27 July 2019

Butterflies of Australia

Feature Book :
Butterflies of Australia

Recently, a friend who visited Australia sent me some butterfly photos that he took on his trip, for identification. Most were relatively common urban butterflies and were easy to identify. One of the books that I turned to was my favourite personal reference, Butterflies of Australia by Dr Albert Orr and Professor Roger Kitching. Both accomplished and renown biologists and entomologists, the authors intended for the book to be a field guide "for a general readership, and not a scientific monograph".

What is additionally unique about this book, is that all the illustrations of the butterflies, their environment, host plants, caterpillars and so on, are hand-drawn pictures! The amazing pictures in the book itself was illustrated by Dr Orr, an excellent artist in his own right.

The New Guinea Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) male

This blogpost introduces this excellent book which is great for beginners and the more sophisticated enthusiast alike. Only sample photos of the book are shown here, and for readers who are interested in getting this large 335-page book, you are strongly encouraged to purchase your own copy from reputable bookshops or online.

Introduction to butterflies and useful information about butterflies in Part I of the book

Part 1 of the book covers the mandatory subjects like introduction to Lepidoptera, classification, life cycle, colours and reproduction in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 features the Australian biogeography in relation to butterfly distribution, and where observers can find the various species. Chapter 3 deals with butterflies' relationships with plants and other animals, competition for food and mates and predators. Chapter 4 discusses conservation, gardening and how one can become an avid student of butterflies. For beginners, these first 60 pages of the book would be good to read in greater detail.

Various chapters featuring Australian species from the 5 families of butterflies

The 2nd and more substantial part of the book covers almost all of the 400+ species of Australian butterflies - divided over the 5 families. At the point of writing, the authors probably stayed with the earlier classification where Riodinidae was still classified as a sub-family of the Lycaenidae. The book then ends with references, a good index, and two important checklists of Australian butterflies and larval host plants of Australian butterflies.

A useful appendix listing all the known caterpillar host plants of Australian Butterflies

Part 2 starts with the Hesperiidae, with plates covering the Australian skippers. In keeping with their intent to make this book a readable field guide, the authors grouped the species by their collective English common names, rather than sort them by taxonomic names. This makes the book an easy reference for the Australian (and other) butterfly enthusiasts to search for the various species by their local vernacular names, instead of look for genera and species names.

Typical pages in the book which organises the species by their collective common names, and illustrations of the butterflies, host plants, life histories and distribution in Australia

The Yellow Palm Dart (Cephrenes trichopepla) an Australian species that is now extant in Singapore and Malaysia

In these sample pages, the Yellow Palm Dart (Cephrenes trichopepla) is featured. This is the same species that was discovered in Singapore back in 1999 by Kelvyn Dunn. The blogpost of that discovery that was documented here on this blog can be found here. This species, a new discovery to Singapore at that time, is now a common species and has even moved up north to Malaysia where it has been spotted regularly.

The New Guinea Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) female

The next chapter features the spectacular Papilionidae and the mouth-watering Ornithoptera birdwings found in Australia. Although the Papilionidae is represented by only 19 species in Australia, these are some of the most spectacular butterflies to be found in the continent. Large and showy, some of the species are amongst the world's largest butterflies. It is also interesting to note that many of the species that can also be found in Singapore, bear different common names in Australia.

The Ambrax Butterfly (Papilio ambrax) an Australian butterfly fairly common in rainforest in north Queensland's wet tropics region

Graphium sarpedon - Common Bluebottle in Singapore, Blue Triangle in Australia

For example, the Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon) is called the Blue Triangle in Australia, whilst the Tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon) is known as the Green-spotted Triangle. Our common urban Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus) goes by the name Chequered Swallowtail in Australia, whilst the Five Bar Swordtail refers to the species Graphium aristeus instead of Graphium antiphates.

The Imperial Jezabel (Delias harpalyce) found in Australia

The Pieridae family follows in the next chapter. Australia has amongst the most beautiful and exotic-looking Delias (or commonly known as Jezebels) in the world. In the book, they are called Jezabels. Amongst the Whites and Sulphurs that are usually associated with the family Pieridae, the Australian Jezabels feature prominently with 8 species extant.

Common urban species that are also found in Singapore - Blue Pansy (Blue Argus in Australia) and Common Tiger (Orange Tiger in Australia)

In Chapter 8 of the book, most of Australia's 81 species of Nymphalids are featured, with twelve sub-families occuring in Australia. There are some species that are also found in Singapore, with the Common Tiger (Danaus genutia) called the Orange Tiger as its local common name. The Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya) and the Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia) are known as the Blue Argus and Brown Soldier respectively in Australia.

