Sunday, February 24, 2008

Semakau Inter-Tidal Walk on 23 Feb 2008

Forty Ninth Discovery Posting:

A familiar sight at a familiar place (picture below).
This is Semakau (picture above). Singapore's first offshore land fill and now the last land fill. And on the shores of this island is where RMBR with its volunteers conduct guided Inter-Tidal walks.

Just yesterday, I was out on Semakau for the first guided Inter-Tidal walk for visitors. For this walk, i was leading a group of students from the ITE Green Club and two of their teachers and my group was called the puffer fish, one of the five new group names we have for 2008.

So here's some of the things we saw, first 'discovery', a hairy crab! As i said, not the same crabs we get from Sri Lanka =P (picture below)
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!

Second 'discovery' is this very beautiful heart cockle which one of our hunter seekers, ST, found (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. The cockle lives in sand and mud in shallow water.
2. All cockles are hermaphroditic, which means they possess both the male and female sex organs.
3. Show your love by not taking them away from their homes as they are a rare find on our shores. =)

And amongst one of the pool around the zone, we saw this fan worm (picture below), third 'discovery'!
Discovery Note:
1. They get their common name from the appearance and structure of their modified tentacles on their head.
2. These modified tentacles are used for feeding. By the way, they do filter feeding.
3. They retract almost instantly into their tubes at the sense of any movement, shadow or danger near them.

And as we walked further nearer to the reef edge, there were these mushroom corals (picture below) which our sharp-eyed hunter seekers spotted. Fourth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Most mushroom corals do not form colonies like most other corals and most mushroom coral is usually a single polyp.
2. Unlike most corals, most mushroom corals are attached to the reef only when they are small.
3. As larger individuals, they will detach themselves from the reef (if they had attached themselves to the reef) and live loose on the seafloor.

Our hunter seekers for this trip were really had "two brushes"
(which means really good). They managed to find this hardly seen nudibranch, fifth 'discovery', which i only seen one on Feb 2007 on Semakau (picture below). It was too bad i didn't had the time to take a better photo but hopefully i will see it soon again. =) Discovery Note:
1. Nudibranchs are essentially snails without shells, and their name literally means "naked gills".
2. In most species, the gills are prominently displayed on their dorsal (upper) surface.
3. They have a pair of tentacles (called rhinophores) located on top of their heads, which biologists believe are used as sensory organs to assist in finding food and seeking a mate.
4. This nudibranch (picture above) might be the
Ceratosoma sinuata.

Lastly but not the least, the star of the walk and i mean it. The knobby sea star! Sixth 'discovery'! Here's a traditional group shot of the star with my really cool group (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. They get their name from the knobs they have.
2. Although most of them are mostly red or orange in colour, beige or brown coloured knobbly sea stars have been spotted before also.
3. Can you believe that a knobbly seastar might be larger than your face? It’s about 30cm across! (look at the picture above to get an idea)

Finally, would like to thank all the puffer fishes for being such a great audience and the positive comments. I hope you enjoyed this trip like i did! =)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Discovery @ Tuas Grasslands on 17 Feb 2008

Forty Eighth Discovery Posting:

Let me quote what SY has written, "An initial plan to go Sungei Buloh was changed to the Tuas marshlands; the enticement was to hard for me to resist, even though I was busy doing some assigments." It was an exact situation for me, as i had to complete an uncompleted assignment due on Monday. However, to go to some nature place in Singapore which i have not been to before was too big an attraction for me.

Thus Tuas Grasslands was the place i was at this morning (17 Feb) with LK, HW, RY, ST and SY. With us also were Mr Tang (Dragonfly expert) and several students who were there to study dragonflies.

Did i mention this place was a great place to observe dragonflies?

And as we were walking along the path just next to the grassland, this butterfly (picture below) attracted our attention and immediately our cameras were out! First 'discovery' and this might be the Tawny Coster, Acraea violae.
Discovery Note:
1. According to what i read, this species migrated from Thailand to West Malaysia and then to Singapore! Read about this at here.

And we actually saw the caterpillars of this butterfly back on Ubin in Jan, here's a photo of them i took back then (picture below).
Would this look like a place in Singapore to you (picture below)? I am wondering how many natural grasslands do we have right now...
Another look at this place with LK leading the way for the students (picture below).
Along the way, LK pointed out this rare orchid that grows from the ground (picture below), by the way, most orchids are epiphytes. This is the Spathoglottis plicata or Lumbah Tikus, second 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. This is a orchid that can be found in forests or reclaimed land (Tuas Grasslands is reclaimed land)
2. The colours of the sepals and petals are variable, ranging from white to dark purple.

If you are wondering what is an epiphyte...

Discovery Note:

1. Some sources say an epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant but does not receive its nourishment from that plant.
2. Other sources say that an epiphyte is an air plant, which is described as a plant that does not grow in soil.
3. Both definitions accurately describe an epiphyte.

