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A Tribute to Nature's Flying Jewels

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  • 07/08/18--06:30: The Butterfly Labial Palps
  • The Butterfly Labial Palps

    Labial Palps of the Butterfly - Its Olfactory Sensory System

    The exceptionally hairy labial palps of a Common Three Ring

    Every butterfly possesses labial palps (or palpi) - a pair of hairy, moustache-like scaly appendages on the head of the butterfly. These palps are covered with sensory hairs and are believed to help a butterfly "taste" food sources and identify what is potentially edible and what is not. The labial palps are multi-segmented external organs and vary in size and shape across the different families of butterflies.

    There are also other theories that suggest that the labial palps of a butterfly serves other functions. For example, one theory suggests that the pair of palps, given their symmetrical location on both sides of the proboscis, could offer some form of physical protection for the proboscis. It would appear to be highly plausible in some species, where the proboscis is completely hidden by the labial palps until the proboscis is uncoiled for feeding. However, in other species, the size of the labial palps is not adequately large enough to cover even half of the coiled proboscis, leaving the proboscis exposed.

    © Encyclopedia Britannica (left) and © NC State University (right)

    Another suggestion of the function of the labial palps would be that the long hairs covering the palps act as some form of filters and protect the eyes from being contaminated as the butterfly feeds at flowers or when puddling. Again, the extent to which this may be true or not, varies from species to species, from the extremely hairy labial palps of a Satyrinae butterfly, to the smooth and more robust labial palps of some of the Nymphalidae.

    In field observations, one can observe the movement of the labial palps when the butterfly uncoils its proboscis to feed. The muscles in the head of the butterfly appears to be able to control the antennae, proboscis and the labial palps independently but yet at the same time, coordinated enough to allow maximum efficiency for the butterfly to fulfil its primary objective to extract as much food source as possible when it feeds.

    The physical appearance of the labial palps varies quite a bit across the different families of butterflies. In some cases, the palps are short and plump and held closely to the head of the butterfly. In other examples, the palps are extremely hairy, whilst some are stubby and smooth. Some species have the last segment of the palps modified and stick out like a pair of horns, and some examples show the palps sticking rigidly and extending beyond the head of the butterfly like a snout.

    The labial palps of the Club Beak butterfly (Libythea sp.) gives it an appearance of  a face with a snout

    A unique example of the labial palps evolving into something remarkable in a butterfly would be the "Club Beak Butterflies" or "Snout Butterflies". Although these species do not fly in Singapore, they are distinctive enough to be mentioned and shown here as an example of butterflies where the extended labial palps gives them an appearance of having a long snout.

    The labial palps of the Papilionidae are compact with short hairs

    Let us now take a look at this examples of this morphological feature across the different species in the families that can be found here in Singapore. Amongst the large Papilionidae, it can be observed that the labial palps of the majority of the species in this family are compact and held close to the head of the butterfly. The hairs of the labial palps sometimes take on the bright colours of the butterfly's body, like in the Common Rose.

    The labial palps of the Common Rose takes on red hairs and gives it a distinct appearance

    Given the long and thick proboscis of the Papilionidae and the comparatively compact labial palps, it is obvious that the palpi does not cover nor protect the proboscis at all, unlike some other butterfly species that we will see in the later part of this article. The sensory hairs on the labial palps are also short and thick and does not in any way extend out in front of the head of the butterfly.

    In the next family, the Pieridae, the labial palps are also compact but are generally covered with longer and thicker hairs. Species from the subfamily Pierinae have labial palps covered with longer hairs and the last segment of the palps ends in a sharp point. Species from the subfamily Coliadinae, however, have compact labial palps and do not have the last segment ending in a point.

    The large butterflies in the subfamily Danainae of the Nymphalidae family have compact and rather indistinct labial palps covered in short hairs. The last segment of the palps ends in a short stubby tip. The compact labial palps do not cover the proboscis completely when coiled - the proboscis is partially exposed and extends beyond the labial palps.