The Two Spotted Line Blue (Nacaduba biocellata) was a new discovery for Singapore and is now extant on the island

The butterfly families in the book ends with the Lycaenidae, of which more than 140 species are recorded from Australia, and counting! Amongst the many spectacular blues, coppers and hairstreaks, one species was recently recorded as a new species to Singapore - the Two-Spotted Line Blue (Nacaduba biocellata). An Australian species, it has somehow found its way to Singapore, and is now a permanent resident.

The Sword-tailed Flash (Bindahara phocides) is known as the Plane in Singapore

For a butterfly primer and an introduction to Australian butterflies, this book by Dr Orr and Prof Kitching can be considered one of the best and easy-to-read references available. Enthusiasts who have their own library of butterfly books from all over the world should not miss having this book in their collection.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Fischer and Khew SK

Photo plates featured here from the book are copyrighted property of the respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.

I have also had the privilege of having Dr Albert Orr review my book, A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore 2010, and the review published in the Australian Entomologist  - Volume 38 Issue 4 (Nov 2011)

21 July 2019

Yeomen of Singapore

Yeomen of Singapore
Featuring Singapore's Yeoman butterflies

When I wrote the 1st edition of the Butterflies of Singapore and launched it back in 2010, the extant species from the Cirrochroa genus was only one - the Banded Yeoman (Cirrochroa orissa orissa). References from the early authors indicated that there was only one other species listed from Singapore, the Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea), but this was described as "have not been taken again in Singapore during the present century" referring to the period from 1901 to 1999.

Subsequent to the publication of the book, a sighting of the Malay Yeoman was recorded in the Central Catchment Nature Reserves in Nov 2013. This was followed by many more observations of this species over the years, suggesting that there is now a viable colony of this species and it is no longer a seasonal migrant in Singapore. There were many sightings of this species in 2018 and even as recent as March 2019 from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Another species, the Common Yeoman, was first sighted at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in May 2015 and a breeding colony continued to exist for over 6 months, with several individuals encountered over this period. Its life history was successfully recorded from this colony. A confirmed sighting was made as recent as Apr 2018, and it is believed that this species can also be considered as a resident species rather than a seasonal migrant or a vagrant. The Common Yeoman was a new discovery for Singapore as it was previously not recorded by the early authors.

This blogpost introduces the three extant Yeoman species in Singapore.

1) The Banded Yeoman (Cirrochroa orissa orissa)

The Banded Yeoman was the only representative of the Cirrochroa genus prior to 2013. Even so, it is moderately rare and only found in the forested areas of the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. Sightings of the Banded Yeoman are sporadic, but regular, and the appearance of this species is rather local in distribution.

The Banded Yeoman is skittish and alert to any movement towards it. It has a habit of perching on the underside of leaves and opening and closing its wings. It is observed to puddle at damp footpaths, feeding on forest flowering plants and sunbathing at sunlit spots under the forest understorey.

The upperside of the Banded Yeoman is ochreous brown with a black apical border and a prominent broad yellow post-discal band. The underside is paler with markings reflecting the upperside of the wings. The upperside of the hindwing bears prominent black spots with scalloped black marginal and sub-marginal lines.

2) The Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea)

Recorded as a seasonal migrant, it is now believed that the Malay Yeoman is a resident species in Singapore, with regular sightings of the species throughout the year. Another forest-dependent species, the Malay Yeoman displays similar characteristic behaviour as its closely related species, the Banded Yeoman. It is often observed to stop on the underside of leaves with its wings folded upright. It is also observed to puddle at damp footpaths.

The Malay Yeoman is fulvous orange on the upperside with black marginal borders on both wings. A distinctive orange sub-apical spot on the forewing above is a key diagnostic feature of this species. On the underside, the silvery post-discal band is constricted in spaces 5 and 6, which separates this species from another lookalike, Cirrochroa malaya malaya.

One of the habits of the Malay Yeoman is to perch under a leaf upside down

A puddling Malay Yeoman

It is curious to have two closely associated species and I wonder why C. malaya doesn't carry the English common name "Malay Yeoman" whilst C. emalea is the Malay Yeoman. This will probably cause some confusion and perhaps it may be necessary to sort out the common names for these two lookalikes.

