15 November 2014

Life History of the Full Stop Swift

Life History of the Full Stop Swift (Caltoris cormasa )

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Caltoris Swinhoe, 1893
Species: cormasa Hewitson, 1876
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 32-34mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Ottochloa nodosa (Poaceae), Panicum maximum (Poaceae, common name: Guinea Grass), Ischaemum ciliare (Poaceae, common name: Smut Grass).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are dark brown with hyaline spots in spaces 2,3 and 4, subapical spots in spaces 6 and 7 and two cell spots in the forewing. The upper cell spot is typically either absent or small in comparison to other Caltoris spp. On the underside, the wings are ferruginous brown, usually with a purplish tinge.

A close-up view of the forewing upperside, showing two small cell spots of a Full Stop Swift.

The upperside view of a newly eclosed Full Stop Swift. The upper cell spot is absent  while the lower cell spot is small.

A Full Stop Swift visiting flower in a wasteland.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Full Stop Swift is moderately common in Singapore. The adults have been sighted in multiple locations including forested areas, wastelands, urban parks and gardens across the island. The adults fly with a swift, strong and darting flight.

08 November 2014

Butterflies of Pulau Ubin

Butterflies of Pulau Ubin
Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

Aerial view of Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin - © National Parks Board

Pulau Ubin, an offshore island of Singapore of about 10.2 sqkm, is often considered the "last frontier" of rural ambience and rich biodiversity in Singapore. Local Malays once called it "Pulau Batu Ubin" or Granite Stone Island. In the past this small island supplied the local construction industry with granite and sand, from which coarse aggregates and the sand were used to construct roads, manufacture concrete and other building materials. The granite was also used to make floor tiles, or Jubin as it was called in Malay.

A map of Pulau Ubin - © National Parks Board

Today, the 7km long by 2km wide island is a favourite weekend destination for adventure lovers and nature enthusiasts taking a short bumboat ride from the Changi Ferry Terminal. The island is known for its rich biodiversity and rustic environment to which many weekend visitors flock to get away from Singapore's hectic urban lifestyle.

On the bumboat back from Ubin with senior government officials and nature enthusiasts

In early 2014, the Ministry of National Development, led by Minister of State Desmond Lee, visited Pulau Ubin with a group of nature enthusiasts, heritage experts and community leaders. The visit was part of the wider plan to initiate a conversation with Singaporeans on how we can all play a part to sensitively enhance the natural environment of Pulau Ubin, which was announced by Mr Desmond Lee in Parliament in March 2014.

A group photo of Friends of Ubin Network taken at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Subsequently, the Friends of Ubin Network (FUN) was set up to continue to engage the stakeholders whilst a public feedback portal and even an Ubin Symposium was organised to openly discuss possible options for Ubin. There have been numerous media articles and blog articles discussing what different groups of people want for Ubin.

Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) - a "resident" species at Butterfly Hill

On 30 Nov 2014, a public event to celebrate Pulau Ubin, will be resurrected by Ria Tan and Grant Pereira.  The event, known as Ubin Day, was previously held in 2002 and 2003, and this will be the 3rd instalment of this event, featuring different activities by various groups in many parts of the island. The event's objective is to introduce the diversity of activities that can be enjoyed by the general public on this little island, and to showcase the amazing biodiversity that we have on Ubin.

A peep at the Butterfly Hill during earthworks back in 2005

Let's come back to Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill. In 2005, the Jelutong Campsite was created out of a piece of wasteland reclaimed from the sea during past granite quarrying operations. Within the campsite sits Butterfly Hill – a knoll created specially to conserve and showcase butterflies. Back then, I worked with NParks' staff, Robert Teo, Choi Yook Sau, Jacky Soh and How Choon Beng to build up Butterfly Hill from scratch. I remember vividly when the hill was completely wiped clean except for a solitary tree, and the hill was just covered with red earth.

Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus) - a regular visitor at Butterfly Hill

Fast forward to 2014, it's been almost 10 years in the making, and the Butterfly Hill continues to be a good place to observe butterflies, yielding the occasional surprise in terms of rare species. Over the period since the Butterfly Hill was designed and planted with butterfly host and nectaring plants, we have recorded over 150 species (and counting!). On a typical day, one can expect to be greeted by the resident Plain Tigers, Blue Glassy Tigers, Pea Blues, Great Eggflies, Common Birdwings and others. A half day butterfly watching outing should easily yield about 20 different species.

Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates) feeding on Bidens flower at Butterfly Hill

Amongst the uncommon butterflies that have been spotted and photographed at Ubin's Butterfly Hill are :

Mangrove Tree Nymph (Idea leuconoe chersonesia) - This large Danainae is very rare, previously known only from Pulau Tekong. This individual was photographed at Butterfly Hill recently.

Malayan Birdwing (Troides amphrysus ruficollis) - A large and showy Birdwing, this species was first recorded in Singapore from a caterpillar discovered at Alexandra Hospital's Butterfly Trail. This species was seen on Butterfly Hill and there have been subsequent sightings in the past year.

Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor) - This large swallowtail frequents Butterfly Hill because its caterpillar host plant, Pomelo (Citrus grandis) is cultivated here.

Lesser Striped Black Crow (Euploea eyndhovii gardineri) - This Crow is uncommon and often encoutered singly. Butterfly Hill is one location where this species is observed quite regularly.

Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri) - The Dwarf Crow is thus far known reliably only from Pulau Ubin. Whilst it was previously seen regularly at Butterfly Hill, it has become rarer and not often seen in the past two years.

Bamboo Tree Brown (Lethe europa malaya) - A shy and skittish shade lover, this species is regularly seen amongst the bamboo clumps at Butterfly Hill.

Forest Hopper (Astictopterus jama jama) - This elusive skipper has regularly been spotted at Butterfly Hill usually flying rapidly amongst the low shrubbery.

Conjoined Swift (Pelopidas conjunctus conjunctus) - This large and fast-flying skipper has been observed at Butterfly Hill on several occasions by ButterflyCircle members.

Plain Palm Dart (Cephrenes acalle niasicus) - This skipper, though not often spotted, has been seen several times at Butterfly Hill, particularly when there are flowering Syzygiums.

So when you visit Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill, do look out for some of these rarities, and we hope that you can also add more to the checklist of butterflies on Butterfly Hill by spotting other new species!

On 30 Nov 2014's Ubin Day, ButterflyCircle members will be on site to share tips on butterfly watching and photography. For those who are keen to join us, please sign up here.  We look forward to an enjoyable morning with nature's flying jewels!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Brian Goh, Khew SK, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong, Anthony Wong, Yong Wei Hoong

07 November 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Bamboo Tree Brown

Butterflies Galore!
The Bamboo Tree Brown (Lethe europa malaya)

The genus Lethe which features some very rare butterflies in Malaysia and Thailand, is represented by only one species in Singapore. This is Lethe europa malaya or the Bamboo Tree Brown. Its common name obviously suggests that the butterfly is associated with bamboos - its caterpillars feed on certain varieties of bamboo in Singapore. It is a shy butterfly, alert and skittish, and is often found lurking at low level amongst bamboo clumps.

The underside of the Bamboo Tree Brown features cryptic markings and an attractive series of lilac ocelli on the wings. This individual was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF at Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin.

01 November 2014

Life History of the Lemon Emigrant

Life History of the Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomona)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Catopsilia Hübner, 1819
Species: pomona Linnaeus, 1775
Subspecies: pomona Linnaeus, 1775
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-70mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Senna fistula (Fabaceae, common name: Golden Shower), Senna siamea (Fabaceae, common name: Kassod Tree, Siamese Cassia).

A female Lemon Emigrant, -f. pomona.

Two male Lemon Emigrants, -f. alcmeone.

A male Lemon Emigrant, -f. hilaria.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Lemon Emigrant comes in a number of  forms for both sexes, but generally they are moderately large with wing upperside appearing in either white or yellow and black-bordered on the costa and termen of the forewing. There are two groups of forms; namely the 'crocale' group and the 'pomona' group.

  • The 'crocale' group is characterized by having the upperside of antennae black, and the absence of silvery spots at cell-ends on the underside. The male -f alcmeone is mostly white above but yellow in the basal third of the wings and thinly bordered at the forewing apex. The females could appear in the jugurtha or the crocale form. The -f jugurtha is creamy white above with yellow wing base and black border on the forewing costa and termen of both wings. It has a series of black submarginal markings and a black spot at cell-end on the forewing. The -f crocale has a broad black distal border with a series of whitish spots embedded on both wings.
  • The 'pomona' group is characterized by having the upperside of antennae red and the presence of red-ringed silvery spots at cell-ends on the underside. The male -f hilaria has similar upperside as the male -f alcmeone but with lesser extent of basal yellow area. The females could appear in the pomona, catilla or the nivescens form. The -f pomona has yellow wings with reduced black border and markings while -f nivescens is similar but with whitish wings. The -f catilla has large reddish patches on the underside.

