in environmental protection initiatives and projects.

Some of our featured butterfly watching/photography locations in Singapore

In our Butterfly Photography locations in Singapore, we introduce 4 good destinations for butterfly watching and photography this year - Seletar Country Club, Gardens by the Bay (Meadows), Fusionopolis North and Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. A separate article also discussed the "fall" of a previously good butterfly garden at Alexandra Hospital, which deteriorated badly due to the use of pesticides and neglect (from the butterfly habitat point of view).

Two articles about butterfly photography were also posted in 2016, as a primer to introduce butterfly photography to the community. These two articles featured the hardware that are used by ButterflyCircle members to capture the beauty of butterflies in scintillating and minute detail. More articles are being prepared and will be presented next year.

Latest discovery of the Dark Jungle Glory with indisputable evidence by Asst Prof James Lambert of the NIE

In terms of species addition to the Singapore checklist, a paper that is jointly written by Anuj Jain is currently under review and should be available in the scientific journal Biotropica in the coming year. In the paper, more species (mainly vagrant or single-sightings) were added to the checklist. One more species found in 2016, by Asst Prof James Lambert was a dead Dark Jungle Glory (Thaumantis noureddin noureddin) in Nanyang Technological University.

Some of the new additions to the Singapore Checklist in 2016

Over the years, Dr TL Seow has helped us identify a number of cryptic Arhopala and Hesperiidae and the following will be added to the checklist together with the larger species found in 2016 :

  1. The Bright Oakblue (Arhopala sublustris ridleyi) - bred by Horace Tan and ID'ed by Dr Seow TL
  2. The Large Cornelian (Deudorix staudingeri) by Anuj Jain
  3. The Purple Spotted Flitter (Zographetus ogygia ogygia) - recorded by Jerome Chua and Jonathan Soong in Sep 2012 and ID'ed by Dr Seow TL.
  4. The White Club Flitter (Hyarotis microsticta) by Yong Yik Shih
  5. The Ganda Dart (Potanthus ganda ganda) - spotted as early back as in 2011 on BC's forum and identified by Dr Seow TL.
  6. The Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis septentrionis) - finally a photographic evidence by Chung Cheong although this species has been seen before, but with no photo/specimen record.
  7. The Dark Jungle Glory (Thaumantis noureddin noureddin) by James Lambert
With these additions, further sightings and/or voucher specimens are necessary to validate their status in Singapore, under the paper's definitions of extant, migratory or vagrant. Although in the cases of the Bright Oakblue, Purple Spotted Flitter and Ganda Dart, these three are probably resident species which were overlooked due to their cryptic appearance. With these additions, the Singapore checklist now records a total of 331 species (up from 324 in 2015).

Two new cryptic Potanthus species - possibly P. juno (top) and P. mingo (bottom) which requires further investigation before being added to the Singapore Checklist in due course

There have been other cyptic Potanthus spp. that have been identified by Dr Seow TL as P. mingo, P. confucius, and P. juno, either bred or photographed and discussed in ButterflyCircle's forums, but we will leave these species out for the moment, until we have researched more into their IDs, and these, together with some Arhopala may be added to the checklist after further validation in due course.

Let's leave the bad memories of 2016 behind...

And on this final day of 2016, we look back at a rather tumultuous year with mixed feelings and wait in anticipation of a better and more peaceful 2017 ahead. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a resounding...
Happy New Year
... and may the world be a better place for everyone in 2017!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Chung Cheong, Antonio Giudici, Huang CJ, Khew SK, James Lambert, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong and Horace Tan

24 December 2016

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 7

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 7 : An Analysis and Discussion of Name Changes

What am I?  Silver Spotted Lancer or Chequered Lancer? 

This is the final part of this series, where we continue our discussion on some recent name changes/updates in the book, Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand by Dr Laurence Kirton. It is noted that many of the name "updates" were common names that reverted to the original common names found in Evans' "The Identification of Indian Butterflies" published by the Bombay Natural History Society in 1927. Back then, this reference was probably the most comprehensive work available in the butterfly world.

Dr Kirton's 2014 work. He proposed a number of common name changes in this book

Today, even scientific names have been updated and changed, with contemporary research, newly found information and technological advancements in taxonomic work. Some species that were not described yet in 1927 are constantly added on, as scientists and taxonomists continue to discover new information that conclusively distinguishes a species new to science.

