Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Butterflying along the foothills of Tam Dao (mid-May 2017)


Tam Dao, an island of biodiversity completely surrounded by agricultural plains with a high population density, is a very easy excursion northward from Hanoi. This isolated mountain ridge, that rises from the surrounding agricultural lowlands, runs 80 km from north-west to south-east. It has more than 20 peaks with the elevation over 1,000m, several surpass 1,300m and the highest, Mount Tam Dao Bac, is 1,592m.

A few decades back Tam Dao was a neglected backwater of tumbledown hotels and ruined French villas. Now this unique and beautiful place is much changed. Biodiversity has been ruined by excessive timber harvesting, inappropriate infrastructure developments, unsustainable hunting and poaching, resulting in a depletion of the vertebrate community - a phenomenon called the " empty forest syndrome ".

Tam Dao is one the best-inventoried protected areas in Vietnam. Concerning the butterfly fauna, the list is impressive with more than 360 species recorded (Vu Van Lien, 2013).

Below are some of my best photos from a recent one day trip at a place called "Tây Thiên" (lower foothills of the mountain range) and a bit of blurb. Many species were buzzing around everywhere. I added Doleschallia bisaltide and Dichorragia nesimachus to my ever-growing life list of butterfly species seen in Vietnam - unfortunately I couldn't get close enough to get a picture of the latter.

Checklist of the ca 70 species spotted at the location (May 13, 2017): 

Papilionidae
Atrophaneura sp. +
Papilio nephelus ++
Papilio helenus ++
Papilio polytes ++
Papilio memnon ++
Papilio paris +++ 
Graphium sarpedon +++
Graphium doson +
Graphium antiphates ++
Graphium xenocles +
Lamproptera curius ++
Lamproptera meges +

Pieridae
Delias parasithoe ++
Delias hyparethe +++
Prioneris thestylis ++
Prioneris philonome ++
Talbotia naganum +
Appias lyncida ++
Appias indra ++
Appias albina +++
Cepora nadina ++
Hebomoia glaucippe ++
Eurema spp. +++
Catopsilia pomona +++

Nymphalidae
Danaus genutia ++
Parantica aglea +
Euploea mulciber ++
Euploea core ++
Euploea tulliolus +
Tirumala septentrionis ++
Melanitis leda ++
Lethe mekara +
Ethope norei +
Mycalesis mucianus +
Thauria lathyi +
Stichophthalma suffusa +++


Faunis eumeus ++
Faunis canens +
Vagrans egista +
Athyma asura +
Athyma selenophora +
Cupha erymanthis ++
Lexias pardalis +
Cirrochroa tyche +++
Hestinalis nama +
Rohana parisatis +
Doleschallia bisaltide +
Kallima "inachus" +
Dophla evelina +
Symbrethia lilaea +++
Juniona almana ++
Juniona atlites ++
Hypolimnias bolina ++
Vindula erota +
Pantoporia hordonia ++
Charaxes sp. +
Dichorragia nesimachus  +
Euthalia monina + 
Tanaecia julii +

Riodinidae
Zemeros flegyas ++

Lycaenidae
Heliophorus sp. +
Acytolepis puspa +
Udara cf. dilecta +
Celastrina lavendularis +
Prosotas dubiosa +
Nacaduba sp. +
Amblypodia anita +

Hesperidae
Parnara sp. +
Lambrix salsala +
Isoteinon lamprospilus +


(Abundance : + 1-2 specimens, ++ 3-5 spec., +++ more than 5 spec.)

Graphium doson & G. sarpedon

Graphium xenocles

Talbotia naganum

Eurema blanda - backlighting reveals nicely upperwing pattern

Catopsilia pomona, female f. catilla

A convivial congregation at an old fire pit, mostly Pierids, creates a colorful scrum: 1 Hebomoia glaucippe, 2 Appias albina, 3 Appias lyncida, 4 Cepora nadina, 5 Prioneris thestylis, 6 Prioneris philonome, 7 Graphium sarpedon, 8 Graphium antiphates, 9 Vindula erota

Another puddle party with Appias albina, Prioneris thestylis, Catopsilia pomona, Graphium antiphates, Graphium xenocles
I enjoy finding butterflies that are busy puddling, because they are so preoccupied with the task at hand that they allow me to get very close for photographs!

