20 June 2020

Butterfly of the Month - June 2020

Butterfly of the Month - June 2020
The Large Snow Flat (Tagiades gana gana)

A male Large Snow Flat basks in the sun with its usual open-winged pose

The global pandemic saga continues, as each country deals with its own challenges unique to itself. As the time-frame for when the coronavirus hit a country varies from late December to early March, the severity and the extent to which damage is done to a country varies from minimal to cataclysmic depending on the actions taken by the respective governments and the reactions of the resident population.

Male Large Snow Flats in their typical "flat" winged pose.

The rate at which the COVID-19 infections is reported in a country is a product of the extent of testing, and the conditions under which the virus has been able to spread within the community. Despite international travel coming to a standstill, the domestic proliferation of the infections was highly dependent on the unique circumstances that each country faced.

A mating pair of Large Snow Flats - male on the left, female on the right

The swift action taken by the authorities in Singapore at the outset of the pandemic was relatively effective. The spread of the virus appeared to be under control in the initial weeks, with the number of infections well under control. However, this initial success was short-lived when the underestimated wave of infections struck rapidly within the migrant workers' community in their overcrowded dormitories where they lived in close proximity.

A female Large Snow Flat sunbathing on a fern

Singapore own brand of a partial lockdown referred to as a "circuit breaker" was lifted in early June into what was called Phase 1. In a surprise announcement on Monday, the government is proceeding with the move from Phase 1's "Safe Re-Opening" to Phase 2's "Safe Transition". Businesses and commercial activities were progressively re-opened. The sense of relief is almost palpable as malls and F&B outlets came out of the forced hibernation for two months. We will not know if there will be any re-closures in the near future, but for now, many business owners are heaving a sigh of relief, as some of them clean and dust off two months of inactivity and roar back into action.

A male Large Snow Flat sunbathing on the top of a leaf

The news must surely come as a relief to businesses that have been ordered to shut down during the circuit breaker. There are still strict measures in place, like continued wearing of masks, safe-distancing and a maximum of 5 persons in dining establishments and even outings. But the much-awaited almost "back to normal" routines was like a breath of fresh air to the citizenry and businesses.

A female Large Snow Flat taking a break from feeding and sunbathing on a leaf of the Spicate Eugenia

Leaving the unpredictability of the pandemic aside and keeping watch of how it develops in the coming days and weeks, we turn to our Butterfly of Month for June 2020. We feature a skipper species from the family Hesperiidae, the Large Snow Flat (Tagiades gana gana). Hailing from the sub-family Pyrginae the species in the group have a unique characteristic of opening their wings flat when they stop to sunbathe or even feed, hence their generic common name of "Flats".

Typical Large Snow Flat pose, whilst hiding on the undersides of leaves

The Large Snow Flat is moderately rare, and usually found in the forested areas of Singapore, within and at the fringes of the nature reserves. It is often found in the company of its closely related cousin, the Common Snow Flat. The Large Snow Flat displays similar habits of the various "Flats", which is rapid flight, and then stopping on the undersides of leaves with its wings opened flat.

Top : Male Large Snow Flat with more angular forewings, and Bottom : Female Large Snow Flat

The Large Snow Flat is dark brown above, with rather diffuse discal and post discal spots. The forewing has three white spots at the sub-apical area. The tornal area of the hindwing above is whitened and features small diffused black spots.

A less often seen underside of a Large Snow Flat resting on a leaf

On the underside, the whitened area on the hindwing is more extensive and often reaches the base of the hindwing. The black spots at the tornal area are larger and most distinct. The last few segments of the abdomen of the male is whitened dorsally, whilst the female's abdomen is brown. The underside of the abdomen is white.

The male of the Large Snow Flat has a more angular forewing compared to the female. When in flight, the Snow Flats with whitened hindwings appear much smaller in size than they really are - often giving the illusion of a small white Lycaenidae or a species of Pieridae.

Large Snow Flats feeding on flowering plants - Top : Syzygium zeylanicum Middle : Lantana camara Bottom : Leea indica

They are often attracted to the flowers of the Spicate Eugenia (Syzygium zeylanicum) and other related species. At certain hours of the day, they may also be observed to sunbathe on the upper surfaces of leaves, with their wings opened flat. Their local host plants include several species of Dioscorea particularly, Dioscorea pyrifolia and Dioscorea orbiculata var. tenuifolia.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Antonio Giudici, Chng CK, Khew SK, Michael Khor, Koh CH, Loke PF, Neo TP, Richard Ong, Michael Soh and Jonathan Soong.