28 February 2015

Life History of the Grand Imperial

Life History of the Grand Imperial (Neocheritra amrita amrita)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Neocheritra Distant, 1885
Species: amrita
C & R Felder, 1860
Sub-species: amrita C & R Felder, 1860

Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 36-40mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plant:
To be identified.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the male is dark brown with inner and basal halves of both wings in shining blue. The female is almost entirely brown. Both sexes have whitened tornal areas in the hindwing bearing large black quadrate marginal and submarginal spots. On the underside, both sexes are mainly yellowish orange but white in the lower half of the hindwing. Black post-discal striae are present in the tornal half of the hindwing. In the forewing, the basal part of vein 12 is not black (this is a key characteristic for distinguishing the Grand Imperial from the Great Imperial). In the hindwing, there are whitish tails at the end of veins 1b and 2 with the one at vein 1b much longer (about 2.5x as long as the one at vein 2) and fluffy in appearance.

A sunbathing female Grand Imperial displaying its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
This species is rare in Singapore. The handful of sightings took place mainly in the catchment reserves, as well as the offshore island, Pulau Tekong. The adults have a graceful flight and typically perch with its wings closed upright between flights. In sunny weather, however, they have been observed to sun-bathe with wings fully open. They are sometimes sighted while hanging around a flowering plant for their nectar intake.

21 February 2015

Favourite Nectaring Plants #6

Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants
The Javanese Ixora (Ixora javanica)

This 6th instalment of our Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants series features a species of the family Rubiaceae, Ixora javanica. The genus Ixora comprise a number of species, which are generally bushy plants with bright red, pink, orange, yellow and white flowers. These plants are typically used as accent plants (particularly the red flowered cultivar) in landscapes in our parks and gardens.

The attractive bunches of red flowers make the Ixora a good choice for garden border hedges and as standalone feature bushes. In Singapore, the red and yellow varieties are more often cultivated in our urban streetscape and gardens. Other species like Ixora coccinea, Ixora siamensis (dwarf cultivar), Ixora chinensis and others are also cultivated, often together with Ixora javanica in our urban greenery, often making the identification of the various Ixora spp. rather confusing.

Plant Biodata :
Family : Rubiaceae
Genus : Ixora
Species : javanica
Synonyms : I. amara, I. amoena, I. cyathosperma
Country/Region of Origin : Tropical Southeast Asia
English Common Names : Javanese Ixora, Jungle Geranium, Jungle Flame
Other Local Names : Todong Periuk, Pechah Periuk, Bunga Siantan, Jejarum/Jarum-Jarum, 爪哇龍船花

The Javanese Ixora is a native plant in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. In Singapore, most of the Javanese Ixora bushes are cultivated and the plant appears in many parks and gardens as part of the horticultural palette of the garden designers. One species of the genus, Ixora congesta occurs naturally in the forests and is common on Pulau Ubin.

The short petiole (the stalk attaching the leaf blade to the stem) is a distinguishing feature

An evergreen shrub that grows up to 3 m tall, the Javanese Ixora features light green, elliptic-oblong leaves ranging from 10-25cm long. The leaves can sometimes be corrugated, but has a distinct short petiole, which is one of the diagnostic features to distinguish this Ixora from closely related ones. The leaves are paired and tend to droop downwards.

Inflorescence and flowers of the red and yellow cultivars of Ixora javanica

The inflorescence has quite a long peduncle, and the small tubular flowers have 4 obovate lobes arranged in a cross-like pattern, with the lobes bluntly pointed. Freshly opened flowers are red-orange, slowly turning red as they mature. Flowers are arranged in large, dense clusters that are about 7.6 cm wide.

Berry-like fruits of Ixora javanica

After pollination, the flowers die off, leaving the remaining stems on the clusters. Green, berry-like fruits appear, growing up to about 8-10mm in diameter and turning purple-black as they mature. The Ixora bushes also tend to get woody as the bushes grow older and may need to be pruned regularly to maintain its lush form and ability to flower regularly.

I recall that in my younger days, we pulled out the stamen from each flower, and usually attached to the ends of the stamens would be a drop of nectar which we savoured. The distinct sweetness of the flower's nectar is likely to be what attracts myriad insects to the flowers to feed.

Ixora javanica bushes at a Reservoir Park

In Singapore, many parks, gardens, park connectors, natureways and urban landscapes which have been cultivated to enhance our biodiversity features the Javanese Ixora. Favourite butterfly-photography (and birds too!) locations that feature this plant are Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill, Jurong Eco Gardens, Gardens By the Bay, Upper Seletar Reservoir Park and Upper Peirce Reservoir Park, to name a few.

