27 May 2018

Butterfly of the Month - May 2018

Butterfly of the Month - May 2018
The Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei)

A Common Posy sharing the sweet secretions of a young shoot of the Bandicoot Berry plant with some ants

The month of May is almost over as we look back at a rather interesting period of global and political precedents in a world that is more fraught with uncertainties these days. After a flurry of nuclear tests and a show of aggression and disregard for any possibility of hostilities with the US, North Korea's President Kim suddenly did a turnaround and agreed to an inter-Korean summit with his southern counterpart.

That historic meeting was the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953 that a North Korean leader stepped foot in South Korea. The summit focused on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, peace establishment and mutual cooperation. An agreement known as the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula and was signed by both leaders in the South Korean border village of Panmunjom.

A male Common Posy sunbathing with open wings and showing its blue hindwings

What followed was an announcement that the North Korean leader would meet the US President for a dialogue on denuclearisation. This meeting would take place on 12 Jun in Singapore. However, subsequent events continue to put into doubt whether the meeting would take place. The US then cancelled the meeting. In a surprising turn, another unannounced inter-Korean meeting was held on 26 May - the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again summit on track.

President Trump said in a Twitter post late on Friday: "We are having very productive talks about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date." And once again, Singapore may be put on the world map again, with this historic meeting in the making. It is probably quite chaotic for those who are involved in preparing for this US-North Korean summit, with the current diplomatic flip-flops, and we wonder if the meeting will really happen on our little island in the sun or not!

A female Common Posy showing its upperside

The other bit of news that caught a lot of people by surprise, was the results of the Malaysian General Elections. Having grown up in Malaysia, I would never have imagined that the "balanced scales" logo of the Barisan Nasional, the ruling political party in Malaysia, would no longer be associated with the Malaysian government. Helmed by the 92-year old former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan swept into power on 9 May 2018.

A newly eclosed Common Posy clinging on to its empty pupa case

This marked a historic defeat for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which had been the governing party of Malaysia and its predecessor state, Malaya, since the country's independence in 1957. The groundswell and unhappiness at the alleged unbridled corruption was underestimated by the ruling party and caught Prime Minister Najib Razak by surprise. More drama followed after investigations into the allegations of corruption and ill-gotten wealth were reopened. It has yet to be played out to a conclusion, and Malaysians from all walks of life will have to wait to see what will happen in the coming weeks or months.

A mating pair of Common Posy

Moving back to our more peaceful world of butterflies, we feature a pretty and colourful Lycaenid as our Butterfly of the Month for May 2018. The Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei), a tailed Lycaenid, is a relatively common species that is mainly associated with Singapore's forested nature reserves. It is rarely seen in urban parks and gardens. The species prefers the forested environment in Singapore.

A Common Posy on the young shoot of the Bandicoot Berry

Where it occurs, the Common Posy can sometimes be common, where several individuals may be seen together, fluttering in the shady forest habitats. The species loves the young shoots of the forest shrub, Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) where it feeds on the sugary sap of these young shoots.

The Common Posy has a weak hopping flight, usually stopping on the tops of leaves with its wings folded upright to rest. However, at certain times of the days in hot sunny weather, both the males and females of this species have been regularly observed to open their wings opened flat to sunbathe.

Upperside of the male (top) and female (bottom) Common Posy

The male Common Posy has a dark brown forewing on the upperside, and a bright blue hindwing. The female is a paler brown with traces of an orange discal patch on the forewing. The tornal area of the hindwing is bluish-grey with several black spots.

The underside of both sexes is a rich orange on the forewing with some dark bars. The white hindwing is marked with solid black bands and spots. The hindwing has three white tails at veins 1b, 2 and 3, of which the tail at vein 2 is the longest of the three. The tornal area of the hindwing features two black spots and a patch of iridescent blue scales.

