13 September 2014

Lacy Encounters

Lacy Encounters
Return of the Plain Lacewing!

The Plain Lacewing (Cethosia methypsea methypsea) is a species that is listed as extant in Singapore in ButterflyCircle's checklist. When it was first discovered in the 1990's by veteran ButterflyCircle member Steven Neo, it was recorded as a new taxon in the Singapore checklist. The first voucher specimen was documented by Steven on 29 May 1991 at the forest edge adjacent to mature nature reserves. Early references did not include this species to be extant in Singapore.

After it was discovered, the species continued to be regularly seen throughout the 1990's but very localised. It did not appear to be extremely rare at that time, and on one occasion, I encountered at least 4 individuals of the Plain Lacewing, feeding together at a large Lantana bush. It continued to be seen but its closely related cousin, the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina) was much more common and widespread in Singapore.

The last known recent observation record of the Plain Lacewing from May 2000 - shot on Fujifilm Velvia 50 slide film and digitally scanned

The last record of the Plain Lacewing was an individual shot whilst feeding on a flower of the Common Asystasia. From my records, this individual was shot on 7 May 2000. After this last encounter, the Plain Lacewing mysteriously disappeared from Singapore, and not seen again...

Until recently, when ButterflyCircle member Koh CH, encountered a Lacewing at around the same location that it was last seen 14 years ago! As suddenly as it had mysteriously disappeared 14 years ago, the Plain Lacewing is back. Over the past two weeks, more ButterflyCircle members continued to encounter the Plain Lacewing, and from the shots posted, it appears that there are at least 3 different individuals.

The Plain Lacewing is very similar in appearance to the Malay Lacewing, and quite similar to the recently (in 2005) discovered Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane). The Plain Lacewing can be distinguished from its lookalike cousins by the thin white submarginal band on the hindwing. The male Leopard Lacewing may also be confused with the Plain Lacewing, but the former has larger black submarginal spots and a wider white band on the hindwing, and also a very thin submarginal orange band on the underside of the forewing compared to the other two species.

The upperside of the Plain Lacewing also appears much redder than its two cousins. The male and female of the Plain Lacewing look alike, compared to the sexes of the Malay and Leopard Lacewings, which are distinctly different enough to be separated easily.

The Plain Lacewing's caterpillar host plant is very likely to belong to the Passifloraceae family. It is curious why, or how it appeared again, after 14 years, and where this current batch originated. Were they still here in Singapore all these years, but only not seen? Or are these immigrants from nearby Malaysia that has started to colonise the same localities where they were previously seen?

The Plain Lacewing is the more common species found in Penang where it outnumbers the Malay Lacewing by at least a 3:1 ratio when I was collecting butterflies on the island many years ago. C&P4 also mentions that the Malay Lacewing is "not uncommon..." and the Plain Lacewing is "...nearly as common in the same situations". (pp 157, C&P4). Whilst the Malay Lacewing is common in Singapore, why is the Plain Lacewing so rare, as to be classified under the status of "Critically Endangered" in the Red Data Book 2008?

Indeed, if it had been absent in Singapore for the past 14 years, it would be considered a very rare butterfly here. What can be done to conserve this species and help it to thrive? More observations and studies, particularly of its early stages, will certainly have to be done. In the meantime, we hope that the Plain Lacewing will continue to stay in Singapore for a few more years to come, so that we can take it off the "critically endangered" list.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Koh CH, Loke PF and Nelson Ong

References :

[C&P4] The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Revised by Col John Eliot, Malaysian Nature Society, 1992

06 September 2014

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 2

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 2 : An Analysis of Name Changes

We had earlier discussed the changes to the common names of butterflies in Part 1 of this series, where we agreed with Dr Kirton's changes due to "socially unacceptable reasons". In that article we featured butterflies with names like Nigger, Darkie or Brownie, which carried ethnic slurs that would be politically incorrect in today's social context.

Nigger no more...

In Part 2 of our discussion on the changes to the common names of butterflies, we take a look at some of the name changes and in some cases, offer an alternative perspective to these changes. In the study of zoology, and in particular, Lepidoptera, scientists often divide the world into eight specific faunistic zones, often referred to as ecozones. An ecozone is the broadest biogeographic division of the Earth's land surface, based on distributional patterns of terrestrial organisms.

The eight ecozones are, (based on World Wildlife Fund definition) the Palearctic, Nearctic, Afrotropic, Neotropic, Indo-Malaya, Australasia, Oceania and Antarctic.  The Indo-Malayan region, which is the area of interest as far as butterflies of Malaysia and Singapore are concerned, comprises South Asia covering India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, the Large Sunda islands (Sumatra, Borneo and Java), the Philippine Islands, Sulawesi and Lesser Sunda Islands as far east as Timor.

