Category Archives: nature

Our Splendid Swamps

In the summer of the last academic year, I joined the Department of Biological Sciences as a part time research assistant helping with surveys in Nee Soon Swamp Forest. While it may sound mundane for most people, it was like dream come true for me. I had always heard about the ecological significance of this area but never had I ever thought that I would have a chance of working in it.

The job scope involved surveying different tree species in the swamp forest for flowers and fruits in order to determine patterns and trends. The forest was divided into different plots which could be broadly categorised into wet and dry plots. Dry plots tend to be located on hillslopes and ridges while wet plots are situated in the valleys. On the first day of the job, armed with binoculars, my colleague and I excitedly made our way to our first wet plot. There, what I saw was vastly different from any of the forests I had seen before. The entire area was flooded and waterlogged, with trees forming a mosaic of small islands.

Flooded swamp forest with a patchwork of trees forming small islands. Source: Me

Some of the trees had unique morphological characteristics and produced massive pneumatophores which were almost a meter in height. Other trees had stilt roots, much like trees from our mangrove forests. The water was very slow flowing and stained brown due to the presence of tannins from decaying vegetation.

Pneumatophores of Lophopetalum multinervium to aid with oxygen intake in anaerobic mud. Source: Me

Stilt roots of an unidentified tree species. Source: Me

After the initial excitement, we got down to work. Using our binoculars, we looked at the crown of the trees for signs of flowers and fruits. After that, the data would be recorded on a data sheet. At times, when the trees were ambiguously labelled, the diameter-at-breast-height (dbh) would be taken and then compared against the value on the data sheet to ensure that the correct tree was being surveyed. While these may sound easy enough, it was more challenging than I had expected. For a start, the swampy terrain and lack of solid ground made navigation a chore as time was spent trudging through the mud. Secondly, some of the tree species such as Lophopetalum multinervium had inconspicuous fruits which made it challenging to spot from the ground, especially when the crown is heavily backlit due to the bright sky above. Lastly, the large number of spiny plants in the plots meant that we were almost always left with small bruises and cuts after every fieldwork session.

The green fruit of Lophopetalum multinervium was difficult to differentiate from green leaves when viewed from afar. Source: Me

Huge spiny Pandanus artrocarpus which can cause cuts and tear clothing! Source: Me

Through the weeks, I started to understand the importance of Nee Soon Swamp Forest. Since the 19th century, freshwater swamps in Singapore have progressively been cleared for agriculture and reservoir construction. [1] Nee Soon Swamp Forest which is a tributary of Sungai Seletar is the last of its kind and was likely preserved through the gazettement of Chan Chu Kang Forest Reserve in 1885. To the north of Nee Soon lies the other tributary of Sungai Seletar which contained freshwater swamps in the past. However, the entire valley and swamp was flooded and consumed during the expansion of Upper Seletar Reservoir between 1940 and 1967. [2]

Although the remaining freshwater swamp occupies a much smaller land area compared to mangroves, it contains over 200 species of plants compared to 30 species found in mangroves. Unlike mangroves, the plants and animals are also exclusively freshwater dwelling, with no adaptations for saltwater. Moreover, many of the flora and fauna found in Nee Soon cannot be found elsewhere on the island. [2] I have included pictures of some interesting flora and fauna spotted during my fieldwork sessions. Nee Soon Swamp Forest is of great ecological significance, with many threatened freshwater creatures confined solely in that area. In fact, it is the only place in the world where the swamp forest crab (Parathelphusa reticulata) is found. [3] As such, I do hope that it can continue being preserved while degraded swamp forests in places like Sime Road and Admiralty Park can be restored, using the methods outlined in a paper by the Nature Society. [2]

Curved Spiny Spider (Marcracantha arcuata). Source: Me

Copper-cheeked Frog (Hydrophylanx raniceps). Source: Me

White Back Giant Flat Millipede (Platyrhacus lineatus). Source: Me

Aquatic aroid Cryptocoryne griffithii growing in a slow-moving stream

Stick insect, most likely Necroscia confusa. Source: Me

While I do not have any specific advice for research assistant positions, I think that for any fieldwork related tasks or jobs, it would be good to be mentally prepared to work under challenging conditions and push yourself. Many of the skills and techniques must be learnt out in the field where conditions may not be the most favourable given the hot and humid weather and tough terrain. Of course, it would help greatly to invest in some outdoor gear such as long pants or boots to make the fieldwork more comfortable for yourself. On a whole, this job was fulfilling, and I finally understood why Nee Soon Swamp Forest is so precious and why we should conserve it for posterity.

