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

Jun 19, 2010

Wetlands in a City

Book finally out! 3 years. Helped to scribble bits of it :) here is the book below and one of the bits I wrote..

Kek-kek kek-kek kek-kek Koel! Koel! Heads up! You’ve just been welcomed by two of Sungei Buloh’s most vocal residents. A blaze of turquoise and white announces the arrival of a Collared Kingfisher whose kek-kek laughter will accompany you throughout your stay here. High in the foliage a blood-red eye regards you contemptuously. Alas visitors are not of much interest to this male koel. Unimpressed he takes off, complaining in loud glissading tones about the arrival of yet another bunch of crazy unfeathered two-leggers. Don’t jump when the bushes beside you rustle and a Malayan Water Monitor emerges to swagger arrogantly across your path. Like every schoolyard bully this fa├žade quickly crumbles when confronted. Such encounters usually end in his undignified scuttle into the surrounding mangroves. Still walk softly. This is no zoo, botanical garden or wildlife park where animals and plants are put on display to await your pleasure. This is Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, one of the few surviving mangrove forests in Singapore and one of the three nature reserves in Singapore. Her residents will show themselves to you at their own pleasure not yours. Be patient. Wait. You will not be disappointed.

Guest of honour at book launch - Long Horn Beetle

(Can see I wasn't paying attention to the real GOH's speech)

Long Horn Beetles also called Longicorns - Characterised (understandably) by extremely long antennae. Large family more than 200 000 members. Larvae bore their way into wood literally carving out a home for themselves. When it comes to old houses/lumbar industries these guys are unfortunately deemed pests for their wood munching habits.

Shows you what kind of crowd I was in.. This guy landed on some lady's head - no screams instead ppl started taking photos.. Later on he err BOed on the a guy's arm and the only reaction he got was for the guy to sigh and and say " This morning I changed my son's diapers now got to clean up after you". Haha in any other crowd I think there would have been alot of squeaks and screams instead :)

Changable Lizard
NOT a chameleon he can turn red if angry or stressed but thats about it. Not a native lizard either. This guy likely made it to Spore on some of the timber lorries . In Sungei Buloh guess they haved learned that there is nothing to fear from the 2 legger giants with the BIG cameras.. This guy was literally hamming it up while we got some super nice close up shots.

Jun 2, 2010

Sister's Island

First trip to Sister's Island!

Interesting creation myth - There were 2 beautiful sisters Minah and Linah orphans who lived with their uncle. Linah attracted the unwanted attention of a local pirate chief who carried her off on his boat as his bride. Minah heartbroken tried to swim after her sister and drowned. Linah witnessed this and in her grief threw herself off the boat and also drowned. The next day the villages found 2 new islands where the Sister's lost their lives. They named the islands Subar Laut and Subar Darat (big and little sister islands).

I guess sacrifice and romance always have a role to play in any creation myth. Today these 2 islands shelter extensive coral reefs and a multitude of marine life that fortunately or unfortunately include a significant number of stonefish. Maybe the sister's have discovered that it is always better to have a few thorns to go along with beauty!

A picture of wind swept beaches. Tide slowly creeping in..

Feather Stars

Beautifull delicate creatures that are actually starfish Phylum echinodermata Class Crinoidea meaning lily-like in Greek (though in all honesty they look more fern like to me). Baby feather stars start out in life with 5 arms like their other cousins but each time that arm branch is shed they grow 2 more resulting in that colourfull explosion you can see above some species can have up to 200 arms! When attacked they can drop off a limb to distract their enemies - literally a life for a limb. They can regenerate but that takes up to one month so treat them gently. These arms are not normally used for movement though they can drag the star over surfaces or to 'swim' away from predators should the need arise.
The arms are plated with an armour of calcium carbonate plates. Along the length of each arm run finger like projections called pinnules giving it a feathery appearance. Grooves run down the center of the pinnule and arm from which extrude tiny mucus producing tube feet that filter the surrounding water for plankton and other microscopc goodies. These arms can undulate and rearrange themselves to adjust for current and food avliability once caught food bits and transported down the grooves on a conveyor belt of mucus to the feather star's mouth located on the upper side of the central disc called the calyx.
More sophisticated then it's other couterparts the feather star has both a mouth and an anus rather than a one way system employed by other echinoderms. The anus is often located on a feeding tube bringing it above the feeding current to prevent fouling of the water. Very Practical

