30 January 2016

Red for Prosperity

Red for Prosperity!
Red Butterflies in Singapore

A Common Red Flash (Rapala iarbus iarbus) perches on a lallang blade

In about a week's time, Chinese communities from all over the world will celebrate the Spring Festival or Chunjie 春节 or Chinese Lunar New Year. During this period of festivities, red is a favourite colour in most Chinese households and businesses. From new red clothes to red banners to red packets, it is a traditional Chinese belief that red is auspicious. Everyone is encouraged to put a little bit of red in their lives to ensure that they reap some of the prosperity that comes with the New Year.

Monkey with Peach © freepik.com

This year, 2016, we will welcome the Red Fire Monkey on 8 Feb. The Monkey is the ninth sign in Chinese astrology, after the goat, and followed by the rooster. The number “9” is associated with ambition, activity, smartness, mischief and adventure. The sheep/ram/goat of 2015 will be making its exit by midnight on 7 Feb, as we herald the new Year of the Monkey.

A Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides) feeding on moisture on a leaf surface

The colour red has a variety of associations in different cultures across religions, nationalities and races. In prehistoric cave paintings, red pigments were extracted from iron oxide or red ochre to depict the then "civilised" world's view of their daily life. Prehistoric man's "blog" of sorts, where he documented on the walls of his cave, anything from a successful hunt to his adventures across unknown lands.

A red door in Chinese architecture.  Imperial Palace Complex, Beijing, China

In ancient China, red played an important role in the culture of Imperial China. In Chinese philosophy, red represented fire, one of the five elements. During the Zhou, Han, Jin, Song and Ming Dynasties, red was considered a noble colour, and it was featured in all court ceremonies, from coronations to sacrificial offerings, and weddings. Red was featured prominently in architecture, and used liberally on walls of buildings, columns and beams and entrance portals. The gates of imperial palaces were usually painted red.

The red cross of a soldier of the Crusades

The Roman Empire celebrated red as a colour of courage and blood. Roman soldiers wore red tunics, whilst generals often sported large red cloaks. The Emperor Charlemagne painted his palace red and wore red shoes as symbol of his authority. In Christianity it represented the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs; in 1295 it became the colour worn by Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Red door detail.  Imperial Palace Complex, Beijing, China

Red is the colour of extremes. It is often used to symbolise courage, passion, seduction, violence, danger, anger, auspiciousness, celebration, good luck, joy and adventure. However, red is often associated with having a dark side, particularly in Christian theology. It was associated with sexual passion, anger, sin, and the devil (which is often portrayed graphically as a horned being with a tail and totally red in colour). And whenever someone mentioned a "red light district" in a city, it is a part of the city that few people would want to openly associate with.

Red is a colour that is most often used on national flags! Did you know that over 77% of the world's national flags contain the colour red? Of the 192 flags of the independent countries of the world, 148 feature the colour red on their flags, including Singapore's which features the colours red and white.

What about our butterflies then? In Singapore, we have a number of species of butterflies that are predominantly red in colour. Their "redness" ranges from a bright red to a deep maroon red. Let us take a look at some of these red butterflies that can be found here in Singapore.

Burgundy red Commander (Moduza procris milonia)

The largest predominantly red butterfly is the Commander (Moduza procris milonia). This Nympalidae butterfly features a deep maroon red on the upperside of its wings with a white macular band across both wings. The species is relatively common and is widespread in distribution from the nature reserves to urban parks and gardens. The Lacewings, of which there are three species in Singapore, also have reds on their wings, but they do appear to be more deep-orange rather than predominantly red and are hence excluded from this list of red butterflies.

A Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya) perches on a fern

The next group that features a number of red butterflies are from the subfamily Riodinidae. Also known as "Metalmarks", this group of butterflies feature deep red butterflies. Some species are adorned with blue or silvery spots and marks. Most are shy forest butterflies that prefer the shaded understorey of the forested areas in Singapore.

Top : Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides) Middle : Harlequin (Taxila haquinus haquinus) Bottom : Lesser Harlequin (Laxita thuisto thuisto)

Amongst the deep red Riodinidae that are found in Singapore are the Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides) and the Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya). Two other members of the family also appear red, but marked with silver or bluish spots. These are the Harlequin (Taxila haquinus haquinus) and the Lesser Harlequin (Laxita thuisto thuisto). Both are rare butterflies, in particular the Harlequin where it is known from only a single location on Singapore island.

