28 September 2019

Singapore's Royalty - Part 2

Singapore's Royalty - Part 2
Featuring the Royal Butterflies of Singapore

A male Banded Royal opening its wings to sunbathe at Bt Timah Nature Reserve

In this second part of our weekend's feature blogpost, we introduce the rarer species of "Royal" butterflies found in Singapore. In Part 1, we introduced the 4 "Royals" - Peacock, Felder's, Chocolate and White. Those species, though considered moderately uncommon, are more likely to be spotted by butterfly watchers and enthusiasts as they are widely distributed and sometimes frequent urban parks and gardens.

An Influent Royal feeding on the fruits of Singapore Rhododendron

This weekend's blogpost features some of the rarer "Royals" - some of which have been observed only a handful of times in Singapore over the past two decades. Of the five species featured, 4 are from the subfamily Theclinae of the Lycaenidae family and with the only exception from the subfamily Heliconiinae of the Nymphalidae family.

5. The Banded Royal (Rachana jalindra burbona)

The Banded Royal has often been observed to perch upside down on the underside of a leaf to rest

A species that was re-discovered in 2006 in the Central Catchment Nature Reserves, the Banded Royal is a species that has been observed more regularly than the other rare species featured in this blogpost. A fast-flying butterfly, the Banded Royal is occasionally spotted feeding at the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum). Males are known to appear from time to time, perched on the tops of leaves or sunbathing with their wings partially open.

The male is a deep shining blue above with narrow black borders. The female is a drab brown above with some black spots at the hindwing tornal area. The underside is white with a broad brown distal border where the inner half is a darker brown. The hindwing has two tails at veins 1b and 2. One of the black tornal spots is orange-crowned and some blue scaling along the tornal area. The eyes of the Banded Royal are jet-black.

A Banded Royal feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

The caterpillar host plant is likely to be a parasitic plant like Macrosolen cochinchinensis or one of the Loranthus spp that many of these rarer Theclinae's caterpillars tend to favour. Its life history has not been successfully recorded yet in Singapore.

6. The Influent Royal (Tajuria dominus dominus)

An Influent Royal perches on the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry

This Royal is considered very rare in Singapore and is the smallest of the three Tajuria species currently recorded in Singapore. It was first re-discovered in 2006 at Alexandra Hospital's Butterfly Trail, feeding on the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron. Subsequently, it was spotted sporadically over the years when its caterpillars or pupae were discovered and bred to adulthood. It is a rapid flyer and probably prefers to remain at the treetops.

The name "Influent Royal" was christened by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay in the Butterflies of Thailand books, although the origin of the English name is curious. The meaning of influent refers to "a stream flowing into another stream." Or perhaps the author is trying to refer to influent to mean influential? For the time being, we will use this common name until some other more logical or apt name is coined for this species.

An Influent Royal feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

The male is bright blue above with a deep black visual brand at the end of the forewing cell. The forewing has a broad black apical border like many of the other species in the genus. The underside is a drab grey with the post-discal stripe placed closer to the cell than the termen. The two black tornal spots are orange-crowned, with the orange coalesced into a large tornal patch. There are two white-tipped tails and veins 1b and 2 on the hindwing.

7. The Silver Royal (Ancema blanka blanka)

The upperside of a male Silver Royal

The Silver Royal has been seen only a few times in Singapore, but at least twice at the Southern Ridges hill tops. It was a re-discovery in 2005 when it was spotted feeding at the flowers of a Syzygium tree. A fast-flying species, it is usually skittish and probably prefers treetop habitats unless individuals descend to the lower shrubbery to feed or oviposit.

The male of the Silver Royal is a bright shining blue with broad black forewing borders and darkened veins on both wings. The female is a lighter shade of blue and has rounder wings. The underside is distinctive of this species and sports a silvery sheen when light shines at a certain angle on the wings. There are two prominent black tornal spots that are orange-crowned and there are two tails at veins 1b and 2 on the hindwing.

