29 August 2008

Life History of the Peacock Royal

Life History of the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)
An updated 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 : 29~33mm
Caterpillar Host Plant : Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae)

Life Cycle
Egg 4 days
1st Instar 3~4 days
2nd instar 4 days
3rd instar 4 days
4th instar 7 days
Pre-pupation 2 days
Pupa 10 days

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly :
The upper side of the male is a beautiful royal blue with a broad black apical border on the forewing. The female is a light pale blue with a series of black post-discal striae. The underside is a silvery grey with post discal series of dark striae on both wings. The tornal spots are orange-crowned and both sexes possess two pairs of tails.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behavior :
The butterfly is a fast-flyer in the field, often found feeding at flowering bushes and trees. When disturbed it flies rapidly high up to nearby shrubs but often returns later to the bushes to continue feeding.

Males are often observed sun bathing showing off their beautiful blue uppersides under the sun.

Early Stages:
Eggs are laid singly on the young leaf surfaces or stems of the host plant. The colour of the newly laid egg is white to slightly greenish and mature eggs turn white before hatching.

The egg is typically dome shape and measures ~0.93mm diameter. It has a depressed micropylar on top and the surface is slightly sculptured otherwise smooth.

Freshly laid Peacock Royal egg, diameter is about 0.9~1.0mm

It takes 4 days for eggs to hatch. The young caterpillar does not consume the eggshell after hatching, leaving an empty eggshell with a small round opening atop the micropylar area.

The caterpillar's body looks a bit shiny and light tan in colour with three darker tan wavy markings horizontally across the dorsal. The 1st instar caterpillar is hairy with fine and short setae below and around the body and longer setae on top of the segments.

The 1st instar caterpillar has 10 body segments and the spiracles are located closer to the top side of the segments. At the top of each of the body segments are the saw-tooth liked tubercles with setae which has white colour tip.

The 1st instar caterpillar feeds mainly on the under surface of the leave tissue and leaving many “windows” on the leaf.

A newly hatched 1st instar caterpillar measures around1.2~1.5mm and about 2mm after half a day.

Windows’ created by the 1st instar caterpillar

The 1st instar caterpillar feeds on the under surface of young leaf tissue.

Mature 1st Instar caterpillar measures 3.2~3.4mm just hours before molting to 2nd Instar. Interesting observation is that each tubercle is surrounded by a transparent “air pocket”

Freshly molted 2nd Instar caterpillar feeding on its 1st skin with length of ~3.4mm

It takes 3 days for the 1st instar caterpillar to molt. The freshly molted 2nd instar caterpillar immediately feeds on its 1st instar skin. At this stage all the setae are dropped with body color and markings remain the same as the final 1st Instar caterpillar.

Freshly molted 3rd instar caterpillar remains the same colour as 2nd instar caterpillar except that the transparent pockets on the tubercles are gone now

Four days after, the caterpillar advances to its 3rd instar. Colour and markings remain the same (but I also notice some earlier breeds actual were green in colour) and it changes its feeding habit to eat on the edge of the leave.

Green coloured 3rd instar caterpillars. The colour of the caterpillars blends in well with the environment e.g. the green twig.

4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 13mm

The freshly molted 4th instar caterpillar changes its body colour to maroon brown with three light pinkish cloudy patches located between the last segment leg and beginning of the end of the body after segment 7. On top of segments 2 and 3 is now dark in orange, this includes the tubercles at segments 5 ~7 as well.

The tubercles on segments 1 and 2 are not so prominent on this 4th instar caterpillar. The transparent ‘air pockets’ on top of the tubercles of the 3rd instar caterpillar have now disappeared.

Mature 4th instar caterpillar.

A 4th instar instar caterpillar continues to feed on the edge of the leaf

A few hours after molting the appearance of this 4th instar changes. The light pinkish cloudy patches turn dusted pinky patches. The light pinkish cloudy patch at the front of head is now disappeared and replaced by three black marks and they look like two eyes and a mount. There are now two ‘black eyes’ appearing at the end of the abdomen as well.

Pre-pupating caterpillar of the Peacock royal, note the pinkish colour patches which turns lighter to eventually white

After 7 days the 4th instar caterpillar stops feeding and wanders around the container searching for a place to undergo its final molt into a pupa until it settles down on a twig in head down position. The pinkish cloudy patches slowly changed to white and the orange patches are getting lighter and less intense in orange.

