04 July 2015

Festival of Biodiversity 2015!

ButterflyCircle @ Festival of Biodiversity 2015!
VivoCity : 27-28 July 2015

ButterflyCircle members with MOS Desmond Lee at FOB 2015

The Festival of Biodiversity (FOB) enters its fourth year, featuring and celebrating Singapore's awesome biodiversity. Held for the 3rd time at the VivoCity Shopping Mall over the school holiday weekend, the FOB2015 was again a popular draw with the visitors at Singapore's largest shopping mall.

The Festival of Biodiversity is an annual event organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) in collaboration with the Biodiversity Roundtable. Initiated in 2012, the Festival aims to create awareness and foster a sense of appreciation for our natural heritage in Singapore.

This year, in 2015 coinciding with Singapore's 50th birthday, NParks partnered 32 organisations and interest-groups to showcase Singapore's flora and fauna to members of the public. Intentionally held at a shopping mall to "convert the unconverted" to appreciate our rich biodiversity - both marine and terrestrial, and create awareness of the natural heritage that Singapore is endowed with.

ButterflyCircle's A0 sized poster. Special thanks to CJ for putting up this fantastic work!

ButterflyCircle continued to support the FOB into its fourth year, taking up a booth and highlighting the work that ButterflyCircle members have been doing over the years since it was founded. Thanks to CJ, Eng Chuan, Brian and Jerome for coming early on Saturday morning to set up our booth.

Our younger generation taking a special interest in butterflies

This year, we combined forces with the founder of the Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden, Mr Foo Jit Leang. Mr Foo brought several containers of caterpillars that he was babysitting for his garden to showcase the early stages of our butterflies. After experiencing 3 years of the FOB, it was certainly a great addition to the educational boards and videos. I also brought a box of specimens of Singapore's common urban butterflies and together with the caterpillars, these new attractions were a hit with the younger visitors at the booth.

Mr Foo also had his capable assistants Mei, Cheng Khim, Vanessa and Janice to help out at the booth. Cheng Khim was especially popular with the kids as she encouraged them not to be fearful of butterfly caterpillars and carefully explaining to the kids (and their parents) how to take care of caterpillars to ensure that they become the pretty and colourful butterflies that we love in our environment!

Curious visitors, young and not-so-young, being attended to by ButterflyCircle members

ButterflyCircle members also turned out in full force, and special thanks to Anthony, Loke, Chng, Eng Chuan, Brian, Jonathan, Cher Hern, Horace, Bob, Simon, Billy, Federick and CJ who stayed at the booth to answer any questions that visitors may have. Other members like Sunny, Nelson, Mark , Tan CP, Liz, and our supporters Nikita and Siaomouse also turned up to support ButterflyCircle at the FOB.

This year, ButterflyCircle's booth was swarmed with visitors, particularly the younger generation, who were fascinated by the caterpillars, pupae and the butterfly specimens. Often-heard questions were "are these real?" and "do the caterpillars bite?" were heard. The video collage and posters, capably put together by CJ, captured the imagination and educated visitors on the less-often seen aspects about butterflies.

MOS Desmond Lee delivering his speech at FOB 2015

The Guest of Honour for this year's FOB was our Minister of State for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee. An avid nature lover himself, MOS Lee is a regular at nature, biodiversity and parks events. In his speech, he shared the various action plans that the government is putting in place to conserve our biodiversity - both on land and in the sea.

NParks' Garden Butterfly Count Poster

He also highlighted the Nature Conservation Masterplan, emphasising the four key thrusts - Physical planning, Programmes, Research, and Community stewardship. Of particular interest to ButterflyCircle members was the forthcoming National Garden Butterfly Count that will be held in September this year. This will be aided by the use of NParks smartphone app, SGBioAtlas.

Sharing about butterflies with the VIPs

MOS Lee, Mr Dhanabalan, Mr Khoo Teng Chye and other VIP guests also stopped by the ButterflyCircle booth to find out more about butterflies. MOS Lee also sportingly took a photo with the group, as he always generously obliged, like in previous years.

Mr Foo Jit Leang, founder of the Seletar Country Club Butterfly Garden, with his capable assistants who made this year's ButterflyCircle booth a special experience for the kids!