Faunis eumeus - subspecies incerta with a distinct broad yellowish subapical band on UpF (+/-marked depending on specimens)

Faunis canens arcesilas - seen side-by-side with F. eumeus

Stichophthalma suffusa tonkiniana - at Tam Dao common at all altitudes. S. howqua suffusa has been raised to species S. suffusa Leech, 1892 (Monastyrskii & Devyatkin, 2008).
S. fruhstorferi is also present at Tam Dao, but much rarer

Doleschallia bisaltide - a new species for me
The Indo-Australian genera Doleschallia and Kallima, and the African genera Kamilla, Mallika and Kallimoides are collectively known as "Dead Leaf butterflies". They are characterized by having a produced apex, and the hw tornus extended to form a short tail. The resulting shape, together with the cryptic dead-leaf coloration bears a remarkable resemblance to a dead fallen leaf, complete with a "midrib", and markings resembling patches of mould and leaf galls

Euthalia monina kesava, male

Cirrochroa tyche

Acytolepis puspa - with Udara cf. dilecta in background

Udara cf. dilecta

Prosotas dubiosa (top) and Nacaduba sp. (N. hermus?) - found on the same buffalo dung

Amblypodia anita

Isoteinon lamprospilus formosanus

A female Giant Wood Spider or Giant Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila pilipes)
The small reddish thing is a male! He tried to mate several times, but the female rejected him. Around, several other males were waiting for a possible mating

It is one of the biggest spiders in the world (overall size up to 20 cm). You will find the female generally smack bang in the middle of this golden web which is thick and strong. The tiny male will generally be seen somewhere on the outskirts of the web and looks nothing like the female. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Trip to Ba Be National Park


At the occasion of Reunification Day (April 30th), a national holiday, I managed to sneak in a butts hunting session at Ba Be National Park, 240 kms of Hanoi in Bac Kan Prov. (5-6 hours drive from Hanoi), in the hope of finding something new for my personal records. I expected to see many butterflies but also huge crowds - I have not been disappointed.

Ba Be is a relatively easy excursion northward from Hanoi. The primary attraction is Ba Be lake, the largest natural lake in Vietnam at 8km long and up to 800m wide. One of the most beautiful pieces of water I have ever seen in my life. The lake is surrounded by spectacular limestone peaks, ranging from 500m to 1520m asl, covered with dense evergreen forest. The valleys are inhabited by the Tày ethnic people. Many local families have open their spacious wooden house built on stilts as B&B.

The total land area of the park is 7618ha, of which 3300ha makes up a strictly protected zone and 4100ha is a tourist subzone.

Ba Be host over 350 species of butterflies (Le Trong Trai et al., 2004), which sounds huge as viewed from a European naturalist's standpoint (about 440 species have been recorded in Europe...), but this is a quite usual number for many protected areas of northern Vietnam. I ended this 2,5 days trip with a list of ca 110 species out of which 13 were "lifers" (i.e. new species for me), and I took over 1500 photos.

Was it worth the 500 kms round trip on my little scooter? I'll let you decide.

Checklist of the species spotted at the location (survey ranging from 500m to 900m asl): 

Papilionidae
Byasa crassipes +

Pachliopta aristolochiae +
Chilasa paradoxa +
Papilio nephelus +++
Papilio helenus ++
Papilio polytes ++
Papilio memnon ++
Papilio protenor ++
Papilio paris ++
Papilio bianor +
Papilio castor +
Graphium sarpedon +
Graphium doson +
Graphium eurypylus +
Graphium chironides + 
Graphium macareus +++
Graphium megarus +++
Graphium antiphates ++
Lamproptera curius +
Lamproptera meges ++

Pieridae
Delias pasithoe +
Pieris canidia ++ 
Appias lyncida ++
Appias indra +++
Appias albina +++
Appias galba +
Appias lalage +
Cepora nadina +++
Cepora nerissa +++
Hebomoia glaucippe +
Ixias pyrene ++
Eurema blanda +++
Eurema hecabe +++
Eurema brigitta +
Catopsilia pomona +
Gandaca harina +++

Nymphalidae
Thauria lathyi +
Stichophthalma fruhstorferi +
Stichophthalma howqua +
Faunis canens +
Danaus genutia ++
Euploea mulciber ++
Euploea core ++
Euploea klugii +
Tirumala septentrionis +
Penthema michallati +
Lethe europa +
Lethe philesana ++
Lethe mekara +
Mycalesis mucianus +
Mycalesis gotama +
Ypthima baldus ++
Orsotriaena medus +
Ariadne ariadne +
Parasarpa dudu +
Limenitis sulpitia +
Cupha erymanthis ++


