24 August 2019

Flying Tigers 2.0

Tiger Refresh!
An Update of the Flying Tigers of Singapore

Some time back in January 2008, our weekend blogpost featured the Flying Tigers of Singapore. More than 11 years ago, there were 5 extant Danainae species that were referred to as "Tigers". Their common names probably originated from their striped appearance, and in some of the cases, the orange colour and/or stripes, reminiscent of the Malayan "Pak Belang".

Over the years, at least three other species appeared in Singapore and were spotted by eagle-eyed butterfly watchers and photographers. All these species have been classified as vagrants as sightings of them have been infrequent, and in some cases, only from a single chance encounter.

The Tigers belong to the subfamily Danainae, relatively large and slow-flying butterflies that are usually distasteful to predators. This is due to their caterpillar host plants that are lactiferous and in most cases, contains toxic substances which the caterpillars sequester to give themselves a "chemical protection" against predators.

The majority of species in the subfamily Danainae also display aposematic colouration, which is nature's way of communicating to would-be predators that the butterfly should be avoided, unless the predator is asking for some trouble. The characteristic stripes, iridescent colours or bright and showy colours of the Danainae are good examples of aposematic warning colouration that other butterflies and moths mimic to provide some measure of protection for themselves.

Today, the 5 extant species of Tigers that we featured in the 2008 blogpost are still doing fine, and over the past decade, where urban parks and gardens have cultivated more Tiger-friendly host and nectaring plants, they have become more common. These five species - The Plain Tiger, Common Tiger, Black Veined Tiger, Blue Glassy Tiger and Dark Glassy Tiger are still often seen feeding at the flowers in parks and gardens.

In Oct 2014, another species of the genus Ideopsis, the Grey Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis juventa sitah) was observed at Pulau Ubin, and then subsequently in the same year, at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This species is not uncommon up north in Johor, and has been seen in numbers at the Desaru area on the eastern coastal areas of Johor.

It is possible that an outbreak of the species has sparked off some strays into Singapore. It has not been reliably seen in recent years after the sightings in 2014, but added to the Singapore Butterfly Checklist as a vagrant species appearing in Singapore.

In 2016, a free-ranging Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis septentrionis) was photographed in the field. The Dark Blue Tiger has been sighted previously but no photographic evidence of a Singapore field-shot individual was recorded so far. Also, at that time, the butterfly aviaries in Sentosa, Hort Park (now closed) and Changi Airport also imported this species from Malaysia and there may have been escapees.

In Jan 2019, another wild shot individual was posted from Pasir Ris Park. Although still considered a vagrant species, the Dark Blue Tiger was added to the Singapore Checklist and 'adopted' as one more flying tiger in Singapore.

Also in 2016, a single individual of the Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace) was spotted at a suburban garden feeding on Crotalaria retusa. The Rattlebox Weed is a favourite plant of the Danainaes where they feed on the sap of the stem and seedpod of the plant. A rare species even in Malaysia, it was therefore a surprise that a pristine vagrant appeared in Singapore.

Perhaps, as the author suggested, the Blue Tiger shot 5 years ago was a stowaway on a plant that was imported to Singapore as a pupa, and then eclosed here. Other than this individual, so far no other sighting of the Blue Tiger has been made in Singapore since.

This is the latest inventory of "Tigers" in Singapore, with a total of eight sighted and recorded over the years.  Let us hope that there will be other Tigers that will make their way to Singapore in the coming years.  

Text and Photos by David Chan, David Ho, Mei Hwang, Khew SK and Loke PF

18 August 2019

Butterfly of the Month - August 2019

Butterfly of the Month - August 2019
The Indian Cupid (Everes lacturnus rileyi)

The year moves into the peak of summer and the heatwave that is spreading across the globe is a constant reminder of climate change and global warming. Again, reports of unprecedented high temperatures in many countries are in the news - from Europe to Japan. Back in Singapore, it has been quite a few weeks since we had ample rainfall, and we can see wilting plants, dried undergrown and brown grass patches all over the island.

The National Environment Agency's Meteorological Service Singapore said earlier this month that it forecasts drier-than-normal weather conditions here and in the surrounding region in the coming weeks, following a record dry July. Drier weather can be expected from August to October this year. This followed two bush fires in Singapore recently where parch-dry wastelands are vulnerable to anything that sparks the dried grasses and twigs to start a fire going.

Always in the news, the continuing trade war between China and the US, and how it is going to impact the global economy and change lives. More countries seem to be jumping on to the bandwagon to start their own trade disputes. However, the impact of the trade war between the two economic giants will be felt throughout the world and little Singapore will certainly not be spared. Already, local trade reports point to a technical recession in the coming quarter and a possibility of a worse outlook ahead in 2020.

And then the Hong Kong protests. It is almost impossible to read news - whether online or in hardcopy print, without some mention about the civil unrest in Hong Kong. It is amazing to see how the citizenry, when pushed to a corner, can retaliate in a way that may almost irreversibly affect a country's stability. Singaporeans reflect over what is happening in Hong Kong, and many say that it would/could never happen here because of different circumstances and political outcomes.

A mating pair of Indian Cupids

The hot and dry weather in Singapore seemed to have some impact on our butterfly activity. Other than very dry undergrowth that affects plants in general - the lifeline of butterflies, activity across the island has only reduced somewhat. Curiously, certain species that have not appeared for quite some time have suddenly reappeared, whilst some trees reacted to the harsh weather by flowering and attracting butterflies to come out from their forest hiding places.