    The labial palps of this Malay Baron gives it a beak-like look when viewed from the top

    The Tawny Coster's labial palps are covered with yellow-coloured hairs

    There is a wide variety of shapes of the labial palps of the several subfamilies of the Nymphalidae. Some are covered in sparse and fine hairs, like the Malay Lacewing, whilst others, like the butterflies of the Baron genus, have short stubby labial palps that look like a beak when the butterfly is viewed dorsally.

    The genera Ypthima and Mycalesis features butterflies with exceptionally hairy labial palps, giving them an appearance of an unshaven face.

    Of special mention are some species from the subfamily Satyrinae that feature exceptionally long hairs on their labial palps, giving the butterfly an appearance of an unshaven face. These long hairs on the palps completely hide the proboscis from view.

    The Riodinidae butterflies have very compact labial palps with short hairs that can conceal their thin and short proboscis completely

    The Riodinidae butterflies have very compact labial palps with very short hairs covering them. The palps are held tightly against the head and completely hide the short thin proboscis of the majority of the species in this family of butterflies.

    The labial palps of this Curetis sp. are speckled with red spots

    Amongst the Lycaenidae, the labial palps of many species have sharp distinct terminal segments protruding beyond the head. In some species, the extended labial palps give the butterfly an appearance of having a snout. Species from the Curetinae subfamily have red spots on the palps and are diagnostic features for separating the species in the group.

    This Biggs' Brownwing has long labial palps that look like horns on the butterfly's head

    Species from the Miletinae subfamily have long, smooth labial palps making the butterflies appear to have a second set of short horn-like antennae from its face. The thin proboscis is hidden between the labial palps.

    Labial palps of various shapes and sizes amongst the Lycaenidae butterflies

    Other species amongst the Blues and Hairstreaks have labial palps extending way beyond its compound eyes and is prominently featured like pointed horns sticking out from the butterfly's head. In several species, the labial palps are coloured distinctly.

    The labial palps of this Yellow Banded Awl are broad and covered with short hairs. The terminal segments end in two needle-like appendages sticking out from the face of the butterfly

    Finally, amongst the Hesperiidae, the labial palps of many of these robust-bodied species of butterflies are wide and covered with short thick hairs. The terminal segment of the labial palps of several species from the Coeliadinae subfamily end in a short, smooth needle-like points emerging from the head of the butterfly.

    The thick and wide labial palps in skippers can almost hide its long proboscis

    This Yellow Chequered Lancer extends its labial palps away from its face, making it appear strange

    This newly-eclosed Orange Awlet extends and adjusts its labial palps (left) before retracting them close to its face (right) 

    A unique behaviour amongst the Hesperiidae is that the butterfly can extend the labial palps beyond its face, pushing the palps forward in a remarkable fashion, making the face of the butterfly appear strange. In newly-eclosed individuals, this behaviour is also sometimes observed, as the butterfly extends its labial palps. In the majority of species of Hesperiidae, the wide and significant labial palps are able to almost totally conceal the coiled proboscis.

    When you are out in the field next, do take a much closer look for this unique morphological feature in butterflies and share any special observations that you may have of the labial palps of butterflies.

    Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Bobby Mun and Nelson Ong

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    Butterfly Gardens

    Importance of Interpretative Signage

    In recent times, there has been a greater interest in setting up free-ranging butterfly gardens (not the enclosed gardens in a zoo-like environment) in both private and public premises. Over the years, our local knowledge about butterflies and their caterpillar host plants has increased through field observations and breeding efforts by amateur butterfly enthusiasts. Hence, if an individual or organisation wishes to set up their own butterfly garden, it is a simple case of cultivating the right caterpillar host plants, nectaring plants and creating a butterfly-friendly habitat, and then waiting for the winged jewels to appear!

