Monday, 25 January 2016

NSS Kids’ Fun with Singapore’s National Butterfly Finalists

By Tan Teong Seng, 13-year old butterfly guide

What better time than Singapore’s 50th birthday to choose our National Butterfly? The NSS Kids walk on 7 March 2015 at the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden (JBCG) located near the junction of Bukit Timah and Farrer Roads in Singapore, aimed to show participants four of the six finalists in the run for the title of Singapore’s National Butterfly.

As lead guide, Auntie Lena Chow had earlier arranged with JBCG Manager Uncle Craig Williams to wow the kids with all sorts of caterpillars. Uncle Craig showed up with boxes of his reared caterpillars, and his table of caterpillars was quickly swarmed by children eager to see them up close. On display were ‘cats’ of the Leopard Lacewing, Tawny Coster, Common Rose and Autumn Leaf. There were also pupae of the Painted Tiger, Painted Jezebel and Common Mime. Many of the children warmed up to these little ‘cats’, and were soon busy stroking them and even letting them crawl all over their hands. It was great to see these kids enjoying the ‘cats’ so much. However, they were warned that not all caterpillars can be handled as some can sting badly.

Teong Seng highlighting the unique characteristics of the six National Butterfly finalists.
Even after 30 minutes, the children were still busy making friends with the caterpillars. Auntie Lena and co-guide Teong Seng were forced to part the kids from their ‘cats’ to start the walk proper. Auntie Lena explained the importance of caterpillars and butterflies in our ecosystem, as they serve as food sources for birds and pollinators for plants. She then introduced the National Butterfly Campaign for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents to vote for one of six shortlisted candidates to become Singapore’s National Butterfly. Teong Seng briefly described the unique characteristics of these six finalists, namely the Common Rose, Painted Jezebel, Common Tiger, Common Tree Nymph, Common Birdwing and Knight.

Without further ado, the walk commenced and everyone surged into the garden excitedly. Teong Seng had brought along with him a Banana Skipper that had just eclosed (ie. emerged from its pupa case) the day before. Upon spotting some banana trees, he took the opportunity to explain the life cycle of the Banana Skipper before releasing the day-old butterfly into the Gardens.

Kids admiring butterflies, caterpillars and their host plants.
Walking on, we spotted our first National Butterfly candidate, the Painted Jezebel. It was fluttering in the canopy, so we had to crane our necks to see it. Close by were a few Plain Tigers hovering around their host plant, the Blood Flower (Asclepias currasavica) with Plain Tiger caterpillars on it. The children wasted no time in taking turns to play with the ‘cats’. Auntie Lena and Teong Seng also pointed out other painted wings such as Chocolate Pansies, Grass Yellows and the very tiny and often-overlooked Grass Blues.

It was not long before we saw our second candidate, the Common Rose. Big and magnificent, this black-red-and-white beauty flew around us but unfortunately did not land for a photograph. Later in the walk, kids were introduced to the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia acuminata), the host plant for the Common Rose and Common Birdwing. This plant had many Common Rose caterpillars, but to our disappointment, no Common Birdwing ‘cats’.

Playing with the caterpillar of the Common Rose.
We encountered birds such as the Yellow-Vented Bulbul, and an abandoned nest of this common garden species. Next, we came to a pond where snakeheads and terrapins thrived. Then somebody found an Oakblue, which was promptly identified as a Centaur Oakblue by 10-year-old Daryl Ng. Auntie Lena was impressed with this kid, and we found out later that he is a butterfly enthusiast who has read the local butterfly guidebooks from cover to cover.

Before calling it a day, Auntie Lena gave away certain caterpillars and the leaves of their host plants to some delighted kids. Although we only saw two National Butterfly candidates, the walk was nonetheless meaningful and enjoyable. 

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