Swallowtails galore!  Papilionidae species feeding on both the red and yellow flowers of Ixora javanica

Given the structure of the flower and the relative concentration of nectar, the flowers of the Javanese Ixora are attractive to both large and small butterflies. Amongst the larger Papilionidae that feed on the flowers are the Common Birdwing, Great Mormon, Common Mormon, Banded Swallowtail and Common Mime. As is typical with the Papilinidae, the butterflies are usually in flight, with their forewings flapping rapidly, whilst their hindwings are kept still and then probing their proboscis into the flower in search of nectar.

Pieridae species feeding on red and yellow flowers of Ixora javanica

Amongst the other families, we have come across Pieridae, various other subfamilies of the Nymphalidae, all medium or fairly large butterflies, feeding on the flowers of the Ixora javanica. The typical behaviour of these butterflies when feeding on Ixora is that they move from flower to flower whilst perched on the flower, constantly probing with their proboscis as they feed on the nectar from each flower.

Interestingly, the Danainae are not often photographed feeding on Ixora. Perhaps the Crows and Tigers prefer other flowering plants to the Ixoras? It would be an interesting subject to research how plants attract butterflies to their flowers, and why certain families or sub-families of butterflies are not attracted to certain flowers.

Lycaenidae species feeding on Ixora javanica.  Note their fine proboscis probing into the flower

Many species of the Lycaenidae have also been recorded on Ixora javanica flowers - one of which is exceedingly rare in Singapore - the Golden Royal (Pseudotajuria donatana donatana). A female was recorded feeding on Ixora some time in 2005. It was almost 10 years later in 2013, that another individual was photographed in the field.

Hesperiidae species on flowers of Ixora javanica

The Skippers also feed on the flowers of the Ixora javanica. It is interesting to observe as the species like the Hoary Palmer and Conjoined Swift, using their extra long proboscis to probe deep into the Ixora flower, almost like anglers "fly-fishing" with their long lines!

So there you have it, our sixth butterfly nectaring plant, the Javanese Ixora (Ixora javanica) and some examples of the butterflies that visit it to feed. So when you are out in our parks and gardens, take a closer look whenever you encounter the Javanese Ixora bushes, and you may be delighted by the variety of butterflies that are attracted to the flowers.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Koh CH,  Loke PF, Horace Tan, Tan CP and Anthony Wong

References : 

The Concise Flora of Singapore : Hsuan Keng Singapore University Press, 1990
1001 Garden Plants in Singapore : Boo Chih Min, Kartini Omar-Hor and Ou-Yang Chow Lin, National Parks Board, 2nd Edition 2007
Plants in Tropical Cities : Boo Chih Min, Sharon Chew and Jean Yong, 2014
A Guide to the WildFlowers of Singapore : Foo Tok Shiew, Singapore Science Centre, 1985

Other Favourite Nectaring Plants in this series :

#1 : Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica)
#2 : Stringbush (Cordia cylindristachya)
#3 : Prickly Lantana (Lantana camara)
#4 : Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica)
#5 : Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra)

14 February 2015

Life History of the Blue Nawab

Life History of the Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Polyura Billberg, 1820
Species: schreibers Linnaeus, 1758
Subspecies: tisamenus Fruhstorfer, 1911
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 60-80mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Adenanthera pavonina (Fabaceae, common name: Red Saga), Nephelium lappaceum (Sapindaceae, common name: Rambutan), Acacia auriculiformis (Fabaceae, common name: Earleaf acacia), Ceiba pentandra (Malvaceae, common name: Silk-cotton Tree), Bruguiera cylindrica (Rhizophoraceae, common name: Bakau Putih).

A female Blue Nawab giving us a view of its upperside.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
The forewing has a strongly arched costa, a pointed apex and a concave termen. The hindwing has a pair of short stubby tails, longer and more pointed in the female. On the upperside, the Blue Nawab is brownish black with a whitish median band, broadly edged in blue, stretching across both wings. The white band is broader in the female. On the underside, the Blue Nawab is silvery white and is marked with bluish and brownish bands and spots.

A male Blue Nawab giving us a view of its upperside.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
Blue Nawab is moderately rare in Singapore. They can be found in urban parks, gardens, forested areas and mangrove wetlands. The adults are large-sized, heavy-bodies butterflies with rapid and strong flights. They have a habit of perching high at tree-top level and have also been observed to puddle on wet grounds, carrion and faeces.

07 February 2015

Butterfly of the Month - February 2015

Butterfly of the Month - February 2015
The Grand Imperial (Neocheritra amrita amrita)

We're into the Lunar New Year month of 2015, where the Chinese community celebrate the incoming Year of the Goat (or sometimes referred to as the Sheep or Ram as alternative references in the animal horoscope). In the Chinese Zodiac system, the Goat is the 8th animal amongst the 12 animals in the cycle of the Great Race to meet the Jade Emperor.

