08 November 2020

Flying Tigers 3.0

Flying Tigers 3.0
Featuring Singapore's Tiger Butterflies

And we're back again... Over twelve years ago, in Jan 2008, when we featured the different "Flying Tiger" species in Singapore, we had only five species of these Tigers recorded then. After many years of continued observations by butterfly enthusiasts in Singapore, the list of "Tigers" was updated to include more recent sightings of other species that were either vagrants, strays or seasonal migrants to Singapore. Back in that 2019 update, we featured 8 species (but inadvertently missed out one! Oops!)

So in this latest refresh, we add in the latest Tiger spotted at Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin recently - the Swamp Tiger (Danaus affinis malayana), and to correct the one we left out in the Flying Tigers 2.0 update : the Yellow Glassy Tiger (Parantica aspasia aspasia). Hence we now currently have 10 Flying Tigers spotted in Singapore as at 2020.

One of our extinct "Tigers" in Singapore, the Chocolate Tiger (Danaus melaneus sinopion) which has not been seen here in over a century!

One of the Tigers recorded by the early authors but has since gone extinct in Singapore is the Chocolate Tiger (Danaus melaneus sinopion). According to references, it has not been seen in Singapore since the 1900's. Nevertheless, it was listed as an extant species on the Singapore Checklist but its status is classified as extinct. However, it was even featured on an TransitLink stored-value ticket some years back, even though no one has actually seen the species in the wild in the past century.

A white-hindwinged form-intermedius Common Tiger feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra)
An orange-hindwinged form-genutia Common Tiger on the seed pod of the Rattlebox Plant (Crotalaria retusa)
A white-hindwinged form-alcippoides Plain Tiger feeding on the yellow flowers of the Blood Flower (Asclepias curassavica)
A two-in-one shot of a male orange-hindwinged form-chrysippus courting a feeding female white-hindwinged form-alcippoides.  Note the male's hair pencils extruded to spray pheremones to attract the female
A mating pair of Black Veined Tigers

The first group of Tigers under the genus Danaus features the more colourful species with colours that are reminiscent of their feline mammalian namesake - black and orange. Of the species found here in Singapore, the Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia), Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus) and the Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus) are relatively common and can be sometimes found in numbers where their respective host plants and other Danainae-attracting plants are grown.

The latest addition to the Flying Tigers in Singapore - the Swamp Tiger (Danaus affinis malayanus)

The fourth and most recent species, the Swamp Tiger (Danaus affinis malayanus) was recently spotted on Pulau Ubin in Aug 2020. A single female individual was feeding at the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) and stopped to rest at some vines. The species is known to prefer mangrove habitats in Malaysia, and was probably a stray from the mangroves of nearby Johor.  Pulau Ubin also has its patches of healthy mangroves and it is possible that the Swamp Tiger was looking for its host plant in the habitat.
A Dark Glassy Tiger feeding on the flower of the Spanish Needle (Bidens alba)
The seasonal Yellow Glassy Tiger feeding on the flower of the White Weed (Ageratum conyzoides)

The next genus of species of Tigers would be the Parantica, which features two species - the Dark Glassy Tiger (Parantica agleoides agleoides) and the seasonal Yellow Glassy Tiger (Parantica aspasia aspasia). The Dark Glassy Tiger is common in urban parks and gardens where the Rattlebox Plant (Crotalaria retusa) is cultivated. The Yellow Glassy Tiger, on the other hand, is a very rare vagrant that has only been seen in Singapore a handful of times in the field over the past 3 decades (although it is not uncommon in Malaysia).

A Blue Glassy Tiger feeding on the flower of the Golden Dewdrop (Duranta erecta)
A Grey Glassy Tiger perched on a palm frond. Note the much paler markings and the almost white hindwing cell

The genus Ideopsis hosts two species of Tigers that have been seen in Singapore. The first one, Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) is common and can be seen in various habitats and widely distributed all over Singapore. The more recently discovered Grey Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis juventa sita) is a rare vagrant that has only been seen twice so far - on Pulau Ubin and at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This species is not rare in the coastal areas of Johor, and could have strayed over to Singapore on favourable winds.

A Dark Blue Tiger feeding on the flower of the Spanish Needle at Pasir Ris Park Butterfly Garden
A Blue Tiger puddling at a rocky outcrop

The final two Tigers are recent additions from the genus Tirumala. In the early records, there were no observations of any species of this genus in Singapore. It was only in the past decade that two species from this genus were spotted in Singapore. The Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis septentrionis) has been observed a handful of times in Singapore and the individuals were believed to be vagrants coming in from Malaysia. The Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace) of which only a single sighting was made so far, was probably a stray or a stowaway that made its way to Singapore.

We have updated the list of Flying Tigers in Singapore to 10 this year, but will we ever see the remaining 5 that fly in Malaysia - a few of them montane or found only in the northern part of the peninsula? Who knows? With Mother Nature, there will always be surprises.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Khew SK, Loh MY, Loke PF and Mei Hwang