16 December 2017

Butterfly of the Month - December 2017

Butterfly of the Month - December 2017
The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus)

Ten years ago, in December 2007, we started the Butterfly of the Month series with our first feature butterfly, the beautiful Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hysina). This month, December 2017 we mark a milestone for this series, after featuring a total of 122 species of butterflies found in Singapore. (inclusive of this month's feature species). So we celebrate a decade of Singapore's butterflies and look forward to featuring more of our flying jewels.

December is always a month for festivities and the year-end holidays. Shopping malls, offices and even the public roads along the main shopping belts in Singapore are decorated with pretty lights and cheery Christmas decorations. The cooler winter breezes and daily rains also make the ambient temperatures feel a lot like Christmas, even though Singapore is unlikely to see any real snow for a long time to come!

Even as we enjoy the holiday season, indulge in good food and great company of friends and family, many countries continue to be on high alert for acts of terrorism during the year-end festivities. And just when you least expect it, incidents such as the recent New York Times Square bomb attack brings back the reality that there extremists out there and no amount of vigilance and surveillance by the authorities can eliminate them completely. Over the years, travellers have come to terms with terror attacks as an inevitable part of life, including travelling overseas.

In global news, North Korea continues to take centre stage, as it successfully launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that it claims can potentially reach any city in the US. The Trump Administration, on the other hand made news (and a lot of unhappy people) when it announced that it will henceforth recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

On the environmental front, Singapore saw its first electric car-sharing company starting operations this month with 80 "blue cars" and about 30 charging stations. Similar to the bike-sharing scheme which can be popularly seen all over Singapore today, this electric car-sharing scheme will be the pioneer of car mobility in our sharing economy. The scheme is operated by BlueSG, a subsidiary of the French Bollore group, which launched the world’s largest and most successful car sharing, Autolib’ in Paris. The plan is to reach a total of 1,000 BlueSG electric vehicles in Singapore, which may appeal to those who do not think it is feasible to pay an arm and a leg for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) and the attendant high costs of car ownership in Singapore.

A Common Snow Flat feeding on the flower of Syzygium tree

Our feature butterfly for December 2017 is a rather drab Hesperiidae, predominantly brown on its upperside and bluish-white scaling on the undersurfaces of its hindwing. The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus) is moderately common in Singapore where it is usually found along the edges of Singapore's forested nature reserves, hill parks and wastelands.

This species belongs to the subfamily Pyrginae often referred to as Flats and Spread-Winged Skippers, indicating the open-winged posed of the butterflies when at rest or when feeding. The majority are fast-flyers, zipping rapidly around, and then stopping to rest with their wings opened flat on the undersides of leaves. The Snow Flats, of which there are four species from the genus Tagiades in Singapore, have whitened hindwings, which when in flight, makes the butterfly appear much smaller than it actually is.

The underside of the hindwing of the Common Snow Flat is suffused with bluish white scaling

The Common Snow Flat is pale brown on the upperside of its wings, with dark brown patches and spots on both wings. There are small sub-apical and post-discal hyaline spots on the forewings which are larger in the female than in the male. The underside of the hindwing is suffused with bluish-white scaling and appears almost whitish when in flight.  The head, thorax and abdomen of the species is strongly whitened on the underside.

A Common Snow Flat rests with its wings opened flat on the underside of a leaf

The species' habit of stopping under leaves to rest makes it challenging to photograph. However, there are times of the day with it sunbathes on the upper surfaces of leaves with its usually open-winged post. Occasionally, when there are Syzygium trees flowering, there may be several individuals of the Common Snow Flat visiting the flowers to feed. In the early morning hours, they may be seen feeding on the flowers of plants like the Chinese Violet (Asystasia gangetica).

The Common Snow Flat is occasionally observed to feed on bird droppings on leaves or on the ground. It is rarely observed puddling at damp streambanks although other species in the subfamily have been seen to puddle more often than this species.

The local caterpillar host plant of the Common Snow Flat is of the Dioscorea spp. - a climbing vine that is more often found in the forested areas than in urban parks and gardens. The host plant is also shared by at least two other species of the genus.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Goh LC, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Benjamin Yam.