Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bukit Timah Hill with Clementi Town Sec

Today me and RY had the opportunity to guide a class from Clementi Town Secondary School after several postponing due to weather conditions.

Going through South View Path, we saw many Gutta Percha (Palaquium gutta) with their characteristic golden underside leaves. These plants have a sticky white sap that is being used as a material in dental fillings due to its inert nature. In the 1900s, many flora were destroyed in the attempt to harvest this plant in order to make insulation cables for submarine lines.

A huge woody climber hanged just across the pathway. Also known as lianas, these plants serve as connectors for many animals like squirrels to move between the trees. However, the unfortunate thing is that if one fell, it will drag down all the other trees that are entwined with it.

Unknown caterpillar

The best find of the day: One of the students spotted a huge caterpillar just under a St. Andrew's cross spider! It is a caterpillar of the butterfly, Yellow Archduke (Lexias canescens).

This tall Red Dhoop (Parishia insignis), is named as a heritage tree. This is a program started by Nparks to conserve our mature trees. They are given regular inspection and pruning. Even lightning conductors are installed to protect them against lightning strikes.

The presence of Terentang (Campnosperma auriculata) gave an indication that we are within a disturbed forest as this a tree that is found in a mature secondary forest. The leaves are very distinctive, having a folded pair of "ear-lobes" near the leaf stalk.

This is a very common tree in Bukit Timah and it is also the name of one of our housing estate. The wood of the Tampines tree (Streblus elongatus) is very hard and tough, thus they are used to make tool handles.


The leaf litter plant (Agrostistachys longifolia) has an interest way of getting additional nutrients. Its rosette arrangement of leaves (monopodial branching) helps to trap dead litter between the leaves and they will eventually decompose and obtain the necessary nourishment since the forest floor is very nutrient poor.

The Singapore fern (Tectaria singaporeana) like all ferns, produce tiny spores that allow effective wind dispersal. However, not all the leaves have spores. Only the mature ones will have them on their undersides. Its Malay name is called Paku Biawak, or the Monitor Lizard Fern.


The nutmeg (Myristica sp.) is easily identifiable by the leaf branches which spread out like the spokes of a wheel. Nutmegs are dispersed by birds like pigeons and hornbills, which are becoming rare in the forest. Without these agents, they risked overcrowding and competiton for resources if they all grow in the same vicinity.

This is another species of fern, known commonly as the centipede fern (Blechum orientale). Why? Because the young fronds of these plants actually look just like centipedes!

Turning up to Kruing path, we saw the huge Seraya tree which indicates the presence of a primary rainforest. These huge dipterocarps are an important source of quality timber, also known as meranti in the timber trade.

Anyway, flipping over a dead log found there, I showed the students a termite nest. Termites are actually not very closely related to ants. They do not undergo complete metamorphosis like ants but just having a nymph stage, skipping the larvae and pupae stage all together. They also do not have a distinct separation of their thorax and abdomen like ants, which have a clear "pinched waist".

Giant Forest Ant nest
One of my sharp-eyed students spotted another great find for us. A giant forest ant (Camponotus gigas) nest! These ants usually hunt in small groups or individually so this is indeed a rare sight for me.

This is not the common black house crow that we see in our urban estates. Instead, the Greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) is a forest dwelling bird that have two long feathers extending from the tail. They are also a great mimic of other bird calls.

And of course, the trip will not be complete without the ant plant (Macaranga bancaca). The heart gaster ants (Crematogaster sp.) lives in the hollow stem and feed on the fat-rich globules found within the dark red stipules. In return, they fend off herbivores or other smothering climbers.

Finishing the walk, we had some time to head towards Hindhede Quarry where granite used to be mined. A troop of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) were basking at the railings and many juveniles were hanging on to their mum or playing about.

We also managed to see other animals like a stick insect, a jumping spider eating a fly and two clouded monitor lizards (Varanus bengalensis). In fact, one jumped out from the shrubs in front of a student, scaring the life out of her ;p. Unfortunately, I was always engrossed when guiding and usually forget to take photos to blog. A good and eventful day nevertheless I must say, with a bunch of enthusiastic and attentive students who managed to bear with their hunger pangs and spotted lots of animals for me along the way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Exploring Big Sisters

Yesterday, the Semakau guides had an opportunity to go on an exploratory trip to Big Sisters island.

Trying to ID the two species of turban shells that we have locally, I spotted one, probably Turbo burneus (from its rougher operculum) that has white stuff stuck onto its shell. That is probably the eggs of the nerites (Nerita sp.) that were found all over the sea wall. Weird that they will lay them on another live animal though~

This should be the other turban shell, Turbo intercoastalis with its smooth operculum or "cat's eye". These marble like covering was used as buttons in the past.

While we were looking all over the exposed lagoon, July went to search for the endearing land hermit crabs (Coenobita sp.). He found many under a tree and there was one that was too big to hide into its spiral melongena shell (Pugilina cochlidium) so we were able to get a good picture of it.

Octopi are very common in our shores and Robert managed to find one stationary on a rock.

Squids can be normally identifiable by its pair of arrow shaped fins at the end of its body. They also have a thin, transparent quill shaped bone in their body.

There were several genera of hard corals in this lagoon. This is a lettuce coral, Pectinia sp. It can produce lots of muscus when disturbed and it is thought to be one way that can help to remove sediments from itself.

