11 November 2017

Lacewings of Singapore

The Lacewings of Singapore

A Malay Lacewing feeding on Ixora javanica flowers

Butterflies of the genus Cethosia are medium-sized, colourful with attractive geometric patterns on their wings and are amongst some of the prettiest butterflies of the region. Collectively referred to as "Lacewings", the Cethosia species feature aposematic colouration - which is the butterfly's display of warning colours to deter would-be predators from eating them. Whenever a butterfly watcher encounters a Lacewing species, it is hard not to stop and admire them as they flutter unhurriedly from flower to flower, or just flying slowly on their way to their next destination.

A Leopard Lacewing perches on a flower

Three species of the genus Cethosia are found in Singapore. One species, the Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane) is a recent addition, only having been seen in Singapore in 2005. This species probably migrated naturally from the north over the years and finally settled in Singapore. Today, it is the commonest species of the three Cethosia in Singapore, as it is regularly observed in forest habitats as well as urban parks and gardens.

A Plain Lacewing resting on a leaf

The other two native species extant in Singapore are predominantly forest-dependent, and are to be usually found in the forested nature reserves. Of these two, the Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina) is the commoner of the two, and is regularly seen in our nature reserves where its caterpillar host plant, Adenia macrophylla can be found. The last species, the Plain Lacewing (Cethosia methypsea methypsea) is rare and makes intermittent appearances over the years, sometimes not seen for a long time, and then re-appearing and frequently observed for some months, before disappearing again.

The Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina)

A male Malay Lacewing perches on a leaf in the nature reserves

The upperside of the wings of both the male and female of the Malay Lacewing features a bright orange-red colour with contrasting black borders.outer margins of both wings are serrated, particularly more so on the hindwings, giving the wings a saw-toothed appearance. The underside of the wings display intricate patterns with attractive orange, red, black and white colours.

Female (top) and Male (bottom) Malay Lacewing

Differences between a female (left) and male (right) Malay Lacewing

The female Malay Lacewing has a creamy white patch on the dorsal margin of the forewings above, whilst the more orange-red male does not have this patch. The female also appears a lighter orange in colour compared to the male's orange-red wings. On the underside, the male has a reddish sub-basal patch on the hindwing whilst the female's wings are orange.

The butterfly is mainly found in the forested areas, preferring to remain within the sanctuary of the nature reserves in Singapore, rarely venturing out to the urban parks and gardens. The Malay Lacewing can also be found on our offshore island of Pulau Ubin, particularly on the forested western part of the island. It is regularly photographed feeding at flowering plants like Lantana, Ixora, Syzygium and the Mile-a-Minute weed.

The Plain Lacewing (Cethosia methypsea methypsea)

This species is intermittently found in Singapore. It can be considered very rare, and found only in the forested nature reserves, where its caterpillar host plant, Adenia cordifolia grows as a climbing vine. After making an appearance for a few years in the late 1990's in Singapore, it disappeared and was not seen at all. A period of almost 14 years passed before it re-appeared again, some time in Sep 2014. For a few weeks thereafter, the species was regularly spotted in the same vicinity.

The Plain Lacewing can be distinguished from the Malay Lacewing by the thin white sub-marginal line on the underside of the hindwing, which the Malay Lacewing lacks. On the upperside, the apical area of the forewing is also markedly different in the sub-apical band that is sufficiently distinctive enough to separate the Plain Lacewing from the other two species found in Singapore.

The upperside of the Plain Lacewing generally appears more reddish than the Malay and Leopard Lacewings, and when it flight, the Plain Lacewing is usually faster and more skittish. Unlike its two cousins, the two sexes of the Plain Lacewing are very similar without very distinctive features to separate them.

The Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane)

Male (left) and Female (right) Leopard Lacewing mating pair

The last of the three representatives of the genus is Singapore is a recent addition. After it was first spotted in the western catchment in Singapore in the year 2005, the Leopard Lacewing spread across the island very rapidly. The abundance of its caterpillar host plants, Passiflora foetida and Passiflora suberosa, both of which are considered urban creeper-weeds, is probably one of the reason why this immigrant has colonised and stayed on for the long term in Singapore.

Male (top) and Female (bottom) Leopard Lacewing

The Leopard Lacewing is by far the commonest species of the three Cethosia in Singapore today. It can be found foraging in urban parks and gardens, feeding on flowering plants in community butterfly gardens, in the company of other urban butterfly species. It is seasonally common and often several individuals may be seen in the same vicinity regularly.

Male (top) and Female (bottom) Leopard Lacewing

The male is orange above, with black borders, similar to the Malay and Plain Lacewings. It appears more orange on the upperside. The female is a creamy yellow above and is distinctively different from the male. On the underside, the large series of post-discal spots, set in a rather broad white sub-marginal band, sets it apart from its other two cousins in the genus.

Underside and Upperside shots of a Red Lacewing

To the north, in Malaysia and Thailand, a fourth Cethosia species can be found. This species is called the Red Lacewing, or sometimes referred to as the Batik Lacewing - Cethosia biblis. This species has rather distinctive sub-apical markings on both the upper- and underside of the forewings and easily distinguished from its cousins. The Red Lacewing has not been recorded from Singapore yet, and hopefully, it can be a new addition to the Singapore butterfly fauna in the future.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Khew SK, Koh CH, Loke PF, Horace Tan and Mark Wong

04 November 2017

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

An aerial view of Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

Almost five months ago to the day, the community volunteers participated in a Community Planting Day at Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden. The brainchild of grassroots activist Sussie Ketit, it had the strong support of Mayor Teo Ho Pin, the Member of Parliament for Bukit Panjang and the local community gardeners in the area. With the help of volunteers from the Seletar Country Club group under the capable leadership of Mr Foo JL, the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden Phase II took shape.