Written by: Ke Yao


[1]: Corner, E. J. H. (1978). The freshwater swamp-forest of South Johore and Singapore. Singapore: Botanic Parks & Recreation Department.


[3] Clews, E., Corlette, R., Ho, J., Kim, D., Koh, C., Liong, S., . . . Ziegler, A. (2018). The biological, ecological and conservation significance of freshwater swamp forest in Singapore. Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore Hydrology and Biodiversity of Nee Soon Freshwater Swamp Forest, 70(1), 9-31. doi:10.26492/gbs70(suppl.1).2018-02

Singapore’s Elusive and Peculiar Insects

Creepy-crawlies? Eek!

Would that be your reaction if you saw a beetle on your wall, a mosquito on your arm, or a cockroach in your kitchen? If so, you’re not alone. To this day, I’m still fighting my fear of insects. To help me with that, I’ve decided to get curious about insects in Singapore – in particular, 5 of the more peculiar ones.

The insect species I’ll be writing about, however, are a mere fraction of the 1.5 million insect species that have been discovered. Despite the amount of biodiversity they give to our Earth, insects are not at all in the spotlight when it comes to animal conservation efforts. This could be due to their small size that makes them less noticeable, as well as a lack of understanding regarding their role in our ecosystems. 
Insects are pivotal to all of Earth’s ecosystems – they pollinate (without which, reproduction of many plant species cannot occur), help in decomposition processes, aid in population control of other species, and are of course, necessary in maintaining food chains. In this post, we’ll explore other reasons why  insects are so special, and crucial for the environment.

1. The Trilobite Beetle

This might be the most bizarre beetle you’ve seen. Just as the name suggests, its appearance is reminiscent of the Trilobites, a group of extinct arthropods (found in many fossils) that dominated oceans until about 251 million years ago. Its body is separated into distinct lobes of hard armour.

Apart from its already extraordinary appearance, however, the trilobite beetle still boasts a number of interesting features. 

Firstly, females are ten times the size of a male, and they look worlds apart. Females are the ones with the distinct shell-like appearance described above, and this is because females stay in their larval form for life. Secondly, juvenile females seem dead (for several days) when curling up to molt into their adult form. A sexual opening is formed after this process, and the female then exposes her abdomen (where the opening is) to indicate that she is ready to mate. Thirdly, they have the ability to retract their heads, just like tortoises! Lastly, they come in several different colours – black with orange dots, green, and purple.

However, despite their unique and sometimes colourful appearance, spotting them in our forests won’t be easy. These beetles, unsurprisingly, are a rare sight. 1925 and 1993 were the only two instances mating pairs were observed, and there is still much to learn about this extraordinary beetle. 

2. Lace Bug

Corythucha spinosa. Photograph by Alice Abela (2014). [URL]

The second peculiar insect we’ll be spotlighting is none other than the lace bug! It is part of the Tingidae family, a group of insects that range from 2 to 8 mm in length

Again, just like its name, the lace bug has wings with rims and transparent sheaths in between them that resemble lace patterns. The upward-facing surface of its body also has the same texture and appearance (pictured above). Its young, however, are spiny, smaller and dark in colour – they do not, in the least, look like adult lace bugs.

Apart from being found in Singapore, it is also found all around the world, especially throughout North America. Its diet consists of leaves from various trees and shrubs. Usually, the leaves of plants that have been fed on by lace bugs appear to have yellowish spots, followed by browning and sometimes, the death of the leaves.

