Category Archives: biodiversity

Of Changing Colours, Bubble Tea and Ink Jets

One is not like the other… 

 

Did you guess which is the odd one out? If you guessed that the image in the middle is different, you are right! Although similar looking, those are not bubble tea pearls, but rather, cuttlefish eggs. Sounds bizarre? Well, they can be found right here on our Singapore shores!

Cuttlefish belong to the class Cephalopoda, which includes the octopus and more similar-looking squid. So first, how do we tell cuttlefish (Sepiidae family) apart from squids (Teuthida family)? Both of these marine mammals are molluscs, and while they do not have the characteristic shells of clams, they have stiff structures within their bodies.

Squids have a squid pen, which feels somewhat like plastic to the touch.

 

For cuttlefish, they have a porous cuttlebone which is used for buoyancy. It is also used as a calcium supplement for birds, and even acts as casts for metal jewellery as it is easy to carve yet resistant to the high heat of liquid metal.

The streamlined torpedo shape of squids helps them to move quickly in water, while the wider, stout cuttlefish moves more slowly with the rippling long fins along the sides of their bodies. In addition, while squids have round pupils like us humans, cuttlefish pupils are w-shaped.

Now that we know how to better tell apart the cuttlefish from their similar looking squid cousins, what is so special about the cuttlefish?

First, cuttlefish have three hearts which pump greenish-blue blood. This is due to copper-containing proteins which transport blood, as compared to iron-containing haemoglobin proteins in humans. Like other cephalopods, cuttlefish can squirt ink to confuse predators as an escape measure. While cuttlefish are unable to discern colour, they can change their body colours through the use of pigment containing cells called chromatophores. Furthermore, they are able to change their body texture too!

During the mating season, males have to compete to mate with a female, with larger males usually gaining the upper hand and getting to mate. How do smaller males get their shot at reproduction? Some of them make use of their camouflage skills and disguise themselves as females, allowing them to sneak up to females to mate! And that is how these black or white bubble tea, pearl-like eggs are formed 😉 Cuttlefish can be commonly found seasonally on our shores and tend to be found near seagrass meadows. I personally saw a clutch of cuttlefish eggs hatching at the intertidal area of Changi Beach!

While it might seem more accessible to appreciate terrestrial wildlife, it is also possible to get up close with marine or coastal wildlife such as these unique cuttlefish in Singapore! In fact, I managed to see these cuttlefish eggs while on a guided walk through the Changi Intertidal. Some guided nature walk programmes include free walks by NParks, and paid programmes by organizations such as the Lee Kong Chian Musuem and Young Nautilus.

There’s much biodiversity to be found in Singapore, as long as you know where to find them! 😊

Written by: Choo Min

References:

Ebert, Jessica (2005). “Cuttlefish win mates with transvestite antics”. News@nature. doi:10.1038/news050117-9.

Spencer, E. (2018, September 13). How to Tell the Difference Between Squid and Cuttlefish. Retrieved from https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2017/04/07/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-squid-and-cuttlefish/

Tan, R. (2016, October). Cuttlefishes. Retrieved from http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/mollusca/cephalopoda/sepiidae.htm

Tan, R. (2016, October). Cephalopods. Retrieved from http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/mollusca/cephalopoda.htm

Yeo, R. (2012, December 6). Cephalopods (Phyllum Mollusca: Class Cephalopoda) of Singapore. Retrieved from http://tidechaser.blogspot.com/2012/12/cephalopoda-of-singapore.html

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A Vibrant Blue – The Butterfly Pea Flower

If you ever see any of your food coloured a bright blue, there’s a high chance you’re seeing the flower of the butterfly pea (also known as a blue pea) working its magic. Barely having any taste, it is frequently used as natural food colouring in Peranakan, Thai and Malay cuisine, such as in Kueh Salat or Nyonya rice dumplings5.

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Image by Shiokman Eddie. Retrieved from: https://www.shiokmanrecipes.com/2016/11/18/kueh-salat-kuih-seri-muka/

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Image by Angie Liew.

 http://www.huangkitchen.com/nyonya-rice-dumplings/

The butterfly pea flower changes from blue to purple when acid (in lemon) is added, making it visually appealing.

