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Wed 09 Jun 2010

Lyssa zampa, the tropical swallowtail moth, returns

Category : nature

The 2005 display
In May 2005, Singapore witnessed the widespread occurrence of adult Lyssa zampa, the large, nocturnal white-striped moth known variously as the "Tropical Swallowtail Moth"and the "Giant Uranid Moth". I recalled incidents from my youth when these large moths used to appear seasonally in Singapore on damp nights. Veteran biologist Kok Oi Yee, agreed, saying the moth used to appear in large numbers in Singapore back in the 1960's and she was sure it used to happened between May to July.

Not in recent years though. With urbanisation reducing forest cover and the number of areas near forests in Singapore, perhaps it is not surprising there are fewer observations of large numbers of moths. This outbreak had us discussing the climate and the food plant, reportedly a species of Endospermum but we could not say much beyond speculation.

That mystery still under discussion, the observations were written up and posted as ["It's the season for Lyssa zampa, the large, nocturnal, white-striped moth," by N. Sivasothi. Habitatnews, 28 May 2005]. People responded with records and photos from around Singapore, even Malaysia. The results are in Flickr:

Keeping an eye open for Lyssa zampa
Since then, several of us have kept our eyes open for Lyssa zampa. I had assumed we'd not see large occurrences every year (special years) only every once in awhile. Last year (2009), after I saw a moth in Bishan, I asked readers of 'Otterman speaks...,' "Have you seen Lyssa zampa recently?" To the Bishan sighting (Raffles Junior College), several people added records from Woodlands, the city centre (SHM), Little India, Sembawang, Seng Kang and even Brunei. There were two early records in April from Telok Ayer Street and Pulau Semakau and a final record was reported from August at Bedok.

Quite a number in total but this were mostly of single individuals and was still not as widespread an occurrence as that of 2005 in which some moths frightened mothers, army boys and the like. We know so little about them and I was not even sure if the 2009 reports represented a typical year.

Has Lyssa zampa returned?
Well, chilly nights are here again in Singapore. It's already June. Then all of a sudden, two records of Lyssa zampa turned up - Alvin Wing reported a moth from Punggol on the night of 8th June 2010 and another was reported from Sembawang on the morning of 9th June 2010. A Google Blog Search revealed two records from 6th and 8th June 2010.

Send me your records please
Will this emergence of adults be widespread or will it be a barely noticeable trickle with only several records from a few localities in Singapore? Let me know. Please send me your records at: http://tinyurl.com/habitatnews-records. Include details about its behaviour. If you have photos you are willing to share, email them to me separately at habitatnews@sivasothi.com. Include details of location, date, photographer's name and behaviour (e.g. flying or stationary, dead or alive) and your friends and family's reaction!

Posted at 4:45PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news