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Sat 28 May 2005

It's the season for Lyssa zampa, the large, nocturnal, white-striped moth

Category : nature

In the past couple of weeks, several people have reported seeing a large, white-striped variably dark-brown to brownish-grey large, nocturnal moth in their homes and offices. It's Lyssa zampa (Butler, 1869), a moth in the Family Uraniidae (and subfamily Uraniinae). It's colour can appear grey to brown sepending on the light; e.g. see the photo and inset at bottom of this entry; they are of the same individual. It is one of the largest moths in Singapore, the largest being the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas).

The species is found across the Indo-Australian region and is usually enountered in forested areas and nearby urban areas, as it is attracted to the lights there. Altitudinally, they can be found as high as 2,600 metres on Gunung Kinabalu, Sabah! The food plants of the caterpillars are reportedly species of Endospermum (Family Euphorbiaceae); see Barlow's Moths of Borneo.

While they flutter around readily at night, they are usually immobile in the day (unless disturbed and need to relocate to a suitable perch), allowing a good view of their beautiful wings. I remember the spectacular (and at the time, slightly intimidating) sight of numerous individuals perched on ceilings and walls on damp nights when I was a child. I am of the impression they were more numerous three decades ago.

Lyssa zampa appears only seasonally and then, in relatively large numbers. Kok Oi Yee attests to their seasonality from observations since the late 1960's, and was confident they appear between May to July each year. True enough, Lyssa zampa has begun to excite a lot of comment over the past two weeks.

I have now received more than half a dozen reports about its sudden appearance in Tuas, Great World City (image, top), Lorong Chuan, Bishan Park (five seen in one flat), Kent Ridge (image, left), Holland Village, Ghim Moh, North Buona Vista Road and Bukit Timah (image, bottom).

Robin Yan adds - "I've spotted four at Raffles Place area. More precisely outside Han's restaurant along Pickering Street. There's even one outside my 23rd floor office window in Ocean Towers. Both sightings were made this afternoon (Friday, 27th Mary 2005) around 12 to 1.30pm."

Earlier, at 2 am the same day, one such moth flew into undergraduate Lim Chen Kee's home near Bukit Timah. His mother screamed (at 2 am, mind you) but despite her discomfiture over the shocking appearance of such a large moth, she recovered enough to gingerly capture it with a large plastic bag. Chen Kee photographed the undamaged moth and released it on his balcony. It flew away into the night.

Peace restored, his mum shook out some numbers and went down to buy 4-D (lottery) later that day. I kid you not.

Another museum volunteer Cheong Wei Siong (Bishan/Lorong Chuan sightings) reported, somewhat sadly, that junior college boys had also been seen running away screaming in terror at the sight of these moths. More significantly, he reported that his parents associate the moth with the spirits of their ancestors coming to bid farewell especially during the Hungry Ghost Festival (the Chinese lunar calendar's 7th month) which usually falls in August (though sometimes in September). The ghostly month coincides with the tail end of Lyssa zampa's annual emergence which probably remphasises the belief each year.

If you have photos you are willing to share, do send them to me at . Please inclue 1) name of the photographer, 2) date, 3) location in Singapore and 4) any notes about behaviour (e.g immobile, flying, even dead or alive!). Alternatively, you can load them on your own flickr album and tag them with the words "lyssazampa" and "Singapore".

You can view photos of Lyssa zampa in the Habitatnews flickr album. I'll add to this as I receive images.

Thanks to Airani (southwestern sightings), Oi Yee, Wei Siong and Chen Kee who were at a planning meeting for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore for their observations. We saw a few more moths on our way out, in NUS! Thanks also to Alison & Tom Palmerley for their observations (Tuas and Great World City) and the lovely photos.

Posted at 5:03AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news