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Image by Cynthea Lam.

https://guide.michelin.com/sg/dining-in/beginners-guide-to-foraging-in-singapore/news

With blue being such a rare colour in nature, it is not hard to spot the bright blue flowers of the butterfly pea along the streets of Singapore. Being a creeper, they are often found to be growing on wire supports or walls, attached by intertwining their thin, slender legumes4. Even though they are so common here, it may be surprising to note that the butterfly pea may not be native to Singapore. In fact, they are so common across all the continents that it is not definite where they originated from; though they were believed to be from South America and Asia before they spread to India, Europe then finally to tropical Southeast Asia6.

To cultivators, the butterfly pea has value in its culinary uses and medicinal purposes, such as being believed to be able to alleviate inflammation in traditional medicine6. Characteristics such as high growth rates, ability to grow in poor soils and drought tolerance making them easy to grow and maintain2.

From here, some of the seeds were dispersed into the wild, and such hardy characteristics allowed them to thrive equally well in the wild. In some places such as Christmas Island, Hawaii and Queensland, they grew so well that they became invasive – threatening the growth of local, native species1. Despite being an introduced species, they can sometimes be beneficial to the environment. Being able to grow in poor quality soil allows them to survive in disturbed habitats such as coal mines. The butterfly pea was then able to increase the nitrogen level of soil and soil fertility, enhancing further revegetation efforts2.

The next time you see blue in your food, hopefully, it will remind you of the butterfly pea flower!

Written by: Shenny Goh

References:

1 Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International. Clitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea). Retrieved from: https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/55416#b69c866b-b16e-49de-b720-1dcade921e6f (last accessed 1 March 2019)

2 Cook BG, Pengelly BC, Brown SD, Donnelly JL, Eagles DA, Franco MA, Hanson J, Mullen BF, Partridge IJ, Peters M, Schultze-Kraft R. (2005). Tropical Forages: an interactive selection tool. Retrieved from: http://www.tropicalforages.info/key/forages/Media/Html/entities/clitoria_ternatea.htm

3 Kwek Yan Chong, Hugh T. W. Tan and Richard T. Corlett. (2009). A Checklist of the Total Vascular Plant Flora of Singapore. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research National University of Singapore Singapore. Retrieved from: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/app/uploads/2017/04/flora_of_singapore_tc.pdf

4 NParks Flora & Fauna Web (n.d.) Clitoria ternatea (Pale Blue). Retrieved from: https://florafaunaweb.nparks.gov.sg/Special-Pages/plant-detail.aspx?id=1374 (last accessed 1 March 2019)

5 Quek, E. (2018, February 24). Butterfly pea flower lends a blue hue to foods from tea to pasta. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/butterfly-pea-flower-lends-a-blue-hue-to-foods-from-tea-to-pasta

6 Singapore Infopedia. (2016). Butterfly pea. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_763_2004-12-20.html

7 The DNA of Singapore. (n.d.) Clitoria ternatea. Retrieved from: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/522 (last accessed 1 March 2019)

Crocodiles Uncovered: Read this if you have a fear of reptiles

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is always a wondrous place to visit. A typical museum can seem rather boring, what with things and people that have negligible relevance to one’s present day life. It is hard to say the same, however, of the LKCNHM, which has on display three towering dinosaur skeletons that inevitably humbles oneself, not to mention a wide array of curious creatures one would otherwise have no luck or guts to witness alive. The “Air Tenang: Tale of a Giant Crocodile” exhibit is one such example.

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(Source: LKCNHM)

Translated from Bahasa Melayu, “Air Tenang” means “calm water”. At first glance, one might think that this is a reference to a crocodile’s sinister ability to create the illusion of calm waters before sniping their prey in a split horrific second. Many artefacts on display help bring that visual imagery to life, including a 3-footed crocodile skull that belonged to one of the largest crocodiles in history, projected to be more than six metres long. The stuffed carcass of Kaiser, an expired resident of the Singapore Zoo, is surrounded by an abundant spill of red, blue and white fabric previously used to taxidermise him.

