29 May 2021

Butterfly of the Month - May 2021

Butterfly of the Month - May 2021
The Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri)

A Malay Tailed Judy perched on a fern in its typical shaded habitat in the forest understorey

The daily global news of Earth's battle with an "unseen" enemy is beginning to sound like a sci-fi movie, with each battle won or lost and which side is gaining ground in this war. It is not like the storyline hasn't been thought of already, with movies like Outbreak (1995), Contagion (2011), Flu (2013), Containment (2016) Pandemic (2016) and Virus (2019). Today, what the world is experiencing is a real-life experience of fighting Covid19 and trying to get a semblance of what our lives used to be before it struck more than a year ago.

Different countries' effectiveness in combating the pandemic is often a combination of political leadership, residents' compliance, human rights, healthcare facilities, affluence, geography, weather and a whole host of variable factors. Whilst China, a country of over 1 billion people (and where the virus purportedly originated) is able to keep the pandemic at bay, its equally populous neighbour, India is struggling hard to control the outbreak.

A Malay Tailed Judy feeding on a fallen fruit

The US continues to be top on the infections leaderboard, with over 33 million infections, but India is slowly but surely creeping up with 27 million infections and counting. Over the past few weeks, the average rate in India outstrips the US, even as each country manages its own population in their own unique way. Being a producer/exporter of the Covid vaccine, the US certainly has an advantage over India as it moves towards herd immunity across the country.

Closer to home, our neighbours in Malaysia have been scrambling to keep the lid on rising infection cases, which crossed the 8,000 mark yesterday. This prompted the government to announce a full 2-week lockdown from the 1 June. Whilst being mindful of keeping the economy buzzing, each measure of control has to balance the possibility of a resurgence in infections. To add to the confusion, more variations of the virus are being discovered as it mutates and fights back against human interventions.

The sudden surge of daily cases, particularly those that are unlinked, in Singapore caused its slowly re-opening control measures on the backfoot. The appearance of infections attributed to the mutant strain B1-617 sparked off a possibility of a 2nd wave of infections in the community. Swift action by the government and a largely cooperative population appeared to have stemmed the initial exponential increase in daily infections over the past two weeks. And so the story continues...

Our May 2021 feature butterfly is the Riodinid, the Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri). There have been recent changes to the taxonomic classification of the genera in the family Riodinidae and a recent scientific paper has proposed that this species be placed under the genus Archigenes. However, taking after the latest edition of the Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 5th edition (2020), we will leave the genus as Abisara for the time being, until the taxonomic changes are updated in successive reference literature.

The Malay Tailed Judy is a moderately rare species and prefers the shaded understory of our forested areas in Singapore. It is rarely seen, if ever, in urban parks and gardens. The species belongs to the family better known as the "Metalmarks" which are characterised by reddish-brown butterflies, some of which have pretty iridescent metallic scales on their wings.

The species has a unique habit of stopping with partially opened wings on the top surfaces of leaves in heavily shaded habitats, and then twisting and turning and hopping from perch to perch. They are generally timid and skittish, moving quickly away from any threatening movements. Occasionally, they appear to stop and remain stationary as though to "sleep".

A typical partially-opened wing pose of a Malay Tailed Judy in its natural habitat

The Malay Tailed Judy has been observed to puddle on forest footpaths amongst leaf litter, often foraging for damp decomposed matter and overripe fruits. Like its other cousins in the family, it is seldom seen feeding on flowers but instead uses its proboscis to feed on the surfaces of leaves for some unseen matter.

A rare open winged shot, showing the upperside of the Malay Tailed Judy

The Malay Tailed Judy differs from the other species in the genus in that the ground colour of the butterfly is a pale purple-brown instead of dark red. It has a pair of prominent white tipped tails at vein 4 of the hindwing. On the forewings is a pair of sullied white transverse sub-apical stripes, which is more distinct on the underside of the wings than on the upperside.

A newly-eclosed Malay Tailed Judy perched above its empty pupal case

The basal area of both wings are paler on the underside,  There are large black eyespots at the apical and tornal areas of the hindwing.  The eyes of the species are dark brown and nearly opaque.  The species has been successfully bred in Singapore on the local host plants Embelia ribes and Embelia canescens.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Richard Ong, Nona Ooi, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Benjamin Yam.