25 January 2020

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2020

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2020
Chinese New Year Butterfly Tea Cups

The series of six Chinese New Year butterfly teacups with a feature butterfly for each year from 2015 - 2020

Just a little over six years ago, when Ms Ho Ching was thinking of a Chinese New Year memento for the volunteers and grassroots supporters of one of the constituencies, she thought of a Chinese tea cup adorned with a photo of a butterfly. I suggested a few shots of some colourful butterflies for her consideration, and this started an annual journey of designing a CNY butterfly teacup since the first edition in 2015.

In selecting the shots for the CNY butterfly teacup, I chose a few criteria to shortlist the photos.
  • The butterfly must be colourful and not be too drab, as it is after all, for a CNY teacup
  • The butterfly should be feeding or perched on a flower to add to the colour and composition
  • It has to be locally shot in Singapore

The Chinese New Year teacup series with their respective boxes

In subsequent years, ButterflyCircle members generously contributed their photographs for the CNY  butterfly teacups. It was always a challenge to select the photos as there were many excellent shots to choose from. And so, every Spring Festival since 2015, there was a photo of a pretty butterfly on each year's CNY butterfly teacup.

2015 - Year of the Sheep (19 Feb 2015) - The Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina)

The first CNY butterfly teacup design features the Malay Lacewing, a local species of butterfly with bright colours and intricate lace patterns on its wings. It is a species that frequents the forested nature reserves in Singapore, and is relatively rare in recent years. It flies in a slow unhurried manner and is known to be distasteful to predators.

2015 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Malay Lacewing

Each ceramic teacup is designed with a lid and a saucer, and comes in a customised box. The description of the butterfly and flower are also annotated on the box. For each year, a Chinese couplet is inscribed on the box as well as the teacup. For the 2015 edition, the couplet reads "蝶恋花 喜迎春" or roughly translated as "Butterflies Love Flowers, Happiness of the New Year".

2016 - Year of the Monkey (8 Feb 2016) - The Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

The 2016 CNY butterfly teacup featured the common Lime Butterfly, an urban species that is more regularly seen in our urban parks and gardens. Its caterpillars feed on various species of lime plants, which are usually found in abundance, especially during the CNY season as the ripening orange lime fruits signify gold and prosperity to the owner of the plants.

2016 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Lime Butterfly

The 2016 Chinese couplet was "春花绽 彩蝶欢" translated to mean "Spring Flowers Blossom, Beautiful Butterflies Dancing". A most appropriate and poetic couplet that goes well with the Lime Butterfly feeding on the flowers of the Lantana bush. The ButterflyCircle photographer, Bob Cheong, shot this at the Clementi Community Centre Garden in Singapore.

2017 - Year of the Rooster (28 Jan 2017) - The Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete)

The pretty urban butterfly, Painted Jezebel was featured on the 2017 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup. This common species can often be spotted at urban gardens, parks and roadside greenery in Singapore. It flies leisurely at treetops, and often seen frolicking with other individuals of the species.

2017 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Painted Jezebel

Draft Artwork for the 2017 CNY butterfly teacup

The 2017 teacup Chinese couplet was "福盈门 蝶花舞" or "Prosperity Comes to the Home, Butterflies Dance amongst Flowers". The photo was taken by the late ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir who passed away in May 2018. The Painted Jezebel featured on the teacup was feeding on the red flowers of the red Shanghai Beauty (Jatropha interrigima) at the Upper Seletar Reservoir Park.

2018 - Year of the Dog (16 Feb 2018) - The Club Silverline (Spindasis syama terana)

This small and pretty Lycaenid is one of two species of its genus that can be found in Singapore. The Club Silverline has silver lined black markings on pale beige wings. It is a fast flyer, but is often spotted feeding on flowers in the early hours of the day. It can be found in urban parks and gardens as well as the forested nature reserves in Singapore.

2018 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Club Silverline

ButterflyCircle member Loke Peng Fai shot this Club Silverline feeding on the red flowers of the Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra) at one of our urban parks, Tampines Eco Green, where this butterfly species has been often spotted. The Chinese couplet for 2018 reads "蝶嬉花 颂春乐" meaning "Butterflies Frolick amongst the Flowers, Singing a Happy New Year Song".