 

Kaiser the Crocodile (Photo: Rachel Teng)

Somehow, even without their essence, the skeletal and hollow remnants of these creatures still manage to invoke some sort of primal fear in us. It is thus hard to imagine that a human being can approach a live, wild crocodile without consternation and the instinctive need to either run or defend. Perhaps, then, crocodile farmers, hunters, and the likes of Steve Irwin may be seen as heroes that have faced the wild.

The problem arises when we let this fear get the better of us.

Herpetophobia is the fear of reptiles, and it is also commonly associated with ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes. About one third of adult humans are ophidiophobic/herpetophobic, making it one of the most commonly reported phobias in the world.

There are many theorized reasons for herpetophobia, and you might be surprised to know that there may actually be a very practical reason for it. According to evolutionary biologists, reptiles were already around when the first mammals evolved 100 million years ago, while other threats such as birds and other mammals evolved long after. The sheer number of venomous reptiles that were co-evolving with us created an evolutionary arms race, and our primate ancestors’ main defence mechanism was our increasingly sophisticated eye for sensing colour, detail and movement. Being able to spot reptiles and having an instinctive fear trigger thus became a valuable survival asset to primates, and subsequently, to us humans.

This would reasonably explain the disproportionately large percentage of people fearing reptiles much more compared to other animals we might encounter on a day-to-day basis, or other equally fearful predatory animals such as lions and tigers. A National Geographic study conducted on babies also showed that this fear is highly intrinsic; their pupils dilate when shown pictures of snakes and spiders in contrast with flowers and fish, wherein pupil size is directly correlated with a variety of mental and emotional stresses.

Yet, any kind of phobia is classified as a mental disorder; an irrational fear that goes beyond protecting oneself from danger. Fear developed for a purely evolutionary purpose can therefore only go so far as to explain such a prevalent phobia.

We often overlook the subliminal effect media and culture have on our psyches. Throughout history, reptilians have been vilified. From the biblical snake in the Garden of Eden to the mythical dragon (which is merely a form of extrapolation of reptilian traits), reptiles are most commonly portrayed as symbols of evil and cunning. In language, reptilian terms like “cold-blooded” are unmistakable insults and the modern lingo “snake” has recently evolved to mean “backstabber”. Anthropomorphic reptiles in popular films and fiction novels are conveniently made the villain across age groups and genres.

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“Never Smile At a Crocodile” in Disney’s Peter Pan

♫ Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin ♫

 

 

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(From left to right: Godzilla, Randall from Monsters Inc., Basilisk from Harry Potter, underground lizard people from Dr Who, and Kaa from Jungle Book, all playing antagonistic roles.)

Even in the news, cases of crocodile attacks are highly sensationalized as a form of public warning, and they are often the inspiration for thriller movies featuring killer crocs.

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Most popular movies involving crocodiles are thriller and horror movies, revealing societal attitudes towards this animal.

For most, these cultural references will be the only interactions one will have with crocodiles and other reptilians. Contrast these with other apex predators like lions or most other mammals that by default assume the protagonist role or are alluded to courage or leadership. It is no wonder that we fear reptiles irrationally.

The question is, does it really matter how we see or portray reptiles? In short, it does. Our current understanding of extinction risks of reptiles is the shallowest as compared to birds, mammals, amphibians and other animals; only 45% of reptile species have been assessed by the IUCN to date. Mankind’s disinclination towards reptiles has created a bias of conservation efforts toward anthropocentric views rather than ecological value or urgency. Even if one might argue that scientific or conservational pursuits should remain objective and unbiased towards these species, experts agree that social and cultural support are vital to approaching conservation holistically. This is dangerous, considering that many reptiles such as crocodiles are apex predators and indicators of health in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. Being typically opportunistic eaters, they control the population of a variety of prey, and their carcasses are a significant food source for smaller animals.

Here is the hard truth about crocodiles. They have no aversion to the taste of human flesh, are extremely protective and territorial parents and will actively hunt people as a food source. About 1000 people are killed by crocodilians each year, with majority of attacks recorded being in Southeast Asia and Australia. They are consistently high rankers on any site’s “Top 10 most Dangerous Animals” list.

