Sunday, May 31, 2009

Semakau Public Walk at end May

Today I was back again for an public intertidal walk at Semakau. My group was the Upside-down Jellyfish and pressure was high since some had been here before guided by my mentor RY.

Nevertheless, I quickly got over it and was engaged in my guiding and also by their enthusiasm.

The first animal that we saw was the Mangrove Horseshoe Crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda). This species is probably the most toxic species with the poison (called tetrodotoxin) concentrating in their eggs. Ironically, this is a delicacy in Thailand and many have suffered from the consequences from vomiting and numbness to death due to improper processing of the animal.

Sponges are immobile animals that can feed actively through pumping water containing nutrients through its porous body and filtering them using tiny hairs inside. However, this is one animal that we should not touch as many of them are coated with toxins. Even so, these chemicals are very important in medical research as they hold a lot of potential for anti-cancerous drugs. The one above is a brown sponge (Spheciospongia vagabunda).

This Dog Whelk (Nassarius sp.) is a scavenger and it moves about the sandy shore using its long siphon to sense its food. On its shell was a sea anemone piggy-backing on it, getting a free ride to carry the animal to, hopefully, greener pastures.

Next, this huge snail with the shell about 10cm long is called the Noble volute (Cymbiola nobilis). Sadly speaking, amateur collectors harvest them for their beautiful shells or sell them in the seafood industry since this is an edible species. So far, the ones at Semakau seems to be surviving well, with many sightings of them laying eggs like this one above.

Today was a nice day for seeing the Chocolate-chip stars (Protoreaster nodosus); we actually saw 6 of them in all! And this is also my first time seeing one with 6 arms too.

Even though today's tide was strangely high, the hunter seekers still managed to do a great job and found a seahorse (Hippocampus comes)! Seahorses are known to have a reverse role in child bearing, whereby the female actually lays her eggs into the pouch of their mate where it will be fertilise.

The fan worm (Sabellastarte indica) has feathery mouthparts that extend out of the water to filter nutrients in the water.

Another interesting find by the hunterseekers were these juvenile Cushion Stars (Culcita novaeguineae). They are so named as their adults are very much inflated looking a a pillow. Many seastars have variable colouration and this was my first time seeing a one with a pretty mosiac pattern (top left).

Amazingly, while editing my photos, it seemed I actually missed out this patterned cushion star even though I staring right at it! You can actually see it in my earlier photo on the right side of the fan worm.

Just before we left the reef flat, I spotted a tiny Flatworm (Pseudoceros sp.) crawling on the sand. Many species of flatworms are brightly coloured for a reason. Either they themselves possess a powerful nervous toxin or that they are mimicking another animal, normally a sea slug that is poisonous.

Another pleasant outing out in the sun, though I was very dehydrated by the end of the day.

Friday, May 29, 2009

First public intertidal walk at St. John's island

Today was our first public intertidal walk to St. John's island. And boy, it was really quite an opening with many first-time sightings for me. Both Henrietta and I were guiding a group from the National University of Singapore Society.

We headed to the sandy lagoon where we saw several animals feeding.

The first was this worm, probably a ribbon worm that was spotted by my participants. Can you see that it was actually entangling itself on a prawn?

The poor animal was struggling frantically. Unfortunately, the worm had a stronger grip and it eventually swallowed the prawn whole. You can actually see its mouth opening to engulf it!

The second animal which caught my attention was this snail. I know that it was a whelk from its long flexible siphon which is used as chemosensory organ. But I was confused seeing a sickle shape structure sticking out, just like the trapdoor or operculum of a conch. However, closer examination revealed that it was actually the big pincer of a male fiddler crab! SK, our molluscs expert commented that this olive whelk (Nassarius olivaceus) was probably just feeding off a dropped off pincer.

The next discovery was found by our hunter seeker, RH. The beautiful animal here is a sundial snail (Architectonica perspectiva). This uncommon snail is listed as Endangered in our Singapore's Red Data book. Thus, it was heartening to see it laying egg masses today, meaning that we might be seeing little baby sundials in the near future? You might want to see KS's blog for more information about this animal.

Another first time is this little pebble crab (Leucosia sp.). True to its name, it's exoskeleton looks just like a piece of rock allowing it to blend into its surroundings.

Here is the dear friend of Sponge Bob; Patrick the starfish. Even though the common seastar (Archaster typicus) normally comes with 5 arms, it is not uncommon to find some with less. However, when I was telling my participants that this resembled the ninja's shuriken and flipped my chopsticks to make it more descriptive; droplets of mud from my sticks flew and splattered over one of them. Oh dear, if you happen to read this post, my sincere apologises again!

We saw several land hermit crabs (Coenobita cavipes) at the rocky cliff. These crabs although found near the shore, can drown if they are submerged in the water.

