07 April 2019

Butterfly of the Month - April 2019

Butterfly of the Month - April 2019
The Common Faun (Faunis canens arcesilas)

A Common Faun perches on a leaf under the shady forest canopy

Spring is in the air. This is the time for the ethereal atmosphere of blooming pink flowers like the well-known Sakura season in Japan. Whilst Singapore doesn't have naturally-growing Cherry blossoms lining our parks and gardens, the change in weather from hot/dry to the April showers triggered off our own blooming of sorts in this City in a Garden.

The Trumpet Trees (Tabebuia rosea) in various parts of the island, with their crowns of pink flowers were reminescent of the Japanese cherry blossom flowers (without having to fork out the air fare to fly to Japan to experience it). Alternatively, visit the Gardens by the Bay for a slightly more "authentic" experience of the sakura blooms without the expense to boot!

Great Wall of China surrounded by pink cherry blossoms - Mar 2019

My first trip to the Great Wall of China, when I had an afternoon of spare time, was also augmented with pretty-in-pink blooms of the cherry blossoms surrounding China's modern 7 Wonders of the World. At this location near Beijing, the cool weather and off-peak season (i.e. less crowded!) allowed a leisurely stroll up a few hundred metres of this historic wall of ancient China.

Very much in the news during this month was the crash of Ethiopian Airlines' flight ET302 and similarity of the crash with LionAir's flight JT610 just 5 months earlier. Both Airlines were using new Boeing 737 Max planes and investigations have pointed to a problem with the flight stabilisation system designed to prevent stalling - the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system or MCAS. Basically, the automated system on the plane erroneously controlled the plane's flight and attempts by the pilots to override the system failed, causing the planes to nosedive into the ground, just minutes after take-off.

As humans continue to depend more and more on technology in our everyday lives, software design comes into question when we have to deal with autonomous transportation modes and leaving ourselves at the mercy of technology. A recent example was when I saw a driver smash her car into a barrier in a carpark whilst reversing. When I helped to pacify the lady driver on her smashed car, I asked her why she didn't stop the car when she knew that there was a barrier behind her? Her reply was that the sensor in her car did not beep to indicate that she needed to stop!

An interesting episode of how dependent that we have become on technology and sensors, such that our "everything automatic" expectations have made us forget how to use our eyes and ears and apply situational awareness when we drive or operate any mechanical device? Some food for thought...

A Common Faun feeding on rotting fig fruit on the forest floor

Our Butterfly of the Month for April 2019 is the shade-loving Common Faun (Faunis canens arcesilas). A medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of about 60-65mm, the Common Faun is a forest-dependent species that rarely leaves the sanctuary of the heavily-shaded forested areas in Singapore.

The English common name of "faun" is interesting, as it has its origins in Greek mythology. A faun is a half-human, half-goat creature in the enchanted forests of Rome. It is a two-legged creature, with the legs and tail of a goat, and the torso, arms and horned head of a man. Legend has it that fauns inspired fear amongst travellers in lonely, remote or wild places in the forests.

Very rarely, the Common Faun may be observed to open its wings to sunbathe in sunlit spots in the shady forest understorey

In reality, our shy Common Faun is probably only associated with shady quiet forests in our nature reserves. It is a relatively common butterfly, usually foraging amongst the leaf litter in the understorey of forested areas. It flies close to the ground, often no more than a metre above the cluttered forest floor. It is well camouflaged as it feeds on overripe fruits and other organic matter on the forest floor.

The Common Faun is orange-brown and unmarked on the upper side of both wings, with a slight darker shading on the termen from the apical area to the tornus of the forewing. The underside is dark brown with a series of squiggly transverse lines across both wings. In a sidelight, the underside of the hindwing may have a purplish hue. There is a series of submarginal white dots on both wings. The eyes are deep green.

The brown underside of the Common Faun camouflages it well when it forages for food amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor

The butterfly is often encountered along forest paths, lurking amongst dead leaves and twigs. It usually stops with its wings folded upright, where it merges well with the leaf litter on the ground. It can be quite skittish and difficult to approach when it is alert. However, when disturbed it does not fly very far before it stops and tries to camouflage itself on the forest floor.

An open-winged Common Faun feeding on a rotting fig fruit on the forest floor

The Common Faun is observed to feed on overripe fruits and other rotting matter on the forest floor. A favourite is the fruit of various species of figs (Ficus spp.) that fall on the forest floor. It can also be baited with overripe banana, papaya and mango, as with some of the other fruit-feeding butterflies in the forests.

A female Common Faun oviposits on the underside of a leaf of its caterpillar host plant, the Fishtail Palm

The species' caterpillars feed on Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis) and probably other species of palms. The caterpillars are hairy and resemble moth caterpillars. They feed in groups and stay together until it is time to pupate, where each individual then moves away from the host plant and pupates under a leaf.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nona Ooi, Michael Soh, Anthony Wong and Benjamin Yam.