But here is the hard truth about humans. Over 56 billion animals are killed every year for food, and more than 50 million are killed for their pelts for fashion. Crocodiles are no exception to the wrath of humans; visit the exhibition and you will witness old photographs of crocodile farms used to harvest skin and meat, not to mention crocodile duels for pure entertainment. We are, no doubt, the Top Dangerous Animal since we evolved on this earth to be feared more than any Godzilla there is out there.

Fear is purposeful, but we need to understand its origins to make full and proper use of it. Can we still maintain that our fear of crocodiles purely stem from the instinctive need to conquer our evolutionary enemies, at the “cold-blooded” detriment of our ecosystem? Does our fear justify the lack of conservation value we place on these creatures? To triumph our fear is not necessarily to confront a crocodile head-on like Irwin does, but to be able to detach ourselves from our primal biases and confront the complexity and ambivalence of the crocodile-human conflict.

Crocodiles are a hardy species, one of the most ancient and unchanged creatures of natural history from 240 million years ago. They have survived continental breakups and ice ages, seen the rise and fall of dinosaurs and the evolution of mammals and birds. To date, no species has yet to be extinct, but since the human epoch, 44% of crocodiles are threatened, and 17 out of 23 species are endangered.

The “Air Tenang: Tale of the Crocodile” exhibit informs us that presently, crocodiles are contained mostly in wetland reserves like Sungei Buloh, barricaded away from human-frequented waters. There have been no attacks since 1989 since they were hunted to near local extinction during colonisation, and the Singapore Red Data Book (2008) classifies the Saltwater Crocodile as “Critically Endangered”. Perhaps, “Air Tenang” can be more aptly interpreted as the truly unearthly silence of the waters in light of the absence of crocodiles in our waters today.

Written by: Rachel Teng

REFERENCES

Are We Born Fearing Spiders and Snakes? (2017, October 26). Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/10/infant-fear-phobia-science-snakes-video-spd/

Ceríaco, Luis MP (2012). “Human attitudes towards herpetofauna: The influence of folklore and negative values on the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Portugal”. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 8 (1): 8.

Crocodile attack. (2019, February 03). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crocodile_attack#Species_involved_in_attacks

Fritscher, L. (n.d.). Do I Have Herpetophobia or Am I Just Afraid of Snakes and Lizards? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/herpetophobia-2671862

Fritscher, L. (n.d.). How Evolutionary Psychology Explains Human Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/evolutionary-psychology-2671587

Gresh, Lois H.; Weinberg, Robert (21 April 2008). “Why Did It Have To Be Snakes: From Science to the Supernatural, The Many Mysteries of Indiana Jones”. John Wiley & Sons.

Never Smile at a Crocodile. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NeverSmileAtACrocodile

Of snakes and faces: An evolutionary perspective on the psychology of fear”. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. Wiley. 50 (6): 543–552.

Ophidiophobia. (2018, December 11). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophidiophobia#cite_note-3

Reptiles Are Abhorrent. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReptilesAreAbhorrent

Respax. (2017, August 17). Whitsunday Wildlife Tour – About the Crocodiles in Whitsundays. Retrieved from http://crocodilesafari.com.au/about-crocodiles/

Roach, John (4 October 2001). “Fear of Snakes, Spiders Rooted in Evolution, Study Finds”National Geographic NewsNational Geographic Society.

Roll, U., et al. “Using Wikipedia page views to explore the cultural importance of global reptiles.” Biological Conservation (2016)

Than, K. (2006, July 20). Fear of Snakes Drove Pre-Human Evolution. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/4183-fear-snakes-drove-pre-human-evolution.html

Tingley, R., et al. “Addressing knowledge gaps in reptile conservation.” Biological Conservation (2016).

The Not So Common Common Myna

Don’t worry, it’s not a typo error. It is true that Common Myna are not a common sight anymore, sadly. Common Myna are native to Asia, so you might wonder what happened to them. I’ll go into that soon but before that, let me introduce you to them!