Top : Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus) Bottom : A rather worn-out Eliot's Cornelian (Deudorix elioti)

The remaining red-coloured butterflies found in Singapore are small and zippy butterflies from the subfamily Theclinae. Two species from the genus Deudorix are the Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus) and the Eliot's Cornelian (Deudorix elioti) both of which feature red uppersides with thick black borders. Interestingly, Cornelian (sometimes spelt Carnelian) is a brownish-red mineral which is commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone.

The final group of red butterflies belong to the genus Rapala often referred to as the "Flashes" for their strong rapid flight. The most often spotted and prominently red species is the Common Red Flash (Rapala iarbus iarbus). This species tends to open its wings to sunbathe, showing off its red uppersides more often than its closely-related cousins.

Upperside of a newly eclosed Scarlet Flash (Rapala dieneces dieneces)

Of the other Flash species, the males of the Scarlet Flash (Rapala dieneces dieneces), the Suffused Flash (Rapala suffusa barthema) and the Copper Flash (Rapala pheretima sequeira) also sport reddish uppersides. Although not very rare, these species are not often observed to show off their uppersides of the wings very frequently, and hence field shots of these butterflies depicting their uppersides are fairly rare.

© freepik.com

And so we now know a little more about our red butterflies in Singapore, and whether you choose to display a bit more red in your life this coming Chinese New Year for prosperity and good luck, here's wishing a Happy Chinese New Year and a Gong Xi Fa Cai to all our readers near and far! And we hope that the year of the Fire Monkey will bring good luck, health and prosperity to you in 2016!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Horace Tan and Bene Tay.

23 January 2016

Larval Host Plant for Butterflies: Crown Flower

Butterflies' Larval Host Plants #6
Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea)

This 6th instalment of our Butterflies' Larval Host Plants series features the Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea), a species from the Apocynaceae family (commonly known as the dogbane family) which has many members possessing the ability to exude milky latex/sap. Many of these plants are known to be poisonous.

Leaves of the Crown Flower.

The Crown Flower is native to South Asia, Southeast Asia, China and tropical Asia. In Singapore, it is typically cultivated in gardens to attract a variety of insects. Wild specimens of the Crown flower are rarely seen. All plant parts of the Crown Flower have an abundance of milky latex, and will "bleed" easily when the plant part is cut or scratched. It is considered a poisonous plant as its milky sap has been found to cause a reversible vision loss and skin irritation, and even death when ingested. Even so, the Crown Flower is also a traditional medicinal plant and extracts from various plant parts have been used in treatment of many conditions such as syphilis, sores, ulcers and boils etc.

Plant Biodata :
Family : Apocynaceae
Genus : Calotropis
Species : gigantea
Synonyms : Asclepias gigantea
Country/Region of Origin : Southeast/South Asia, China and tropical Afica
English Common Names : Giant Milkweed
Other Local Names :  Remiga, Madar, Kapal-kapal, 牛角瓜
Larval Host for Butterfly Species: Danaus chrysippus chrysippus (Plain Tiger).

Crown Flower plants found in parks in Singapore, showing the upright stem and the large, oval-shaped leaves.

The Crown Flower is a medium to large evergreen shrub, growing up to a height of 3-4m. The leaves are simple, opposite, fleshy, obovate in shape. Young leaves are densely woolly, giving a whitish appearance.

A view showing the simple and opposite arrangement of leaves of the Crown Flower.

A pair of very young leaves showing the woolly appearance.

The top view of another pair of more mature leaves which still have the woolly appearance on the upperside.

Fully grown leaves are large and can be 10-20cm in length, 6-12cm in width. The upperside is light green and the underside whitish green. The leaf base is deeply heart-shaped, and the petiole is relatively short.

The underside of a mature leaf.

The upperside of a mature leaf.

Flowers of the Crown Flower occur in axiliary clusters. Each flower is about 3-4cm wide, white or pale lilac-blue. Each has five pointed petals and a small "crown" rising from the center. These flowers attract a variety of insects such as bees and butterflies which act as pollinators in the reproduction process. In some countries, the flowers are used in floral arrangements due to their long-lasting property.

A cluster of white flower buds.

A cluster of the lilac flower buds.

A cluster of flowers, white variety.

A cluster of flowers, lilac variety.

Each fruit of the Crown Flower is a large, green inflated pod, curved on one side and 6 to 10cm in length. When mature, it splits open to expose the many seeds packed within. Each brown seed is flattened and broad, with a tuft of whitish hair 2 to 3cm long.

A fruit of the Crown Flower.

A fruit of the Crown Flower, split to reveal the brown seeds.

Seeds of the Crown Flower next to the mature fruit, waiting for the next breeze to take them along.

Another view of the same group of exposed seeds.

In Singapore, the Crown Flower also serves as the larval host plant for one butterfly species: Danaus chrysippus chrysippus (Plain Tiger), a species in the Danainae subfamily of Nymphalidae.

