Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Rediscovery and The Prime Minister - UBIN DAY

Pulau Ubin: An offshore island from Singapore and our last kampung. It's Singapore before all the tall buildings went up - natural, wild and rustic. Last Sunday, we had a celebration of all things Ubin - organised by the amazing Grant Pereira and Ria Tan, Ubin Day 2014 saw a huge range of activities to bring the public closer to the heritage and biodiversity of the little island. Here's something you don't often see on your way to Ubin, a traffic jam!

ButterflyCircle was there to show some registered participants around Butterfly Hill and to teach them about butterflies. I was attached to a really wonderful group of students and their enthusiastic teacher, who were there to learn more in order to set up a butterfly garden. We saw some pretty cool things: a Mottled Emigrant came to lay eggs just in front of us, we found a number of uncommon butterflies and I got them to get right up close with the butterflies that were willing. One of the rarer species around was this form-agenor female of the Great Mormon.

This stunning giant was laying eggs on the pomelo bush and caught everyone's attention. The great mormon is polymorphic, so the female occurs in many greatly differing forms, some of which have not been seen in years. Better still, my group got to see something extremely special - a rediscovery! A strikingly patterned butterfly was flitting incessantly around a tree trunk and I knew straight away that we had something new. And it was - a rediscovery for Singapore, the Malayan Nawab (polyura moori)! It has been suspected to still be extant here and now we have the proof. 

The excitement, however, didn't stop there. We were extremely honoured to have a different kind of visitor to the hill, The Prime Minister of Singapore. He - along with his troop of bodyguards, cameramen and the press - came to find out more about the hill and it's fluttering inhabitants. We took him around on a little tour and shared our knowledge of butterflies with him. What struck me was how willing he was to talk to us and hear our thoughts. Here's me sharing some of the places I love to go for butterflies.

Photo by Mr Loke PF

He was also incredibly friendly and down to earth so after having a short discussion about butterflies, we just had to take some pictures with him. Yes, by pictures, I mean we-fies. It's not everyday that you get to do this! There I am, beaming from the back. As you can see, height is something I don't have very much of...

Photo by Lemon TYK, whose in front

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also announced at the opening of the event, several plans for Ubin which were mostly about preserving the rustic charm of Ubin and enhancing it. I think it is great that the government is getting involved in the conservation of natural places like Ubin. Hopefully, with events like Ubin Day, more people will understand and respect nature and maybe even get down to help in the race to conserve. I had an amazing time on Ubin Day, all thanks to Mr Khew for inviting me and of course, Mr Grant and Ria for their inexhaustible passion and energy. Here's to the wilderness!

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.