26 February 2013

Random Gallery - Banded Swallowtail

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion demolion)



The Banded Swallowtail is a very skittish and fast flying butterfly.  Although not rare, encounters of this species can be limited to a few preferred locations. When in full flight, it is very difficult to photograph, and the fleeting moments when it alights to feed at flowers allow a photographer a very narrow window of opportunity to shoot it.

When stalking a speedy feeding butterfly, it's all about anticipation, knowledge of the behaviour of the butterfly, its preferred flower and then positioning oneself at the best position that would yield a good shot with a nice background, and the rest is pure luck and a good dose of skill! In an earlier article, photographing these skittish Swallowtails was also discussed in this article. This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir, exemplifies a well-executed shot of a Banded Swallowtail, perched on a Lantana flower, proboscis extended whilst its wings are in motion, ready to fly off in the blink of an eye!

23 February 2013

Butterfly of the Month - February 2013

Butterfly of the Month - February 2013
The Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda leda)



This is the last weekend of the short month of February and it's time to feature another butterfly species for the month again.  Indeed it felt like a very short month, especially with the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays and the break from work made it feel rather short. I celebrated my birthday quietly; which came and went without much fuss. Beyond a certain age, birthdays do come and go without much fuss actually!



It was also a time of soul searching for Singaporeans, as the catch-word of the month, xenophobia was being tossed around like the season's yusheng (raw fish) by all and sundry, and in particular politicians and aggrieved citizens who debated passionately about the government's White Paper on Population. For the first time for as long as anyone can recall, Singaporeans staged a peaceful protest against the prospects of this little island's future population growth. Whether the number of protesters and supporters was 1,000 or 7,000, depending on who reported it, it didn't quite matter. It was still a watershed event that could portend of many heated debates in the near future.

 


We may be on the threshold of a new era of politics in Singapore, where the citizens' voice grow louder and there has to be even more transparency, open debates, consultations and dialogues between the government and Singaporeans on policies that affect the lives of the citizens of this Little Red Dot. The social media chatter and the cacophony of voices over cyberspace are no longer merely 'noise' that can be ignored by any country's politicians, much less in IT-savvy and well-connected Singapore.  "Whither Singapore?" was a question that a prominent ex-Minister apparently asked.  Whither indeed!

 

Top : A different form of a newly-eclosed Common Evening Brown bred in Singapore. Bottom : A typical form of the Common Evening Brown photographed on Pulau Ubin, Singapore

February 2013 was certainly a very wet month for Singapore with exceptionally rainy days. For the first time since I can remember, this was the wettest Chinese New Year that I've ever encountered in my life. It rained practically every day since the first day of the Year of the (Water) Snake, and for the next few consecutive days, putting paid to my plans of enjoying the holidays out with our beloved butterflies. Most of our regular butterfly shooters spent their time cooped up at home moping away, if they didn't have to perform the customary visits to family and relatives during the Chinese New Year.



This month's butterfly is the Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda leda) a rather large and drably coloured butterfly sporting a wingspan of between 60-70mm. The English common name gives a hint about the time of activity of this Satyrinae. Indeed, the Common Evening Brown usually flies in the early hours of dawn and is most active shortly before the hours of dusk. It is not often seen during the day, except if disturbed. The flight of the butterfly is rapid and erratic, but it keeps at low level and after short hops, it settles down in thickets and dense vegetation where its undersides' cryptic patterns camouflage it very well.

 


The Common Evening Brown's upperside is dark brown with black sub-apical white-centred spots and inwardly shaded with orange brown. The very varlable underside it usually buff or grey, with fine dark brown striations. A submarginal row of yellow-ringed ocelli is usually found in the more common form of this species. The variations on the underside patterns seem to be related to the wet and dry seasons in the region.


A heavily variegated form of the Common Evening Brown

The Common Evening Brown is crepuscular and attracted to the lights of homes in the evening hours and the butterfly is quite regularly seen perched on the walls and ceilings of residences in the vicinity of wooded areas where the species occurs. It was reported in a research paper that during the monsoon or rainy months of the year, species such as the Common Evening Brown tend to be attracted to artificial light from human habitats after they are disturbed from their usual resting places by the heavy downpours.


