15 April 2018

Butterfly of the Month - April 2018

Butterfly of the Month - April 2018
The Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus)

We are now about halfway through the fourth month of the year, and typically, the weather should spell springtime for the northern hemisphere. However, the cold fingers of winter seem loathe to release its hold, leaving cold snaps in its wake, and even unexpected snowfall in several countries in late March. In Singapore, the record cold temperatures at the start of the year made way for rather hot and humid days with temperatures reaching the high 30's.

A Pea Blue feeding on the flower of the Spanish Needle (Bidens alba)

I took a short vacation in early April to Northern Thailand to Chiangmai. My last trip there was back in Oct 2016, and it seemed like a good time to visit Antonio and our butterfly friends up in Thailand again. The weather forecasts indicated hot dry days with temperatures even hitting 40 deg! However, it rained on the 3rd day when we were in Chiangdao where the night temperature plunged to a cold 18deg! The butterfly activity was rather low for this time of the year, but we still enjoyed the trip.

The world of technology and social media has touched hundreds of millions of users all over the world. And it would be unimaginable today, if we didn't check our smartphones about what our friends across the globe are doing on popular portals like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, Wechat, Weibo and the spectrum of social media platforms that is all-pervasive in our daily lives.

A Pea Blue perched on the flower of its caterpillar host plant

However, on the 'dark side' of social media, are privacy issues. What each of us choose to share with our friends, may end up in the wrong hands. A case in point would be Facebook's data breach that has affected over 87 million users, mainly in the US. The data leak created a situation where personal information may have been inappropriately shared without the users' permission.

Speaking of privacy, today's technological advances have the potential of becoming the 'all-seeing' eye in both the virtual and real worlds that we exist in. One such technology, facial recognition, has already been tested and proven to work in China, when a fugitive was recognised and identified from a sea of 50,000 spectators at a concert, by a facial recognition system. He was subsequently nabbed by the police.

Singapore is also planning to jump onto this facial recognition bandwagon with a government initiative to install such a system island-wide via its 110,000 lamp posts. Like all new technological systems, there are always positive and negative sides to consider. On the lighter side of things, high quality face mask manufacturers (cue Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible) may be ramping up their production capacities in anticipation of the increased business!

A Pea Blue perching on a blade of grass

Such a "facial" recognition system may also be useful for our butterflies. But unfortunately, there is probably very insignificant commercial motivation for any company to develop such a system. A amateurish attempt to do this by a local enthusiast started a couple of years back, but it quickly fizzled out after the recognition algorithm was unreliable to ID butterflies. Perhaps when someone more capable designs the system, such a butterfly ID system may see the light of day.

Our Butterfly of the Month for April 2018 is the common species, Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus). This species has the distinction of being first described by the 'father of modern taxonomy', Carl Linnaeus himself back in 1767! The Pea Blue is globally widespread and is recognised as the English "Long-Tailed Blue", an infrequent visitor to the southern coast of England.

Despite its delicate appearance, the Pea Blue is nomadic and has a range that takes it from southern Europe to Africa and the Indo-Australian Region to as far east as Hawaii. It has not been found in America yet. The Pea Blue is one of the butterflies that most taxonomists have not found any morphological or geographical justifications to add a subspecies to.

A female Pea Blue oviposits on the buds of its caterpillar host plant

The Pea Blue is considered common in Singapore, and is most often seen wherever its caterpillar host plants, Crotalaria retusaand Crotalaria mucronata are found. In recent years, the host plants are cultivated in our urban parks and gardens and is one of the preferred plants for butterfly gardens. The Crotalaria spp. also have the added benefit of being attractive to Danainae butterflies, which feed on the excretions of the seed pods and stems of the plant.

Male (top) and Female (bottom) Pea Blue showing off their upperside of their wings

The male of the Pea Blue is dull purple blue above with two black tornal spots on the hindwing. The female is brown with the wing bases a pale shining blue, with white post-discal and submarginal fasciae on the hindwings. Males are more often encountered, although females can usually be spotted ovipositing on the caterpillar host plants.

The underside is a pale buff brown with white transverse fasciae creating a pattern that is easily distinguishable and quite unlike that of any other Lycaenid. The orange-crowned black tornal spot on the hindwing has greenish-blue metallic scaling. There is a long white-tipped filamentous tail at vein 2 of the hindwing.

The Pea Blue is usually skittish, flying with an erratic flight pattern. But it can be approached carefully when it stops to feed at flowering plants or when it perches on the top surface of leaves to sunbathe or to rest with its wings folded upright.