Interestingly, the caterpillars of the Common Posy has been successfully bred on no fewer that five local host plants. Amongst these host plants are Saraca cauliflora, Desmos chinensis, Dimocarpus longan, Lithocarpus elegans and Agelaea macrophylla. It is highly likely that there may be more host plants that the caterpillars of this species feed on.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by May Chan, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong and Benjamin Yam

19 May 2018

Butterfly Photography Series - Part 3

Butterfly Photography Series
Digital Post-Processing - Part 3 : Photo Retouching using Clone Stamp Tool

In this 3rd instalment of our Digital Post-Processing series, ButterflyCircle member Loh Mei Yee will share her digital techniques to remove minor unwanted elements in a photo and how to clean up the background of a shot to bring out the subject of the shot using Photoshop tools. Over to Mei Yee....

In Part 1 and Part 2 of our Digital Post-Processing series, I shared how to enhance photos using mainly Nik plug-ins to remove noise, sharpen images, adjust brightness and contrast, and cropping photos. In the following 2 parts of this series, I will be showing how to remove unwanted elements and how to clean up the background with the use of Photoshop tools like the ‘Clone Stamp Tool’ and ‘Layer Mask’.

Photo retouching…is it necessary? When we are out photographing butterflies, our goal is to do as much “right” in the camera as possible so that we won’t need to do too much “fixing” in post-processing later. As for me, I will always try to achieve clean or blurred background, so that the butterfly is isolated from its environment, leading the viewers’ eyes to the main subject of the shot - the butterfly. But when we are out in the field, there are things that we cannot control, like where the butterfly lands. We may end up with photos having distracting elements like a twig, a branch, leaves or glaring spots caused by the sun.

Photography purists will argue that photographs should never be altered in any way and that they should retain their authenticity. However, some photographers would prefer to have these elements to be removed to make the photo look more pleasant. Good post-processing can bring out the character of the photograph, making a good photo a better one. There is no “right” or “wrong” in photography, everyone has different preferences, we just have to do it in an “ethical” way.

Below are 3 examples of what can be achieved in Photoshop, from minor manipulation like removing some small distracting elements to a more major make-over.

#1 : Example of a minor touch-up with only the flower of the grass being removed.

#2 : A little more work was done here with unwanted elements removed, distracting hotspots/highlights and background smoothened out.

#3 : A major clean-up on the background to remove contrasty patches, distracting elements and hotspots.

Firstly, let’s talk about the Clone Stamp Tool. The Clone Stamp Tool allows you to duplicate or clone images. The process involves setting a sampling point in the image which will be used as a reference to create a new cloned area.

Open your file in Photoshop. From the Toolbar, choose the Clone Stamp Tool.

Under the “brush preset picker”, you can choose either soft feathery edged brush or hard edged brush. Frist, let’s try the soft feathery edged brush.

Set a sampling point by holding Alt key (for PC) or Opt key (for mac).

Click on the area you want to clone (without holding any key on the keyboard). The cloned image has a soft feathery edged.

Next, let’s try the hard edged brush.

You can see that the cloned image has a hard edge.

The distant between the sampling areas and the new cloned areas remains the same if they are cloned without setting new sampling point.

Only pixels within the brush will be picked up for cloning. A small brush size picks up a smaller area for cloning.

A large brush picks up a larger area for cloning.

Another convenient way to change the brush size is to hold ‘Alt + right-click’ (for PC) or ‘Opt + Ctrl + click’ (for mac) on your mouse and drag to the right to increase the brush size and drag to the left to decrease the brush size.

Removing the flower buds on the left. Set a sampling point on the green background and clone stamp on the flower buds.

Continue setting new sampling points as needed and continue cloning.

Continue cloning until the flower buds disappear.

I have also summarised the digital processing technique of using the Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop for removing minor unwanted elements and cleaning the background of your shots in a simple video below.

Watch in HD for better quality.

