26 January 2013

Butterfly of the Month - January 2013

Butterfly of the Month - January 2013
The Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus)

The month of January 2013 seems to have whizzed by again. It felt that it was only yesterday that Singaporeans were celebrating the countdown at Marina Bay to welcome the new year, and some of us were making our New Year resolutions! Well, more than three weeks have passed, as the year 2013 kicks into gear. The wet weather appears to be hanging on longer than usual, as the past few weeks have been an abnormally rainy. But it looks like the weather will be changing soon, and it will be butterfly season again!

The initial weeks of January have been rather quiet on our little red dot, except perhaps with the excitement of a by-election in the Punggol East single-member constituency. Election fever has gripped us again, although essentially, only 31,649 registered Singaporean voters are eligible to decide on who their Member of Parliament should be, come 26 Jan 2013. The ruling party's candidate will be pitted against three opposition candidates for a showdown that many predict to be a watershed by-election for Singapore. Will the PAP retain its parliamentary seat? Or will the Opposition wrest it away? Stay tuned to your favourite news channels on Saturday night!

Over a quick two-day trip up north to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia over the early part of the week to attend a conference, I observed that in many ways, the plight of rising costs, labour shortage and the competition for talent is very similar to our building industry in Singapore. The Malaysian economy appears to be chugging along quite fine, and some say that it has an even stronger endurance than that of Singapore.

I also met up with some newfound friends amongst the Facebook gardening community and had a pleasant taste of Malaysian hospitality. The Internet is a great platform for bringing together like-minded people from different walks of life, across borders and irrespective of race or religion. The camaraderie enjoyed online is often carried into the real world as friends meet to discuss common interests and share experiences.

This month we feature a speedy butterfly, the Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus).  With a powerful and erratic flight, this butterfly is challenging to photograph, as it zips past observers at breakneck speed in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. However, when it stops to puddle at sandy streambanks, the odds of getting a closeup shot of the Blue Jay would be much better.

The Blue Jay is a forest-dependent butterfly, and is predominantly found in the nature reserves. It is seldom seen in urban parks and gardens. It is difficult to identify with certainty when in flight, and is often confused with the Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon luctatius) and the Common Jay (Graphium doson evemonides), two other species of the same genus found in Singapore. Over in Malaysia, there are at least four more lookalike species that would add further to the confusion when trying to identify these butterflies in the field!

A Blue Jay opens its wings to sunbathe on a Melastoma bush after a long bout of puddling

The Blue Jay wing's are black above with a blue macular band. Both the fore and hind wings have a series of blue submarginal spots. On the undersides, the spots are larger but takes on a slivery-blue hue. There is a series of bright red spots on the underside of the hindwings. The distinguishing black costal bar which is united with the basal bar on the underside of the hindwing distinguishes the Blue Jay from its other lookalike cousins.


Blue Jays puddling at moist sandy streambanks (top and middle) and stopping to rest amongst the bushes (bottom)

Caterpillars of the Blue Jay are believed to feed on a type of Cinnamon that can be found quite commonly in the forested areas of Singapore. The head of the pupa features a horned process. The males of the species are often observed puddling at sandy streambanks in the company of other Papiliondae like the Common Bluebottle and the FiveBar Swordtail. It can be considered common and can almost be found throughout the year.

Two pairs of Blue Jays and Common Bluebottle puddling together

During puddling, it can be observed that the butterfly often ejects a stream of fluids out of its abdomen. This is probably due to the large amounts of water intake as it sucks up nutrients via its proboscis. Often, after a long period of puddling and having satiated itself, an individual flies to a nearby bush, and perches to rest with its wings opened fully to display its nice blue uppersides that contrast beautifully with the black borders.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Henry Koh, Loke PF, Simon Sng, Jonathan Soong, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong and Wong CM.

This blog post is dedicated to ButterflyCircle's youngest member, Brian Goh, who uses the nick "Blue Jay" on our forums. Brian represents the future generation of butterfly conservationists in Singapore.

23 January 2013

Random Gallery - Striped Blue Crow

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber mulciber)

This Danainae belongs to a genus of butterflies that are called "Crows" presumably due to their generally drab brown or black wings. Many of the species are indeed black, dark blue or dark brown with white patches or spots on their wings. In Singapore, there are eight species of the genus Euploea that generally fall into these characteristics. At first glance, the Striped Blue Crow is no exception. The undersides of the butterfly are dark reddish brown with the usual white spotting.

However, when the male of the butterfly opens and shows off its forewings, the beautiful iridescent blue forewings makes this species probably the most attractive of the "Crow" butterflies. The species is moderately common, as its caterpillar is able to feed on a number of species of lactiferous plants that gives the caterpillar (and butterfly) some distasteful qualities that predators would avoid eating them. This male Striped Blue Crow displaying its shining blue wings was photographed by ButterflyCircle member Lemon Tea Yi Kai.