A Pea Blue puddling at a damp sandy streambank

Occasionally, the Pea Blue has been observed to puddle in search of nutrients in damp sand or along forest footpaths. The life history of the Pea Blue has been successfully recorded on the two Crotalaria spp. found in Singapore.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, May Chan, Bob Cheong, Khew SK, Loke PF, Bobby Mun, Simon Sng, Mark Wong and Benjamin Yam

07 April 2018

Butterfly Photography Series - Part 2

Butterfly Photography Series
Digital Post-Processing - Part 2 : Noise Reduction

In Part 1 of our Digital Post-Processing series, ButterflyCircle member Loh Mei Yee shared with us the basics of post-process editing by adding contrast, brightening, sharpening and cropping a shot. Mei Yee is back again in Part 2, where she takes us through a simple process of reducing 'noise' in a photo using a Photoshop Plug-in. Over to Mei Yee...

In my earlier article, I showed how you can enhance your photo with the use of Nik plug-ins – ‘Sharpener Pro’ and ‘Viveza 2’. In this continuing article of the series, I will touch on an issue that many of us often face – NOISE! Not the disturbing noise from annoying neighbours blasting loud music but digital noise in photography. I will be demonstrating how to reduce noise in photos using another Nik plug-in called ‘Dfine 2’.

What is noise? In digital photography, ‘noise’ is the commonly-used term to define aberrant pixels, or simply known as the “small dots” that are all over the image which causes a rough look or texture, making the photo unpleasant to look at. These small dots might not be very noticeable but they can be quite visible when you zoom in and view the image, or when your image is heavily cropped.

What causes digital noise? Higher ISOs which you may need when shooting in low light, is the main culprit in causing more noise. Another reason is the size of the sensor of your camera. If you compared a DSLR and a point and shoot camera (PnS), and both have 10 megapixel sensors, the DSLR would yield a much cleaner image with a lot less noise when compared to the point and shoot image. This is because DSLRs have much bigger sensors and therefore can accommodate larger *photosites compared to point and shoot.

*A photosite (photo/photon sensing site), as it is often termed around the web, refers to a sensor pixel in this context. Depending on the design of the sensor, a photosite or pixel may contain the necessary circuitry for a single coloured pixel, or it may contain the necessary circuitry for multiple colours of pixels

Take a look at the image below, you’ll notice that noise is more obvious on areas that are flat mid-tones (which is normally on the background) and less noticeable on areas that are bright and are with textures. What we want to do is to reduce the noise on the background.

In this tutorial, I have chosen a photo of the Common Tiger that I shot some time in September 2017. I will be using ‘Dfine 2’ to reduce noise mainly on the background whilst no noise reduction will be done on the butterfly. We want a smooth looking background but retain the details on the butterfly.

Once you are in Photoshop, go to your Nik Collection Plug-ins menu and launch DFine2

Dfine 2 will analyse the image and reduce the noise accordingly.

Automatic profile applied. Noise reduction has been applied to the entire image.

To further reduce the noise, click on the ‘Reduce’ button.

Increase the ‘Control Noise’ to 200%. Double click on the image to enlarge, click on ‘Split preview’ to have a look at the before and after effect. When you move the red line to the left and right, you’ll notice a significant difference in the green background.

Because noise reduction has been applied to the entire image, it means that some details on the butterfly have been lost. The next step is to bring back the details on the butterfly.

I am using this button (see red arrow) to add control points on the butterfly. This is to remove the noise reduction effect and bring back the details.

Start with adding a control point at the tip of the forewing (or anywhere you prefer), move the slider to the left, to cover only the area of the wing and not to affect the background.

Continue adding more control points where needed.

Continue adding more control points where needed.

Double click to enlarge the image when adding control points on small areas. Double click again to reduce the image.

When you have finished adding control points, you can click on ‘Split preview’ to have a look at the before and after effect. Move the red line left and right, you’ll notice a significant difference in the green background but little to no changes on the butterfly.

Click OK and a new layer is created. The original image is at the Background layer.

Original photo with noise

Photo after applying Dfine 2 noise reduction

Original shot without post-processing

Final shot using post-processing techniques discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series

This brings us to the end of Part 2 tutorial. To further enhance your photo from here, you can also apply the steps that are shown in the Part 1 article. I have made a video tutorial of how I edited my photo using Dfine 2. See you again soon in the next article in my digital post-processing series!

Noise reduction using DFine 2

Remember to watch the video in HD for better quality

Text and Photos by Loh Mei Yee

01 April 2018

Singapore's Judys

Singapore's Judys
Featuring the Abisara spp. (Judys) of Singapore

The family Riodinidae was previously classified as sub-family Riodininae of the Lycaenidae family (ref : Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula 4th Edition), but raised to family status subsequently in more recent publications. Many species in the family feature metallic markings on their wings, giving rise to their collective common English name of "Metalmarks".