Ribbon worms

A first for me! When I first looked into the container I though I was looking at 2 worms. Turns out it was just one long curled up worm. Shouldn't be so surprised actually turns out that they can grow up to 1m long! This guy is part of a huge diverse family group with more than 1000 species found in both fresh and salt water and even on land.
Thin and delicate they must be treated with respect for both their sakes and yours. These worms harbour bacteria that produce powerfull neurotoxins making them dangerous to handle and definitely dangerous to eat. Like anything in the natural world anyone who can afford to advertise his pressence to the world must have an ace up his sleeve. These guys are also canny hunters. A long probosis (nose) at the front of it's body can be used to spear, grip and even inject neurotxins to paralyse it's prey depending on the species. Definitely not defenceless though they really do look the part.

Another first for me! Reg egg crab ( in the container) Regret not having time to take a good photo. This guy is poisonous and hence not sdible. Toxins not broken down by cooking. With this trump card up their sleeve they can afford to be slow and sedate trusting their colouration to ward off interested parties. One interesting thought.. some of my visitors were musing that it was such a waste that a crab of such a festive colour would not make it to the dinner table. But I guess if you REALLY didn't like your boss AND if he disn't know too much about wildlife..

Jokes aside these guys are endangered enough already due to habitat loss and are listed as vulnurable in the Red Data list of threatened animals in Singapore. So I guess the wicked bosses get a reprive for now..

My group:) First Full guided walk.

Apr 2, 2010

Pulau Hantu

Back after a million years! Think I was last here in Sec 3 or 4 with Girl Guides.. seems like an age ago.. All I remember was there being millipeded ++ and i stampeded a few tents by catching a handfull and tossing them in among the occupents:) Well here I am again but thankfully (especially for the millipedes) i've grown out of that phase (I think)

Coin Algae (Halimeda)

One example of the many different guises of seaweeds. Like it's name suggests leaves are small and round. Hard also thanks to the calcium deposits in the leaves (Notice that some of them have a whitish rim? Thats the calcium. Apparently they can concentrate their chlorophyll in the center of the leaf to maximise sun exposure) Ha I wonder if these are edible.. I'm guessing that they can almost be used like a calcium supplement then. What they are in real life is a calcium concentrator. When the leaves die the calcium skeleton remains. The new leaves grow on top of the old skeletons. In the Great barrier Reef these seaweeds form mounds up to 10 m high and many 10s of meters across (This occur in deep reef waters not the shallow lagoon where I found them) Would be intersting to see it though apparently they are like huge sand dunes with a thin crust of green that can even be seen from air. Their skeletons contribute to the sand on the reef bes and the living leaves are fuel for a multitude of species. Some fish even excavate a hideout in these "concrete Jungles" Prob their version of our HDB

Black Lipped conch

Found this guy on the sandy floor of the lagoon. Top shell was so well camouflaged that I almost couldn't recognise it till i flipped it over. Very appropriately named once you see the black lip stick. This fellow wasn't up to performing for us but he can be quite active when he wants to. He has one long foot ( the operculum) that he uses yo hop around on the sand. Used to be abundent (like so many other things in Spore unfortunately) in the past but has since dwindled significantly along with it's habitat. Also a target of shell collectors... Sometimes it just doesn't pay to look too good..

Finally after reading so much about it! A Moon Snail Collar. I remember that in my Secondary School litrature text there was a picture of Queen Elizabeth wearing this huge frothy fat white lace creation round her throat. This moon snail nursery really looks like a muddier version of that especially with it's wavy sides and opening on top.

What it is actually is an example of a mother's love. Ma moon snail mixes mucus with sand forming a sort of cement cradle within which she places her young. Each collar may contain thousands of living moon snail babies. After hatching the collar, having served it's purpose, slowly disintegrates.