Sundaland map

The zoogeographical subregion of the Indo-Malayan ecozone, known as the Sundanian Subregion (or often called Sundaland) comprises the Malay Peninsula (including Singapore), Sumatra, Borneo, Java and their satellite islands, and Palawan in the Philippines. It is largely the Sundaland subregion which we are concerned with, pertaining to the butterfly fauna of this region, and from which we base our literature reviews of books published about the butterflies in these countries.

Left : Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 1st Edition (1934)  Right : The Identification of Indian Butterflies (1927)

Whilst there is no doubt that one of the first published literature which coined English common names for butterflies was already available for butterflies in the Indian subcontinent, e.g. "The Identification of Indian Butterflies by W.A. Evans in 1927, we also take into account that the earliest reference to the butterflies in Malaya/Malaysia and Singapore is "The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" by A.S. Corbet & H.M. Pendlebury in 1934.

Left : Common Malayan Butterflies (1960)  Right : Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction (1983)

In the 60's and 80's, two more reference books, targeted for the amateur butterfly enthusiasts were published. The use of English common names (or trivial names) was more evident in these two references. These were "Common Malayan Butterflies" (CMB) by R. Morrell (in 1960) and "Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction" (MBAI) by Prof Yong Hoi-Sen (in 1983). In the meantime, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions of "The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula" were printed in 1956, 1978 and 1992 respectively.

It is with the background of these references, that we base our discussions and opinions on the English common names of butterflies in Malaysia and Singapore, and any revisions or publications that come thereafter, on butterflies of the Sundaland subregion.

In the review of the English common names suggested in Dr Kirton's latest book "A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand" (BPMST) we will start with a discussion on the species that are found in Singapore first. Future discussions will dwell on the species beyond Singapore's shores.

Dealing with the names by the butterfly families, we first take a look at the genus Graphium. In particular, the species Graphium evemon eventus. Based on our literature research on the early references, the name "Lesser Jay" was first used by Evans in his 1927 book. Other early authors declined to give a common name to this species. In the 90's the name "Blue Jay" was coined for the Singapore butterfly fauna, and through regular usage over the years, the name stuck.

Text excerpt from Evans book "Identification of Indian Butterflies" 1927

ButterflyCircle's "Butterflies of Singapore" (BOS) launched in 2010, the name Blue Jay was also adopted for Graphium evemon eventus. Many online references also used Blue Jay. To be consistent with the names used in the Indo-Malayan ecozone, the common name Lesser Jay should be adopted for this species henceforth.

Recommendation : Graphium evemon eventus should be referred to as the Lesser Jay.

The next species in the list is Ypthima horsfieldii humei. This species was given the common name the Malayan Five Ring by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay in his book, Butterflies of Thailand 1st Edition (BOT1) in 2006. The same name was also used in BOS. None of the early references by Evans nor C&P had a common name for this species.

In BMPST, Dr Kirton used the name Horsfield's Five Ring for this species. We do not see the rationale nor necessity to change the name, as the name does not appear to be used for any other species nor is confusing. The closely related species, Ypthima baldus newboldi is called the Common Five Ring, which causes no ambiguity with Ypthima horsfieldii humei.

Recommendation : Ypthima horsfieldi humei should retain its name Malayan Five Ring.

We move on to the subfamily Danainae and start with the Euploea or commonly referred to as the "Crows".  The first proposed change in BPMST was Euploea phaenareta castlenaui. The English common name is the Great Crow. This name was first coined by Evans for the species Euploea corus corus. This species was later revised to E. phaenareta, hence the reference to the Great Crow.

Closer to home, BOT1 and BOT2 also refers to E. phaenareta as the Great Crow. Through regular usage in Singapore, the English common name for this species is the King Crow, and is used in BOS as well as many online checklists. Again, for consistency and due to the taxonomic changes to the species' latin name, we acknowledge that E. phaenareta should be changed to Great Crow.

Recommendation : Euploea phaenareta castelnaui should be known as the Great Crow.

© Dr Laurence G Kirton : Explanation for the rationale of name revision for Striped Black Crow

The next species for discussion is Euploea eyndhovii gardineri. Evans gave the name Striped Black Crow for E. doubledayi. Dr Kirton explains that there was a split in the two species to E. doubledayi and E. eyndhovii and proposed that Striped Black Crow is retained for E. doubledayi and Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii. BOT2 also uses Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii but calls E. doubledayi the Greater Striped Black Crow. In his book, (MBAI), Prof Yong Hoi-Sen calls E. doubledayi the Larger Striped Black Crow.

