31 May 2014

Life History of the Blue Jay

Life History of the Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Graphium Scopoli, 1777
Species: evemon Boisduval, 1836
Subspecies: eventus Fruhstorfer, 1908
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 50-65mm
Local Caterpillar Host Plant: Artabotrys wrayi (Annonaceae).

A pair of puddling Blue Jay.

A Blue Jay perching on a leaf.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
As with most Graphium species, the wings are produced at the forewing apex and hindwing tornus, and the inner margin of the hindwing bends inwards. On the upperside, the wings are black with a broad bluish macular band running from the sub-apical area of the forewing to the basal area of the hindwing. There is also a series of blue streaks in the cell of the forewing. A series of blue submarginal spots is present in both fore- and hindwings. On the underside, the same spotting pattern can be found against a dark brown base, with the spots larger and more silvery green. Additional red and black spots are featured on the hindwing. Unlike the lookalike species, the Common Jay, the black costal bar in the hindwing of the Blue Jay does not have a red spot, and it is joined to the black basal band.

A puddling Blue Jay.

Another Blue Jay puddling with fully open wings.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Blue Jay is common in Singapore and is oftern seen flying up and down jungle tracks in the nature reserve on sunny days. The males are often observed puddling at damp forest paths and stream banks. The adults are fast flyers and have an "erratic" flight.

27 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan Eggfly

Butterflies Galore!
The Malayan Eggfly (Hypolimnas anomala anomala)

The Malayan Eggfly is a seasonally common species in Singapore.  The caterpillar host plant is the Australian Mulberry (Pipturus argentus), a secondary forest plant that is quite widespread in distribution across the island. The Malayan Eggfly occurs in two forms, i.e. form-anomala and form-nivas. This species is a good example of mimicry, where the Malayan Eggfly mimics the distasteful Danainae "crows". Form-anomala is a good mimic of the male Striped Blue Crow, whilst form-nivas is a good mimic of the Striped Black Crow.

Pictured here is a form-nivas Malayan Eggfly, featuring the white patch on the hindwing that the form-anomala does not have. The white markings on the hindwing can be variable, from a few obscure white stripes to a large distinct patch. This individual was photographed last weekend at the Dairy Farm Nature Park by young ButterflyCircle member, Jonathan Soong.

24 May 2014

Butterfly of the Month - May 2014

Butterfly of the Month - May 2014
The Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites atlites)

The month of May 2014 appears to be one that is fraught with political changes and turmoil in many countries in Asia.  Scientists have also forewarned of a climatically extreme year ahead. The cyclical El Nino effect is predicted to peak in 2014, bringing along with it, unprecedented climate conditions. The El Nino effect is the name that climatologists give to warming of the surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

The last time El Nino was at its peak was back in 1997, where there was a prolonged drought in Singapore. That year, the annual rainfall in Singapore was about half of the long-term average and the annual average temperature was 1.4 degrees Celsius above average.  Affecting most of South East Asia, the predicted prolonged drought may bring the dreaded haze back to the region, if the unabated slash-and-burn land-clearing methods continue in neighbouring Indonesia.

Over in Vietnam, protests over China's supposed incursion into Vietnamese territorial waters erupted into violent riots. Anti-Chinese protesters burned factories in various cities and there were fatalities in the unrest. As the unhappiness with China's territorial claims continue, Vietnam would obviously not be the natural choice for visitors and tourists for the short to medium term.

Further north of Singapore, our neighbours in Thailand saw the military declaring martial law to resolve the deepening conflict between the frequently demonstrating supporters of political parties. As the unrest continues, the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore' website advised that Singaporeans "should seriously reconsider visiting Thailand at the moment." It is quite bizarre how situations can change so quickly, particularly when a group of ButterflyCircle members had just recently returned from a fruitful outing in peaceful Chiangmai just about three weeks ago.

Back here in Singapore, the "sakura" season of mass-flowering trees of various species continued into early May. But the natural phenomenon most talked about in the past week or so, revolved around a moth! The Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) was seen in great numbers all across the island, from suburban residential areas to multistorey car parks and even tall office buildings in the Central Business District! At my own office building, a moth was seen holding on to dear life outside the window of my 18th storey office!