A female Lemon Emigrant, -f. jugurtha.

A female Lemon Emigrant, -f. crocale.

A female Lemon Emigrant, -f. catilla.

25 October 2014

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 3

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 3 : An Analysis of Name Changes

In this continuing series of our discussion and recommendations of butterflies' English Common Name changes, we look at a further six species grouped under various proposed name changes and analyse them. We had, in part 2 of this series, established a baseline for the biogeographical regions which formed the origins of some of these name changes, and also the available literature covering these species.

We reiterate that the zoogeographical subregion of the Indo-Malayan ecozone, known as the Sundanian Subregion (or often called Sundaland) is the area of interest where species of butterflies have been assigned common names by various authors. It is largely this 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.

For the benefit of our readers who are viewing this Part 3 of this discussion series, we would like to explain that a number of proposed changes were made by Dr Laurence Kirton in his recent book, A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. We analyse these changes and state our agreements or alternative views, and recommendations for future publications to consider.

The first group that we analyse would be the Eurema or Grass Yellow species. Referring to the earliest reference literature, The Identification of Indian Butterflies by Col W.H. Evans 1927, we note that this genus was known then as Terias. Two species' names were affected by Dr Kirton's proposed changes as far as the Singapore butterfly fauna are concerned.

Excerpt from the Identification of Indian Butterflies by WH Evans, 1927

The first, is Eurema andersonii andersonii. The common name quoted in Dr Kirton's book is One Spot Grass Yellow. In tracing the historical "etymology" of this English Common Name, we found that in Evans' book, the name One Spot Grass Yellow was originally coined for Eurema (Terias) sari sodalis which was then incorrectly considered a synonym of E. andersonii. However, E. sari sodalis was declared a distinct species and assigned the common name of Chocolate Grass Yellow, leaving the synonymous species of E. andersonii to claim the name One Spot Grass Yellow.

Anderson's Grass Yellow feeding at Mile-A-Minute flowers

However, we feel that, as E. andersonii, is not the only species amongst the Eurema group to have a single cell spot, and should not lay claim to this common name as it could cause confusion. This is because the cell spots form part of the diagnostic features of separating the Eurema group of species. In the Butterflies of Singapore (2010), we used the common name Anderson's Grass Yellow, taking our cue from the scientific name Eurema andersonii andersonii. Precedents of using a common name that originates from the scientific name are not new and we do not need to elaborate on this.

Checking with other literature of butterflies in the region, we find that the Butterflies of Thailand 2nd Edition by Pisuth Ek-Amnuay also makes reference to this species as Anderson's Grass Yellow. The 1st edition of the book, published in 2006, also calls it by this name.

Recommendation : Eurema andersonii andersonii should retain its name Anderson's Grass Yellow.

The second Eurema species of interest is E. simulatrix tecmessa. In the Butterflies of Singapore, we did not coin an English Common Name for this species, leaving the scientific name as it was. Dr Kirton makes reference to it as the Changeable Grass Yellow, whilst Butterflies of Thailand calls it the Hill Grass Yellow. An article in Wikipedia coined the name deNiceville's Grass Yellow for E. simulatrix tecmessa, although at species level, this same article refers to E. simulatrix as Changeable Grass Yellow.

A trio of Forest Grass Yellows puddling at a damp sandbank

ButterflyCircle had earlier coined the name Forest Grass Yellow for this species, due to its preference to remain in the forested nature reserves and rarely, if ever, seen outside the sanctuary of the forests. Whilst there would be no right or wrong in some of these common names, which certainly vary over geographical areas and depending on the propensity for active groups to invent new names for the local butterflies, we cannot imagine why this species is so "changeable" as to deserve the name Changeable Grass Yellow. The closest critter that we know locally is the Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor) and we certainly know why it deserves that name!

Recommendation : Eurema simulatrix tecmessa should be known as Forest Grass Yellow.

