Friday, May 29, 2009

019. Wagler: Made in China? (Part 3)

Bumi tanpa lautan
Akan kehausan
Pasti lambat laun hilang
Duniaku yang malang

(Hijau, Zainal Abidin, 1998)

An Earth that's without seas
Is as good as being thirsty
She will gradually fade away
O’ this poor Earth of mine.

(11th – 18th May 2009)

The tree that was situated a few metres in front of our lodgings – Chalet 4, was a hotspot indeed for locals and foreigners alike. It was like, every other minute, there will be groups after groups of tourists who will stay still, look high and low before their cameras went off and flashed like sparklers. Groups usually comprised of at least 2 persons would stop by, whether rain or shine to catch a glimpse of what lies in the cosy verdant niche of stems and plants. So, what caught their attention exactly? 

Presenting the star: the Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri). According to Wiki, this reptile is a night creature and can be usually found on trees. They might appear quite sluggish as they remain motionless for long periods of time while waiting for dinner to pass by. Hence, Pit vipers are called as such because they have heat-sensing "pits" which occur on each cheek for prey location [1].

And when it does pass by, they can strike doubly quick. In fact, they would strike too if disturbed [2]. But in this case, I beg to differ. It didn’t even blink an eyelid when my camera went as close as 2-3 inches from the snake’s (left) view. Disturbing as it might be, it was rather curious too. Its lethargic movement could certainly give the sloth a run for its money, that’s for certain. Not once did it budge from its comfort zone during the 4 days and 3 nights we were there. This also goes for the juvenile (right) which was placed serpentine high up in the foliage. >_> If not for the tiny flicker of its tongue, the Pit-Viper could have easily passed of as a rubber snake. Seriously.

Placed against a sunshine-y backdrop, the fine venation of a Calophyllum sp. leaf is really quite evident. From the Greek kalos “beautiful” and phullon '”leaf”, the plant of the genus literally means “beautiful leaf”. Also known as the Bintangor plant locally, in Borneo, related species of this plant has been found to contain anti-AIDS properties. Of course, further research is being conducted to ascertain the fact.

(left & right): One of the Calophyllum sp. which we bumped into during our walk towards Teluk Pandan Besar – Calophyllum nodosum.

(left): Another Beauty Leaf which we saw (at the beach area of Teluk Pandan Kecil) is the Calophyllum inophyllum. Because of its decorative leaves, fragrant flowers and spreading crown, it is best known as an ornamental plant [3]. Again, the fragrance is subjective. For me, there wasn’t any distinctive, sweet scent whatsoever (though it can be testified by Alex and Kai-Xin). It’s either my nose was faulty or… my nose was faulty. >_>

(right): A large trunk of the Calophyllum ferrugineum, which we bumped into on our way to the top of Mount Santubong along the 45 degree slope. Its girth was the biggest I have ever laid my eyes on, and I could barely make out the leaves against the glaring skies. The other time I saw one was in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (Singapore), and the plant was a little, wee thing compared to this giant.

(Left): From Telok Pandan Besar, the view of headlands and a sea-swept beach towards my left.

(Right): On towards Telok Pandan Kecil, we continued along the sandy path before coming to the cliff top that overlooks a bay below. 

(Left): The sandstone formation on top of the plateau is unique indeed. Here’s Alvin trying to find a good spot to capture a picture of 5.
Note: Just sent an email to my Prof. James Terry on questions pertaining to Bako’s terrestrial geomorphology, such as the one above. Hopefully I will get to hear from him soon. :) Will update if he does *fingers crossed*.

(Right): After a 10-minute descent through cliff vegetation and gnarled roots, we soon reached the beach at the bottom. Caution must be practised here as a slip could caused wounds from gnashes to a swollen ankle. 

(Left): The beach, seawards. On the sand, we could see the tiny balls of sand left by Sand Bubblers. Besides that, there were also footprints of the (possibly) Bearded Pig (Sus barbatus). Apparently, the macaques also make the occasional trip down to the area to feed. Macaque motto: Humans = food. 

(Right): The beach that comes up seaward slopes down gently before heading far inland, towards the mangroves and then the forests. A secondary beach maybe?

Amongst the balls of Sand Bubbler leftovers were hermit crabs (left) and other species from the Order Decapoda (right). This one took a short break before scuttling into one of the larger holes made by the Sand Bubbler.

