30 July 2023

Butterfly of the Month - July 2023

Butterfly of the Month - July 2023
The Eliot's Cornelian (Deudorix elioti)

An Eliot's Cornelian perched on a leaf at the forest edge of Singapore's nature reserves

We are into the second half of the year 2023, and we are experiencing record high temperatures and unprecedented climate phenomena in many countries in the northern hemisphere. Extreme floods hit other parts of the world, damaging properties and killed people. Did some clueless politician once say that climate change is a figment of scientists' and climatologists' imagination? The month of July belongs to the astrological sign Cancer. For those born between 22 June and 22 July, your zodiac sign is Cancer. We featured Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus and Gemini in the preceding Butterfly of the Month blogposts and will now move into the next in the series. The 12 zodiac signs are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

An Eliot's Cornelian feeding at the flowers of the Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica)

Even as far north as Beijing in China, the mercury reached record values. The temperature in Beijing breached 41 degrees Celsius last month and shattered the record for the hottest day as heatwaves that had seared northern China a week earlier returned to the Chinese capital. Having travelled to Beijing in December and January before, I recall seeing snow on one of my trips there in winter, and yet hearing about 41 degree summers is quite unimaginable!

Cancer (♋︎) (Greek: Καρκίνος, romanized: Karkínos, Latin for "crab") is the fourth astrological sign in the zodiac, originating from the constellation of Cancer. Water is the element associated with Cancer, and, alongside Scorpio and Pisces, it forms the water trigon. The water trigon is one of four elemental trigons in the zodiac, with the other three being fire, earth, and air.

Two mating pairs of Eliot's Cornelian encountered at Lornie Park Connector recently.

Positive Cancerian traits include being helpful, patient, compassionate, nurturing, romantic and creative. They tend to be extremely caring generous, putting the needs of others before their own. They are generally very patriotic, waving the flag whenever possible. Cancerians thrive in roles where there is a lot of communication and where they can constantly engage with colleagues. However, if embarrassed, they can also withdraw into their crab shell and lose steam very quickly.

An Eliot's Cornelian perched on the flowers of the Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra)

Difficult traits of the Cancer sign include being a busybody and gossipy, form cliques and shuts out people they dislike, or become isolated and uncommunicative when they are shamed. They can also be hypersensitive, overly competitive and bossy in environments where they want to control and dominate over.

The Butterfly of the Month for July 2023 is the rare Eliot's Cornelian (Deudorix elioti). However, it is widely distributed in Singapore and has been seen in various locations and even in urban parks and gardens. It is more frequently seen along the forest edges of our nature reserves. In the past two years, it has been observed more frequently and even common for a short period of time. On a particular day at the Lornie Park Connector, three mating pairs of The Eliot's Cornelian were seen in the same vicinity!

A male Eliot's Cornelian sunbathes and shows its coppery-red uppersides

It is a rapid flyer and can fly at tremendous speeds amongst the shrubbery. The male of the Eliot's Cornelian is quite similar to the Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus) but the red is duller and there is an obscure series of post-discal spots on the hindwing. The female is distinctive in having faint brown markings in the tornal half of the hindwing.

The underside of the species is a light grey, with rounded post-discal spots faintly outlined in white. The tornal area of the hindwing below has bluish-green iridescent scaling and there is a white-tipped tail at vein 2. The abdomen is black-and-white banded on the underside. The eyes are jet black and the antennae bears a bright orange tip at the club.

The early stages of the Eliot's Cornelian is currently unknown and if the caterpillars are like the Cornelian, they are likely to be also feeding on the fruits of various plants like the pomegranate (Punica granatum) and on the seeds of Aesculus indica and other species of Sapindaceae and Connaraceae.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chan WC, Ash Foo, Khew SK, Michael Khor, Loh MY, Jess Loh, Ong LM, Michael Soh, Horace Tan and Tay JX

22 July 2023

Life History of the Chocolate Albatross

Life History of the Chocolate Albatross (Appias lyncida vasava)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Appias Hübner, 1819
Species: lyncida Cramer, 1777
Subspecies: vasava Fruhstorfer, 1910

Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 45-55mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Crateva religiosa (Capparaceae, common name: Sacred Garlic Pear), Crateva magna (Capparaceae, common name: Large Garlic Pear).

