Sunday, June 17, 2007

Semakau Inter-Tidal Walk on 16 June 2007

Twelfth Discovery Posting:

Oh dear, looks like i'm the last person to blog about the public walk we had yesterday.

Anyway, this was my first official time being a lead guide (assigned to the group: Mudskippers). Joining the group was five members of the public and five girls from St. Nicholas. Also not forgetting Siyang, who was on OJT, was assigned to be my 'lovely' assistant. =)

Arriving at a early timing at Semakau do has its advantages and disadvantages.

The disadvantage was that the NEA staff had not reached the island yet, so we had to forgo the four wheeler transport and depended on our very own two legged, self-powered 'transport'.

The advantage was that everyone gets enjoy the wind and take in the sights around the island. Here's some 'mudskippers' along the walk (picture below).
After walking through the forest trail, we reached the shores and immediately headed out to the inter-tidal zone and for the first 'discovery' we have a flat worm (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Flatworms are hermaphroditic which means they have both the male and female reproductive organs.

2. Their bodies have only a single opening, which serves as both a mouth and an anus.

3. They do not have eyes but has a cluster or clusters of light-sensitive cells make up which are called eyespot/s.

And just next to the flatworm, our keen-eyed hunter seekers had found a sandfish sea cucumber (picture below). Second 'discovery' of the day.
Discovery Note:
1. Being related to the sea stars, sea cucumbers have a soft, wormlike body and range from a few centimeters to 90 centimeters in length.

2. Unlike the sea star, however, they have no arms but use a cluster of tube-like feet around their mouth to gather food.

3. To repel predators or when stressed, a sea cucumber might expel their innards or ‘vomit’. And if too much of their innards are expelled, they might die off as a result.
4. The sandfish sea cucumber is the species of sea cucumber which people consume. But they contain toxins, so it must be properly prepared before consumption.

Third 'discovery' was a pair of hairy crabs was spotted (picture below). I wonder if they are a couple. =p. anyway,
Discovery Note:
1. The hairs of the hairy crab traps sediment so it blends 'almost' perfectly with its surroundings.

2. We also call this crab the ‘teddy bear crab’. =)
3. The hairy crab eats seaweeds and poisonous zoanthids, which makes the crab mildly poisonous too!

Given that the tide was coming in, i decided to forgo some finds that our hunter seekers have found near the seagrass lagoon and headed out towards the coral rubble area. I thought maybe we could look at those when we were on the way back but then... (read on to find out why)

What awaited us at the coral rubble area was of course loads of corals. Here's one of the leathery soft corals (picture below). Fourth 'discovery'~
Discovery Note:
1. Leathery soft corals are made up of a colony of animals.
2. These animals are called polyp. They look like a very tiny sea anemone with a long body topped with tentacles.

Another interesting animal usually found around the coral rubble area are nudibranches. Fifth 'discovery' was one species, the bohol nudibranch (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. 'Nudibranch' means 'naked gills'. The name comes from the flower-like gills found on the back of many nudibranchs. These nudibranchs use the gills to breathe.

2. Nudibranchs are related to snails. Little baby nudibranchs are born with shells, but they lose them when they become adults.
3. Most nudibranchs are carnivores, they eat immobile or small, slow-moving prey. Examples are sponges, ascidians, hard corals, soft corals, sea anemones etc.

Sixth 'discovery' was something i've seen for the first time at Semakau, a spider crab (picture below)!
Discovery Note:
1. Spider crabs, which have thick, rather rounded bodies and long, spindly legs, are generally slow-moving and sluggish.

2. Harmless to humans and not particularly aggressive in general, the spider crab's main defence against predators is camouflage: the hook-like hairs on the crab's shell (carapace) hold algae and other small debris in place.

3. Most spider crabs are known to be scavengers.

And here's the iconic star of Semakau, the knobbly sea star (picture below). Seventh 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Can you believe that this is larger than your face? It’s about 30cm across!

2. They get their name from the knobs they have.

3. Although most of them are mostly red or orange in colour, beige or brown coloured knobbly sea stars have been spotted before also.

But where was the 'traditional' group photo with the sea star? Alas, it wasn't possible due to the rain that immediately hit us after i've taken some shots for my group members with the knobbly.

