17 February 2018

Butterfly of the Month - February 2018

Butterfly of the Month - February 2018
The Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli)

A male Green Baron feeding on the ripened fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron

We cross into the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Year of the (Earth) Dog as Chinese communities all around the world celebrate the Lunar New Year on 16 February. The dog is the 11th animal out of the 12 selected animals that made it to the Jade Emperor's Great Race. The most defining characteristic of someone born in the year of the dog is their loyalty. They will never abandon their friends, family or work. Honest and just, they are popular in social circles. They are also good at helping others find and fix their bad habits.

Some geomancers predict that 2018 is going to be a tumultuous year for global events. A few predictions even pointed to some serious natural disasters in parts of the world. Then again, soothsayer predictions have always been here to stay, and to each his own whether to believe and take action to avoid 'bad luck' or to just ignore any form of fortune-telling, and live life to the fullest.

In the US, another senseless shooting took the lives of 17 innocent people at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The shooter, a former student who had been expelled for bad behaviour carried an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with multiple magazines and was probably intent on taking lives when he went on his shooting spree that morning. As long as the US lawmakers remain adamant about "doing the right thing" as far as guns are concerned, such incidents will happen over and over again.

Over here in Singapore, we can only be thankful that the government has made the possession of firearms illegal and that such shooting incidents are highly unlikely to be caused by a civilian who has relatively easy access to assault rifles. It is hoped that governments of countries with strict gun control laws will continue to impose such laws so that what happened (and will continue to happen in the US), can be avoided in our respective homelands.

As the Chinese New Year celebrations continue for the next 15 days, Singaporeans wait with bated breaths for the announcement of the 2018 Budget. Rumours are rife that taxes, particularly the goods and services tax, will be raised. This usually translates into a higher cost of living as the GST affects practically every aspect of our daily life. Coincidentally, someone once said 'nothing is certain but death and taxes'.

A female Green Baron feeding on the flowers of the Javanese Ixora

Whilst looking for a species that features some auspicious red colour befitting of the Chinese New Year season, I selected one with some attractive red accents in its wings. Hence we feature the Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli) as February 2018's Butterfly of the Month. The attractive red spots, particularly on the underside of the wings of the male, gives the Green Baron a distinctive look.

A newly-eclosed male Green Baron clinging onto its pupal case

The Green Baron is a medium sized butterfly with an average wingspan of 55-65 mm. It is moderately common and regularly observed in urban parks and gardens, although it frequents the forested nature reserves as well. The main reason why the Green Baron is widely distributed, is because it caterpillar host plant, the parasitic plant, Malayan Mistletoe (Dendrophthoe pentandra),  can be found growing quite commonly on many other plants in urban parks and gardens.

The butterfly has a robust body like other species of the Euthalia genus (or collectively known by their common English name of "Barons").  Both the male and female of this species are strong flyers and skittish. They will fly rapidly away from any intrusion into their territory and head high up to the treetops, out of reach of any predators.

Male Green Barons feeding on Singapore Rhododendron fruit and Javanese Ixora flower

The male Green Baron is dark green on the upperside with a lighter green tornal area of the hindwing. The forewing has prominent white subapical spots and post-discal spots. The underside features the same subapical and post-discal spots but has a number of crimson spots at the cell area of the forewing and across the hindwing.

Female Green Barons feeding on Singapore Rhododendron fruit and Javanese Ixora flower

The female Green Baron has a broad white band across both wings with the veins blackened prominently. The tornal area of the hindwing on the upperside is an iridescent green with large black marginal spots and crimson spots on the tornal and apical area. The underside features large red cell spots on the forewing but fewer spots compared to the male.

Both the male and female are regularly observed to feed on rotting fruits. They like the ripened fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), although they have been seen on other types of flowering plants like Ixora and Lantana. They are extremely skittish if they are not feeding and difficult to approach without scaring them off.

The Green Baron has been successfully bred on the parasitic plant, Malayan Mistletoe (Dendrophthoe pentandra), a host plant that it shares with the Painted Jezebel, Peacock Royal and Great Imperial.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our Chinese readers a Happy and Prosperous Lunar New Year!


Text by Khew SK : Photos by Foo JL, Federick Ho, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Koh CH, Nelson Ong, Tan BJ and Horace Tan.

10 February 2018

Birdwing Season in Singapore

Birdwing Season in Singapore
Featuring the Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus)

The Common Birdwing is one of Singapore's largest butterfly species by wingspan. A large female of this species can have a wingspan measured from tip to tip up to 180mm. The species can be seen from time to time throughout the year, but is sometimes uncommon in certain months. From records of sightings of this species over the years, it appears to be quite seasonal.

The Common Birdwing is more often spotted in the months of November to February each year. Towards the end of 2017 and over the first two months of 2018, the species has been spotted more often in urban parks and gardens and also at the fringes of our nature reserves. Where its caterpillar host plant, Aristolochia acuminata grows, observations of the species' caterpillars are more prevalent in these months of the year.

