30 December 2018

2018 - Looking Back

ButterflyCircle 2018 - Looking Back...
The Year in Review

Looking towards 2019 - clear blue skies ahead in the new year?

As the last few days of 2018 are winding down and a fresh new year is nigh, we take a look back at the year and reflect on how the butterfly scene has been in Singapore, and what ButterflyCircle, as an informal online group has shared and contributed to add to the knowledge about butterflies. It has been a relatively quiet year, although stable, in terms of overall butterfly activity over the months.

This blog continues with its article-a-week journey, sharing information about butterflies, ranging from taxonomy to photography. Now into its 11th year, the total number of individual blog articles now stands at 907, including this one. Perhaps, when the number of articles reaches 1,000, it will be time to take a long break?

We started 2018 with our series articles on the collective groups of butterflies by their English common names. Over the course of the year, we showcased the Jays, Judys, Sergeants, Sailors, Helens, Lancers and Snow Flats found in Singapore. Known by their easier-to-remember common names, these articles compared the individual species in these groups of butterflies and diagnostic features elaborated to help ID them in the field.

The long-running Butterfly of the Month series continued, with a feature butterfly each month and discussing the species with more photos and in more detail. As at Dec 2018, this blog has showcased 134 species as its monthly centrefold butterfly, collecting photos from members of ButterflyCircle and featuring their excellent work via the monthly articles.

Aberrant butterflies

Sexual dimorphism in butterflies

And then we had some technical discussions on evolutionary attributes of butterflies, with articles on the phenomenon of aberrations in butterfly appearances that produce individuals that differ from the conventional or typical physical appearance of a species. We also highlighted species that display sexual dimorphism in that the males and females of a single species have adapted themselves and appear so differently as to suggest that they are of totally different species.

Labial palps of butterflies

The technical series on butterfly morphology continued with a feature article on the labial palps of the butterfly. The article discussed observations on the differences in shape, size and other physical characteristics of this important appendage of a butterfly - which is part of its olfactory sensory system.

Butterfly subspecies

Anatomical terminology of butterflies

New discussions on taxonomy covering the definition and details of "subspecies" in butterflies were featured in a blog article. Also, due to popular request from newbie enthusiasts who were struggling with taxonomic and scientific terminology, a 4-part series on Butterfly Anatomy was written (complete with annotated diagrams) to help the layman butterfly watcher deal with these terms in a much simpler way.

Our Life History articles featured only 2 species this year, as our early stages expert, Dr Horace Tan, is finding it more difficult to source new material for the immature stages of butterfly species in Singapore. We have, thus far, documented a total of 195 species' life histories on this blog, the majority of which are Horace's hard work. Two species, the Cabbage White and the Banded Yeoman were featured in 2018.

Continuing the Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring plants series, we added 2 more nectaring plants to the list, the Spicate Eugenia and Peacock Flower, bringing the total featured plants to 16. We continued the series with other assorted flowering plants that butterflies occasionally visit, but not always as attractive as those earlier featured. This brings the total flowering plant species that butterflies feed on, to 22 plants on this blog's archives.

Photographic digital post-processing articles

For the first time, we started a digital photography post-processing series for our butterfly photography enthusiasts. Written by ButterflyCircle member Loh Mei Yee, who is, herself a very accomplished butterfly photographer, the 4-part series covers some basic tips and tricks using post-processing software and the digital workflow to make your photos look better!

Sharing session by NParks on Butterfly Phenology studies and surveys

We also looked at the seasonal appearances of certain species of butterflies and discussed the phenomenon of seasonality in butterfly observations. NParks also conducted a sharing session on butterfly phenology studies in Singapore and analysing the survey results from butterfly survey data conducted by the public. Further surveys will continue, and hopefully the data collected will form a good base on which management and development strategies of our parks can be made.

