15 July 2017

Butterfly of the Month - July 2017

Butterfly of the Month - July 2017
The Baron (Euthalia aconthea gurda)

We have now sped past the halfway mark of the year, and for those of us who are faced with Key Performance Indicators (the dreaded KPIs) in our work or business environment, if we have not hit the 50% mark, then we may have cause to worry more than usual. Although the economic outlook in Singapore showed some spark over the past six months of 2017, predictions by the gurus indicate more challenges ahead in the second half of the year.

A male Baron sunbathing on the top of a leaf and surveying its surroundings

The global scene has not changed much, although new risks continue to appear unexpectedly. Whilst analysts say that the use of military force is highly unlikely, too much power in the hands of certain politicians continue to cause concern in various regions of bilateral tensions and territorial disputes.

A male Baron feeding on organic matter at a sandy footpath

On the technology scene, all the banks in Singapore are now launching the new payment platform, PayNow, which pushes the city state towards a cashless society. For those of us who are already used to internet banking, one cannot miss all the latest messages from the banks, encouraging us to register for the PayNow option. Compared to China where the adoption of technology has taken leaps and bounds in recent years, Singapore could do more to promote cashless payments, in hawker centres, in shops and between people.

Hopefully, our society can benefit from the convenience of consumer-to-consumer payments with a click of an app on your smartphone, and move to the digital world in a more coordinated and systematic manner in keeping with our Smart Nation aspirations. Today, people want a fast, convenient, frictionless, safe, secure service, and do not want to have to remember bank account numbers. But let it be said that Singapore is already lagging behind countries like China.

A female Baron puddling on a tarmac road

Disruptive technologies continue to shake up the world as we know it, and it is only a matter of time when, and not if, things take a change that would affect the way we live, work, learn and play. It has been predicted that Singapore is one likely country that can see automated vehicles plying our roads in the coming decade. Transportation mode share will change rapidly as private vehicle ownership becomes a thing of the past as everyone will be moving around the city in self-driving cars, or even flying drone vehicles? A scene from a science fiction movie that will become reality?

This month, we feature an urban butterfly species, the Baron (Euthalia aconthea gurda). As the caterpillar feeds on the leaves of mango (mangifera indica) and related species, the butterfly is often seen in urban parks and gardens and in the vicinity of where the host plant is cultivated. Like many of its cousins in the genus Euthalia, the Baron has a robust body and is a strong flyer.

The male Baron is dark brown on its upperside, with a broad obscure post-discal band on both wings. There are sub-apical and post-discal white spots on the forewings. The wings show a dark purplish tinge when viewed in a sidelight. The underside is a much paler brown and the typical 'helmet-shaped' markings on the discal areas are more distinct. There is a row of pointed submarginal spots on the hindwing.

A female Baron with the full complement of white post-discal spots

The female is usually larger and a lighter buff brown than the male. The post-discal spots are more distinct and larger than those in the male. The underside is lighter brown as in the male, and the post-discal spots are more prominent. The female Baron's wings lack the purplish tinge compared with the male, and appears more matt and dull.

A male Baron feeding on the ripened fruit of the Straits Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)

A female Baron with 'missing' white spots on its forewings

It is interesting to note that the Baron is quite variable, and, for example, the white spots on the wings are by no means consistent. In an earlier article on this blog, we discussed the variability of the female Baron's post-discal spots. Comparing several individuals, the white post-discal spots can vary in number and size and some may be obscure which makes the female Baron appear quite different from a typically-marked individual.

A male Baron feeding on rotting mango

The Baron is usually skittish and alert, flying off at great speed if alarmed. However, it is often seen feeding greedily on overripe fruits and tree sap. It is much easier to approach when it is feeding and less likely to fly off in a hurry. At certain times of the day, both the males and females can be seen sunbathing on the tops of leaves with their wings opened flat.

The 'spiny' caterpillar of the Baron resting on the leaf of its host plant, mango

The caterpillar has a yellow dorsal stripe and has long spiny protuberances. Spines on each long greenish protuberance are mostly green with the exception of the distal pair which are black with white/yellow tips. The caterpillar is very well camouflaged when resting on the mid-rib of its host plant.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Chng CK, Goh LC, Khew SK, Koh CH, Horace Tan, Anthony Wong and Mark Wong

09 July 2017

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education
Part 3 : Community Engagement and Citizen Science

ButterflyCircle's poster at the Festival of Biodiversity 2017 © Huang CJ

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we shared ButterflyCircle's contributions to the butterfly conservation and education efforts in Singapore over the years. In the previous articles, ButterflyCircle members' work were featured in journals, research reports, books and publications, and also on interpretative signages at public parks and gardens in Singapore. In this concluding part about ButterflyCircle's contributions, we take a look at some of the public engagement efforts, educational talks and citizen science initiatives in Singapore.