    Well, maybe not that overly simple! In creating a free-ranging butterfly garden, one has to look at the chosen site in relation to the surroundings, the catchment areas nearby, a quick baseline survey of the butterfly species in the vicinity, and then choose the right plants to attract the butterflies. A very important critical success factor of butterfly gardens is that there should be minimal or no spraying of pesticides at or near the site.

    Interpretative sign in front of Pomelo bush at Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

    And so there have been quite a few butterfly gardens and trails created all around Singapore. Some are, of course, more successful than others, depending on the people who are maintaining the butterfly garden (usually Town Council, NParks, other government agencies and volunteers) and the sustained interest of key leaders in the community. However, creating a butterfly garden does not just end there. Whilst there may be butterflies fluttering around, it would be a missed opportunity if there were no interpretative and educational signage to educate the general public about butterflies. Otherwise, visitors who are less acquainted with butterflies, caterpillars, host plants and so on, will be none the wiser after visiting the butterfly garden.

    Interpretative sign in front of a bamboo grove at Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin, showcasing some butterfly species whose caterpillars feed on bamboo

    This is where interpretative signage becomes an important element for education and creating a better awareness of the ecological requirements of butterflies and plants. Two years ago, ButterflyCircle had the privilege of working together with the National Parks Board to put up a series of interpretative signs for the Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin.

    Butterfly's eye view of Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

    The creation of the Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin started way back in 2005 when a barren knoll just next to the Jelutong Campsite on Pulau Ubin was cultivated with butterfly attracting plants as an initial experiment to create a butterfly-friendly habitat. It was almost a decade in the making, when the hill became a very successful butterfly garden and is often teeming with butterflies on an ideal sunny day. Today, it is definitely a 'must-go' destination for butterfly watchers.

    NParks then decided to work on a series of interpretative signs to create awareness about butterflies, showcase the butterfly species that can be regularly seen on Butterfly Hill, and their close association with plants. This blog article is a narrative of the 15 educational signs, mounted on pedestals and scattered around strategic spots at Butterfly Hill.

    The introductory sign located at the entrance of Butterfly Hill tells the story of how this butterfly garden came to be

    The introductory sign tells the story of how Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin came about and how many species of plants are cultivated at the football field sized butterfly garden. The sign is strategically located at the primary entrance to Butterfly Hill where visitors can stop by to learn about this conservation project that started with a collaborative effort between NParks and ButterflyCircle more than 10 years ago.

    The next couple of signs give an overview about butterflies in general, their ecological role in nature, biology and differences between butterflies and moths. The language is kept as simple as possible so that readers do not find it too difficult to understand the educational message that is being conveyed. Both these signs are located at the top of the knoll near the shelter.

    The next 12 signs describes the butterfly species that are found in the vicinity of Butterfly Hill and their relationship to plants of particular interest e.g. nectaring plants, caterpillar host plants and other feature plants. Often, where possible, the signs are located strategically next to where these plants are cultivated. Each sign also features a QR code, which brings you to NParks FloraWeb where you can learn even more details about the plant featured on the sign.

    The interpretative sign about the Crown Flower, and the location of the sign in front of a clump of Crown Flower plants educates the visitor about the butterfly-plant relationship of the Plain Tiger and Crown Flower

    For example, where the Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea), the caterpillar host plant of the Plain Tiger is grown, the interpretative sign that describes the plant and butterfly is located just in front of a clump of the Crown Flower plants. Often, as one reads the sign, the Plain Tiger will be fluttering in full sight of the visitor, and frequently ovipositing on the leaves of the plant. If one looks a bit closer, one may even find the caterpillars feeding on the plant. This makes the information on the sign very effective if the visitor can connect immediately, the butterfly and its host plant from field observations.

    Another plant of interest is the Rattle Weed (Crotalaria retusa). Whilst the plant is neither a host nor a nectaring plant, the Rattle Weed contains alkaloids which many Danainae butterflies love. This unique plant attracts these Crow and Tiger butterflies and the relationship of this plant to the butterflies is immediately evident to visitors.