A shot of Hantu's shores interestingly just across is Bukom in it's sterile cemented finery. Strange that so much life can exist and survive even with all our building, sea traffic, polluted silty waters..

Interestingly enough I was told by another guide that when some people tried to transport some corals back from our waters to grow in a research lab in nice clean water they promptly upped and died. There was no major change in the water except... cleanliness? Umbrellas placed over the tank led to flurishing healthy growth. Apparently these corals were so used to our silty waters that the sudden exposure to sunlight overwhelmed them. Moral of the story - wow we don't have to bother cleaning up our waters? Not at all to me it's pretty upsetting to think of me and mine as an environmental pressure that others have to struggle to adapt to. And though they have addapted to silty water I doubt these hardy corals can adapt to dynamite especially if the plans to widen our shipping routes go through..

Squid eggs??

Not sure who was responsible for this transparent cluster but was told that the above named cephalopod was the culprit. With seperate genders they practise internal fertilization the male inserts his packet of sperm into the female with a modified arm. The female in turn uses this to fertilise her eggs which are laid in clusters usually anchored to some substrate. The eggs hatch into fully formed mature adult who will drift with the tide and with time and luck mature to complete the cycle their parent's started.

Old man of the Sea!!

Family member of the sotong mentioned above:) Polynesians call him the Old man of the sea and really with his brooding hunched over profile he does look like a wizened old fisherman. In addition he is considered one of the most intelligent invertebrates and can in previous studies be taught how to open containers or run mazes or open jam jars.
Soft bodies allow them to squeeze through the smallest cracks and they are able to change the colour of their skin to mimic their surroundings and of course their most famous skill is reflected in their other name the ink fish. when they are threatened they are capable of expelling a cloud of ink to confuse their predators.
Besides the usual heart, it has two additional hearts, each pumping extra blood through the gills. And guess what their brain is located OUTSIDE their body. Imagine all their arms spread-eagled right in the center on the underside is the hard beak and just above it a fleshy lump - the brain! Amazing that such a vital structure is left so exposed but then again any ocean dweller who makes it within sight of the brain is usually on it's way to becomming a snack. Fisherman however use this to paralyse their prey. They literally place the octopus over their face as the octopus unflolds's it's tentacles to attak them with it's beak they reveal their brain.. The fisherman then snaps it off effectively paralysing the octopus.. At the end of the day think I like my grey matter right where it is under a nice thick vault of bone..

Searching for prey mostly at night, they use their eight long arms to feel into crevices for crabs, prawns, snails, clams. The highly flexible arms have strong suckers to grip objects so that the octopus can slowly 'creep' over surfaces. Jet propulsion can also be employed when they are in a bigger hurry squirting a jet of water out of a funnel to zoom off in the opposite direction.
Equipted with a Hard beak and a radula (ribbon of teeth), they don't chew their food. Digestive juices are injected into the prey which soften the tissues. Some octopuses can drill a hole through a snail’s shell to get at it. Others crush shells and crack crabs with their hard beaks

Some of my all time favourites - the nudibranchs or sea slugs. Name means "naked gills" derived from the branchial plumes on their backs with which they "breathe" Many different varieties of a bewildering palate of colours. Some are sand/mud coloures for camouflage while others openly advertise their presence which in the wild often means "go-ahead-take-me-on-and-you'll-be-sorry" Best obey them.. many of these slugs are partial to sponges from which they absorb their stinging cells and express them on their own body not the best mouthfull you can take.
All the same some varieties can be eaten. People in Alaska and Russia are reported to boil and eat them.. Texture has been compare to eating an eraser

Polkadot AKA Funeral Nudibranch

Phyllid nudubranch

Carpet Anemone shrivelling up in low tide - To prevent excessive waterloss it also coats itself with a coat of mucus.


