Saturday, 25 October 2014

Male Banded Flower Mantis in Singapore!

Continuing from my previous post about the tiger orchids, here is one of my most exciting non-butterfly encounters: a small, delicate insect found hiding behind the giant orchid blossoms - a mantis. I was combing the orchid plant for butterflies when I saw it staring right at me. Encountering a mantis is quite unusual for me so I decided to look closer and take a few pictures.

It was an inconspicuous insect, only around 2cm long and given its intricate patterns of pink and green with whitish bands, it was surprisingly hard to spot from afar when it moved off somewhere else. Until I reached home, the little creature stayed a pretty mantis and nothing more but that changed when Mr Kurt cleared its identity. It was a Theopropus elegans, The Banded Flower Mantis and it was a male.

The banded flower mantis is strictly a forest dependent species and in Singapore, it is very rare. There have been a few sightings in the past that mainly come from the central catchment nature reserves. Surprisingly, no male specimens have been encountered here as of 2008 and I an unaware of any more recent records - possibly making this one the first!

Ferocious predators, these mantids are known to hunt a wide range of insects - flies, moths, grasshoppers and even katydids. I suspect this male had been lured out from the adjacent Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where there have been previous records of females, by the flowering orchids which attracted a great number of insect prey. The females are over twice the size of the males and their colour ranges from green to a stunning pink.

I am still in shock, having seen such a rare and beautiful creature. It was pure luck that I encountered it. Interestingly, a female was observed around the same time amongst tiger orchids at a different location. It is encouraging to know that this lovely mantis is still breeding in the depths of our small forest patches and hopefully we would be able to study it better in the future.  

I owe almost all my knowledge of the banded flower mantis to this fantastic report, published in 2008 by T.M. Leong and Npark's S.C. Teo. It documents previous sightings and also follows the rearing of the mantid's eggs. I believe it may also be the only comprehensive report on this species from our little island so give it a read!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

On Hold

I'll be busy for the next three weeks with my examinations.The rest of the Tiger Orchis posts will come after that. Sorry about that!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

On The Prowl: Tiger Orchids

There are tigers roaming in Singapore - well, almost. Recently, many nondescript fern-like plants all over the island have been set ablaze by thousands of fiery flowers. These huge plants, some two metres tall, are tiger orchids - and they're in bloom. 

This spectacle only happens every four or five years and lasts for up to two months when it does. Many of the tiger orchids planted in Singapore flowered last year in May: our first flowering season since they went extinct in the wild here a long time ago. I'm guessing that these plants in bloom now are the ones which did not flower last year. In an effort to reintroduce various orchid species in Singapore, tiger orchids have been planted in many locations, one of them being my favourite haunt, Dairy Farm Nature Park.

The tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum) is the world's largest orchid species, in terms of the entire plant's size. Some specimens span over three metres wide and weigh close to two thousand kilogrammes! It is distributed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, growing as an epiphyte (on trees - very strong ones given their weight) in lowland rainforests. However, they seem to do just as well growing on the ground. When not sporting metre-long inflorescencesthey appear like ferns; their leaves are thin and strap like.

The flowers grow up to about ten centimetres wide and are yellow, with dazzling crimson spotting, and smell wonderful; soft and sticky-sweet, of ylang ylang and mangoes. It is no wonder there were so many bees swarming around the flowers purposefully. Quite a few joggers were drawn to take a whiff and admire the sheer number of flowers too. 

With the end of this flowering season, the tiger orchids will become adorned with dangling seed pods and hopefully a few of the billions of minuscule seeds released will drift in the wind and settle in a crevice on a strong tree, waiting to start a new generation of tiger orchids. And until the next flowering season, the orchids will be much quieter and plainer, dressed only in dull green leaves. 

PS: Over the next few posts, I'll share some of the (just as exciting) critters that the orchids attracted.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Malay Dartlet

It stirred up quite a bit of hype when it first appeared in Singapore in 2011; Serene Ng, Senior Biodiversity Officer of the National Biodiversity Centre of Nparks took a picture of a strange skipper - dark ochreous brown with clearly defined orange patches on both wings. It was a Malay Dartlet, a new discovery! I remember rushing over to the place it was found the weekend after the news reached me. I never got the shots I was after during the time that the Malay Dartlet colony was there but just recently, three years later, I saw it again - and this time it came to me.

I was shooting some moths attending to an array of Leea indica flowers, when a skipper began circling the bush at rapid speeds. I was shocked to see a Malay dartlet when it landed - I was in Dairy Farm Nature Park; far away from where it was discovered so many years ago. It was shortly joined by yet another Malay dartlet. They stopped at each flower for just a few seconds before moving on to the next but always came back to the same few favourite blooms. After five or ten minutes of feeding, they would fly off somewhere to sunbathe or rest in the shade.

It is encouraging that this rare butterfly has spread across the island and is no longer confined to a single grassland. However, it is not all that surpising on hindsight. The Malay dartlet caterpillars feed on a common grass, Ottochloa nodosa, that is found in many places here. Regrettably, I did not scout the area for that grass. Having two of them there could mean that they are breeding nearby. I will just have take note the next time! And for a window into the Malay dartlet's fascinating life history: Uncle Horace's wonderful post.

PS: It's been a while since I've posted! Sorry for those two dead months. School's getting busier and I will be taking my exams in a few weeks. Oh well.