(Left): A close-up of the famous sea stack just offshore of Telok Pandan Kecil Beach. A sea stack is caused by the natural erosion of headlands along the coastline. Typically, the ocean wears a hole through the headlands first, creating an arch which slowly expands over time as it erodes. Ultimately, the arch collapses, leaving a sea stack on one side and the headland on the other. Separated from the shoreline, the sea stack will slowly start to erode, either eroded away into the water or collapsing [4].

(Right): A picture of the wave-cut notch,which is mainly the result of wave erosion and other processes. The undercutting is usually caused between the high and low water marks [5].

Dark, ominous clouds sweeping across Santubong, with the sunlight barely shining through.

On our way back, rain could be seen falling in sheets on the front half of Santubong. Though it looked like the rain might be advancing towards Bako, it was a clear night on our last day at the National Park.

Looks like Part 4 (end) will be coming up soon enough. :)






Thursday, May 28, 2009

018. Beauty’s in the Eyes of the Beholder (Part 2)

Bumi yang tiada udara
Bagai tiada nyawa
Pasti hilang suatu hari
Tanpa disedari

(Hijau, Zainal Abidin, 1998)

An Earth that's without air
Is as good as being lifeless
She will disappear someday
Without our notice.

(11th – 18th May 2009)

What if you were told that, to reach this waterfall above, you would need to trek continuously for 6 hours? Of course, there’s a chance that you will go hungry and your legs will start to beg for a rest. Just a while, they say. But deep down you know, that once seated and getting your hunger satiated before reaching the falls, the less determined you will be be to reach it. So, what’s the verdict? For us, we started out early at 8:45 in the morning, hoping to reach the Tajor Waterfalls by 12. If not, the latest was estimated to be at 1 noon.

Never did I imagine that the trails (consisting of the Lintang Trail, the Bukit Gondol Trail, the Paya Jelutong Trail, the Bukit Kruning Trail, and the Tajor Trail) would lead us walking till 3 in the afternoon. Thank goodness for the shade and shelter provided by the forest canopy. :) But, whatever aches that I accumulated along the way was swept away once my eyes fell on the flowing white curtain of water that cascaded from the nooks and crannies of the rocks at Tajor. Talk about being therapeutic! 

As usual, we were greeted by the sight of Bearded Pigs (Sus barbatus) as we left our cabin for breakfast early in the morn. These swine (it’s the fad nowadays.. lol) get their name from the yellowish whiskers on the side of the face and over the bridge of the nose; hence their common name.
1) Latin: Sus = "pig"
2) Latin: barbatus = "bearded"

Apparently, the body of this particular pig is the slenderest form among pigs, and it is supported by thin twig of legs.  With their diet comprising of fruits, it’s no wonder that they are often found following groups of gibbons or macaques, then feeding on the fruit that has been gnawed once upon and has then fallen to the ground right after [1]. And it’s true, right on the area (the cabins’ location) where the bearded pigs feasted on, were fruits that fell and got strewn when the macaques high-up shook and rattled the trees after their many bouts of jumping and leaping antics.

Speaking about feeding, this reminds me of a.. how should I say.. unique behaviour of the male Sus. The feeling is subjective, it all depends on how you see it, my friend Mindy would say. =) On our last day of our stay in Bako National Park, we got to see the male pig licking the urine of the female as it gushed like tap water from her ‘watering hole’. After digging a bit, it seems that urine can contain pheromones or chemical substances that change in the course of the oestrus cycle.

Unlike the female human way of dropping subtle hints (batting eyelashes and coquettishness as being noted by some) to entice their male counterparts, this is more like waving a flag with a ‘I’m In Heat’ emblazoned across in hot red. No reading between the lines there. So in order to know the status of females, males will lick the urine of the gentler sex to investigate their oestrous status. In fact, as some of the research conducted on pandas, the males are said to be able to discriminate the female reproductive condition on the basis of the chemical cues [2]. Wonder if this include male Homo sapiens? :)

According to some, it’s said the side view of the Pigeon Orchid flower resembles a flying pigeon. Well, after rotating the picture 180 degrees, it certainly looked somewhat like one, I must say. :) Other common names include the Bag-shaped Dendrobium. This latter would be more accurate, if its specific epithet crumenatum is used as basis. *nods*
1) Latin: crumena (= a leather pouch that held money and was secured by a strap around a Roman's neck)

(Right): When trekking through the Lintang trail, it’s not surprising to catch sight of the Orchid Pigeon (Dendrobium crumenatum) flanking the sides of the white, sandy trails. In Singapore, this orchid is the most common. In fact, it can be found growing naturally in the branches of older trees. Besides that, it’s also planted by the Parks & Recreation Department onto street trees [3]. 