Here is a pretty fireband murex snail (Chicoreus torrefactus). They feed by secreting acid to soften the shell of a molluscs and drilling a hole through it using their radula before sucking out the insides.

A fine though scorching hot day at St. John's, thanks to many of my keen eyed and enthusiastic participants.


Moths are pretty, sleek and cool. This is just my personal opinion. In fact, I know quite a few who are terrified of them. It is hard to imagine why people feel this way. Adult moths are practically harmless, with the exception of some who might be allegric to their scales which cover the body and wings. Their mouth parts are just coiled up proboscises for sucking or primitive tiny jaws or none at all.

But well, the definition of phobia means irrational fear. Just like how I am terrified of cockroaches. And there is actually a term for the fear of moths, Mottephobia!

Location: NUS
Ambulyx moorei
Sphingidae, Smerinthinae

On the hand of my lovely mentor in marine bio lab, Angie.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My first hawk month

Seems like whatever blog that I started had grown stagnant and died somehow. Except for this one even though I still do neglect it now and then. Thus, I decided to transfer some of my posts over to here about some of the moths that my friends and I took. Many of the IDs were not possible without the help of Dr Roger Kendrick, Ryan Brooks and many others, besides the few moth ID books in my possession.

Pergesa acteus
Location: NUS
Pergesa acteus
Sphingidae, Macroglossinae

Pergesa acteus
I still recalled about 8 months back how ecstatic I was when I saw it clinging right at the entrance of Raffles Museum. It was my first sighting of a live hawkmoth! Ah well, many others might just shrug this off but it really made my day seeing this awesome raptor-like moth. Somehow, this reminds me to be careful not to do this to others next time as such a dull acknowledgement might just dampen what can be their future passion.

More information here.

Taken with the help of Tinghui's DSLR

Saturday, May 23, 2009

School walk at Sungei Buloh

Seems like this is another posting about mangroves again. Anyway, we were back at Sungei Buloh today for another guided walk for two schools, Queensway and Fairfield. Here are some of the interesting stuff that we saw today.

The Mangrove Cannonball (Xylocarpus granatum) is so named due to its big rounded fruits as seen here. As with most plants in this habitat, they are dispersed by water, whereby the fruit will split into several buoyant angular seeds after falling onto the ground.

Slightly ahead, there were several Mangrove Horseshoe Crabs (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) creeping on the mud. These creatures actually have blue blood! This is because they possess copper instead of iron in their oxygen carrying protein, known as haemocyanin.

Nipah Palm (Nypa fructicans) is a plant that everyone can relate to since most of us like to eat ice-kacang. The whitish gelatinous stuff beneath the ice, attap chee actually comes from the seeds of this palm.

Beccari's Tent Spider (Cyrtophora beccarii) builds a 3D web with a dome shaped tent structure inside. The spider normally hides inside the tip of the tent, which is a silk tube and that is also the place where the egg sacs were kept.

While passing by one of the mangrove trees, I spotted an animal running into the tree cavity. From the fleeting glimpse before it ran inside, it seemed like a juvenile monitor lizard. You can actually see the eyes peeping out from the hole.

Here is another view of an adult Malayan Water Monior Lizard (Varanus salvator) which gave RY quite a scare. ;p

There were many curious circular engravings on the bark of this dead Buta Buta plant (Exoecaria agallocha). These markings were actually drilled by the Mangrove Longhorn Beetle (Aeolesthes holosericeus) and it is said that they can be found in large numbers under them.

At the main bridge, RY spotted another horseshoe, probably a Coastal Horseshoe Crab (Tachypleus gigas) which can be differentiate from the other by its angular shaped tail.

There were several keen-eyed students that spotted three Common Greenback Frog (Rana erythraea) in the freshwater pond.

It is always fun to guide a group of enthusiastic participants anytime!

But spending a whole hot day out here guiding is taking a toll on me now. Having a sore throat and slight fever currently. =S

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lumnitzera Mangrove in Semakau

Visited Semakau mangroves last weekend to do a mangrove survey, which is part of Project Semakau. Didn't took much pictures that day, because I was trying to fend of the horrible infestation of mosquitoes. There were like a hundred of them following behind each of us! Besides that, I found that later that most of my photos had a blur mark because I had apparently wiped my mosquito repellent on the lens. =.=

But the picture below is worthy enough for a blog posting so here goes...

After bashing through a layer of replanted Bakau trees, we were amazed to see this huge forest containing mainly of Lumnitzera sp. It was really quite an astounding sight to behold, seeing all the tilted whitish stems and some parts almost covered entirely with green moss. The more I looked at this picture, the more it seemed like a painting instead of a photograph.

