Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Visiting Scientists Feature: The van der Poortens

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Visiting Scientists Feature: The van der Poortens

Last Tuesday, renowned butterfly experts George and Nancy van der Poorten dropped by the museum for a quick visit!

The van der Poortens have been commissioned to undertake the revision, and production of a 5th edition of the book – Corbet and Pendlebury’s ‘The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula’. The 4th edition of the book was published 26 years ago, in the year 1992; John Eliot, who revised the 3rd and 4th editions, has unfortunately passed on, thus the baton was handed over to the van der Poortens.

The purpose of their visit was for a general review of butterfly specimens from the WA Fleming collection, which is housed in LKCNHM.

The Fleming collection consists of around 8,000 butterfly specimens from about 1,031 different species and subspecies from Malaysia and Singapore. They were collected by the late WA Fleming, author of ‘Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore’, from 1961 to 1978.

Out of all butterfly genera, the van der Poortens expressed a particular interest in the genus Arhopala. Butterflies in this genus sport brilliant blue or green hues on their wings, and are notoriously difficult to identify to species, as the different species look very similar to each other. The van der Poortens mentioned that lepidopterists (scientists that study butterflies) usually focus on the underside of the butterflies in this genus to tell species apart.

However, in the current 4th edition of ‘The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula’, plates depicting the underside of Arhopala butterflies are in black and white, which is counterintuitive to species identification.  Thus, for the next edition of the book, the van der Poortens are planning to recreate those plates in colour, based on available specimens across a few collections.

They were pleased with the quality of the butterfly specimens in the Fleming Collection, mentioning that the latter were well maintained. At the end of the visit, they also brought up the possibility of using high resolution imaging facilities at the museum for this project in the near future.

If everything goes according to plan, we should be expecting another visit from the van der Poortens within the next 18 months! We look forward to seeing them again.