Although the walk was then aborted and everyone had to clear the inter-tidal area due to lighting warning, spirits remained high.

I couldn't really document that as my camera was not waterproof. But you may read other blogs to find out other sights and happenings on the same day.
1. The tidechaser (Ron's camera was waterproof and managed to capture some of the enjoyment under the rain)
2. Manta's blog (He spotted a clownfish in Semakau!)
3. Siyang's Urban forest (look out for a picture of another kind of sea cucumber)
4. Mountain and Sea blog (TC's camera was also waterproof and he has some other interesting things which i didn't saw)
5. Juan's blog (she had the most 'advanced' waterproof equipment amongst all and she has a video on the Spider Conch!)

Pretty short entry this time round, but nevertheless i guessed most of us enjoyed the day due to the rain. Would like to thank all 'mudskippers' (too bad this time i couldn't get a whole group photo but i do hope you have a memorable morning). And also Siyang for being such a great 'lovely' assistant! =p

Lastly i hope it would be a Sunny Semakau, the next we come back. =)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fun with Bats on 9 June 2007

Eleventh Discovery Posting:

(Entry@15 June 2007 : Gotten a photo of the Wuyang Kulit and inserted it in)

Bats in Singapore? Is that possible? Yes.

Kent Ridge Park was the place where about 50 kids gathered with their parents to learn more about and look at bats. Here's them trying to organise themselves into groups before beginning the event (picture below).
And at the other side were four girls from Cedar Girls with their 'director' rehearsing for the Wayang Kulit show on bats to be shown later to the kids after the sun sets (picture below).
The first activity lined up was that kids had to draw a picture of what they thought a bat would look like. Their completed drawings were then hanged up for display. Here are some of them (pictures below).

After that, Dr Vilma then gave an introduction on what were bats by showing the children pictures and photos of bats. Luan Keng also brought a bat skeleton and a bird wing skeleton to show the difference between a bat's wing and a bird's wing.
Discovery Note (General Information on Bats):
1. Bats are mammals with a body that are very similar to our own.

2. Their most distinguishing feature is that their forelimbs (arms and hands) are developed as wings, making them the only mammals in the world naturally capable of flight.

3. It is estimated that there are about 1,100 species of bats worldwide, which accounts for about 20% of all mammal species on earth!

Later, the children gathered back into their groups and started to work on the activity, "Bats and me", where they were required to compare one of the group members with a certain species of bat found in Singapore. Here are some photos showing them working in progress with the help of HSBC volunteers (pictures below).
Discovery Note (Types of bats):
1. There are basically two main suborders (groups) of bats, they are megabats and microbats.

2. Megabats eat fruit, nectar or pollen from flowers while microbats eat insects, small mammals and fish, relying on echolocation for navigation and finding prey.

"Bats and me" not only helped the kids to learn more about bats. It also gave them a chance to work together as a group as the individual groups had to present their findings to everyone else after they had completed their work. Here's one group during their presentation (picture below).
Discovery Note (Truth behind the Myths of Bats):
1. Bats are not blind. In fact, they can see better than humans at night. However, echolocation is the most important sense for microbats when hunting for food.

2. Bats are not dirty. They actually spend a lot of time grooming and cleaning themselves and those in their colony. It is important to them that they stay clean and free of parasites.

3. Not all bats suck blood. There are only 3 known species of vampire bats and they can only be found in the Central and South America. And these vampire bats only need about two tablespoons of blood per day to survive, so they never consume enough to kill their prey, which is generally limited to large animals such as cows.

Never was there a moment of dullness for the kids, as they proceeded on to making bat masks straight after their presentations. Future artists in work progress (pictures below).

Discovery Note (Bats are useful to us):
  • Insectivorous bats (bats which eat insects) are far and wide the best bug-killers on the planet. Some species are known to be able to catch and eat as many as 600 mosquitoes in one hour.
  • They also feed on insects that destroy crops, providing an invaluable service to farmers.
  • Nectarivorous bats (bats which feed on nectar) gather pollen on their bodies as they feed on the nectar from flowers.
  • When they fly away, they spread the pollen, helping the plant disperse its seed.
  • Did you know that these bats help to pollinate plants such as the banana, figs, mangoes and even durians!
A group photo of every kid with their completed bat masks (picture below). Say 'Bat'!
Soon, it was picnic time as everyone enjoyed the view of the sunset (picture below) before we began on the second part of the event program.
For the second part of the event, kids were taught how to play the "Bat and Moth" game, where everyone had great fun as we waited for night fall.