The outbreak of this moth (which has been frequently mistaken for a large butterfly by members of the public), appears to have been triggered by a confluence of climatic conditions and possibly the reduced predatory pressure towards the end of the avian migration season. No one can be sure why these moths suddenly appeared in numbers but to the casual observers, enjoy them whilst they last!

Our Butterfly of the Month for May 2014, is the Grey Pansy. One of four species that occur in Singapore, the Pansies (named after the colourful flowers from the family Violaceae) are active sun-loving butterflies of the genus Junonia. The Grey Pansy is the rarest amongst the four Pansies that are found here; the others being the Blue, Peacock and Chocolate Pansy.

An example of a dry-season form of the Grey Pansy with obscure and lighter markings

The distribution of the Grey Pansy is quite widespread across Singapore, and the species is locally common at times, particularly in the vicinity of water bodies, where its caterpillar host plant grows. It can be found in the forested nature reserves as well as urban parks and gardens.

The Grey Pansy is a pale violet grey above with the underside light grey. Both wings have dark brown irregular post-discal spots and submarginal lines and streaks. The more prominent ocelli on the fore and hindwings are orange-crowned.

The species has quite distinct wet- and dry-season forms where the underside markings are darker and more pronounced in appearance in the wet-season form, whereas in the dry-season form, the underside markings are very much obscure and paler.

The Grey Pansy is usually alert and skittish, and adopts a flap-and-glide flight pattern. It has a habit of returning repeatedly to a few favourite perches when it patrols its territory, and then open its wings flat to sunbathe. It likes the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) on which it feeds greedily. Occasionally, it can be spotted puddling at damp footpaths.

The life history has been documented, and will be featured in a forthcoming article on this blog.

Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Sunny Chir, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Bobby Mun, Nelson Ong, Benedict Tay & Benjamin Yam

22 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Plain Banded Awl

Butterflies Galore!
The Plain Banded Awl (Hasora vitta vitta)

The Awls (Hasora spp) are butterflies that are usually seen in the early morning hours up to about 8 - 9 am, after which they retreat to the shaded forests to rest for most of the day. They have a preference for surfaces of buildings and wooden surfaces near forested areas which are damp with dew in the early morning hours. They are also often spotted feeding on bird droppings in the forests.

Like most skippers, they are fast-flying and alert. This species, the Plain Banded Awl, is moderately rare in Singapore, but is regularly seen from time to time. This individual was reported feeding on the columns of a shelter in our nature reserves together with other species of Hesperiidae. It was photographed by young ButterflyCircle member Jerome Chua. The caterpillar host plant of this species is Spatholobus ferrugineus, and the full life history has been recorded here.

20 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Cruiser

Butterflies Galore!
The Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella)

This medium sized butterfly is regularly seen in the forests in Singapore. With a wingspan of about 70-80 mm, the brightly-coloured orange male is very noticeable when it flutters amongst the shrubbery and along forest paths. Males are a rich fulvous orange above, with a paler discal band. The underside is similarly coloured, but paler, with a distinct brown post-discal stripe across both wings.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, where the female is pale-greenish grey with a prominent post-discal white band across both wings. The ocelli on the female's wings are larger and orange-ringed. Both sexes have a short pointed tail at vein 4 of the hindwing. The male is often encountered puddling at sandy streambanks in the forested nature reserves as is shown here. More photos of the Cruiser can be found here.

17 May 2014

Life History of the Gram Blue

Life History of the Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus cnejus)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Euchrysops Butler, 1900
Species: cnejus Fabricius, 1798
Subspecies: cnejus Fabricius, 1798
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 20-26mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Pueraria phaseoloides (Fabaceae/Leguminosae, common name: tropical kudzu), Vigna reflexopilosa (Fabaceae/Leguminosae, common name: creole bean).

