Wednesday, 25 July 2012

NSS Kids' Fun at the Butterfly Trail @ Orchard

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson
Photos by Timothy Pwee

Butterfly host and nectar plants have been planted along and adjacent to Orchard Road to form a 4-km stretch known as the Butterfly Trail @ Orchard (BTO). The ongoing BTO project is spearheaded by the Butterfly Interest Group (BIG) of Nature Society (Singapore). We had the privilege of traipsing along the trail on 12 February 2012, led by BIG Chairperson Gan Cheong Wei, with co-guides Simon Chan and Anuj Jain.
Kids and parents were intrigued by the many caterpillars, butterflies and plants encountered.

Starting at the National Museum of Singapore, we rode the outdoor escalator up to Stamford Green, which itself marks the beginning of the hilly Fort Canning Park area. We encountered the Plain Tiger, Painted Jezebel and Lemon Emigrant in energetic flight. These butterflies were going from plant to plant, poking their proboscis into the many flowers that bloomed freely here. As they paused for a sweet drink, kids and their parents snapped away with their digital cameras.

Uncle Gan also photographed an Apefly at Stamford Green, a new record for the trail! The Apefly is so called because part of its pupa has an ape-like appearance.

We then took a relaxing stroll down the slopes toward Dhoby Ghaut Green. This lovely manicured garden, complete with trellises, is located just outside the MRT station of the same name. Here, we found our first colourful caterpillar, that of the Autumn Leaf butterfly. It turned out that these caterpillars were numerous around the garden, appearing in their various instars. Uncle Anuj explained that this was because the Autumn Leaf’s host plant, the Pseuderanthemum reticulatum was planted in abundance in the area. We even detected the Autumn Leaf’s pupa in quiet repose beneath a leaf.

The spiny and colourful caterpillar of the Autumn Leaf butterfly was numerous around Dhoby Ghaut Green, the manicured gardens just outside the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

Surprisingly, some of the kids present were already little experts in their own right. Their experience stem from observing and rearing butterflies in their grandma’s garden. One of these kids even shared tips on how to spot caterpillars. The first clue: holey, half-eaten leaves. Then, look for caterpillar droppings that typically appear as clusters of tiny black balls. Finally, turn the leaves over and you will likely find the chomping culprits. As Lena Chow attests, the best way to interest kids in butterflies is to rear caterpillars at home, and watch their fascinating transformation into the adult form. She has already distributed a few dozen caterpillars of the Lime Butterfly and the Common Mormon to several kids and even to a teacher for his science lessons. As a result, one of these recipients, 10-year old Tan Teong Seng, has since been inspired to learn all about butterflies, and has developed a knack for spotting and identifying them.

We ambled through the Istana Park to reach the Penang Road Open Space. This is another garden that is the size of nearly two basketball courts, located across the street from Orchard Central. BIG had the Aristolochia acuminata planted here, the host plant for the Common Birdwing. The ultimate dream is to see the large and easily-recognisable Birdwing, a black-and-yellow beauty with a stunning 14-cm wingspan, fluttering along Orchard Road. (PS: This happy sighting has since occured). Over here, we spotted the caterpillars of the Plain Tiger that feed off the leaves of the Crown Flower. Anuj also showed us the Cycad, an ancient plant that hails from the age of the dinosaurs, host to the Cycad Blue butterfly.
Penang Road Open Space is a green oasis in the middle of Orchard Road, located across the street from Orchard Central.

In all, the BIG has recorded 60 butterfly species along the BTO, up from a paltry 20+ species before the plantings. Butterfly watching is attractive to late risers as walks typically start at 9.30 am. This is because the butterflies themselves need ample sunshine and heat before they come out to feed. After two hours of butterflying, we became familiar with references to butts, cats and pups, short for butterflies, caterpillars and pupas. We left feeling a greater affinity for these delicate painted wings and a burning interest to learn more about them.

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