A Pretty Visitor From Thailand

By Simon Chan Kee Mun, Feb 2003

In this article, Simon Chan recounts how he chanced upon a butterfly which he could not identify while he was back in his home town , Petaing Jaya during the 2002 Chinese New Year. The butterfly turns out to be a migrant from Thailand which has migrated down south to Malaysia !

     Photos © Ng Tham Fatt

As usual every year I leave Singapore where I work, for my hometown, Petaling Jaya, a few days before Chinese New Year. Last year, I boarded a night coach on Friday 8th February and arrived home in the wee hours of Saturday. 

The following morning, I woke up to a hot and sunny day. Almost instantly, I had this urge to check out the garden just before breakfast. Wandering around in my pajamas at 8am, I could immediately feel the intense heat on my skin. Already there were two Plain Tigers feeding on the butterfly bush and a Lime Butterfly laying eggs on our citrus plant. Spotted at a grassy patch outside my house was an orange coloured butterfly fluttering very close to the ground. At first, I dismissed it as a slightly larger Leopard or a freshly emerged Peacock Pansy. However, on closer inspection, I discovered it was a totally new species to me. That was when I ‘consulted’ the Butterflies Of The Malay Peninsula by Corbet and Pendlebury (4th edition) to assist in the identification. The closest specimen in the book was an Acraea issoria but that was definitely not it.


Acraea violae (Fabricius)

The sighting of Acraea violae in Malaysia was first reported in Vol 49 No 3 1996 edition of the Malayan Naturalist :

"This species, which is common on cleared land in Sri Lanka and southern India, appeared in Thailand about ten years ago. It has now spread southward, and was taken by Arshad on the edge of the Batu Pahat forest reserve in Perlis in Dec 1992. It was seen on a beach in Langkawi shortly afterwards by Mr. Wong Tet Seng, and on open land near Bukit Mertajam in April 1993 by Mr. K. W. Cheng. Perhaps by now somebody has met with it further to the south?"


In the early afternoon of the first day of Chinese New Year, ie. the 12th , I chanced upon a female laying eggs on a common-looking creeper from the passionfruit family on the same patch of grass. During the process of oviposition, the female was oblivious to everything around her, even to my close presence. She settled on a leaf for a few seconds before reversing and placing her abdomen underneath the leaf. After half a minute, she flew off to the nearest flower and started feeding. Flipping over the leaf, I found seven yellowish eggs placed in a circle. Unfortunately, I managed to breed just one to adulthood. 

P. tuberosa leaves P. tuberosa flower & fruits A. violae caterpillar in early instar
Last instar cterpillar Pupa of Acraea violae Tawny Coster (Acraea violae)


A. violae migration route

It was only later while surfing the internet that I found out the identity and origin of this new species. Going by the common name of Tawny Coster or Acraea violae as it is scientifically known, this species has its origins in Thailand. The hostplant was also later identified as Passiflora tuberosa. While on holiday in Langkawi with my wife last November 27th to 30th, a freshly emerged specimen was spotted on our very first day there, clinging to the wall of the seaside resort where we stayed. Thereafter, we were back home for another short visit. We were pleasantly surprised by the more than eight Tawny Costers flying about in the garden. The species seemed to be thriving and judging from the sightings of a butterfly enthusiast in Negri Sembilan, Mr. Ng Tham Fatt, some months back, it seems to be migrating down south as well. From the looks of it, this pretty visitor from Thailand is going to make Malaysia her home. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this pretty insect makes it to Singapore?

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