It appears to be logical to retain the original name of Striped Black Crow for E. doubledayi and adopt the new name of Lesser Striped Black Crow for E. eyndhovii. Hence we support Dr Kirton's proposed change for the smaller species that flies in the southern parts of Malaysia and Singapore. In practice, however, the four-word name for this species may be a mouthful and butterfly enthusiasts may continue to use Striped Black Crow for this species this is more common, compared to its cousin up north.

Recommendation : Euploea eyndhovii gardineri should be called the Lesser Striped Black Crow.

The next species in the Danainae sub-family belongs to the Tigers. In BPMST, Dr Kirton calls Danaus melanippus hegesippus the White Tiger. This was also the name given to the species Danaus melanippus indicus by Evans. In Borneo, there is a subspecies Danaus melanippus thoe which is completely black and white. In recent years, various Indian butterfly groups have begun to call their subspecies the Indian White Tiger.

Recent local references, CMB (Morrell), BMAI (Yong HS), BOS (KhewSK) and even Kazuhisa Otsuka's Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia all refer to Danaus melanippus as Black Veined Tiger. Over regular usage in the past six decades, the species has come to be referred to as the Black Veined Tiger in Malaysia and Singapore. As the descriptor "white tiger" may be a misnomer for this species, we propose that the English common name Black Veined Tiger be retained for this species.

Recommendation : Danaus melanippus hegesippus should retain its name Black Veined Tiger.

The next species of interest is the large black and white butterfly, Idea stolli logani. The current local English common name is the Common Tree Nymph. It is interesting to note that Evans coined several names for the subspecies of Hestia (now known as Idea) lynceus, ranging from Malabar Tree Nymph, Ceylon Tree Nymph, Kanara Tree Nymph, Tavoy Tree Nymph and so on. It may be confusing, as it would appear that it would be quite exceptional to have English common names for so many subspecies of I. lynceus when the physical differences between two or more subspecies may not be very apparent.

Multiple subspecies and multiple English Common Names for a single species - Idea lynceus

Subsequently in C&P1, Hestia lynceus reinwardti was called the Tree Nymph. This was repeated by Prof Yong in MBAI. In CMB, Morrell referred to Idea jasonia logani as the Common Tree Nymph. The revised scientific name for Idea jasonia logani is Idea stolli logani. Hence we continued the name coined by Morrell in 1960 for this species - Common Tree Nymph.

Tree Nymph (Idea lynceus). Note heavier shading on the wings

In BPMST, Dr Kirton adopted the name Ashy-White Tree Nymph for Idea stolli logani. It would appear that this 'newly invented' name originated from BOT1 by Pisuth. The descriptor "ashy-white" would normally refer to something that is greyish in colour (ash), and does not appear to be appropriate for Idea stolli which certainly appears much whiter than Idea lynceus. If anything, this name could be more suited to Idea lynceus. But it is already called the Tree Nymph. Hence we propose that the name Common Tree Nymph continues to be adopted for Idea stolli logani.

Recommendation : Idea stolli logani should retain its name Common Tree Nymph.

The final species of Part 2 of this series on English Common Names is the related Idea leuconoe chersonesia. In Evan's book, he called this the Siam Tree Nymph - largely due to the subspecies Idea leuconoe siamensis. The common name for this subspecies name is also used in BOT2 by Pisuth. There are many other common names coined for this species, ranging from Paper Kite, Rice Paper, White Tree Nymph, Large Tree Nymph and others. In BOS, we used the name Mangrove Tree Nymph for this species.

There are many subspecies of I. leuconoe and certain subspecies are easily bred as display species in many butterfly parks all over the world. In particular, the subspecies from Taiwan, ssp clara appears to be the one that is abundant in butterfly parks. However, the subspecies that occurs as a native species in Malaysia and Singapore (including the Indonesia islands close to Singapore) is ssp chersonesia. Morrell in CMB and Corbet in C&P4 both describe this subspecies as "a seashore species and frequents mangrove areas" and "confined to mangrove swamps". In BPMST, Dr Kirton refers to Idea leuconoe as Large Tree Nymph. It would be more definitive and appropriate to refer to Idea leuconoe chersonesia as the Mangrove Tree Nymph to better describe its association with mangrove habitats in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Recommendation : Idea leuconoe chersonesia should retain its common name as the Mangrove Tree Nymph.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Goh LC, Khew SK, Loke PF, Simon Sng and Anthony Wong

References :

[BPMST] A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of P. Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand, Laurence G Kirton : John Beaufoy Publishing 2014
[C&P1] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 1st Edition, Kyle & Palmer, 1934.
[C&P4] The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Revised by Col John Eliot, Malaysian Nature Society, 1992
[BOT1] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2006
[BOT2] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2012
[CMB] Common Malayan Butterflies, R. Morrell, Longmans Malaysia, 1960
[MBAI] Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction, Yong Hoi-Sen, Tropical Press, Malaysia, 1983
[BOS] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2010
[BBSEA] Butterflies of Borneo & South East Asia, Kazuhisa Otsuka, Hornbill Books, Malaysia, 2001
[IIB] Identification of Indian Butterflies, W.A. Evans, Diocesan Press, India, 1927