A Silver Royal puddling at a damp footpath

The species is sometimes observed to puddle at damp roadside paths and males are seen to occasionally opens its wings to sunbathe, showing the blue splendour of its iridescent wings. The caterpillar host plant is likely to be a parasitic plant but its life history has hitherto not been recorded in Singapore yet.

8. The Golden Royal (Pseudotajuria donatana donatana)

A Golden Royal perches on the buds of Javanese Ixora

Another re-discovered species in Singapore in 2005, the very rare Golden Royal (also known as the Dawnas Royal) has only been spotted no more than 3 times in Singapore. First spotted at a reservoir park, the species has proven to be extremely elusive although it is by no means considered a vagrant or a seasonal visitor.

The male Golden Royal is a shining blue above with broad black borders on both wings. The female is of a lighter blue with the colour confined to the wing bases only. The underside is a rich golden yellow and unmarked on the forewing. The hindwing has a pair of black tornal spots and edged generously with metallic green scales. There are two white-tipped tails at veins 1b and 2 on the hindwing.

It is also observed puddling at damp streambanks and footpaths at times. The caterpillar host plant is unknown in Singapore, although it is likely to also depend on parasitic plants for its early stages.

9. The Royal Assyrian (Terinos terpander robertsia)

The last of our "Royals" has the name royal as a prefix to its common English name, unlike the 8 preceding species. The sole representative of its genus in Singapore, the Royal Assyrian is moderately rare and is a forest-dependent species that is rarely seen outside the forested nature reserves of Singapore. It has a habit of resting on the underside of leaves with its wings folded upright. At certain times of the day, it may be seen sunbathing with its wings opened flat, showing off its majestic purple uppersides.

The Royal Assyrian is rich purple above with a white patch on the hindwing. The underside is purple-brown with a series of reddish-brown and pale blue stripes crossing both wings. The hindwing also features a series of large orange-ringed post discal spots.

A Royal Assyrian puddling at a damp walkway at BTNR

The species has been successfully bred on the host plant Rinorea anguifera which can be found growing mainly in Singapore's forested nature reserves. The Royal Assyrian can sometimes be spotted puddling at damp footpaths and sandy streambanks in forested areas.

And that completes our introduction to all the Royal butterflies of Singapore.  I am sure that one day, there will be a few more Royals to add to our checklist, but that will be another story for another time.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Jonathan Soong, Tan Ben Jin and Horace Tan

22 September 2019

Singapore's Royalty - Part 1

Singapore's Royalty - Part 1
Featuring the Royal Butterflies of Singapore

A Chocolate Royal basks in the sun with its wings opened to show the majestic purple uppersides

This weekend's blogpost takes a look at the various butterfly species found in Singapore that bear the English common name "Royal". The word royal is often defined as "used to indicate that something is connected with a king, queen, or emperor, or their family." In describing something as royal gives it a complimentary stature of being beautiful, majestic or an object of exceedingly high recognition.

In our butterfly world, quite a few species have been christened with the "royal" title. In most of them, the name is certainly befitting of their beauty and awe-inspiring colours. The Singapore species that bear the name "Royal" are largely from the sub-family Theclinae of the family Lycaenidae. Part 1 of this blogpost introduces four of the more frequently encountered species in Singapore.

1. Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)

A Peacock Royal perches on a bed of red Ixora flowers

The Peacock Royal is the commonest of the "Royals" and is widely distributed in Singapore. It can regularly be found in urban parks and gardens but is sometimes seen in the forest edges of the nature reserves of Singapore. Both males and females are observed with regularity, especially when feeding on the red flowers of the Javanese Ixora.

Upperside of a male (top) and female (bottom) Peacock Royal

The upperside of the male Peacock Royal is a beautiful royal blue with a broad black apical border on the forewing. The female is pale blue with broad black apical borders on the forewing and a series of black squiggly post-discal striae on the hindwing. The underside of both sexes is greyish-white with post discal striae and series of marginal and sub-marginal spots. The large black tornal spots on the hindwing are orange-crowned. The hindwing features a pair of white-tipped tails at veins 1a and 2.