(Left): Another pretty bloom from the orchid of the genus Dendrobium sp. As described with Latin, the Dendrobium sp. is "one that lives in the trees” or an epiphyte.
1) Greek: dendron “tree”
2) Greek: bios “life”

To differentiate this genus from the rest in the Family Orchidaceae, here are some of the genus characteristics:
(a) Plants may have a group of leaf-bearing axes, which are either (i) cespitose or (ii) at the end on the branches of sympodial ramificant rhizomes.
(b) The leaf-bearing axes may bear from one apical to numerous distichous leaves. The leaves are generally rather thin, but in a few species these are leathery thick and/or laterally compressed.
(c) The inflorescence(s) can be lateral, sub-apical or apical, few to many flowered [4].
-> cespitose = growing in dense tufts
sympodial = Primary axis that develops from a series of short lateral branches and often has a zigzag/irregular form
-> ramificant = branch-shaped
distichous = leaves arranged in two vertical rows on opposite sides of an axis

(Right): Another orchid which colours reminded my friend of the traffic-light popsicle that was found on our way to the falls was the Coelogyne septemcostata. Its generic name Coelogyne is derived from its concave stigma – the part which receives the pollen [5].  And on the same lines, its specific name can be literally translated to “7 ribs”. I am not sure why though. >_<
1) Greek: koilos (coel) “hollow”
2) Greek: gyne “woman”
3) Latin: septem “seven”
4) Latin: costata “with ribs/ribbed”

For the Coelogyne, its distinct genus characteristics include [6]:
(a) Plants may be large and epiphytic
(b) Flowers are often have showy and delicately coloured.
(c) Pseudobulbs are usually ovoid, conical or cylindrical from which 1 or 2 leaves arise at the apex.
(d) Leaves are broad, elliptic and plicate.
-> pseudobulb = storage organ (nutrients & water) derived from the part of a stem between 2 leaf nodes
apex = tip
-> plicate = folded like a fan

Looking back at this picture, I am not too fussy that this image of the Bulbophyllum sp. turned out kinda blurred. But it was the best I could do under breezy and lack-of-light conditions. With just one small puff, the stalk that held this bloom swayed back and forth like a compass gone haywire… lol.

One feature of major significance is that the inflorescence (or collection of blooms) always arises from the base of a pseudobulb or from nodes on the rhizome. That means, instead growing from the top of the pseudobulb, it sprouts from underneath like the pretty thing above. :) However, depending on the species, the flowers may/may not be fragrant. In fact, it can even smell downright disgusting [7].

(Left): As can be seen from this picture of the Bulbophyllum gracillimum orchid, the scientific name – Bulbophyllum sp. is derived from the pseudobulbs on which the leaf is growing [8]. Each pseudobulb bears a solitary, terminal leaf.
1) Latin: bulbus “bulb-like” 
2) Greek: phyllon “leaf”

(Right): A rare bulbophyllum from Borneo, the Bulbophyllum beccarii is by far the largest species in its genus. Its huge bowl-shaped leaves are designed to catch falling debris and turn it into fertilizers. The inflorescence is produced from the rhizome near one of the pseudobulbs and hangs downwards to about 20-22cm. Although it is comprised of hundreds of small sweet-looking yellowish flowers netted with red, the blossoms of the B. beccarii is one bulbophyllum that stinks to attract various flies [9].

(Left): Other orchids include this Dendrochilum sp. which the guys found growing on top of Mount. Santubong. Noticed the brown protrusions that is attached to every blossom on the dangling stalk? I presumed that’s the lip which led to the derivation of the name of the genus, Dendrochilum sp. But ambiguity still exists in this case. Here’s why [10]:
1) Greek: dendron “tree”
2) Greek: cheilos “lip” @ chilos “green food – possibly, referring to its epiphytic growth”

Some distinctive characteristics of this genus are [11]:
(a) The plants can be either epiphytic or lithophytic (plant growing on stone).
(b) The flowers are mostly very small but are produced in considerable numbers in long, dense, often distinctly two-ranked racemes.
-> raceme = an inflorescence having stalked flowers arranged singly along an elongated unbranched axis

Outcrops of sandstone wall face were rather abundant when we walked through the 1st hour via Lintang trail. With staircases and painted signs to guide us through the uneven surfaces and our way, the journey was pretty much a walk in the park compared to Santubong. This does not include the one time we had to inch our way through a foot-wide ledge in order to continue on on the (at least) 13km trail.

