18 February 2017

Butterfly of the Month - February 2017

Butterfly of the Month - February 2017
The Plain Plushblue (Flos apidanus saturatus)

The first two months of 2017 have been interesting from a global perspective, as the world watched the 45th President of the USA Donald Trump dish out interesting, but controversial executive orders. These ranged from building a 1,000 mile wall between the US and Mexico and immigration orders that barred visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. There appears to be a shift to nationalistic and protectionist policies in many countries in the world today.

Whilst the rest of the world waits and wonders how all these changes in politics are going to affect each country's economy and trade, 2017 moves into a very uncertain and potentially tumultuous era as the Chinese population around the world heralded the year of the Fire Rooster. Predictions by soothsayers and geomancers from Nostradamus to local experts didn't have much positive news for the rest of the year. So it remains to be seen if their forecasts hold true.

Speaking of roosters, the Year of the Rooster didn't start too auspiciously for a group of free-ranging chickens in Singapore. Apparently acting on complaints of noise nuisance, about 20 of these birds were rounded up by the authorities and summarily culled. This raised the ire of local animal activists and the more tolerant public, which created a lot of buzz on social and mainstream media.

The rationale for the culling was later amended to public health safety reasons, but this appeared more of a bit of back-stepping by the authorities which didn't go down too well with the public. But the news of this fowl play provided quite a bit of chatter and amusement in cyberspace, and everyone, from the local coffeeshop auntie to our politicians gave their two cents worth on the matter.

Then a life was lost when a massive 270-year old Tembusu tree fell at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The tree, which was over 40m tall with a girth of 6.5m, had just been recently given a clean bill of health by government arborists, when it inexplicably uprooted, tilted over and crashed onto the hapless family who were waiting for a concert to start. Deepest condolences to the family of the deceased.

Investigations are ongoing, but this is going to leave a lot more questions than anyone has answers for, as the tree fell on a normal fair day (albeit it was an exceptionally windy day on that day). I can only hope that the authorities do not adopt a knee-jerk reaction and start chopping down our large and beautiful trees around our City in a Garden.

Our Butterfly of the Month for February 2017 is the Plain Plushblue (Flos apidanus saturatus). This is one of four species of Plushblues of the genus Flos that are extant in Singapore. It is the most regularly encountered of the four, and is moderately common. It can be encountered from our urban parks and gardens to the forested reaches of our nature reserves.

The male Plain Plushblue is deep blue-violet on the upperside, with a thin black forewing border. The female is a shining purple-blue with broad black borders on both wings. The upperside of this species is seldom seen nor photographed, except with the butterfly is encountered in the late evening hours of the day with the full sun shining at a low angle.

The underside of the species bears dark brown cryptic patterns with a purplish wash. There is a small reddish patch on the base of both wings that is more distinct in freshly-eclosed individuals. The hindwing bears a stubby white-tipped tail at vein 2 and is toothed at veins 1b and 3.

The butterfly is skittish and has a strong erratic flight when disturbed. The caterpillar of the Plain Plushblue feeds on a variety of host plants amongst which are two species of the Syzygium which are relatively common roadside bushes. Usually, the species is encountered singly either feeding on the sap of certain plants, on the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron or on flowering plants.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Billy Oh, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Anthony Wong