16 December 2017

Butterfly of the Month - December 2017

Butterfly of the Month - December 2017
The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus)

Ten years ago, in December 2007, we started the Butterfly of the Month series with our first feature butterfly, the beautiful Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hysina). This month, December 2017 we mark a milestone for this series, after featuring a total of 122 species of butterflies found in Singapore. (inclusive of this month's feature species). So we celebrate a decade of Singapore's butterflies and look forward to featuring more of our flying jewels.

December is always a month for festivities and the year-end holidays. Shopping malls, offices and even the public roads along the main shopping belts in Singapore are decorated with pretty lights and cheery Christmas decorations. The cooler winter breezes and daily rains also make the ambient temperatures feel a lot like Christmas, even though Singapore is unlikely to see any real snow for a long time to come!

Even as we enjoy the holiday season, indulge in good food and great company of friends and family, many countries continue to be on high alert for acts of terrorism during the year-end festivities. And just when you least expect it, incidents such as the recent New York Times Square bomb attack brings back the reality that there extremists out there and no amount of vigilance and surveillance by the authorities can eliminate them completely. Over the years, travellers have come to terms with terror attacks as an inevitable part of life, including travelling overseas.

In global news, North Korea continues to take centre stage, as it successfully launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that it claims can potentially reach any city in the US. The Trump Administration, on the other hand made news (and a lot of unhappy people) when it announced that it will henceforth recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

On the environmental front, Singapore saw its first electric car-sharing company starting operations this month with 80 "blue cars" and about 30 charging stations. Similar to the bike-sharing scheme which can be popularly seen all over Singapore today, this electric car-sharing scheme will be the pioneer of car mobility in our sharing economy. The scheme is operated by BlueSG, a subsidiary of the French Bollore group, which launched the world’s largest and most successful car sharing, Autolib’ in Paris. The plan is to reach a total of 1,000 BlueSG electric vehicles in Singapore, which may appeal to those who do not think it is feasible to pay an arm and a leg for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) and the attendant high costs of car ownership in Singapore.

A Common Snow Flat feeding on the flower of Syzygium tree

Our feature butterfly for December 2017 is a rather drab Hesperiidae, predominantly brown on its upperside and bluish-white scaling on the undersurfaces of its hindwing. The Common Snow Flat (Tagiades japetus atticus) is moderately common in Singapore where it is usually found along the edges of Singapore's forested nature reserves, hill parks and wastelands.

This species belongs to the subfamily Pyrginae often referred to as Flats and Spread-Winged Skippers, indicating the open-winged posed of the butterflies when at rest or when feeding. The majority are fast-flyers, zipping rapidly around, and then stopping to rest with their wings opened flat on the undersides of leaves. The Snow Flats, of which there are four species from the genus Tagiades in Singapore, have whitened hindwings, which when in flight, makes the butterfly appear much smaller than it actually is.

The underside of the hindwing of the Common Snow Flat is suffused with bluish white scaling

The Common Snow Flat is pale brown on the upperside of its wings, with dark brown patches and spots on both wings. There are small sub-apical and post-discal hyaline spots on the forewings which are larger in the female than in the male. The underside of the hindwing is suffused with bluish-white scaling and appears almost whitish when in flight.  The head, thorax and abdomen of the species is strongly whitened on the underside.

A Common Snow Flat rests with its wings opened flat on the underside of a leaf

The species' habit of stopping under leaves to rest makes it challenging to photograph. However, there are times of the day with it sunbathes on the upper surfaces of leaves with its usually open-winged post. Occasionally, when there are Syzygium trees flowering, there may be several individuals of the Common Snow Flat visiting the flowers to feed. In the early morning hours, they may be seen feeding on the flowers of plants like the Chinese Violet (Asystasia gangetica).

The Common Snow Flat is occasionally observed to feed on bird droppings on leaves or on the ground. It is rarely observed puddling at damp streambanks although other species in the subfamily have been seen to puddle more often than this species.

The local caterpillar host plant of the Common Snow Flat is of the Dioscorea spp. - a climbing vine that is more often found in the forested areas than in urban parks and gardens. The host plant is also shared by at least two other species of the genus.