The upperside view of a female Gram Blue.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is pale purple and with tornal spots in spaces 1b and 2 of the hindwing thinly crowned in orange. The female has a brown border on both wings and is pale shining blue in the basal area, and its hindwing has submarginal spots bordered with a dark sinuate line and larger and more prominent orange-crowned tornal spots in spaces 1b and 2. On the underside, both sexes are pale buff with a series of marginal, submarginal and post-discal spots, all pale brown and white-bordered. In the hindwing, there are three black basal spots, one black costal spot, two orange-crowned tornal spots in spaces 1b and 2 which are edged with metallic green scales and a white-tipped tail at the end of vein 1b.

The upperside view of a male Gram Blue.

Field Observations:
Gram Blue is moderately common in Singapore. Its distribution is rather localized and at times they can be locally abundant in wastelands or trail side where its host plants, the tropical kudzu and the creon bean, are growing as weeds. In the early morning and late afternoon sun, both sexes are often seen sunbathing on leaves with open wings. The adults have the habit of visiting flowers of various weeds for nectar.

15 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Green Oakblue

Butterflies Galore!
The Green Oakblue (Arhopala eumolphus maxwelli)

The male Green Oakblue is one of three extant species of the genus Arhopala that features metallic green uppersides instead of the usual purple or dark blue uppersides that are more common amongst the species in the genus. The female of the Green Oakblue, however, features purple uppersides with broad black borders on both wings (shown above). The species was re-discovered in Singapore some time in late 2007 in a patch of forested area near a reservoir park. The full life history has been documented here. Click on the link to see the male of the Green Oakblue.

The underside of the Green Oakblue is typical Arhopala - brown with the usual striations. One of the key distinguishing markings is the post-discal spot in space 4 on the forewing being out of line with the spots above and below it. The species is considered moderately rare, but is very local and at times, several individuals may be spotted together. This pristine female Green Oakblue was shot by young ButterflyCircle member, Jonathan Soong.

12 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Plain Tiger

Butterflies Galore! 
The Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus)

The Plain Tiger is a common urban species that has been spreading around Singapore's parks and gardens ever since its caterpillar host plants, Calotropis gigantea and Asclepias curassavica, have been cultivated as butterfly-attracting plants. Back in the 1990's, the species was relatively unknown in the urban environment. Today, it can be considered to be abundant in the vicinity of butterfly gardens where its host plants can be found.

A medium-sized and colourful butterfly, it flies slowly and will usually not go unnoticed by the casual observer visiting our parks and gardens. The mating pair perched on the red cultivar of the Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica), shows the male (top) and female (bottom). Note that the male Plain Tiger has an extra black spot on the hindwing. This mating pair was shot yesterday at the Gardens By the Bay's open butterfly garden.

10 May 2014

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies

A Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies
Part 1 : Changes Due to Socially Unacceptable Reasons

A pair of mating Niggers (!!)

After the excitement and fanfare of our most recent butterfly book, featuring butterflies from the South East Asian countries of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand died down, I managed to find some time to read the book in greater detail. Also, remembering some of the principles elaborated by Dr Kirton at his talk during the launch, I went about analysing some of the background behind the English Common name updates in the book.

Dr Laurence Kirton speaks at his book launch in Singapore

At Dr Kirton's talk, he outlined the basic rationale behind what caused him to change some of the more widely used English common names in the region. Whether these name changes would cause further confusion amongst the butterfly enthusiasts or not, or will become standard usage in time to come, would depend on the general acceptance amongst the stakeholders.

As English common names are certainly not within the exclusive domain of scientists, taxonomists or academics, these names can be coined by practically anyone who has more than a fleeting interest in butterflies. Naming conventions and fundamental rationale can sometimes be illogical and often defy common comprehension. Some names appear logical and obvious - dependent on the physical attributes of the butterfly species concerned, whilst others have dubious associations at best, or even appear questionable.

A Lesser Darkie perches on a leaf

Through common usage, some of these names have spread across the region amongst butterfly enthusiasts - some have stuck through their popularity, whilst others vary depending on the country of origin, and the 'authorities' who have named them. It is often confusing, when a particular species carries different English names in different countries. I will not go into the Chinese common names in this article, though I was told that in certain cases, a single species can have up to 6 or 7 Chinese common names across the Chinese-speaking countries!