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Common Myna (Acridotheres Tristis) by smarko on pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/common-myna-acridotheres-tristis-1367119/

“Wait, isn’t this the bird I see all over Singapore? I’m sure I see some in my neighbourhood. Who says it’s not common?”

Did that thought come to your mind? I honestly won’t be surprised if it did because I thought the same way too, but no! These birds are different from the one you see around which are the Javan Myna.

Let’s spot the differences between the Common Myna and Javan Myna!

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Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javan_myna

Have you spotted the stark difference? Take a closer look at its eyes. You would have noticed that the skin near the eyes of the Common Myna is yellow. To me (someone who isn’t a bird person), that is one way to differentiate between these two birds. Or you could take a closer look and realise that the Javan Myna is mainly black in colour while the Common Myna is actually a dark brown. But then again, birds move, and I’m pretty sure black and dark brown are not very easy to tell apart from a distance, so let’s stick with the yellow skin around the eyes.

Now that we have learnt how to tell these 2 birds apart, would you have wondered if these 2 similar looking birds with similar names have a special relationship? Well, yes, they do! But it’s somewhat like a “you go, I stay” kind of relationship. Remember when I said that Common Mynas were actually uncommon in Singapore? Well, they were common once, until the Javan Mynas came and took over, becoming the ‘common’ mynas we see in Singapore today. How did the Javan Mynas do that? They have found ways to adapt to the urban landscape of Singapore where they can build their nests anywhere (Meng, 2011) and feed on not just insects and fruits but also, our leftover food (Yap, 2002).

Such braveness in “hunting” for food and resourcefulness in ways of survival have led Javan Myna to become one of the, if not the most common bird in Singapore. Singapore is indeed a competitive society and we all need the right attitude to survive, be it humans or animals!

Here’s a fun fact: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed Common Myna to be the 3rd most invasive species in the world (Yangchen, 2016) although the situation in Singapore is the exact opposite!

References

Meng, A. L. (2011, April 21). Lessons from two Mynas. Retrieved from Stir-fried Science: https://blog.science.edu.sg/2011/04/21/lessons-from-two-mynas/

Yangchen, L. (2016, April 22). The javan mynah: Today’s pest, tomorrow’s food? Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/the-javan-mynah-todays-pest-tomorrows-food

Written by: Thang Hui Lin

 

Let’s talk about animal relationships in film

Back in June, we talked about how accurately animals are being portrayed in Disney films. This time, let’s move on from individual characters and talk about the interesting relationships between animals portrayed in different animated films and how they are like in real life.

  1. Musophobia

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Credit: http://www.cartoonswallpapers.net/dumbo/timothy-mouse-dumbo-walt-disney-characters-hd-wallpaper-image-phone/

In Disney’s “Dumbo”, Dumbo the elephant was seen hiding in a haystack avoiding Timothy the mouse after it has tickled his trunk. Timothy told Dumbo that this fear came from the primordial reversed sizes of elephants and mice, which elephants in “present time” still couldn’t forget.

There has always been a misconception that elephants are afraid of mice due to the fear of them running up their trunk, or that their small and agile movements make their movements unpredictable. How true is this in real life?

A popular Discovery series “Mythbusters” tested out the hypothesis of elephants being afraid of mice in one of their episodes and they concluded that elephants are indeed afraid of mice.

Josh Plotnik, a researcher of elephant behaviour and intelligence, posits otherwise. He debunked this myth by arguing that elephants react the way they do when they see a mouse not because of fear, but more of an element of surprise. He proceeded to explain that anything that runs or slither can likely startle elephants in the wild and induce a similar reaction.

Looks like elephants’ specific fear of mice is indeed a myth, but aren’t we all glad that Dumbo overcame his fear and became friends with Timothy in the end?

  1. Mutualism

Some of the greatest examples of animal mutualism are found in the sea. And what better movie to watch than Disney’s Finding Nemo for a good idea of the life under the sea?

Mutualism refers to a relationship where two species of organisms both benefit from the presence of one another.