ButterflyCircle members, Mr Foo and his helpers had two long and hectic days at the FOB. But they were satisfying and rewarding days, as all of us shared our passion and knowledge about butterflies to all the visitors who came to learn more about nature's flying jewels in Singapore.

You have to look cool to examine butterflies too!

After four years of FOB, it is now important for the Biodiversity Roundtable to take stock of what we have successfully done to create awareness, appreciation and interest amongst the public for our biodiversity.  Moving ahead, we will have to ask "what next?". Now that we have greater awareness and support from the public and government agencies, what do we do with it? People will ask, so what do we do with our biodiversity? What can we learn and gain from this knowledge?  Where will conservation bring Singapore to, in the next stage?

Profound questions to ponder as we prepare for the road ahead...

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Bob Cheong, Elizabeth Chow Tjakrawinata, Foo Jit Leang, Khew SK, Huang CJ and Loke PF.

A heartfelt note of appreciation to all ButterflyCircle members who volunteered to man our booth and who turned up to support us - Goh EC, Brian Goh, Bob Cheong, Loke PF, Huang CJ, Simon Sng, Jerome Chua, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong, Chng CK, Horace Tan, Federick Ho, Nelson Ong, Tan CP, Nikita Lee, Siaomouse, Koh Cher Hern, Elizabeth, Billy Oh and Jonathan Soong.

Special thanks to Foo Jit Leang, Cheng Khim, Mei Hwang, Vanessa and Janice for helping out with the caterpillars and teaching the kids to appreciate our butterflies!

27 June 2015

Life History of the Common Hedge Blue

Life History of the Common Hedge Blue (Acytolepis puspa lambi)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Acytolepis Toxopeus, 1927
Species: puspa Horsfield, 1828
Sub-species: lambi Distant, 1992
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 25-30mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Combretum sundaicum (Combretaceae), Ventilago maingayi (
Rhamnaceae), Prunus polystachya (Rosaceae), Rosa hybrids (Rosaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is shining blue with a black border widening to about 2mm at the forewing apex; and the female is pale shining blue with very broad black borders on both wings. On the underside, the wings are greyish white and have the usual black marginal spots and post-discal bands on both wings. In addition, each hindwing features several black spots in the basal half and one small black spot at the extreme base of space 7.

A sunbathing male Common Hedge Blue showing us its wing upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is moderately common in Singapore. It is usually found in forested areas of the nature reserves but occasional sightings have been made in urban parks and gardens. They have been observed to sunbathe with open wings and puddle on damp forest paths.

20 June 2015

A New Discovery in 2015!

A New Discovery in 2015!
The Common Yeoman (Cirrochroa tyche rotundata)

The Common Yeoman, a new addition to the Singapore Checklist

It started with a couple of shots that were sent to my WhatsApp account on my mobile phone on 10 Jun 2015. The photos were from Zhou Boyi, a Manager at the National Biodiversity Centre Div of NParks, who wanted to know if he had shot the recently discovered Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea). Boyi was recording shots of butterflies on the new smartphone app known as SGBioAtlas developed by NParks.

Zhou Boyi's first shots of the newly-discovered Common Yeoman in Singapore

However, the butterfly that he encountered did not exactly match those photos of the Malay Yeoman on the SGBioAtlas, and he was curious if he got the ID of the butterfly correct. A quick look at his shots on my mobile phone indicated that what Boyi shot was indeed not the Malay Yeoman, but another close relative in the same genus Cirrochroa.

A Common Yeoman puddling in Singapore

This was the Common Yeoman (Cirrochroa tyche rotundata), a species that has not been recorded in Singapore before by the early authors. After establishing the last-seen location where Boyi shot the butterfly, ButterflyCircle members went to the urban garden to check out if the species was still around so that we could take more shots of this new discovery. Coincidentally, ButterflyCircle members also discovered another orange-coloured species, the Vagrant (Vagrans sinha sinha) in 2013, at another urban gardens in Singapore.

To our surprise, we discovered a small colony of the Common Yeoman! Earlier records of new discoveries and re-discoveries in Singapore, where individuals were reliably photographed, were either seasonal or migratory individuals chanced upon by butterfly enthusiasts. For these species, only one or two sightings were made, and many were not seen again. However, the presence of the colony of the Common Yeoman suggests that this species could have been successfully breeding in Singapore for some time already, before it was spotted.