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

09 December 2017

Book Review - Two Indonesian Butterfly Books

Book Review - Two Indonesian Butterfly Books
Featuring : "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies" and "Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden"

A female Common Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon)

In a previous weekend's blog article, we took a look at the literature available (or lack thereof) on Bornean butterflies. This weekend, we shift our attention to the 14th largest country in the world, in terms of land mass. Amongst the ASEAN nations, Indonesia is the largest country amongst the 10 southeast asian countries. Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world, after China, India and the US.

The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia has about 1,919,000 sq km of land mass

Given the land mass of 1.9 million sq km (or about 3.5 times the size of Thailand), and the very diverse ecosystems and habitats of its 17,000 islands, any effort to document the butterflies of the entire country would be almost a superhuman feat! Hence it is not surprising that no researcher has ever attempted a comprehensive book covering all of Indonesia yet! It is with this background that Pisuth Ek-Amnuay's Butterflies of Thailand (two editions) should be lauded for the author's effort to document Thailand's butterfly fauna, as writing a book that covers over 1,000 species would certainly not have been easy.

A male Common Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon) clings on to its leaf perch

Indonesia has an estimated number of 2,500 species of butterflies, or about double the number of butterfly species found in Thailand or Malaysia! It is home to many endemic species, some of which are so unique and beautiful, they should rightfully be also given protection status under the CITES list. Many of the larger species of swallowtails and birdwings found in Indonesia are amongst the largest butterfly species found in the world.

This article takes a look at two (out of four) books authored by Dr Djunijanti Peggie, which introduces a selective sample of butterflies found in Indonesia. The first book is entitled "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies". This book basically features some CITES-protected species, particularly the Ornithoptera, Trogonoptera and Troides butterflies found in Indonesia. Several of these species are endemic to the country.

The format of the book, in B4 dimension, is clean and easy to read. Written in English and Bahasa Indonesia, the book is targeted at both the local Indonesian enthusiasts as well as international readers. Due to the small number of species featured, a nice visual quick index to the species helps to orientate the reader to the butterflies featured in the book.

The CITES list of the butterflies featured in Dr Peggie's book

The introductory section of the book efficiently summarises the Indonesian bio-geography and where the featured butterflies can be found. This section covers a short introduction to butterflies, nomenclature, handling collected specimens, butterfly morphology and terminology and some distinguishing features of each species. A list of of the species protected under CITES Appendix II is also included.

A page from the book featuring the very beautiful Violet Lacewing (Cethosia myrina sarnada) which is endemic in Sulawesi

The remaining pages of the book shows a double-spread of each species with useful data on the common and scientific names, wing dimensions, distinguishing features, distribution and protection status. Only photos of collected and set specimens accompany the write ups. But these are very useful to allow the reader to view the upper and underside of each species, and male/female photos also highlight the sexual dimorphism amongst these species.

The tailed male of Paradise Birdwing (Ornithoptera paradisea) is one of the beautiful birdwing butterflies in Indonesia

Specific distinguishing features of each species highlighted in the text are also annotated on the photos to visually show these features. Annotations by numbers is also helpful to guide the reader to understand the corresponding descriptions in the text box. A centimeter ruler is added under each butterfly specimen to help give an approximate scale to the photo and an indication of its wingspan.

Wallace's Golden Birdwing (Ornithoptera croesus), a spectacular species that was first described by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859 and had a prominent mention in his book, the Malay Archipelago. This species is endemic to northern Maluku.

This 72-page book provides a good introduction to some of Indonesia's most spectacular butterflies. The book is simple and well-organised, with the key information and photographs effectively laid out to present the maximum information without any distracting clutter. The synopsis on the back cover of the book is written by Prof Dick Vane-Wright of the UK.

The second book, co-authored by Dr Peggie with Mr Mohammad Amir, is a small pocket-guide entitled "Practical Guide to the Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden". This guide book features a total of about 96 species of butterflies found at the Bogor Botanic Garden, which covers about 87 Hectares in Bogor City in western Java. This botanic garden is apparently initiated by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles some time in the early 19th Century.

