20 September 2014

Life History of the Peacock Royal v2.0

Life History of the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)
An earlier version of the life history of the Peacock Royal can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Tajuria Moore, 1881
Species: cippus Fabricius, 1798
Subspecies: maxentius Fruhstorfer, 1912
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 30-34mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae),Macrosolen cochinchinensis (Loranthaceae).




Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is royal blue with a broad, black border on both wings, whilst the female is in light pale blue and has a post-discal and a marginal series of black spots on its hindwing. On the underside, both sexes are greyish white. Both wings have a post-discal series of black, disjoint striae, and diffuse/obscure marginal and submarginal fasciae. The hindwing has two large, black tornal spots in spaces 1a and 2 which are orange-crowned; white-tipped tails at end of veins 1b and 2, and a short tooth at end of vein 3.




Field Observations:
The Peacock Royal is moderately common in Singapore. The adults can be found in urban parks and gardens, forested areas, as well as the nature reserves. They have a rapid flight and are typically skittish when approached. They are more readily photographed when they are engrossed in taking nectar from flowers.






Early Stages:
Two mistletoes, Dendropthoe pentandra and Macrosolen cochinchinensis, have been recorded as the local host plants for the Peacock Royal. The caterpillars of the Peacock Royal feed on the young leaves of these host plants.

Local host plant #1: Dendropthoe pentandra.

Local host plant #2: Macrosolen cochinchinensis.

The eggs are laid singly on the leaf, the stem or the petiole of the host plant. Each shallow bun-shaped egg is about 0.9-1mm in basal diameter, and whitish with a subtle green undertone. A tiny and depressed micropylar sits atop. The egg surface is finely sculpted with very tiny ripples/undulations.

An egg of the Peacock Royal observed in the field on the young shoot of Dendropthoe pentandra.

Two views of an egg of the Peacock Royal.

It takes about 3-4 days for the egg to hatch. The young caterpillar consumes just enough of the egg shell to emerge, and it does not consume the remnant egg shell. It is yellowisk in coloration, and has a length of about 1.8mm. Long setae (hairs) run along the length of the body dorsally as well as sub-spiracularly. Raised dorsal tubercles are transparent. A large and brownish prothoracic shield can be observed. The newly hatched feeds on the young leaves nearby by skimming the surface. Later instars will feed on the leaf lamina, working their ways along the edges. As it grows in this instar, the caterpillar assumes a greenish or a yellowish brown coloration. The 1st instar lasts about 2-3 days and sees the body length increased to about 3.5mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, newly hatched, length: 1.7mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 3.5mm.

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

In the 2nd instar caterpillar, the long dorsal and sub-spiracular setae seen in the 1st instar are now absent. Its diamond-shaped prothoracic shield is pale brown in color. Behind the prothoricic shield, a large triangular, pale brown, dorsal marking is present on the meso- and metathoracic segments. The posterior segments from the 7th abdominal segment onwards are fused together and taper downward to the last segment. Pale brown patches adorn the sides of the body except for the last 4 segments (which are whitish instead). These patches become darker brown to reddish brown in coloration as the caterpillar grows in this instar. The dorsal nectary organ is present. Note that in another colour form of the caterpillar, the pale brown patches are replaced by green patches. The 2nd instar lasts for about 4 days with the body length reaches about 5.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 3.3mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 4.8mm.

Two views of a late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 5mm.

In the 3rd instar caterpillar, the lateral body markings, pale reddish brown to dark reddish brown, now dominate the general appearance. The lateral body markings are broken between the 2nd and 4th abdominal segments by a large, whitish triangular patch. The dorsal tubercles on 1st-5th abdominal segments are golden to reddish in coloration. The dorsal nectary organ and the tentacular organs are now easily observed on the fused posterior segments. As the body grows in size to a length of around 10-11mm, the color of shading on the body darkens. After about 5 days in the 3rd instar, the moult to the 4th and final instar takes place.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 6mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 10.5mm.

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

A late 3rd instar caterpillar observed int the field, with ants in attendance.

The 4th instar caterpillar is mostly dark reddish to purplish brown in color, except for the whitish posterior segments and the lateral, triangular patch, both of which are now more prominent. Overall, the caterpillar has a very striking appearance, and resembles bird droppings.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 11.3mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 20mm.

The 4th instar lasts for about 7 days and the body reaches a length of about 20mm. Nearing the end of this instar, the caterpillar ceases feeding, its body shrinks in length and de-colorises. Soon it comes to rest on the surface of a stem, and prepares for pupation by spinning a silk pad on the substrate to which it attaches itself via claspers at the posterior end.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Peacock Royal.

After about 1 day of the pre-pupal stage, pupation takes place. The pupa is predominantly pale brownish to dark brownish, with pale greenish and black patches carpeting the surface. It has a dorsal ridge and a saddle in anterior abdomen, and is secured via a cremastral attachment to the silk pad on the stem. There is no silk girdle. Pupal length: 12-14mm.

Two views of a pupa of the Peacock Royal.

Eight to nine days later, the pupa turns black, first in the wing pad and thorax, then progressively in the abdomen. The next day, the pupal stage comes to an end with the emergence of the adult butterfly.

Two views of a mature pupa of a Peacock Royal.

A newly eclosed Peacock Royal.

References:
  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S.K., Ink On Paper Communications, 2010.
Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Bobby Mun, Koh Cher Hern, C K Chng, Anthony Wong, Federick Ho and Horace Tan

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