Thursday, March 12, 2009

010. Calling the shots at Rifle Range (27th Feb 2009)


To be more precise, this trip also involved traipsing through the the secondary forest of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve before we made our way to Rifle Range Road. However, compared to the previous entries, this one is relatively short as I will be putting more focus on certain creatures. (Who knows when I might get the chance to get within close proximity with these guys in the future right? ;) ) Besides that, I also managed to make acquaintance with a certain animal that I previously got to know via my textbook, ‘The Natural Heritage of Singapore'. And it’s none other than this creature below.

A sudden noise towards our left swiftly sent our heads swivelling towards that direction, and what greeted us amongst the fairly dense thicket of green vegetation was a flighty Slender squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis) [6]. Smaller and less common compared to the Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus), this slender-tailed squirrel can still be seen at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve [7]. Interestingly, its scientific name (in my opinion) is somewhat of an oxymoron. =)

The term –sciurus originates from the Latin “sciurus " (from Greek “skiouros” : skiā, shadow + ourā, tail) because the tail is supposedly large enough to provide shade for the rest of the animal [8]. On the other hand, its specific epithet – tenuis means thin/slender in Latin. Don’t the terms somewhat contradict each other? According to Ecology Asia, the head-body length is appoximately13-16cm while its tail measures to about 12-13cm. Nevertheless, I can pretty much tell that the tail is not going to be much of a help if this squirrel ever gets caught in the rain. >_<

The picture on the right depicts a female Grasshawk dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans) [5] perching on the top of a blade of grass. However, I am not so sure about the one of the left. In fact, this picture was taken at different times, so a similar coloration between both dragonflies doesn’t necessarily mean its from the same species. On the other hand, I just might be thinking too much. But to identify a dragonfly, a snapshot of just the front view would mean peanuts – though it might look artistically appeasing – without a snapshot of its top view.

(left): A hornet, which buzzing iridescent wings caught my attention as it hovered over a frond. There were actually quite a number of these around. Pretty, but their sting packs quite a punch. So, try not to get too close, if possible. =)

(right): The Archduke (Lexias pardalis dirteana) is one of the few butterflies (besides the Malay Viscount and the Horsefield’s Baron), which name shares a similarity to the British nobility [1]. The reason boggles me too. I am a little uncertain about its identity, but based on its black wings with a distinctive blue margin (and some spots), it’s could possibly be an Archduke (Nymphalidae) [3]. One unique characteristic of the beauties from the Nymphalidae family is that their forelegs are undeveloped and cannot be used for walking. So instead of walking on 6, they can only depend on 4. Either way, they are still rather hard to capture when on the wing. >__> Who says only fishing cultivates patience eh?

At one of the rest areas in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, a Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon luctatius) [2] was seen fluttering on some moist parts along the concrete paths. The ones that are seen are generally males, as they are usually observed to gather in large numbers at moist spots, especially if it’s tainted with urine [1]. O_o Anyway, this butterfly belongs to the family Papilionidae that consists some of the most gorgeous species in the world. In fact, Papilionidae is Latin (papilion) for butterfly! I guess their forms are taken as a general basis on how most butterflies should look like. :)

It must have been a hot day indeed for there was another butterfly seen hovering around the aforementioned moist spots. (Actually, there was someone washing a vehicle nearby, hence the pool of water in the left picture.)

With its slender proboscis unfurled, the male Cruiser (Vindula dejone erotella) [1] was all ready to drink till its little-heart content. Slightly larger than the females, the more common males are easily distinguished by its orange-brown hue and wavy black lines along the termen (= wing margin). Like the Common Bluebottle, the males from these species are also frequently found feeding at damp seepages and urine-tainted soil [9]. Seeing the word ‘male’ and ‘urine’ occurring twice in a row, was enough to pique my interest. And by the time I finished reading an article pertaining to this peculiarity, I was grinning from cheek to cheek.