Attractive little grazer. This snail feeds on algae/lichen growing on the surface of rocks scraping them off with their radula (tongue- it's covered by). Thick and heavy shelled with groves protect them from a hungry crab's pincers but not from the weight of a 60 Kg human so watch where you step on the rocks! Thick sturdy door (operculum) seals the nerite's exit efficently andd are so thick ans strong that some species are collected just for their operculum to make buttons. Other species can be eaten raw or toasted.

Onch Slugs

Essentially snails without shells (Phyllum mollusca and Class Gastropoda) Instead of shells thick skins reduce water loss and offer them protection in the form of camouflage. Best of both worlds in many ways. They breath both through gills and modified lungs and they are hermaphrodites each slug has both male and female reproductive organs.

Some Idyllic scenes of Hantu before we left. A walkway through the Callophylum (beautiful leaves) grove

Mar 21, 2010

Semakau OJT 2

Trip 3 Semakau Trip 2 OJT
What I really love about all of this is that everytime it's different you never know what you are going to see.. Sort of like calls but in a much nicer way.. And presenting the "cases" is alot more fun :)Firstly, this trip Lk and a few others had been on Semakau for a few days before hand collecting specimens for RMBR. Bird specimens.. Well they had some mist nets out and "collected' this guy by mistake.

Dog faced fruit bat - Only had a chance to snap a quick picture before he was released. Obviously the poor guy was stressed and doing a " dracula" on me. Think the reason the people are so scared of them is because of all the bad press they get. Read an article once that in the whole of North America you get a few 1000 deaths from motor accidents and only 3-4 cases of rabies from bats. And all those cases were from people who handled a sick bat.. So if we really want to decrease mortality lets just ban cars.. Solve alot of problems won't it carbon emissions and all.. So those who propose to have bat eradication programmes should just sell their cars and picket car show rooms if they really want to make a difference.

Just a slight digression.. I just feel really strongly about people squeaking and hiding over some of the coolest creatures I have ever met. All those Dracula shots we see are generally of wild stressed bats just pulled from the net (the easiest way to lay hands on one of these nocturnal fliers). However take a look at the results from people who made friends with them.. This are some shots I took in Cairns Australia. Lady (That'll i'll forever remember as the bat lady) there runs a bat rescue and rehab shelter. Her friend here Tillie is an Australian flying fox. Prev brought in injured and now totally well Tillie is free to come and go and though she forages on her own she still snuggles up for a few "biccies" and no she is not tame. She wasn't some pet that I could touch (though I was dying to) Only Bat Lady was allowed to touch her.. Not threatening at all right?
Another resident an Albino Mexican Free tail. I've actually got some friends to admit that these 2 are actually cute. Speaks volumes on how different a stressed shot is from a relaxed one. Believe all these misconceptions are just due to bad press. Tillie eats fruits (and occasionally biscuits) Mexico here is an insect eater. No they do not bite you and no they do not fly into your hair intentionally (why would they want to??) For those who are so scared of Rabies JUST LEAVE THEM ALONE.
A last shot of the bats in Bat Reach the recuperatng bats are in the cage while a few hanger-ons stick around for the company and the occasional biccie. Would love to have a proper resident colony in my garden..
Anyway back to the main walk

A Pair of mating Sand Sifting Sea Stars

For some reason today there were mating pairs everywhere. Singles were the rarity. Without furthur ado the students I had with me christianed this strip the "Red light district". I fed them the dry stuff about how the male (the starfish on top) positions himself such that his arms interspace with that of his girl and that mating occurs with a simultaneous release of sperm and eggs.. And they had their own comments " Hey if you put anotherone on top will they have a threesome?" Errr....

A spider conch - not very spectacular on the deck given all the camouflage

But oh so pretty the min you flip it over! Noticed the long curved "claw" across the opening of the shell? That's the Operculum or foot that the spider conch can use to hop or right itself (especially when there is a guided tour:P)

Another Shot.. Gorgeous

The resident Carpet Anemone with it's pair of anemone shrimp. So much more attractive compared to my Cherry shrimp! (Sorry guys). I've been told that the relatioship between shrimp and anemone is really symbiotic. By coating themselves with mucus produced by the anemone the shrimp can avoid it's stings and hide from predators within the anemone. But in return they do not really have a role in cleaning the anemone and in fact may eat it's tentacles if there is a shortage of food..