Two days later the caterpillar shreds its skin and prepares for pupation by attaching itself with the cremaster on the twig without silkpad, but unlike many other species, it has no girdle to support the pupa.

A freshly molted pupa

Mature pupa of the Peacock royal

In the morning, few hours before the adult butterfly emerges the pupa turns darker brown

A newly eclosed Peacock Royal resting on flower stem

A newly eclosed female Peacock Royal. Inset : Upperside of the female Peacock Royal

  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.

Text by Tan Ben Jin ; Photos by Tan BJ & Khew SK

21 August 2008

Butterfly of the Month - August 2008

The Courtesan (Euripus nyctelius euploeoides)

The Courtesan belongs to the family Nymphalidae, subfamily Apaturinae, of which there are only two species found in Singapore - the other one being the Purple Duke (Eulaceura osteria kumana). The Courtesan is relatively rare, and rather local in appearance. Males of the species are often encountered regularly at an urban park in Singapore. It has been occasionally seen even in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, at Upper Peirce Reservoir Park, and at various locations in the forest reserves. My earliest confirmed record of this species was a female at the fringes of Mandai Orchid Gardens in early 1997.

In the male of the Courtesan, the forewing is deep bluish black, with cellular, discal, post-discal and submarginal series of white spots. The hindwing is white, with the veins heavily blackened. In living specimens, the eyes are yellow in both sexes.

The males are territorial, and tend to return to the same favourite perch time and again, even after being disturbed. It has a strong powerful flight, but when not disturbed, adopts a leisurely gliding flight as it rides on thermal uplifts. If there are intruders into its territory, it gives chase and tries to scare them away.

The Courtesan exhibits a striking example of sexual dimorphism. Two female forms are known in Malaysia and Singapore. In the female-form isina the butterfly mimics the male of the Magpie Crow (Euploea radamanthus radamanthus). The wings are a deep bluish black with a white post-cellular patch on the forewing and the inner area of the hindwing broadly whitened.

Courtesan Female-form isina (left) mimics the male Magpie Crow (right)

The 2nd female form, euploeoides of the Courtesan mimics the female of the Magpie Crow, where the wings are bluish brown with the hindwing predominantly white. Females, when seen, are often observed flying around bushes and flowering plants in a slow unhurried manner, mimicking the flight of the Magpie Crow, a Danainae species which is distasteful to predators.

Courtesan female-form euploeoides (left) mimics the female Magpie Crow (right)

The Courtesan is also unique in that it is one of the few species where the sexes differ quite significantly in size, where the males are not more than two-thirds the size of the females. Males are more often observed than females, which are much rarer.

The species' normal distribution has been recorded from Northern India through South East Asia to the Philippines.

The known host plant on which the species has been bred in Singapore is Trema tomentosa.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Henry Koh, Mark Wong, Anthony Wong, Horace Tan, Leslie Day and Khew SK

17 August 2008

The Life History of the Yamfly

Life History of the Yamfly (Loxura atymnus fuconius)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Loxura Horsfield, 1829
Species: atymnus Stoll, 1780
fuconius Fruhstorfer, 1912
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 35mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants:
Smilax bracteata (Smilacaceae)

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The upperside of both sexes is reddish orange, with a neat black apical border on the forewing. The underside is yellowish buff with a somewhat obscure post-discal fascia. The female has its tornal area of the hindwing dark-dusted. The antennae are short and the palpi are unusually long and protruding, a feature easy to pick in close-up pictures. Both sexes have rather long white-tipped hindwing tails.

A female Yamfly sunbathing in mid-day sun, showing us its upperside

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Locally, this species is uncommon, and the adult is usually encountered singly. Typical encounters take place in bright sunlit spots with the adult sunbathing or flitting from perch to perch in the vicinity of its local host plant. It has a wide distribution with sightings recorded in many locations such as the Central Catchment Area, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Southern Ridges and even abandoned farmland in the western part of Singapore.

Early Stages:
In the region the recorded host plants of the Yamfly include various Dioscorea (Yam) and Smilax species. Thus far, Smilax bracteata is the only local host plant recorded. This native plant is a woody climber with long, coiling stipular tendrils and long, stout stems which are covered with bristles and stiff prickles. Leaves are ovate with a round base. This plant can be found in open country and forest edges in various parts of Singapore. It has been found to smoother native plants in nature reserves by growing over them and blocking out sunlight. As the name bracteata suggests, it has "shiny" young stems and leaves, and it is on these young stems that a mother Yamfly lays its eggs.

