Apr 27, 2012

Semakau VIP tour

Truely VIP tour today for many reasons. One we had a real VIP in our guest list, two we had another 2 VIP guides one of them an old and very respected aquaintence of mine, three this was a paying charity walk and at 250 a head (most of it going towards the fund for the Natural History Museum) all guests were VIPs in their own right. Also many MANY VIP sightings on Semakau.

Thalassina Anomala or Mud lobster (Tor Cheng in Hokkien)

FIRST TIME I have seen this after years of guiding in Sungei Buloh. Very shy and extremely hard to spot member of the mangrove system (which really begs the question of how this one got caught..) I think of this little guy as the earthworm of the mangroves. He burrows himself into the mangrove mud swallowing it as he goes. His GI tract absorbs the necessary and the rest gets passed out behing him. Unlike earthworms however whose fragile casts crumble at the slightest touch this burrower creates a whole system of tunnels that he pushes out of the mud to form huge volcanic looking mounds all over the mangroves. Many residents move in to these tunnels to name a few - snakes, kingfishers, crabs... Even the plants benefit as his tunnels aerate the soil just as the earthworm does in our garden.

Synaptid sea cucumber

Looks nothing that the stuff that gets served up in Chinese dinners. Longest sea cucumber can grow up to 3m long. Soft bodied must be handled with care. Usually let my visitors touch them (after they wash their hands in some seawater to get rid of all the OFF and stuff they were applying earlier). Reason? This particular sea cucumber has no tube feet. Instead tiny hooked sclerites cover it's body (feels like fiberglass shargs actually) allowing it to cling to surfaces. Always interesting to see people's reactions alot of them are shocked as they expect something slimy instead of scratchy.

Mating Horseshoe Crabs

Also called King crabs. Parents used to tell me stories of how they were so common they used to cover the beaches in Singapore. Used to collected in a pail and stir fried. Only the larger female was taking (more meat and roe) her husband was just discarded by the sea shore. That, destruction of their breeding beaches and pollution did them in and they aren't such a common sighting anymore. Unlike what their name suggests they are NOT crabs and are in fact more closely related to spiders than other crabs. Interesting bit of trivia - Limulus Amebocyte Lysate : Limulus - Scientific name for horseshoe crab Amebocyte - blood cell Lysate - Lysis/splitting. What the heck was that? The horseshoecrab is a scavenger living generally in brakish/muddy water but NO immure system no spleen/lymph nodes etc instead their blood cells are "trained" to recognise and bind to any foreign pathogens eg bacteria. For the LAL tests these crabs are 'milked' for their blood which is processed and added to samples of medicines/vaccines if impurities/contaminations are present the blood cells clump around it and that sample is rejected. FDA used this as a means to monitor all drugs manufactured. Luckily researches in NUS have come up with an artificial substitute. Apparently the mortality rate from this "blood donation" was almost 40%!

Galaxy of stars

Chocolate chip sea stars/Horned sea stars/Knobbly sea star. Usually my spiel goes - Wow we are lucky today here is the Star attraction of Semakau. Ok abit lame but these are the largest starfish on Semakau grows up to 30cm in diameter Hard calcified skin to protect it from predators. One enemy has found a way to overcome it though. Puffer fish rams it with it's venomous spines thus paralysing it causing it to go all limp and easily eaten.

Sea Spider

First sighting ever again! Marine arthropods of class Pycnogonida (Not true spiders) May have 5 or 7 or 8 pairs of legs depending on species. Truely cosmopolitian they are found anywhere from the Arctic to the Mediterranian.

Swimming Crab

Sunflower mushroom coral

Squint abit, eye of faith ++ and the pale waving tops of this coral on the dark brown background may resemble a sunflower. Young corals are attached to the ground with a stalk hence the mushroom bit.

Giant Clam

Our Resident Colossus the giant clam gets alot of bad press as a "man-eater" and closes on swimmers legs in movies thus drowning them. In reality the shell closes too slowly to trap anyone's foot and they are in reality peacefull gardeners. Notice the multicoloured flesh within the shell? This is contributed to be zooxanthella a symbiotic bacteria that lives within the flesh of the clam. In return for a place to stay the tenant manufactures food for it's landlord. Key ingredient - sunlight. Hence the opened mouth look is not to lip unwary swimmers but rather to allow the resident farmers to get more sunlight to produce food. Listed as endangered threatened by Chinese restautant and aquarium trade and as always habitat destruction.

Dead Man's Fingers/Soft Coral

Phyllid nudibranch

Blue spotted fantail ray

Another uncommon sighting. Photo does not do it justice in the water. Sandy brown with bright blue spots. Again anything that can afford to advertise it's presence must have another ace up it's sleeve. Tail conceals one or 2 poisonous barbs that can inflict a painful wound. Skeleton is made up of cartiledge (feel stiff part of your ear thats cartiledge) and stiffened points act as teeth to crush prey usually clams or snails. Threatened from overfishing as a food fish and the aquarium trade.

Lined Chromodoris Nudibranch