Friday, June 22, 2007

A Guide to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Kicking start our Tioman field studies module, we were told that part of our grading assessment will be based on guiding 2 field trips in singapore to our foreign friends who were taking this module too. The first trip is on Bukit Timah nature reserve. Being true blue kiasu Singaporeans, Kaiqin, Denise and me decided to make a recee there first. Shun de, Pei xin, Daniel also came except for Diana as she was not feeling well. We invited our guide for the day Dingli to show us around this place where he often bird frequently. He is an excellent guide! Thanx dingz for taking the time off for us.

Dark green color showing our remaining primary forest

Bukit Timah is the highest point in Singapore but it just reaches up to 164m above sea level. It contains a dense area of primary forest but other parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve also contain isolated fragments of it surrounded by secondary forests. We can see how disturbed our forest are from its primary state. It takes a long time for secondary forest to regenerate to its initial primary state, which can take up to a thousand years or more as mentioned by our guide.

Dingz emphasizing the importance of dipterocarps

One of the defining vegetation in a primary forests of this region is the presence of dipterocarp trees. Dipterocarps are also an important source in providing high quality wood and is commonly known by meranti in the timber trade. The largest genera in this family is Shorea with their characteristic 'shuttlecock' fruits.

Shorea curtisii

Shorea curtisii, or more commonly known by their malaya name Seraya is the most dominant dipterocarp species here. They are grow well over 30metres, often defining the topmost canopy, which is why it often succumb to lightning strikes. The tree is very easy to spot by their thick tall trunks and fissured bark.

Their leaves grow in little clusters like a cauliflower. Another interesting feature about this tree is their fruits, which are shaped like shuttlecocks with 3 fully defined wing like sepals and 2 underdeveloped ones. The tree fruit rather rarely, about once every 5-10 years so its a rare sight to see them! Well, but we werent so lucky this time...

Terantang (Campnosperma auriculata) is also a very common tree here (common in secondary forests), with many saplings too. The defining features is their leaves, which is notched at the top middle end and a characteristic "ear lopes" at the auricle, which is also the basis of their species name. Some of its economical uses includes making of match boxes using their soft wood.


Palms are a definite score if we know how to ID, as many were growing just at the sides of the trail. Rattan is an example of such and it consists of abt 600 species of taking forms from climbers to shrubs. Many have sharp spines to aid in climbing or protection. The stem of the rattan is an impt source for weaving furnitures and baskets.

The Burmese fishtail palm is another common palm of the secondary forest, so common that I din bother to take a picture of it. As the name says, the leaves looks like the tail of a fish.

The Tampines tree

One tree that Singaporeans should know about is this tree, Streblus elongatus or Tempinis. Our housing estate Tampines is named after this tree. The wood of Tampinis is very hard and tough, thus they are used to make tool handles.

Another tree, Keranji (Dialium indicum), as you guessed it, is used to named the estate Kranji. Due to its attractive sheen of dark red or brown, the timber is often used for decorative paneling and flooring.

A large pandan sp. plant with pleated leaves for additional support. Pandan, P. amaryllifolius in particular, is commonly used in SEA cooking, to add flavor on nasi lemak, pandan cake etc.

Mosses are found commonly at moist areas due to a lack of cuticle to prevent water loss and the need of water to complete fertilization. They are non-vascular plants aka bryophytes hence the small size.

These mini rambutan like things are actually galls. It can be said to be something similar to a tumour, with proliferations of cells causing the bumps. Galls are form due to chemical excretions by various factors, like fungi, bacteria, insects, mites and even other plants like the mistletoe for example. The shape of the gall is very characteristic of the agent causing it, thus they can be identified directly by the type of galls form. Generally, they are not fatal to the plant itself, its just unsightly and gross... Definitely not a plus for gardeners...

It is easy to spot different kinds of fungi on logs laid as steps along the trail. Fungi are not plants and they do not photosynthesize. Instead they digest dead organic matter for their nutrition and plays an important part in decomposition and nutrient recycling.