19 January 2013

Life History of the Banded Lineblue

Life History of the Banded Lineblue (Prosotas lutea sivoka)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Prosotas H.H.Druce, 1891
Species: lutea Martin, 1895

Sub-species: sivoka Evans, 1910
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 18-22 mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant:
Acacia concinna (Fabaceae, Leguminosae, common name: soap pod).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Upperside, both sexes are brown. Underside, both sexes are pale yellowish orange and  similarly marked in both wings with darker yellowish orange spots arranged the form of post-discal band, cell-end bar and subbasal markings. The forewing has a series of small black marginal spots and a series of faint dark yellowish orange submarginal spots. The hindwing has dark marginal spots in spaces 3-6, of which the one in space 6 is the largest. There are two tiny black tornal spots at the end of vein 1b, and a larger black  subtornal spot in space 2. The hindwing of this species is tailless.

A Banded Lineblue visiting a flower of Mile-a-minute.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This tiny species was recently discovered in Singapore (see this BC blog article for details). Sightings of  adults have typically been in the vicinity of its local host plant, either visiting flowers on nearby flowering shrubs/herbs or puddling on wet ground. In flight, they can easily be mistaken as other similarly-sized Lineblues. A definite identification can only be made when the butterfly perches briefly and allows its trademark hindwing marginal spot in space 6 to be observed.

16 January 2013

Random Gallery - Scarce Silverstreak

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Scarce Silverstreak (Iraota rochana boswelliana)

This fast-flying Lycaenid, the Scarce Silverstreak, can be found quite often in urban parks and gardens, usually in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant, Ficus microcarpa.  The male is shining deep greenish-blue with broad black forewing borders, whilst the female is drab brown.  The underside is distinctively marked with brown and white streaks, and is unlikely to be mistaken for any other butterfly species in Singapore. 

This shot of a pristine male of the Scarce Silverstreak was taken by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK last Sunday at a herb garden.  Here it is featured perched on a leaf of Melastoma sp.  The complete life history has been recorded and can be found on ButterflyCircle's blog here.

13 January 2013

Celebrating a Homecoming

Celebrating a Homecoming
The Return of the Fleming Collection

This morning, I attended the Ground Breaking Ceremony of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore's Cultural Centre. The new purpose-built museum, which is expected to be ready in 2014, will be home to some 800,000 fauna specimens that is currently housed in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity (RMBR). The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will be a 7-storey building of about 7,500 sqm of which about 2,000 sqm is exhibition space.


Top : Prof Tommy Koh addressing the group of guests at the Ground Breaking Ceremony
Middle & Bottom : Artist's impression of the new Natural History Museum by W Architects

Amidst all the excitement of the future museum that will feature South East Asian biodiversity, a small group of us were celebrating a homecoming of sorts. About six months ago, Prof Peter Ng, the Director of RMBR met me and Mr TH Tan, a retired Malaysian entrepreuner, to talk about the acquisition of the iconic WA Fleming collection. For butterfly enthusiasts, students and collectors, the late WA Fleming (or Wicky Fleming) was one of the well-known collectors in the 60's and 70's in Malaysia and Singapore. Fleming was the author of "Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore" - one of two reference books that is a must for all butterfly enthusiasts in Malaysia and Singapore.

1st Edition of Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore (W.A. Fleming) published in 1975 and 2nd Edition of the book published in 1983 by his wife Mrs Alix Mc Cartney

After a series of discussions and negotiations, we were elated to learn that Mrs Alix McCartney, the wife of the late Wicky Fleming, and his son, Angus Fleming, decided that the permanent resting place of the Fleming collection should be at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore.

The late Wicky Fleming

Wicky Fleming was a Scotsman who arrived in Selangor, Malaysia in December 1937 to join a London-based rubber company. During the war, he was interned at Changi Prison in Singapore and later at the Kuching Prison in Sarawak. After the war, he returned to Selangor as a planter.  He took up butterfly collecting as a hobby in September 1963 till the time of his death in May 1978. During the 15 years that he collected in Malaysia and Singapore, he amassed a collection that is one of the most complete Malaysian butterfly collections by a private individual during that era.


Angus Fleming wheeling the Fleming Collection at the arrival hall of Changi Airport T3, and one shot of the historic moment with Prof Peter Ng, Director/Raffles Museum

After Wicky's death in 1978, his wife, Alix returned to the UK in 1979 and his collection moved back to Straffordshire with her.  All these years, she and her sons respected Wicky's last wish that his collection must remain intact in its entirety and not be separated or any specimens sold off individually. On 8 Jan 2013, almost 34 years since the Fleming collection went to the UK, the entire collection reached Changi Airport Terminal 3. At 12:12 pm Angus Fleming, with the excellent facilitation of SIA ground staff, wheeled his late father's collection through the glass doors of the arrival hall.  It was a historic moment for the museum and for everyone involved in bringing the collection to Singapore.

Part of the Pieridae collection - well packed with pristine specimens that date back more than five decades!

In the Fleming collection, was a total of 8,723 butterfly specimens covering some 1,001 species/subspecies of butterflies from Malaysia and Singapore that Wicky Fleming collected over the period 1963 - 1978. A priceless collection and an invaluable reference collection for all butterfly enthusiasts in the region.