    Interpretative sign with information about nectaring plants for butterflies

    And then there are signs that depict the butterflies' favourite nectaring plants like the Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta indica) and the String Bush (Cordia cylindristachya). Again, the plant details are described so that the visitor can learn more about these plants, as well as the butterflies that visit them to feed on the nectar from the flowers.

    Various caterpillar host plants that support their respective butterfly species at Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

    The remaining interpretative signs depicting host plants of specific butterflies like the Bamboo, Chinese Violet, Batoko Plum, Lime and Pomelo and others are also carefully located where these plants are cultivated. To attract the butterflies whose caterpillars feed on these host plants, various nectaring plants are planted nearby so that visitors can chance on these butterflies when they feed on the flowers.

    Caterpillar host plant Seven Golden Candlesticks (Senna alata) are cultivated behind the interpretative signage displaying information about the plant and the butterflies that are associated with it 

    In conclusion, whilst designing and creating a butterfly garden is not difficult with the correct information on plants and the myriad of information available on the internet, it is also important not to miss the opportunity to create awareness and promote the conservation of butterflies through the use of interpretative and educational signage that help to spread the knowledge about our butterflies. So the next time you visit Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin, do take some time and learn more about butterflies and the plants that are associated with the butterflies.

    Text by Khew SK ; Photos by Khew SK and Robert Teo

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    Butterfly of the Month - July 2018
    The Purple Bush Brown (Mycalesis orseis nautilus)

    The month of July 2018 will probably be most remembered for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, a miraculous cavern rescue in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and the major cybersecurity breach of personal data in Singapore. We live in interesting times, and there are often outcomes that are still unpredictable, like who would win the World Cup, despite all means (including cats, birds and anything that can be believed!) of soothsaying by those who gambled away small fortunes.

    A Purple Bush Brown found in southern Thailand - same subspecies as the one in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore

    So France won the 2018 World Cup. Along the way, the usually successful Latin American teams dropped like flies, and so did defending champions Germany. Asian teams didn't make it far into the games, with only Japan remaining in the last 16 before bowing out to Belgium despite leading 2-0. The next World Cup in 2022 will be held in Doha, Qatar, and the games shifted to the end of the year to avoid the 40+ degrees summer heat in the Middle Eastern nation.

    Then over in the sleepy provincial town of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, a group of 12 teenagers and their football coach decided to take an excursion into the cave complex at Tham Luang. As this is the monsoon season in northern Thailand, the torrential storms caused flash floods that cut off the group's exit as rain water flooded the passages. A search-and-rescue operation commenced and it was only after more than 10 days of searching that they were found on a ledge more than 3km into the cave complex.

    The rescue operation that followed was described as nothing short of a miracle, as the personnel involved took great risks to bring a group of boys out through the treacherous labyrinth, many parts of which were totally submerged. All in all, it was a successful rescue operation with all the boys and their coach making it out with much difficulty. Sadly, there was one casualty, a Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of air whilst playing a crucial support role of bringing oxygen tanks and placing them along the route for the rescuers.

    The Purple Bush Brown is often encountered flying low amongst the undergrowth, in deep forest shade, perching on the top of a leaf or blade of grass.  

    Back home in Singapore, hackers infiltrated the government's health database and stole the confidential records of over 1.5 million patients, including the Prime Minister's drug prescriptions. Whilst the government had to soothe alarmed patients whose personal data had been compromised, the government's Cyber Security Agency will be busy patching up vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the IT system. In this cyber age and the era of connectivity, I cannot imagine having to go back to the paper and filing systems of the last millennium. Hence it is a risk that the government and any private company will have to face and resolve, moving forward.

    We move back to our butterfly world with our feature butterfly of the month of July 2018. This month's butterfly is the Purple Bush Brown (Mycalesis orseis nautilus). The species is adorned with ocelli (or eye spots) on the margins of both wings and is one of many similar-looking species in the Mycalesis genus, often referred to as Bush Browns.