Host plant : Smilax bracteata, stem with mature leaves
climbing a fig tree

Young and fleshy shoot of Smilax bracteata.

A mother Yamfly laying eggs on the young shoot of Smilax bracteata

Eggs are laid on the young shoots of the host plant. It is not uncommon for a number of eggs to be found on the same shoot, however the eggs occur singly rather than in clusters. Each egg is white, circular and has a depressed micropylar area. The surface is covered with many tiny shallow pits which are barely visible to the naked eyes. Each egg has a diameter of about 0.9mm.

Left: fresh egg; right: mature egg showing part of the egg shell already eaten
by the soon-to-emerge caterpillar.

1st instar caterpillar, newly hatched, length:1.3mm

It takes 3 days for the egg to hatch. The young caterpillar consumes the upper portion of the egg shell to emerge. With a length of 1.2-1.3mm, it has a black head, a pale yellowish body decorated with long setae (hairs) dorsally and sub-spiracularly. The caterpillar assumes the typical woodlouse body shape as it grows in this instar which lasts about 2 days and sees the body length increased to about 3mm. The body color also changes gradually to darker shades of yellow, together with the presence of orange to red tinge. The caterpillar feeds by eating away the upper layer of the fleshy young shoot in almost all instars.

1st instar caterpillar, length: 2.3mm

1st instar caterpillar, ready to moult to the next stage, length: 3mm

The 2nd instar caterpillar has a
roughly diamond-shaped prothoracic shield in the same color as the rest of its body. The long setae are now gone. The anal plate has a rather prominent depression, roughly oblong in outline. Also discernible are faint yellowish markings on the side of a thin red or reddish brown dorsal band. The 2nd instar lasts for 3 days and reaches a length of about 6m to 7mm.

2nd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 3.7mm

2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length:6mm.

The 3rd instar caterpillar looks similar to the 2nd instar caterpillar, except for the greater size which has the body length reaching a maximum of around 9-10mm. After 2-3 days in this stage, the next moult takes place.

3rd instar caterpillar, length: 9mm

In the midst of the moult from 3rd to 4th instar

The 4th (and final) instar caterpillar initially resembles the 3rd instar caterpillar in the day prior to the moult. Over the next 2-3 days, the pink to red patches on the body gradually darken such that the dorsal markings are now more prominent with the greater contrast between the yellowish green and the darkish pink patches.

4th instar caterpillar, length: 19mm

The 4th instar lasts for 4 days and the body reaches a length of about 19-20mm. In the last day of this stage, the caterpillar ceases feeding, and its body shrinks in length. Soon it comes to rest on a spot on the young shoot, or a leaf or even a tendril and it becomes an immobile pre-pupa.
There the pre-pupatory caterpillar prepares for pupation by spinning a silk pad and a silk girdle to secure itself.

Two views of a pre-pupa of the Yamfly

The next day, after 12-13 days of larval growth, pupation finally takes place. The pupa is held via its cremaster and a silk girdle to the silk pad on the leaf surface. It is 13-14mm in length, mostly green with a relatively long abdominal section. Large dorsal markings of cryptic patterns in brown and white are present. The wing pads are whitish and stand out against the green base color of the pupa.

Two views of a fresh pupa of the Yamfly

Seven days later, the pupa becomes darkened in color signaling the imminent emergence of the adult. The orange patches on the forewing upperside becomes visible through the now transparent pupal skin. The next day the adult butterfly emerges from the mature pupa.

Two views of a mature pupa of the Yamfly showing the orange patch
on the forewing upperside

A newly eclosed Yamfly resting on a perch

A sun-facing Yamfly perching on a Smilax shoot


  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 1st Edition, 2006
Text and Photos by Horace Tan

10 August 2008

Soft Launch of the Butterfly Lodge @ Oh' Farms

Butterfly Lodge @ Oh' Farms

Singapore's 43rd National Day also saw the Soft Launch of the new Butterfly Lodge at a private farm in Sembawang. Over the past 6 months, this project to create an educational and butterfly appreciation facility was in progress. Oh' Farms at Sembawang conducts educational tours of its facilities on hydroponic farming, horticulture and medicinal and herb gardens for primary school children. As part of its mission of sharing and educating Singapore's younger generation, it decided to invest in creating a small butterfly aviary to spread the message of butterfly appreciation and conservation.