A male Malay Lacewing feeding at Ixora flowers

We next move to the Nymphalidae family. The first two names of contention are those belonging to the Lacewings or genus Cethosia. The first species of note is the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina). At Dr Kirton's sharing session at the launch of his book, one of the motivations for a name change that relates to this species probably came from "where the original name refers to a people group".

In trying to understand the rationale behind this, we can only surmise that Dr Kirton referred to the racial connotations that the common names imply. For example, he proposed that the Malay Lacewing should be renamed Malayan Lacewing. Whilst there are certainly precedents that are coined for butterfly names to make reference to nationality/country, we do not see how the reference that is based on racial origins would offend any particular race. For example, "Chinese" and "Indian", found in butterfly names, can both refer to the race as well as the people of a country. To deprive the Malays of the honour of their race being in the name of a beautiful butterfly may even raise a protest that it is discriminatory, since the Chinese and Indians have that privilege!

It would appear consistent in Dr Kirton's approach to rename everything that contains the word Malay to Malayan. In this context, we can find many books and references that continue to use the word Malay in butterfly names e.g. Malay Lacewing, Malay Viscount, Malay Baron and so on. Other than Dr Kirton's latest book, most the known literature that we have found makes reference to the common names with Malay in them.

Recommendation : Cethosia hypsea hypsina should retain its name Malay Lacewing.

The next species in the Lacewing group is Cethosia methypsea methypsea. Dr Kirton uses the new name Northern Orange Lacewing for this species. In our literature research, Pisuth uses Orange Lacewing in his Butterflies of Thailand book. This species, which was previously called C. penthesilea methypsea, was not known during Evans' time, hence there was no reference to it. In recent years, it has been reclassified as C. methypsea methypsea.

A Plain Lacewing takes a rest in the shade after feeding

This Wikipedia page has the original subspecies methypsea called Plain Lacewing, whilst the subspecies paksha has been designated Orange Lacewing. In Butterflies of Singapore (2010) as well as the first book on butterflies in Singapore, A Guide to the Common Butterflies of Singapore (1996) by Steven Neo and Malaysian Butterflies - An Introduction (1983) by Prof Yong Hoi-Sen, all refer to this species as the Plain Lacewing. Furthermore, we feel that adding cardinal directions as prefixes to common names tends to be controversial, as placing a name "northern" can get quite meaningless when butterflies move freely across regions,

Recommendation : Cethosia methypsea methypsea should retain its name Plain Lacewing

The Malay Yeoman puddling at a damp concrete kerb

The next species of interest falls into the same category that we discussed regarding the change from the race Malay to the country Malayan (which should rightfully be Malaysian, if we are to be up to date!). Hence it would be consistent to recommend that the common name for the species Cirrochroa emalea emalea to retain its common name that is found in many reference books as "Malay Yeoman". This name has been used as far back as 1927 in Evans' book as well.

Recommendation : Cirrochroa emalea emalea should retain its name Malay Yeoman

The Cruiser's English common name has usually be used to refer to the species Vindula dejone erotella in Corbet & Pendlebury's Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula (1992) although in the first edition of the book, it was used for the species Vindula erota erotella before research showed that there were actually two distinct species now known as V. dejone erotella and V. erota chersonesia (in Malaysia) and V. erota erota (the continental subspecies in Thailand).

A male Lesser Cruiser puddling at a damp sandbank

Dr Kirton proposed Lesser Cruiser for V. dejone. In Pisuth's book, he refers to this species as the Malayan Cruiser, and uses Common Cruiser for the species V. erota erota. Tracing back to the historical names and taking reference from the two earliest documentation for this species, it is clear that both Evans (1927) and C&P1 (1934) intended the name Cruiser for V. erota. This leaves us to contemplate which name to use for C. dejone. At this point in time, we would be inclined to agree with Dr Kirton, and adopt the common name Lesser Cruiser for the species V. dejone erotella.

A female Lesser Cruiser feeds on Mile-A-Minute flowers

Recommendation : Vindula dejone erotella should henceforth be called by the name Lesser Cruiser

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Goh EC, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong 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
[GCBOS] Guide to the Common Butterflies of Singapore, Steven Neo, Science Centre Singapore, 1996

Further Reading :

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies : Part 1
A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies : Part 2