As it turned darked, bats began to appear and as some groups walked deeper into the park to find more bats. The rest were treated to the wonderful Wuyang Kulit show put up by the girls from Cedar Girls. I couldn't take any photos as my hands were full holding the torches required to project shadows on the screen for the show.

(Entry@15 June 2007: A photo of the Wuyang Kulit in progress (picture below). Would like to thank one of the parents for providing this photo.)
Discovery Note:
1. Bats are threatened due to habitat lost and human activities.

2. And as most bat species gives birth to only one baby per year, so they multiply at a relatively slow pace.

As the second run of the Wuyang Kulit show ended and the second batch of kids returning from their sight 'hunting' of bats, the successful event came to an end.

Would like to thank Dr Vilma for letting me help in the event, Luan Keng for bring the interesting specimens, the HSBC volunteers for their assistance, the Cedar girls for the wonderful Wuyang Kulit they've put up, everyone who helped and all the children who attended this event!

Remember that,
If we can help Bats,
they can help us too!

For more information on bats, you may click here.

Discovery @ Kranji Nature Trail on 9 June 2007

Tenth Discovery Posting:

Kranji Nature Trail, how many of us have heard of this place which is actually located just adjacent to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve?

Looking at one of the two 'low-key' entry points to Kranji Nature Trail (picture below) . Who would have thought that this was a entry point to a Nature Trail. But that is the beauty of things at times. Would a Disney-like theme park entrance or such a natural walkway with trees and shrubs aligning the sides be more fitting to a nature trail like this?

I'll take the latter anytime for a nature trail.
As the morning sun rise up in the sky, the life in the forest began their day. Here's a lady beetle or lady bird (picture below) as a first 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Commonly called as lady birds or lady bugs, but scientists prefer to call them lady beetle. As they are bettles.

2. They are generally considered useful insects as many species of lady beetles feed on pests in gardens, agricultural fields, orchards, and similar places.

3. A few species of lady beetles are pests though, but they are founding North America and Europe.

4. Some people consider seeing them or having them land on one’s body to be a sign of good luck to come, and killing them presages bad luck.

This morning, together with a group of nature lovers, we were exploring the flora and fauna along the Kranji Nature Trail. Second 'discovery' of the day were number of Simpoh Ayer plants were seen along the trail.

Flower of the Simpoh Ayer(picture below)
Leaves of the Simpoh Ayer (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. This shrub can grow up to 7 meters tall.

2. The large robust leaves were commonly used before the days of plastic and styrofoam as disposable platters and wrappers to warp ‘tempak’ and ‘rojak’.

As we explored the Simpoh Ayer-s along the trail, we came across one of the leaves to look folded (picture below). What was going on?
A closer look reveal the answer. Weaver ants were making a nest out of the leaf (picture below). Third 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Weaver Ants' nests are among the most complex ants' nests.

2. These ants choose living leaves to build nests as it provides well camouflaged protection from predators and the elements.

3. The weaver ants do not have a stinger, but inflict a painful bite which is aggravated by irritating chemicals secreted from their abdomen.

For more information on Weaver Ants and how they weave their nests, click on this.

Very soon, we came across this strange lump of 'bubbles' underneath a leaf. What was this? Soon, someone provided the answer. This was done by the spittle bug (picture below). Fourth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. There are about 23,000 species of spittle bugs, but you might not have ever seen one because of the unusual way that they protect themselves.

2. They actually produce a liquid that they whip up into a mass of bubbles, and then they hide in it!

3. This mass of bubbles is called "spittle" and is where the insect gets its name.

4. The spittle that the bug creates has several jobs,

  • Protection from predators. It hides inside the mass of spittle and can't be seen.
  • Thermal control. The bubbles insulate it from heat and cold.
  • Protection from moisture loss. Without the mass of spittle surrounding it, these insects will quickly dry out and die.
The number of insects we spotted along the way was truly numerous, here's another one of them. My fifth 'discovery', a dragon fly (picture below).
Discovery Note (difference between a dragon fly and damselfly):
Dragon Fly:
1. Hind wings are usually shorter and broader than fore wings.
2. They are usually larger, strongly flying insects that can often be found flying well away from water.
3. When at rest, they hold their wings out from the body, often at right angles to it.
4. The eyes are very large and usually touch, at least at a point.