It seems that, besides the sugar from nectar, butterflies (like all other creatures) need other nutrients like salts, nitrogen, amino acids and other chemicals for survival and as sex attractants. But other than sugars, plants offer little else of what’s needed by a butterfly. You will be surprised to find out that its buffet can range from a menu of rotting fruits to animals’ excretion! And just like us, butterflies have also evolved the practice of providing ‘wedding gifts’. During sex, males transfer a spermatophore (= a packet of nutrients, salts, and sperm that can weigh as much as half its own weight) to the female, which may depend on the packet as necessary provision for her eggs. Her time and efforts can then be used to find suitable host plants for her eggs.

And that’s partly why males – like both the Common Bluebottle and the Cruiser – constitute the vast majority of butterflies clustering at salty or urine-soaked ground. Not only is it easy to find by its strong odour; to an unmated male butterfly, these veritable cocktail of nitrogenous waste, amino acids, salts and excreted sugars are the equivalent of haute cuisine. And if a puddle gets a four-star rating, faeces are twice that much, and carrion even more [10]. Though these pretty boys might look delicate, they sure can rough it out for their other half. Come hell and high waters indeed! =)

Just like the Archduke, the Cruiser also belongs to the Nymphalidae family. And as stated, the species from these particular family depend on 4 legs to walk instead of the usual 6. The picture (right) of the 4-legged butterfly didn’t strike me as odd before, but after learning this fact did I go “oooooh…”… haha. =)

(left): And the surprises don’t just stop there, for entwined around one of the pillars of the rest area was a Twin-barred Tree Snake (Chrysopelea pelias) [4]. According to Ecology Asia, this rare reptile of a quiet temperament is mildly venomous. Like the Paradise Tree Snake (here and here), this species is able to glide considerable distances by inverting its ventral (= lower) surface and launching itself from the tree tops. And of course, with the discovery of its presence, the snake was pretty soon in the spotlight of joggers and tourists alike.

(right): Being the 3rd snake of the day, the Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) is a rather common sight compared to the Twin-barred above. Mildly venomous and docile (but this doesn’t mean it can be handled as like), the Oriental whip snake is usually found in forested and rural areas. Compared to its fluorescent green adult, the young are brownish in colour. Interestingly, they are born alive [11]. (Another snake I know of that has such an adaptation is the venomous Amphibious sea-snake (Laticauda colubrina). [6])

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Slim and elegant, the Oriental is often superbly-camouflaged amongst bright green foliage. In fact, I was really lucky to be able to spot it amidst the sunlight-stricken leaves. The snake has also been observed to be mostly encountered when it is sunning itself on the secondary growth along the forest edge [11]. AY has wondered whether there’s a connection between the snake and the plant it was seen on.

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To distinguish an Oriental whip snake is fairly easy. Besides its eye-catching emerald hue, there is also a thin yellow line running along the sides of the body. This snake was pretty much of a cam-whore (lol..). Why? Well, it was as if it knew we were done with its previous pose and gladly obliged us with another before staying as still as a statue for another celebrity treatment! The picture on the right has got to be one of the best snapshots I have of the Oriental! Demure’s the word, yes? ^-^

1. A Guide to Common Butterflies of Singapore





6. Tan et. al (2006). The Natural Heritage of Singapore.






Wednesday, March 11, 2009

009. Black Beauty of Mandai Road (15th Feb 2009)


Who would have thought that walking 5.6km (or at least) could be rather pleasant and almost free from perspiration? (Well at least till the sun climbed to the top of our heads). Even though it was just pretty much a stroll along the car-whizzing road, there were still plenty of creatures which made me “ooh” and “aah” with awe every 10 seconds or so (okay, maybe not that frequent.. but you get my point ^^). Birds greeted us overhead as AY and I began our first steps down the still-isolated road. (Well, rarely anyone wakes up at an ungodly hour like 6 on a Sunday- not most of us anyway- but I digress.)

(left): Some of the more prominent plants spotted was the Koster’s curse (Clidemia hirta), which opposite leaves are covered with soft hairs. It feels exactly like touching a shaved head (of course, not the ones that are totally botak [= ). Just that on a leaf, it feels kind of weird. Generally, the hairs on its leaves are important for defence against herbivory besides offering protection from the cold, heat and drought.