Educational Talks and Sharing Sessions on Butterflies in Singapore

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest amongst the public and nature enthusiasts in Singapore to learn more about our natural heritage and biodiversity in Singapore. Butterflies, being an iconic taxonomic group, have always intrigued and fascinated humans. The variety of shapes, colours and sizes of butterflies has often attracted people to admire them, and want to learn more about them.

Public sharing session at Singapore Botanic Gardens organised by NParks

Butterfly watching and identification outing with the participants

I have often been invited to give talks to various organisations and to the general public. I have lost count of the number of talks on butterflies that I had given to both the public and private sectors in Singapore. Some of these include talks to the National Parks Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Centre for Livable Cities, Nature Photographic Society (S), Yale-NUS, Centre for Urban Ecology and Greenery, Town Councils, and many other community sharing sessions - too many to name here.

Butterfly ID Training session for public for BioBlitz

ButterflyCircle member Federick Ho (3rd from left) conducting a field trip with participants

ButterflyCircle member Chng CK (extreme left) with his group of 'students' 

ButterflyCircle members participated in several BioBlitz training sessions at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Members of the public who signed up to learn more about butterflies in a classroom setting also had field outings led by experienced ButterflyCircle members who volunteered their time to help the public learn more about butterfly spotting and identification. This training was useful for those who wanted to participate in the on-going National Parks Board's Bioblitz and Butterfly Watch biodiversity surveys all around Singapore.

Having a discussion about butterflies with Yale-NUS students . A/Prof Monteiro (2nd from right) joining in the discussion

Photography outing with Yale-NUS students

Talks and sharing sessions were also held for students of Yale-NUS, and one such talk was also graced by Assoc Prof Antonia Monteiro who has conducted many research projects on butterflies. Talks were also held for Centre for Urban Ecology and Greenery (CUGE) students to learn about landscaping and plants to attract butterflies and create a more holistic environment for biodiversity in the landscape design industry.

Sharing session at Tampines-Changkat community club

Butterfly watching outing at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio butterfly garden

Community planting at Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden

Community gardening groups in various HDB towns in Singapore were also keen to set up butterfly gardens and many talks were conducted for the various interest groups who eventually went on to set up local butterfly gardens. Together with Mr Foo and his members from the Seletar Country Club butterfly garden group, ButterflyCircle held talks and gardening sessions at Tampines-Changkat Butterfly Garden, Bishan-AMK Garden and Bukit Panjang Butterfly Garden.

With the Green Volunteers Network (GVN) and Grant Pereira at Pasir Ris Park

Grant Pereira (pointing) explaining to members of GVN about his butterfly garden

Over at Pasir Ris Park, ButterflyCircle collaborated with the Green Volunteers Network, under the leadership of Grant Pereira to hold a sharing session for the members and a butterfly walk to spot and identify butterflies in the Pasir Ris Park area. Amongst the photography societies, I did a talk, focusing on the use of Nikon equipment in macro work, for the Nature Photographic Society (S).

Butterfly sharing session with teachers at Deyi Secondary School

Outing at Deyi Secondary School's butterfly garden

A talk for the teachers of the Science Instructional Programme Support Group (IPSG) was held at Deyi Secondary School to help the science teachers expand their knowledge about butterflies. This also coincided with a visit to the Butterfly Garden in the premises of the school that was set up to introduce greater biodiversity in a natural setting for the students and teachers to enjoy.

Dr Laurence Kirton and Prof Horace Tan at a Butterfly Conservation Dialogue organised by ButterflyCircle

ButterflyCircle also hosted a talk by Dr Laurence Kirton and A/P Horace Tan for butterfly enthusiasts in Singapore. The talk focused on butterfly conservation in Southeast Asia, whilst Horace shared his expertise and awesome photos of the early stages of butterflies from his meticulous documentation work on life histories of Singapore's butterflies.

Ministry of National Development newsletter "Happy Hands" featuring volunteers and special topics of interest.  Issue 10 showcases biophilic design and nature conservation

On the professional front, I did several talks for the architects/planners of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and Centre for Livable Cities focusing on biophilia and biodiversity enhancement in the greening of Singapore. It was also a good opportunity for me to promote biophilic design in our urban and architectural developments in Singapore through these talks and to engage the industry professionals to conserve our biodiversity.

Butterfly Biodiversity Surveys and Ubin Day

ButterflyCircle's survey at Outward Bound Singapore on Pulau Ubin

ButterflyCircle members also participated in many surveys - both at the amateur/citizen science and at a scientific level for the National Parks Board as well as other organisations which were keen to know more about the biodiversity in their respective premises. National level surveys like NParks' Butterfly Watch surveys help to gather useful data on butterflies that can be used eventually for the planning and management of our parks and gardens.