(Left): Asterisk markings were found engraved on the black-brown sandstones. I ain’t sure what caused this but I will try to send an email to my Geog professor to find out more. 

Other than wasteland habitats, there were also swamps and muddy mangrove areas. Pools like the one above were quite a sight. Turned a reddish-bronze due to the leachate of tannic acid from fallen leaves, the colour combination of it with the emerald Dipteris lobbiana and the turquoise skies looked almost surreal as it shimmered just beneath my mud-caked sole.

While traipsing through the tropical rainforest area, my first bump-in with a terrestrial crab took place! And as one of the guys picked it up, we then saw tiny lil’ babies scuttling frantically beneath the belly of the female crab. I am not sure if a mummy crab harbouring her babies beneath her is an usual occurrence since the identity of the crab was a mystery to yours truly and her 4 seniors.

(Left): Easily distinguished from other 3 species of its genus (Johannesteijsmannia) with its narrow leaf form, the Johannesteijsmannia lanceolata palm or the Slender Joey is the rarest amongst all. The genus name of the palm is derived from the 19th century Dutch botanist Johannes Teijsmann, hence its peculiarity (not to mention, a real tongue-twister too). =)

(Right): The foremost waterfall of the Tajor Falls, before it pooled and broke into smaller cascades like the one above (the first picture of the entry).


Lying on her back, Princess Santubong is a magnificent sight against the sunset backdrop. I will be back again, hopefully, in the not-so-far future. :) 

Once again, a big thanks to Alvin, Kai-Xin, Wee Foong and Alex for their patience and quick lessons in a crash course in ecology. Just around the corner is never just around the corner for them. :)












Saturday, May 23, 2009

017. I ♥ SPM: Bako Welcomes You! (Part 1)

Bumi yang tiada rimba
Seumpama hamba
Dia dicemar manusia
Yang jahil ketawa…

(Hijau, Zainal Abidin, 1998)

An Earth that's barren
Is as good as being enslaved
She's been besmirched by Man
Whose laughter reflects his naivete.

(11th – 18th May 2009)

With my jeans rolled up to my thighs and the seawater lapping my legs, I was finally at Bako National Park. Even with the sun beating down our backs, the sand balls made by Sand Bubblers that crunched and swished about my toes were warm to the touch. Though I had to squint and peer through half-opened eyelids beneath the blazing afternoon sun, I was simply bursting with joy inside. Though I must say, it was quite evident with the grins that kept sneaking up unsuspectingly. Thoroughly enjoying gusts after gusts of  the smashing wind that accompanied us during the 45-minute bus ride on the Petra Jaya Bus No. 6 to Kampung Bako (Bako Village), we then hopped onto Boat 21 to continue the last 25-minute journey down the Sarawak River towards the National Park. But before we headed down to the National Parks Boat Ticketing Counter to charter a boat, it was time to get our groceries settled.

Of course while the adults (yours truly was the youngest amongst the 5-member team.. lol) cracked their heads on the provisions needed to sustain our meals for the next 3 days during any trekking activities, I was left to wander a bit. Taking care not to stray too far, I ventured near a wooden jetty where signs warning tourists of crocodiles were sighted. Of course, lucky me (or maybe it should be otherwise), no such reptile made its presence felt.

(left): What scampered and skittered about were various forms of Uca sp. It ain’t nothing like the Orange Fiddler Crab (Uca vocans) or the others that can spotted in Singapore shores (or maybe it’s just to my untrained eyes only). However, while walking on the boardwalk, we managed to catch sight of an electric blue fiddler crab, which share really great resemblance to the Uca tetragonon I saw at the Sultan Shoal Island.

(right): Besides fiddlers, there were also various multi-hued crabs that sported similar-sized pincers. It could be female fiddlers for all I know. The greyish-orange crab at the bottom-right of the picture behaved somewhat like a Sand Bubbler. You know how a Sand Bubbler scrapes up sand grains with their pincers, brings them to their mouthparts, sifts out any tiny food particles before clipping off and discarding the rounded balls of sand? Well, that particular crab was observed holding a ball of sand to its mouthpart. I didn’t see it being clipped off though.