After walking further into the grasslands, we reached this marshland like habitat (picture below) where the students were busy at work while we continued to explore around.
And as i walked around, i spotted the third 'discovery' which looks like a pond wolf spider, Pardosa pseudoannulata (picture below). Discovery Note:
1. This spider is easily recognised by the two dark bands on the carapace and ring-like markings on the legs.
2. Most Wolf Spiders hunt on the ground.
3. Female Wolf Spiders are recognised by the spherical egg-sac that is attached to their spinnerets. Read more about them at here.

And just right next to where we were was the sight of development (picture below), it is said that this place will be developed into a racing course for riders. But is there a need to destroy everything? =( Extra (read more about the things we saw to understand why we are sad that this place is going to be gone soon):
a) Check out Tidechaser's entry to see the many dragonflies we saw.
b) Read Urban forest to know why this place is such a great place to see dragonflies.
c) Discover more about the carnivorous plants we saw at this place from Manta's blog.

Finally, it's thanks to LK for planning this trip and all others for making this another enjoyable trip.

Interested to find out how many kinds of dragonflies we can see in Singapore?
> Visit Mr Tang's website on dragonflies here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Discovery @ Semakau on 8 Feb 2008

Forty Seventh Discovery Posting

In preparation of the first public Semakau Inter-tidal walk on 23 Feb 2008, a whole batch of current Semakau Guides and new trainees were out at Semakau today (8 Feb 2008).

Here's part of the group just crossing the 'starting point' of the forest trail to reach the Inter-Tidal area on Semakau (picture below).
And while the rest of the gang were out exploring, Ron lead a group of trainees for their practical session and I was kinda of arrowed to do hunter seeking.

Here's first 'discovery', the common sea star, Archaster typicus (picture below).

Discovery Note (Warning: Sex Content):
1. This is a 'mating' position for the sand star.
2. The 'mating' position for the common sea star works like this: the male will be on top of the female, their arms in a formation as in the picture.
3. But they do external fertilization, which means their sexual organs don’t come into contact and the closeness is to increase the chance of fertilization, when they release the eggs and sperms into the water.
4. This 'mating' position is consider unusual in the world of sea stars, as only the common sea star and one other related species is known to “mate” in this way.

I think second 'discovery' looks like some egg capsule (picture below). But still not sure at this point. Can anyone enlighten me?
Yesterday at Hantu, i saw a Spiral melongena laying eggs on Pulau Hantu. This time, it was a volute laying eggs (picture below)! Third 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Volutes are carnivorous.
2. They prey on bivalves, enveloping the victim completely with their foot forcing the bivalve to finally open from exhaustion and lack of oxygen.
3. They can grow to more than 20cm and used to be common but now threaten due to 'harvesting' from humans and habitat lost.

Here's the trainee group in action and with Ron showing them something (picture below), i can't remember what it is though... haha =P
Anyway, as i continue to walk on to look for interesting things, an octopus moved past my legs. And before it could hide itself under a rock, i quickly took a shot of it (picture below). Fourth 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Octopuses are characterized by their eight arms (not tentacles), usually bearing suction cups.
2. They have a relative short life span, and some specials live for as little as six months.
3. They have three hearts! Two pump blood through each of their two gills, while the third pumps blood through the body.
4. They are also highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other order of invertebrates (any animal without a spinal column).
5. They are also able to change their body colour to camouflage themselves.

View a video about these colour-shifting abilities of sea creatures here.
Do watch it as it amazed me. =)

Anyway, as i walked on. I came across the fifth 'discovery', the sandfish sea cucumber (picture below).Discovery Note:
1. The popular Chinese name for sea cucumber is haishen, which means, roughly, ginseng of the sea.

2. Being related to the sea stars, sea cucumbers have a soft, wormlike body and range from a few centimeters to 90 centimeters in length.
3. Unlike the sea star, however, they have no arms but use a cluster of tube-like feet around their mouth to gather food.
4. 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.
5. 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.

Sixth 'discovery' looks like a peacock anemone (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. They are named peacock anemones because of the many colours and patterns we can find.
2. They are cnidarians like sea anemones and jelly fishes, which means you shouldn't touch them with your hands as they may be stung by the peacock anemone.

As the night came, lots of crabs started to appear, here's one of them, the red egg crab (picture below) and this is the seventh 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Egg crabs are highly poisonous and contain toxins which are not destroyed by cooking.
2. Since other animals don't particularly want to eat this crab as it is poisonous, it is slow moving and doesn't really bother to hide.

Another crab we saw, eighth 'discovery', is something i don't know its ID (picture below). Can anyone help me?
Finally, as we walked back to the shoreline, we found a clown fish aka Nemo just next to a gigantic carpet anemone (picture below)! Ninth 'discovery'!Discovery Note:
1. The clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with sea anemone.
2. They have a mucus covering that protects them from the sting of the sea anemone's tentacles.
3. This mucus prevents them from being harmed, and allows clownfish to live in sea anemone.
4. Clownfish are hermaphrodites (they develop as males first and mature as breeding females or ‘change’ into a female if there are no females).
5. More information? Click here.