And this was how it all started...  Community Planting and saplings in the planters just 5 months ago

Back on 3 June, the planters were prepared with topsoil and compost and various butterfly host and nectaring plants were readied for the community to do some gardening. Mr Foo's strategy of concentrating the plants in organised planter beds surrounded by concrete kerbs was to eliminate the accidental removal of the butterfly host/nectaring plants (many of which are 'weeds') by maintenance personnel. It was clear that any plants found within the planter beds were intentionally planted there and should not be cleared as 'weeds'.

Lush greenery in the planters just 5 months later!

Fast forward five months later, under the tender loving care of the volunteers, especially Sebastian Chia, Lydia Davina Yeo, Cheng Khim, Mr Foo, Evangeline Seah and many other passionate volunteers who spent a lot of their free time tending to the plants and watering them, the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden has now attracted many species of urban and even some forest butterflies. The planter beds are now covered with lush greenery and the butterfly nectaring plants providing sustenance to the visiting butterflies.

All grown up, with lots of tender loving care!

It is amazing, when you consider the empty planters just five months back. Our equatorial climate is just ideal for the growth of plants and with some effort in maintaining the plants, the results can be quite satisfying. Today, the plants are doing well and the butterfly species count has reached 51 species in just a short five months!

Host and nectaring plants aplenty.  Can you spot the Mottled Emigrant on its caterpillar host plant?

The mix of plants ranged from host plants like Rattlebox Weed, Crown Flower, Seven Golden Candlesticks, Blood Flower, and many more. Nectaring plants included Lantana, Red Tree Shrub, Purple Snakeweed, Spanish Needle, Bandicoot Berry, and so on. In the early morning hours and on a bright sunny day, a visitor can see many butterflies fluttering around the plants, feeding and laying eggs on their preferred caterpillar host plants.

Crows and Tigers attracted to Eupatorium squamosum at the butterfly garden

The alkaloids in the Asteraceae species, Eupatorium squamosum that was cultivated in the planters appear to be as attractive to the Danainaes (Tigers and Crows) as the Indian Heliotrope and the Rattlebox Weed plants. Amongst the Danainae species observed at this plant's flowers are the Striped Blue Crow, Blue and Dark Glassy Tigers and a Blue Spotted Crow.

A high-flying butterfly's view of the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

The success of this small butterfly garden, spanning about 150m by about 50m, is probably due to its proximity to the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. The park connector network that links up this area to the biodiversity-rich nature reserves also helps as a 'bridge' to facilitate butterflies' movements along nature-friendly 'highways'.

Although the butterfly garden is no more than 10-15 away from a major road, the use of plants as buffers help to mitigate the effects of vehicular exhaust pollution and fast-moving vehicles from the butterfly garden

Although the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden is located just about 10-15 m away from the busy Bukit Panjang Road, air pollution and the movement of vehicles is mitigated by rows of buffer plants that shield the butterfly garden. Immediately next to the 3+3 lane major arterial road is a green roadside planting verge that features Heliconias and other shrubs. Further in, two rows of Lakka Palms and Coconut palms, with more Heliconias buffer the butterfly garden.

Creative artwork on the concrete kerbs by young and old artists lend a splash of colours to the planters at the butterfly garden

The assortment of plants in the planters have been effective in attracting butterflies. In a further attempt to beautify the planters, the boring precast concrete kerbs are given a fresh coat of paint. Volunteers, young and old, helped to add a splash of colours, in the form of stylised butterflies and plants to the kerbs.

Butterflies bred from caterpillars found at the butterfly garden

The community volunteers are trained to breed caterpillars found on the host plants at the butterfly garden, and the eclosed butterflies are released back into the garden to sustain the population of butterflies there. The Town Council has been requested not to spray pesticides at the butterfly garden to ensure that the caterpillars and butterflies are not killed.

An assortment of butterflies found at the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

The gardeners who are maintaining the area are also taught how to make compost from the dead leaves that are collected from the trees, and to practise sustainable gardening. The compost is then used for the planters to help sustain healthy plant growth. The community education and awareness efforts also help to inform visitors to the butterfly garden not to kill the caterpillars and butterflies as they are part of our natural biodiversity.

So the next time you are in the Bukit Panjang area, do drop by and take a look at the Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden and see how many butterflies you can count fluttering amongst the shrubbery. Here you see a variety of butterflies that can be found at the butterfly garden.

How to get there :

There are many bus services that bring visitors to the bus stop along Bukit Panjang Road. Alight just in front of Blk 222 and walk eastwards towards the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE). For those taking the MRT, alight at Choa Chu Kang MRT station (NS4), hop on to the LRT and alight at Pending Station (BP8). Drivers can access the HDB carpark via Petir Road and park your car near Blk 213 (carpark CKBJ8), where parking is free on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Alan Ang, Janice Ang, Sebastian Chia, Foo JL, Sussie Ketit, Khew SK, Michael Khor, Or Cheng Khim, Soh Kam-Yung, Irene Tan and Alson Teo