15 December 2018

Butterfly of the Month - December 2018

Butterfly of the Month - December 2018
The Malayan (Megisba malaya sikkima)

A Malayan perched at rest with its wings folded upright

The cold month of December is upon us already as we on the verge of bidding farewell to 2018. All around the world, the countries in the northern hemisphere are already experiencing, or predicting mega-freeze winter conditions in the coming months, where the El Nino event is predicted to spark blizzards of heavy snow. The anticipated cold snaps seem to correlate with the record summer temperatures this year.

Over in Beijing, where the freezing winter months are usually accompanied by extremely bad air quality due to the burning of low-grade coal, the government has imposed strict bans on burning fuel over winter as part of Beijing’s war on pollution. Beijing has said it will be less severe with its pollution curbs this winter as it grapples with slower economic growth and the trade war with the United States.

And speaking of the trade war, the temporary 90-day reprieve between the US and China that will halt new tariffs on both sides is not likely to end in a clear cut resolution between the two economic giants. Already, the economic climate all around the world, and in particular, in the ASEAN countries have shown signs of a looming crisis ahead.

Closer to home, the recent bilateral spats over maritime and airspace between Singapore and Malaysia is a reminder of the delicate cross-border politics between the two countries, recently referred to as "twins". The tactics of a certain veteran politician does not appear to be anything new - when you have domestic problems, just poke the little red dot down south to create some distractions.

In this age and time of lightning speed communications and information, the old tactic of galvanising the citizenry using nationalistic issues still seem to work. Standing united behind their respective countries, each side's netizens trade barbs over social media - something that was not so commonplace in the 70's and 80's when similar tensions arose. Let's hope that common sense and calm minds prevail and good neighbourliness will again stand the test of these political maneuvers.

A Malayan puddling at a sandy streambank

Our final Butterfly of the Month for 2018 will be, coincidentally, the Malayan (Megisba malaya sikkima), although the choice has nothing to do with the country or any particular individual from our neighbours up north. This diminutive butterfly has a wingspan of only about 20mm from wingtip to wingtip.

At a glance, the Malayan is reminiscent of a small Common Hedge Blue (Acytolepis puspa lambi) with the spots and streaks on the underside quite similar. The Malayan is often spotted singly and frequents open paths, fluttering restlessly amongst the shrubbery. It flies erratically but with a rather weak flight, and stops to rest on the top surfaces of leaves, with its wings folded upright.

The Malayan is a light brown above, generally unmarked, but with a paler discal area of the forewing. The underside is whitish-grey, with black spots and grey streaks on both the fore- and hindwings. There is a pair of short, delicate white-tipped  tails, which are extensions of the cilia, at vein 2 of the hindwing. In subspecies in other parts of Southeast Asia, the tails may be absent, but subspecies sikkima found in Malaysia and Singapore almost always possesses the tails.

A Malayan feeding at the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

A puddling Malayan

The species has large jet-black eyes and its antennae, legs and abdomen are black and white banded. This small butterfly has been observed feeding at flowers, the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), puddling on damp spots along forest paths, on bird droppings and along sandy streambanks in Singapore.

The species has been successfully bred on Turn-In-the-Wind (Mallotus paniculatus) in Singapore. The Malayan is by no means a very common butterfly, but is regularly encountered singly from urban parks and gardens, to the forested nature reserves and at the backmangroves habitats near the coastal areas of Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Simon Sng, Michael Soh, Jonathan Soong, Tea Yi Kai, Horace Tan and Bene Tay