(left): On our 25-minute cruise down the Sarawak River, we passed by kelong(s) made out of Nibong (Oncosperma tigillarium). Stripped of the black spines of the Nibong palm, the stems are then used as to build the posts for fishing stakes and in a kelong construction. A kelong is basically a wooden structure that’s erected upon migratory routes or feeding ground of fishes. I am not sure how it works, but early fishermen from SEA made this to catch shrimp and fish for a living.

(right): Moving further downstream, Teruna (our boatman) pointed out the mangroves that were flourishing on our right. Apparently, the homogenous-looking stretch of mangroves were natural in origin. Being told that no human intervention was involved was indeed a hard pill for us to swallow since the uniformity spans a large area. It takes approximately 2 day just to traverse through the swathe and back.

While waiting for our check-in, it was time for some tentative exploration through the greens of Bako. Moss like the above was abundant and made verdant carpets on (nearly) every surface possible. Light-greens and silver proliferated on some parts of the rock walls while certain velvety ones turned some parts of the forest trails to lush, emerald Persian-like carpets. Looking closely at the moss above, you will notice some stalk-like features sticking out.

These are sporophytes of the moss that consist of the 1) foot, 2) seta and 3) capsule. A sporophyte is literally a ‘spore-plant’ or the spore-producing form of plants. The foot attaches the seta (the stalk) to the green form below. In the capsule, the spores are produced and then released when the time is right.

One moss which can be found at slightly higher altitudes (usually damp/wet) of the Santubong is the Sphagnum moss. What you see in the pictures above are actually many Sphagnum packed closely together. This is so that each small Sphagnum can provide support for each other’s tiny stem. The result is a colourful patchwork of various shades ranging from red, pink and orange with some mottled green in between.

Besides looking pretty, Sphagnum moss also are also rather useful. In fact, gardeners add Sphagnum to seed raising and potting mix, its natural antibiotic activity reduces risk of fungal infections [3]. Also, it’s used by orchids’ enthusiasts around the world to grow the blooms. Exporters also use the moss as substrate as they are able to hold water during shipment besides providing a clean medium (this is where its germicide properties come in) [4].

While exploring the Telok Paku trail, Kai-Xin spotted a Lantern bug amongst the forest litter. Albeit dead, its bright coloration seemingly indicated otherwise. But taking a closer look at it now, the insect seems to be coated in some white threads or sorts. It was probably undergoing some fungus decomposing process as we looked.  The long beak sticking out of its head is called a rostrum. Being a herbivore, it uses the beak to suck nectar out of flowers and juices of fruits. Cool eh, it’s just like a ready-made straw that can be used when the need calls. :) In spite of their name, they do not emit any light but instead, it’s due to their bright and contrasting colours.

Apparently, the area around the headquarters at Teluk Assam is great for spotting wildlife such as the Silvered Leaf Monkey(Trachypithecus cristatus). The colour of its coat is dark gray with the tips being a shade paler, hence producing a silvered effect.

High up above the chalets, we could see a bunch of them taking small leaps from tree to tree. Sometimes grooming and sometimes munching on leaves, these guys weren’t the least interested in the humans that had their necks craned to pay rapt attention to their every move. Apparently, every male-led group can range from 9-15 individuals, which comprises of a single adult male, a few adult females and juveniles. Living the lone wolf life is usually the way for males before they find a group of their own [1].

Of course, what is Bako National Park without its lead star right? Though the long, pendulous-nosed male couldn’t be spotted, just catching sight of a pot-bellied female Proboscis (Nasalis larvartus) sitting high up amongst the foliage, was already a sight to behold. If you are wondering about the function of the pendulous nose, think no further for its all about sex this way onwards. In fact, the bigger the nose, the sexier the male. Hence, it’s only those of the XY that are endowed with this feature. Think along the lines of guys sporting a red Ferrari and the ladies that go gaga over that. And what’s more, with his red ‘Ferrari’, the harem of the adult male can be guaranteed to consist an approximate of 7  females.