    In Singapore, the Purple Bush Brown is the rarest species amongst the six species found here. However, the ocelli are distinctive and identification of the Purple Bush Brown is less challenging when compared to separating a few of its other close cousins. The Purple Bush Brown has prominent and distinct yellow-ringed ocelli that are rather uniform in size.

    Individuals of this species have a full complement of ocelli on both wings with rather crisp colours and distinct outlines on the ocelli. The relatively uniform post-discal band is broad and faintly violet-washed in pristine individuals. There is a thin dark brown sub-basal line on both wings.

    The butterfly is rather local in distribution and is considered rare in Singapore. It is a forest-dependent species and is not encountered beyond the sanctuary of heavily shaded forested areas in the nature reserves. It is usually observed singly, flying low amongst the undergrowth and grasses in heavy shade.

    The Purple Bush Brown has also been observed to feed on overripe fallen fruits on the forest floor. The life history of this species has not been recorded yet in Singapore, although its caterpillars are likely to feed on a type of grass, like many of its other closely related species in the sub-family Satyrinae.

    Text by Khew SK : Photos by Antonio Giudici, Federick Ho, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Billy Oh, Tan CP and Benjamin Yam.

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  • 07/28/18--05:11: Sergeants of Singapore
  • The Sergeants of Singapore
    Featuring the 5 Athyma species in Singapore

    A female form-neftina Colour Sergeant feeds on the ripened fruit of the Straits Rhododendron

    The genus Athyma comprises of butterflies with rather robust bodies and are powerful fliers. They belong to the subfamily Limetidinae of the family Nymphalidae. The butterflies have a horizontal striped appearance, usually black and white in the males, and females in some species that have the white bands replaced with either orange or brown.

    A Common Sergeant (Athyma perius perius) that is no longer found in Singapore today

    The are currently five extant species of the Athyma species in Singapore - often referred to as "Sergeants" by their English common names. There was a sixth species recorded from Singapore by the early authors - Common Sergeant (Athyma perius perius), but this species has not been seen in the wild for almost five or more decades in Singapore, and no longer considered an extant species here.

    A male Colour Sergeant (Athyma nefte subrata) perches on a leaf

    The other five "Sergeant" species continued to be regularly observed in Singapore over the years, with some more common than others. They are medium-sized butterflies with wingspans averaging between 55mm to 65mm. This blog post features all the five species and compares their differences and diagnostic features to distinguish and identify them.

    The Lance Sergeant (Athyma pravara helma)

    A Lance Sergeant.  Note the cell streak on the forewing which is complete and unbroken

    The Lance Sergeant is the most distinctive of these black-and-white Sergeants in Singapore. The cell streak on the forewing is unbroken and club-like and this sets it apart from all the other Athymas found in Singapore.

    It was a recent new discovery to Singapore, recorded in the mid-1990's and added to the Singapore Checklist. It has made a regular appearance thereafter, usually spotted when feeding on the ripened fruits of the Straits/Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) and at flowering Syzygium trees.

    It can be occasionally observed puddling at damp muddy footpaths in the nature reserves. The full life history has been recorded on a species of Uncaria found in the forested nature reserves of Singapore. In terms of size, the Lance Sergeant is probably the smallest of the five Athymas found in Singapore.

    The Colour Sergeant (Athyma nefte subrata)

    A male Colour Sergeant sunbathing.  Note the blue sheen on the white bands

    The Colour Sergeant is the most often seen species amongst the Athymas in Singapore. It can be observed at urban parks and gardens as well as in the nature reserves. The males are black and white striped in the usual Sergeant look, but the white stripes appear bluish when viewed with angled lighting.

    A female Colour Sergeant - form-subrata

    A female Colour Sergeant - form-neftina

    The females of this species occur in two forms - the orange-and-black form-neftina and the brown-and-black form-subrata. The orange female form is the commoner of the two forms. The undersides are usually paler in colour with a more washed-out appearance.