2019 - Year of the Pig (5 Feb 2019) - The Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia)

The bright and cheery Orange Emigrant was the feature butterfly on the 2019 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup. The species is another common urban butterfly, often seen in urban parks and gardens where its preferred caterpillar host plant, the Scrambled Egg Bush or Golden Senna (Senna surattensis) grows. It is a fast-flying butterfly with white forewings and yellow hindwings on the upperside, and a golden yellow underside.

2019 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Orange Emigrant

Draft Artwork for the 2019 CNY butterfly teacup

The Orange Emigrant on the CNY 2019 butterfly teacup was photographed by lady ButterflyCircle member Loh Mei Yee. The butterfly was feeding on the flower of the Peacock Flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) at the Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin. The 2019 Chinese couplet reads "花迎春 蝶纳福" which roughly translates into "Spring-greeting Flowers, Fortune-blessing Butterflies".

2020 - Year of the Rat (25 Jan 2020) - The Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei)

This year, for the first time, we feature 3 individuals of the same species of butterfly on the CNY teacup. The common urban Blue Pansy is a sexually dimorphic species with the male and female with a different appearance. The underside of the butterfly is pale and cryptic, whilst the bright colours of the upperside of the wings are attractive and pretty.

2020 edition of the CNY butterfly teacup featuring the Blue Pansy

Draft Artwork for the 2020 CNY butterfly teacup

The Blue Pansy was photographed perched on the flower of the Nut Grass Flower (Cyperus rotundus) at the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. The male with its attractive blue wings and orange-ringed eyespots is depicted on the left of the perched individual, and "chasing" the female. The Chinese couplet reads "蝶生姿 花吐艳" meaning "Butterflies Dance, Flowers Blossom".

Chinese New Year Butterfly Teacup series from 2015 - 2020

And with the sixth edition of the CNY butterfly teacup series, we start a new decade with the Year of the Rat, which is also coincidentally the first animal in the Chinese horoscope. With new beginnings and exciting and unpredictable time ahead of us, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers and members a...

"HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR and May the Year of the Metal Rat bring good fortune, prosperity, good health and happiness to Everyone!"

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Loh MY and Loke PF

Special thanks to Ms Ho Ching for generously sponsoring the CNY teacups for the past 6 years and for giving the privilege to ButterflyCircle members to feature their photos on the teacups.

19 January 2020

Butterfly of the Month - January 2020

Butterfly of the Month - January 2020
The Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea)

We crossed into a new decade a couple of weeks back, as the world celebrated the New Year 2020. I wonder if anyone made their "new decade" resolutions and what they want to achieve in the next 10 years of their lives. Or perhaps making resolutions are passé now, and we live our lives in a world that changes so rapidly that we make adjustments to our goals and objectives on a daily basis?

We saw the environmental issues affecting the planet towards the end of 2019, and moving forward in 2020, the effects and unprecedented outcomes of climate change are beginning to show all around the world. From the record high temperatures in 2019, to the more powerful typhoons and floods, to the more frequent seismic and volcanic activities, to the wildfires raging in Australia, we wonder what else the world will see in the coming 10 years.

A male Malay Viscount feeding on some moisture on a moss-covered tree trunk

So, besides just watching and lamenting the fact that natural disasters will be a way of life in the coming years, what else can the world do to reverse the effects? Or have we reached a point of no return? There have been reports of an ecological Armageddon in the insect world, where, for example, scientists reported that 75% of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth.

A female Malay Viscount with her wings folded upright

The impact on our butterflies is also being felt all over the region. Ever so often on social media, we hear that nature enthusiasts and butterfly watchers commenting that there appears to be fewer and fewer butterflies (both in terms of species diversity and numbers). Butterflies are perceptibly declining over the past 10 years. Indeed so, this is our experience in Singapore too. Species that we have encountered quite regularly in the past, are now harder to see these days.

A mating pair of Malay Viscount - top : female, bottom : male

What can we do to reverse this trend? Whilst research and studies have been carried out in greater depth in recent years, the implementation of real-life measures to support and conserve butterflies in Singapore has been slow. There are "nature lovers" who can only criticise and chastise the government agencies for badly managing our parks, gardens and nature reserves. Or over-manicuring our greenery such that biodiversity conservation is secondary to human priorities.