Here’s an interesting fact. It seems that these monkeys are also fondly known as the Monyet Belanda to the locals (aka the ‘Dutchman Monkey’) since colonial times. Why? That’s because the local communities felt that the European traders/colonialists and Proboscis share certain resemblance. Both were hairy, big-nosed and pot-bellied! =) (Note the past tense used.. lol) [2]

The Long-Tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) was also a familiar face at the Bako National Park. Cited to be ‘possibly the most fearless monkeys on earth’, we were warned that the macaques can get quite aggressive. They have been known to raid dustbins and kitchens in the rest houses, or scamper into the canteen to steal food or an unguarded bag [5]. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

(Left): Anyway, what caught my attention wasn’t the monkey itself but the dinner that was cusped in his palms (Click on the picture for a larger image). Squatting on its legs, it bit into its dinner as if it was a luscious piece of chicken (and not a lethal-looking scorpion) in its grasp. From what I could gather, it probably snatched the scorpion up real quick, snapped off the poison bulb at the end of the tail before having a bite of the now-defenceless animal.

This vandyke brown (that’s the name of the brown paint that I used to have during my secondary years… brings back memories, it does) surface interspersed with white patches are actually what’s left after the the alga that covered the sandstone has died and dried up. The white patches are actually sand, which source originates (yeah, you guessed it) from the sandstone terrain. As a result, the top soil are mainly thin, sandy soils and lacking in nutrients. This thus explains the presence of cliff vegetation, kerangas or heath forest and grasslands.

In Dayak language, kerangas bears the meaning 'poor soils'. however, this does not mean that biodiversity would be any less. In fact, the plants which thrive on these infertile sandy soils are interesting flora ranging from sundews to pitcher plants to the myrmecophytes (aka ant plants). In short, SPM!

The Spoon-leaved Sundew (Drosera spatulata) is one sundew that can be found aplenty on the white, quartz sand. Rosette in form, its spoon-shaped leaves earned the sundew its specific epithet – spatulata (Latin for spatula-shaped). In case you are wondering what in the world could be so fascinating about this small, weak-looking plant, think again. In spite of its fragile-looking exterior and its frail pink bloom, the sundew is actually carnivorous. Yes, they eat meat – insects to be exact.

Like the Venus flytrap, the sundew relies on its sticky glandular hairs on its leaves to trap insects. but unlike the Venus, its movements are much slower and it does not fold to trap its prey. Instead, the edges of its leaf will roll up slowly and the numerous hairs will enclose any insect that has fallen for its nectar. Because their glandular leaf hair glistens like dew under the sun, ‘sundew’ is thus, quite an appropriate description. They usually are quite common on sandy banks and soils poor in organic nitrogen and phosphorous [6].

Next up on the list of carnivorous flora is the pitcher-shaped Nepenthes sp., which are also sometimes known as Monkey Cups since monkeys have been observed to drink rainwater from these plants. A quick check-up on the word Nepenthes yielded its literal Latin meaning “without grief”. In Greek mythology, Nepenthe is a drug that eased all sorrows with forgetfulness. Linnaeus described the Pitchers as plants, which once seen, could make any botanist forget his ailments in his surprise. 
          “… If this is not Helen's (Helen of Troy) Nepenthes, it certainly will be for all botanists. What botanist would not be filled with admiration if, after a long journey, he should find this wonderful plant. In his astonishment past ills would be forgotten when beholding this admirable work of the Creator!...” [7]
(Left): The Hairy Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes hirsuta) – Latin: hirsuta "hairy or bristly" – is characterised by a dense, brown hairy covering, which is more prominent on the stems and underside of the leaf. It also tends to  grow in the shadier vegetation of the rainforest floor, where little sunlight is directly received [8].

(Right): The Slender Pitcher-Plant, (Nepenthes gracilis) – Latin: gracilis "slender" – is relatively simple with a very thin peristome (the rim edge of the pitcher) and posseses no unusual exterior features. One easy distinguishing characteristic of these species is that they have a similar thin, scrambling vine structure that transforms into the upright pitcher feature [9].

On the left is the White-Collared Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes albomarginata) with a red peristome while on the right, the Pitcher has a green peristome. The specific epithet albomarginata, formed from the Latin words albus (white) and marginatus (margin), refers to the white band of fine outgrowths (aka trichomes) that is just beneath the peristome.

Apparently, the white rim is believed to attract termites, which are the main prey of this species. Rim’s hairs that are missing from these pitchers tend to be the ones that have already caught their prey. This happens when the termites graze on the rim and incidentally fall into their doom. Once the hair are all gone, the pitcher is no more attractive to the termites. But no worries, since the pitcher is already filled with food [10]. :) Here’s a thought though, do the hairs grow back after being picked out by the termites? 