Would like to thank CH, JH, HW, Ed, CK who were exploring around, for making my job easier as a hunter seeker by telling me where to look for things they found, Luan Keng for organising this trip and all others!

Oh, would also like to thank Andy for giving a few of us a ride which saved us lots of time in getting home. =)

a) Tidechaser's blog entry on other interesting things on Semakau.
b) Manta's blog entry on two nemos at two different locations on Semakau.

Another group of shore lovers were out on Kusu, and check out what they saw on
a) Wildfilms blog
b) NatureScouter's blog.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Discovery @ Hantu on 08 Feb 2008

Forty Sixth Discovery Posting

The Legend of Pulau Hantu

Many years ago, there lived two great warriors who were bitter enemies. One day, they challenged each other to a duel in the sea near Singapore to determine the mightier of the two. Being equally matched, they fought for a long time, staining the sea with their blood.

Meanwhile, the fighting disturbed Jinn, the spirit of the sea. In a rage, Jinn created a whirpool which sucked the warriors’ men to the bottom of the sea. The undeterred warriors continued with their battle. Greatly annoyed, Jinn blinded one of the warriors with sea water. The other warrior quickly took advantage of the situation and fatally injured the blinded warrior. With his last breath, the blinded warrior thrusted his sword into his enemy. Both warriors thus perished in the battle.

The gods of the heavens were angry with Jinn for his interference in mortal affairs and decreed that the spirits of the two warriors should dwell on the surface of the sea. With great remorse, Jinn converted two perahus (boats) belonging to the warriors into two small islands where their spirits could reside. As one of the perahus was small smaller than the other, it became known as “Pulau Hantu Kechil” (meaning ‘Small Ghost Island’) while the bigger island was known as ‘Pulau Hantu Besar’ (meaning ‘Big Ghost Island’)

Adapted from “Myths and Legends of Singapore” by Mr. Pugalenti

The above story is an almost exact copy of the storyboard found on Hantu, an almost exact copy because the original one standing on Hantu now has a minor mistake. Notice the strikethrough i done on the word "small", that's the minor error. =P

Anyway, on the second day of the Chinese New Year, a batch of us visited Pulau Hantu. And this was my first time visiting this little island on the southern part of Singapore (picture below).
And on this island is one of the few places in Singapore where you can find the common sea star, archaster typicus (picture below). First 'discovery'!
Discovery Note:
1. I'm always fascinated by their tube feet as they are used for walking, handle food as well as breathing, talk about multi purpose!
2. Sea stars get stressed when out of water, as water to them is like blood to us, so please don’t take them out of the water for too long.
3. They are not as common as their name suggests. This is due to over-collection and habitat lost. So don't take them away from their homes when you see them. =)

Second 'discovery' looks like a Spiral Melongena. And it was laying eggs! A first sighting of this animal laying eggs for me (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. They seem to like to lay eggs on hard surfaces.
2. Each "petal" is one egg capsule.

The largest nudibranch in the world? Third 'discovery' is probably it, Dendrodoris tuberculosa (picture below).The underside of the Dendrodoris tuberculosa (picture below). Discovery Note:
1. It is said that this nudibranch can grow to a length of about 25cm long!
2. According to the sea slug forum, this is easily identified by the colour of the underside of the mantle, which has a background colour ranging from pale greenish or yellowish brown to dark brown with large round white spots. Check out the underside of the nudibranch (picture above)!

Fourth, fifth and sixth 'discoveries' are feather stars (pictures below). Another first time of seeing an alive feature star for me!

A red coloured feather star (picture below).
A pale yellowed coloured feather star (picture below).A black and white coloured feather star (picture below)!Discovery Note:
1. These are Echinoderms, Phylum Enchinodermata, like the sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins to name a few.
2. They belong to the class of Crinoidea and one of the most ancient and 'primitive' of ocean invertebrates, with a family tree rooted in almost 500 million years of history!

Of course, these were not all the things we saw on the island of Pulau Hantu.

Read and See more:
a) On KS's entry on his Wonderful Creation blog on a Nemo and other sightings!
b) On Wildfilm's blog on the many corals that is found on Hantu.
c) On ST's Manta's blog on a orange banded butterfly fish and other stuffs.
d) On SY's Urban Forest on a soldier crab and his compilation of photos.
e) On SJ's Nature Scouter on more corals and a number of crabs.
f) On RY's Tide Chaser for a description on the nudibranch, Gymnodoris rubropapulosa.

Finally, would like to thank Ria for this "hong bao" of organising this trip and all others for making this trip another enjoyable one!

And a Happy Chinese New Year to all discoverers!