We have come to the end of Part 3 tutorial. In the next and final article, I will be showing how to use Layer Mask in Photoshop for photo retouching. See you in the next article!

Text and Photos by Loh Mei Yee

Previous articles in this series :

Digital Post-Processing - Part 1 : Basic Post Processing
Digital Post-Processing - Part 2 : Noise Reduction

12 May 2018

Sexual Dimorphism - Part 2

Sexual Dimorphism in Butterflies : Part 2
Featuring Male-Female Differences

A mating pair of Common Mormon.  Female on top.

In Part 2 of our discussion on sexual dimorphism in butterflies, we take a look at the latter two categories of differences between male-female butterflies. We now evaluate examples of butterfly species that fall into the "Distinct" and "Exaggerated" categories of dimorphism. In Part 1 of our article, we considered the four broad categories as :

1) Negligible : Males and Females appear so similar that it takes a bit more effort to scrutinise secondary characteristics closely to ascertain and differentiate between the males and females.
2) Subtle : Males and Females appear similar but there are minor giveaways that can instantly distinguish between the males and females
3) Distinct : There are clear differences between males and females that a glance will be able to separate between the two sexes in these species.
4) Exaggerated : The males and females of these species of butterflies appear so different that one could even assume that they are two different species.

In many butterfly species that are distasteful to predators, the males and females look alike. The theory is that sexual dimorphism is unnecessary as the female does not need any protection via mimicry or camouflage to avoid predator attacks. However, there are also many exceptions to this.

Before we take a look at some butterfly species that display sexual dimorphism that can immediately distinguish between the male and female, let us first consider the evolutionary reasons why dimorphism happens. Not all species of butterflies share the same rate of evolution. And in many cases, do not even need to evolve to differentiate the male and female of the same species.

Whilst the female butterfly stops to lay eggs, it is temporarily vulnerable to predator attacks. This may be one of the reasons why the females of some species use mimicry or camouflage to mitigate risk of attacks whilst it goes about its business.

In natural selection, the evolution of the physical appearances of organisms is often related to adapting itself for survival and procreation. In the animal kingdom, quite unlike us humans, the males are usually more colourful and attractive, compared to the females. It is no different for the majority of species amongst butterflies. One may wonder why this is the case. Females have the role of laying eggs to ensure the continuity of the species. However, whilst it is carrying out this role, females of butterfly species are often vulnerable to predators. This may be one of the reasons why the female butterfly has evolved and adapted through strategies of mimicry and camouflage to mitigate the risk of being attacked and killed whilst she is ovipositing.

In many Lycaenidae species, the males are often brightly coloured on the uppersides, with iridescent blues, greens and other attractive colours. Females tend to be drably coloured - brown, greys and colours that do not call unnecessary attention to themselves.

Hence in butterflies, the females of many species tend to be more drab and 'unattractive' compared to the males. The colours of the wings of many female butterflies have evolved to avoid attracting unnecessary attention to themselves. This is more prevalent in species that are not distasteful and do not enjoy the protection of having the ability to sequester plant toxins from the leaves that their caterpillars eat.

The Common Mormon's female (right), according to Wallace, mimics the distasteful Common Rose for protection.

The evolutionary process of sexual dimorphism in some species is explained by A.R. Wallace who postulated that the phenomenon of "sex-limited mimicry" where the mimetic resemblance could be limited to the female sex of the species. He continued to explain, with particular reference to the female of the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) that "the female needs to survive for longer for oviposition".

A mating pair of Wanderer, where the female mimics the distasteful Yellow Glassy Tiger and even flies like it. The male, on the other hand, has the erratic and swift flight of a typical Pieridae butterfly.

Mallet and Joron (1999) argue that, for example, females may need to engage in mimicry because selection of oviposition sites requires slow flight, and one way to be protected while flying slowly is to mimic the colour patterns of typically slow-flying and chemically defended aposematic species. An example of the dimorphism is the Wanderer (Pareronia valeria lutescens), where the male is brightly coloured, but the female resembles the distasteful Danainae, the Yellow Glassy Tiger (Parantica aspasia aspasia) and indeed, even copies the flight characteristics of the Yellow Glassy Tiger! The male on the other hand, flies rapidly like other Pierids.

