21 August 2016

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks - Upper Seletar Reservoir Park

Butterfly Photography at Our Local Parks
Featuring : Upper Seletar Reservoir Park

The pavilions at Carpark 'B' - a good starting point for your exploration of Upper Seletar Reservoir Park's biodiversity

In this weekend's article about butterfly photography at Singapore's local parks, we feature a nature park that is on the banks of our Upper Seletar Reservoir. This park, called Upper Seletar Reservoir Park, is also immediately adjacent to Central Catchment Nature Reserve and is more heavily forested than the usual urban parks that we have featured in this series. The 9-hole, Par 29 Mandai Executive Golf Course and Driving Range is also next to this park.

Lush forest edge greenery

Upper Seletar Reservoir Park covers about 15 Hectares of natural vegetation and is less heavily landscaped than a typical urban park. Where external planting is added to the area, these are minimal and the species selected appear to be more compatible with the nature reserves, where more native species are planted. The larger part of the park is left in its natural "wild" state with primary and secondary forest plants dominating the whole area.

Tranquil views of the Upper Seletar Reservoir

The Upper Seletar Reservoir, Singapore's 3rd impounding reservoir, (previously called the Seletar Reservoir), was built in 1920 and finally completed, after some upgrades in 1940. It was officially opened by Princess Alexandra of England in August 1969.

The landmark rocket-shaped tower at Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. It is now a nationally-conserved structure for its heritage value.
Left : As it looks today. Right : On the opening day in 1969. © National Library Board and Dr Chua Ai Lin

A rocket-shaped tower was designed by Singapore's Public Works Department (PWD) and completed that year, in time for the grand opening of the reservoir. The 18m tall, six-storey iconic tower was a favourite with Singaporeans during that period. It was given conservation status in 2009 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Access to Upper Seletar Reservoir Park can be quite inconvenient for non-drivers, although there is a bus service (Service 138) that stops along Mandai Road and it's a short walk to the nature areas from the bus stop. The first stop of interest to butterfly watchers starts at the two pavilions at Carpark B. From here, there is a short forest trail immediately behind the toilet block leading towards Mandai Road Track 7.

The Syzygium trees bordering Car Park 'B' are active with butterflies when they are in full bloom

The forest vegetation immediately behind the pavilions can also be good for butterflies, particularly when the Syzygium trees flower. Many rare forest species can then be spotted feeding on the flowers. At other times, one needs to be patient and observe quietly for species like the Purple Duke, Malayan Lascar and a number of Oakblues (Arhopala spp.) that will appear in the undergrowth from time to time.

Along the heavily-shaded forest trails, look for the ground feeders like the Yellow Archduke, Dark Blue Jungle Glory and Common Faun

Inside the forest trail, there are also opportunities to observe many different forest-dependent species that one will not often find in urban parks and gardens. Due to the variety of forest host plants, many species of butterflies that are associated with these plants can be found here. In the shaded understorey of the forested areas, look out for the ground feeders like the Archdukes, Common Faun, Saturn and Dark Blue Jungle Glory.

The 'dead-end' roundabout at Car Park 'C' near the NCC canoe shed.  The Green Oakblue occasionally makes its appearance here

Across from Mandai Road Track 7, the forest trail continues into an elbowed track and leads out to the other side of the road and to the roundabout "dead end" where the National Cadet Corps' canoe shed is. That area is also often a good hunting ground for butterfly watchers. Note that access beyond that area is not permitted and one chooses to wander beyond the out-of-bounds limits at their own risk.  Please comply with the 'no-trespassing' signs by MINDEF and NParks.

There are ample rain shelters around the park to take refuge in, or just for a short break

As many species of butterflies like to fly around forest edges, the open areas fronting the lush vegetation are often good places to wait for butterflies to appear. Areas where there are flowering plants like the Ixora bushes, and even the wildflowers like Asystasia or Elephant's Foot are worth exploring. The invasive creeper, Smilax bracteata, a bane of parks managers, is also useful in that it is the host plant of two small Lycaenidae - Branded Imperial and Yamfly. Expect to see these two species in the forested areas.

There are several rare Palm-feeding Skippers to be found along the trails of USR

Due to the large numbers of different species of Palmae, Poaceae and Arecacae, there are many Hesperiidae and Satyrinae that can be found in the vicinity. The variety of parasitic plants that occur on the mature trees will also play host to a number of rare Lycaenidae, and indeed, the occasional sightings of such species will always make a trip to such nature parks worthwhile!

Do watch out for aggressive macaques around the park.  Do not feed them and avoid any confrontations with them

As in any "wild" nature areas, be prepared for mosquito bites, the occasional bee/wasp sting, ticks (more recently, due to the presence of wild boars), snakes, centipedes and aggressive Long-Tailed Macaques. There are several troops of the macaques in the area, foraging for food, and human-macaque interactions in recent years have made them familiar with the food that comes with the "hairless monkeys". There have been regular reports of these macaques snatching food (or anything that looks edible) from visitors to the nature park.

USR is also a great place for other creatures and there is always plenty to amaze you

Besides butterflies, Upper Seletar Reservoir Park (codenamed "USR") is a hotbed of biodiversity, with many other taxonomic groups also recording a wide variety of species. Birders have often spotted rarities in the area and it is not surprising to see bird photographers with their big guns crowding the narrow trails of USR whenever a rare sighting is shared across the online groups.

The Plane, a rare Lycaenid that regularly makes an appearance at USR.
Top : Male ; Bottom : Female

Remember that this is a nature area and do not collect, damage or harm any of the biodiversity that you come across. Upper Seletar Reservoir Park has a lot to offer in terms of its flora and fauna, and it is hoped that the park will remain as a biodiversity haven for many years to come, so that different stakeholders can continue to enjoy the park.