3) The Common Yeoman (Cirrochroa tyche rotundata)

Newly discovered in Singapore, the Common Yeoman can be observed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The 3rd Yeoman is the most recent to be added to the Singapore Checklist in 2015. It was recorded as a new discovery and may have been a stowaway with the import of plants for the Singapore Botanic Gardens? Its two recorded host plants, Hydnocarpus spp. occur in various parts of Singapore, but rather rare.

A Common Yeoman perched under a leaf with its wings folded upright

The Common Yeoman is fulvous orange on the upperside, but lacks the wide black apical border that the Malay Yeoman has. There is a series of scalloped marginal and sub-marginal black lines and post-discal spots on the hindwing. On the underside, the post-discal silvery band is narrow and more or less uniform in width throughout its length.

The Common Yeoman has been observed to puddle on damp footpaths but can sometimes be seen sunbathing with its wings opened flat. It also displays the same habit of perching under a leaf with its wings folded upright, like the other two Cirrochroa species found in Singapore. However, unlike the other two species, the Common Yeoman is so far the only one that is observed in an urban garden.

There are at least 3 more species of the genus found in Malaysia, and should be looked out for in the forested areas of Singapore. Perhaps one or more may make an appearance in Singapore one day in the future.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Alan Ang, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY, Horace Tan, Irene Tan and Jonathan Soong

14 July 2019

Idyllic Ipoh

Idyllic Ipoh
An Outing to Various Locations near Ipoh, Malaysia

A male Rajah Brooke's Birdwing puddling on the hot damp sand at Kuala Woh

After our recent butterfly outing to Mahua Waterfall in Sabah, East Malaysia, in April this year, our butterfly-shooting wanderlust called again. This time, at the suggestion of Cheng Ai, our latest newbie in the group, we headed off to Ipoh, and to visit our favourite shooting locations at Gua Tempurung, Kuala Woh and the area around Gopeng in the Malaysian state of Perak.

And off we go!

Our journey from Singapore started at an unearthly hour of 5:30am in the morning, to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day and to primarily to avoid any jams at the border crossings into Malaysia. After clearing customs and immigration at Tuas Checkpoint, we were happily on our way north. After a short break for a quick bite at one of the highway pitstops, Cheng Ai zoomed all the way northwards, staying within the speed limit (most of the time!).

The iconic landscape of sheer limestone cliffs are an indication that we are near Ipoh

Along the N-S Expressway, the karst landscape that appeared on both sides of the road signalled that we were nearing our destination. The limestone outcrops and sheer vertical hill surfaces on the hills covered with lush vegetation are typical of the natural landscape in the state of Perak in Malaysia. Karst is landscape underlain by limestone which has been eroded by water through dissolution, producing various formations, these include the limestone hills and caves.

Day 1 : Gua Tempurung

The environment around Gua Tempurung

After lunch at Gopeng town, we headed for one of our target locations for shooting around the tourist attraction of Gua Tempurung. This cave is one of the longest cavern networks in Peninsular Malaysia and runs 1.6km in the heart of a large limestone hill. Taking advantage of the forested areas around the cavern network, and the stream that comes out of the caves, the area proved to be quite fruitful for butterfly-shooting on many of our earlier trips to this area. In particular, the White Dragontail (Lamproptera curius curius) makes a regular appearance in this area.

The signature White Dragontail that is often found around Gua Tempurung's stream banks

This time again, the White Dragontail did not disappoint, but only one appeared and posed for us to shoot, complete with opened wings and feeding on the flower of the White Weed. As it was past the annual peak season for butterflies, the Pieridae that we saw on previous outings were glaringly absent. There were fewer butterflies around than our earlier trips here, and the overcast sky didn't help one bit. A favourite spot where we used to encounter many species had been cleared of vegetation, and added to the low butterfly count.

A female Malayan Birdwing feeding on nectar from a Hibiscus flower

Nevertheless, it is an area that is worth visiting again in future, as there will always be something unexpected that may turn up, as many of our earlier visits proved. As it started to drizzle a bit, a large female Malayan Birdwing (Troides amphrysus ruficollis) came down to the Hibiscus bush to feed on the bring red flowers. As the weather looked like more rain, we called it a day and headed to Ipoh town, and after checking into our boutique hotel with its interesting decor, we headed out for dinner. It was an early night for all of us, as it had been a long day of driving and shooting, and we settled in for a much-needed rest.

Day 2 : Gopeng

Butterfly-hunting near Gopeng

The next morning, after a generous breakfast, we met up with Steve Tan, who happens to be the son of a renowned butterfly collector in Malaysia, the late Tan Ah Sah. In my school days, I had always marvelled at the unique tailed form of the Great Mormon female f-tanahsahi, which was named after Steve's father.

