Monday, 4 March 2013

NSS Kids’ Fun with Forest Butterflies
Text & Photos By Lena Chow

Ten-year old Tan Teong Seng developed a passion for butterflies after rearing some caterpillars given out at a NSS Butterfly Walk just over a year ago. This sees him spending many happy weekends at butterfly hotspots around Singapore, and reading up fervently on the island’s myriad butterfly species. On 24 November 2012, Teong Seng put his knowledge to good use. He led nine other children as well as their accompanying parents and caregivers on a fun with forest butterflies session at Dairy Farm Nature Park. Truly, it was a walk for kids by a kid!

Our 10-year old guide Tan Teong Seng in action.
Teong Seng began by introducing the butterfly species commonly encountered along the Dairy Farm trail. Auntie Lena then explained the life cycle of a butterfly. She passed around Lime butterfly caterpillars in various stages (instars) of development, live pupas as well as a pristine Lime butterfly specimen. The caterpillars were later given away to a few lucky participants. Hopefully, witnessing the fascinating transformation of these caterpillars into butterflies will spark off an interest in butterfly appreciation as it has done for Teong Seng.

A Sixline Blue puddling on granite which Teong Seng gingerly lifted up for all to see!
To everyone’s delight, just a few steps into the trail, Teong Seng had a little Ciliate Blue land on his hand. It stayed put for a few minutes, feeding off his perspiration as this species is wont to do. This was a wonderful close-up demonstration of ‘puddling’, a common behaviour that had been explained just minutes earlier. Puddling is when butterflies unfurl their proboscis to sip water with dissolved salts and minerals from the ground, or in this case, from a sweaty hand.

Our young shutterbugs had many photo opportunities during our walk.
We next encountered a Chocolate Grass Yellow. It too was engrossed in puddling by the roadside, providing an awesome photo opportunity. Despite a cloudy morning, Teong Seng’s sharp eyes spotted various species that appeared along the trail. These included several Grass Yellows flitting near the ground and in the trees above, as well as a Common Posy showing off its long tail streamers. Our young guide next pointed out the black-and-white striped Common Mime, which mimics the appearance of the distasteful Tiger butterfly, thereby gaining protection against predators.

We had the excitement of watching a huge Praying Mantis feast on a decapitated cricket.
 At the abandoned hut just beyond the Wallace Education Centre, we ran into the Common Mormon, Plain Nawab, Lesser Dart, Common Palmfly and a Cruiser decked out in striking orange. These painted wings were feeding amongst the Lantana and Pagoda flowers. We also enjoyed stunning views of a Sixline Blue. It was so absorbed with puddling from a piece of granite that Teong Seng actually managed to lift the stone with the butterfly still on it to show everyone!

Next, we had the excitement of watching a huge Praying Mantis feast on a decapitated cricket while perched on some Lantanas. This provided a great action shot for all the shutterbugs in our group. We then encountered a curious-looking grasshopper with a strange sagging body and upright wings. Teong Seng promptly identified it as a Monkey Grasshopper.

The curious-looking Monkey Grasshopper.
  As we headed back towards the carpark, we came across the highlight of our trip: Two large and handsome male Archdukes were puddling side by side in the leaf litter, slowly fanning their striking black-and-blue wings as they fed. They were joined shortly by a pretty blue-eyed Common Faun. We were grateful that both butterfly species co-operatively posed for us. In all, the morning proved to be most rewarding for all who came, especially for those new to forest butterfly watching.

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