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Credit: https://nypost.com/2017/07/17/finding-nemo-is-a-hermaphroditic-lie-says-science/

In Finding Nemo’s opening scene, Nemo’s first day of school, he was seen waking his dad up in the centre of a sea anemone. Why was Marlin able to sleep so soundly within the poisonous arms of an anemone? The mutualistic relationship between these two organisms shall explain this.

Most clownfish, or anemonefish, species are resistant to the toxins generated by sea anemone. For certain species that are not resistant, the mucus membrane on their skin protects them from the toxins. This resistance allow them to hide and camouflage themselves within the arms of a sea anemone, protecting them from predators which are not resistant to the toxins. While protecting the anemonefishes, the sea anemone derive benefits from them too. The anemonefish help to get rid of parasites in the sea anemones and provide them with nutrients by excretion.

Though only one side of this relationship was clearly portrayed in the film, Disney surely drew more attention to these special interactions between animals among the general public!

  1. Predator-prey relationships

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Credit: https://dettoldisney.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/disney-vs-nature-3-the-lion-king/

This relationship is rather accurately portrayed in the circle of life of The Lion King.

The bottom of the food chain is trees, shrubs and grass in the savanna, which are fed on by zebras and elephants. They’re in turn preyed on by cheetahs, hyenas and lions. This was explained by Mufasa to Simba as they overlooked Pride Rock. In The Lion King, the lions were not seen interacting with gazelles and zebras the way different species of animals do in other anthropomorphized films.

On the flip side, in the recent popular film Zootopia, predators and preys live in a community together in the city of Zootopia. The rabbit Judy Hoops and the fox Nick Wilde even became best buddies at the end of the story. While the threat of predators pouncing onto their prey out of “animal instincts” still remains, it is social stigmatised rather than recognised as natural behaviour. This shows that in the attempt to reflect societal issues by personifying animals in their films, Disney has inevitably compromised the biological relationships between certain species.

With the animation industry’s fondness towards non-human characters, the element of anthropormorphism in films has definitely been significantly amplified. From simply giving the animals linguistic speech and humanistic emotions, animals in recent films have increasingly human behaviours and cultures. Perhaps from now onwards, we can all pay a little more attention to the details that filmmakers have purposefully incorporated into the films!

References

Aquaviews. (2018, October 05). 5 Symbiotic Relationships in the Ocean – AquaViews. Retrieved from https://www.leisurepro.com/blog/explore-the-blue/5-marine-symbiotic-relationships/

Extreme Science. (n.d.). Are elephants really afraid of mice? Retrieved from http://www.extremescience.com/elephants-afraid-of-mice.htm

Mebs, D. (1994). Anemonefish symbiosis: vulnerability and resistance of fish to the toxin of the sea anemone. Toxicon, 32(9), 1059-1068.

Melina, R. (2016, June 01). Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/33261-elephants-afraid-of-mice-.html

Yin, C. (2013, May 20). Lion King-Biology Project. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/l39zl1itkw_c/lion-king-biology-project/

 

Not the Right Cull – Monkey Culling vs Monkey Guarding

Cute and tenacious, one of the most well-known and prevalent animals in Singapore is none other than the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fasicularis). Also known as the Crab-eating Macaque, these intelligent creatures have even been observed to make and use tools for foraging. While we at Drongos love and appreciate Singapore’s resident monkeys, some Singaporeans have had less positive experiences with these macaques.

Untitled.pngThe Long-tailed Macaque!

Along with their intelligence, long-tailed macaques have also been associated with mischief and trouble, especially among those that live near their natural habitats. Residential areas bordering forest fringes where these macaques live (like near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) are prone to macaque “intrusion”. There have been reports of food being stolen from houses or even cases of macaques causing damage to property. In fact, ever since Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) opened their a 24-hour hotline for animal-related issues, there has been an increase in the number of complaints on macaques specifically. Unfortunately, the only response to these complaints is to simply cull these macaques who are merely acting on instinct.