The question that comes to mind is, what have you personally done to share your knowledge and observations with the people who matter? Or are you just complaining for complaining's sake and doing nothing to contribute to the ecological deterioration? At least in Singapore, the agencies are doing a lot more than what we can see amongst our neighbours around us. And yet, there are still "spectators" who just sit around and point fingers and do very little else to help.

A freshly-eclosed female Malay Viscount holding on to its pupal case

We continue our Butterfly of the Month series with our 147th species that is featured since Dec 2007. This month's feature butterfly is the Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea). This relatively common species is forest-dependent. It is regularly encountered along the forest fringes of the nature reserves and forested areas of Singapore. Yet, it is rarely seen, if ever, in urban parks and gardens, perhaps with the exception of the Singapore Botanic Gardens where it can be found in the forested areas.

It may be because of the caterpillar host plants that the species depends on. The currently 3 known host plants in Singapore are forest plants that are rarely seen outside the nature reserves. These are : Palaquium obovatum (Sapotaceae), Pouteria obovata (Sapotaceae), Adinandra dumosa (Theaceae, common name: Tiup-Tiup). The habitat that the Malay Viscount prefers is also an important consideration.

A mating pair of Malay Viscount : Left : Male, Right : Female

The Malay Viscount features a greyish-brown upperside, with white post-discal markings and a series of dark brown V-shaped submarginal markings. The underside is paler and has a violet tinge in a side light, and particularly on pristine individuals. Males have a more angular forewing than females and on the underside of the hindwing, the chevron-shaped markings are more distinct but smaller.

An atypical Malay Viscount with a more distinct blue hue on some of the markings on its wings

The species is regularly observed and can be considered a "common" species. It is a skittish butterfly and a strong flyer if it is disturbed. It tends to adopt a flap-glide flight style, typical of species in the Limenitidinae sub-family of butterflies. Both sexes tend to stop with their wings opened flat in the upper surfaces of leaves.

A Malay Viscount feeding on the fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

A Malay Viscount feeding on a fallen fig fruit on the forest floor

The Malay Viscount is often seen foraging on the forest floor for overripened fruits like figs. Both sexes are attracted to the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), tree sap and other fermenting and sweet organic material found in the forests.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, David Ho, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Michael Khor, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Neo Tiang Pee, Anthony Wong and Benjamin Yam

12 January 2020

Nawabs of Singapore

The Nawabs of Singapore
Polyura species found in Singapore

Contemporaneous literature and references indicate that there were four Polyura species recorded from Singapore - the Common Nawab (Polyura athamas athamas), Plain Nawab (Polyura hebe plautus), Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus) and Malayan Nawab (Polyura moori moori). When our butterfly observation records started back in the 1990's only two species were recorded - the Plain Nawab and Blue Nawab.

Of these two, the Plain Nawab was the commoner, but caterpillars of both species turned up quite regularly on various host plants that these species were known to feed on. Both the Plain and Blue Nawabs are widely distributed across the island and have been observed in urban parks and gardens like the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Southern Ridges parks, Tampines Eco Green, just to name a few, and also at forested nature reserves and even at back-mangrove/mangrove habitats like at Pulau Ubin, Pasir Ris Park and Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve.

A Malayan Nawab shot at Pulau Ubin

Some time between 2012 and 2014, sightings of the 3rd Nawab, the Malayan Nawab, were reported from Pulau Ubin. Several more regular sightings of the species confirmed that this "lost" species had been re-discovered in Singapore once again. However, the 4th species, the Common Nawab, has not been recorded in Singapore for a long time. We now take a look at the 3 remaining Nawab species left in Singapore.

1) The Plain Nawab (Polyura hebe plautus)

The Plain Nawab is the most regularly seen of the three species in Singapore. It is widely distributed across the island and is present in urban parks and gardens as well as in the forested nature reserves and in mangrove habitats as well. Although the adult butterfly is seen regularly, its caterpillars are also as often spotted on the Red Saga (Adenanthera pavonina) its preferred host plant.