(right): Apart from the Koster’s curse, the Sarsaparilla vine (Smilax setosa) is also rather hairy, or as it’s more aptly termed, prickly. If you run your fingers down the “hairy”stem, the long prickles bend to the touch, unlike the thorny structures of a bougainvillea. Even so, let’s not all go charging into thick thickets of smilax, for they can still scratch. As you scrutinize the vine more closely, you can actually see a well-camouflaged row of yellow thorns running down the length. Now that’s probably going to hurt some.

(left): The smilax’s stipular tendrils are used for attaching to support structures (such as the branches, twigs or stems of a tree). As you can see, its tendrils are rather big in terms of diameter. Taking the prickly stem into deduction, it can be said that the plant has been growing for quite some time now to reach such a size.

(right): And just as I was admiring the wicked (or radical, awesome-looking even) stem, AY and I spotted this spider just right in front, which identity still remains a mystery to me after browsing through “A Guide to Common Singapore Spiders” by Joseph K.H Koh.

This picture might be familiar to some of you as I have used it in one of the previous entries. However, what’s interesting about this picture is the interaction between the flower of the sendudok (Melastoma malabathricum) & a wasp which identity eludes me. Not that I have not seen bees buzzing around flowers, but to get a shot of one in clear action is a first for me. According to my practical notes, the flowers of the plant is usually buzz-pollinated by carpenter bees (Xylocopa sp.). Buzz pollination occurs when bees curl their bodies over the stamens (male) and emit vibrations that cause the pollen to shoot out from the anthers (= top part of the stamen) onto the underside of the bee [10]. This insect is evidently not the bee mentioned, but it’s in the described position.. hmmm.

A plant which leaves and flowers ring no bells in my head. (edit) But after a reminder from AY (thanks btw ^^), I ‘realised’ this was the rough Trema (Trema tomentosa). One of the plant’s characteristics is its central trunk with horizontal branches bearing hairy leaves. In fact, its specific epithet tomentosa originates from the Latin tomentum (= cushion stuffing of wool, hair, etc). The soils here must be pretty good if the land is inhabited by Trema species, as these plants prefer land similar to primary forest (read: undegraded). However, that’s not the only interesting thing about the plant, perching on one of its leaves was…

.. a leaf-like, pink-eyed Katydid (Phaneroptera sp.) from the subfamily of False Katydids (Phaneropterinae). (= Despite its misleading name, the false katydid is a true katydid. This is due to the rapid “tic-tic-tic-tic” sound which the male makes by rubbing one wing against the other. This noise is unlike the more traditional katydid call of “katy-did, katy-did.” [7] In Panama, it is thought that such short, high-frequency calls make the insects’ detection more difficult for bats [8]

And on a Macaranga sp., there were a lot of ants crawling about the fruits stemming from the branches. There was one ant that caught my attention. Curiously, it was holding in its grasp another ant, assumed dead, as it seemed pretty lifeless even if it was carted about like baggage. >_>

(left): An aposematic stink bug nymph (Tessaratomidae) [6], possibly an Eusthenes Laporte which common name actually deem it as harmless despite its fiery coloration. From the Greek apo- (= away), plus sematic, (= warning, from the Greek sema or sign), aposematic coloration aka warning coloration refer to colors/patterns advertising unpalatability/toxicity to predators by organisms without the dangerous characteristics [9]. A humbug indeed.

(right): Another bright creature spotted was none other than the Pear-Shaped Leucauge (Opadometa fastigata). Active in daytime, this species of Leucauge differ from its counterparts of the same genus in Singapore in terms of its pear-shaped abdomen and its unique fourth leg. In addition to the two rows of curved hairs (characteristic of Leucauge), that particular leg also has a thick brush of spines which are not present in a majority of other species of Leucauge. [3]

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(left): (edit) Since it was resting on a leaf with widespread wings, I instantly assumed this rather rare Chestnut Angle (Odontoptilum angulata angulata) to be a moth. In fact, it’s a habit of this butterfly to bask with horizontally-held wings [11]. Another curious thing I noted was that the wings were horizontally-held – even when it did a 180-manoeuvre! The adults are usually found near its larval food plants such as urban bushlands where the Brown Kurrajong (Commersonia bartramia) grows, or about trees of the Sea Hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum) in coastal wetlands [12].