The Peacock Royal is skittish and a fast flyer. It has jet-black eyes which can immediately distinguish it from its other related cousins in the genus. The caterpillar of this species feeds on parasitic plants like Dendropththoe pentandra and Macrosolen cochinchinensis,both of which are common in urban gardens.

2. Felder's Royal (Tajuria mantra mantra)

Our next royal is the Felder's Royal. This species comes from the same genus as the Peacock Royal and is a moderately rare species. It is widely distributed across the island and shares the same caterpillar host plant as the Peacock Royal. Individuals of the Felder's Royal are typically larger than the related species in the genus.

The upperside of the male is a shining greenish blue whilst the female is a pale purplish blue. Both sexes have a broad black apical border on the upperside of the forewing. The underside is a drab greyish brown and are whitened at the dorsum. Each hindwing has a pair of white-tipped tails at veins 1b and 2. The tornal area has iridescent blue scales flanked by two orange-crowned black spots.

Also a skittish flyer, the Felder's Royal has a habit of perching on the underside of a leaf to rest or hide itself. The compound eyes are transparent and silvery grey. It has been successfully bred in Singapore on the parasitic plant Macrosolen cochinchinensis.

3. Chocolate Royal (Remelana jangala travana)

The Chocolate Royal is another moderately rare species in Singapore. It makes an appearance during certain months of the year, but then may be absent for many months of the year. Its host plants are Eurya acuminata and the common Ixora javanensis. Hence it is curious that it is not as common as it should be, given the abundance of its host plants.

The upperside of the male Chocolate Royal is a majestic deep purple, with broad black borders on both wings. The female is paler with the basal portions of the forewing entirely purple. The underside is a dark chocolate brown with darker narrow post-discal lines on both wings. The black tornal spots on the hindwing are crowned with metallic green scaling without any orange crowning as in the preceding two species. There are two white-tipped tails at veins 1b and 2 on the hindwing.

A Chocolate Royal puddling at a damp footpath

The Chocolate Royal is often seen flying rapidly amongst low shrubbery and feeding on the flowers of various Ixora hybrids. Occasionally, males are seen to sunbathe with its wings opened flat. The species has also been encountered puddling at muddy streambanks and damp footpaths in the forested areas.

4. White Royal (Pratapa deva relata)

The White Royal was a recent re-discovery in 2007 when it was spotted at an urban park in Singapore. The species was subsequently observed at various locations across the island, particularly in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, the parasitic Scurrula ferruginea.

The upperside of a female White Royal

The upperside of the male White Royal is a deep lustrous blue whilst the female is a paler sky blue. Both sexes have a broad black apical border on the upperside of the forewing. The underside is greyish white with post-discal black streaks. The hindwing tornal area has the usual orange-crowned black spots. There is a pair of white-tipped tails at veins 1b and 2 of the hindwing.

A female White Royal perches on the edge of its caterpillar host plant.  Note transparent eyes

The White Royal is skittish and fast flying, and often stays in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant. It is considered moderately rare but when a colony is located, there are usually several individuals flying around. However, in recent years, the species has been absent and sightings have been few and far in between.

And there you have it, the more regularly seen Royals in Singapore, although none of them can be considered common. In the next part of this article, we take a look at the rarer species of Royals that have been recorded in Singapore over the past two decades.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong and Horace Tan.

14 September 2019

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve (Migratory Bird Trail)

A pristine Dark Tit (Hypolycaena thecloides thecloides) perchs on a leaf at SBWR

Recently, I made a visit to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) to check out the butterfly scene at this nature park. From my records, I last visited SBWR for a butterfly outing in Feb 2014! SBWR was first opened as a Nature Park in 1993. Subsequently, in 2002, the 130 Ha park was officially gazetted as a Nature Reserve and renamed Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to reflect its legally protected nature reserve status. The following year in 2003, SBWR became Singapore's first ASEAN Heritage Park.