Speaking of our local parks and gardens that are good locations to spot butterflies and photograph them, we added four more parks to our list of butterfly shooting locations. These were Lower Peirce Reservoir Park, Upper Peirce Reservoir Park, Windsor Nature Park and Kranji Marshes. Highlighting different habitats, all these public parks are under the management of Singapore's National Parks Board, which has been doing an excellent job of curating these parks and creating better accessibility for everyone to enjoy these sites of greenery and biodiversity.

Festival of Biodiversity 2018

BioBlitz butterfly survey at Rail Corridor

Butterfly Survey at the Singapore Zoo

Butterfly Interpretative Signage

ButterflyCircle members also contributed time and expertise by volunteering for surveys and nature events in the community. Although we did not set up a booth at the annual Festival of Biodiversity 2018, our presence was in the form of photos and write-ups on butterflies. Members also participated in scientific surveys organised by NParks, like BioBlitz, Bukit Timah Biodiversity Survey and Pulau Ubin Biodiversity Survey. Photos and write ups on interpretative signages in parks and other facilities also featured ButterflyCircle members' work. We also participated in butterfly biodiversity surveys at the Singapore Zoo.

Grey Tinsel spotted at Pulau Ubin in 2018

Malayan Jester spotted at Dairy Farm Nature Park in 2018

Malayan Nawab spotted at Pulau Ubin in 2018

A new group of enthusiastic photographers also added to the valuable sightings of butterflies around the island. Some sightings included species like the Malayan Jester (Symbrenthia hippoclus selangorana), Malayan Nawab (Polyura moori moori) and Grey Tinsel (Catapaecilma major emas), which are very rare, and are species that have not been regularly sighted since they were first observed in Singapore.

Bi-color haired Palm King spotted at Pulau Ubin (ID'ed by Dr Seow TL) - a new discovery for Singapore, if confirmed

Orange Gull spotted at Pulau Ubin in 2018 - a re-discovery for Singapore

Two new additions in the form of an Orange Gull (Cepora iudith malaya) and Bicolor-haired Palmking (Amathusia friderici holmanhunti). Both species were spotted at Pulau Ubin, and brings the total number of extant species recorded in Singapore to 336 for the moment. There are several other cryptic species under investigation and hopefully, with voucher specimens, these can be validated and confirmed in the near future.

All in all, it has been a good year for butterflies in Singapore, and ButterflyCircle is happy to have been part of the education, appreciation, conservation and research efforts in our local butterfly fauna. Looking forward to an even better 2019 and more projects in the pipeline to showcase nature's flying jewels in Singapore!

We would like to wish all our readers a Happy 2019 and May all your Butterfly Dreams Come True!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Alan Ang, Bob Cheong, James Chia, Antonio Giudici, Goh LC, David Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loh Mei Yee, Loke PF, Simon Sng, Michael Soh, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan, Tea Yi Kai and Mark Wong

23 December 2018

Assorted Nectaring Plants

Butterflies' Nectaring Plants
Assorted Flowering Plants - Part 1

A Common Mime feeding on the Blood Flower

Not all flowers, no matter how brightly coloured or attractive to us human beings, attract butterflies to feed on them.  Following from the Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants series, of which a total of 16 different plants have been featured earlier on this blog, we now take a look at other flowering plants that butterflies sometimes stop to feed on the nectar. Whilst they may not be the preferred source of nectar for many butterflies, if food is in short supply, these flowering plants may provide an alternative source of sustenance for butterflies.

This blogpost features the first 6 of such plants, where we have observed butterflies to be feeding on their flowers. Despite the physical attractiveness (in terms of colours, visibility, etc.), these flowers may not frequently have butterfly visitors, particularly when other preferred nectaring sources are available in the vicinity. However, it is obvious from the photos in this article, that the butterflies do indeed feed on these flowering plants from time to time.

1. Climbing Bauhinia (Bauhinia kockiana)

A cluster of flowers of the Climbing Bauhinia

This is a woody vine with simple alternate dark to pale green leaves. Flowers bloom in large clusters that open yellow but gradually turn to scarlet-orange. As the flowers develop in sequence, there is a mixture of different coloured flowers at any one time.