© Dr Laurence Kirton, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)

Dr Kirton outlined the following basic principles that he adopted in his latest book, which determined whether he made changes (or not) to the English common names of butterflies in the region :
  1. Where the original name is socially unacceptable / derogatory
  2. Where the name has incorrect syntax or grammar
  3. Where the original name refers to a people group
  4. Where the same name is used for different species
  5. Where multiple names are used for the same species
  6. Where different regions use different names
He went on to clarify that "Common names usually follow as closely as possible to WA Evans' (1927) "The Identification of Indian Butterflies" : Bombay Natural History Society, Madras 302 pp.

Whilst most of us would not have any issue with the principles above, the devil would be in the details and the rationale for the continued adoption of the 'common usage' names or not, would have to be evaluated and discussed from various alternative perspectives and points of view.

For a start, I will discuss the name change for four species of butterflies which I would deem as necessary. The rationale behind the name change would be that the original names in today's politically-sensitive environment, would fall under the category of being "socially unacceptable and/or derogatory". I had, some years back, written a piece on a butterfly that was unfortunate enough to be called a Nigger. Perhaps in an era when life was more simple and straightforward, such names would not offend anyone, but today, such a name would be considered derogatory to certain ethnic groups, and deemed unacceptable.

© Dr Laurence Kirton, FRIM

In Dr Kirton's detailed explanations during his talk about the Nigger made a lot of sense. We support the new name coined for the species Orsotriaena medus cinerea and it will henceforth be called Dark Grass Brown. Other names suggested earlier, either already in print or on the internet are :
  • "Blackie" - by Kazuhisa Otsuka in Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia, 2001
  • "Jungle Brown" - by Smith, 1989
  • "Dusky Bush Brown" and "Smooth Eyed Bush Brown" by Braby 1997 and 2010
  • "Medus Bush Brown" - by Kunte et al, 2014

Three other species found in Singapore, also having names which are considered derogatory and have been changed in Dr Kirton's book, belong to the Miletinae subfamily. The earlier innocuous names are now considered ethnic slurs - labels used used as insinuations or allegations about members of a given ethnicity or to refer to them in a derogatory (critical or disrespectful), pejorative (disapproving or contemptuous), or insulting manner in the English-speaking world.

From Darkie to Darlie - the evolution of a name and logo of a popular toothpaste brand in Asia

The first of the common names is "Darkie". In the list of ethnic slurs, the word "darkie" refers to a black person (similar to Nigger) and is highly likely to cause offense to certain ethnic groups. In the consumer product world, a toothpaste company, Hawley & Hazel, used to market a popular brand of toothpaste called "Darkie". The brand well-known in Asia and Australasia, was subsequently rebranded as "Darlie" some time in 1989 to avoid the politically-incorrect and potentially derogatory reference to Afro-Americans.

Lesser Darkie will now be called Lesser Darkwing

In our butterfly world, there is a species known as the Lesser Darkie (Allotinus unicolor unicolor). The English common name is a bit of a mystery, as the butterfly neither black or has any features that suggest the name. Dr Kirton has renamed this species as the Lesser Darkwing. It is a name that avoids the controversy of an ethnic slur and appears to be safe for use without offending anyone. So Lesser Darkwing it will be!

Bigg's Brownie will now be called Bigg's Brownwing

A third generic common name, which also has ethnically derogatory connotations, particular in common usage in the United States, is the "Brownie". Whilst less well-known than Nigger and Darkie, the word Brownie is generally used as a derogatory slur to refer to a :
a. (US) a person of mixed white and black ancestry; a mulatto.
b. (US) a young, brown-skinned person 1940s–1950s.
c. (US) derogatory name to refer to brown Mexican people.

Blue Brownwing, underside and (inset) upperside of the wings

There was even a recent article that highlights the use of the word "Brownie" (in a non-complimentary way) to refer to US President Barack Obama! Hence, the avoidance of the potentially controversial word "Brownie" is timely and should be removed from our butterflies' names as well.  Having said that, however, I wonder when someone will change the name of my favourite chocolate "brownie" dessert! But that is certainly another debate for another forum.