A Common Evening Brown perched amongst dead leaves on the forest floor

This disturbance induces them to move to another safe location, and in the absence of natural light, a source of artificial light may be sufficient to attract them to search for a safe place to roost. Unfortunately, in homes and residences, any insect that is attracted to the artificial lights become fair game for the resident house lizard (or chichak) lying in wait for dinner!


This Common Evening Brown was photographed, perched on a wall at the common corridor of a Housing & Development Board flat on the 16th storey!

In urban Singapore, where the residential apartments are high rise, the appearance of the Common Evening Brown along the common corridor of an apartment block at the 16th storey comes as a surprise! For a butterfly that tends to lurk close to the ground and typically flies at no more than 3m from the ground, flying high up in our urban jungle and perching on the wall of a building at more than 45m from the ground would be something of a remarkable occurrence!

 


The caterpillars of the Common Evening Brown has been bred on Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum) and certain species of bamboo. The species is widespread and occurs in open wastelands and back mangroves, as well as in parks and gardens where its host plant can be found. But it is by no means considered a common species. At times, the butterfly can be observed feeding on rotting fruits, which it shares with other Satyrinae and Nymphalidae species.



Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Nelson Ong, Tan BJ, Horace Tan, Mark Wong & Benjamin Yam.

References : 
  • Soumyajit Chowdhury & Rahi Soren : Light attracted butterflies: a review from the Indian sub-region with an inventory from West Bengal, India

22 February 2013

Random Gallery - Common Line Blue

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates)



Puddling butterflies sip water rich in minerals and other essential nutrients (mostly salts and nitrogen-rich solutions) that have leached from soil and rocks, or tainted with organic animal material excretions. Puddlers are usually males of butterfly species (but not always exclusive to males), and across several of the families from Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae, Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae.

This Common Line Blue (Prosotas nora superdates) is one of three species from the genus Prosotas found in Singapore. All three species have been observed to puddle.  This shot of a puddling Common Line Blue was taken within the nature reserves by ButterflyCircle member Lemon Tea Yi Kai.


19 February 2013

Random Gallery - Chocolate Demon

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura)



Drab chocolate brown and generally unmarked, the Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita maura) is not your typical pretty butterfly that would attract much attention from the casual observer. It is one of several species of Skippers (family : Hesperiidae) to have the common name "Demon". The caterpillar host plants in Singapore are the Torch Ginger (Nicolaia elatior) and Pandan (Pandanus amarilyfolius).

In this shot, the adult Chocolate Demon was photographed feeding on the flower of the Torch Ginger by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. So the Torch Ginger is a source of food for the Chocolate Demon's early stages as well as the adult butterfly. Of noteworthy mention, is the butterfly's extremely long proboscis, (which is typical of many of the species in the family) giving an impression that the butterfly is 'fly-fishing' when it unfurls its proboscis to feed on nectar from flowers. 

16 February 2013

Life History of the Tawny Coster

Life History of the Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)


Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Acraea Fabricius, 1807
Species: violae Drury, 1773
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 53-64mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Passiflora foetida (Passifloraceae, common names: stinking passionflower, love-in-a-mist), Passiflora suberosa (Passifloraceae, common name: corky-stemmed passion flower), Passiflora edulis (Passifloraceae, common name: passion fruit), Tunera ulmifolia (Passifloraceae, common name: Yellow Alder).


A female Tawny Coster visiting the Ixora flowers.

A male Tawny Coster.

A sunbathing male Tawny Coster .

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the male is deep orange while the female is pale tawny yellow. The forewing has two transverse black spots in the cell, a broader spot at cell-end bar and a discal series of black spots in spaces 2-6 and 10. Its costal margin and termen are black. The hindwing has a black spot in the cell, a basal series of 4-5 black spots, a sub-costal spot and a discal series of spots. The termen is edged with a black marginal band which has a series of small spots in ground colour embedded. Underneath, the wings are salmon orange in the male and pale tawny yellow in the female. Both wings have black markings as per the upperside. The forewing coloration becomes paler and turns whitish towards the apex and the termen. Unlike the smallish spots on the upperside, a series of large, prominent white spots are embedded in the broad black terminal margin on the hindwing. Antennae are black, head and thorax are black spotted with pale yellow and white.




Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This migrant species was recently discovered in Singapore in 2006 (refer to this blog article for a report of its discovery in Singapore). Since then, it has established a firm foothold and can be considered a relatively common species in Singapore. Across the island, Tawny Coster can be found flying in wastelands and park lands where its favourite host plant, Passiflora foetida, grows in relative abundance. The adults have the habit of visiting flowers for nectar and are sluggish and gentle on the wings.

14 February 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day
Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)

To the love-struck romantics and everyone who celebrate St Valentine's Day, have a wonderful and memorable evening with your loved ones.  Here's a pair of Tawny Costers (Acraea violae) in flagrante delicto.



The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.
from Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784)

 

13 February 2013

Random Gallery - The Lemon Emigrant

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomona)



The Lemon Emigrant is a common butterfly in Singapore, and can often be seen even in urban areas flying at its erratic and powerful speeds.  As the caterpillars of this species feed on several urban roadside species of Senna, it is widely distributed across Singapore from the city pocket parks to the nature reserves.  The Lemon Emigrant is polymorphic and occurs in at least seven different forms.

Photographed here, is a male form-hilaria one of the relatively common forms of the Lemon Emigrant.  It is predominantly lime green, with the distinctive red-ringed silver cell spots.  On the upperside, there is a thin black border on the forewings.  In parks and gardens, Lantana is one of the favourite nectaring plants of the Lemon Emigrant.


09 February 2013

Butterfly Mimicry and some recent findings

Feature : Butterfly Mimicry and some recent findings
Common Mormon - Common Rose mimicry : A discussion


A female form-polytes Common Mormon basks in the sun with its wings opened flat displaying the red spots that mimic the Common Rose's colouration

In the field of evolutionary biology, the mimicry theory as proposed by Henry Walter Bates in 1862 supported Darwin's natural selection theory.  Batesian mimicry was founded on a system comprising palatable mimics and unpalatable models.  Bates discussed the resemblance between insect prey that are defended by virtue of being "unpalatable" and those which lack such a defense. Batesian mimicry is therefore a form of deceptive mimicry because "palatable" prey deceive predators by their resemblance to species that predators find distasteful.


A open-winged Common Rose with its red/pink spots and body.  The species is known to contain Aristolochic acids in its body and is unpalatable to predatory birds

This theory of mimicry was further expanded by Fritz Muller in 1878 when he argued that, "if insectivorous birds learn to avoid unpalatable prey, and take a fixed number of given appearance during their education, then mimicry between unpalatable prey would be beneficial to individuals because the mortality costs of predator education would be partitioned out between members of the mimetic species." This approach spreads the chances of any one butterfly (or moth) being eaten over a larger number of species, and over a larger number individuals within a species. When a bird catches any one of these individuals, it quickly learns to keep away from all the species within the group.  This mimicry theory is now known as Mullerian mimicry.



Alfred Russell Wallace, the renowned 19th century naturalist, presented a paper on mimicry to the Linnean Society in March 1864.  In this work, where Wallace referred to Batesian mimicry, and demonstrated that mimetic resemblance could be limited to the female sex (sex-limited mimicry).  Wallace described data which showed that within edible species from the Papilio genus (such as P. polytes), mimicry of noxious model species occurs in the female, but not the male.  



It was thus with this background, that lepidopterists in Asia tend to consider the female Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) as a mimic of the unpalatable Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae).  In the "Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, 4th Edition" on page 70, this reference is also alluded to where it was written "... form-polytes, which is a passable mimic of Pachliopta aristolochiae, but can always be distinguished by its entirely black abdomen".


A mating pair of Common Mormon showing the "normal" male on the left, and the form-polytes female on the right.  Males are not the subject of mimicry and do not resemble any unpalatable models. 