04 September 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Apefly

Butterflies Galore!
The Apefly (Spalgis epius epius)

In butterfly photography it is as important to get the subject (the butterfly) in focus and well-composed, as it is to get an uncluttered background so that the subject does not have to compete with too many elements in the photo for the viewer's attention. Many of ButterflyCircle members' shots depict creamy clean backgrounds, often green, that allow the subject butterfly to 'pop' out prominently in the photo.

In this shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF, a different coloured background (from the usual green) does well in focusing the viewer's attention on the diminutive Apefly. In this case, the salmon coloured background helps to contrast well with the grey of the butterfly and the deep green on the leaf that it perches on.

03 September 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Starry Bob

Butterflies Galore!
The Starry Bob (Iambrix stellifer)

This small skipper is a close relative of the more common Chestnut Bob (Iambrix salsala salsala). The distinguishing features that separate the two species are (1) the spot on space 5 of the hindwing, which is placed midway between the cell end and the termen of the hindwing and (2) the distinctly orange apical area on the underside of the forewing.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh Cher Hern, shows a Starry Bob feeding on the purple flower of the low-growing weed, the Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus scaber), which appears to be relatively popular with smaller butterflies.

02 September 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Painted Jezebel

Butterflies Galore!
The Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete)

The Painted Jezebel is widespread in Singapore. It is regularly observed in urban areas, parks and gardens and also in the forested areas of our nature reserves. The butterfly flies restlessly, often at treetop level, but sometimes comes down to feed at flowers. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Horace Tan, shows a Painted Jezebel feeding on the flower of Bidens pilosa, a common "wildflower" that has been spreading rapidly across the island.

The Painted Jezebel is known to be distasteful to some predators, and its aposematic or bright "warning" colours are a sign to predators that it should be avoided. Even its caterpillars are bright yellow and very obvious when feeding on its caterpillar host plant, the mistletoe Dendrophthoe pentandra. Whilst the Painted Jezebel shares this host plant with other species like the Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli) and the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius), it is curious why only the Painted Jezebel is able to extract any protective benefit from the plant, whilst the other two species are not known to be distasteful to birds.

30 August 2014

Life History of the Malay Viscount v2.0

Life History of the Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea)
An earlier version of the life history of the Malay Viscount can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tanaecia Butler, 1869
Species: palea Fabricius, 1787
Subspecies: palea Fabricius, 1787
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-70mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plants: Palaquium obovatum (Sapotaceae), Pouteria obovata (Sapotaceae), Adinandra dumosa (Theaceae, common name: Tiup-Tiup).

A male Malay Viscount puddling on wet ground.

A sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are pale greyish ochreous brown with submarginal arrow-shaped markings. On the forewing, these markings are embedded in large, whitish spots. On the underside , the wings are paler brown with a faint trace of violet in a side light. The two sexes can be distinguished in the hindwing: the male has two submarginal rows of small distinct, black V-shaped markings, whilst those in the female are very obscure and conjoint.

A male Malay Viscount enjoying the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron.

Another sunbathing Malay Viscount.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Malay Viscount is rather common in Singapore. They are mainly found in the nature reserves, but at times adults can be seen flying in other forested areas. Both sexes have the habit of resting on perches with wings open, and visiting flowers/ripened fruits on flowering/fruiting trees in their habitat. The male have been observed to puddle on damp ground and on fallen (and rotting) fruits. The adults are skittish and readily take flight when disturbed.

25 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : White Banded Awl

Butterflies Galore!
The White Banded Awl (Hasora taminatus malayanus)

The White Banded Awl is rare in Singapore, and is usually associated with the forested nature reserves, rather than urban parks and gardens. It is a fast flyer like most of the "Awls" and appears in the early morning hours of the day, zipping and feeding at damp concrete or stone walls and wooden structures in the vicinity of the nature reserves. In the later hours of the day, it is usually found in deep shady forests where it has a tendency of perching upside down under a leaf, with its wings folded upright.

This individual was encountered much later than usual in the morning, after 10am, perhaps due to the overcast and cool weather last Sunday. It was flying rapidly under the sheltered pavilion at Upper Seleter Reservoir Park, and stopping frequently to feed on some spilt fluids on the concrete table. Note the narrow white post-discal band and the iridescent bluish-green wing bases on both wings, which are diagnostic identification features of the White Banded Awl.