Sunday, 5 February 2017

NSS Kids’ Fun with Caterpillars & Butterflies at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park (Singapore)

By Soh Zhi Bing,10-year old butterfly guide

Photos by Soh Kam Yung & Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice-Chairperson

Children and adults alike went gaga over the caterpillars that I had been rearing at home.

As the main guide for my second butterfly walk on 18 September 2016 at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore, I was lucky to be supported by veteran butterfly guides Auntie Amy Tsang, Auntie Lena Chow and Uncle KC Tsang. I started by introducing the caterpillars (cats) that I had been rearing at home to kids and their parents. We enjoyed close-up observations of the cats of the Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide bisalitide), Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus chrysippus), Lime (Papilio demoleus malayanus), Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus) and Tawny Coster (Acraea violae). These cats were a whirl of action, hungrily chewing up the leaves of their respective host plants, oblivious to the enthusiastic chatter and passing around of their mini homes.

We were amused that the Blue Nawab caterpillar resembled a Pokemon character.

Children and adults alike went gaga over the caterpillars. Kids were eager to stroke the safe cats such as the Autumn Leaf and Tawny Coster, as they do not have urticating hairs that irritate the skin. Several brave ones even allowed these larvae to crawl all over their arms. Auntie Amy had earlier loaned from her friend the cats of the seldom-seen Green Baron (Euthalia adonia pinwilli) and Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus). We were amused to find that the Blue Nawab cat resembled a Pokemon character with impressive head structures atop a speckled green body. Uncle KC Tsang then showed us his homemade videos with zoomed-in views of a caterpillar’s constantly moving mouthparts as it chomped down its leafy feast.

The 3rd and 4th instars of the Green Baron caterpillar. The larger 4th instar had just shed its old skin.

I spoke of the various instars that a caterpillar has to grow into before it pupates. I pointed out examples of two instars of the Lime Butterfly, with one cat looking bigger and quite different from its earlier instar. Cats grow rather quickly. For example, the Lime Butterfly which feeds on the leaves of the lime plant, metamorphosises from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly in just 23 to 27 days. After half an hour of admiring the caterpillars, we split into two groups to take turns exploring two parts of Bishan-AMK park with Auntie Amy leading the other party.

Our game of Butterfly Bingo encouraged kids to look for their own butterflies.

My group went to the park’s compact Butterfly Garden, lush with well-tended flowering shrubs and butterfly host plants. Here, we played the game Butterfly Bingo. Kids were given a sheet of paper with photos of nine common butterflies arranged in a grid. Spotting a particular butterfly species allows one to cross it out. Three species forming a row would entitle one to some candy. This was motivating enough for kids to start calling out what they had found. Some children earned their sweet fix after just a few minutes. Butterflies seen in the area included the ubiquitous Grass Yellows (Eurema spp), Lemon Emigrants (Catopsilia pomona pomona), Plain Tigers, Leopards (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) and the often-overlooked Grass Blues due to their diminutive stature. Unfortunately, we did not encounter the Common Rose, Singapore's National Butterfly by popular vote, even though its host plant the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia acuminata) is found in the garden.

Our sharp-eyed kids found an abundance of Autumn Leaf caterpillars which they handled with aplomb.

We then made our way to a large patch of Asystasia (Asystasia gangetica), the host plant for the Autumn Leaf. We found an abundance of Autumn Leaf caterpillars here. Kids lost no time in gently picking them up for a closer study. We even held a mini race to see who could find and place the most number of caterpillars on their arms. I won the game with 16 caterpillars tickling up a storm, while others were not far behind. Thereafter, we reluctantly said our goodbyes and returned the caterpillars to their host plant.

I felt encouraged that kids and their parents were so open to interacting with Singapore’s caterpillars and butterflies. It was on this high note that we ended our walk.

Our outing was filmed as an example of a NSS activity, and showcased at the Charity Governance Awards 2016 where NSS was the winner in the Small Charity Category. Watch the footage here:

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