Eat or be eaten

A praying mantis grabs a golden birdwing butterfly in front of my eyes.

It is rare to show an action shot of a butterfly, but this time the action unfolded right in front of my eyes.

In between tours my wife and I spent a day relaxing at the pool, reading a book and drinking cocktails in a boutiqe resort in Cambodia. In my case, such slow behaviour will last for no more than an hour before you will see me doing the rounds on the premises checking for wildlife. Suddenly the “aircraft carrier” among the butterflies came sailing by: The Golden Birdwing (Troides Aeacus). It is such a beauty with its bright golden-yellow hindwing, intense black-and-silver forewings and its huge size. In the few second it took me to grab my camera, it had gone over the roof of our room and disappeared from view.

Now, there was a blooming tree on the premises that had attracted the odd butterfly the day before so I went to check it out. Oh boy, the airship was indeed there!

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/3200   ISO 100

Then, out of the blue, the butterfly started flapping its wings like crazy. I mean real crazy. What the….? I peered through my viewfinder but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was not until I zoomed in on my screen that I spotted the Praying Mantis. It has hidden in the flower, patiently waiting for its unsuspecting prey to pass by.

golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/800   ISO 100

In a few minutes the mantis had chewed its way into the inside of the butterfly (good luck with that meal!).

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/640   ISO 100

All that was left were the sad remains of two wings in the grass….This Golden Birdwing was no more, but my memories of the survival of the fittest as a real-life movie are still there.

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/500   ISO 100

300

Four more beauties from Cambodia

On this holiday I reached a personal milestone: I passed the 300-butterfly-species marker. In Cambodia alone, I added over 70 new species to the list.

Two types of location proved to be the best for spotting butterflies:

  1. muddy banks near waterfalls or rivers
  2. buddhist monasteries.

Every butterfly lover will recognize the former, so let me explain the latter: many monasteries in the countryside are built on sandy soil, which enables flowerbeds to exist, which in turn attracts butterflies. These monasteries are also peaceful and quiet, accessible to the general public, so make for excellent butterfly watching. Only the monasteries in Phnom Penh were built on concrete or stone, so I had no luck there.

While on a jungle trek, we had lunch at a river bank teeming with butterflies. The only difficulty was choosing which one to go after! Below is the Common Ciliate Blue (Anthene emolus) sipping minerals from some plastic left behind by other tourists.

Common ciliate blue anthene emolus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/400   ISO 100

At the same location the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

Common tit hypolycaena erylus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/250   ISO 100

Once we had returned to our nice little bungalow in Chi Pat village community, I finally managed to photograph a butterfly against my favourite black background. Below is the Lesser Grass Blue (Zizina otis). This small blue is widespread across the country.Lesser grass blue zizina otis

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 100

Cambodia also offered me a colourful farewell present. On our final day in Phnom Penh, in the garden of our hotel in the middle of the city (of all places!) the beautiful Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete) was looking for a place to sleep and landed on a leaf right in front of me. I sprinted back to my room, grabbed the big white 300 2.8 and ran back. Still there! Wow! Breath in….breath out. Blast away. Got it! Look at the screen: sharp. Yes! Look at the screen again: ISO 6400. Grainy, ouch….I have set my tele to a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 to avoid motion blur. It works like a treat, only if daylight fades your ISO increases dramatically. At home I applied 90% noise reduction and the picture cleared up magically. Thank you Canon & Adobe. Thank you Cambodia for a wonderful holiday!Painted jezebel delias hyparete

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/500   ISO 6400

Cambodian treasures

Four Lycaenidae from the Cambodia jungle

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Indochina with a GDP per capita of only 1,400 USD (2017), slightly higher than Burma but much lower than Vietnam or Thailand. Its natural world though is particularly rich. My wife and I explored this on our three-week holiday through this lovely country with its friendly population, delicious cuisine and sunny weather.

We booked a six-day private tour with the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation. This is a non-profit organisation based in Siem Riep (samveasna.com) with excellent access to protected areas, cooperating with and supporting the local population and preserving endangered species. Our guide was Mr. Huon Hat who had excellent knowledge and keen eyes and ears for birds. I am sure he now also has a keen eye for butterflies 🙂

With regard to butterflies, Cambodia is essentially a blank spot on the map of Indochina. The butterfly fauna for neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam has been well researched and documented, but not so for Cambodia. There is no species list for the country nor a field guide. We do not even know how much species the country features. To identify the specimens I have photographed I used the guides to Thai and Vietnamese butterflies with – hence – a slight possibility of errors.

Below is The White Cerulean (Jamides Pura) in Phnom Kulen NP.

White cerulean jamides pura

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/160   ISO 640

The Malayan (Megisba Malaya) at the same location.

The Malayan megisba malaya

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/125   ISO 125

The Curetis species cannot be distinguished from each other by just looking at the underwings, but luckily one specimen opened its wings far enough to grab a quick shot of the black-and-red pattern on the upperwings to identify this one as The Bright Sunbeam (Curetis bulis).

Bright sunbeam curetis bulis

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/160   ISO 160

The Banded Lineblue (Prosotas lutea) is absolutely stunning with its golden colours.

The banded lineblue prosotas lutea

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/160   ISO 100