A Plain Tiger taking nectar from the flowers of the Snakeweed.

An egg of the Plain Tiger laid on the underside of a leaf of the Crown Flower.

Eggs of the Plan Tiger is laid singly on the underside of a leaf of the Crown Flower. Due to the large size of the leaf, at times more than one egg can be found laid on the same leaf. The life cycle of the Plain Tiger is fast paced throughout. The Plain Tiger caterpillars feed on the lamina of the leaf of the Crown Flower. They stay on the underside of the leaf when eating and resting between feeds. In the earlier instars, the caterpillar has the habit of marking out a circular patch on the leaf, before devouring the patch. The milky sap excreted in the process appears to have no effect on the caterpillar.

A early instar caterpillar of the Plain Tiger resting within its circular patch of territory.

Another early instar caterpillar part way through devouring the circular patch of lamina.

In later instars, the caterpillar will simply eat through the lamina away from the leaf margin or eat along it.

A pair of late instar caterpillars of the Plain Tiger feeding on the underside of the same leaf.

A final instar found resting on the underside of a leaf in an Eco garden.

Close-up view of the same caterpillar.

Typically, the Plain Tiger caterpillar will pupate on the underside of a leaf of the Crown Flower. The pupation site is usually on the raised mid-rib of the leaf.

A pupa of the Plain Tiger found in an Eco garden, possibly parasited.

An empty pupal case of the Plain Tiger on the underside of a leaf of the Crown Flower, indicating that another adult has made it.

A walk in a garden where the Crown Flower is planted will usually come with a sight of the Plain Tiger butterflies fluttering around in the vicinity. If this is the case, it will be rewarding to examine the leaves for any foliage damage and the presence of the beautifully coloured caterpillars of the Plain Tiger.

Text and Photos by Horace Tan.

16 January 2016

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Seletar Country Club

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden

Welcome to the Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden

Golf courses are large tracts of greenery that are, ironically, not very "green". A typical golf course occupies tens of hectares of land that is usually cleared of vegetation for the course to serve its purpose. Referred to as "green deserts" by Dr Richard Corlett (formerly from the NUS), the greenery on golf courses may mislead one to think that the greens are rich with biodiversity. This is usually furthest from the truth, as the amount of environmentally-unfriendly fertilisers and pesticides used to keep golf greens pristine and manicured can adversely affect biodiversity.

However, one man set out to at least make an effort to mitigate the "golf course effect" at his club. Mr Foo Jit Leang, owner of a private software company, wanted to show that golf courses need not necessarily be devoid of wildlife. During a visit by Prof Peter Ng of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and the Seletar Country Club Chairman, Mr Khoo Teng Chye, they challenged Mr Foo to try to create pockets of planted areas that can attract biodiversity to the club premises.

Armed with only his love for nature, and the information that he could get from available books and the internet, and amongst the nature community in Singapore, Mr Foo set out to plant butterfly-attracting host and nectaring plants at a small patch of land next to the clubhouse in 2012. Today, the Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden, as it is known, occupies an area of about 500-600 sqm and is usually teeming with butterflies on a good sunny day.

Mr Foo and the visitors who spent time at the Butterfly Garden have, to date, spotted a total of 102 butterfly species at the three-year old project. On a good day, an observer can usually expect to see about 20-25 different species of butterflies, from the large Papilionidaes to the small and skittish Hesperiidaes. Combining host plants with nectaring plants around the garden, the SCC Butterfly Garden is now a magnet for butterflies, as well as other insects, birds and even small reptiles.

Different views of the SCC Butterfly Garden - from open areas to intimate corners for butterflies

This morning, I visited Mr Foo and the SCC Butterfly Garden. It was a bright sunny day when I arrived and the butterflies were already up and about, and feeding on the flowers of the String Bush and Shepherd's Needles bushes. A few Plain Tigers and Dark Glassy Tigers were chasing each other amongst the shrubbery.

I spotted a Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) ovipositing on its caterpillar host plant, the Batoko Plum. A Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus) zipped past me, stopping for a fleeting moment to feed on the flower of the Pink Snakeweed.

Mr Foo and our young ButterflyCircle member Jonathan Soong joined me, and we walked around the garden as Mr Foo shared his stories of the challenges of setting up the butterfly garden, and maintaining the momentum of his initiative. He had to "educate" the club's gardeners not to spray pesticides and not to pull out plants that they considered "weeds". Many butterfly host plants are what landscape designers see as invasive and ugly weeds. However, without these host plants, one cannot expect to see a wider variety of butterfly species. Mr Foo proudly shared that he has bred a total of 42 different species of butterflies found at the garden.