Recently, in his 2006 paper presented in the Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 60(2), 2006, 82–85, Peter Smetacek of Uttaranchal, India, conducted experiments with various Papilio species and their palatability with birds.  Amongst these species was the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes).  Peter concluded that the "present findings prompt a re-interpretation of the relationship between polytes and Pachliopta . The classic Batesian interpretation of polytes-Pachliopta mimicry predicted that only polytes benefits at the expense of Pachliopta, which it parasitises”, and predators, which it deceives into shunning palatable prey. The new Müllerian interpretation suggests that the shared aposematic signals of the co-models (polytes and Pachliopta spp.) result in enhanced predator learning and the benefits of this accrue to all the butterfly species involved. The relationship between the butterflies is one of asymmetrical Müllerian mimicry, since polytes appears to be only moderately distasteful while the Pachliopta genus is certainly more distasteful, with aristolochic acids in the body tissue."


A top view of a female form-polytes Common Mormon showing the red spots that mimic the Common Rose

Peter's study made reference to an earlier research that "Although the larvae of all Papilio butterflies are believed to be chemically protected by unpleasant taste and smell (Wynter-Blyth 1957; Klots & Klots 1959), this was not believed to be carried over to the adult stage except in the case of antimachus."


A top view of the Common Rose showing its red spots and body

Dr Krushnamegh Kunte, the author of the "Butterflies of Peninsular India, 2000, Universities Press" expressed his doubts with regard to Peter's experiments in the Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 61(1), 2007, 121–, and stated, as a concluding note, "The idea—that a classic Batesian mimic is actually a Müllerian mimic—is intriguing but controlled experiments are required before a definitive conclusion can be reached."  The Journal also printed, in the same edition, Peter's reply, standing by his conclusions on his earlier experiments, that the Common Mormon-Common Rose mimicry is Mullerian and not Batesian.


A female form-polytes feeding in flight.  Its slow unhurried flight also mimics that of the Common Rose

These recent arguments are thought-provoking and prompts further observations and discussions about the mimicry of a relatively common species here in Singapore. Some interesting observations that may be material for further arguments are listed for discussion :


A Common Rose displaying its aposematic red spots and body

(1) Typically, in the Batesian mimicry theory, the model is often more common than the mimic.  So there is some room for consideration in the case of the Common Mormon-Common Rose association, because in Singapore, the female form-polytes Common Mormon is the commoner of the two species.  The Common Rose is much rarer, and at times, not very often seen for months on end. Hence, if the mimic is more common than the model, then how successful is the protection by mimicry for the Common Mormon?


Mimic : A newly eclosed female form-polytes of the Common Mormon

(2) A second observation supporting the argument that Rutaceae feeders may be unpalatable would be the presence of at least four Great Mormon female forms in Singapore, when all of the unpalatable models have been missing for at least 3-4 decades of field observations here. One of the unpalatable models, The Common Clubtail (Pachliopta coon) does not even exist in Singapore, whilst the mimic form-distantianus occurs very rarely! In such a situation where there are only mimics and no models, even though the flight pattern of the mimics still resemble the original models, is there some evidence to suggest that these Rutaceae-feeding Papilio memnon are indeed unpalatable in the first place?


Model : A newly-eclosed Common Rose displaying its aposematic red spots and body

(3) However, if all Rutaceae feeders can sequester some form of distasteful chemicals in their bodies to make them unpalatable to varying degrees, does it mean that the common Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus), Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion), Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes) and Great Helen (Papilio iswara) are all unpalatable as well?  Are there field observations to support this conclusion one way or the other? Or are some Rutaceae Papilionids able to sequester the distasteful chemcals from their host plants more adeptly than others?


A black hindwinged variant of the Common Rose that made its appearance in Singapore for a period of time in 2007 & 2008, and then as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared for the past few years. 

(4) Also, an intriguing observation would be that, if the caterpillars of Rutaceae feeders like the Lime Butterfly and Common Mormon are distasteful, why is there a need for the first four instars of the early stages to camouflage themselves by resembling bird droppings?  Could it be that the concentration of the distasteful chemicals only reach an optimal amount to be effective when the caterpillars reach the final instars?  Or are there some other reasons? If not, why the need to camouflage yourself, when you are already distasteful?



A recent shot of a rather strange female Common Mormon that does not have any white markings on its hindwings at all!  Is it trying to mimic the "black" variant of the Common Rose?  Or is this just a rare aberration?

