18 October 2014

Life History of the Malay Baron

Life History of the Malay Baron (Euthalia monina monina)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Euthalia Butler, 1869
Species: monina Fabricius, 1787
Subspecies: monina Fabricius, 1787
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-70mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plants: Macaranga bancana (Sapotaceae, common name: Common Mahang), Bhesa paniculata (Celastraceae, common name: Malayan Spindle Tree).

A male Malay Baron, -f. decorata.

A male Malay Baron, -f. decorata.

A male Malay Baron, -f. monina.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The Malay Baron exhibits sexual dimorphism. On the upperside, the male is dark brown. In the typical form -f. monina, the distal border on the hindwing is blue and bears a series of small black sagittate markings. In form -f. decorata, the upperside is paler brown with more clearly defined post-discal fasciae and the hindwing has a coppery green border. In form -f. gardineri, the upperside is dark brown with obscure fasciae and the hindwing border is not additionally coloured. At times, males could appear bearing appearances integrating the above 3 forms. The female resembles the female Tanaecia iapis (Horsfield's Baron) with the exception of the presence of a dark zigzagged line in the white post-discal band on the forewing.

A female Malay Baron.

A male Malay Baron, -f. monina.

11 October 2014

Butterfly of the Month - October 2014

Butterfly of the Month - October 2014
The Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei)

This month, we feature a pretty urban sun-loving butterfly to bring some colour and cheer to our readers. The Blue Pansy, particularly the male, seldom fails to attract the attention of any nature lover who sees it in the field. Its bright blue hindwings and eyespots is a good example of Mother Nature's creativity in putting some beauty into our daily lives.

The local subspecies of the Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei) is named in honour of the renowned British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist, Alfred Russell Wallace. His book, The Malay Archipelago, documents his travels and findings in this part of the world. He recorded many of his adventures and discoveries in this book, considered to be one of the best of all journals in scientific exploration in the 19th century.

A road named after A.R. Wallace in Singapore

Wallace's exploits in South East Asia generated widespread interest amongst scientists and ecologists, especially his theories on evolution through natural selection. In particular, Wallace was believed to have collected specimens from our very own Bukit Timah Hill in Singapore. Such was his influence in Singapore that there is even a road named after him! More recently, at the Dairy Farm Nature Park, we can also find the Wallace Trail and the Wallace Education Centre, which was set up to promote environmental education through fieldwork and to encourage nature conservation.

Speaking of the environment, we look forward with greater optimism as the appreciation and the call for the conservation of our environment and biodiversity is gaining traction amongst NGOs and also government organisations. Given the limited land mass of about 714 sqkm in Singapore, it has done relatively well in balancing development and the conservation of its remaining nature areas. There is little to lose and every sqft of our little red dot has to be carefully planned to allow nature and biodiversity to co-exist in harmony with progress and development.

Hobbyist and citizen scientist groups such as ButterflyCircle continue to survey, document, record and research into butterflies in the Singapore environment to help government organisations to better craft policies and direct efforts to conserve our butterfly biodiversity. Species data, caterpillar host plants & early stages, habitat preferences, threatened colonies and ecological behaviour of butterflies are shared via this blog and other reports.

Male Blue Pansy (top) and Female Blue Pansy (bottom)

Coming back to our pretty butterfly of the month, the Blue Pansy is one of four species of Pansies of the genus Junonia found in Singapore. The Blue Pansy is common is parks, gardens and open grassy wasteland. It flies rapidly with a flap-glide flight and is alert and skittish. It is related to the American Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) and shares some of the physical characteristics with its US cousin.

A female (left) and male (right) Blue Pansy feeding in unison on Bidens flowers

Males of this species are often observed to "dogfight" with each other, and individuals engage in a rapid spiral flight often going up to 10 metres or more. During certain hours of the day, both the males and females may be observed to perch on the tops of leaves with their wings opened flat to sunbathe.

Blue Pansy and their favourite nectaring plants

They prefer to feed on flowers like Lantana, Bidens and other small wildflowers. Occasionally they are seen "puddling" at damp areas on the ground amongst leaf litter and grasses. The species has a wide distribution in Singapore, found in coastal areas, urban parks, nature reserves from Pulau Ubin in the north, mainland Singapore and as far south as Pulau Semakau.