    A female Colour Sergeant form-neftina feeding on the ripened fruit of the Straits Rhododendron

    Males are fond of perching on the top surfaces of leaves with wings opened flat, and 'attacking' intruders that wander into its space. Both sexes are often found feeding greedily on the ripened fruits of the Straits/Singapore Rhododendron.

    The Dot-Dash Sergeant (Athyma kanwa kanwa)

    The strange English common name of this Sergeant probably came from its cell streak which ends in a triangular 'dot'. The species is largely forest-dependent and is not often found outside the sanctuary of the nature reserves in Singapore. It is rare, and usually spotted singly.

    A Dot-Dash Sergeant sunbathing with its wings opened flat.  Note the narrow cell-end streak and the sharp and angular spot at the end of the streak

    A powerful flyer like its other cousins in the group, it sports the flap-glide flight characteristic of the other Sergeants. It is skittish and alert, making it a challenge to photograph it, as any slight disturbance will spook it to speed away and up to the treetops.

    A puddling Dot-Dash Sergeant

    The Dot-Dash Sergeant has the usual black-and-white stripes on its wings. The cell streak on the forewing above is separated from the triangular spot (which is sharp and angular). The underside is a greyish-brown.

    The Malay Staff Sergeant (Athyma reta moorei)

    A Malay Staff Sergeant.  Note the twice-constricted cell streak on the forewing

    The Malay Staff Sergeant is probably the rarest of the genus in Singapore, and is usually observed within the forested areas in the nature reserves. As with most of its other cousins, it is usually spotted singly, either sunbathing on the tops of leaves, or feeding at flowering plants.

    The species is also known to puddle at damp muddy footpaths. The distinguishing markings of the Malay Staff Sergeant is the twice constricted white cell streak and the triangular spot is separated from this streak. The triangular spot is also more rounded compared to the Dot-Dash Sergeant's sharper and angular shape.

    The Studded Sergeant (Athyma asura idita)

    A puddling Studded Sergeant.  Note the black centred submarginal white spots on the hindwings

    The Studded Sergeant is the largest member of the Athyma genus found in Singapore. It is also a forest-dependent species but is also regularly spotted in the vicinity of mangrove areas at Pulau Ubin and Sg Buloh Wetland Reserve.

    A Studded Sergeant with wings folded upright.  Note the black-centred apical spots on the forewing

    The cell streak is narrow and the cell-end spot is small and rounded. The unique feature of the Studded Sergeant is the black-centred white spots at the submarginal band of the hindwing. In the local subspecies, the spots are sometimes indistinct. The apical spots on the forewing are also black-centred.

    The colourful caterpillar of the Studded Sergeant

    The Studded Sergeant has been locally bred on two host plants - Ilex cymosa (Aquifoliaceae), and another unidentified Ilex species in the nature reserve. The caterpillar is attractive, with bright blue spots on a green body amidst sharp spines.

    A Studded Sergeant feeding at the flowers of the Mile-a-Minute weed

    And there you have it, the five "Sergeants" that you can spot in Singapore. And the next time you encounter one, you can hopefully be equipped to identify which of these Sergeants that you have spotted!

    Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Anthony Wong

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  • 08/05/18--04:46: Butterfly Survey @ Zoo
  • Butterfly Biodiversity Project
    Butterfly Survey at Mandai Zoo

    WRS Invertebrate team and ButterflyCircle members

    The Singapore Zoo, previously known as the Singapore Zoological Gardens, but often referred to by locals as the Mandai Zoo, was first opened in mid 1973. Sitting on a site of about 28 Hectares, the Singapore Zoo was one of the first to feature "open zoo" exhibits in the region, where animals are displayed in natural habitats without the use of cages.

    Over the years, the success of the Singapore Zoo, under the stewardship of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) continued. WRS also manages the popular Night Safari (the world's first nocturnal wildlife park), River Safari and the Jurong Bird Park.