A diagrammatic location map of Bogor Botanic Garden shows the various sub-gardens where the species featured in the book were observed.

The pocket guide is also bi-lingual in English and Bahasa Indonesia. A few quick introduction-to-butterflies pages precede the main species pages. There is also a short section about Bogor Botanic Garden with a diagrammatic map of the gardens and some specific areas within the premises where the butterflies were observed.

A location map of Bogor Botanic Gardens.  The garden is about an hour's drive from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia

The species pages are organised by taxonomic families of butterflies, with the exception of Riodinidae, which is not found in Bogor Botanic Garden. Details of host plants, distribution, and some description of the butterfly are included for each species. There is a small pictorial diagram of Bogor Botanic Garden on each page to depict the locations where the species was observed within the garden.

Each species photo is of a set specimen with the upper/underside cut into half and digitally "sewn together" to depict the butterfly in one photo. This is useful to save space and keep the book concise and affordable. Description of the butterfly behaviour and other notes of interest are included. Photos of the species in the field, where available, are added to the bottom part of the page to complement the species described.

Some of the specimen photos shown are not in the best of condition, but they were probably of specimens that were actually captured and set on location from the Bogor Botanic Gardens. It should be noted that no English common names are indicated in this particular pocket guide, and only the scientific names of the species are used.

On the left page, the awesome caliper-tailed Polyura dehanii was also observed before at the Bogor Botanic Garden! 

At Rp45,000 or just under S$5, this pocket guide is a good companion for any butterfly-watching enthusiast visiting Bogor Botanic Garden. And who knows, you may be lucky enough to spot the awesome caliper-tailed Polyura dehanii at the gardens!

Text and Photos by Khew SK.

Photos from the books "Precious and Protected Indonesian Butterflies" and "Practical Guide to the Butterflies of Bogor Botanic Garden" are copyrighted property of their respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.

03 December 2017

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Springleaf Nature Park

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Springleaf Nature Park

A tranquil view of the water and lush greenery at Springleaf Nature Park

We continue our exploration of the many public parks in Singapore managed by the National Parks Board (NParks). There are currently over 300 parks in Singapore, big and small, and 4 nature reserves under the management of NParks. In keeping with Singapore's "City in a Garden" vision, the planning of Singapore has taken into account the preservation of greenery in our intensively developed island. This is to ensure that Singapore does not become a jungle of concrete, bricks and mortar.

Signboard at Springleaf Nature Park, showing the 6 Ha park, the streams and park connector

This weekend's blog article features a small park of about 6 Ha in size. What is unique about this nature park, is that it is situated at the confluence of two streams from the catchment in the Mandai and Sembawang precinct. The water from these two streams drain into the the Lower Seletar Reservoir towards the east of this park.

Landscaping around the managed part of the park is aesthetically pleasing, but with the wrong plants, very low butterfly activity is observed.

This nature park, called Springleaf Nature Park, is located in an area formerly known as Chan Chu Kang (曾厝港) village. This village was named after the village headman by the name of Chan Ah Lak 曾亞六 (1813-1873), who owned the land in this area, where he cultivated pepper and gambier cash crops in the 1850's. The village was later renamed to Nee Soon Village after Lim Nee Soon established a rubber plantation there.

With the rapid urbanisation of Singapore, the area became part of Yishun New Town. Opened in Nov 2014, Springleaf Nature Park is the first of four new nature parks which will serve as green buffers to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. These parks - which include Chestnut, Thomson and Windsor Nature Parks - will help to reduce visitorship pressure on the Reserve by providing an alternative venue for the public to enjoy nature-related activities. The development of these nature parks in Singapore is part of a holistic approach to conserve the biodiversity in our nature reserves.

The entrance pavilion at Springleaf Nature Park - designed by CPG Consultants.

Access to Springleaf Nature Park is via Upper Thomson Road. There is a small carpark (chargeable) with about 20 lots if you are driving. The main single-storey visitor pavilion and rest rooms are located next to the car park and adjacent to the main road. A small cafe, run by Verdure forms part of this visitor pavilion. A convenient location for some refreshments after an outing at the park!