Grandfather of butterfly references : 
Left : Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet and Pendlebury 1st Edition, 1934
Right : Identification of India Butterflies by WH Evans, 1927

Along the way, as more and more enthusiasts, hobbyists and citizen scientists produce more compelling evidence, more and more species/subspecies are added to checklists all around the world. At the same time, common names are coined in different countries - some new, some adaptations and permutations of species and subspecies names by hobbyists, amateur naturalists and butterfly watchers across the region.

Butterflies of Thailand by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay 2nd Edition, 2012

Today, with the exponential proliferation of websites, blogs and social media groups, the use of common names is even more widespread, as the more well-visited sites in cyberspace gaining more influence amongst the users. Would regular use of common names in cyberspace outpace printed material? Like news portals and the way information is processed and disseminated across the world, it would appear that digital media is getting higher traffic and exposure in the usage of common names of butterflies.

Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet and Pendlebury 4th Edition, 1992

Fortunately, the scientific taxonomic domain is still "safe" for now, where the latin names used to described species - new or otherwise, are more stable across geographies. Common English names, however, continue to vary across the countries, where a species may have different common names in different countries, or two different species may share the same common name.

A puddling Orange Awlet

In this last article discussing some of the changes in the Hesperiidae group, some thoughts about the names of particular species are shared and discussed. Let's start with the first genus, Burara (previously lumped under Hasora, and even further back, Ismene). The Orange Striped Awlet (formerly known as Ismene harisa harisa) back in Evans' time, is now called Burara harisa consobrina.

This is one species that has multiple confusion in its common names. This species is referred to as "Orange Awlet" in Malaysia (C&P1 through 4), India (BOI), Singapore (BOS1. BOS2) and Thailand (BOT2), with the Thai book naming it "Common Orange Awlet".  The original name Orange Striped Awlet by Evans has now been more regularly used for another species, Burara jaina, in Butterflies of India, Butterflies of Thailand and several other online websites.

In the general scheme of such naming, it may be futile to revert to Evans' original name. Hence it may be "safer" to retain the name "Orange Awlet" for Burara harisa across the region, as many references and through common usage, the name has received greater acceptance - even as far back as 1934 when Corbet and Pendlebury already used this name for Burara harisa in their Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 1st Edition. Paul van Gasse, in his 2013 "Butterflies of India : Annotated Checklist" also used Orange Awlet for Burara harisa as well.

Excerpt from Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet and Pendlebury, 1st Edition, 1934

Recommendation : Burara harisa should be named Orange Awlet and the original name by Evans, Striped Orange Awlet be reserved for the species Burara jaina.

Hieroglyphic Flat or Polygon Flat?

The next species of interest, the unique Odina hieroglyphica ortina, carried the name "Polygon Flat" in Evans' book. In Dr Kirton's book, he used this name for this species. Prior to this, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay in his 2006 Butterflies of Thailand 1st Edition, used Hieroglyphic Flat to name this species. Subsequently Butterflies of Singapore 1st Edition (2010) and 2nd Edition (2015) and Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition (2012) continued the use of Hieroglyphic Flat for Odina hieroglyphica.

Many Indian references used Evans' name for this species - Polygon Flat. This is where there may be some confusion with regard to the name of this species. A quick search on Google and other search engines did not turn up many sites referring to this species as "Polygon Flat". Whilst the jury may be out on this butterfly's common name, at least 4 hardcopy references in Singapore and Thailand have already commonly used the name Hieroglyphic Flat for this species - perhaps a convenient association to its scientific name hieroglyphica.

Recommendation : Whilst the original name Polygon Flat is still used in some literature for the species Odina hieroglyphica, it appears that the more commonly used name of Hieroglyphic Flat, particularly in Southeast Asian references, will carry on and may become the preferred common name for this species.

An Ultra Snow Flat feeding on the flowers of the Pagoda Plant

The next "flat" to be renamed by Dr Kirton is Tagiades ultra. This species did not exist during Evans' era and hence there was no common name associated with it. Dr Kirton suggested the name "Burmese Snow Flat" for this species. A name search online does not turn up any other references to this new name coined for this species.

Southeast Asian and Indian references like BOT1, BOT2, BOS1, BOS2 and Paul van Gasse's checklist consistently refer to the species Tagiades ultra as the "Ultra Snow Flat". Here again, the association with the species' scientific name ultra probably gave some logic to its eventual English common name. For a species which has no prior reference back in 1927, it is not likely that "Burmese Snow Flat" in a single publication will take priority over Ultra Snow Flat.