ButterflyCircle's survey at Gardens by the Bay

ButterflyCircle members were also invited to conduct baseline surveys for Gardens by the Bay and the Outward Bound Singapore site on Pulau Ubin. The more senior members were also involved in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve biodiversity survey, representing the butterfly group and gathering data on pre-set transects.

ButterflyCircle and Seletar CC members with Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee at Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

Briefing before our butterfly survey during BioBlitz at Ubin

ButterflyCircle members participated at the Ubin Day events and were invited to brief and show VVIP visitors at Butterfly Hill on several occasions. Butterfly Hill at Pulau Ubin was the result of a collaborative effort between ButterflyCircle and NParks to rehabilitate a previously featureless knoll into a lushly-landscaped hill that is teeming with free-ranging butterflies today.

Biodiversity Roundtable and Festivals of Biodiversity

ButterflyCircle is represented at the multi-agency and multi-society Biodiversity Roundtable. The Biodiversity Roundtable of Singapore is an initiative spearheaded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and National Parks Board (NParks) under the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan. The Roundtable comprises members from both the public sector agencies like NParks, NUS, SUTD and non-governmental organisations from the various terrestrial and marine groups.

ButterflyCircle members at FOB 2015

The Festival of Biodiversity is an annual event organised by NParks, in collaboration with the Biodiversity Roundtable. The Festival aims to create awareness and foster a sense of appreciation for Singapore's natural heritage. The festival showcases Singapore’s impressive and unique array of island biodiversity. This event celebrates Singapore’s natural heritage and in doing so, hopes to bring about greater awareness of the rich biodiversity that Singapore has.

ButterflyCircle and Seletar CC members at various Festivals of Biodiversity

Even since it started in 2012, ButterflyCircle has been supporting the Festival of Biodiversity annually. With the help of volunteers from the Seletar CC group, ButterflyCircle has been represented as one of the participants for each of the six FOBs from 2012 to 2017. The FOB is held over two days each year, and the amount of time and effort that the participating members of ButterflyCircle who volunteered at the Festival, is quite substantial. Kudos to our members who volunteered their time to help set up and man ButterflyCircle's booth and share their butterfly passion with members of the public.

ButterflyCircle members with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Butterfly Hill @ Pulau Ubin

And so I end this 3-part series which highlights a small sample of ButterflyCircle's contributions to butterfly conservation and education efforts in Singapore. It started with an innocuous question about what "I had hoped to achieve by watching and photographing butterflies". No, it is not just about taking pretty pictures and posting them on social media. There is a lot more meaningful and sincere effort in helping to share knowledge with, and educate the community, create awareness of our butterfly biodiversity and promote conservation in Singapore for our future generations to enjoy nature's flying jewels.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by various ButterflyCircle members, collaborators and volunteers.

Special Thanks to ButterflyCircle members who have regularly sacrificed their free time to volunteer for community events, talks and outings with various groups. Also to Mr Foo JL and the members of Seletar CC Butterfly Garden for collaborating with ButterflyCircle on many events.

01 July 2017

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education 
Part 2 : Educational and Interpretative Signages

Main signboard at Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin. Featuring the works of Bob Cheong, Khew SK, Loke PF, Jonathan Soong and Mark Wong.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed ButterflyCircle's contributions to publications and other media formats. Some material and photos have also made it to research papers and scientific publications, including documentation of survey findings. Well-taken photos of butterflies always add that 'spice' to any publication, and over and above being just aesthetic outcomes of a photographer's work, good photos are always in demand to support well-written articles about our butterfly biodiversity.

ButterflyCircle's display panel at Festival of Biodiversity 2015 (in conjuction with Singapore's 50th birthday!) The annotations show ButterflyCircle's objectives and focus.

ButterflyCircle members Anthony Wong, Horace Tan and Loke PF volunteering at the Festival of Biodiversity 2014

This weekend's blog article showcases some of ButterflyCircle's community engagement activities over the past decade or so. In ButterflyCircle's objectives and areas of focus, which have appeared regularly on our display boards since the first Festival of Biodiversity in 2012, one area of contribution is to provide write-ups and photos for interpretative signages in public parks and gardens projects in Singapore. This is where ButterflyCircle has successfully partnered the National Parks Board of Singapore to provide educational signages to create awareness and appreciation of our local butterfly fauna.

Three of the five ButterflyCircle contributors to the main sign at Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin

Examples of such interpretative signages can be found at several public parks and gardens in Singapore. The largest number of signages and write-ups can be found at Pulau Ubin's Butterfly Hill - a project that ButterflyCircle members had collaborated with NParks to create. There is a total of 15 small signages and one large board depicting some of the butterflies that may be spotted at Butterfly Hill.