A selection of the butterfly species found at the Gopeng forests

Steve brought us to a forested area near Gopeng where we were treated with a number of Hesperiidae that came out to feed at the roadside flowers. Near a streambank, we also encountered several puddling species that were slightly more cooperative and allowed us to approach them.

Cheng Ai hard at work at a streambank puddling ground

As it was durian season, we also managed to help ourselves to a couple of fruits that we bought off the local villagers. All too soon, it was back in Ipoh for dinner and a good rest before our final day of shooting at Kuala Woh.

Day 3 : Kuala Woh Recreational Forest

The large pristine forest around the Kuala Woh Recreational Park. We hardly walked about 1-2 km radius from the main visitor centre

I recall that in the past two visits to Kuala Woh in 2011 and 2014, there were always Rajah Brooke's Birdwings (Trogonoptera brookiana albescens) flying around and puddling in numbers. We weren't disappointed this time around. As we made our way to the banks of Sungei Batang Padang, we were greeted with several cruising Rajah Brooke's Birdwings, fluttering with nonchalance with their black and emerald wings shimmering in the bright sunshine.

It was a Monday morning, and the usual weekend picnickers and crowds were thankfully absent. The environment was quiet with just a few visitors around. Over at the sandbanks across the river, we saw a few clusters of puddling Rajah Brooke's Birdwings in the distance. It was rather quiet with not many butterflies flying around compared to our previous trips, but a male Courtesan came down to puddle for a while.

A congretation of Rajah Brooke's Birdwings.  How many can you count?

We crossed the suspension bridge over the river and went over to check the Rajah Brooke's congregation on the sandy banks across. This time around, there appeared to be different congregations of larger numbers. In one of the larger clusters, we counted at least 50 of these magnificent 'kings' puddling together.

A rare White-Tipped Palmer in the bamboo forest at Kuala Woh

After having our fill of these birdwings, we took a walk around the forested area. Other than the usual forest species, we were happy to encounter a rare White-Tipped Palmer (Lotongus calathus) lurking amongst the bamboo groves. There were some Arhopalas around, but were too skittish to shoot.

A bright orange Malay Rajah came down to puddle at the stream bank

Back at the river banks, a Malay Rajah (Charaxes distanti distanti) came down to puddle. Comparatively rarer than the Tawny Rajahs that we saw on this trip, the distinguishing feature of this species is the costal white streak on the underside of the forewing. A few other 'commoners' also came down to check on us, amongst them a Blue Glassy Tiger, Magpie Crow and a Dark Banded Ace.

It is interesting to note that the Rajah Brooke's Birdwings puddle at the areas where the sand is hot to the touch and the water temperature can sometimes be almost scalding. It is likely to be going after the sulphurous minerals from the hot springs in the area.

Just after 3pm, the skies turned dark and it started pouring. But we were happy that our date with the "king" was successful, and we had our fill of shots (and videos) once again of the impressive Rajah Brooke's Birdwings at Kuala Woh.

Day 4 : Back Home

We set out on the road after breakfast heading off to the N-S Expressway and a 6-hour drive back to Singapore. As we were making good time, we decided to take a detour in to Ayer Keroh near Malacca to visit the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary. This eco-attraction was opened in 1991 and has continued to evolve over the past 28 years.

The environment has aged well, with the vegetation lush and well integrated into the facilities and insects and animals that the Sanctuary showcases. Of particular interest is its butterfly breeding programme, which has successfully achieved a sustained breeding of the Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus) for a long time. The Sanctuary's conservation programme and breeding methodology is the brainchild of its owner, Gerard Wong and his team.

The signature Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus) at the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary

A group shot with Gerard and Elaine at the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary

We also managed to get Gerard and his wife Elaine to show us around the Sanctuary and shared stories about the breeding of various species of butterflies. As we needed to head back home, we promised to return to the Sanctuary for a longer visit the next time around!

It was a good trip up north an enjoyable 4-day break for us, and we finally crossed the Tuas Checkpoint into Singapore just past 6:30pm after heaving a sigh of relief over the drama at the Malaysian side of the link. Note to Cheng Ai (and everyone else) - if you need to hide your passport for safekeeping, please do not hide it so well, that you cannot find it when the immigration officer is waiting for us at the checkpoint! :)

And so ends another butterfly adventure as we look forward to the next longer trip further up north in a few months' time.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Huang CJ, Khew SK and Lim Cheng Ai.