A female Chocolate Albatross.

A male Chocolate Albatross.

A female Chocolate Albatross.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is mostly white with a dentate dark brown border on both forewing and hindwing; the female is dark brown with several whitish distal streaks in both the forewing and hindwing. On the underside, the male is lemon-yellow with broad dark brown border in the hindwing and dark brown with white distal streaks and yellow apical spots in the forewing; the female is white yellow-dusted with a broad brown border in the hindwing and brown with white distal streaks in the forewing.

Upperside of a male Chocolate Albatross.

A male Chocolate Albatross.

Upperside of a female Chocolate Albatross.

A female Chocolate Albatross.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Chocolate Albatross is considered a seasonal migrant in Singapore. The adult butterflies are usually sighted more frequently during certain times of the year flying in both nature reserves and urban parks across Singapore. Typically in each sighting only one single individual is observed. It is believed that they fly from southern Malaysia where they occur in abundance during the April to June period. The scarcity of their host plants (in Capparaceae) in Singapore likely contribute to the absence of a sustainable adult population.

A puddling male Chocolate Albatross.

A group of puddling male Chocolate Albatross sighted in Malaysia.

A puddling male Chocolate Albatross.

A female Chocolate Albatross.

Early Stages:

Early stages of the Chocolate Albatross undergo rapid growth in all five instars. The entire life cycle, from oviposition to the eclosion of the adult lasts only 15-16 days.

A video clip depicting the life cycle of the Chocolate Albatross.

The recorded local host plants for the Chocolate Albatross are Crateva religiosa and Crateva magna. Caterpillars of the Chocolate Albatross feed on young leaves of both host plants, and they have the habit of feeding together on the same leaf in all five instars of the larval stage.

Local host plant: Crateva religiosa, showing flowers and mature leaves.

Young leaves of Crateva religiosa .

A male Chocolate Albatross (left) doing a courtship flight near a female (right).

A tattered female Chocolate Albatross attempting to oviposit on a leaf surface.

The eggs of the Chocolate Albatross are laid in a small cluster on a leaf of the host plant. The egg is spindle-shaped and standing on one end with a height of about 1mm, about 2.5 times as tall as it is wide. It has vertical ridges and numerous transverse striations. The vertical ridges end in short projections encircling the micropylar. The color of the egg is initially white but changes to orange overnight.

A close-up view of a group of eggs of the Chocolate Albatross.

Maturing eggs of the Chocolate Albatross. Note the color change.

The egg takes about 2 days to hatch. The newly hatched has a length of about 1.3mm and a yellowish beige head capsule. Its cylindrically-shaped body is in a similar shade of yellow beige and featuring sub-dorsal, dorso-lateral and lateral rows of small tubercles running lengthwise. Each tubercle has a moderately long setae emerging from the middle of it. The end of each setae bears a tiny droplet. The translucent body also features some reddish patches.

A group of three newly hatched caterpillars of the Chocolate Albatross.

After emergence, the newly hatched only eats a small portion of the egg shell for its first meal, and soon moves on to eat the leaf lamina in the vicinity. Its body takes on a green undertone with the intake of leaf diet. In about 1.5 days, the caterpillar grows to a length of about 3.3mm before the moult to the 2nd instar.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 2.1mm.

A group of four 1st instar caterpillars of the Chocolate Albatross.

Two views of a late 1st instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 3mm.

The 2nd instar caterpillar is yellowish green in body color with similar droplet-bearing setae as in the 1st instar. In addition, there are numerous small, black, conical tubercles dotting the body surface. Each of tubercles has a short setae emerging from it. The head is pale yellowish green in color. This instar lasts about 1.5 days with the body length reaching about 6.2mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 3mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 5mm.