Cethosia cyane +++
Cethosia biblis +
Phalanta alcippe ++
Vagrans egista +
Terinos clarissa ++
Polygonia c-aureum +++
Hestinalis nama +
Kanisca canace +
Symbrethia lilaea +++
Juniona iphita +++
Juniona atlites ++
Kallima "inachus" +
Lexias pardalis +
Rohana parisatis ++
Hypolimnias bolina ++
Cyretis thyomadas +
Cyrestis cocles +++
Cyrestis themire ++
Chersonesia risa +
Cirrochroa tyche +
Vindula erota +
Pantoporia sp. ++
Athyma asura +
Neptis miah +
Neptis harita +
Neptis clinia +
Neptis sp. +
Polyura cf. athamas +
Euthalia eriphylae +
Cynitia lepidea +
Tanaecia julii +
Libythea sp. +++

Riodinidae
Zemeros flegyas +++

Lycaenidae
Caleta roxus +
Jamides alecto +++
Megisba malaya +
Acytolepis puspa ++
Anthene emolus +++
Miletus sp. +
Catochrysops strabo +
Spindasis lohita +
Hypolycaena erylus +
Hypolycaena amasa +++
Zizeeria maha ++
Prosotas dubiosa +
Prosotas nora +
Nakaduba cf. kurava ++
Surendra quercetorum +

Hesperidae
Bibasis jaina +
Hasora vitta +
Pseudocoladenia dan +
Notocrypta paralysos +
Potanthus sp. ++
Baoris sp. +
Iambrix salsala +

(Abundance : + 1-2 specimens, ++ 3-5 spec., +++ more than 5 spec.)

Byasa crassipes puddling along an open stream bank - a "lifer"!
This Red-bodied Swallowtail is instantly recognisable due to the lack of any white markings on the hindwings, and red submarginal spots confined to the underside

Papilio castor dioscurus (right) mud-puddling side-by-side with P. nephelus
Photo taken below a stilt house of Tày ethnic people. For anyone with an interest in butterflies, smelly mud and stinky waters often lead to the best shots…

Papilio castor dioscurus (same specimen than above) - one of the highlights of my trip
This is one of the 'tailless' Papilio Swallowtails. This appears to be a butterfly of the lowland evergreen forests and forest edges. In Vietnam, only recorded from some northern provinces (Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, Lang Son)

Papilio nephelus chaon, often found nectaring on Clerodendrum chinense that are common at forest edges
This is the commonest species of Papilio found in lowland and mid altitude forests throughout northern Vietnam, often outnumbering all the other Papilio species drinking at mud puddles

Papilio memnon, male, also on Clerodendrum chinense

Graphium sarpedon
This is one of the commonest and most widespread forest species of Graphium, being found throughout forested areas over the whole country, both in lowlands and high montane habitats. It is often the first species of Papilionid to be seen mud-puddling in the morning, and also the last in the afternoon

Graphium eurypylus puddling between G. doson and G. macareus
Graphium eurypylus is distinguished from the very similar G. doson by the black bar holding the red spot in S8 on the underside of the hindwing joining the black anal submarginal stripe near the base of the cell in a Y. In G. doson this black bar is clearly separate from the black submarginal stripe

Graphium chironides - easily distinguished from other Graphium species by the orange, rather than red spots on the hindwing underside

Graphium antiphates
Mud-puddling, or simply puddling, is a behaviour most conspicuous in butterflies, but occurs in other animals as well, mainly insects; they seek out certain moist substances such as rotting plant matter, mud and carrion and they suck up the fluid, from which they obtain nutrients such as salts and amino acids that play various roles in their physiology, ethology and ecology. Males seem to benefit from the sodium uptake through mud-puddling behaviour with an increase in reproductive success. The collected sodium and amino acids are often transferred to the female with the spermatophore during mating (as a nuptial gift!). This nutrition also enhances the survival rate of the eggs

Graphium antiphates, upperside

Puddle party with 4 species of Papilionids: Papilio nephelus, P. helenus, P. memnon, Graphium megarus
Photo taken below a stilt house of Tày ethnic people - there were some really dirty and smelly things out there...

 Collective of different butterfly species mud-puddling on a damp stream bed, with 3 species of Papilionids (1 Graphium megarus, 2 G. macareus, Papilio nephelus), 3 species of Pierids (6 Appias nero, 7 A. albina, 8 A. indra) + Libythea sp. (4), Cyretis cocles (5)

Graphium megarus
 This is the smallest species in subgenus Paranticopsis; and it resembles very small specimens of the common Danainae species Tirumala septentrionis rather than Parantica, due to the stripes of fresh specimens being pale blue, not white

Graphium macareus (middle) side-by-side with G. megarus

A puddle party with Graphium antiphates, Cepora nadina, Cepora nerissa, Eurema sp.