When the weather gets warmer as the day progresses, they are often found perched with their wings folded upright amongst shrubbery and tall grasses. Whilst the upperside of the Blue Pansy is attractive coloured, the underside bears a more subdued and cryptic colouration that allows the butterfly to be reasonably well-camouflaged amongst the undergrowth.

A newly-eclosed male Blue Pansy perching on a dried blade of grass

The male Blue Pansy features black forewings with a pale yellow subapical band and post discal ocelli. The hidwing is a bright blue with a prominent black-rimmed, orange-purple eyespot at the tornal area. The basal area of the hindwing is black.

Females of the Blue Pansy, showing the variability of the colours of the hindwings from totally brown to a restricted patch of blue

Females are more drably coloured usually featuring a brown upperside and occasionally sporting a reduced patch of blue, usually restricted to the submarginal area of the hindwing. The hindwing ocelli of the female are also larger when compared to the male.

A newly eclosed Blue Pansy perching onto its pupal case whilst waiting for its wings to dry

The caterpillars of the Blue Pansy have been successfully bred in Singapore on the Common Asystasia (Asystasia gangetica), a low, ground hugging "weed" that is found commonly in urban gardens and parks, as well as growing as ground cover in disturbed areas at the edges of our nature reserves. This plant is also host to the caterpillars of the Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide), Jacintha Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina jacintha) and Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina bolina)

A mating pair of Blue Pansy perched on the flower of its caterpillar host plant, the Common Asystasia.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Jerome Chua, Huang CJ, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Benjamin Yam.

08 October 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Spotted Black Crow

Butterflies Galore!
The Spotted Black Crow (Euploea crameri bremeri)

This Spotted Black Crow was feeding at the flowers of the StringBush at the Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin last weekend. It appeared to be very hungry and continued to feed for over half an hour, moving from flower to flower of the bush. A moderately rare species, the Spotted Black Crow's caterpillar has been successfully bred on Gymnanthera oblonga (Sea Rubber Vine) and Parsonsia helicandra from the lactiferous family of plants Apocynaceae.

The Spotted Black Crow flies slowly when undisturbed, and is sometimes observed puddling at sandy stream banks in the nature reserves. A closely-related species, the Blue Spotted Crow (Euploea midamus singapura) is very similar in appearance but has more squarish subapical spots on the forewing and lacks a small spot at the costal area of the forewing.

04 October 2014

Life History of the Common Redeye

Life History of the Common Redeye (Matapa aria)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Matapa Moore, 1881
Species: aria Moore, 1866
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 35-40mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Bambusa_heterostachya (Poaceae; common name: Malay Dwarf Bamboo), Bambusa multiplex (Poaceae, common name: Hedge Bamboo, Chinese Dwarf Bamboo), other Bambusa spp., Dendrocalamus spp.

A male Common Redeye showing the brand on the forewing.

The close-up view of the red eye of a Common Redeye.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are dark buff brown to black with the hindwing cilia pale yellowish grey. The male has a oblique, greyish brown, brand in spaces 1b and 2 on the forewing. On the underside, the wings are ochreous brown. The eyes are red.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Common Redeye is moderately rare in Singapore although its caterpillars can be found rather easily on its host plants (various bamboo spp.) on many occasions. The adults are mainly sighted at locations where there are bamboo clumps in the vicinity, and such locations could be urban parks, gardens, wastelands or the nature reserves. The adults are fast flyers and rests with its wings folded upright.

27 September 2014

Butterfly of the Month - September 2014

Butterfly of the Month - September 2014
The Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri)

A Dwarf Crow feeds on a Bidens pilosa flower at Butterfly Hill, Pulau Ubin, Singapore

September 2014 is almost over as we look back at a month that was relatively quiet and uneventful. In Singapore, we had the Formula 1 Night race for the seventh time after its debut in 2008 as the first F1 night race ever. Other than the buzz created by the avid followers of the F1 circuit around the world, it would appear that the majority of Singaporeans went about their lives as usual. Besides some inconveniences for those working in the city, the event seemed to have even lost its appeal with the ordinary residents of Singapore.

