24 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Great Helen

Butterflies Galore!
The Great Helen (Papilio iswara iswara)

This large swallowtail is one of Singapore's forest-dependent species that is rarely, if ever, found in urban parks and gardens. They are often seen flying erratically amongst the treetops and stopping to feed when Saraca and Syzygium trees are flowering. A large species with a wingspan reaching 140mm in females, the Great Helen is considered moderately rare. Seasonally, sightings of several individuals flying in the same locality have been reported.

This photo is interesting, in that the Great Helen has rarely been photographed puddling in Singapore. Both males and females have always been observed flying amongst the treetops in the forests. Although this species has been seen puddling in Malaysia, this is the first time that anyone has captured evidence that it does puddle locally if conditions are right. This shot was taken by ButterflyCircle member Jerome Chua.

19 April 2014

Butterfly of the Month - April 2014

Butterfly of the Month - April 2014
The Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira)

The hot and dry months of February and March in Singapore finally gave way to the much-needed April showers. It was certainly a welcome relief for the parched vegetation and almost like magic, one could see fresh green sprouts of grass and new shoots emerge from the trees.  Well into the month of April, many trees burst into bloom en masse all over the island, prompting Singaporeans to associate the colourful flowering with the Japanese sakura season.

It was also a time of grief, just after the MH370 episode last month, when a South Korean ferry, The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju. The ferry sank with 476 people aboard, 323 of them from a single high school in Ansan. Thirty-two bodies have since been recovered, and 174 people survived the disaster. The search for the remaining passengers is still in progress at this point in time.

Over on Mount Everest, the world witnessed the devastating force of Mother Nature when an avalanche on the slopes of Mount Everest killed at least 15 Nepalese Sherpa guides on Friday, making it one of the deadliest days in the history of mountaineering on the world's highest peak. Rescuers managed to pull seven people alive from beneath snow and ice, Three critically injured guides were airlifted to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu.

Singaporeans and residents here will experience an awe-inspiring display the colours of the Netherlands with the start of the Tulipmania exhibition in the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay. About 50,000 blooms, air-flown from the Netherlands, cover the changing display area of the Flower Dome, giving a spectacular splash of colours that is sure to delight visitors here in Singapore - and they don't have to travel all the way to Amsterdam to enjoy the visual treat!

For the month of April 2014, we feature the diminutive Lycaenid, the Elbowed Pierrot (Caleta elna elvira). A black-and-white butterfly, the Elbowed Pierrot is seasonally common in Singapore, where it is found mainly in the forested nature reserves. It flies with an erratic and rapid flight, fluttering restlessly amongst the shrubbery and open footpaths within the nature reserves.

The Elbowed Pierrot is predominantly black above, with a broad white band extending across the forewings to the hindwings. The underside is white with an angled sub-basal band on the forewing which probably gave the butterfly its common name. There is a series of conjoined post-discal black spots on both wings.

The butterfly is most often spotted and photographed when puddling at muddy forest paths and sandy streambanks that are tainted with decomposing organic matter. At times, several individuals can be seen puddling together with species of other families of butterflies.

There is a white-tipped filamentous tail at vein 2 of the hindwing. The abdomen of the butterfly is striped black and white, as are its legs. The eyes are an opaque jet-black, with prominent white and hairy palpi. It has a habit of fluttering around low bushes and then settling on a thin twig or the tip of a leaf to rest, whilst sliding its hindwings up and down to animate its tails.

A group of puddling Elbowed Pierrots.  How many can you see?

It has been locally bred on Ziziphus sp. a thorny straggling shrub that is relatively common in the nature reserves. The life history features only 4 instars at its caterpillar stage. The entire documentation of its life history can be found here.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong, Mark Wong & Benjamin Yam

This blog article is dedicated to Simon Sng, a veteran butterfly watcher and photographer, and a long-time friend and active supporter of ButterflyCircle. Simon's avatar and nick in the ButterflyCircle community is the Elbowed Pierrot.

18 April 2014

A Two Pierid Weekend

A Two Pierid Weekend
New Discoveries in Singapore - Species #310 & #311

The exceptionally dry weather and then the tail end of the Northeast monsoon winds bringing a burst of rainfall to southern Johor and Singapore may have been the catalyst for a burst of flowering all over the island. But it brought two new surprises as well, in terms of butterfly observations.