An updated map of the enlarged SBWR (202 Ha)

An overview of the mangrove tidal ponds at SBWR

A recent expansion amalgamated the Kranji Nature Trail site to SBWR, resulting in a total of 202 Ha for the entire SBWR today. New facilities were added to SBWR in 2014, with a Visitor Centre at the Kranji Way entrance, a Wetlands Centre at the Neo Tiew entrance and boardwalks, bird hides and childrens' play stations. The older parts of SBWR where the tidal ponds are located were spruced up and retained as a more environmentally-sensitive sector of SBWR.

Typical sight that greets birding enthusiasts at SBWR - a pair of Milky Storks (Mycteria cinerea) on a mangrove tree

SBWR is well known for its bird diversity along the seasonal bird migratory route. Its mangrove habitats and mudflats are ideal pitstops for foraging migratory birds and this is where SBWR is an excellent location for birdwatchers during the migratory months of Sep to Mar each year. Its mangrove and intertidal habitat are also ideal for nature walks.

Looking upstream of Sg Buloh Besar (or Greater Bamboo River)

However, SBWR is not one of the best spots in Singapore for butterfly watching, but there are a few key resident species that are regularly observed. I looked back at my photography archives for the past 15 years and the species that are of notable mention taken at SBWR. A number of butterfly species that are regularly spotted at the reserve are closely associated with their caterpillar host plants found here.

A majestic tree at the plaza leading towards the Wetlands Centre

This weekend's blogpost focuses on the original tidal ponds area of SBWR that was first opened in 1993. Called the Migratory Bird Trail under the new SBWR masterplan, the entrance is located at the Neo Tiew carpark side of SBWR. Access to the new Wetlands Centre is via a shaded plaza and along a boardwalk that leads to the old Visitor Centre of SBWR.

The new Wetlands Centre

The original 1993 part of the buildings leading to the tidal ponds at SBWR

The acrid smell of the mangrove environment greeted us as we walked into the Wetlands Centre. It was low tide and the water body that surrounded the buildings at the Wetland Centre was muddy and exposed. A flowering Syzygium zeylanicum attracted a Baron, Grass Yellows and a couple of Common Bluebottles.

The main bridge at SBWR across Sg Buloh Besar

Heading towards the signature Main Bridge, which was constructed back in 1993, we saw a group of bird photographers with their "long guns" aimed up-and-down river, waiting patiently to shoot the birds that flew their way. Crocodiles are often spotted from this bridge as these reptiles patrol up and down Sg Buloh Besar, probably looking for their next meal.

Typical walking trails and views to the tidal ponds at SBWR

We walked along the looped Migratory Bird Trail and memories of the places where I shot certain butterfly species in the past flooded back. The environment had changed somewhat - the dirt footpath has been widened and in some parts gravel added and concrete kerbs constructed. The vegetation on both sides of the path was generally the same as I remembered them.

The original 1993 bird hides are still going strong

The Aerie watch tower in 2019.  In the background, we can see residential towers under construction in nearby Johor

An old 2003 shot of the Aerie.  Note no buildings in the background

The original bird hides and viewing panels were still here, with some refreshed and updated signage to educate visitors. The old outdoor classroom area was now gone and the route was simpler and more direct around the tidal ponds. The Aerie tower was still there and I recalled some fond memories of this tower when we designed and constructed it. Also noted that the access points to the service trails are now gated and trespassers will find it hard to get into these trails now.

A Perak Lascar, one of the 'resident' species at SBWR

Now back to our butterflies... As I mentioned earlier, SBWR was never an excellent place for butterflies in the first place. From my archives, the number of species per outing is considerably lower than many of the other butterfly-shooting locations in Singapore. There were outings where I hardly even pressed the shutter on my camera!

Perhaps the only redeeming factor of SBWR is the appearance of certain "regulars" along the trails. This is primarily due to the diversity of caterpillar host plants that are associated with the mangrove and back-mangrove habitats. Plants like the Sea Hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum), Sea Almond (Terminalia catappa), Derris trifoliata, Allophylus cobbe, Andira inermis, Red Saga (Adenanthera pavonina) and a number of palms tend to attract specific species of butterflies whose caterpillars feed on these plants.

