15 October 2016

Chiang Dao Reloaded 2016

Chiang Dao Reloaded 2016
Butterflies of North Thailand

I looked forward with uncontained excitement when I arrived for the first time in 2014 at the now famous "car park" at Chiang Dao. Our resident butterfly guide, Antonio Giudici paid the entrance fees to clear the security gantry - a princely 200 baht (about SGD$8) per person for us "farangs" (or foreigners) for a 3-day pass. We drove into what looked like an open area surrounded by single storey wooden sheds set up by the park rangers for their accommodation needs.

An overview of the Chiang Dao car park, which provided so many hours of butterfly photography excitement for our group

It was back in Apr 2014 when a group of ButterflyCircle members first visited that small dirt and mud carpark area of about 1,000 sqm. Officially, the location is called Sop Huai Pha Tang-Nalao Forest Protection Unit (as shown on Antonio's car's GPS). But we just call it Chiang Dao checkpoint carpark for ease of reference.

More views of the Chiang Dao car park where many butterflies puddle on a hot sunny day

The diversity of butterfly species in just this one small plot of land is amazing! It may be safe to say that over the years, the number of species that have been spotted at this 1,000 sqm patch can easily exceed the whole of Singapore island! Due to the bare earth and mud covering the very spartan carpark, all we needed to do, was to add water to the earth and the puddlers would come in droves - particularly during the dry season months.

When the sun shines and the sky is blue, there is always activity to keep you busy at the Chiang Dao car park

It was such a good area for butterfly photography, that our group of butterfly photographers visited it time and again - twice in 2014, twice in 2015 and recently, in Oct 2016. Although for some of us who had visited this place many times, the number of new species spotted was a diminishing return, it was nevertheless still exciting to see the larger and more showy species like the Atrophaneura species (like the Windmills), Charaxes and Polyuras (Rajahs and Nawabs), the rarer Lethe species (the Tree Browns) and many pretty Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae.

Larger and showy species found at Chiang Dao

In the previous years, we stayed at Chiang Mai city and took a daily drive up to Chiang Dao - a distance of just under 100km and took anything between 45 mins and 1.5 hours, depending on the traffic. On recent visits, we decided to stay near Chiang Dao instead and then spare ourselves (or rather our butterfly guide, Antonio) the daily dreary drive to and from Chiang Mai.

Our 'first-world' accomodation at the Nest2, which is just about 5 mins' drive to the Chiang Dao car park

Our favourite "resort" at Chiang Dao is the Nest 2. Rooms are clean and decent (though often you may have to share your space with the little critters that abound in this very natural area). For the city slickers, hot water and airconditioning are available, so there is no need to rough it out. Food is good, though a tad pricey by Thai standards. For more details about Nest 2, check out their website here.

Chiang Dao is about 100 km away from Chiang Mai city.

The Chiang Dao National Park (now renamed as Pha Daeng National Park) is huge. Covering a total area of 1,123 sq km (which is bigger than the whole of Singapore at 715 sq km), the area that we have visited is within the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary where the highest peak is Doi Chiang Dao (2,175 m high). There are currently a total of 127 gazetted National Parks in Thailand. Over 10% of the land in Thailand is protected as national parks under the 1961 National Parks Act signed by the late Thai King Bhumibol.

More puddlers and species that can be found at Chiang Dao

Coming back to our little car park in Chiang Dao, we can imagine the immense catchment areas that butterflies thrive amidst the many national parks in Thailand - thousands of sq km, of which many are largely inaccessible by modern land transport. The number of species found at this car park varies at different times of the year, and we have visited the location during the early butterfly season in Apr/May and also the start of the cooler dry season in Sep/Oct.

Butterfly species flying around the car park area are mainly the puddlers. They feed on the moisture and minerals from the damp earth in large numbers, and it is often difficult to isolate a single butterfly to photograph when there are hundreds more individuals jostling to feed at their favourite spots.