3. The Lanternfly

Photograph from Wildcreatures Hong Kong [URL]

This Pinocchio-looking lanternfly (family: Fulgoridae) is a plant hopper that can be found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. It is quite large (6 to 9 cm including its protrusion) and usually colourful

The long protrusion from its head serves a digestive function; It is used to extract sap from more than 70 species of plants, especially grapevines, birch, maple trees, willow, and black walnut. While feeding, the lanternbug excretes a sugary substance that attracts bees and other insects.

Precisely because of its diverse diet and intrinsic ability to adapt, however, this bug has become a well-known invasive species, especially in Pennsylvania. It is native to Asian countries, however, where it likes to feed on fruit trees such as the longgan and lychee.

Being named the lanternbug, it is no surprise that the elongated structure on its head can light up. However, this is a rare occurrence that may be a sign of being ready to mate

4. Scale Insect

Armoured scale insect. Photograph by Jon Sullivan. [URL]

Scale insects are indeed peculiar-looking. They appear to have circular and flat bodies, making them look similar to fungi. Their superfamily (Coccoidea) is made up of 8000 different species and are split into soft and armoured scale insects. They are relatively small, ranging from 0.16 to 0.95 cm in length.

Young scale insects are very mobile (hence, they are also called “crawlers”) and not armoured. Adult females, on the other hand, do not have wings and have shorter antennae and legs, making them more immobile. Males have wings and legs and antennae of normal length.

They can be found all across the globe, and feed on a great diversity of food crops, grasses, trees and ornamental plants (aided by long mouthpieces) – making them another well-known pest. 

Although the picture above wasn’t taken in Singapore, rest assured you can find these in our forests!

5. Dead Leaf Mantis

The Dead Leaf Mantis. [URL]

The Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys Dessicata) is home to Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia, and of course, Singapore. The dessicata, out of the Deroplatys genus, is the largest sub-species, reaching a maximum of 9cm.

It goes without saying that this mantis is a master of camouflage, looking like dead leaves or decomposing matter. They thrive in high humidity and temperature (80% and around 30oC respectively), and feed on many large insects, such as locusts, crickets and mealworms. They also feed on flying insects. Just like other praying mantises, they are great predators who stay still and wait patiently for their prey. Surprisingly, the Dead leaf mantis can even feed on amphibians, birds and reptiles.

The males and females can be told apart from their relative sizes. The male is smaller and more slender than the female Dead leaf mantis – this aids the females in eating their male mating partners after mating.

That’s all for now. Can you believe that these beautiful bugs can all be found in Singapore? Furthermore, there’s a countless amount that we haven’t learned about. Learning more about these 5 special bugs while doing my research for this post, to be honest, has helped me develop a newfound appreciation for our creepy-crawly friends. It certainly will make me think twice about running away from insects the next time I see them. 

More importantly, this has made me more concerned about insect conservation, because I now see how beautiful and intrinsically valuable each and every insect species is. With that, I carry a small hope that conservation efforts will, as much as they can, be more inclusive of the biodiversity of insects that is so crucial to our natural ecosystems.

Written by: Hope

COVID-19 and Zoonosis – What does it mean for wildlife trade

“Zoonosis”. What does that mean? Turning a wild animal captive and putting it in a zoo? Well, it has something got to do with animals, but not the zoo.

“A zoonosis is any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans.” (WHO, 2017). With the incidence of COVID-19 and thanks to the prevalence of social media and the Internet, more people are aware of what zoonotic diseases are. In fact, COVID-19 is not the first zoonotic disease reported. To date, it is estimated that 6 out of 10 infectious diseases in humans have animal origins (NCEZID, 2017), and that includes Dengue, Ebola, SARS, and some influenzas (WHO, 2017).

Photos from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infections Diseases (NCEZID)

The most likely origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is bats, which was transmitted to pangolins and then to humans (Campbell & Park, 2020). The question now is: how did it get transmitted to humans?

