Wednesday, 13 July 2016

NSS Kids’ Fun with Butterflies at HortPark (Singapore)

By Soh Zhi Bing, Photos by Soh Kam Yung & Gloria Seow

We have been dubbed the “Butterfly Boys” as Daryl Ng (11 years old) and I (9 years old) are butterfly enthusiasts who regularly go on trips with NSS’s Butterfly and Insect Group (BIG). On 16 January 2016, we both became first-time butterfly guides to a group of peers and their caregivers at HortPark (located off Alexandra Road in Singapore).

Daryl (right) and I releasing a newly-eclosed Mottled Emigrant that I had been rearing.

We arrived early that morning. My dad (Soh Kam Yung) and I brought along the caterpillars and pupae of the Tawny Coster (Acraea violae), Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus), Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomona), Mottled Emigrant (Catopsilia pyranthe pyranthe), Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus) and Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus) which I had been rearing at home. We were immediately swarmed by kids who were fascinated with the constant chomping of the caterpillars on the leaves of their respective host plants. They asked plenty of questions and were curious about the life cycle of the different butterfly species.

Auntie Gloria then presented Daryl and I as the day’s guides. We each had to tell our stories of how we came to love butterflies. For me, I got interested when I attended the Butterfly Count by NParks where I learnt how to identify most of Singapore’s common butterflies. After that, I bought the book “Butterflies of Singapore” by Khew Sin Khoon which was where I learnt about the rarer butterflies such as the Vagrant (Vagrans sinha sinha). Daryl said that since young, he has always loved nature. In primary one, he reared the Tawny Coster as his caterpillar project. It reached its fifth instar, but the following day he was horrified to see a shrivelled-up brown pupa instead. Apparently, his caterpillar had been infected by a parasitic wasp. He felt sorry for it and soon after, became a butterfly lover. What a bittersweet tale!

HortPark’s Butterfly Garden produced the Striped Blue Crow, Common Bluebottle, and Singapore’s ‘National Butterfly’ by popular vote the Common Rose.

We then walked over to a Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea) patch, also known as Giant Milkweed, located near the park’s entrance to look for the Plain Tiger. Sadly, our first Plain Tiger caterpillar was quite dead. We explained that it was the likely victim of a parasitic wasp (same as Daryl’s first caterpillar) that had injected the caterpillar with its eggs. These eggs had probably hatched inside the poor caterpillar and the wasp larvae will literally eat their way out. No wonder this caterpillar had an ominous black shade to its usual vibrant colours. Thankfully, we encountered another Plain Tiger caterpillar – this one very much alive and chomping. By feeding on the poisonous leaves of the Crown Flower, the caterpillars themselves become toxic to birds. As a bonus, we spotted a huge and hairy Yellow Tussock Moth (Calliteara horsfieldii) caterpillar nearby. We told the kids that the hairs of such caterpillars typically sting badly and should not be handled.

On the walk to the Butterfly Garden which was some distance from the start, we found a well-camouflaged Katydid that feeds on leaves and aphids. We were distracted halfway by a giant ball-in-a-maze puzzle. Several of us had fun coordinating amongst ourselves to manoeuver a metal ball towards the centre of the maze.
Leopard Butterfly resting on its host plant, the Indian Prune.

Arriving at the Butterfly Garden, we were greeted by two large Striped Blue Crows (Euploea mulciber mulciber) gliding past regally. We also encountered the attractive Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon luctatius) which has a faster flight than the Crows. The kids were delighted to say hi to several Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris) butterflies, Singapore’s ‘National Butterfly’ by popular vote. This beauty likely won the most votes for wearing the colours of the National Flag on its wings. Unfortunately, we did not see Singapore’s largest butterfly, the Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus). Both of these butterflies share the same host plant – the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia acuminata) – a creeper that is grown in the Butterfly Garden along with other host and nectar plants. We inspected this creeper, and found a good number of cute Common Rose caterpillars in different instars feasting on it.
Auntie Lena next pointed out the Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) on which were many White Tortoise Beetles (Silana farinose) and their brownish larvae. The larva of this introduced species from Sri Lanka carries its excreta above itself as a deterrent to predators such as birds. What a strange and clever defence tactic!

On the way back, we found a tree full of hanging Bagworm Moth (family Psychidae) cocoons. We also came across a Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) butterfly resting on its host plant, the Indian Prune (Flacourtia rukam). We were both glad to have shown everyone so many things, and to see that people were enjoying themselves.

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