(right): Initially mistaken as a butterfly, this creature is actually a flatid planthopper (Flatidae) – possibly a Torpedo bug (Siphanta acuta) [4] & [5]. From the Latin acutus (= sharp), its specific epithet acuta probably refers to the sharply-pointed wingtips of the adult. Its common name – torpedo bug, on the other hand, describes the great leaping ability of the nymphs (= young of the insect that has yet to undergo complete metamorphosis); in fact, mature nymphs can leap as far as 60 cm. But, I am still a little uncertain about its identity though, since there are some tufts coming out of the pointed wingtips (top).

The Malayan (Megisba malaya sikkima) is definitely one of my favourite pictures for that day. Spotted by AY, this gorgeous fellow let us snap till our hearts content before flitting off. Though it might be confused with the Common Blue Hedge (Acytolepis puspa lambi) at first glance, subsequent notice of the position of the large black spots on the underside of its hindwings easily tells it apart. Besides that, the Malayan of Singapore has short tails sticking out from its hindwings [2].

(left): With its bright, emerald hue, I don’t think I would ever get bored taking shots of the Green-crested lizard (Bronchocela christatella). Staring defiantly into my direction, this pose will remain one of my absolute favourites. Actually, this guy here was the 2nd green-crested lizard which we came upon on that day. The first which we bumped into, seemed to be rather skittish and leaped off at the sight of us. A sign of them means that they are at least holding out against the displacement from their habitats by the changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor).

(right): And speak of the devil, I spotted a changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) not long after I caught sight of the previous green-crested. It was also in heat to boot. Superb! During the breeding season, males develop a bright red coloration on their heads and shoulders with a black throat. Compared to the more slender green-crested, the changeable certainly looks more aggressive. =)

(left): The Grasshawk dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans) (male) is one common dragonfly which can be found almost anywhere. One of its prominent features is its reddish maroon wings and body. However, its wingtips remains distinctively transparent.

(right): A grey dragonfly which I highly doubt is a Common blue skimmer (Orthetrum glaucum).

Again, I have my doubts that this is a female Grasshawk dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans), but that’s not my point for blowing the picture to this scale. Doesn’t this dragonfly just describe the sentence: “Smile, you are on candid camera!” perfectly? =)

According to AY, this tree covered in pretty, yellow blooms is Polyalthia rumphii (Annonaceae). And what’s special about the plant is the bloom itself.

From what AY observed, it seems 3 sepals, 3 outer petals and 3 inner petals come together to form the 'basket' structure of one bloom. Numerous stamens are noted, surrounding the pistils. The coloration and texture reminds me of an orchid bloom though.

Without a doubt, the Ashanti blood (Mussaenda erythrophylla) has got to be one of the most gorgeous blooms I got to feast my eyes upon. Soaking up the rays of the afternoon sun, the crimson sepals of the vanilla-white flowers seem to emanate a fiery glow. The picture on the right shows the underside of the white blooms. Surprisingly, instead of being totally white like its top, the margin is framed with tiny, red hairs.

(left): A river scene that seemed to have leap off the pages of a Malaysian tourist guide pamphlet.

(right): A hyperactive Chocolate Grass Yellow (Eurema sari sodalis) feeding on nectar of a tiny, purple flower. This fellow here was so jittery that I should count my blessings to be able to get the shot above. (Of course, plenty of zoom was involved but still..). This species is easily recognized by a squarish patch of reddish-brown marking at the forewing apex on the underside. [1]

An unknown grasshopper which was spotted as we traversed across a young secondary patch to give the area a quick check-out. What’s distinctive of the grasshopper is the holes alongside its abdomen (on its wings). They aren’t just patterns, but actual holes, as I could easily see through the other side from the opposite (where I was). Awesome huh? =)

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2 kinds of mushroom which were seen growing on the forest floor. Not sure about their identity either.

The trip soon came to an end as my tummy decided to make its presence known. Calls from the Asian Glossy Starlings and Javan Mynas were the last thing we heard from the Mandai Road as we boarded the bus back. In all, two thumbs up!!

**Thanks AY & Anonymous for pointing out the errors! :)

1. A Guide to Common Butterflies of Singapore p.77









10. Tan et. al (2006) The Natural Heritage of Singapore.