The "closed-loop" water-based habitat for butterflies, dragonflies and other critters

Besides the lush greenery that the Butterfly Garden showcases today, Mr Foo also brought us to the "closed-loop" stream nearby. This stream creates a water-based habitat with appropriate plants to attract dragonflies and butterflies. The body of water is constantly moving, using the topography of the land and a simple pump to move the water around. We noticed a number of the diminutive Pygmy Grass Blues fluttering happily around the bushes near the stream.

Walking back to the main Butterfly Garden, I spotted a hungry Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete) feeding on the flowers of the String Bush. It kept me busy chasing it for about half an hour, teasing me as it came close, and then quickly flitted away as I approached it. After a tiring game of cat-and-mouse with it, I finally managed to take a decent shot of it on the String Bush flowers.

The scorching overhead noon sun was taking a toll on us, and we quickly retreated to the clubhouse for a yummy lunch, courtesy of Mr Foo. Looking back at the Butterfly Garden, I would consider it a successful rehabilitation of a piece of land adjacent to a somewhat sterile golf course. The butterfly diversity is considered very good, and it took a simple initiative to populate an otherwise featureless piece of land with butterfly-attracting plants to rejuvenate the biodiversity.

Mr Foo sharing his stories about the Butterfly Garden

Mr Foo has gone on to spread his enthusiasm to schools, childcare centres, community gardens, and to anyone who is interested to set up a butterfly garden. He has unselfishly shared plant cuttings, seeds and always willing to impart his experience and knowledge to give a helping hand to our butterflies to survive and thrive in urban areas in Singapore.

"Green Desert" alert!! - a view across the Butterfly Garden to the golf course beyond

Mr Foo has also shown golf course owners that they can do something for nature, and to use part of the large tracts of land that these golf courses sit on, to support our local biodiversity, instead of maintaining their unsavoury reputation for being "green deserts" in Singapore. Interestingly, for a small island of only about 714 sqkm, Singapore has 21 golf courses! Imagine if small Butterfly Gardens sprout up in all these golf courses. We will need more people like Mr Foo to achieve this dream!

And so we have another local "garden" at the Seletar Country Club that is a haven for butterflies. Photographers and nature lovers can visit this SCC Butterfly Garden to have their fill of nature's flying jewels, and you might meet Mr Foo walking around and infect you with his passion for nature and butterflies!

How to get to Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden

Driving/Taxi : From the Central Expressway heading north, use the exit 16 to Seletar West Link and turn into Seletar Club Road.  There is ample free parking at the premises.

By MRT/Bus : Drop at Khatib MRT, and cross the road.  Take Bus 85 to just before the TPE, alight and switch to Bus 103 and alight just before West Camp Road and walk to Seletar CC. Alternatively, take Bus 39 and alight at the stop before Seletar Camp G and switch to Bus 103 and alight just before West Camp Road and walk to Seletar CC.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Janice Ang, Bob Cheong, Foo JL, Khew SK, Koh CH and Jonathan Soong

Checklist of Butterflies Spotted at Seletar CC Butterfly Garden as at Jan 2016 (by Mr Foo JL)