Prolonged contact and exposure to an infected animal increase the chance of a virus spreading to humans. These viruses can also be food-borne, water-borne, or vector-borne (WHO, 2017). In the case of COVID-19, current hypotheses point towards the consumption of exotic animals, including pangolins, (Campbell & Park, 2020) which might have allowed a virus of bat origin which are present in pangolins to be transmitted to humans. The suspected origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus placed an even greater focus on wildlife trade and consumption, a phenomenon prevalent in Asia and specifically, in this case, China.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, China banned all wildlife trade and consumption. However, there were several loopholes. Medicinal use of wildlife is not subjected to the new law, and most traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) still involves the use of wildlife products, such as pangolin scales (Wang, 2020). TCM was also further supported in China, and any criticism against TCM and the associated wildlife use was made illegal (Campbell & Park, 2020). This means that wildlife trade and consumption are not totally banned. Apart from wildlife trade and consumption increasing the rate of zoonosis, what are the other impacts of wildlife trade and consumption?

Photos from here 

Wildlife trade has been shown to lead to declines in animal populations, especially those already endangered. Hunting and consumption of these species are widespread and largely unregulated (the act of wildlife trade is considered illegal, but it has not been easy to catch and stop such illegal acts of wildlife hunting). By continuing the hunt for already endangered species, their existence is at stake, and this poses a threat to our biodiversity. In Myanmar, for example, a majority of endangered species has been reported to be declining in abundance (McEvoy et al, 2019). This includes pangolins, which are still hunted for TCM purposes, among other reasons.

It is not just about the extinction of one species that is at stake here. Populations in a habitat interact closely together, forming an ecosystem. When one species goes extinct, it is like breaking a single link in a chain, everything else will be affected. When that happens, other species will be affected, and it is hard to say what will happen in the long-term, apart from the fact that we can expect the loss of a few more species.

Wildlife consumption isn’t just risky to human health. The wildlife trade that comes along with it poses an ecological risk to our biodiversity. While wildlife trade is already made illegal, the reason it still goes on is because there is a demand for it. Think back to how fragile the ecosystem is – breaking one link somewhere along the chain will affect everything else. Thus if enforcement and regulation on wildlife trade are not as effective, what we can do to prevent any more wildlife trade is to stop the consumption of wildlife.

Photos from here 

It’s just like sharks’ fin soup. As more people see the importance their choices and actions have on fuelling the demand for sharks’ fin, they gradually abstain from eating sharks’ fin soup. Greater awareness also led to restaurants removing the dish from their menus. Slowly, but surely, there will be no more reason to hunt for sharks’ fins anymore.

The same thing can happen for such exotic wildlife, if and only if we work towards that goal collectively.

Written by: Ernest


WHO. (2017, July 19). Zoonoses. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

NCEZID. (2017, July 14). Zoonotic Diseases. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

WHO. (2017, October 13). Diseases. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Campbell, C., & Park, A. (2020, July 23). Where Did Coronavirus Originate? Inside the Hunt to Find Out. Time. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from

Wang, H., Shao, J., Luo, X., Chuai, Z., Xu, S., Geng, M., & Gao, Z. (2020). Wildlife consumption ban is insufficient. Science, 367(6485), 1435-1435. doi:10.1126/science.abb6463

McEvoy, J. et al (2019). Two sides of the same coin – Wildmeat consumption and illegal wildlife trade at the crossroads of Asia. Biological Conservation, 238, 108197. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108197


Fantastic Fungi

Fairy Inkcaps, Coprinellus disseminatus in Singapore1

What are they?

Fungi are an extremely diverse group of single or multicellular organisms that play many crucial roles in the ecosystem. Once thought to belong to the kingdom of plants, recent developments in phylogenetic studies have shown that they are in fact more closely related to animals as they share a common protist ancestor2. Multicellular fungi consists mainly of threadlike networks of cells known as hyphae that are typically hidden from view3. The “mushroom” that we commonly see in supermarkets is actually the fruiting body of the fungus that is used to disperse the spores during reproduction. A generalised overview of the fungal lifecycle and different growth forms can be found in the diagram below.