The project started with the planning of a simple flight cage, and with the advice from the experienced members of ButterflyCircle, the construction and landscaping of the Butterfly Lodge took shape. The simple flight cage took the form of a barrel-vaulted roof form, as it had been observed at various such similar facilities where a standard rectilinear shaped cage created corners into which butterflies flew and got themselves stuck and damaged their wings.

Appropriate butterfly nectaring and host plants were sought from various sources, and planted into the flight cage. With Oh' Farms' horticultural expertise, the plants were well-tended and grew lush and healthy in a very short time. Other "filler" plants were included to create a humid and lush landscaped area, conducive for the butterflies' survival and well-being. A pond, as well as water-misters were also added to ensure that the plants are well-watered and kept healthy, and to create as natural an environment as possible for the butterflies.

Plans were then put in place on how school children visitors would be actively engaged as well as learn about ecology, nature conservation and the sustainability of butterflies as part of the fauna of Singapore. Information boards were designed and put up as an educational backdrop for the school children before they are shown into the Butterfly Lodge so that as little damage as possible would be done to the environment as well as the butterflies. Information worksheets were also designed to keep the children interactively engaged and to take away important information about butterflies. As the target audience would be primary school children, colourful graphics were also added to lend a touch of fun and cheer to the facility.

On 9 Aug 2008, a group of school teachers and principals from various schools in Singapore were invited to a showround of the Butterfly Lodge. Most of these teachers, already strong champions of environmental and ecological conservation in their respective schools came to see and learn about how they can create more awareness about butterfly conservation in their schools.

Yeok Keong, the boss

A quick lecture to the invited guests before visiting the flight cage

Ai Ling showing the guests around

The session started with a short introduction of the facilities by Yeok Keong, the owner of the facility. ButterflyCircle members did an introduction of how the butterflies and plants can be sustained in a controlled environment, and how to take care of the butterflies. The project also featured an opportunity to observe and learn about butterflies and their conservation in Singapore. Members also showed the invited guests in the flight cage, and how to gently handle the butterflies which had just eclosed.

A thrilled young visitor

The project has started successfully, and the sustainability of the breeding of common urban species has been encouraging. Due to the need to maintain the host plant-caterpillar balance, adult butterflies are also released to the external natural environment so as to ensure that the host plant supplies do not run out due to the high population of caterpillars of certain species. In a controlled environment where predators are absent, the survival rates of the caterpillars are much higher than in a natural environment, hence the need to find a good balance as well as allowing some proportion of the bred stock to fly free back into their natural environment as a conservation initiative.

Sunny showing the visitors how to ensure that a recently-eclosed butterfly is able to hang its wings out to dry properly before the butterfly can take flight

Whilst a flight cage is not always the ideal "home" for butterflies, a well-managed facility will serve a critical function in the education and research into butterflies. In the case of Butterfly Lodge, all the species are locally found, and none are imported from beyond Singapore's shores. This is unlike many butterfly parks/farms around, where stock is imported from neighbouring countries or further afield.

Ai Ling having a spirited discussion with two teachers

The lessons learnt and experience gained from observing and nurturing local species of butterflies will go a long way in accumulating further knowledge for the creation of more free-ranging trails like the one at Alexandra Hospital and Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin where landscaping and horticulture are designed together with ecological conservation of butterflies in mind.

As the Butterfly Lodge is located on private premises, the educational tours for school children are upon special arrangement with the respective schools, in the form of organised outdoor classroom sessions. The information is packaged for primary school children at an appropriate level and the children will take away lessons and mementoes of their visit to the Butterfly Lodge - with better appreciation and respect for our Flying Jewels in Singapore.

A pretty butterfly (I was referring to the six-legged one!)

As for ButterflyCircle members, the satisfaction of being able to share our knowledge, photos and spread the conservation message is the acknowledgment that we are thankful for. As part of the voluntary community service, we are proud to be involved in the education of young Singaporeans in the field of environmental sustainability, and butterfly appreciation in particular.

A selection of the Butterflies that can be found at the Butterfly Lodge
  1. Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus)
  2. Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)
  3. Cabbage White (Pieris canidia canidia)
  4. Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana)
  5. Striped Albatross (Appias libythea olferna)
  6. Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe contubernalis)
  7. Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei)
  8. Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana javana)
  9. Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida)
  10. Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)
  11. Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane)
  12. Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus)

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Sunny Chir, Anthony Wong and Mark Wong ; Event photography by Bobby Mun

Special Thanks to Yeok Keong and Ai Ling of Oh' Farms ; ButterflyCircle Members