16 August 2014

Life History of the Palm Bob

Life History of the  Palm Bob (Suastus gremius gremius)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Suastus Moore, 1881
Species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Sub-species: gremius Fabricius, 1798
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 33-35mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Cocos nucifera (Arecaceae; common name: Coconut), Rhapis excelsa (Arecaceae, common name: Lady Palm).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the wings are brown with the forewing adorned with pale yellow hyaline spots in the cell-end and spaces 1b, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8. The hindwing is unmarked. The tornal cilia are whitish. Beneath, the wings are greyish brown with the hindwing overlaid with buff scaling and featuring a number of moderately large and well defined black spots.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Palm Bob is common in Singapore. Sightings are rather frequent in nature reserves and in urban parks and gardens. The adults are fast flyers and are skittish when disturbed. They have been observed to visit flowers and sunbathe in sunny weather, and to puddle on bird dropping.

14 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Psyche

Butterflies Galore!
The Psyche (Leptosia nina malayana)

In butterfly photography, the background of the picture is often as important as the subject itself. Whilst many photographers who are new to the hobby pursues the butterfly and is quite happy to just get a decent shot of the butterfly itself, the more experienced photographers look for opportunities to get the background uncluttered, so as to emphasise the subject more effectively.

This shot, taken by ButterflyCircle member Koh CH, is an example of such a photo, which is well-composed with the butterfly nicely perched on a blade of grass, and where the pastel coloured background enables the subject, in this case a Psyche, to stand out prominently in the picture.

11 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Common Dartlet

Butterflies Galore! 
The Common Dartlet (Oriens gola pseudolus)

The Common Dartlet is one of several species of small skippers that are orange with black markings. In flight and in the field, it can be challenging identifying these skippers due to their similarity in appearance and features. The Common Dartlet, from the genus Oriens, can generally be identified by their less distinct underside markings with the wing veins barely dark dusted.

It is fast-flying like most skippers, but can often be encountered in shaded spots resting with its wings folded upright as shown in the picture above. This individual was resting in the understorey along a forest trail in the Mandai area where it was shot last weekend.

09 August 2014

Favourite Nectaring Plants #5

Butterflies' Favourite Nectaring Plants
The Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra)

In this fifth article introducing Singapore butterflies' favourite nectaring plants, we feature the Red Tree Shrub (Leea rubra). This leafy bush was determined to be extinct in Singapore and "was last collected in the wild by H N Ridley in 1909 at King's Road."* The plant has since been reintroduced through horticultural trade, and is a regularly used plant in many urban parks and gardens today.

The Red Tree Shrub has a wide distribution, ranging from the Indian subcontinent, Indo-China, the Malay Peninsula, the Indonesian archipelago and as far east as Northern Australia. It can be found in dry monsoon forests, equatorial rain forests, savannahs and secondary forests up to 500m in altitude, making it more of a lowland forest species.

A Common Grass Yellow feeds on the flower of the Red Tree Shrub

From herbarium records, there are four species of Leea in Singapore - L. aequata, L.indica, L. rubra/guineensis and L. angulata. In recent years, L. indica (Bandicoot Berry) and L. rubra (Red Tree Shrub) have been cultivated as part of the urban greenery in parks, natureways, gardens and park-connectors in an effort to enhance urban biodiversity in Singapore by the National Parks Board. The flowers of both plants provide nectar for butterflies, bees and wasps, whilst the ripened fruits are food for birds.

A healthy bush of the Red Tree Shrub at Tampines Eco Green in the company of other plants

Plant Biodata :
Family : Leeaceae
Genus : Leea
Species : rubra
Country of Origin : Myanmar/Laos
English Common Name : Red Tree Shrub
Other Local Names : Red Tree Vine, Red Leea, Mali-mali puchok merah (Malay), Katangbai (Thai), 紅葉火筒樹

In Singapore, the Red Tree Shrub can be mainly found in urban parks and gardens, where it was a recent introduction as an ornamental shrub that also attracts biodiversity to the parks and gardens. It is not commonly seen in the forested nature reserves or growing wild naturally, like its closely related species, the Bandicoot Berry.

Young (top) and mature leaves (middle, bottom) of the Red Tree Shrub

The Red Tree Shrub is a small, semi-herbaceous shrub growing up to between 2-3m tall. The leaves are bright green, with the young leaves displaying a reddish margin. Mature leaves are green. The leaves are compound, 2-4 pinnate with each leaf about 20-40 cm long. Leaflets are ovate to ovate-oblong or elliptical to elliptical-lanceolate with the margins crenate to shallowly serrate.

The attractive crimson inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub

The inflorescence ranges between 5-15 cm across and an attractive crimson red. Flowers are small and whitish yellow, about 4mm in diameter, and randomly spread across the inflorescence. There is no perceptible fragrance from the flowers, but they are still attractive to a variety of butterfly species and other insects like bees and wasps.


The fruits of the Red Tree Shrub in various stages of ripening

The fruits are about 8-10mm in diameter and initially olive-green turning to reddish-green to crimson red and finally purple-black when ripened. The fruits are attractive to birds, and the Yellow Vented Bulbul has been regularly seen eating the fruits at the Tampines Eco Green. There are about six seeds per fruit, each measuring about 4mm in diameter.

An inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub showing buds, flowers and fruits together

In Malaysia, the ground root mixed with arsenic is externally applied as a poultice against yaws, while the sap of the plant is drunk simultaneously. In Indonesia, the leaves are externally applied for poulticing wounds, the fruits are eaten as a remedy against yaws and dysentery. In Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, a decoction or tincture of the root is taken as a remedy for stomach-ache, rheumatism and arthritis. In Thailand, the roots are used as an antipyretic and diaphoretic.

One, Two, Three!  Long-Banded and Club Silverlines on the Red Tree Shrub flowers

The attractive crimson inflorescence of the Red Tree Shrub is unmistakable where it is found in our urban parks and gardens. At specific locations like Tampines Eco Green, the Long Banded and Club Silverlines are regular visitors to the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. At certain times of the day the flowers are also popular with the Grass Yellows and various Hesperiidae.

Over at Gardens By the Bay, the flowers of this plant are visited by various Lycaenids, in particular the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus teatus) and the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius). The profusion of the red buds create an attractive sight to behold, when the flowers are in full bloom amongst the lush green bushes of the Red Tree Shrub.

Top : Metallic Caerulean  Bottom : Singapore Fourline Blue

At other locations where it is cultivated, like the Dairy Farm Nature Park, Hort Park and Sg Buloh Wetland Reserves, various resident butterfly species of these parks can often be observed feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. The Metallic Caerulean (Jamides alecto ageladas) used to be found at the now defunct Mandai Orchid Garden, feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. Over at Sg Buloh, the rare resident Singapore Fourline Blue (Nacaduba pavana singapura) can sometimes be observed at the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub.

Larger butterflies also feed on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub

Larger butterflies like the Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) and the Common Mime (Chilasa clytia clytia) have regularly been photographed feeding on the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub. Despite the small size of the flowers, these large butterflies do not seem to have any problems feeding on them.

Skippers also like the flowers of the Red Tree Shrub

As the plant is easy to propagate by seeds, it is likely that the Red Tree Shrub will be more commonly found in parks and gardens, including private residential gardens in future. This is a plant that would certainly be welcomed by our local butterflies as an attractive food source. The berries are also food for birds, hence this plant would be useful in increasing the biodiversity of our urban gardens.

The next time you are attracted to the crimson flowers of the Red Tree Shrub, do take a closer look at the inflorescence and see if you can spot any butterflies feeding greedily at the flowers of this plant. You may be delighted to see more than a few butterflies sharing the nectar from the flowers!

On a sea of red...

And with the red and auspicious flowers of the Red Tree Shrub, all of us at ButterflyCircle would like to wish all our Singaporean readers a .....

Happy 49th Birthday to Singapore!!!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK, Loke PF, Jonathan Soong & Zhuang YY

Further Reading and References :

*Leea of Singapore (from Nature in Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum)

06 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Chestnut Bob

Butterflies Galore! 
The Chestnut Bob (Iambrix salsala salsala)

This small skipper is common and is widespread in distribution across Singapore. It usually flies close to the ground flitting from flower to flower as it feeds. The caterpillar host plants are mainly grasses, including the common urban Cow Grass (Axonopus compressus) that covers very much of our urban turfed areas like roadside grass verges and school fields.

The butterfly is dark brown above and reddish brown on the underside of the wings, with a series of white spots on both wings. This mating pair of Chestnut Bob was photographed last weekend at the Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin.

05 August 2014

Butterflies Galore! : Slate Flash

Butterflies Galore!
The Slate Flash (Rapala manea chozeba)

The Slate Flash is a moderately rare species in Singapore that can be found in parks and gardens as well as in the forested nature reserves. It is a fast flyer and can be skittish at times. The upperside of the Slate Flash, which belongs to the varuna group of the genus Rapala, is a shade of blue or green. It is a closely allied species to the Indigo Flash that was featured last week.

The brown underside features narrow post-discal bands that are darker than the ground colour of the wings. There are a pair of typical Rapala white tipped filamentous tails at vein 2 of the hindwing and the tornal area of the underside of the hindwing features light blue scales. This Slate Flash feeding on the flower of the String Bush was shot by ButterflyCircle member Chng CK.

02 August 2014

Life History of the Long Brand Bush Brown

Life History of Long Brand Bush Brown (Mycalesis visala phamis)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Mycalesis Hübner, 1818
Species: visala Moore, 1858
Subspecies: phamis Talbot & Corbet, 1939
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 40-50mm
Caterpillar Local Host Plants: Isachne globosa (Poaceae), Ottochloa nodosa (Poaceae).

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
On the upperside, the wings are dull brown with an obscure yellow-ringed ocellus in space 2 of the forewing, and two obscure ocelli in spaces 2 and 3 of the hindwing. On the underside, both wings are pale brown in ground colour and have a whitish post-discal band. There is a series of ringed ocelli in the submarginal area on both wings. At times, a rare dry season form could be observed in Singapore where these ocelli are much reduced in size. The male has a yellowish and long (reaches the post-discal line) sex brand above the dorsum (in space 1b) on the forewing. In the hindwing, the post-discal line is slightly curved outward in spaces 4 and 5, and there is a dark brown indentation line stretching down to vein 1b.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour:
The Long Brand Bush Brown is moderately common in Singapore with adults typically found flying low amongst grasses in the nature reserves, wasteland as well as urban parks and gardens. As with other Satyrinae members, the adults fly in an erratic and jerky manner as their wings are closed for a relatively long period during flights.