How to Get There :
By MRT/Bus : Nearest current MRT is Khatib Bongsu, and thereafter by bus to Mandai Road. A future MRT station is being constructed near Springleaf area along Upper Thomson Road. Bus service No. 138 will stop just outside Upper Seletar Reservoir Park along Mandai Road.

By Car : See map for details. Park at Car Park 'B' and look for the pavilions as a starting point. Alternatively, park at the car parks along Mandai Road Track 7 towards the dead end near the toilet block adjacent to the NCC canoe shed. Car parking is free.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Khew SK and Loke PF

14 August 2016

Larval Host Plant for Butterflies: Sea-Shore Ardisia

Butterflies' Larval Host Plants #11
The Sea-Shore Ardisia (Ardisia elliptica)

This 11th instalment of our Butterflies' Larval Host Plants series features Ardisia elliptica, a species in Primulaceae (primrose family). This family of flowering plants has close to 3000 species and include a number of garden plants and wild flowers. The genus Ardisia (coralberry or marlberry) has about 400 odd species which occur in either tree or shrub forms.

A flowering Ardisia elliptica.

A fruiting Ardisia elliptica.

Ardisia elliptica is native to India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and New Guinea. Over the years, it has been introduced to other tropical regions as ornamental plants. In Singapore, it is readily found as cultivated plants in various parks and gardens. Due to its ability to reproduce prolifically, wild specimens in tidal swamps, nature reserves and wastelands are not uncommon too.

An Ardisia elliptica plant in the Chinese Garden in Jurong.

Plant Biodata:
Family: Primulaceae
Genus: Ardisia
Species: elliptica
Synonyms: A. solanacea, C. humilis
Country/Region of Origin: India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and New Guinea
English Common Names: Sea-Shore Ardisia, Shoebutton Ardisia
Other Local Names:  Mata Pelanduk, 兰屿树杞 , 东方紫金牛
Larval Host for Butterfly Species: Taxila haquinus haquinus (Harlequin), Abisara saturata kausambioides (Malayan Plum Judy), Nacaduba kurava nemana (Transparent Sixline Blue).

A row of young Ardisia elliptica plants forming a hedge in Changi coastal park in the east.

Ardisia elliptica is a understory shrub which can grow up to 5 meters in height. Young stems and petioles are reddish pink in colour. Branches projecting sideways from a stem have leaves arranged on them alternately. Young leaves are reddish pink in colour as well but the coloration fades to reddish brown as it grows.

A young sapling of Ardisia elliptica.

Change in coloration as the leaf of Ardisia elliptica grows and matures.

Mature leaves are green, leathery, elliptic to elliptic-obovate in shape and have nearly invisible lateral veins. The leaf margin is entire (that is smooth all the way round). Leaves of Ardisia elliptica have been used medicinally to treat heart pain, scabies and intestinal worms.

A small cluster of young leaves of Ardisia elliptica.

Mature leaves of Ardisia elliptica, note the alternative arrangement of leaves on each branch.

Flowers occur in umbellate inflorescences (flower clusters in which stalks of nearly equal length spring from a common centre) which develop in leaf axils. Each of these small, star-shaped flowers has five light pink petals.

Umbellate inforescences of flower buds.

Close up view of a flower of Ardisia elliptica.

The small berry-like fruits are roundish, initially green, turning red as they mature and finally deep purple/black when ripened. They are edible but insipid. The single seed within each fruit is approximately spherical. The dispersement of these seeds are aided by fruiting-eating birds.

Clusters of young fruits of Ardisia elliptica.

Maturing and ripended fruits of Ardisia elliptica.

In Singapore, Ardisia elliptica also serves as the larval host plant for three butterfly species: Harlequin, Malayan Plum Judy and Transparent Sixline Blue. The first two are riodinid butterflies, while the last one is a lycaenid.

A female Harlequin.

A male Harlequin.

A female Malayan Plum Judy.

A male Malayan Plum Judy.

A Transparent Sixline Blue.

Eggs of both Harlequin and Malayan Plum Judy are laid singly on leaf surface, typically on the underside. In contrast, eggs of the Transparent Sixline Blue are laid singly on young shoots and sometimes on the pedicel of a flower.

Two views of an egg of the Malayan Plum Judy.

Two views of an egg of the Harlequin.

An egg of the Transparent Sixline Blue laid on a young shoot of Ardisia elliptica.

Caterpillars of the Harlequin and Malayan Plum Judy feed on both developing and mature leaves of Ardisia ellitica while those of the Transparent Sixline Blue feed mainly on flower buds, often with ants in attendance.

A caterpillar of the Transparent Sixline Blue feeding on a flower bud of Ardisia elliptica in the presence of two ants. An empty egg shell can be seen near the base of the pedicel.

A final instar caterpillar of the Transparent Sixline Blue feeding on a flower bud of Ardisia elliptica.

Two views of a final instar caterpillar of the Malayan Plum Judy.

Two views of a final instar caterpillar of the Harlequin.

Caterpillars of the Harlequin and Malayan Plum Judy both choose to pupate on the underside of a leaf. Their pupae are secured via a silk girdle as well as cremastral attachment to a silk pad on the leaf surface. They have close resemblance but those of the Harlequin have reddish brown markings not found in those of the Malayan Plum Judy.

Two views of a pupa of the Malayan Plum Judy.

Two views of a pupa of the Malayan Plum Judy.

The pupae of the Transparent Sixline Blue have the typical lycaenid shape, pale brownish with black spots. They are also secured via silk girdle and cremastral attachment.

A pupa of the Transparent Sixline Blue.

Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Sunny Chir, Khew SK and Horace Tan.