28 April 2019

Flying Flowers

Flying Flowers
SG Butterflies named after Flowers

A Common Rose sunbathes with its wings opened flat on a leaf

Colourful butterflies fluttering around in gardens are often admired by one and all. Their beauty, grace and gentleness as they fly from flower to flower, feeding on nectar with their long proboscis have long been associated with the wonders of Mother Nature's creations. By themselves, the intricate patterns and colourful wings of butterflies are often referred to "flying flowers".

A male Blue Pansy showing off its colourful wings

In this weekend's blog post, we take a look at the common English names of butterflies in Singapore, and how many species are named after flowers. In an earlier blog post, we investigated the backgrounds of some of the common names that were coined for butterflies by the early collectors. Whilst common names are usually avoided by taxonomists and scientists, we often find that hobbyists and amateur naturalists tend to use vernacular names for easier reference.

A Common Posy feeding on the sap of the Bandicoot Berry, surrounded by ants

Of the 330+ species of butterflies found in Singapore, only nine are named after flowers, or words specifically associated with flowers. All nine are resident natives species found in Singapore, and the species can be collectively placed under four groups named after flowers.

The Common Rose

A typical red cultivar of a Rose

This Swallowtail butterfly is the first of the species to be named after a flower - the rose. A rose is the flower of a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae. There are over 300 species of roses and thousands of cultivars ranging in colour from black to red and whites and yellows. Roses are well-known as bouquets for displays or gifts of affection and love.

Subspecies asteris of the Common Rose that is found in Singapore and Malaysia

The Common Rose is a resident species of Southeast Asia, of which there are at least 20 known sub-species occurring geographically from Sri Lanka and eastwards to the Philippines. The local sub-species found in Singapore and Malaysia is asteris and is the only extant Papilionidae in Singapore to be named after a flower.

Possible subspecies antiphus or even a valid species from Borneo?

There was a period around 2004 - 2009 where a variant of the Common Rose appeared in Singapore. This lacked the large white spots on the hindwing of the butterfly. This "Black Rose" seemed to resemble the Bornean species Papilio antiphus or which some have classified as a subspecies antiphus of the Common Rose, Pachliopta aristolochiae. However, in recent years, this strange Black Rose has not been seen in Singapore.

The Pansy Butterflies

Various hybrids of the Garden Pansy (Viola wittrockiana) in bloom

The Garden Pansy is a type of large-flowered hybrid plant cultivated as a garden flower. The hybrid is often referred to as Viola wittrockiana derived chiefly from the hybridization of the European Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor) with other wild violets. Modern horticulturists have developed a wide range of pansy flower colors and bicolors including yellow, gold, orange, purple, violet, red, white, and even near-black (very dark purple).

The Four Pansy butterflies found in Singapore - Peacock, Blue, Chocolate and Grey

The Pansy butterflies are collectively grouped under the genus Junonia. Of these, four species - the Blue, Chocolate, Peacock and Grey Pansys occur in Singapore. These are generally sun-loving butterflies and are usually found in urban parks and gardens in sunlit grassy areas.

All the Pansy butterflies feature eyespots (or ocelli) on their wings and amongst the four resident species, the Blue and Peacock Pansy are brightly coloured and considered the prettiest amongst the four species. The Chocolate Pansy, although more drably coloured, is also an attractive butterfly, with its reddish eye spots. It is by far the commonest of the four.

The last species, the Grey Pansy, may be seasonally common but is the rarest of the four species in Singapore. With a violet-grey ground colour on both wings, the Grey Pansy also features a series of orange-crowned black ocelli across the submarginal area of both wings.

The Posy Butterflies

A Posy of flowers - usually referring to a bouquet of colourful flowers or even a wreath

The word "Posy" is often used to refer to an arrangement or bouquet of colourful flowers presented as a gift. Whilst a Posy does not refer to any specific species of flowers, the word is associated with a decorative arrangement of colourful flowers.

A male Dark Posy resting on a leaf

There are 3 species of butterflies that are collectively grouped under the common name of "Posy". These species, under the genus Drupadia of the family Lycaenidae, are small forest-dependent species. All 3 species look rather similar, although they can be separated by distinctive markings on the wings.

The three Posy butterflies found in Singapore - Common, Dark and Pygmy

Of the 3, the Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra moorei) is most regularly encountered in the forested nature areas in Singapore. The Dark Posy is less often seen but generally encountered in the same localities as its commoner cousin. The last species, the Pygmy Posy, distinctive in its diminutive size and thicker markings, is the rarest of the 3 and not often encountered.

The Forget-Me-Not Butterflies

A cluster of blue True Forget-Me-Not flowers

The True or Water Forget-Me-Not flower (Myosotis scorpioides) grows on tall, hairy stems which can sometimes reach up to 70 cm in height. The plant bears small (8-12 mm) flowers pink in bud, becoming blue when fully open, with yellow centers and white honey guides. The plant is native to Europe and Asia although it is considered an introduced invasive weed in certain countries.

Our Forget-Me-Not butterflies in Singapore - (top)- Silver Forget-Me-Not and (bottom) Forget-Me-Not

There are two species of butterflies called "Forget-Me-Not" - these are the Silver Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops panormus exiguus) and Forget-Me-Not (Catochrysops strabo strabo). Their English common names were perhaps coined for these species due to their pale blue uppersides that resemble the Forget-Me-Not flowers.

Both species may be considered moderately rare, but appearing to be common in certain localised areas seasonally. They are difficult to distinguish in the field, except when the underside of the forewing's costal spot can be seen. Both species are widely distributed in Singapore, and they can be spotted in urban parks and gardens, and also in forested areas near the mangroves.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Khew SK and Loh MY