A Hoary Palmer probes its long proboscis into the flower of the Climbing Bauhinia

Although not as attractive to butterflies as compared to flowering plants like Lantana or the Javanese Ixora, this vine can sometimes attract several species of butterflies when food is scarce, and the range of butterflies seen include some of the bigger Papilionidae to the smaller Hesperiidae.

2. Pagoda Flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum)

A male Great Mormon feeding on the Pagoda Flower

The Pagoda Flower is an erect woody shrub that grows vertically up to 1.5m to 2m tall. It is usually a species that is planted as part of a landscaping scheme, due to its lush green leaves and showy red flowers. It is best planted in a group so that there is ample support as it grows taller.

A Common Birdwing feeding at the Pagoda Flower, with an incoming Painted Jezebel on the left

The red flowers are attractive to several species of butterflies, but not as universally accepted as other more popular nectaring plants. Both large butterflies (like the Common Birdwing) and smaller species (like the Painted Jezebel) and some Hesperiidae have been observed to feed on this nectaring plant.

3. Toothache Plant (Acmella oleracea)

An interesting name for a plant that originates from the use of the leaves and flower heads to numb toothaches. The leaves and flower heads contain an analgesic agent that, when applied to the gums and a throbbing infected tooth, will act as a pain reliever for a short while. The plant is used mainly as decorative ground cover where the yellow flowers dot the landscape with some colour.

Little yellow flower heads of the Toothache Plant emerging from a carpet of green leaves

Given the small florets of the flower, only smaller species of butterflies are occasionally attracted to feed on the nectar. In this case, a Cycad Blue, with its thin proboscis is observed feeding at the flower of the Toothache Plant.

4. Blood Flower (Asclepias curassavica)

A cluster of Blood Flower plants in bloom.  There are the red/orange/yellow cultivars (which is more common) and the slightly rarer all-yellow cultivar

Better known as the caterpillar host plant of the Plain Tiger, the Blood Flower is a small narrow-leafed plant that grows up to 600mm tall on average. It is usually cultivated as a garden border plant and for its attractive vibrant red, orange and yellow flowers. The plant is lactiferous and the white sap is mildly toxic.

The flowers are sometimes visited by some Danainae species like the Plain Tiger and Glassy Tigers, perhaps for more than just nectar, as the alkaloids that these Danainae needs may also be found in the flowers. Other species observed feeding on the Blood Flower include the Common Mime, Striped Albatross and Lemon Emigrant.

5. Shanghai Beauty (Jatropha integerrima)

The Shanghai Beauty is a medium sized shrub that can grow to an average height of 2-3m tall. A woody evergreen species, the pink to crimson flowers are an attractive addition to any landscaping palette of plants. The stems and leaves exude a milky white sap when cut, and this sap may cause skin irritation. All parts of plant are poisonous when ingested due to curcin, a phytotoxin.

Examples of the occasional medium-sized butterflies that visit the flowers of the Jatropha to feed on nectar are the Orange Emigrant and Painted Jezebel. Thus far, we have not recorded the smaller Lycaenidae or Hesperiidae butterflies feeding on this flower.

6. Red Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala)

A Red Powderpuff plant in bloom

The Red Powderpuff shrub is so named because of its unique bushy flowers that resemble a powder puff found in women's makeup kits. The plant is a woody shrub that features a spreading but rounded crown and growing up to an average height of 5m tall. The flowers are red, blooming in puffs with red silky stamens.

Although visually attractive, the flower of the Red Powderpuff are not as often visited by butterflies as expected. Medium-sized species like the Common Mormon, Striped Blue Crow and Orange Emigrant have been observed to feed on the powder-puff flowers.

In the next part, we will look at more flowering plants, including some wildflowers, that butterflies visit to feed in search of nectar.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers of this blog a
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK and Mark Wong

References : NParks' Flora and Fauna Web