    The future Mandai Nature Precinct © Mandai Park Holdings

    In 2015, Singapore investment company Temasek partnered the Singapore Government to spearhead the rejuvenation of Mandai into an integrated wildlife and nature heritage precinct in Singapore. Within the next decade or so, the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari will be joined by two new cousins, the new Bird Park and the Rainforest Park, creating an integrated nature and wildlife experience for all visitors to Mandai.

    A quick discussion before the survey commenced

    This weekend, ButterflyCircle members were invited to assist the WRS Invertebrate Team to conduct baseline surveys on butterfly biodiversity at the Singapore Zoo. The WRS Team intends to enhance butterfly biodiversity through its Butterfly Biodiversity Project in the coming months. This project aims to improve the butterfly fauna in the Mandai precinct by planting host and nectaring plants for local butterflies within the parks.

    Looking up for the butterflies!

    Our morning survey started with a short briefing by Delvinder Kaur, the coordinator of the project, and explaining the survey methodology. When we commenced the survey just past 10am in the morning, the Saturday morning crowd had already begun streaming in. The transect-based survey took us on a trail starting near the white rhino exhibit and ending at the Fragile Forest aviary.

    The overcast morning was not the most ideal weather for butterfly watching, but there were a few Lemon Emigrants, Grass Yellows and a lone Striped Albatross flying about. Delvin also explained that the trails that we were surveying were no longer fogged with pesticides and hence more butterfly-friendly.

    At the Tropical Crops patch.  The waters of the Upper Seletar Reservoir can be seen on the left of the photo

    Our walk brought us to the tropical crops area of the Zoo, which was just adjacent to the shores of Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. I recall this area from past visits to the Zoo, and where a trellis of Aristolochia acuminata, the host plant of the Common Birdwing and Common Rose, was cultivated. Both these species did not make an appearance this morning, though.

    Pupa of the Autumn Leaf

    We spotted a Leopard fluttering restlessly about, and a few more Lemon Emigrants trying to puddle at the freshly-tilled soil on the plant beds. I also noticed that the host plant of the subspecies pratipa of the Autumn Leaf still lined some of the trails around the area. We first spotted this subspecies, which is different in appearance from the subspecies bisaltide which is the more commonly observed subspecies all around Singapore, at the Zoo.

    Caterpillar and adult female of the Autumn Leaf subspecies pratipa

    Caterpillar and adult female of the Autumn Leaf subspecies bisaltide

    The caterpillar of subspecies pratipa is distinctly different from the more common bisaltide in that the spots on its body are white, instead of orange. Photographic records of subspecies pratipa dated back to Aug 2007 when we were on a survey at the Zoo. This subspecies has not been seen in Singapore in recent years. Hopefully, the caterpillars will appear at the Zoo again.

    The survey ended just near the new Reptopia exhibit, where we called it a day. We spotted a couple of Common Palmflies frolicking around the bushes. We took the opportunity to visit the Fragile Forest and the new butterfly aviary. This butterfly aviary was a recent add-on, but is facing some issues with predatory ants and a bunch of unwelcome moth caterpillars. The Clipper (Parthenos sylvia) and the orange form-chrysippus of the Plain Tiger were the two most common species flying in the aviary.

    The new butterfly aviary adjacent to the Fragile Forest

    A quick tour of the back-of-house, and visiting the breeding facilities that were still very much the same as I remembered from over 10 years ago, we ended our butterfly survey for the day. I also recall that back in 2011, the Zoo was helping to translocate the Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas) from the Mandai Orchid Garden that was being demolished. It would be good to check if this species can still be found at the Zoo.

    A female Autumn Leaf subspecies pratipa ovipositing on its host plant at the Singapore Zoo

    It was an interesting re-visit to the Zoo and we look forward to the forthcoming butterfly surveys in the months ahead. With a more targeted strategy of planting more host and nectaring plants for butterflies under the Butterfly Biodiversity Project, we hope to see a greater diversity of species at the Zoo in the near future.