Lifecycle of a typical fungus4


Just like the plants that supply Earth with the life-giving oxygen, Fungi also play critical roles in sustaining life on Earth. Fungi are heterotrophs. This means that, like you and me, they cannot make their own food and must consume other plants or animals for nutrients5. The key difference is that they consume decaying matter and release the essential nutrients back into the natural environment. Without them, important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus will remain locked up in the bodies of dead plants and animals and denied from future generations of organisms6. Furthermore, non-toxic species of fungi are important food sources for humans. Examples that we know and love include button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and even truffles!

Additionally, some fungi also form symbiotic relationships with plants and animals. This means that the fungal organism and its plant or animal partner perform complementary roles that are beneficial to the survival of each other. A cool example of this relationship can be found in the Fungi from the phylum Glomeromycota. Members of this phylum form tree-like structures known as arbuscular mycorrhizae within the roots of plants6. These structures allow the fungus to exchange mineral and organic nutrients with the plant host which enhances the survival of both organisms.

Cool tree-like hyphae of Glomeromycetes within the roots of plants7

Enough of the Science Lesson, What About Our Local Fungi?

Our hot and humid climate provides ideal conditions for fungi to thrive. Although not well studied, it has been estimated that the Little Red Dot is home to more than 100 species8! These range from more common species that can be spotted along our roadsides during the wet season to extremely exotic and cool looking species that are found within our rich nature reserves.

Roadside Parasol mushrooms9

The ring-like formation of the Parasol mushrooms sure brings to mind the fairy tales of childhood!

Bridal Veil Stinkhorn, Phallus indusiatus10

This particularly striking mushroom can be spotted around our local forests and gardens. The cap of the fruiting body produces a pungent and sticky sweet liquid to attract insects to aid in spore dispersal3.

Common Puffball, Calvatia spp.3

The Common Puffball has a very interesting method of spore dispersal. While the spores of most mushrooms fall from gills on the underside of their caps, the puffball holds it’s spores within the fruiting body itself and explodes when disturbed by passing animals or falling branches3!

Bio luminescent species, Singapore8

Other cool mushrooms that can be found include species that bio luminesce as they produce a molecule known as “luciferin”11. Scientists hypothesize that this is to attract insects at night for enhanced spore dispersal! This striking phenomenon can be seen in the picture below.

These are just a small sample of the myriad of interesting fungal species that can be found in Singapore. With the rainy season coming up, I urge you to keep an eye out for these little fellas as you go about your daily activities. However, do enjoy them from a distance and do not pick them as some of them might be toxic! Until next time!

Written by: Noel






Sorry, this is not available in your region.

Have you ever been on a video streaming platform and saw this error message? I’ve always wondered if those who can see the video get a similar message like  “This is only available in your region”. Often, we do not appreciate the little things that only we have. What makes Singapore unique? Is it using tissue packets to chope seats, our special chicken rice, or systems like the CPF? Well, some animal species can only be found in Singapore!

In the previous blog post, it was mentioned that invasive species can cause harm to native ones. But what exactly are native species, and how about endemic species? 

Native species are organisms that occur in an area without human interference. Endemic species are a subset of native species. However, they can only be found in that area and nowhere else. Endemic species can be generally classified into two categories: paleoendemic or neoendemic. Paleoendemic species are “survivors” of a taxon. While they may have been more widespread in the past, they can only be found in limited areas now because of environmental changes over the centuries. Neoendemic species are those that adapt to geographically isolated environments and evolve into separate species. This means that endemic species (especially paleoendemic ones) are often found in limited environments and more susceptible to climate change and other human activities (Carmona, Ortiz & Musarella 2019).

Species that can be found in Singapore are largely similar to those in Malaysia. Even today, there is evidence that some populations in Singapore originated from Johor or even the Riau islands (Yong 2012). Nonetheless, Singapore does have its own species not found anywhere else in the world. Three such species are the Singapore Freshwater Crab (Johora singaporensis), Hanguana rubinea, and the Brown Peachia Anemone (Synpeachia temasek).


