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Caterpillars of the World - Singapore
Common Tit
Hypolycaena erylus  GODART, 1824
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - THECLINAE
Tribe - HYPOLYCAENINI

Hypolycaena erylus, Singapore Gan Cheong Weei

Introduction
The Hypolycaena species are collectively known as Fairy Hairstreaks or Tits. There are 45 members of the genus, of which 22 are found in Africa, 1 in China, 4 in Australia and 18 in the Oriental region.
Hypolycaena erylus is a common and widespread species, found from Sikkim to Indo-China, and through the archipelago to Papua New Guinea.
Habitats
This species occurs in many habitats including coastal mangrove, lowland rainforest and temperate hill forest, at elevations between sea level and about 1500 metres.
Lifecycle
The eggs of Hypolycaena erylus are laid on Meyna pubescens, Vangueria spinosa ( Rubiaceae ), Cinnamomum zeylanicum ( Lauraceae ), and probably on other plants.
After hatching and eating their egg shells the tiny larvae are abducted by weaver ants Oecophylla smaragdina. The same species of ant also captures larvae of Anthene emolus. The ants carry their captives into their nests, which are constructed by weaving leaves together. Oecophylla are large and extremely aggressive ants, but they make no attempt to attack the larvae, which probably placate their captors either by using a chemical deterrent, or by means of an "appeasement song" - research on various other Lycaenids has shown that their larvae and pupae are able to stridulate or "chirp", and that this sound deters ants from attacking.
The larvae feed within the nests on leaves, and possibly also on substances regurgitated by the ants. Studies have demonstrated that young 1st instar emolus larvae ( and probably also those of erylus ) are unable to survive outside the ant nests, and will not feed on leaves outside the nest. This could be due to the warm humid microclimate within the ant nest, or due to a substance produced by the ants which softens the leaves and makes it easier for the larvae to digest them. After the larvae moult to the 2nd instar, the ants then remove them from their nests, and carefully transport them to young sprigs of the foodplant some distance away.
A few days later when the larvae reach their 3rd instar they develop honey-producing glands on their backs, and thereafter are constantly attended by the ants, which "milk" them to drink the sugary secretion. The relationship is not truly symbiotic, because while the larvae cannot survive without the ants, the ants are able to obtain their "honey" from other sources.
Adult
Males can commonly be found imbibing mineralised moisture from sand, rocks, road surfaces or the outside walls of buildings in forested areas.
Both sexes nectar at various wild and cultivated flowers, always holding their wings erect when feeding. They periodically oscillate their hindwings, which causes the little tails to wiggle, and this, together with the "false eye" marking at the edge of the wings diverts the attention of predators away from the butterfly's head and body. Birds generally try to predict which direction a butterfly will take, so they aim their attack at a point just ahead of the butterfly. Hypolycaena erylus and other Theclinae turn this to their advantage, fooling the bird into aiming behind the butterfly, which then flies forward and often escapes unharmed.
When not feeding, both sexes sit on foliage, often high up on bushes or on the lower branches of trees, but they also sometimes settle on low herbage and bask with their wings fully outspread.
Hypolycaena erylus teatus, Kuala Woh, West Malaysia
 

 

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