    Text by Khew SK : Photos by Huang CJ, Khew SK and Horace Tan

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    Book Review : Common Butterflies of Vietnam
    Dedicated books on Vietnam Butterflies

    A recent business trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in South Vietnam led me to a local bookshop near the hotel where I stayed. Whilst browsing around the nature section, I wondered how many books I would find about the local butterfly fauna of Vietnam. The shop did not stock any, although there were quite a few other books about birds, flora and landscapes of Vietnam.

    Of the 10 ASEAN countries, relatively comprehensive hardcopy literature on butterflies can be found for Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Laos and Singapore. The remaining ASEAN countries are Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Vietnam. There are basic guidebooks and many work-in-progress books for the majority of these countries. Amongst all the books available, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay's 944-page Butterflies of Thailand Vol 2 stands out as the largest comprehensive work on Thai butterflies.

    A quick search online for books on the Butterflies of Vietnam showed that there are a couple of basic 'illustrated checklist and field guide' type of books, and a few more comprehensive work in progress. Most were authored by Dr Alexander Monastyrskii, a Russian entomologist, in collaboration with several other co-authors.

    A basic Field Guide on the Common Butterflies of Vietnam, published in 2002 is touted as the "first illustrated field guide to the Butterflies of Vietnam". This 63-page field guide, featuring 105 of the common butterfly species in Vietnam, showcases hand-drawn illustrations of butterflies. These drawings by artist Wendy Gibbs, are very accurate drawings of the actual butterflies from a set collection.

    The book opens with a foreword penned by Mr Nguyen Minh Thong, the IUCN Country representative, and Prof Vu Quang Con, the Director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in Hanoi.

    Like the majority of butterfly books, the first six pages dwell with some basic information on classification, morphology, life cycle, behaviour, ecology and conservation. Having probably been worked on in the late 1990s and early 2000's the authors used the old taxonomic classification prior to the more recent consolidation of several families into Nymphalidae., this does not really detract from the value of this basic field guide in helping to identify common butterflies found in Vietnam.

    The species pages are organised in a very simple format with the scientific names stopping at the species level. English common names are also given, and are generally quite consistent with many of the books available on ASEAN butterflies. For example the Neptis species are called "Sailors" in this book, as opposed to "Sailers" that are used by other authors.

    Each species has a short write-up, describing the butterflies' behaviours, differences between the sexes, favourite nectaring plants and geographical range where the butterfly occurs. For some of the species, upper and underside or male/female illustrations are shown, using the half-butterfly depiction that is used in WA Fleming's Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore.

    Given the small number of butterfly species featured - 105, which is less than 10% of the total number of species found in Vietnam, a reader will quickly look for more comprehensive books about Vietnam's butterflies. The good news is that there are several updates by the same author available. An example is the 114-page 2nd edition of the Butterflies of Vietnam: An Illustrated Checklist published in 2016.

    Dr Monastyrskii also expanded his work into a work-in-progress series :
    Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 1: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae in 2005
    Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 2: Papilionidae in 2007
    Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 3: Nymphalidae: Danainae, Amathusiinae in 2012
    These are more comprehensive books showing a wider collection of the species found in Vietnam and I am sure that more volumes will be available in due course.

    For the more serious students, a scientific paper on The Biogeography of the Butterfly Fauna of Vietnam With a Focus on the Endemic Species (Lepidoptera), by A.L. Monastyrskii and J.D. Holloway, is also available. This paper discusses the biogeographic distribution of Vietnamese butterflies, featuring several key endemics found in Vietnam.

    So for butterfly watchers who visit Vietnam, do check out these books for your reference to help you to identify what you have seen in various parts of this biodiversity-rich ASEAN country. Vietnam is a large country covering a total of 331,230.8 km2 of land mass and has a long coastal line. The current number of species recorded is 1,181 and counting.

    Text by Khew SK

    Photo plates from the books are copyrighted property of their respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.

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