The Common Birdwing has rich golden yellow hindwings with black margins and black forewings, often with suffused white along the forewing veins. The female has a full range of large black submarginal spots which are not conjoined. The male has only one or occasionally more submarginal spots - usually at the tornal area. The thorax area is usually reddened from the base of the wings to the collar just behind the head of the butterfly.

A male Common Birdwing courting a female at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Common Birdwing is a spectacular butterfly in flight. Its large size allows it to be spotted easily as it swoops overhead, almost bird-like. The butterfly is capable of flying long distances and at great heights. As it flutters and glides at tree top level, the Common Birdwing is a sight to behold.

Male Common Birdwings feeding on Ixora (top) and Buas-Buas (bottom)

Males are usually smaller than the females. However, unlike the usual Papilionidae behaviour, the males are rarely seen to puddle at damp sandy spots along streambanks. Both sexes are more often seen feeding at flowering plants like Ixora, Pagoda Flower, Hibiscus, Peacock Flower, Prickly Lantana and even Buas Buas (Premna serratifolia).

In late 2017 and early 2018, sightings of the Common Birdwing became more and more frequent. The Common Birdwing was spotted in locations like Jurong Eco Green, Pulau Ubin, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Hort Park and Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. Invariably, all these locations where the butterfly was observed are usually where the Common Birdwing was feeding at flowering plants, or flying around looking for flowers to feed on.

Common Birdwing caterpillars

Both the males and females were equally common. Caterpillars of the species were found at various areas where the host plant was cultivated - Hort Park, Jurong Eco Green and Pulau Ubin. Over at Seletar Country Club's Butterfly Garden, where the host plant was cultivated some time ago in the hope of attracting the Common Birdwing and Common Rose, the caterpillars of the Common Birdwing suddenly appeared.

Newly eclosed Common Birdwing released at Seletar Country Club

The caterpillars were reared until successful eclosion and the adult butterflies released in the hope that they will spawn the next generation of Common Birdwings at Seletar Country Club, or appear at nearby locations where the butterfly can sustain future generations. Sadly, the unsustainable feeding habit of the caterpillars of this species is such that they tend to kill off the Aristolochia vine unnecessarily, and in the process, deprive themselves of their critical food source.

The Common Birdwing displays the usual Papilionidae flight characteristic when feeding at flowers. The hindwings are held relatively still to balance the butterfly, whilst its forewings flutter rapidly to keep it aloft. Like most species in the family, the Common Birdwing has six long and fully-developed legs which it extends and holds on to the perch or flower that it is feeding on.

Male (top) and Female (bottom) Common Birdwing feeding on Hibiscus flower

So whilst the Common Birdwing season is in full swing, do seek out the favourite locations where it is often seen and get your fill of the beauty of this butterfly before it becomes uncommon again!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, May Chan, Bob Cheong, Foo JL, Khew SK and Ros Qian

03 February 2018

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

A timber boardwalk winds around the reservoir edge at the Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

This weekend's feature location for butterfly photography is adjacent to the second oldest reservoir in Singapore. (The oldest reservoir being the nearby MacRitchie Reservoir) It was originally known as the Kallang River Reservoir, and it was formed by impounding across the lower reaches of the Kallang River in 1910.

In 1922, it was renamed Peirce Reservoir in commendation of the services of Robert Peirce (engineer), who was the PWD engineer of Singapore from 1901 to 1916. In 1975, a dam was built across the upper reaches of the Peirce Reservoir, splitting it into Upper and Lower Peirce Reservoirs thereafter.

Mature secondary forest lines the banks of Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

The forested areas that line the banks of Lower Peirce Reservoir Park (LPR) is considered a mature secondary rainforest. One can still find rubber trees and oil palms in the area - reminders of a past when vast areas of Singapore were covered with cash crops and plantations. The Lower Peirce Reservoir Park is part of the 3,403 Ha Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). It forms the eastern boundary of the CCNR and is connected to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park. Lower Peirce Reservoir Park sits on about 6 Hectares of land covered with thick lush secondary forest.

Within LPR, a nature boardwalk meanders through one of Singapore's last remaining mature secondary forest and along the edge of Lower Peirce Reservoir. The 900m boardwalk takes the visitor along the water's edge and then through a well-shaded secondary forest which is home to an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. The boardwalk is of adequate width and is robustly constructed to withstand the ever-humid conditions under the forest canopy. I recall that this was one of the first forest boardwalks constructed by NParks and the environmentally-sensitive construction process was managed such that no mechanical equipment was allowed in the forest. Hence the construction work was done solely by manual labour.

The main road to the reservoir is lined with butterfly-attracting plants like Bandicoot Berry and Red Tree Shrub

Some common butterflies found at the open areas at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

The main entrance to Lower Peirce Reservoir Park is via a small carpark towards the south-east of the park. Parking is free but lots are limited. Visitors walk along a paved road that is lined with native plants like Bandicoot Berry and Red Tree Shrub. As you reach the reservoir edge, you can take in the scenic view of the Lower Peirce Reservoir and the golf course beyond. Nearby, there are trellises covered with Bauhinia and there are Ixora shrubs along the paths. Look out for the Grass Yellows, Cycad Blue, Bush Browns, Grass Blues and Sailors around this area.