A box of the beautiful Lycaenidae butterflies from the Fleming collection

What is particularly important about this collection, is that the specimens are properly organised and accurately identified by Wicky Fleming and validated by other experts such as the late Lt Col John N Eliot. The specimens in the collection correspond very closely to Fleming's book, Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, and also the 2nd edition of the book by his wife. It is an important reference for collectors and future students of butterflies who are keen to learn how to identify their collected specimens.

Angus carefully opens the boxes and checks the condition of the collection after the nearly 11,000 km journey from London

As we excitedly opened each box to check on the contents to ensure that every specimen survived the journey unscathed from Heathrow Airport to Changi Teminal 3, I was amazed at the pristine condition of the butterflies, and many looked as though they were still alive just yesterday! The collection is now in quarantine and put through a disinfection process to eliminate any pests and organisms that may have come with the collection. After that, the boxes will be carefully stored in a humidity and climate controlled environment until the new LKCNHM is ready and operational.

More shots of the well-maintained and preserved collection

As Prof Peter Ng says, Malaysia and Singapore are very different today from the days when Wicky was collecting butterflies. The environment has changed and the political situation has changed. Habitats have been altered by development and cultivation of cash crops, forests denuded and then there is climate change. This is why sustainable conservation strategies and rehabilitation of our green areas to preserve and enhance our remaininng biodiversity will only gain in importance. Even where development occurs, strategies have to be put in place from the outset, to look at how there could be reinstatement of habitats or even creating man-made habitats for our biodiversity to recover.

And so a collection of butterflies that is very important to science, education and research returns to the region from which most of the specimens were collected. Whilst many of our readers may feel uncomfortable at the number of butterflies collected, this scientific collection's value cannot be overstated. Without the knowledge and evidence that is embodied in this collection that was made over 40-50 years ago, we would have been less knowledgeable about butterflies today. This collection is not for sale, nor would any individual be able to put a price to any specimen. Eventually, parts of the collection may be shown to the public after the LKCNHM opens - with historical and scientific narratives about the butterflies and the collector, but that is a subject that will be presented in future blog articles.

Angus and Khew holding up a box of rare Nymphalidae butterflies from the Fleming collection

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK : Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum graphics by W Architects

Special thanks to the people who made the homecoming of the Fleming Collection to the region and to its permanent resting place at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum : Angus Fleming, Mrs Alix Mc Cartney, Mr TH Tan, Prof Peter Ng, Prof Dick Vane-Wright, Dato' Henry Barlow, Dr Tan Swee Hee, staff of Singapore Airlines at Heathrow and Changi, and staff of Raffles Museum of Biodiversity, NUS.

Media Report - Straits Times - 14 Jan 2013 : "Valuable Collection for Museum"

References :
  1. The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society. 1991
  2. Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, WA Fleming, 2nd Edition, Longmans, 1983

05 January 2013

Life History of the Common Grass Yellow

Life History of the Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe contubernalis)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Eurema
Hübner, 1819
Species: hecabe Linnaeus, 1758
Subspecies: contubernalis Moore, 1886
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 35-45mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Fabaceae, common name: Peacock Flower ), Cratoxylum cochinchinense  (Hypericaceae, common name: Yellow Cow Wood), Cratoxylum formosum (Hypericaceae, common name: Pink Mempat), Pithecellobium duice (Fabaceae, common name: Madras Thorn), Falcataria moluccana (Fabaceae, common name: Albizia), Senna spp.

A Common Grass Yellow taking nectar from a flower of Leea indica.

A Common Grass Yellow resting at a leaf perch.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are deep lemon-yellow, each with a black border which is regularly scalloped and deeply excavated between veins 2 and 4 in the forewing. Below vein 2 of the forewing, the black border is featured at a right angle to the dorsum or sloping towards the base. Underneath, the wings are also yellow with freckled brown spots. There are typically two cell spots on the forewing - a characteristic that is mainly used to identify the lookalike species in the genus. However, some specimens of the Common Grass Yellow could exhibit variations in which only one or no cell spots are present. Males have a brand lying along the cubital vein on the forewing underside. Females are typically paler yellow with broader black border.

Another resting Common Grass Yellow.

A Common Grass Yellow taking nectar from a flower of Leea rubra.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Common Grass Yellow is one of the most common butterflies in Singapore. This is likely due to its many host plants being common in the wild or widely cultivated in parks and other public areas. The adults can be seen fluttering tirelessly in parks, wastelands and even  urbanised areas. They regularly visit flowers for nectar and puddle on wet grounds for minerals.

01 January 2013

Random Gallery - Black Veined Tiger

Random Butterfly Gallery 
The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus)

Of the three Danaus species that occur in Singapore, the Black Veined Tiger is often considered the least common amongst the three. However, where its host plant, a Cynanchum sp. is abundant, the Black Veined Tiger can be found in decent numbers. This species is often confused with the Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia), but can easily be separated by its broader submarginal hindwing black border. The hindwing ground colour is also generally whiter in appearance.

This mating pair of Black Veined Tigers was observed on this first day of 2013 at the Pasir Ris Park's Butterfly Garden. It is interesting to observe that in this case, the male did the flying. When approached, the alert male would fly off, carrying the passive female as he looks for a safe place to hide amongst the bushes at the Butterfly Garden.