30 June 2018

Butterfly of the Month - June 2018

Butterfly of the Month - June 2018
The Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus)

A Gram Blue feeding on the flower of the Coat Button (Tridax procumbens)

Today is the last day of June, and we are theoretically just right in the middle of the year, with the other half of 2018 starting from tomorrow. The warm summer is already in full swing in the northern hemisphere, with several countries reporting temperatures in the high 30's. I was in Beijing in third week of the month, and the temperature was unbearably hot, hitting 35degC to 38degC. Coupled with a Relative Humidity of 17%, it felt a lot hotter and drier when outdoors.

The temperature range this far north in China is quite amazing, when one considers that just six months ago, in December when I was there, it was a bone-chilling -4degC! What was interesting in Beijing, was that in the three days that I spent there, the air quality was surprisingly good.  Perhaps government intervention has finally reaped some positive results in terms of reducing the pollution in this capital city of China?

Any commentary on world news in the month of June surely cannot omit the historic summit between US President Donald Trump, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. For the first time, a sitting US President and a North Korean leader, representing two countries which have never seen eye to eye nor whose leaders ever met before, will meet face to face, and our little red dot island nation host this unprecedented meeting.

A mating pair of Gram Blues

With North Korea's denuclearisation on the cards, and primarily to avert a nuclear war in Asia, the stakes are high, as all eyes watched closely the meeting between two highly volatile and eccentric leaders. That the island nation of Singapore was chosen is testament to its efficiency, infrastructure and organisational competency.

Nevertheless, the government of Singapore and its agencies rose to the occasion and the summit went without a hitch - albeit with a negligible inconvenience to the routine lives of locals who went about their daily business. But the usual complaints and grouses were almost silenced, as most would understand the serious consequences should anything untoward happen to the summit as a result of organisational or logistical oversights!

What was amusing were the handful of 'wefies', courtesy of our own politicians - probably the first ever taken of Kim Jong Un, and then posted on social media. The North Korean security personnel stopped anyone close enough during Kim's evening walkabout in Singapore from taking photos of him, but were most likely caught unawares that Singapore's Ministers would be brazen enough to take wefies of their beloved President. No harm done, but another 'first' amongst firsts during this historical summit.

Closer to home, the new Malaysian government created certain surprises, one of which was the cancellation/deferment of the High Speed Rail system linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Citing reasons of high costs and rising debt, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir's government reviewed several high-budget projects in Malaysia. He also raised 'long-buried' bilateral issues like the Pedra Branca islands and the supply of water to Singapore. Interesting times ahead for Singapore and our physically closest neighbour.

Back to our Butterfly of the Month for June 2018, we feature a relatively small and common species, the Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus). The Gram Blue is a widely distributed species, and is sometimes common in urban areas where its caterpillar host plants, Tropical Kudzu (Pueraria phaseoloides) and Creole Bean (Vigna reflexopilosa) can be found. These common creepers usually appear in recently cleared road verges and newly planted areas.

The Gram Blue is usually found fluttering restlessly amongst low shrubbery along roadside greenery on hot sunny days. Where it occurs, it can sometimes be even abundant, with up to a dozen individuals - both males and females, fluttering around and frolicking in the sun.

Male Gram Blue (top) and female Gram Blue (bottom) with open wings showing the upper surfaces of their wings

The male of the Gram Blue is light purple blue above, whilst the female is heavily black-dusted, with the wing bases a pale shining blue. The underside is pale buff, with the usual dark grey striations and spots. The two prominent black spots on the costal area on the underside of the hindwing is quite consistent in many lookalike species like the Cycad Blue, Forget-Me-Not and Silver Forget-Me-Not, creating a bit of confusion when these species are observed in the field.

Note the two orange-crowned black tornal spots on the hindwing and the short tails of the Gram Blue 

However, to distinguish the Gram Blue, look for the two orange-crowned black tornal spots on the underside of the hindwing. These spots are also edged with metallic green scaling. The tails of the Gram Blue are also shorter than its lookalike cousins and with these few diagnostic features, identifying the Gram Blue should be less of a challenge.

A Gram Blue feeding on the flower of its caterpillar host plant, Creole Bean (Vigna reflexopilosa)

At certain hours of the day, both the males and females of the Gram Blue may be seen opening their wings to sunbathe on leaves and blades of grasses in their usual habitats. Males also chase each other and when one is perched to rest, another individual may "attack" it and get it to fly off in an endless chase.

Gram Blues puddling

Males of the Gram Blue may also be observed to puddle at damp sandy footpaths and also decomposing organic matter. The caterpillars of the species are attended by ants, and the pupa attaches itself to the underside of leaves with a very thin silken girdle.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Michael Khor, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong, Tan BJ and Anthony Wong