Female Spotted Judy perched on a leaf

In the Southeast Asian region, the Riodinidae is characterised by small, reddish-brown butterflies that prefer deep forest shade habitats. They have a unique, short, hopping flight and alight on the upper surfaces of leaves with half-opened wings. When active, they will twist and turn on the leaf with jerky walking movements, often to the frustration of the butterfly photographer who is trying to get an ideal angle to shoot them.

Male Malayan Plum Judy perched on a fern

Many species of the Riodinidae have yellow-green eyes. A special characteristic of the family is that the forelegs of the males are under-developed, appearing more like hair tufts. The females, on the other hand, have all six legs fully developed.

In Singapore, the Riodinidae is represented by five species in three genera. Of the five species, three belong to the genus Abisara. The species in this genus are collectively named Judy. It is interesting that the common names of the group of butterflies in the Riodinidae originate from the traditional beach puppet or marionette show of "Punch and Judy". The species of another Riodinidae genus, the Dodona, have all their species named after Punch. However, this genus is not extant in Singapore.

Male Spotted Judy

This article introduces the three Judy species found in Singapore. The extant species of the Abisara spp. in Singapore are the Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides), the Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya) and the Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri). It was earlier thought that another Malaysian species, the Straight Judy (Abisara kausambi kausambi) also exists in Singapore, but further research showed that this species is not found here.

The Malayan Plum Judy (Abisara saturata kausambioides)

The most common of the three Abisara species found in Singapore, the Malayan Plum Judy is found at urban parks and gardens as well as in the forested areas of the nature reserves. It can also be found on the offshore island of Pulau Ubin. Males are more often seen, but both sexes display the typical Riodinidae behaviour of hopping from leaf to leaf and turning around with their wings half-opened.

The upperside of the male Malayan Plum Judy shows a deep purple-blue colour in angled lighting

The upperside of the male is a deep crimson brown without any markings. When viewed in a sidelight, the upperside may show a purple-blue colouration. The paler underside features a pair of diffused pale purplish post-discal bands. The outer band on the hindwing has a series of large black, white-edged submarginal spots.

The paler female has a diffused white sub-apical patch on the forewing, whilst the hindwing "tail" is prominently angled at vein 4 and appears to flare out wider than in the male. The Malayan Plum Judy has been successfully bred on two alternative host plants - Ardisia elliptica (Myrsinaceae), Embelia ribes (Myrsinaceae).

The Spotted Judy (Abisara geza niya)

The second of the Judy species found in Singapore is the Spotted Judy. This species is superficially similar to the Malayan Plum Judy in appearance. Also a deep crimson brown in colour, the male of the Spotted Judy differs from the Malayan Plum Judy in the whiter diffused subapical patch on the outer post-discal band.

Female Spotted Judy.  Note less extensive sub-apical white patch on the forewing and the dislocated post-discal band at vein 4 of the hindwing.

In the female, the diffused sub-apical patch is more restricted than in the Malayan Plum Judy. The hindwing "tail" is also prominently angled at vein 4 and displays the similar flare that is wider than in the male. Both sexes can be separated from the Malayan Plum Judy in their diagnostic characteristic hindwing post-discal band that is dislocated at vein 4.

Upperside of the male Spotted Judy.  The structural scales diffract light at certain angles where the wing colour shows a purple-blue.

The Spotted Judy is moderately rare, but can be found in generally the same habitats as the Malayan Plum Judy. Males are sometimes seen 'dog-fighting' in the late hours of the day. The species can be found in urban parks and gardens as well as in the forested nature reserves, preferring heavily shaded environments. It has been successfully bred on Embelia ribes (Myrsinaceae) and Embelia canescens (Myrsinaceae).

The Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri)

The third and rarest Judy found in Singapore is the Malay Tailed Judy. It is found mainly in the heavily shaded forested areas of the nature reserves. This forest-dependent species is generally larger than its previous two related species. It also differs from the other two in that, instead of the crimson brown wings, the Malay Tailed Judy is a pale beige with a light tinge of violet.

It cannot be mistaken for any other species in Singapore. The Malay Tailed Judy features two diffused white transverse sub-apical stripes on the forewing. It has a distinctly longer white tipped tail at vein 4 of the hindwing. It shares the behavioural characteristic of hopping on the upper surfaces of leaves with half-opened wings.

The Malay Tailed Judy has been successfully bred on the same host plants as the Spotted Judy - Embelia ribes (Myrsinaceae) and Embelia canescens (Myrsinaceae). The species can be occasionally observed feeding on overripe fruits on the forest floor.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by James Chia, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan and Benjamin Yam.