Small sign at Butterfly Hill featuring the Custard Apple, a host plant for the Tailed Jay. ButterflyCircle member Mark Wong contributed his photo

Small sign at Butterfly Hill featuring Bamboo, a host plant for the Bamboo Tree Brown (by Jonathan Soong) and Common Redeye. (by Khew SK)

Small sign at Butterfly Hill featuring the Batoko Plum, a host plant for the Rustic (by Khew SK) and Leopard (by Chng CK)

The signages depict the close relationship between plants and the butterfly species found on Butterfly Hill. NParks has also judiciously selected the appropriate plants to correspond with the signages as far as possible, so that visitors can read the signages and then see the plants that are described. It would also be a bonus if the butterflies are also feeding on the plants!

As with free-ranging butterfly trails, there are no guarantees that a visitor can see butterflies. It depends on the weather and seasonal appearance of some species of butterflies, unlike an artificial enclosure where the captive butterflies can be seen 'on demand'. However, it is always more environmentally-friendly and exciting to spot butterflies in the wild and observe their behaviour in their natural environment.

Interpretative signage at Hort Park's Butterfly Garden

Over at Hort Park, ButterflyCircle collaborated with NParks for an experimental enclosure for breeding butterflies back in 2009. This enclosure has since been removed for a more environmentally-friendly open Butterfly Garden today. Again, ButterflyCircle was involved in the interpretative signage and providing some educational write up contributions to the signages around the Butterfly Garden.

Temporary display of butterfly species at Hort Park featuring ButterflyCircle members' photos

ButterflyCircle members' works were also displayed at the temporary display panels at Hort Park for some time. Species of butterflies selected for the display panels are those that have been seen flying freely at Hort Park, and these are more relevant in that visitors who spot these butterflies flying around can associate them with the signages that they have seen.

The newly-launched Learning Forest at the Singapore Botanic Gardens feature a series of interpretative signages to educate visitors about the flora and fauna of the 6 hectare rain forest that has been integrated with the SBG. The Learning Forest features themed collections showcasing trees with interesting forms and bark, a bambusetum, and an arboretum of wild fruit trees.

Interpretative signs featuring butterfly species that can be found in the vicinity of the Learning Forest at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Signages also depict the wildlife that can be spotted in the Learning Forest, of which butterflies are also featured. Photos of butterfly species that are likely to be spotted in the forest and along the walkways and footpaths are depicted on signage located at the Canopy Web area. The Canopy Web allows visitors to experience being in the canopy of a forest from a height of about 8 m.

Interpretative signage at Tampines Eco Green

Over at our suburban park, Tampines Eco Green, the interpretative signage designs are more understated and are crafted to blend in with the environment. Small signages depicting some examples of butterflies spotted at Tampines Eco Green are placed discreetly at low level to educate visitors about the flora and fauna of this suburban park on the east of Singapore island.

A play mobile interpretative display at Yishun Park

In the northern part of Singapore, the 13.9 hectare Yishun park is a suburban neighbourhood park that is popular with the residents in the public housing apartments around the park. Over here, the photos used for the signages take a more interactive play format, where the biodiversity found at the park is placed on a 'tic-tac-toe' mobile sign.

Butterfly photos featured at Toilet Block 2, Yishun Park

There are 3 rest room blocks at the large park, and the designers have chosen to creatively distinguish the male and female toilets by putting photos of sexually-dimorphic species of birds, dragonflies and butterflies. The common urban butterfly species, Blue Pansy (Junonia orithiya wallacei) was selected for one of the toilet blocks. The designers were also careful to add in the universally-accepted male/female graphics for visitors who are less knowledgeable about male/female butterflies, birds or dragonflies, just in case they have people who wander into the wrong toilets!

Butterfly interpretative signage at the Jelutong Tower at Central Catchment Nature Reserves

If you are in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve for a nature walk and come across Jelutong Tower, a 7-deck observation tower that allows visitors an unimpeded overview of the forest in MacRitchie area, you will also see some older signs that used our photos of butterflies to share some educational information about butterflies in the nature reserves.

Flight of Fancy Exhibition, featuring the biodiversity of Gardens by the Bay and ButterflyCircle members standing proudly next to their work

ButterflyCircle members also had the privilege of conducting butterfly surveys at Gardens by the Bay and exhibiting their photographs of butterflies that were specifically taken at Gardens by the Bay. The exhibition held in 2013, entitled "Flight of Fancy", featured flying creatures found at Gardens by the Bay, showcasing the increasing biodiversity of the area after the project was completed and opened to the public.

ButterflyCircle members work featured on the educational display boards at Oh Farm Butterfly Lodge

Once again, there may be other signages and display boards that have used the generous contributions of ButterflyCircle members' work that have not been featured here. And to those members who have responded to the call for contributions of their photos for the various interpretative signages all around Singapore's parks and gardens, a big thank you to all of you!

Text by Khew SK : Photos courtesy of various authors and photographers