BiodiverCITY: Why hello, I didn’t see you!

Believe it or not, Singapore’s landscape used to be covered by lush green forests! Now, more than 95% of these natural habitats have been lost. Our urban landscape consists of concrete buildings and paved roads, which have replaced these natural habitats with environments that humans find comfortable; which may not be very favourable to animals resulting in a decline in biodiversity. But there are animals that are capable of surviving the urban jungle! Humans are the top of the food chain, as kings and queens of this environment. Somewhere in between the nooks and crannies of our high-rise living quarters, industrial spaces and green parks are flora and fauna that have adapted to survive and infiltrate our world, living amongst us – sometimes so sneaky that we miss them for their obvious presence! These include the Javan mynas (Acridotheres javanicus) and rock pigeons (Columba livia).

javan myna nicholas Lim
The Javan myna: a non-native bird so common we couldn’t miss it even if we tried! Photo credit: Nicholas Lim
Changeable Lizard Emmanuel Goh
The changeable lizard (non-native) Photo credit: Emmanuel Goh
Green crested Lizard_Sean Yap
The green-crested lizard (native) Photo credit: Sean Yap

Another non-native that is commonly seen in our parks and gardens is the changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) (left picture); it is suspected to have out-competed the native green crested lizard (Brochela cristatella) (on the right), causing the latter to be absent from our urban areas. 2. Despite this, some native species have managed to adapt to our hostile concrete jungle, and can be found in some of our parks and gardens. Keep an eye out for them the next time you walk through a park, and if you happen to spot them please pictures with us on our Facebook page hereYellow-vented bulbul (Pycononotus goiavier)

yellow-vented bulbul_ERC_nicholas Lim
A yellow-vented bulbul surveys its built-up surroundings from its perch on a Tembusu tree in the Education Resource Centre at University Town, NUS. Photo credit: Nicholas Lim

The yellow-vented bulbul is a very common perching bird often seen in our parks and gardens. It can be easily recognized by the black band around its eyes, the yellow patch of feathers under its tail and its loud bubbling calls. Yellow-vented bulbuls feed on a  wide variety of food ranging from fruits like figs to nectar to insects, a possible reason for their success in living in our concrete jungle. That’s right folks: being non-picky at meal times is a strategy to living in a city. More than that, they are extremely resourceful, foraging for insects and seeds in bushes and trees, and even the ground from our roads and pavements.

Pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans)

Pink-necked green pigeon_Nicholas Lim
Photo credit: Nicholas Lim

The pink-necked green pigeon is the only species of green pigeon in Singapore that is commonly seen outside of our forests2. Like all green pigeons, they are arboreal – which means they like to stay on tall trees for a safe perch, so look up if you’re trying to spot them! The picture above is a male bird. How do we know? Look at the colours! Males of this species have a grey head, a pink neck and an orange breast while females have a uniform green plumage. Many species of birds display this kind of difference between the sexes where the male is more colourful and attractive than the female. The reason for this difference is that in the animal kingdom, it is often the female that chooses the mate. As such, the male has to be able to stand out and attract the female’s attention.  Paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) The paradise tree snake could be found in parks and gardens, in forests and in mangroves2. However, snakes can be hard to spot as they would usually avoid humans. The paradise tree snake is a gliding snake (Chrysopelea spp.)2. These snakes are so named because of their ability to flatten their body to form a concave surface which traps air allowing them to glide from tree to tree. To see how this is movement can be compared to James Bond’s ejector seat, check out this short documentary clip (with awesome playback): Lesser dog-faced fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis)

Lesser dog faced fruit bat_Sean Yap
This little guy was found and photographed in someone’s house! If you ever do see one in your house, do not panic, you could call ACRES to have them remove it and relocate it to the wild. Photo credit: Sean Yap

Contrary to the phrase “blind as a bat”, fruit bats like the lesser dog-faced fruit bat (also known as the common fruit bat) have excellent night vision which they use to find fruits2. Fruit bats are very important to the ecosystem as they serve as pollinators and seed dispersers for many plants, including the very popular durian2.

Wild cinnamon (Cinnamomum iners)

Wild Cinnamon
The wild cinnamon has downward-pointing young leaves which are usually reddish pink!

New leaves of the wild cinnamon are reddish pink in colour, darkening to a dark green over time creating an attractive sight when the tree is growing new leaves. Due to this, the wild cinnamon is planted all over Singapore to beautify our city. The wild cinnamon also has significant ecological roles as its fruits provide a food source for frugivorous birds and mammals and its leaves are food for the caterpillars of some butterfly species like the common mime (Chilasa clytia clytia) and common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon luctatius) Fishtail palm (Caryota mitis)

004 Fishtail Palm leaves
The leaves of the fishtail palm look like battered tail fins of betta fish, right?

The fishtail palm is very easily recognized by its leaves which are shaped like a fish’s tail. The fishtail palm produces flowers and fruits in a cluster that looks like a mop. The fishtail palm is suspected to fruit all year round and as such provides a reliable food source for frugivorous mammals and birds like the pink-necked green pigeon and the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). That being said, do not touch the fruits of the fishtail palm or attempt to eat them as they will cause severe itchiness. References

  1. Ng, P. K. L., Brook, B. W., & Sodhi, N. S. (2003). Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Nature, 424(6947), 420-426.
  2. Ng, P. K. L., Corlett, R., & Tan T. W. H. (2011). Singapore biodiversity: An encyclopaedia of the natural environment and sustainable development. Singapore: Didier Millet in association with Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

words by: Lee Juin Bin

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