A group of three 2nd instar caterpillars, in both early and late stage of the instar.

Two views of a late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 6.1mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar resembles the 2nd instar caterpillar closely except for the appearance of a whitish sub-spiracular band. The body surface has numerous tiny setae, and in some specimens, the base of these setae are darker green than the body base colour of yellowish green, giving the caterpillar a dotted appearance. This instar takes about 1 to 1.5 days to complete with body length reaching about 10mm.

Two views of an early 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 6mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 9mm.

Two 3rd instar caterpillars of the Chocolate Albatross.

Two views of a late 3rd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 10mm.

Again, the 4th instar retains all the features as the 3rd instar. Both the whitish sub-spiracular band and the dotted appearance of the body surface are now more prominent. This penultimate instar lasts about 1.5 days with body length reaching up to 16.5mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 4th instar caterpillar of the Chocolate Albatross, length: 10mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 15.8mm.

A group of two 4th instar caterpillars and one 3rd instar caterpillar of the Chocolate Albatross.

Two views of a late 4th instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 15.5mm.

The 5th and final instar caterpillar mostly resembles the 4th instar caterpillar. The tiny black tubercles regularly dotting the yellowish green body surface gives it a distinctive speckled appearance. In addition, the head capsule also takes on a black-dotted appearance. Towards the end of the instar, a thin yellowish dorsal band appears on the body. When disturbed, the caterpillar usually reacts by standing tall on its prolegs and arching its anterior segments. This final instar lasts for 2-2.5 days, and the body length reaches up to 34mm.

Two views of a newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar, with exuvia and "old" head capsule in the vicinity.

Two views of an early 5th instar caterpillar, length: 21.8mm. Note the black speckled appearance on the body and head.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length: 33mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillars taking up its on-guard stance.

On the last day of the 5th instar, the caterpillar ceases feeding and its body gradually shortens. It wanders around and comes to rest on the surface of a leaf, usually on the underside. Here the caterpillar spins a silk pad and a silk girdle to secure itself and then becomes immobile in a head-up pre-pupatory pose.

An early pre-pupatory larva of the Chocolate Albatross.

A late pre-pupatory larva of the Chocolate Albatross.

Pupation takes place about 0.75 day later. The greenish, lightly black-speckled pupa secures itself with the silk girdle spun in the pre-pupal stage, but with cremaster replacing claspers in attaching the posterior end to the silk pad on the leaf surface. It sports a yellowish, thoracic dorsal ridge which is sharply raised at thoracic segment 2. This ridge ends in a pointed yellow cephalic horn at the anterior. This horn has a narrow dorsal black ridge. The abdominal segments 2-4 are produced laterally into a pointed tooth at each side of the abdominal segment 2. Two lateral yellowish ridge lines run lengthwise along the entire length of the abdomen. In addition, two small translucent arm-like appendages adorn the side of the prothorax. Length of pupae: 23-24mm.

Two views of a pupa of the Chocolate Albatross.

A close-up view of the anterior of a pupa of the Chocolate Albatross, showing the cephalic horn and arm-like appendages.

After about 4.75 to 5 days of development, the pupal skin turns translucent as the development within the pupal case comes to an end. The markings on the forewing upperside become discernible and indicative of the gender of the soon-to-emerge adult. The following day, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case.

Three progressive views of the maturing pupa of a male Chocolate Albatross.

Three progressive views of the maturing pupa of a female Chocolate Albatross.

A newly eclosed male Chocolate Albatross resting near its pupal case.

A newly eclosed female Chocolate Albatross resting near its pupal case.

  • [C&P5] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, G. and N. van der Poorten (Eds.), 5th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 2020.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S.K., Ink On Paper Communications, 2nd Edition, 2015.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Benjamin Yam, Ben Jin Tan, Chng CK, Khew SK and Horace Tan