Female (left) and Male (right) of the Purple Duke (Eulaceura osteria kumana) displaying sexual dimorphism

In other species, sexual dimorphism takes on a different strategy where the females evolve to camouflage themselves to avoid predation. The female butterflies then adapt their colours and patterns on their wings to blend in with the habitats which it prefers. Generally, the evolutionary mechanisms in sexual dimorphism tends to drive adaptations in females of butterfly species towards making the females less obvious to predators.

The Malay Baron (Euthalia monina monina) - One female (centre), many male 'morphs' including variations in colours and patterns

And then there are species that have dimorphism and even polymorphism between the sexes that have apparently no rationale. However, nature always holds mysteries that we humans may not always have an answer for. Further research and field observations will certainly be necessary to unveil answers to some of these mysteries that are currently not so obvious. Let us now take a look at some of the sexual dimorphism of various butterfly species that fall in the categories of "distinct" or "exaggerated" either dorsally, ventrally or even both.

Sexual Dimorphism (Distinct differences)

The large black spots on the hindwing of the female Common Birdwing is distinctive in separating the males and females of this species.

Amongst the Papilionidae, there are a few species that display distinct differences between the males and females of the species. A glance at these obvious differences will immediately establish whether it is a male or female. An example is the Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus). The female possesses a series of large black submarginal spots on the hindwing that makes it distinct from the male.

The Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus) is unique in that the more obvious female form-polytes, features red spots on the hindwing that makes it look immediately different from the male. The dimorphism in this female form of the Common Mormon is believed to mimic the distasteful Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris) for protection. However, it is still a mystery why the other female form-cyrus, which resembles the male, still exists.

Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor) - One male, many female 'morphs'. The various female forms mimic other distasteful Papilionidae species. However, in Singapore, all the other distasteful 'models' have since gone extinct. Hence the protection that the female of this species hopes to get from mimicry is therefore irrelevant. Further evolution in the works?

In terms of sexual dimorphism, another Papilionidae species of interest is the Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor). In this species the differences between the male and female are even more interesting in that the female is polymorphic - having no fewer than 5 different female forms recorded in Singapore. In the case of the Great Mormon, the female forms mimic various distasteful species like the Malayan Batwing and Common Clubtail. In at least one female form-distantianus, the dimorphism can be considered exaggerated as the differences between male and female are so extreme as to suggest a different species.

Leopard Lacewing - male (left) female (right) show distinct differences between the sexes

An example of Nymphalidae that displays distinct differences between the sexes would be the Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane). The colour difference on the upperside of the wings of the female distinguishes it from the male quite easily. As the Leopard Lacewing is known to be distasteful to predators, the sexual dimorphism is probably unnecessary. Hence there may be other reasons why the female has evolved to look different from the male.

One of the uncommon examples of distinct sexual dimorphism in Hesperiidae. The family shows the least amount of dimorphism between the sexes. Is it because they are crepuscular? Or they use their tremendous speed to escape predation even whilst the female is ovipositing? Food for thought!

There is very little sexual dimorphism displayed amongst the majority of species in the Hesperiidae family. One example that comes to mind is Quedara monteithii monteithii, where the female's striking forewing white band sets her apart from the drab unmarked dark brown male. When seen individually, the female may be mistaken for another species - the Banded Demon.

Sexual Dimorphism (Exaggerated differences)

A rare gynandromorph (half male, half female) example of the Archduke that was found in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  It was reported that the butterfly aviary imported pupae from the Penang Butterfly Farm (now called Entopia).