A living Cowrie -The curse of beauty
Shell used in ancient China and India as a form of currency (Did that make beach combers the richest folk around..?) Look Closely you can probably see the 2 eye stalks sticking out of the upper edge of the shell .
Devoted mothers, they remain with their eggs till they hatch. Sadly more than half the cowrie species in Singapore have been lost as our natural beaches are reclaimed for development - probably the one thing a mother cowrie can’t protect her young from.Young cowries have a shell is a narrow spiral it encloses this spiral shell with a larger outer shell which has the typical cowrie shape and slit-like opening with teeth as the it grows. The inner spiral layers may be reabsorbed to make room for the larger animal and the material reused to build a larger outer shell.

Zooanthids (Colonial anemones)

Like tiny anemonies but not solitary but rather colonial like corals. They don’t produce a hard skeleton like the hard coral colonies. Tissues are leathery and composed partly of chitin (think insect exoskeletons). They feed on plankton/ other finer particles. Many harbour zooxanthellae
Some zoanthids contain powerful toxins to protect themselves against predators. The most toxic marine poison, palytoxin, was discovered in a zoanthid. Minute quantities of palytoxin can paralyse and even kill.Palytoxin, the poison extracted from a zoanthid, has been used to better understand how our body works and may provide better treatment of hypertension, heart disease and other disorders.

Star Anemone - A new first for me!

Has another mode of defence besides it's stingers. When threatened this guy can retreat rapidly back into it's tube home in the ground. Senior guide demoed this for me.. Wow

Upside-down jellyfish - finally got a good photo

Not a fish and are more closely related to sea anemones and corals (Cnidarians)
Jellyfish can sting and some, very painfully. Stingers are still active even after the jellyfish is dead or dying. Upside-down jellyfish can in fact release their stingers into the surrounding waters
They are found throughout the intertidal from the seagrass meadows to the reef flats. Their bodies harbor microscopic, single-celled algae (zooxanthallae). The algae undergos photosynthesis and the food produced is shared with the jellyfish, which in return provides the algae with shelter and minerals. It is the algae which gives the jellyfish its colours. Because it relies on photosynthesis, the jellyfish tends to be found in shallow waters with their bell down and legs up. Interestingly these industrious garderners will even right themselves if over turned.

The release Upside down:)

Saw a few other jellyfish today - This translucent one not so sure about the name.. Apparently can sting quite badly. Long pants definitely a must for inter-tidal walk

Ribbon jellyfish

Sea Urchin - Another 1st for me!

(Urchin is an old name for hedgehog - exactlly what this guy resembles)

Coolest thing was when you looked at it you're actually looking at it's anus.. Surrounding it are 5 white spots - the "eyes" Which can actually sense movement and adjust it's spines appropriately.. It's mouth is on it's underside facing the ground. It's called Aristotle's Lantern after the afore mentioned Greek Philosopher who first described it in his work "History of animals"The mouth itself is a hard beak that can be replaced as it is worn down. Most sea urchins graze on seaweed, detritus from hard surfaces or on immobile creatures such as sponges or encrusting animals.
The one in the picture (Long spined sea urchin) is the most commonly encountered sea urchins in deeper waters. It is believed that these gather together in groups where there are insufficient hiding places from daytime predators.
The roe of this sea urchin (unfortunatly)is eaten resulting in heavy harversting.

Heart cockle (No need to tell you how this guy gets his name)

Unique shape has triggered the imagination of many - the phrase “cockles of one’s heart” – to refer to one’s innermost feelings, the cockle shells in “Mary, Mary quite contrary” had in her rather unusual garden...
Unfortunately again quite popular as a valentine’s gift but the dead dry shell seldom retains it’s unique shape. Much better to leave them in peace and admire them from afar.
And for the some the need is much more pressing then ours some migratory waders consume to up to a ton of cockle flesh in a year!