Insects in the bird garden: 1. Butterflies and mistletoes

on 31st August 2013

The small garden that I started years ago has proven to be a magnet to many urban birds LINK. The many plants present provide food in the form of flower nectar and fruits. In addition, the insects that are attracted to the plants to feed on the nectar and fruits or to breed provide food for insect-feeding birds. As each species of plant has its own complement of insects, the insect biodiversity naturally increases with the increase of plant species in the garden.

In a way, my bird garden has morphed into an insect garden. You can find a wide range of insect groups that include butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas and what have you. Through the years I have documented the different species as and when they appear. In a few cases I have made detail studies of life cycles – mainly butterflies and moths. And there are many instances when organisms are left unidentified, considering that limited guide books on local insects have only become available recently.

This post, the first of a short series, is on the butterflies associated with the mistletoes found in my garden. And why butterflies? Two reasons. They are relatively common here and their identification has been made easy with the recent publications of two guide books (Khew, 2010; Tan & Khew, 2012). In addition, extensive information is now available in the Butterfly Circle website maintained by Khew Sin Khoon LINK.

The Malayan Mistletoe (Dendrophthoe pentandra) grows on the branches of many of the plants in my garden LINK. This semi-parasitic mistletoe is host to the Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete metarete) and the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius). Its prolific growth on my Arabian Jasmine (Jasminum sambac) and the presence of plentiful Painted Jezebel caterpillars some years back led to a detailed documentation of the life cycle of this garden butterfly LINK (Wee & Ng, 2008). And incidentally, these butterflies feed on the Pink Mempat (Cratoxylon formosum) flower nectar, a wayside tree grown along the road fronting my house (above). Another of its food plant is Common Pulai (Alstonia angustiloba) (top: male on left, female on right).

My Noni tree (Morinda citrifolia) is also covered with the Malayan Mistletoe, the fruits of which attract birds LINK. and the leaves attract caterpillars of Painted Jezebel. The flowers of the Noni provide nectar to Sumatran Sunbeam (Curetis saronis sumatrana) and possibly other species of butterflies (above).

The Malayan Mistletoe is also host to the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius). This smallish but beautiful butterfly is quite commonly seen in parks and gardens LINK. When it sits quietly with wings folded, it appears inconspicuous except for the pair of black tonal spots crowned with orange and the pair of white-tipped tails (above). A potential predator will no doubt mistake the hind portion of the butterfly as the head, thus saving the butterfly should the former zooms in on it. However, when the butterfly unfolds its wings, its beauty is revealed. In the case of the male, the upperside of the wings displays a brilliant royal blue with black apical borders on the forewings (below). The female is less spectacular with its pale blue colouring.

For an account on the life cycle of the Peacock Royal, please refer to this LINK. The caterpillars attract ants that feed on their sweet sugary secretions. To a limited extent the ants can provide protection to the caterpillars, but definitely not from birds.

YC Wee & Khew Sin Khoon
August 2013
(The two images of the Peacock Royal are by Khew Sin Khoon; others by YC Wee)

Khew Sin Khoon, 2010. A field guide to the butterflies of Singapore. Ink On Paper Communications, Singapore. 342 pp.
2. Tan, Horace & Sin Khoon Khew, 2012. Caterpillars of Singapore’s butterflies. National Parks Board, Singapore. 208pp.
3. Wee, Y. C. & A. Ng, 2008. Life history of the painted jezebel, Delias hyparete Linnaeus, 1758 (Order Lepidoptera). Nature in Singapore 1: 103-108.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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