Ong Xin Rui (2014).

The Singapore Freshwater Crab is just 2-3 cm big and is the most active at night (Tan,2013). They help to eat leaf litter, which aids in the nutrient cycle in its environment. Furthermore, they prey on smaller creatures and are prey to larger organisms and as such an important species in the food web (Ng et al, 2015).

The latest research shows that the Singapore Freshwater Crab can only be found in three isolated areas, of which two are not under any legal protection. Worryingly, the population in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is under threat, probably due to acid rain (Ng et al 2014). Hence, conserving endemic species goes beyond just making sure that their habitats are designated as nature reserves. Legal protection is not a panacea to ensuring a species’ survival. We need to be mindful of our actions as a whole and be constantly on the lookout on the effects of our activities.

Due to our limited land area, there will always be difficulty balancing between material progress and conservation. Hopefully, consideration will be given to areas endemic species call home. It is heartening to see the expansion of our nature park networks, which help to protect our nature reserves and link together the various areas of ecological importance (NParks).

Another endemic species in Singapore is the newly discovered Hanguana rubinea.

Reuben Lim (2018), reproduced with permission.

H. rubinea was first described in 2015. Before this, they were all misidentified as Hanguana malayana. Other than the ruby-red fruits, they all look rather similar. (Škorničková & Boyce 2015).

 H. rubinea can be found in Bukit Timah, Mandai, MacRitchie, and Seletar. They produce red fruits that ooze yellow when damaged. Together with H. triangulata, which produces white fruits, these berries which come in our national colours served as a timely reminder to protect our biodiversity as we celebrated our SG50 Golden Jubilee. (Lee, 2015)


‘Brown’ Peachia anemone (Synpeachia temasek) by Ria Tan(2013) licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Brown Peachia Anemone (Synpeachia temasek) can be found in the waters off Changi, Bedok, and Chek Jawa. As they are often buried in the sand, with only their white “mouth” and tentacles showing, they may be mistaken for the Common Peachia Anemone, which is cream coloured and of a separate genus altogether (Yap et al).

Despite being such a small country, there is still room for us to learn and discover. Even today, it is still possible for us to lose species before it is even discovered. Who knows what treasures lie in our forests and coastal areas waiting to be found?

Written by: Ee Kin


Carmona, Eusebio Cano, et al. “Introductory Chapter: Endemism as a Basic Element for the Conservation of Species and Habitats.” IntechOpen, IntechOpen, 4 Mar. 2019,

Yong, Ding Li. “Massive Deforestation in Southern Peninsula Malaysia Driving Ecological Change in Singapore?” Nature in Singapore, vol.5, 2012, p 285-289.

Tan, Sze Peng, and Yixiong Cai. “NParks Buzz.” The Endangered Singapore Crab,


Ng, Daniel J.j., et al. Conservation Strategy for the Singapore Freshwater Crab Johora Singaporensis , May 2015

Ng, Daniel J.j., et al. “Conservation Challenges and Action for the Critically Endangered Singapore Freshwater Crab Johora Singaporensis.” Oryx, vol. 49, no. 2, 2014, pp. 345–351., doi:10.1017/s0030605313000707.

“Nature Park Network.” National Parks Board, 19 Aug. 2020,


Yap, Nicholas Wei Liang, et al. “Sea Anemones of Singapore:Synpeachia Temaseknew Genus, New Species, and Redescription OfMetapeachia Tropica(Cnidaria: Actiniaria: Haloclavidae).” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, vol. 127, no. 3, 2014, pp. 439–454., doi:10.2988/0006-324x-127.3.439.

Leong-Škorničková, J., and P.c. Boyce. “Hanguana in Singapore Demystified: an Overview with Descriptions of Three New Species and a New Record.” Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore, vol. 67, no. 01, 2015, p. 01., doi:10.3850/s2382581215000010.

Lee, Regina Marie. Two New Plant Species Native to Singapore Found Read More at Https://, 5 June 2015,