Blue Brownie will now be called Blue Brownwing

In Singapore, we have the Blue Brownie (Miletus symethus petronius) and the Bigg's Brownie (Miletus biggsii biggsii). Along the same logical lines of naming the Darkwings, Dr Kirton also suggests a name change from Brownie to Brownwing.  So Miletus symethus will now be called Blue Brownwing, whilst Miletus biggsii will be renamed as Bigg's Brownwing.

Bigg's Brownie will now be called Bigg's Brownwing

In summary, these are the four species relevant to the Singapore butterfly fauna that ButterflyCircle will be making changes to - from Nigger to Dark Grass Brown; from Lesser Darkie to Lesser Darkwing; from Blue Brownie to Blue Brownwing and from Bigg's Brownie to Bigg's Brownwing.  We accept these changes due to the rationale that Dr Kirton has articulated in his presentation, and we see no reason to disagree with the reasons behind the change.  However, there is still room for debate, and the changes to the English common names, like the regular taxonomic revisions to species' scientific names, will probably not be cast in stone!

Blue Brownie will now be called Blue Brownwing

Whilst our hardcopy Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore 2010 has used these original names and no amendments can be made at this point in time, any future editions will make these changes accordingly. Our online collaterals will make the changes henceforth. All the four species' names fall under the collective category of "socially unacceptable" or "derogatory" in terms of negative ethnic slurs.

We will evaluate other name changes as proposed by Dr Kirton in our forthcoming blog articles, where various ButterflyCircle members have given their opinions which may not necessarily concur with Dr Kirton's proposed name changes. These will be dealt with eventually, and discussions will be made regarding our opinions which offer contrarian and alternative viewpoints to those raised by Dr Kirton.

Farewell Nigger, Hello Dark Grass Brown!

In the meantime, we will take our time to digest and try to understand the backgrounds behind some of these name changes and we will not rush to make any hasty changes. Some of these original names have sentimental, emotional, historical or even nationalistic (!) connotations, and even if the names are changed, it may take a long time before they become widely accepted for daily usage amongst butterfly enthusiasts.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF,  Tan BJ, Benedict Tay & Mark Wong

References : 

  • List of Ethnic Slurs - Source - Wikipedia
  • List of Ethnic Slurs by Ethnicity - Source : FileSharingTalk
  • A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of P. Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand, Laurence G Kirton : John Beaufoy Publishing 2014
  • [C&P1] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 1st Edition, Kyle & Palmer, 1934.

08 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Pale Grass Blue

Butterflies Galore!
The Pale Grass Blue (Zizeeria maha serica)

This species was first discovered by veteran ButterflyCircle member Steven Neo in 2001. Photographs that were sent to Col Eliot in 2003 were verified by him that this the taxon Zizeeria maha serica which originates from Hong Kong. The Pale Grass Blue may have hitched a ride into Singapore via horticultural material imported from the region. The caterpillar host plant of this species is the Yellow Wood Sorrell (Oxalis corniculata). The full life history is recorded here.

The Pale Grass Blue is often confused with the two local Grass Blue species - the Lesser Grass Blue and the Pygmy Grass Blue. However, when a shot of the three species is available, identification is usually not a problem. The underside markings of the Pale Grass Blue are more pronounced and darker. Males are a light blue on the upperside whilst females are a greyish blue. This shot was taken by young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong in his urban garden.

06 May 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Chocolate Albatross

Butterflies Galore!
The Chocolate Albatross (Appias lyncida vasava)

The Chocolate Albatross is a fast-flying Pierid that has been recorded in Singapore as a rare seasonal migrant.  At this point in time, it has not established a resident colony in Singapore yet, but the species is regularly sighted almost every year during the peak butterfly season in the region. In Malaysia, the species is common and can even be described as abundant during certain times of the year.

This year, in 2014, there have been more sightings of this species in many locations around the island - from urban areas to nature reserves. Many males and females have been sighted over the past weeks in late March and April. Eggs of the Chocolate Albatross have also been observed on its host plant - Crateva religiosa at an urban park. Are we observing the beginnings of the naturalisation of this species in Singapore? We'll have to wait and see. This shot of a male Chocolate Albatross was taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH last weekend.