The Plain Nawab has a greenish upperside with a broad black border on both wings. The underside has a large pale silver-green median patch which is usually limited to about a quarter or third of the wings. The butterfly is robust-bodied and has a strong flight.

2) The Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus)

The Blue Nawab flies as rapidly as the Plain Nawab and is skittish. Unless encountered whilst feeding on overripe fruits or tree sap, this species is swift on the wing and is hard to photograph. However, like the Plain Nawab, this species' caterpillars are occasionally spotted, also on the Red Saga. The species uses several host plants for its caterpillars.

The Blue Nawab has a silvery underside marked with attractive brown and purple patterns. The upperside has a white median band that stretches across both wings. Like many of the other Polyura species, it has a pair of thick pointed tails on the hindwings. The Blue Nawab is the largest of the three species in Singapore, and the female has a wingspan that sometimes exceed 90mm.

3) The Malayan Nawab (Polyura moori moori)

The last of the three extant Polyura species in Singapore, the Malayan Nawab was a recent re-discovery. Sightings of it are mainly on Pulau Ubin, where it was sighted and photographed in 2018 and 2019. Several of the photographed individuals were either feeding on the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) or on tree sap. Another robust and swift flyer, it is not easy to photograph when it is alert and in flight.

The Malayan Nawab's forewing black margin on the upperside does not decrease markedly towards the tornal area. The hindwing pale green patch is more extensive than the Plain Nawab and usually covers about half the wing. The discal patch on the underside of the forewing is markedly indented at the area just opposite the sub-apical spot in space 5.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loh MY, Michael Soh and Tea Yi Kai

05 January 2020

The Urbanites

The Urbanites
Butterflies in urban habitats

Just a couple of days into the new year, I was driving along a major road in Singapore's Central Business District. Despite being in the heart of the city and in a highly urbanised and developed area, the roads were lined with lush trees and landscaped verges. The road side-tables were planted with low flowering shrubs and verdant vegetation. Such is Singapore - the City in a Garden.

An Orange Emigrant, one of the species that can be spotted in urban built-up areas

My colleague suddenly called out "look, there's a butterfly fluttering across the road!". And there we have it, an orange butterfly was darting between the moving cars, maneuvering effortlessly towards the treetops of a roadside Scrambled Egg Bush (Senna surattensis) with its bright yellow flowers and lush green leaves. This was an Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia) and it was probably flying around its caterpillar host plant to look for a good place to oviposit.

The Painted Jezebel is well distributed across the island and can be observed from urban habitats to the forested nature reserves

As we stopped at the traffic lights, my eye locked on to a whitish butterfly flying near the treetops some 10m away. I instantly recognised its slow and easy-going fluttering that it was a Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete). It was also probably looking for its caterpillar host plant, the Malayan Misteltoe (Dendropththoe pentandra) a parasitic plant that often grows on trees and other bushes and propagated by birds.

The Common Grass Yellow can be spotted in urban pocket gardens amongst heavily built up areas

This was in downtown CBD and we can still occasionally see some butterflies fluttering around the vegetation in the urban areas of Singapore. This weekend's blogpost takes a look at some of the species that you may be able to spot in the urban areas of Singapore, and you do not have to go to the parks, gardens or nature reserves to see some butterflies in Singapore. So what are these "urbanite butterflies" that we can sometimes encounter in the heart of the developed areas in Singapore?

1) The Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

One of the more often-spotted Swallowtails in our urban areas, is the Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus). This species is very widespread and its caterpillars are sometimes considered a "pest" to cultivators of the Calamansi Lime and other types of Lime plants. I recall seeing a Lime Butterfly in the middle of Singapore's Chinatown, fluttering around a few pots of Lime plants that were placed outside a residence.

The Lime Butterfly is attractively coloured with black and pale yellow markings on the upperside forming an irregular band running from the forewings to the hindwings. The underside is pale yellow with black markings. Both sexes are mostly yellow with black streaks and irregularly-shaped spots. On the hindwing, several black spots are lined with blue striae. There is a series of orange post-discal bars on both hind- and forewings.