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I’m sure most nature enthusiasts are familiar with such signs! Top ;Bottom

In 2015 alone, AVA reported (and we note that these are only the reported numbers) that over 2,500 animals were euthanised including 623 monkeys. Riley, Jayasri and Gumert (2015) found that there exists at most only 1,900 wild long-tailed macaques in Singapore and this translates to over 30% of the macaque population being culled! Not only is this cruel, but according to MP Louis Ng, such widespread culling does not target the root cause, and other measures need to be considered to tackle the issue. Specifically, it is highlighted that because only young and inexperienced macaques are caught and killed, more young macaques will continue to be born to “disturb” residents or parkgoers. From this, it is clear that culling is not only futile, but it has been argued that it also hinders progress by preventing the necessary discourse to promote human-macaque co-existence (Yeo & Neo, 2010).

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Taken from the AVA website.

As seen by the guide above, AVA and NParks have provided ways to reduce this human-macaque conflict in households. In addition to these measures, we also propose another method as a peaceful and sustainable alternative to culling – monkey guarding! Our friends over at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) provide “Monkey Guards” training which teaches the security officers to peacefully guide the macaques away or scare them off. We also highlight that this extends to affected home-owners (and even the general public) so that they too can learn how to deter macaques safely and effectively should they need to. The last training date was 15th September 2018, and though they have yet to update the website for the next one, do keep a lookout if you are interested!

Educating the public on how to interact with wildlife is indeed a better solution for human-wildlife conflict in Singapore. On the other hand, culling is a quick and easy method to seemingly deal with the problem but, as mentioned, it is also one that can actually hinder the promotion of co-existence. By understanding that it is natural for animals like the long-tailed macaques to be resourceful in finding food and even more so in aggressively defending themselves if they feel threatened, monkey guarding serves as a great first step to general human-wildlife conflicts. We believe that this is a crucial part of learning to co-exist with the wildlife in Singapore, especially if we consider the fact that our growing urban areas constantly encroach natural habitats, causing such conflicts.

For a highly developed island, Singapore’s natural landscape is limited yet vibrant – this is as good a reason as any for us to cherish and protect it together with all the animals that support and sustain it. As such, it is incredibly important that we be mindful of our actions and interactions with the wildlife that we live alongside. As NParks is slated to take over AVA’s role in managing such animal-related issues, perhaps it is also a good opportunity to reconsider our policies, initiatives and responses to animal conflicts.

 

References:

Riley, C. M., Jayasri, S. L., & Gumert, M. D. (2015). Results of a nationwide census of the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) population of Singapore.

Yeo, J. H., & Neo, H. (2010). Monkey business: human–animal conflicts in urban Singapore. Social & Cultural Geography11(7), 681-699.

Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 6 Bonus: The Visionary Digital Lab

Hi there! This article is the final part of a series featuring the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore. If you’d like to learn more, why not start at the beginning? Otherwise, enjoy the second bonus of our feature!

While visiting the Cryogenic Collection, I was blessed with an unexpected discovery. Adjacent to the collection is a humble office used by resident scientists. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary science lab – computers, boxes of gloves, pipettes – but step in a little further and you’ll witness this impressive contraption:

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This device, known as the Visionary Digital Lab, transforms an ordinary DSLR camera into a high powered camera suited for photographing tiny insects in extraordinary detail. And when I say extraordinary, I mean this:

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See the thin black line in the bottom left? That represents 1mm. This stunning capture of a Nemopoda speiseri fly is constructed by combining several brightly lit, high resolution images, each focusing on a particular spot on the specimen, to create a composite image that brings every nook and cranny of this miniscule insect into sharp detail. Some of these images are in fact uploaded to an online archive managed by the Museum at the Biodiversity of Singapore Online, where researchers from all over the world can use it as a reference.

Still not impressed? Here’s another version of the same device in one of the museum’s dedicated labs:

IMG_5386.jpgI promise you there’s a specimen on that dish. Just keep squinting. Or look over here:

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There it is! From the slimmest bristle to the thinnest wing, our little friend has appeared. As mentioned, you can peruse other photos like this courtesy of the museum and its partners at Museum at the Biodiversity of Singapore Online , which also features Southeast Asian birds, mammals, reptiles and more in exquisite quality.