1. All four wings are near enough equal in size and shape.
2. They are usually small, weakly flying insects that stay close to the water margins or water surface.
3. When at rest, most species hold their wings along the length of their abdomen.
4. The eyes are always separated, never touching.

Sixth 'discovery' was a St. Andrew Cross Spider along the side of the trail (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. These spiders get their name for the way their hold their eight legs in pairs to form an X shape.
2. This X is called the St. Andrew's cross because it is believed that the saint was martyred on a cross of this shape.

3. Besides their standard orb-web, these spiders also build additional white opaque zig zag lines on their webs, which are called stabilimentum.

For more information on the St. Andrew Cross Spider, click here.

Walking on, an interesting plant attracted me due to the shape of its leaves. Luan Keng pointed out that this is the Sea Holly (picture below). Oh, seventh 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. These plants have no relation whatsoever with the Christmas Holly, although they appear similar.

2. Sea Holly grows on mud near the hide tide mark or along river banks. But it grows especially well in areas with more freshwater input.

3. Unlike some mangrove plants, Sea Holly does not exclude salt at the root level. In fact, their sap is salty and excess salt is secreted through the leaves, to be removed by rain or wind.

4. Sometimes, the excess salt can be seen as a white crystalline layer on the upper surface on their leaves.

More information on the Sea Holly can be found here.

As we made our way across the bridge which links the trail to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve. I took this photo (picture below) to document the mangrove shore line and the misty/hazy morning. Is the haze coming back again?
Very soon, we reached Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve for our well-deserved water and toilet break. And hearing that the toilet at the reserve had just been renovated. I was curious to find out how it looked like now. And oh my, it's so interesting now. Look at the three photos that follows to understand why...

Looking at our watches, we figured that we still have one more hour of time before the planned time to go for lunch. So we decided to go for some bird watching at the reserve. And here's one find. The milky stork, eighth 'discovery'!
Discovery Note:
1. They are white storks with thick, yellowish bill and blackish flight feathers.

2. They can grow to a length of 97 cm.

3. Both sexes look similar.

4. They have sensitive areas on their bills that can feel prey brushing against it.

5. Due to human disturbance of nesting colonies, habitat loss and destruction of mangroves, poaching, and rice- and fish-farming, the milky stork is an endangered species.

So with this sighting, all of us left the area satisfied with our finds and hungry in our stomachs. =).

But, no matter what, thanks to Luan Keng for planning the walk and everyone who came and helped me to ID the flora and fauna i didn't know.

Side Note:
Discoverers may visit these blogs to read more about what was seen on this trip,
1. Mountain and Cloud's Blog
2. Manta's Blog

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Naked Hermit Crabs goes on an adventure on 7 June 2007

Ninth Discovery Posting:

Unlike yesterday, today looked like a splendid day for a walk on the Sentosa shores (picture below).
Today's the third day straight for the Naked Hermit Crabs on Sentosa and this morning was a guides and friends day and exploring the adventure trail was our objective of the day.

As I walked towards the starting point of the adventure trail, a peahen and its chick was also doing their morning walk (picture below). Hey, my first 'discovery' of the day.
Discovery Note:
1. Do you know that the male is called a peacock while the female is a peahen?
2. So instead of using peacock as a term to refer to both sexes, use peafowl.

3. Peacocks are best known for their extravagant tail, which it displays as part of courtship.
4. There are generally 2 species of peafowl, the Indian Peafowl and the Green Peafowl.

5. The Indian Peafowl is the nation bird of India.

6. The Green Peafowl is listed as vulnerable to extinction due to hunting and habitat lost.

Before we descended to the starting point, the walk had already unofficially began with Robert giving an introduction on the flower of Sea Poison Tree (picture below) and the tree itself. Second 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. It is a large tree that grows on sandy and rocky shores.
2. The flowers are delightful puff balls of white stamens tipped with pink. They open at night and attract large moths and nectar-feeding bats with their heavy scent.
3. The next morning, the flower stamens are usually found strewn beneath the tree.