  1. Common Birdwing - Troides helena cerberus  
  2. Common Rose - Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris 
  3. Common Mime - Papilio clytia clytia
  4. Lime Butterfly - Papilio demoleus malayanus
  5. Common Mormon - Papilio polytes romulus
  6. Common Bluebottle - Graphium sarpedon luctatius
  7. Tailed Jay - Graphium agamemnon agamemnon
  8. Painted Jezebel - Delias hyparete metarete
  9. Striped Albatross - Appias libythea olferna
  10. Mottled Emigrant - Catopsilia pyranthe pyranthe
  11. Lemon Emigrant - Catopsilia pomona pomona
  12. Orange Emigrant - Catopsilia scylla cornelia
  13. Common Grass Yellow - Eurema hecabe contubernalis
  14. Three Spot Grass Yellow - Eurema blanda snelleni
  15. Plain Tiger - Danaus chrysippus chrysippus
  16. Common Tiger - Danaus genutia genutia
  17. Blue Glassy Tiger - Ideopsis vulgaris macrina
  18. Common Evening Brown - Melanitis leda leda
  19. Common Palmfly - Elymnias hypermnestra agina
  20. Malayan Eggfly - Hypolimnas anomala anomala
  21. Great Eggfly - Hypolimnas bolina bolina
  22. Jacintha Eggfly - Hypolimnas bolina jacintha
  23. Autumn Leaf - Doleschallia bisaltide bisaltide
  24. Chocolate Pansy - Junonia hedonia ida
  25. Grey Pansy - Junonia atlites atlites
  26. Peacock Pansy - Junonia almana javana
  27. Blue Pansy - Junonia orithya wallacei
  28. Tawny Coster - Acraea terpsicore
  29. Leopard Lacewing - Cethosia cyane
  30. Green Baron - Euthalia adonia pinwilli
  31. Plain Nawab - Polyura hebe plautus
  32. The Apefly - Spalgis epius epius
  33. Lesser Grass Blue - Zizina otis lampa
  34. Pygmy Grass Blue - Zizula hylax pygmaea
  35. Cycad Blue - Chilades pandava pandava
  36. Gram Blue - Euchrysops cnejus cnejus
  37. Ciliate Blue - Anthene emolus goberus
  38. Pointed Ciliate Blue - Anthene lycaenina miya
  39. Centaur Oak Blue - Arhopala centaurus nakula
  40. Peacock Royal - Tajuria cippus maxentius
  41. Common Tit - Hypolycaena erylus teatus
  42. Chestnut Bob - Iambrix salsala salsala
  43. Palm Bob - Suastus gremius gremius
  44. Yellow Palm Dart - Cephrenes trichopepla
  45. Common Palm Dart - Telicota colon stinga
  46. Small Branded Swift - Pelopidas mathias mathias
  47. Lesser Dart - Potanthus omaha omaha
  48. Large Dart - Potanthus serina
  49. Plain Palm Dart - Cephrenes acalle niasicus
  50. Conjoined Swift - Pelopidas conjunctus conjunctus
  51. Dingy Bush Brown - Mycalesis perseus cepheus
  52. Dark Brand Bush Brown - Mycalesis mineus macromalayana
  53. Common Four Ring - Ypthima huebneri
  54. Palm King - Amathusia phidippus phidippus
  55. Short Banded Sailor - Phaedyma columella singa
  56. Malayan Lascar - Lasippa tiga siaka
  57. Dark Glassy Tiger - Parantica agleoides agleoides
  58. Pea Blue - Lampides boeticus
  59. Copper Flash - Rapala pheretima sequeira
  60. Black Veined Tiger - Danaus melanippus hegesippus
  61. Chocolate Albatross - Appias lyncida vasava
  62. Detached Dart - Potanthus trachala tytleri
  63. Cornelian - Deudorix epijarbas cinnabarus
  64. Slate Flash - Rapala manea chozeba
  65. Transparent Sixline Blue - Nacaduba kurava nemana
  66. Dark Malayan Sixline Blue - Nacaduba calauria malayica
  67. Blue Nawab - Polyura schreiber tisamenus
  68. Dark Caerulean - Jamides bochus nabonassar
  69. Common Line Blue - Prosotas nora superdates
  70. Formosan Swift - Borbo cinnara
  71. Colonel - Pandita sinope sinope
  72. Common Sailor - Neptis hylas papaja
  73. Leopard - Phalanta phalantha phalantha
  74. Common Banded Awl - Hasora chromus chromus
  75. Striped Blue Crow - Euploea mulciber mulciber
  76. Common Dartlet - Oriens gola pseudolus
  77. Chocolate Demon - Ancistroides nigrita maura
  78. Tailless Line Blue - Prosotas dubiosa lumpura
  79. Contiguous Swift - Polytremis lubricans lubricans
  80. Vagrant - Vagrans sinha sinha
  81. Bush Hopper - Ampittia dioscorides camertes
  82. Striped Black Crow - Euploea eyndhovii gardineri
  83. Plain PlushBlue - Flos apidanus saturatus
  84. Brown Awl - Badamia exclamationis
  85. Great Swift - Pelopidas assamensis
  86. Cabbage White - Pieris canidia canidia
  87. Besta Palm Dart - Telicota besta bina
  88. Grass Demon - Udaspes folus
  89. Common Red Flash - Rapala iarbus iarbus
  90. King Crow - Euploea phaenareta castelnaui
  91. Banana Skipper - Erionota thrax thrax
  92. Common Awl - Hasora badra badra
  93. Baron - Euthalia aconthea gurda
  94. White Tipped Skipper - Erionota hiraca apicalis
  95. Pale Grass Blue - Zizeeria maha serica
  96. Pale Palm Dart - Telicota augias augias
  97. Bamboo Paintbrush Swift - Baoris farri farri
  98. Vinous Oakblue - Arhopala athada athada
  99. Full Stop Swift - Caltoris cormasa
  100. Linna Palm Dart - Telicota linna
  101. Silver Forget-Me-Not - Catochrysops panormus exiguus
  102. Rustic - Cupha erymanthis lotis