A Common Yeoman perched on a leaf

At the location where it was first discovered by Boyi, we spotted at least half a dozen individuals and even a female ovipositing on its host plant. It is an active butterfly, flying restlessly and rarely stopping to rest, reminiscent of the common Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) - flapping and turning with half-opened wings even when at rest.  When actively fluttering around, it can tire even the most determined of photographers with its unceasing skittish flying behaviour!

After some time of patient waiting, we spotted a puddling male Common Yeoman that was cooperative enough for us to photograph it. It appeared to be a recently-eclosed individual, from its bright colours and pristine wings. In the meantime, several other females and males were spotted fluttering around the shrubbery, making only momentary stops to rest.

A Common Yeoman shot in Panti Forest Reserve, Johor

The Common Yeoman can be found in West Malaysia, and we have photographed it at the Panti Forest Reserve in southeast Johor, a mere 40-50 km drive from Singapore. There, it demonstrated the same active and skittish behaviour and was also photographed puddling on damp footpaths in forested area.

Another Common Yeoman shot in the Kuala Kangsar area (Perak state) in Malaysia

A quick comparison of the photographs of the Common Yeoman shot in Singapore showed that it matched quite closely with those shot in West Malaysia, in particular those from Panti Forest. This would be the Malaysian subspecies rotundata. The Common Yeoman is fulvous orange above, with a black distal margin or with black sinuate marginal and submarginal spots and lines. The Common Yeoman does not have the broad black apical area on the forewing like the other related species.

A mating pair of the Common Yeoman, shot in Panti Forest Reserve in Johor

The underside is paler with a silvery white or whitish transverse band across both wings. In the Common Yeoman, this pale discal band is narrow and generally uniform in width across both wings, whilst the band widens towards the costa of the forewing in the other related species.

A Common Yeoman puddling on the muddy forest floor at Panti Forest Reserve, Johor

The butterflies of the genus Cirrochroa are known to show migratory tendencies. They have been described as "rapid in flight but occasionally found at moist spots on the roadside." [Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula by Corbet & Pendlebury 4th Edition, pg 153]

A Common Yeoman perched on a leaf.  Shot in Singapore

How did the Common Yeoman appear in Singapore? Did it migrate naturally across the Straits of Johor, when the prevailing winds were in its favour? Or did the caterpillars or pupae of this species stow away on plants that came into Singapore? Many theories may be expounded as to how this species first came to Singapore, but we will never know for certain.

A Common Yeoman perched on a leaf.  Shot in Singapore.

That a colony of the butterflies has now established themselves in Singapore is now certain. For how long this will sustain, we will have to observe closely. Would the lack of genetic diversity wipe out the species after a few generations due to inbreeding? Or will it thrive and be a resident species in Singapore and adding to the biodiversity of our butterfly fauna? Its geographical range is described as "occurring throughout Sundaland", but why was it not earlier recorded in Singapore?

As with many mysterious phenomena occurring in our natural world, there are more questions than there are answers. But we will record the Common Yeoman as species #318 in the Singapore Butterfly Checklist, and observe whether the species will continue to flourish on our little island in the sun.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Goh LC, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Horace Tan and Mark Wong

References : 

[C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992.

Special thanks and credit to Zhou Boyi of the National Parks Board for the discovery of this new butterfly species to Singapore.

13 June 2015

Life History of the Grey Pansy

Life History of the Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites atlites)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Junonia
Hübner, 1819
Species: atlites Linnaeus, 1763
Subspecies: atlites Linnaeus, 1763
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 55-60mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Nelsonia canescens (Acanthaceae), Hygrophila spp. (Acanthaceae), Limnophila villosa (Plantaginaceae)

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are pale greyish buff and distinctly marked with dark brown discal and submarginal lines. Post-discal series of eye-spots, some of which are divided into an outer black half and an inner orange half, are found on both forewing and hindwing. On the underside, the wings are marked as per above but all markings are much paler.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is the rarest of the four Pansy species in Singapore. It makes seasonal and localized appearances, and can be found in nature reserves and coastal parks. It flies in the usual gliding manner of the Junonia spp. Under sunny condition, the adults have a habit of opening their wings wide to sunbathe while resting on a perch.