Save MacRitchie Forest: 13. Butterflies, jewels of the forest

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There are more than 300 species of butterflies in Singapore. Of these, more than 60% are found in forests, many of which are forest-dependent and seldom, if at all, seen in urban areas and gardens. Thus should forest plants disappear as a result of forest destruction and fragmentation, these forest butterflies, whose caterpillars are dependent on forest plants, would similarly disappear.

In the forest, many butterflies stay close to the forest floor, their cryptic colouration on the underside of their wings that resemble dead leaves, keep them safe from predators. They become alive when the sun’s rays filter down into the dark forest floor. Then they start to feed on the products of organic decay among the leaf litter and on fallen fruits. Others seek out their different food plants to sip nectar from the flowers. Only then will these forest butterflies attract attention because of their colourful wings, especially when they flip from plant to plant.

Butterflies have a complex life cycle. The eggs are laid on the leaves of their food plants. When the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars feed on the leaves, growing in size with the days. As the caterpillars grow, they shed their skin a number of times after which they turn into pupae. The pupae appear inert but within the covering the tissues undergo changes, to finally give rise to butterflies LINK.

The Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti) favours forest paths. Not seen outside the forest, it has a short hopping flight, flitting from perch to perch. The wings are black above while the under surface is reddish-orange. It is easily recognised by the presence of the three tails, one long and two very short (above).

The Dark Posy (Drupadia theda thesmia) is also forest-dependent, often seen darting from perch to perch in sunlit spots (above).

The Purple Duke (Eulaceura osteria kumana), another forest-dependent species, is not found outside the nature reserves. It has a rapid flight from a low bush to settle down on the undersides of leaves. If disturbed, it will fly off to again settle on the underside of another leaf nearby (above).

The Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes) is large, conspicuous and attractively coloured, commonly referred to as a swallowtail. This is because of its characteristic tail protrusion coming from the edge of each hind-wing. It feeds on flowers of Lantana (Lantana camara) and Common Asystasia (Asystasia gangetica). Many swallowtails have chemicals that make them poisonous or distasteful to predators while others mimic poisonous species. The males are often seen puddling (drinking from a mud puddle to benefit from the minerals in the water) at damp paths. It also takes liquid from carrion (above).

The Five Bar Swordtail (Pathysa antiphates itamputi) is a large and handsome species. It is commonly known as a swordtail because of the long, slender and tapering tail extending from the hind-wing. Its flight is fast and erratic (above).

The Archduke (Lexias pardalis dirteana), although relatively common, is again forest-dependent. It forages among the leaf litter, coiling and uncoiling its proboscis as it takes in the nutritious fluid on rotting leaves and fruits. The above image shows a female. The male is dark, velvety black above with a broad blue hind-wing marginal border.

The Yellow Vein Lancer (Pyroneura latoia latoia) is seldom seen outside the forest. It is a fast flyer and feeds on the flowers of the shrub Leea indica (above).

The Dark Blue Jungle Glory (Thaumantis klugius lucipor) feeds on fermenting fallen fruits found among the leaf litter in the forest floor. The dark colour of the underside of its wing renders it almost invisible to predators. But when startled, it flies off showing its iridescent ultramarine blue upper surface of the wings. It generally prefers the deep forest, always keeping close to the ground (above).

The Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsina) is a typical forest species, seldom, if ever, seen outside our nature reserves. The upper-side of the wings has a bright, rather gaudy orange-red pattern with the serrated margins bordered in black (above).

The Lesser Harlequin (Laxita thuisto thuisto) is also a forest-dependent. It is found in heavily shaded understorey of the forest. It often hops from leaf to leaf to settle with wings half-opened (above).

When you next takes a walk along a forest path, keep your eyes open for these attractive butterflies.

Khew Sin Khoon
Singapore
July 2013

Earlier Posts:
1. Saving MacRitchie forest: A youngster’s view LINK
2: Introduction LINK
3: Flying Lemur LINK
4: Mammals LINK
5. Fragile frogs and tender tadpoles LINK
6. Refuge for reptiles LINK
7. Eco-performance LINK
8. You can’t see the wood from the trees LINK
9. Sanctuary for spiders LINK
10. Chained to our roots LINK
11. Plants LINK
12. Birds and their status.LINK
13. Mushrooms LINK

7 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing with us these rarely encountered jewels of the forest. Beautifully captured.

    If only our government can see beyond the dollars and cents to save whatever is remaining before irrecoverable damage is done to our nature reserves, our nature heritage.

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