The Year of the Goat in 2015 starts on 19 Feb and ends on 7 Feb 2016. According to the Chinese Calendar, the element for 2015 is wood and the lucky colour is green (good for us nature lovers and the environmentalists!). Coupled with the Goat being the 8th animal in the Zodiac, and the Chinese affinity for the number 8 being a lucky number, we start the Lunar New Year with lots of luck!

The Goat's personality, according to the mythological beliefs, tends towards those born under this sign to be disorganized, thinkers, creative, and places importance on appearances. Notwithstanding these general attributes, we hope that 2015 will be a year of global success and peace.

Speaking of peace, the last few weeks of the turbulent Year of the Horse in 2014, displayed a rather disturbing trend of extreme individuals and groups with suicidal and sadistic tendencies taking terrorism to unprecedented depths. In the past two months alone, we have had terrorist situations in Australia and France - two countries that would have seldom been associated with terrorist bombings and shootings. And then the grim ISIS madness gripped the world again, with the mindless executions of two Japanese prisoners by beheading, and the burning of a captive Jordanian pilot. A video of the execution spread through cyberspace prompting worldwide condemnation.

A Grand Imperial shot on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand.  This is the same subspecies found in Malaysia and Singapore
© Antonio Giudici

This time, even the Islamic world was shocked at the wanton killing of totally defenceless men by the ISIS terrorists in the name of Islam. These soulless murderers are certainly not deserving of preaching any religion whatsoever, except one of absolute and darkest evil. That the execution of one of their own prompted a retaliation counterstrike by the Jordanian Air Force is not going to help peace in that part of the world, even as we wonder how this would end for ISIS?

Coming back to our more innocent butterfly world, the rains of the Northeast monsoons have pretty much dried up, and the weather is a bit more conducive for butterfly outings here in Singapore. However, butterfly activity is still generally low, particularly in the forested areas. An interesting observation (purely anecdotal though) to note is that the Hesperiidae (or Skippers) appear to be the first to make their presence felt more prominently, compared to the other butterfly families.

This month, we feature an attractive long-tailed Lycaenidae, the Grand Imperial. This pretty "Hairstreak", arguably the largest member of the family in Singapore if measured from wingtip to the ends of its long tails, is considered a rare species. Usually found in Singapore's forested nature reserves, it tends to stay in the shady forest understory, flitting amongst the thick shrubbery.

My first encounter with this species was on the military-controlled island of Pulau Tekong - an island on the northeastern coast of Singapore, measuring about 25 km2. Having had the opportunity to participate in NParks biodiversity surveys in the early 2000's on Pulau Tekong, I encountered a colony of this species quite regularly on the island. Perhaps the undisturbed forested areas was conducive for the Grand Imperial, and the highest count in terms of numbers was 8 individuals on one outing.

Over on mainland Singapore, the species is shy and remains in the sanctuary of the forested nature reserves. The caterpillar host plant is a parasitic plant, which appears to be uncommon in the forested areas. The life history is being documented, and will be featured on this blog in the near future.

A female Grand Imperial sunbathes with open wings, showing its brown upperside

The Grand Imperial has a deep bluish green upperside in the male, with broad black apical forewing tips. Females are a drab brown above and unmarked on the forewings but features large black marginal and submarginal spots on the hindwings.

A male Grand Imperial feeding on the flowers of a tree

The underside of the Grand Imperial is predominantly orange on the forewings, and the costal half of the hindwing. The rest of the hindwing is pure white. The hindwing bears a long tail at vein 2, where this long white tail is usually equal to the dimension of the fore and hindwing of the butterfly. There is an additional shorter tail at vein 3 of the hindwing.

A male Grand Imperial. Note the circular "disc" on the underside of its hindwing

Where found, the female is the commoner sex, and sometimes more than one individual can be sighted. Males tend to stay at treetop level and occasionally stop with their wings opened flat to sunbathe. Females are sometimes found in the vicinity of its caterpillar host plant closer to the ground.

A Grand Imperial takes cover under a leaf

The Grand Imperial flies with its long white tails trailing elegantly behind as it flits in the shady forested areas. Females have an interesting habit of hiding under leaves, resting upside down, probably to hide from predators. As it rests, the long tails twirl actively, as though they are alive, and this movement may fool predators to attacking the tails and tornal area of the hindwing, missing the critical parts of the butterfly when attacked, allowing it to escape. However, when alarmed, the butterfly will take to the treetops very quickly.

As we celebrate the Lunar New Year and welcome the Year of the Goat, all of us at ButterflyCircle would like to wish all our Chinese readers...

"Gong Xi Fa Cai and a Happy & Prosperous Lunar New Year!"

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Jerome Chua, Antonio Giudici, Khew SK, Nelson Ong and Simon Sng