A squadron of Green Dragontails (Lamproptera meges) puddling at the Chiang Dao car park

This Oct in 2016, a small group of 4 of us spent 4 days at Chiang Dao, spending our time chasing the butterflies in that small car park area, and also taking a short drive up hill to visit some small tracks higher up towards Doi Chiang Dao. Although the weather was not the most cooperative like we experienced in the past occasions that we were there, the butterflies were relatively plentiful during the short periods of sunny weather.

Antonio Giudici, our friendly and knowledgeable butterfly guide in Thailand, posing with a cooperative Great Windmill (Atrophaneura dasarada barata)

Special thanks to our butterfly guide, Antonio, whom I must acknowledge as the most knowledgeable and accommodating guide, particularly for the English-speaking eco-tourist community. As an accomplished butterfly photographer himself, he has amassed more than 800 species of Thai butterflies, taken in the field. His knowledge of butterflies has deepened since I got to know him several years back, and he has begun the journey of setting up an online resource for butterflies of Thailand.

For those of you who intend to visit the Chiang Dao area, and be amazed by the butterfly diversity in northern Thailand, it is recommended that you contact Antonio through his website or FaceBook page. Butterfly watchers will not be disappointed by Antonio's friendly disposition and his wealth of knowledge about butterfly shooting locations, seasonality, specific habitats for certain species and local knowledge about Thailand.

And for those of us who enjoyed Chiang Dao this year, we look forward to visiting Thailand for butterfly watching and photography again some time soon!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Antonio Giudici, Khew SK and Loke PF.

Condolences : We would like to express our deepest condolences to all Thai citizens on the passing of your beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. King Bhumibol was an outstanding and deeply revered monarch who worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Thai people. He is also responsible for the conservation of nature parks in Thailand.

09 October 2016

Life History of Green Baron v2.0

Life History of the Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Euthalia Hübner, 1819
Species: adonia Cramer, 1779
Subspecies: pinwilli Pendlebury & Corbet, 1938
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-60mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plants: Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae, common name: Malayan Mistletoe), Macrosolen cochinchinensis (Loranthaceae, common name: Chinese Mistletoe).

A male Green Baron visiting ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron.

Another male Green Baron in the company of a smalll ant.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is dark green with a lighter green tornal area in the hindwing. The forewings have white sub-apical and post-discal spots. Distinct red spots can be found in the apical area in the hindwing. The female has a broad white band, with blackened veins, across both wings. The marginal area of its hindwing is prominently marked in green.

A male Green Baron.

A female Green Baron.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Green Baron is moderately common in Singapore. They can be found in urban parks and gardens as well as in the nature reserves. The adults are strong and fast flyers and react readily to any intrusion into their territory. Both sexes have the habit of visiting flowers and ripened fruits.

A female Green Baron pudding on wet ground.

Another male Green Baron.

Early Stages:
A common parasitic plant, Dendropthoe pentandra, has previously been recorded as Green Baron's host plant. Recently, another parasite plant, Macrosolen cochinchinensis, was found to play the same role. Caterpillars of the Green Baron feed on mature leaves of the host plants, and rest on the leaf upperside between feeds.

Local host plant #1: Dendropthoe pentandra (common name: Malayan Mistletoe).

Local host plant #2: Macrosolen cochinchinensis (common name: Chinese Mistletoe).

The eggs are laid singly on a mature leaf (typically on the upperside) of the host plant. Each pale-brown egg has a low dome-shape with a base diameter of about 1.8-1.9mm. The surface is covered with large hexagonal depressions with yellowish hair-like protuberances emerging from adjoining corners. Each protuberance has a droplet-like terminal end.

An egg of the Green Baron laid on a leaf of the Chinese Mistletoe.

Two views of an egg of the Green Baron.

Two views of a mature egg of the Green Baron.

After about 4-5 days, the 1st instar caterpillar emerges and proceeds to eat the eggshell as its first meal. The caterpillar is yellowish in body colour and has a black head capsule. Its body sports ten pairs of long, yellowish and "fleshy" dorso-lateral protuberances. Black setae emanate from the body below these long protuberances and from a series of short dorsal protuberances. The caterpillar grows from an initial length of about 3.4mm to 6mm in about 2-2.5 days.