Note that recreational fishing is permitted along a short stretch along the edge of the reservoir, so do not be alarmed if you see what appears to be 'poachers' within a nature reserve! There are shelters and pavilions nearby to take cover if you are caught in our tropical thunderstorm. Once past this open area, you will be able to see the start of the nature boardwalk. This boardwalk will lead you towards the first section which skirts around the forest edge and bring you just next to the water of the reservoir.

Views towards the reservoir.  Recreational fishing is permitted here

The start of the boardwalk accessed from the Lower Peirce Reservoir carpark

Along the boardwalk, you will be able to spot lush bushes of the Straits (or Singapore) Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum). This ripened fruits of this plant is attractive to many species of butterflies, but you will have to wait till the fruiting season before you can enjoy watching the variety of butterflies that visit the sugary fruits. The Straits Rhododendron is also the caterpillar host plant of the Horsfield's Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda) and if you are lucky, you will encounter the female of this species ovipositing on the host plant.

A female Horsfield's Baron preparing to lay her eggs on the Straits Rhododendron which grows beside the boardwalks around the water's edge.

Note that there are no barriers along this boardwalk, so please take care not to fall off the edge and into the water! Once you get past this stretch, the boardwalk will lead you into the heavily-shaded forested area of the park. There are adequate signages along the boardwalk with nature-friendly names like Casuarina Entrance, Jacaranda Entrance, Costus Trail, Hevea Trail and Oncospermum Trail, which are aptly named after some of the plants that can be found along the boardwalk trail.

The rare Yellow Archduke (Lexias canescens pardalina).  Its caterpillar is often encountered at the Lower Peirce Reservoir boardwalk trail

At the intersection between the Bamboo Trail and Oncospermum Trail, keep your eyes peeled for the Buffy Fish Owl, which has attracted many bird photographers to this location. Coincidentally, this is also the area where the caterpillar of the rare Yellow Archduke has been photographed a number of times. Do look out for the elusive adult butterfly.

In the heavily-shaded forest through which the boardwalk winds, look out for the shade-loving species like the Archduke and Common Faun

Taking the route towards the Costus Trail will bring you to the end of the boardwalk at the Jacaranda Entrance. The heavily shaded forest understorey will not be generally attractive to the sun-loving butterfly species. However, look out for the forest dwellers like the Archduke, Malay Viscount and Common Faun, particularly in the vicinity of their respective caterpillar host plants.

NParks has designed rest areas for tired hikers or visitors who prefer to sit quietly and observe the amazing diversity of flora and fauna at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park

Moving along Bamboo Trail towards Hevea Trail will send you towards the Casuarina Entrance where the trail ends. Beyond this entrance and to the north is the famous Casuarina Road Prata shop which is a must-visit lunch pit stop after a long tiring walk. Note that the boardwalk trail is not flat and there are some elevation changes that will require you to walk up and down short flights of steps.

More uncommon forest species like the Saturn and Dark Blue Jungle Glory can be found here

Again, under the heavily-shaded forest canopy, you will expect to encounter only the shade loving butterfly species. It was amongst the leaf litter in the undergrowth that I spotted my first Dark Blue Jungle Glory in Singapore many years ago. Given that there are many different species of palms and rattans along the forest stream just off the boardwalk, see if you can spot the seasonal Saturn amongst the undergrowth.

And then there are some surprises amongst the Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae that will appear from time to time. If you are lucky, you may be able to encounter some of them. Some years back, I came across this pristine Fluffy Tit (Zeltus amasa maximinianus) feeding on some moss on a leaf. The occasional Arhopala and Jamides may flutter by, and when in season, you should be able to spot a couple of Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti) around.

As you exit the boardwalk trail, do look out for the flowering bushes of the Bandicoot Berry and Buas Buas along Old Upper Thomson Road. These will usually attract the common butterflies like the Malayan Five Ring, Chestnut Bob, Chocolate Pansy and an occasional rarity that is waiting to surprise you.

The Lower Peirce Reservoir Park cannot be described as a 'butterfly haven', but the shaded habitat can spring the occasional surprise and delight you - particularly amongst the forest-loving species. Do look out for overripe figs and other forest fruits on the ground when in season, for butterflies are attracted to the sugary diets on the forest floor.

How to Get There :
By Bus:
Bus nos. 163, 167, 169, 855, 980.
Alight at the bus stop nearest to the Sembawang Hill Food Court and walk along Old Upper Thomson Road towards Lower Peirce Reservoir Park. The entrance to the trail (Casuarina Entrance) is about five minutes away.

By Car : Follow the direction of Upper Thomson Road. Turn left before the traffic lights at the junction of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 into Old Upper Thomson Road. Follow
the road until you see the entrance of the trail. Parking facilities are available along the road near the Casuarina Entrance (Paid parking). Alternatively park at the Lower Peirce Reservoir Carpark towards the south. (Free Parking)

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK and Horace Tan