Recommendation : The species Tagiades ultra should be named Ultra Snow Flat.

Am I a Starry Bob?

The next species, Iambrix stellifer was referred to as the Malay Chestnut Bob in Evans and Paul van Gasse's checklist for the Indian region. Pisuth (BOT1, BOT2) also refers to the same species as Malay Chestnut Bob, probably taking reference from the Indian literature. Dr Kirton uses the name Malayan Chestnut Bob, consistent with his stand that butterflies should not be named after an ethnic group.

Thus far, only the Singapore butterfly enthusiasts use the name "Starry Bob" for this species. The background of the name is unclear, and I cannot recall how this name came to be associated with this species. Hence the original name of Malay Chestnut Bob should be retained for the species Iambrix stellifer since the majority of published literature and web resources refer to it as such.

Recommendation : The species Iambrix stellifer should revert to its original common name Malay Chestnut Bob to keep in synch with the name used in the Indian and Southeast Asian references. The regular usage of Starry Bob may continue for some time to come, although this species is not common and would limit usage in general.

The genus Plastingia is represented by two species - naga and pellonia in the region. Again, there does not appear to be any consensus on the English common name across the various published literature. Evans refers to P. naga as the Silver Spotted Lancer, a name which Dr Kirton reverted to. Indian references use the same name. In Thailand, it is Silver Spot Lancer. In Singapore, it is referred to as Chequered Lancer.

The other species has an even wider variety in its common name. It is called Straw Spotted Lancer by Evans (in his time, the species was known as tessellata with pellonia as a synonym). Most Indian references and the Thai reference calls it the Yellow Lancer. Dr Kirton calls it the Saffron-spotted Lancer. A recent Indian publication by Isaac Kehimkar refers to it as the Yellow Chequered Lancer, the same name that it is called in Singapore.

Straw Spotted Lancer, Yellow Lancer, Saffron-Spotted Lancer or Yellow Chequered Lancer?  You choose! 

And there you have it, four different common names for a single species! Whilst there is unlikely to be any consensus on the names across different countries, the preferred name will probably be a result of regular usage in cyberspace, moving forward. There is probably no "right" name this point in time.

Recommendation : The two species "pair", Plastingia naga and Plastingia pellonia have a series of different common names across the region. In Singapore, we will more likely retain the paired names of Chequered Lancer (for P. naga) and Yellow Chequered Lancer (for P. pellonia) for simplicity.

Should I be called Besta Palm Dart or Chinese Palm Dart?

At this juncture, I will conclude this series of discussions, even as we strive to rationalise some of the English common names across different geographies. Whilst the experts will advocate the use of scientific names to avoid any confusion, it is unlikely that amateurs and hobbyists will, anytime soon, use solely taxonomic names. The use of common names will probably encourage hobbyists and amateurs to pick up butterfly watching and then progress to the more accurate scientific names in due course.

Palm Dart or Bright Orange Palm Dart?

There are more species that have different common names across different references, depending on the origin of the country/author. And the discussion is limited to English common names only. If we include Chinese, Thai or Indian common names, the subject becomes even more complex!

Giant Skipper or Chinese Banana Skipper?

Of course, the ideal solution will be to get every single butterfly watcher, enthusiast, photographer and expert alike to use only proper scientific names. But that is probably a futile task, as would we, as comparison, expect every bird watcher, enthusiast, photographer and ornithologist to call out Pycnonotus goiavier each time they spot a Yellow Vented Bulbul?

Spotted Grass Dart or Malayan Grass Dart?

And so I end this series of discussions that was prompted by the book "Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand" published by Dr Kirton, and for which several name changes were made in the book that were different from those in common use. The debate will continue, and it is unlikely that there will be any resolution. So let us continue to enjoy our winged jewels in harmony, irrespective of the common names that we are familiar with, in our respective countries.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by May Chan, James Chia, Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Nona Ooi, Tan BJ and Horace Tan

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
[BOS1] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2010
[BOS2] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2015
[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
[BOIAC] Butterflies of India : An Annotated Checklist by Paul van Gasse, 2013
[BOI] Butterflies of India, Isaac Kehimkar, Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, 2016