We have had reports of caterpillars found on a potted Citrus plant on the 13th storey of a high rise (HDB) residential apartment in Singapore. The owner was quite certain that the plant was over a year old (implying that the caterpillars were not stowaways on a new plant and brought up to that height). The potted plant was placed along the common corridor of the apartment, suggesting that the visiting female Lime Butterfly flew up to that height (about 40m high) to oviposit on the host plant!

2) The Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete)

The common species can often be spotted flying restlessly amongst the treetops in our urban areas. Its caterpillar host plant, the Malayan Mistletoe, grows wild on many trees and shrubs and is sought after by the Painted Jezebel. As it is distasteful to predators and and displays aposematic colouration, it has an unhurried flight and flutters gently amongst the vegetation.

The wings of the Painted Jezebel are white above, with the veins prominently black-dusted in the outer areas. The female is more heavily dusted with black, more so on the upperside than the underside, than the male - appearing almost dark grey when in flight. The basal half of the underside of the hindwing is bright yellow with a bright red marginal border and crossed with the contrasting black veins, giving it an attractive and colourful appearance.

3) The Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia)

This fast-flying Pierid can often be seen flying across major roads and even expressways near its caterpillar host plants. The Orange Emigrant is relatively common in Singapore, and can be found in urban areas, parks and gardens and nature parks.

The Orange Emigrant has white forewings with black borders and deep orange-yellow hindwings on the upperside. On the underside, both the fore and hindwings are orange-yellow with dark brownish spots and markings. The female has a series of irregular sub-marginal spots on the forewing above and a broad black marginal border on the hindwing. The underside markings of the female are more prominent and the ground colour of the wings is often of a deeper orange than the male.

4) The Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomona)

A close relative of the Orange Emigrant, the Lemon Emigrant is also another "urbanite" that can be seen in downtown Singapore. Where its caterpillar host plant is grown as a roadside tree, the Lemon Emigrant can regularly be seen flying at tree top level. The Golden Shower (Senna fistula), Seven Golden Candlesticks (Senna alata) and Siamese Cassia (Senna siamea) are cultivated as roadside trees and feature plants in urban gardens. These plants attract the Lemon Emigrant to seek out fresh leaves to oviposit.

The Lemon Emigrant is represented by at least 7 different forms (males and females) in the region. The 'crocale' forms with the antennae black above, and without silvery spots on the underside of the wings, and the 'pomona' forms with the antennae red above and red-ringed silver spots on the underside of the wings.

The ground colour of the Lemon Emigrant ranges from pale green to a deep orange yellow, with varying widths of black borders on both wings, depending on the 'form'. The butterfly is fast on the wing and skittish. They can sometimes be seen flying across the urban pocket-parks in downtown Singapore.

5) The Striped Albatross (Appias olferna olferna)

The Striped Albatross is another common Pierid that is sometimes seen in HDB gardens and urban parks. One of the sexually dimorphic species, where the male and female look quite different from each other. This fast-flying species' caterpillars feed on the Purple Cleome (Cleome rutidosperma), which is a common roadside wildflower that pops up whenever there is a patch of unkempt grass verge.

The male Striped Albatross is white above, with a dentate black border. The undersides have dark dusted veins, and the hindwing basal area lightly marked with yellow. Females are heavily dusted with greyish yellow on both the upper and undersides, and the basal area of the hindwing below is generously marked with yellow.

6 The Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe contubernalis)

The last of the "urbanites" is the Common Grass Yellow. Although there are 6 lookalike species in Singapore, it is highly likely that the small pretty fluttering yellow butterfly that we see in urban parks and gardens is this species. I have seen the Common Grass Yellow fluttering around a pocket park in the heart of the CBD, where one of its host plants, the Peacock Flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is cultivated.

The Common Grass Yellow has bright lemon yellow wings with black borders on the upperside. It is predominantly yellow on the underside, with some brown spots on both the fore- and hindwings. The spots on the underside can be variable. Females are larger and usually a paler yellow with more diffused black borders.

And so we have taken a look at some of the more common urban species that an observer can find int the heart of the Lion City. I am sure that there will be others, but these are the most likely species that you may encounter, even if you are in a built-up urban part of town.

Text and Photos by Khew SK