That Lewis Hamilton won the 2014 Singapore F1 probably didn't matter much to the man in the street in Singapore. Hogging the news, and creating quite a bit of a buzz in the local kopi-tiams (coffee shops) in Singapore, on the other hand, was a foreign national who was accused of misappropriating a wealthy Singaporean widow's $40M fortune. With a plot that is worthy of a TV soap opera, the accused apparently sneaked into the life of the widow and somehow managed to secure a Lasting Power of Attorney over her fortune.

Social media was ablaze with anti-foreigner sentiment once again, as netizens began to question the legitimacy of how this individual, who possessed nary a requisite paper qualification nor the credentials, managed to become a PR in Singapore. It will be interesting to see how the case plays out, as the plot thickens and even governmental organisations have lodged police reports and conducted investigations against the individual. On the optimistic side of things, the unfortunate widow may have been spared the total loss of her fortune, although it would appear that part of her missing inheritance would be irrecoverable.

Over in Incheon, South Korea, the 17th Asiad is still being enthusiastically followed by sports enthusiasts. Singapore's local boy, Joseph Schooling ended a 32-year gold drought in swimming by finally winning a gold medal in his pet 100m butterfly event. Considering that Joseph is a born and bred Singaporean, the majority of the highly-critical netizens gave him a thumbs up for his wins in the swimming arena.

Dwarf Crows feeding on the flowers of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum)

Our feature butterfly this month is the Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri). When it was sighted on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin back in 2002, the Dwarf Crow was recorded as a re-discovery for Singapore. Though listed in the early authors' checklists, it had not been seen in previous surveys of the Singapore butterfly fauna since the early 1990s, and presumed to be no longer found in Singapore. Then it re-appeared. Even so, this species continued to be reliably recorded only from Pulau Ubin.

For a period of time, it was regularly spotted on Pulau Ubin, often feeding on flowers of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum) and other wild flowers. It was a frequent visitor to the Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin, although in recent years, sightings have become much rarer.

The Dwarf Crow is so named, probably due to the fact that it is the smallest sized species in the genus. Sporting a wingspan of only 50-60 mm, it is certainly smaller than the other "Crows" that are found in Singapore and Malaysia.

The wings are reddish brown with the apical portion of the upperside of the forewings coloured deep blue with a few bluish discal and submarginal spots. The male's hindwings are unmarked on the upperside, but the female's hindwing features small diffused submarginal spots. The underside is a medium brown with the usual Euploea white spotting along the wing margins.

The Dwarf Crow is a slow flyer, usually seen flying calmly from flower to flower to feed. On Pulau Ubin, individuals of this species have also been observed puddling at damp spots as well as dried roots of some plants. During a time when the Indian Heliotrope was found at certain locations, the Dwarf Crow was also recorded in the company of several other species of Danainae butterflies feeding on the dried parts of the plant.

Dwarf Crows shot in Malaysia and southern Thailand are of the same subspecies as Singapore

The subspecies found in Singapore is ledereri and this subspecies also flies in Malaysia and southern Thailand. It is not uncommon in certain locations like the nature reserves in Endau Rompin and even on Fraser's Hill, where it is occasionally seen. However, in Singapore, it is considered rare and very local in distribution. Perhaps the caterpillar host plant should be cultivated in greater numbers to aid in the conservation of this species on Pulau Ubin.

A puddling Dwarf Crow photographed in Endau Rompin forest reserve in Malaysia

Over in Malaysia, this species has been observe to puddle on sandy footpaths that have been contaminated with animal excretions and decomposing organic matter. Individuals have been seen to fly around favoured spots and repeatedly return to puddle and feed at the same areas despite being disturbed.

This species has not been successfully bred in Singapore thus far, although its caterpillar host plant is suspected to be a Cynanchum sp. The early authors recorded the caterpillar host plants to be Malaisia scandens (Fleming) and Mikania cordata (C&P4), although the last-named plant in C&P4 may have been a mistake.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Sunny Chir, James Chia, David Fischer (Australia), Goh Lai Chong (Malaysia), Antonio Guidici (Thailand), Federick Ho, Khew SK, Loke PF, Simon Sng and Mark Wong.

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
[BOT2] Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, Amarin Printing & Publishing, 2012
[BOS] Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew SK, Ink On Paper Publishing, Singapore, 2010
[BWMS] Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, WA Fleming, 2nd Edition, Longmans, 1983