A newly hatched caterpillar, resting after devouring part of its egg shell, length: 3.4mm.

Two views of a early 1st instar caterpillar.

Two views of a late 1st instar caterpillar, length: 5.9mm.

The body of the 2nd instar caterpillar is predominantly yellowish green. All ten pairs of short protuberances seen in the 1st instar have lengthened considerably. Each is projected horizontally with numerous branched spines and is almost always pressed to the leaf surface. The protuberance is mainly pale yellowish in color. Some branched spines are black in colour. On the dorsum, pale brown patches appear between all ten pairs of protuberances. As growth progresses in this instar, these patches become darker brown, most prominently in the two patches between the 4th and 5th pairs. The 2nd instar lasts for 2.5-3 days with the body length reaching about 10-11mm before the moult to the 3rd instar.

A 2nd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 6.5mm.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, length: 8.8mm.

A late 2nd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 10.2mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar is yellowish green in body color. The protuberances have all become much longer in proportion. The branched spines appear almost like a bird's feather, with the secondary spines arranged neatly around the main spine. The branched spines are black at the terminal end as well as at the one-third length from the end. Brownish dorsal spots appear on the dorsum, one between each pair of protuberances (except for the 3rd and 6th pairs). The 3rd instar lasts for about 3 days and reaches a length of about 16-18mm before the next moult.

A newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 10mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, length: 16mm.

A late 3rd instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 17.5mm.

A 3rd instar caterpillar found in the field on a leaf of the Chinese Mistletoe.

The 4th instar caterpillar has similar appearance as in the 3rd instar. Spines on each long greenish protuberance are now mostly green and the two black portions near the terminal end of each portuberance more extensive. Each brown dorsal spot, except for the spots between the first two pairs of protuberances, now features a small white spot along the leading edge. After about 5-6 days in this instar, and its body length reaching 27-28mm, the caterpillar moults to the 5th instar.

A newly moulted 4th instar caterpillar, length: 16mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, length: 22.5mm.

Two views of a late 4th instar caterpillar, dormant prior to its moult, length: 27mm.

The 5th instar caterpillar adopt a few changes in its appearance. Lateral spines in the previously black portions and terminal end of each portuberance have changed colour to pink, and the part between these two are now whitish in colour. Another observable change is in the brown dorsal spots which are now broader and more prominent in this final instar.

A newly moulted 5th instar caterpillar, length: 29mmmm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, length: 36mm.

A 5th instar caterpillar feeding on a leaf of the Chinese Mistletoe, length: 39mm.

This final instar lasts about 6-7 days with the caterpillar reaching a length of about 41-43mm. On the last day, the caterpillar ceases its feeding activity and its body shrinks in length. It then seeks out a spot on the underside of a leaf and stays put. There it spins large quantity of silk threads to make a silk mound, to which its posterior claspers are then attached to. Now the pre-pupa hangs from this anchor point in a head-down posture. A short transverse pale yellowish band appears on the dorsum about mid-body.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Green Baron, early in this stage.

After about 1 day of the pre-pupal stage, pupation takes place. The yellowish green pupa is suspended with its cremaster firmly attached to the silk mound. It has a smooth body which tapers steeply towards each end from a yellowish transverse dorsal ridge (which ends at the wing case with a brown spot). A short series of brown spots appear along the edge of wing case, with the middle one the largest one and featuring an embedded beige spot. Length of pupae: 19-21mm.

The pupation event of a Green Baron butterfly.

Two views of a pupa of the Green Baron.

Ten days later, the pupa becomes considerably darkened, especially in the wing case area, signaling the end of the development of the adult still encased within. The next day, the adult butterfly emerges.

Three views of a mature male pupa of the Green Baron.

A newly eclosed male Green Baron clinging on its empty pupal case.

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992.
  • 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 Koh Cher Hern, Frederick Ho, Anthony Wong, Sunny Chir and Horace Tan