The Sumatran Sunbeam is often spotted at SBWR

Amongst the key species spotted at SBWR is the Sumatran Sunbeam (Curetis saronis sumatrana). A small and fast flying butterfly, the silvery-white underside of this species is quite evident as the butterfly zips from shrub to shrub along the mangrove trails. Females are more often seen at SBWR, as they come down to lay their eggs on the hostplant Derris trifoliata.

Can you spot the Centaur Oakblue's caterpillar under that crowd of Weaver Ants?

The Centaur Oakblue (Arhopala centaurus) whose caterpillars have a symbiotic relationship with the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) is seasonally spotted at SBWR. Another regular is the Perak Lascar (Pantoporia paraka paraka) whose caterpillars feed on two Dalbergia spp. usually found at back-mangrove areas like SBWR, Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris Park.

Common at SBWR is the Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina bolina) and its subspecies jacintha. The males often patrol the footpaths and perch on the tops of leaves, surveying their territory and "attacking" any intruders that stray into its domain.

A Plain Nawab caterpillar on its "nest"

The Red Saga tree's leaves are hosts to the Plain Nawab (Polyura hebe plautus) and Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus) and these two species are sometimes seen at SBWR. Their caterpillars are more often spotted on the host plants than the adult butterflies.

The Singapore Fourline Blue, a signature species at SBWR

One of the signature species at SBWR is the Singapore Fourline Blue (Nacaduba pavana singapura) as at least two of its known caterpillar host plants grow wild along the footpaths at SBWR. This small Lycaenid is so named as the subspecies singapura is known from Singapore's mangrove habitats.

The Dark Tit can be found at SBWR due to the abundance of its caterpillar host plant, Flagellaria indica

The occurrence of the orchid-like Flagellaria indica, the host plant of the pretty Lycaenid, the Dark Tit (Hypolycaenia thecloides thecloides) attracts this species to occasionally turn up at SBWR. In quite a number of encounters of this species that I have come across, the adult butterflies are pristine individuals that may have recently eclosed in the vicinity. The related Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus teatus) has also been spotted along the mangrove trails.

Two of the Danainae that can sometimes be spotted at SBWR feeding on the yellow flowers of the Pig's Grass (Synedrella nodiflora)

And then there are the usual Danainae butterflies like the Blue and Dark Glassy Tigers, Spotted Black Crow and Striped Blue Crow that make their appearance regularly at SBWR as their caterpillar host plants are also found in this type of habitat.

Due to the presence of long grasses like Lallang and Elephant Grass, the Hesperiidae are also often spotted at SBWR. Amongst the regulars are the Common Awl, Plain Banded Awl, the various Darts and Swifts. Also previously recorded at SBWR are the Forest Hopper and Bush Hopper.

The Malay Dartlet was first discovered through a photo on an individual taken at SBWR in 2011

A skipper of note that was documented as a new discovery for Singapore in 2011, is the Malay Dartlet (Oriens paragola). An individual was first spotted at SBWR and recorded as a new find for Singapore. The species is still considered moderately rare, but has now been spotted in many parts of Singapore.

Despite not being an ideal place for butterfly photography, SBWR is still an interesting place to visit for a nature outing. Butterflies come as a bonus if they do appear, and do look out for the signature species at SBWR's mangrove habitats when you visit. The list of butterflies mentioned here are by no means exhaustive, and there are many other common species that have been spotted at SBWR from time to time.

How to get there :

By bus:
Mondays to Saturdays
Board SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station. Alight at Kranji Reservoir Carpark B. Walk across the road to the Visitor Centre.

Sundays and Public Holidays
Board SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station. The bus stops at the Wetland Centre entrance. Please note that SMRT Bus 925 operates only from Woodlands Interchange on Sundays and Public Holidays.

By car :

Visitor Centre:
60 Kranji Way, #01-00
Singapore 739453

Wetland Centre:
301 Neo Tiew Crescent
Singapore 718925

Parking lots are available near both entrances.

Opening hours:
7 am to 7 pm daily (entering or remaining in the nature reserve after 7pm is not allowed);

Text and Photos by Khew SK

*Note : All the butterfly photos featured here were taken in-situ at various parts of SBWR over the past 15 years