Ben Jin's shot of a female Malaysian Albatross on 12 Apr 2014

Last Saturday, on his regular solo outing in the nature reserves, ButterflyCircle veteran Tan Ben Jin came across a rather large yellow butterfly that he had not seen before. When the butterfly stopped to rest with its wings folded upright, Ben Jin managed to take a shot of it. It was something that he had not seen nor shot before. Upon posting in on ButterflyCircle's forums, Dr TL Seow identified it as a female Malaysian Albatross (Saletara panda distanti).  It is noted that the Malaysian Albatross had the scientific name of Saletara liberia distanti in the references, but of late many authors have used the species name panda for the Sundanian species.

A male Malaysian Albatross shot in Taman Negara, Malaysia

Checking with our main reference for Malaysia and Singapore, "Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula, 4th Edition" by Corbet & Pendlebury, the Malaysian Albatross was recorded as extant in Singapore. W. A. Fleming's "Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore, 2nd Edition" also recorded the Malaysian Albatross in Singapore. During the period of the early 1990's to 2014, when the Singapore butterfly fauna was documented in earnest, there were no reliable sightings nor valid specimen records of this species. Hence Ben Jin's record of the Malaysian Albatross is taken as a re-discovery and recorded as species #310 in the Singapore Butterfly Checklist and classified as a migratory visitor.

Horace's original record shot of the Redspot Sawtooth on 13 Apr 2014

The following day, Sunday 13 Apr, ButterflyCircle member Horace Tan was out shooting some Chocolate Albatrosses in the nature reserves when he saw a larger butterfly feeding at the flowers with the Chocolate Albatrosses. Initially assuming that it was a Painted Jezebel, Horace took a record shot of the butterfly and upon closer scrutiny realised that it was something else. It was confirmed as a Redspot Sawtooth (Prioneris philonome themana).

A crop of Horace's shot showing the Redspot Sawtooth

This time around, both reference books did not indicate that the Redspot Sawtooth as an extant species in Singapore. Probably a seasonal migrant like many of the Pierids observed in Singapore from time to time, which includes the Chocolate Albatross, Wanderer and at least two more Pierid species collected in the 90's (to be discussed in this blog at a future time), the Redspot Sawtooth will be added to the Singapore Checklist as a new discovery and species #311.

A puddling Redspot Sawtooth shot at Kuala Woh, Perak, Malaysia

It is noteworthy that species from the family Pieridae are known to exhibit migratory tendencies, and there are periods when they are seasonally abundant, the northeasterly winds may have aided their flight into Singapore from Malaysia.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Horace Tan, Tan Ben Jin, Tea Yi Kai and Khew SK

References :

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society, 1992
  • Butterflies of West Malaysia & Singapore, WA Fleming, 2nd Edition, 1983
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012

12 April 2014

A Sneak Peek : New Butterfly Book

A Sneak Peek
Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand

There are, by far, many more books on birds in the Southeast Asian region than books on butterflies. Perhaps it is because there are more competent authors who are birders besides the assumption that birders in the region probably outnumber butterfly watchers by a ratio of 10:1! Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but would someone care to hazard a guess?

Green Commodore (Sumalia daraxa) shot at Telecoms Loop, Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

On 24 April 2014, John Beaufoy Publishing, a UK-based publisher of books on natural history, travel and adventure, food and fiction, will be launching a new butterfly book entitled "A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand". The 176-page book, authored by renown entomologist and butterfly expert, Dr Laurence G. Kirton, will be launched here in Singapore at the Gardens by the Bay.

Dr Kirton, a friend of ButterflyCircle, is currently the Head of the Biodiversity and Conservation of Fauna Programme at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM). His interest in butterflies began in his childhood years, together with his brother, Colin, and has continued into his professional career as a researcher. Laurence holds a PhD in entomology from Imperial College, University of London, and has authored many papers on Malaysian butterflies in the Malayan Nature Journal and other publications. Back in June 2009, Dr Kirton gave a talk on Butterfly Conservation to ButterflyCircle members and guests at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

It was a chance meeting with Ken Scriven* up on Fraser's Hill in Malaysia some time back in August 2011 that started ButterflyCircle's involvement with Dr Kirton's book. That evening, Geoff Davison from NParks, who was with Ken, introduced me as someone who had earlier published a book on butterflies in Singapore. Ken spoke to me about Dr Kirton's book, and asked if I would be able to help with providing photos for the book. Ken then put me in contact with John Beaufoy.
*Ken Scriven founded the WWF office in Malaysia and was its Executive Director from 1972 to 1991. He helped found the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Foundation of which he is Chairman. Although retired from WWF-Malaysia’s staff in 1991, Ken Scriven is still active as Vice-President Emeritus.

Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris) shot at Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

John subsequently visited Singapore and we met over coffee near my office. This started the whole process of helping Dr Kirton with the contacts of photographers who would be able to provide their butterfly photos from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. After 3 years, the book is now a reality and is already ready for sale, even before the official launch date later this month.

The new book, published in the same size of the Naturalist's Guide series by John Beaufoy Publishing measures 7" by 5", or equivalent to 5R in the standard photographic paper size. The book contains a total of exactly 408 unique photographs, of which ButterflyCircle members from Singapore (21 members), Malaysia (2 members) and Thailand (2 members) contributed 305 photos, or about 75% of the photos in the book.

Malayan Grass Yellow (Eurema tilaha) shot at Bunker Trail, Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia

The book starts with an introduction to the countries of reference in the book, covering geography, climate, vegetation and habitats and where to go looking for butterflies in the three countries.  The introduction goes on to deal with butterfly behaviour, predation, defence, life history, seasonality and the biology of butterflies. The rest of the book is organised by taxonomic classification covering the six families of Rhopalocera (butterflies).

A total of 280 species of butterflies are featured in the book, with descriptions of an additional 190 species. Each species is described in relative detail - identifying features, distribution, subspecies, habits and habitats. There is also a complete classification of the butterfly genera of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand at the concluding chapter of the book.

So, on the 24 April 2014, let us welcome a new addition to the references of our South East Asian butterfly fauna. The book will be sold during the launch. The author, Dr Laurence Kirton, will be on hand to autograph copies of the books at the launch, which is a private and by-invitation only event.  

The book will be available for sale at major bookstores as well as Amazon and various online portals.  For our overseas readers and members of the public who would like to order a copy of the book, please contact the distributor at :

Pansing Distribution Pte Ltd
1 New Industrial Road, Times Centre, Singapore 536196
Tel : +65 6319 9939
Email : infobooks@pansing.com

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK.  Book photos courtesy of John Beaufoy Publishing, UK

10 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Baron

Butterflies Galore!
The Baron (Euthalia aconthea gurda)

The Baron can usually be found in urban parks and gardens in the vicinity of where its caterpillar host plant, the mango (mangifera indica) is grown. It is a powerful flyer, like most of its related species in the Euthalia genus. Characteristic features are its robust body and flap-glide flying style.

This female Baron was shot just outside my driveway, puddling on the tarmac road where there were some damp patches after I had just watered my plants during the recent dry spell. The butterfly was probably looking for moisture that it could not find in the environment after more than a month of rainless weather. The post-discal spots on the forewing of the female Baron can be quite variable, as described in this earlier blog article.

07 April 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Black Veined Tiger

Butterflies Galore!
The Black Veined Tiger (Danaus melanippus hegesippus)

This "Tiger" is a moderately common species in Singapore, but is usually seen singly. It is attracted to the flowers and dried plant of the Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum) whenever this plant is grown. The species resembles the more commonly-encountered Common Tiger (Danaus genutia genutia) but its broader hindwing marginal border and white hindwings sets it apart from its closely-related cousin. Both species are distant relatives of the famous American Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

This individual was photographed at the newly re-opened Butterfly Garden at Hort Park, returning again and again to the pale violet flowers of the Indian Heliotrope to feed.

05 April 2014

Life History of the Common Rose

Life History of the Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Pachliopta Reakirt, 1865
Species: aristolochiae
Fabricius, 1793
Subspecies: asteris
Rothschild, 1908
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 65-85mm

Caterpillar Local Host Plants:  Aristolochia acuminata (Aristolochiaceae, common names: Indian Birthwort, Dutchman's Pipe), Aristolochia elegans (Aristolochiaceae, common names: Calico flower, Pipe Vine).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, both sexes are black with the distal part of the forewing grey-shaded between the veins.The hindwing has a large white post-discal patch and a number of greyish-red submarginal crescent-shaped spots. Underneath, both sexes bear similar markings as per the upperside, but with the submarginal spots on the hindwing rounded and in striking red. The hindwing has a moderately long tail at vein 4. The body is bright red. The female has rounder wing contours than the male.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Common Rose is moderately common in Singapore and are often observed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Zoo, Hort Park and other locations where its host plants, Aristolochia spp., are cultivated. The adults are strong flyers and have been observed to visit flowers and puddle on wet ground.