4. The seeds and other parts of the plant are pounded, pulped or grated to release the poison which can be used to stun fish in freshwater streams. But please do not do that.

5. It is among the plants that host the magnificent Atlas Moth.

And just nearby was a kapok tree (picture below). Third 'discovery'!
Seed pod of the Kapok Tree (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. The Kapok tree is an emergent tree of the tropical rainforests, and is often described as majestic as it can grow to a height of 45 meters or more.

2. It is a native plant from South America.

3. The brown seeds are round like peas and are found in pods.

4. The seed pods are woody, smooth and pendulous, with a light green colour. They will burst open while still on the tree after the leaves have fallen. Inside a whitish cotton like fiber surrounds the brown seeds.

5. These white cotton like fiber can be used in pillows and mattresses.

These trees actually play an important part within the ecosystem of the forest. Click here to find out more.

Here was almost everyone (minus me) on the shores heading towards the branching corals found nearby. Corals so near the city, is it possible? Read my previous entry to find out.
As we headed towards the branching corals, this attracted our attention. A carpet anemone (picture below)! Fourth 'discovery' of the day.
Discovery Note:
1. Carpet anemones of the same species may have different colours. These colours are caused by the symbiotic algae that live in their tentacles.

2. At low tide, the oral disk shrinks greatly to reduce the area that is exposed to the drying air.

3. When it is really hot and dry, the entire oral disk can be retracted completely into the ground. 4. This can also happen when it rains heavily at low tide.

And lying nearby was a moon snail (picture below), let me count, this is the fifth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Moon snails are able to inflate its body with seawater as it emerges from the shell and the fully expanded body can be much bigger than its own shell.

2. The Moon snail is able to warp its huge body around its prey to suffocate it.

3. It can also secrete an acid to soften its victim’s shell. A hole is then eventually created in the shell with its radula.

4. The Moon snail generally feeds on snails and clams.

Continuing our trail, this staircase (picture below) came into view. What is it?
Ron then said that this might be a old jetty. Evidence? Look at the picture below.
Walking on , i then saw this Angsana tree (picture below) which i missed during my trip here yesterday. Sixth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. The Angsana tree is native to the southern part of the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and was introduced into Singapore in the early 19th century.
2. However, mature trees are known to have a weak structure, and break easily, especially during stormy weathers. So don’t stand near to an Angsana tree during a storm.

Well, the Angsana tree was actually an indication that the trail from there on will start to get rocky (picture below).
Some people might think what life can we find amongst the rocks. Well, my seventh 'discovery' would be one example. The dwarf turban snail (picture below).
Bottom view of the dwarf turban snail (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. The door to the shell opening (operculum) is thick and rounded.
2. The hemi-spherical operculum is called a 'cat's eye'.

3. These ‘cat’s eyes’ are sometimes used as buttons.

With a ratio of guides outnumbering friends by 3:1, naturally our progress would be slow, as everyone was exploring the flora and fauna along the shores. We were behind schedule for about 20 minutes before hitting the second part of the trail where some have went there earlier to look for things. Here are some of the things they've found.

Eighth 'discovery'. A polka-dot nudibranch (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. There are 3000 described species of nudibranchs worldwide.

2. They can be found from the lower inter-tidal zone to depths of over 700 meters.
3. They can be found all over the world, from the British Islands, the tropics and even the Antarctic.

Ninth 'discovery' was a unknown fish (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. This fish has a false eye near its tail.
2. This fish was able to change colour from a electric blue to a almost black colour. We are guessing that it changes into the almost black colour when disturbed or when it senses danger, so that it can escape easily.

A photo of the same fish when it is in the electric blue colour (picture below).
Tenth 'discovery' was a mosaic crab.
Discovery Note:
1. This is one of the most poisonous crabs we can find in our waters.

Seeing that the tide was coming in, all of us had to leave the shore reluctantly.

but, We, the Naked Hermit Crabs would be back at Sentosa! So it's see you soon, Sentosa~

Final entry words: Thanks to all the Naked Hermit Crabs, friends of NHC and participants for making these three days an wonderful experience. The waves will wash away our footprints but memories will remain. =p