(Left): Here’s an example of the lower pitcher of the Raffles' Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana). The lower pitcher is usually bulbous and has well-developed fringed wings. Lower pitchers are pitchers found growing on the ground while the upper pitchers usually dangle above the ground. Unlike the round and squat version of the lower pitchers, the upper pitchers are tapered towards the base.

(Right):Itsy, bitsy spider went up the pitcher rim, down came the rain and washed the spider down…” Not that it happened that way, but it could have. =)  Interestingly, the carnivorous nature of Nepenthes is supposedly due to inhabitation of nutrient-poor soils. Since the method of nutrient absorption via the root is insufficient in these soils, the plants have evolved other ways to obtain nutrients. Hence, the roots of Nepenthes and a majority of other carnivorous plants are usually slight and fragile; thus care must be taken when repotting [11].

The Flask-Shaped Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes ampullaria) – Latin: ampulla "flask" – is a unique Pitcher indeed. It has largely moved away from carnivory and now gets a major portion of its nutrients from digesting leaf matter that falls to the forest floor. Hence, it is partially detritivorous. As a result of its adaptation to leaf-litter trapping, it has evolved a few special traits: -
1) The pitcher lid (unlike its counterparts from different species) is small and reflexed, such that the leaf litter can fall directly into the pitcher.

2) Playing an important role in prey capture in other species of Pitchers, the nectar glands in the N. ampullaria is very rare and in some situations, completely missing from the pitcher lid.

3) For the genus Nepenthes, a plant that consists of subsurface runners and offshoots is unusual. The N. ampullaria often forms a ‘carpet’ of pitchers covering the soil, which subsequently serves to maximise the interception area of falling leaf litter [12].

Fool that I was, i actually forgot to take a picture of the Nepenthes sp. that yielded these pretty inflorescence. But if my memory serves me right, the blooms belong to the Raffles’ Pitcher Plant (N. rafflesiana).

Myrmecophytes or ant plants are plants that live in association with a colony of ants and possess specialized organs in which the ants live. These plants come in various forms and sizes, from elongated ones like the Lecanopteris sp. to the more bulbous ones like the Myrmecodia sp.

(Right): The Ant-fern (Lecanopteris sinuosa)  is frequently found on dead trees often at roadsides in the lowlands [13]. In the wild, they form hollow rhizomes that are inhabited by ants. But in cultivation, they easily grow without the 6-legged insects [14].

The picture above shows a cross-section of what’s inside the myrmecophyte – Myrmecodia tuberosa. The generic epithet myrmecodia is derived from Greek myrmekodes meaning ant-like or full of ants. Since Myrmecodia tubers are often found growing in a dangle downwards on bare branches without significant amounts of substrate, and thus depend upon symbiosis for most nutrition. The plants store food and water in a greyish brown caudex (-> thickened stem) that swells and grows spines over time.

(Left): The Myrmecodia tuberosa forms a symbiotic relationship with ants. The plants provide habitats for ant colonies high up into the forest canopy. Not only does this protect them from the elements, the ants are also safe from predators because of the spines. Likewise, the ants provide defence for the plant and prevent tissue damage besides supplying nutrients to the plants by leaving wastes within the tunnels inside the caudex. Special glands lining the tunnels then absorb is as nutrients for the plant. This allows the plants to effectively gather nutrients from a much larger area than the roots ever could cover [15].

(Right): Another ant-plant that was found growing on the trees in the heath forest was the Hydnophytum formicarum. Unlike Myrmecodia tuberosa, H. formicarum has a smooth caudex. Besides that, the latter has multiple stems with small leaves growing from the top while the former usually has only a single stem produced from a spiky tuber with a tuft of long leaves at the tip [16].

In short, plants like the sundews, pitchers and the ant-plants need all the help (or more aptly, the food) they can get to survive through the lack of nutrients which are typical of a heath forest ecosystem. If there’s a will, there’s a way indeed!

By 6 in the evening, we finally reached the boardwalk where we first started out. The sunset by this area of withered mangrove trees made this a pretty picture indeed.


* Here’s my deepest gratitude to Alvin, Kai-Xin, Wee Foong and Alex for lending me a helping hand in the identification of plants, insects, reptiles and birds species. Without them, it will be just a pretty pink flower or a small blue bird. Thank you! :)