Another one with Cepora nadina & C. nerissa (left)Gandaca harina (middle) and Appias albina (right)

I observed and photographed several mud-puddling congregations of Pierids and Papilionids at stream banks, but not as huge as I was expected (rarely over 100 specimens). Here, you can see Appias albina, A. indraGandaca harina

Appias albina, A. indra, Gandaca harina, Cyrestis cocles, Cepora nadina side-by-side with Graphium eurypylus...

Catopsilia pomona female f. crocale

Gandaca harina - quite common at puddling spots with other Pierids

Thauria lathyi - the only specimen I saw during this trip

Euploea core godartii male (in flight) and Euploea klugii 

Euploea klugii - a scarce species in northern Vietnam

Lethe philesana sipping the juice of rotten fruit along a trail, at the forest edge
This is a restricted-range species (N. & C. Vietnam, Laos) described in 2000 from Vietnam

Lethe europa, male

Lethe mekara, male

Mycalesis gotama, wet season form

Mycalesis mucianus (=M. zonata), wsf
Note FW with apex truncated

Orsotriaena medus

Terinos clarissa militum

Hestinalis nama
This species mimics Danaids especially Parantica sita and P. melaeneus, but differs in having submarginal lunules on both wings  

Parasarpa dudu - what a stunning little fellow!
A nice gift just few minutes before leaving Ba Be

Limenitis sulpitia - only recorded in Vietnam from Bac Kan, Lang Son and Ha Giang Prov.

Neptis miah

The nice underwing pattern of a male Cethosia biblis
Common and primarily to be found in open forest and forest edges 

Vindula erota

Euthalia eriphylae lioneli, male

Polygonia c-aureum - courtship (male with wings spread)
This species was common in ruderal habitats around the hamlets

Aggregation of Cyretis species (thyomadas + cocles)

Cyrestis themire (foreground) & C. cocles 

Cyrestis cocles - found in the "magic house" (see below)
This is the ochre-coloured form of C. cocles and appears almost like an albino form of the latter. They are usually found in the same localities, but this form appears to be much lesser in number and frequence

Libythea spwas often seen puddling at river banks (here, on the floor of the "magic house") 
To clinch the ID between L. lepita and L. myrrha (the 2 Libythea species recorded in northern Vietnam), I need to see upperwing pattern

Zemeros flegyas - the only Rionid butterfly I saw during my trip

Miletus sp. - cannot ID to species level by field shots only 

This fellow was feeding off what appears to be a "herd" of mealy bugs that are tended by their protector ants
In Vietnam, the Miletinae is represented by five genera - Allotinus, Logania, Spalgis, Miletus and Taraka. This subfamily is unique in the sense that their caterpillars are predatory or "carnivorous" (preys are mostly Homoptera: aphids, coccids, mealy bugs) whilst it is generally well-known that most butterflies caterpillars are "herbivorous". Miletinae adults feed off the secretions of these Homoptera. The butterflies do this brazenly, without any fear of being attacked, in the presence of the protective ants that are also "milking" the aphids or mealy bugs of their honeydew. 
So, to sum up, the adult butterflies partake of the honeydew that are secreted by the aphids and mealy bugs "farmed" by ants, their caterpillars feed on the ants' source of food and derive protection from the ants BUT the butterfly give nothing back in return! Hence the "betrayal" part of the whole situation, where the ants have been hoodwinked into a win-lose relationship with the Miletinae.

Hypolycaena erylus, male
The genus Hypolycaena is represented in Vietnam by 5 species - erylus, kina, amasa, thecloides and othona (Monastyrskii & Devyatkin, 2016)

Hypolycaena erylus, male, upperside

Hypolycaena amasa


Hypolycaena amasa, upperside

Anthene emolus
 Usually seen puddling at damp sandy riverbanks in the compagny of Pierids, Papilionids and other Lycaenids 

Anthene emolus, upperside

Prosotas nora - a "classical" mud-puddler

Acytolepis puspa (left) puddling with Nakaduba cf. kurava

Jamides alecto

Spindasis (Cigaritis) lohita

Surendra quercetorum

Bibasis jaina - arguably my favorite butterfly of the trip
Found in early morning inside an abandoned house at forest's edge. Around this "magic house", as I've dubbed it, I found many interesting species

Hasora vitta sucking nutriments from a floor... that hadn't been washed since the Reunification of the country!
Also found this little fellow in the "magic house", almost side-by-side with the Bibasis

A very attractive cicada: Distantalna splendida (formely known as Tosena splendida)
Often heard but rarely seen at close range

Different kinds of scenery at Ba Be

The "magic house" 
The decrepit walls, dirty and smelly floors of this abandoned house, and the flowering plants at the forest's edge attracted many butterflies at the first rays of sunshine