A pristine male Indian Cupid with its wings opened partially

Our August Butterfly of the Month is the diminutive and rare Indian Cupid (Everes lacturnus riley). With a wingspan of only about 20-25mm from wingtip to wingtip, this small butterfly frequents open grassy areas in sub-urban wastelands in Singapore. It was first observed in various areas on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong, but then appeared in wastelands at Punggol and parts of Central Catchment along the forest edges.

The Indian Cupid (or referred to as the Tailed Cupid in some literature) is the only representative of the genus Everes in Singapore. The male butterfly is purple-blue on its uppersides, with narrow black borders on both wings. The female is a drab brown above with a pair of orange-crowned spots at the tornal area of the hindwings.

An Indian Cupid perched on a grass flower with its proboscis partially unfurled

The ground colour of the underside is a pale grey, marked with the usual Polyommatinae spots and streaks. The pair of large orange-crowned black spots at the tornal area of the hindwing helps to distinguish this species from several other lookalikes in Singapore e.g. the Gram Blue. The pair of long filamentous white tipped tails at vein 2 of the hindwing also helps to separate the Indian Cupid from other similar species.

An Indian Cupid perches on a grass blade on a hot sunny afternoon

The Indian Cupid has a weak erratic flight and typically flies low amongst shrubbery. The butterfly can often be found in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, Desmodium sp. that thrives in newly cleared roadside tables and wastelands. When active, it is skittish and not easy to approach for a good shot. However, after some time of flying restlessly, it rests with its wings upright on grass blades or on the tops of leaves.

Being a small butterfly, it can be overlooked, or confused with other lookalike Lycaenidae like the Nacaduba, Prosotas or Euchrysops. Its flight characteristic is similar, hence any small butterfly fluttering erratically amongst low bushes and grassy areas should be given a second look to ascertain its identity. Where it occurs, there are often sightings of more than just one individual. However, it can disappear from a location for years, before re-appearing again elsewhere.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY and Jonathan Soong

10 August 2019

Red and White

Red and White
Happy 54th Birthday, Singapore!

Our little red dot celebrated its 54th Birthday on 9 Aug 2019. This marks 54 years after separation from Malaysia back in 1965, where Singapore became an independent nation. This year, the theme “Our Singapore” commemorates Singapore's bicentennial and allows us to tell Our Singapore story from past to present. 1819 was one of the key turning points that set Singapore on a new trajectory. It was the year that Sir Stamford Raffles, along with William Farquhar, arrived in Singapore. The Singapore Bicentennial in 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the British arrival in Singapore.

In a volatile and troubled world - from global trade wars to climate change, a small island-state like Singapore is subject to all manner of uncertainties and turbulence in international affairs. This year's National Day Theme, "Our Singapore" focuses on galvanising the population to face the challenges ahead. “Our” emphasises the collective ownership of Singapore. The residents are now living the dreams of our pioneers, and we ourselves are now the pioneers of our future.

The Merdeka generation, those born between 1 Jan 1950 and 31 Dec 1959, is also featured prominently this year's National Day Celebrations. "The Merdeka Generation grew up with Singapore, worked hard, and laid the groundwork for generations to come. Because of their sacrifices, Singapore stands tall and proud today."

Red on White. Singapore's national flag colours

For this long weekend's blogpost, we feature the red and white butterflies of Singapore in celebration of our National Day, and showcase the colours of our national flag. The colour red symbolises "universal brotherhood and equality of man", and white, "pervading and everlasting purity and virtue".

The bright red upperwings of Singapore's Flashes and Cornelians

Amongst the red coloured butterflies found in Singapore, the most striking are from the genus Rapala and Deudorix. Both these genera feature small butterflies in which the upper surfaces of their wings, in particular the males, are predominantly red. A typical behaviour of the males of these species is sunbathing with their wings opened to show their red uppersides during certain hours of the late afternoon. Amongst those that feature red uppersides are the Common Red Flash, Scarlet Flash, Cornelian and Eliot's Cornelian.

The deep reds and maroons of the Judys and Harlequins in Singapore

The species of "metalmarks" from the family Riodinidae are also largely red butterflies, albeit mostly coloured a deep red or maroon. A few species have a base colour of reddish brown but adorned with silver-grey or silver-blue spots. Examples of these red butterflies are the Malayan Plum Judy, Spotted Judy, Harlequin and Lesser Harlequin.

Some of our white butterflies from the family Pieridae

White butterflies are mainly found in the family Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs) which feature predominantly white and yellow butterfly species. In Singapore, some examples of white butterflies are the Striped Albatross, Psyche and Cabbage White.

The white undersides and orangey-red uppersides of two of Singapore's Sunbeams

White is also the colour of many of the Lycaenidae butterflies, especially on the undersides of several species amongst the Curetinae, Polyommatinae and Theclinae subfamilies. Both the extant species of the Sunbeams feature silvery-white undersides with light markings. The uppersides are a orangey-red.

White undersides dominate these Lycaenidae species in Singapore

Amongst the tiny Polyommatinae are species like the Quaker, which is has a clean white underside but with some black spots. The Theclinae subfamily also features a couple of butterflies that appear white to the eye. Examples are the Peacock Royal and the White Royal, with greyish-white clean undersides with light streaks and markings.

Happy National Day to Singapore!

On behalf of ButterflyCircle members, we would like to take this opportunity to wish all our Singaporean readers a Happy 54th Birthday to Singapore. Majulah Singapura!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Khew SK, Jonathan Soong and Bene Tay