Lichens can be found everywhere on trees barks and they consist of a symbiotic relationship of a fungus and algae. The fungus is obligatory towards its algae inhabitant, needing it that it photosynethsize for carbon sugars for food. But theres this ho ah over whether its algae parthner is strictly dependent of the fungi. Since the scientists cant make any sense of it too, I wun go any further on this ;p

Since Im already on the topic on symbiosis, I will continue with it here. Sure tested (as this plant is found everywhere near the trail) is the relationship of this plant, the common Mahang (Macaranga bancana / Macaranga triboba) with the heart-gaster ants. The ants live in the hollow stems of this plant, and obtain food from the protein rich red-brown stipules (see picture). The ants got their shelter and food from this plant and the plant benefit too as they will drive off herbivores. This mutual relationship is termed as mutualism.

Another classic example of mutualism is of the fig and fig wasps. Figs bear fruit like structures called the syconium on their stems and branches. Inside them contain the male and female flowers of the plant. The female wasps squeeze themselves through tiny openings of the syconium, very often losing their legs and wings in the process. The wasps lay eggs within the flowers and subsequently dies due to the injuries they substained. The young wasps feed on the ovules of the flower after hatching and the young males dies off without leaving the syconium after mating.

The female wasps leave the riped and soften syconium and repeat the process again with another. They act also important pollinators for these plants in the process.

It was a good day for Peixin, the spider woman (cos she work in the spider lab), cos there are tonnes of spiders around, just that they are abit too tiny to be photographed. Haiz for me too, as my macro lens adaptor blocked my flash, making it impossible to get a gd shot without bright light.

The above shows a jumping spider, easily recognized by its anatomy and its eight eyes arranged in a row for a wide view. They are the largest family of spiders, consisting of over 5000 plus species.

A very attractive spider, common name St. Andrew's cross spider. It normally holds its eight legs together in an X. They also make an opaque white silk in a zig-zag fashion, called a stabilimentum as it was thought that they serve to stablize the entire web structure.

Some more spider shots

And more... can see its hairy joints

A big question mark for this? Looks like some sorta a cocoon. After looking at this picture, I noticed there were 2 flies sitting on it. Still, it doesnt make any sense. Anyone?

The clouded monitor lizard is largely similar in appearance and size to the more common Malayan monitor lizard. The way that people tell them apart is through the distance of their nostrils to their snouts. The clouded have their nostrils further away from the snout while the malayan have it at the tip of it. For a better comparison look here. Somehow I think they are also distinguishable by their skin color with malayan having a darker tone.

;;Lizards are reptiles, that means that they are also cold-blooded and unable to regulate their body temperature themselves. Which is why they are often seen basking in the sun to warm themselves up.

Birds are also a hot topic, naturally for Dingli, the bird enthusiast. As usual, he continued to wow us by IDing birds through their calls. I still remember the distinctive hooting sounds of the beautiful
red-crowned barbet. Also heard the crimson sunbird, hill mynas, tailorbirds etc. We also saw the Greater racket-tailed drongo. Their long tail feathers still never failed to amaze me.

Guess if this person is walking up or down the slope? Hes walking down! They were telling us that it is easier to walk down backwards.

And thats about the end of this trip. We didnt reach the summit cos there were just too many things to see. BT hill indeed makes a good educational trip.

1) The big trees
2) Natural heritage of Singapore
3) A guide to Bukit Timah nature reserve
4) Bukit Timah nature reserve guidesheet
5) Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

hey.. my mum just bought a hamster last night.. :S


Siyang said...

Aiya, should had gotten one from me...

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levia said...

That black and white cocoon belongs to a Ichneumonid wasp. The larvae are parasitic 'body snatchers' and most common hosts are caterpillars though they can parasitize other stuff as well.

Siyang said...

Wow, thats interesting. Thanks!

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