In this category of dimorphism, we investigate species in which the males and females are so significantly different in appearance that it would be understandable if a casual observer would assume that they are two different species. Whilst not many species fall into this category, those that do, exhibit this spectacular and interesting dimorphism between the sexes.

Female (left) Male (right) of the Chocolate Albatross (Appias lyncida vasava)

The Striped Albatross displays exaggerated sexual dimorphism in that the males and females look like different species

To the uninitiated, the male (left) and female (right) of the Wanderer may be mistaken for two different species of butterflies. Even the flight characteristics are different, besides the colours, patterns and wing shapes between the sexes

There are some examples amongst the Singapore Pieridae that display this level of dimorphism. Of note are the Striped Albatross, Chocolate Albatross and Wanderer, each of which shows significant differences between males and females of the species.

Male (left) and Female (right) Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella) showing exaggerated differences in sexual dimorphism.

This exaggerated dimorphism occurs more often amongst the species in the subfamily Nymphalidae. Amongst the more interesting examples are the Cruiser, Horsfield's Baron, Green Baron and Archduke just to feature a few.

Another example of the sexes that look very different from each other - Horsfield's Baron. Male (left) Female (right)

In the Horsfield's Baron, the female has evolved to appear similar to several related species like the Malay Baron and Malay Viscount. Whilst it has no apparent benefit in mimicking these other species, it is believed that the drab colouration may help to reduce attention to itself, compared to the male's more contrasting and bright blue wing margins.

Male (top) Female (bottom) of the Green Baron. The dimorphism extends to size as well, where the males are obviously smaller than the females.

Similarly, the Green Baron's female appears different in wing shape, pattern, colour and even size - both dorsally and ventrally. Again, it is not quite understood as to how the evolution of this dimorphism may be beneficial to both sexes. Studies have not yet been conclusive as to whether the Green Baron is distasteful to predators or not, since it shares its caterpillar host plant with the Painted Jezebel (which is known to be distasteful).

The Archduke is a classic example of exaggerated sexual dimorphism where the male and female appear very different from each other. Male (left) Female (right)

The Archduke's sexual dimorphism can be considered an exaggerated case where the male looks totally different from the female. It is likely that the female's spotted appearance helps it to camouflage itself on the forest floor amidst the dappled sunlight amongst forest litter, where it usually forages for food. Whilst the underside of both sexes is quite similar, the dorsal patterns and colours of the Archduke makes it a striking example of exaggerated dimorphism.

Lycaenids tend to display dorsal (upperside) differences in colours and patterns on their wings. On the ventral (underside), however, the sexual dimorphism differences may be very subtle

Moving on to the Lycaenidae, the evolutionary path of sexual dimorphism appears to direct the differences towards the dorsal appearance between the sexes. Many species are almost identical ventrally but the main difference occurs on the uppersides of the butterflies. Many of the females amongst the sub-family Theclinae are drab, brown and unmarked, whilst the more showy males display iridescent greens and blues on the uppersides.

The degree to which each species displays sexual dimorphism and the reasons for this evolutionary process does not always fit within specific rules. Whilst in some cases, they fall into the postulation that AR Wallace describes - sexually-selected mimicry to avoid predation, and in other cases, the drab colours of the females avoid calling attention to themselves, there are examples of sexual dimorphism in some species that defy simple explanations.

The examples of sexual dimorphism featured in this article is by no means exhaustive nor is the article intended to be scientifically conclusive by any measure.  If anything, it probably leaves more questions than answers, but it serves to elicit further thought and discussions. It is left to further research and continued field observations to unravel some of these mysteries and for both professional and citizen scientists to record these observations for discussion. Until then, it is unlikely that there is a single answer to explain all aspects of sexual dimorphism (and polymorphism) in butterflies.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Rey Aguila, Isa Betancourt, James Chia, Bob Cheong, Antonio Giudici, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Terry Ong, Horace Tan, Lemon Tea, Anthony Wong

Sexual Dimorphism in Butterflies Part 1