Reaching the main mangrove, it was also quite nice to see so many tall mature and dense mangrove trees all around us. However, it was also quite a daunting task to get out this prison of roots as you can see here... ^^

But some still managed to pose for a smile. Here is Kim above, and July in the picture before this.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Serangoon mangroves II

Having found a more accessible route, I'm back at Sungei Serangoon again. It's great to have a mangrove habitat so near my home for a quick exploration.

Here is another view of the mangrove overlooking Seng Kang.

Besides the plants shown during my last trip, here are some new ones. Nothing special but good for a revision. Here is the emerging propagule of Bruguiera cylindrica.

I only saw two Mangrove apple, Sonneratia alba throughout the walk.

There was a healthy patch of Acanthus sp. that were all fruiting. They were commonly known as Sea hollies due to their spiny leaves similar to the Christmas holly plant. However, not all of them possess it and some of them ahve spines in varying degrees.

The Noni plant, Morinda citrifolia, has fruits that are a favourite for weaver ants, probably because it secretes some sugary fluid from there. Unfortunately, I was unable to find one for a picture.

I was fortunate to see the beautiful flowers of the sea hibiscus, Hibiscus tiliaceus. These flowers only last for a day and they will turn orange before dropping off.

Perhaps I had not been that attentive previously but this is the first time I am seeing this snail, Dostia sp.

There were lots of Juda's Ear Ellobium, Ellobium aurisjudae, slithering all over a decaying stump probably feeding on algae or detritus covering over the dead tree.

There were lots of crabs under the bridge at the mudflat picking at the nutrient rich mud. It was really hard to take this picture having to wait impatiently under the hot sorching sun. Could this be Uca triangularis on its raised burrow?

The colourful porcelain fiddler crab, Uca annulipes, was probably the more common species around.

The largest mudskipper in Singapore is the Giant Mudskipper, Periophthalmodon schlosseri, which was also present here.

And lastly, the empty shells of the edible Lokan, Geloina sp. were spilled all over the mud together with the unsightly rubbish.

Only took about an hour to explore this area as I had to head back home for lunch. But will probably be back again soon since its just a 10min cycle from my home~

Friday, May 8, 2009

Walk at Sungei Serangoon mangroves

Feeling bored today, I decided to cycle to a patch of mangroves along Serangoon reservoir.

In order to reach there, I had ride along TPE and went underneath the bridge. It was pretty eerie exploring alone and also seemed like an ideal place for illegal immigrants to hide in.

Lots of Tamil scribings at the bridge. There were also a lot of wasp nests overhanging from here. >Update: They are Thai instead of Tamil.

There was a juvenile Malayan water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) swimming in the river. These lizards can be found at all sorts of water ways, even at canals and beaches.

Peeping down in the water, I can see barnacles extending out their hairy legs to feed. From the video, it was interesting to see that they can actually move their legs around to "grab" and filter food in different directions. Besides these crustaceans, there were also some tubes whereby worm like animals were snaking out from. I wonder what are those?

This is the part where I was itching to explore. A small stretch of mangrove just at the doorstep of Seng Kang housing estate. Some construction work were ongoing but it seemed that they are not going to clear the mangroves but just the land after that.

Avicennia alba or Api-Api Putih is the most common plant here. It can be easily identified by the tapering leaves and white underside.

There were also lots of climbers, Clerodendron inerme and all of them were fruiting.

Here was another climber, the sea derris (Derris trifoliata). The sap contains toxin which is used as a fish poison and can be destroyed through cooking.

Buta-buta (Excoecaria agallocha) or blind your eyes is another plant which has poisonous sap that can blind one's eyes. Excess salt absorbed from the seawater can actually be transported to old leaves which are shed periodically.

The only fern species found in a mangrove habitat are the mangrove ferns. This is Acrostichum aureum and the fertile fronds containing the spores are spread all over the leaves at the end, thus appearing brownish.

Katydids (Family: Tettigoniidae) are closely related to grasshopper, thus also earning the common name; long horned grasshopper. This was sitting on another api api, A. rumphiana.

This little snail is called a perwinkle, Littoraria sp. Did it made those holes on the leaves?

Besides herbivores, I also managed to find a predator. A praying mantis (Order: Mantodea) nymph was waiting patiently on the leaf waiting for a careless prey to stumble by it.

One more interesting discovering was this fresh carcass. I wonder what species of snake this was... Update: Thanks to Ivan for the ID, this snake is a house wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus).

I would have like to carry on walking to the end of the mangrove but unfortunately, I was not dressed appropriately for this trip (in singlet and sandels). After getting cut by the sharp barnacles, I decided to head back. Did not manage to see a variety of species here but I did not explore much and it seemed more diverse at the opposite bank. Have to find a better route to come here though! It was pretty terrifying to cycle on an expressway~
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