Robert saw this beautiful florescence green Euphyllia sp. Also known as the anchor corals, their tentacles normally end in the shape of an anchor.

This is a turban coral, probably Turbinaria mesenterina. They were so named as some of them can become highly convulated, especially under shallower waters, which is likely to be an adaptative to screen off excess light.

Palythoa tuberculosa
This mat of stuff are zoanthids (Palythoa tuberculosa). Many zoanthids, including this species, incorporate sand to strengthen their tissues as I learnt from Ria's posting when Dr James Reimer came to Singapore.

There were lots of red swimming crabs (Thalamita spinimana) at night. This one was grazing on algae. Swimming crabs belong to the family of crabs called Portunidae and they are characterised by their last pair of paddle-shaped legs.

July and the girls found this reef hermit crab (Dardanus lagopodes) inside a spider conch. This was only my second time seeing this, the first from Raffles Lighthouse.

To me, the most interesting find is this orange moon snail with a pretty translucent mantle. I will try to check out the ID later. Update >>> One of our local molluscs expert, Siong Kiat helped to place an ID on this moon snail. It is Natica zonalis.

There was another moon snail beside it. This pearly white moon snail (Polinices mammatus) is probably the most common species in our shores.

Towards the end of the trip, RY found a school of striped eeltail catfish (Plotosus lineatus), seeking safety in numbers.

Semakau Guide 18th Oct

I finally had the opportunity to guide again. :) And this time it was with an enthusiastic and inquisitive group from Paya Lebar Methodist Girl's School. Thanks for being such great participants!

My 13th Semakau Guiding

Saturday, October 11, 2008

SP forest walk

This morning, I decided to venture to a small forest patch near Singapore Polytechnic. Fiona kindly accompanied me for this trip.

Bougainvilla on Eucalyptus
I have always been fascinated with this row of bougainvilla plants (Bougainvilla sp.). More commonly known as shrubs, these plants can actually climb quite high, over 5 meters in this instance! The tree it was leaning on is the paper bark tree, Eucalyptus sp.

Beneath the tree is the introduced weed (Hemigraphis primulifolia) that has virtually invaded every grassland here since its introduction in 1980s. It seemed to fare especially well under shade.

The sandpaper vine (Tetracera indica), named due to their rough stem, has their dried fruit split opened, exposing the seeds inside.

The Simpoh Air (Dillenia suffruticosa) is said to have deep roots to tap on underground water sources, and people used them to mark locations for digging wells.

Wild cinnamon
The wild cinnamon (Cinnamomum iners) is a common roadside tree planted as noise screens as its foliage extend throughout its trunk.

The yellow mimosa (Neptunia sp.) were flowering so beautifully that I decided to use it as my new banner!

Unknown Moth Mating
Fiona spotted a pair of moths (Lamprosema tampiusalis) mating!

We spotted a fly (Order: Diptera) with an interesting pair of patterned wing.

Assasin bug
There were also a lot of assassin bugs around.

Traminda aventiaria
A beautiful geometrid moth (Triminda aventiaria) which seems to be quite common around this area.

The shiny long-legged fly (Family: Dolichopodidae) is a predatory insect that feeds on other small invertebrates.

There was a small river which was enclosed to form a pond and some stone steps allowed us to cross over to the opposite bank, where the trail finally ends and we had to head back.

There were definitely more animals we saw than what I had posted here. Unfortunately, I did not take that many pictures today, but it was a nice trip nevertheless :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blue Helen squirting

As described during my previous post, heres the video of the Blue Helen butterfly squirting.

Here is the side view of the butterfly with its proboscis extended.

Blue Helen

Update >> Consult Dr David Lohman today. He described this phenomenon as "puddling", a process where by the butterfly suck up water, filters off the salt and minerals and squirts out the excess water which it drinks. Normally it is the male which does this, as the nutrients are required to make pheromones and sperms. He also told me that people use animal urine and sometimes even their own to attract these butterflies to puddle together!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Morning Walk at Central Catchment

This morning, me and daniel went for a morning walk at Central Catchment. We had a wonderful time photographing little tiny critters in the forest.


We were first greeted by a male crimson sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja), which can be identified by its flaming red head.

This insect may look like a moth but it is actually a treehopper (Family: Ricaniidae) which has piercing mouthparts for sucking plant sap.

I spotted a handsome spider while Daniel was taking a photo of our native ixora (Ixora congesta). Is this a lynx or crab spider?

Besides butterflies and moths, skippers are also belong to the order of lepidoptera. This is probably a grass skipper (Subfamily: Hesperiinae) and they often held the fore and hind wings at different angles while at rest.

A stlit legged fly (family: Micropezidae) holding up and waving its two conspiciously marked front pair of legs like a pair of antennae. This behavior is said to be a mimicry of wasps.

Gesonia obeditalis?
Probably Gesonia obeditalis, this is a very tiny moth that can be even found on our urban grasspatches.

While taking photo of a moth, I heard a knocking sound echoing nearby. Daniel suggested a woodpecker and indeed, we saw a Banded Woodpecker (Picus miniaceus) working hard knocking on a dead tree looking for worms.

A copper-cheeked frog (Rana chalconota) is one of the most common native frog in Singapore.

The most bizzare encounter we had today is this swallowtail butterfly, probably the Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes prexaspes). It was squirting some liquid and unperturbed while we inched nearer to take some pictures and videos. What liquid is it ejecting?

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