These recent findings and debates throw a new light on the classical Common Mormon-Common Rose mimicry theory and with further field observations and experiments, it is hoped that some researcher may reinforce Peter Smetacek's findings and support his conclusions, or on the contrary, prove that Wallace's theory for these two species continues to prevail.  Any of our readers out there who have field observations, photographs or other theories, please feel free to share them with us.

 


Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Ellen Tan, Horace Tan, Tan Boon Huat & Anthony Wong

References :
  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, The Malayan Nature Society, 1992.
  • Butterflies. Dick Vane-Wright, The Natural History Museum, London, 2003
  • Natural Selection and Beyond : The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russell Wallace, Oxford University Press, 2008
  • The Book of Indian Butterflies, Isaac Kehimkar, Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Butterflies of Peninsular India, Krushnamegh Kunte, Universities Press (India), 2000
  • Smetacek, P. 2006. Some distasteful Asian Papilioninae (Papilionidae). J. Lep. Soc., 60:82–85.
  • Kunte. K. 2007 : About distastefulness and mimicry : A comment on  Peter Smetacek's article
    (
    J. Lep. Soc., 60:82–85). J. Lep. Soc., 61(1), 2007, 121– 


08 February 2013

Happy Lunar New Year 2013!

Happy Lunar New Year 2013!
Welcoming the Year of the Snake



ButterflyCircle wishes all its Chinese readers all around the world a Happy and Prosperous Lunar New Year 2013! The photo featured here shows two recently-eclosed individuals of the Yellow Flat (Mooreana trichoneura trichoneura) placed together on a backdrop of a orange-red leaf. This shot was courtesy of ButterflyCircle member Sunny Chir.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Xin Nian Kuai Le!

07 February 2013

Random Gallery - The Courtesan

Random Butterfly Gallery
The Courtesan (Euripus nyctelius euploeioides)



The Courtesan is a rare species in Singapore. There are certain periods in a year when an individual or two makes an appearance, after which the species completely disappears and not been seen for months, only to reappear again unexpectedly! It is not known to be a migratory species. There have been cases where its early stages - caterpillars and pupae, have been observed on its host plant, Trema tomentosa, which is a relatively common plant.

This male Courtesan was recently observed at a Park Connector and photographed by ButterflyCircle member Loke PF. The males have distinctive bright yellow eyes. Its forewings are deep bluish-black with a series of white spots and streaks. The underside is a pale brown with the white spots and streaks as on the upperside. There are two female forms of the Courtesan in Singapore, both of which are even rarer than the males. Both mimic the Magpie Crow a Danainae that is known to be distasteful to predators.


03 February 2013

Life History of the Yellow Flat

Life History of the Yellow Flat (Mooreana trichoneura trichoneura)


Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Mooreana Evans, 1926
Species: trichoneura C & R Felder, 1860
Sub-Species: trichoneura C & R Felder, 1860
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 32-36mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant: Mallotus paniculatus (Euphorbiaceae, common name: Turn-in-the-wind).



A newly eclosed female Yellow Flat showing its underside.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Both sexes are alike in coloration and markings. Above, the wings are dark brown with veins strongly dusted in white or pale yellowish brown. The forewing bears a number of round and stroke-shaped hyaline spots in the outer half of the wing. The hindwing has a large yellow tornal area and has yellow coloured cilia extending up to vein 6. Underneath, the forewing is dark brown with the same set of spots as above. The veins are not marked in white or pale brown. The hindwing is predominately white from the dorsum to vein 6, with the white coloration diffusing into spaces 7 and 8. The male has a hair tuft on its mid- and hind tibiae.

Close-up views of the legs of both sexes of Yellow Flat, the hair tuffs on the mid- and hind tibae of the male are visible.


Close-up view of the front part of a Yellow Flat taking nectar from Lantana flowers.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
C&P4 describes Yellow Flat as being rare in the forested plain in Malaya. This holds true for this newly discovered species in Singapore (see this blog article for a report of the discovery in November 2012) as there has only been a handful of field sightings in the few months since the first sighting. The adult has a strong preference for dark and shady area, and rarely does it venture to sunny spots for sunbathing. The adults are fast and strong flyers and have the habit of perching with their wings opened flat.