The elevated viewing platform that encompasses a tree into its design

The view out to the promontory where the two streams converge

Setting out from the visitor pavilion will bring you to a simple red 'rubble' concrete path that winds sinuously towards an elevated circular platform that encircles a tree. From this platform, a visitor can look at the scenery beyond and the confluence of the two streams and the promontory where they intersect. A wide canal then extends beyond, where the edges are 'softened' with grass verges, instead of a hard concrete engineered canal.

Areas with good potential for planting butterfly-attracting plants or creating a small butterfly garden

Moving towards the left, one is greeted by an open space with cultivated trees. A tall hedge of Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) and Red Tree Bush (Leea rubra) line the edge of this open grassy field. You can then make your way to the side table of the canal and walk alongside the edge of the green verges.

The resident Gram Blue butterflies and their caterpillar host plant, the creeper weed Vigna reflexopilosa

Along these areas, you can find wild-growing patches of Vigna reflexopilosa, the caterpillar host plant of the Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus). Once you reach this area, it is very highly likely that you will encounter several individuals of the Gram Blue, both males and females, fluttering restlessly amongst the low shrubbery. This butterfly feeds on the wildflowers in the vicinity, and the males have also been observe to puddle on carrion and bird droppings on the forest floor.

Skippers found at Springleaf Nature Park

Amongst the tall grasses like Lalang and Guinea Grass that grows along the forested edges, you can expect to see several species of Hesperiidae like the Contiguous Swift and Small Branded Swift zipping amongst the bushes and opening their wings to sunbathe. Skippers are also seen feeding at the flowers of the Chinese Violet (Asystasia gangetica)

There is good bird diversity at Springleaf Nature Park

Walking along the canal, you can observe the active bird life and the resident Kingfishers, Blue Tailed Bee Eater and Swallows will often be around to entertain you with their flying and hunting prowess. Up on the branches of the tall trees, you can often hear the calls of the raptors that nest in the upper reaches of these majestic trees.

Other urban butterflies that flutter around the area are the Plain Tiger, Chocolate Pansy, Leopard and Lemon Emigrant. However, due to the lack of the preferred nectaring plants for butterflies, Springleaf Nature Park's butterfly diversity is somewhat low. This is a pity, as the location of this park that is close to the Central Catchment Nature Reserves would have given it the advantage of being able to attract a wider diversity of butterfly species to this park.

A patch where Lantana camara used to grow, but now removed and covered with wood chips

Even at the main entrance area, where large patches of Lantana camara used to be planted, are now gone. Perhaps it was too much of a maintenance issue that resulted in the removal of these butterfly 'magnets'. The Javanese Ixora bushes appear to be unhealthy and there are very few flower heads that would encourage visiting butterflies to feed on them.

More tranquil views of blue and green at Springleaf Nature Park.

Walking on the other side of the canal after crossing the bridge along Nee Soon Road and heading back to the entrance pavilion, again the planting of orchids and other non-butterfly attracting plants did not do anything to attract the potential species of butterflies that can be found in the area. All in all, whilst this Nature Park has a lot of potential to attract butterflies, the current planting palette completely misses any opportunity to do so.

Male and female Gram Blues sunbathing

Other than an almost 'guaranteed' sighting of the Gram Blues in this Nature Park, the butterfly diversity is left much to be desired. A more judicious selection of both nectaring and host plants would have made a big difference, as could be seen in the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden, which is also near the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. Until that happens, visit the Springleaf Nature Park for its rich bird life and tranquil green and blue scenery. But all is not lost - its butterfly diversity can easily be improved by planting the right plants to attract butterflies.  It has the potential to stand equal with some of the more successful butterfly-watching parks and gardens in Singapore.

How to Get There :
By Public Transport : Take bus service SBS 138, SMRT 167, 169 or 980 and alight at bus stop outside the former Nessea Club along Upper Thomson Road.

By Car : See map for details. Parking charges apply.

Text and Photos by Khew SK