Do you have a five-dollar bill? If you do, have you taken a close look at the design of the bill? If you take a closer look, you’ll notice a large tree in the background of the bill but have you wondered what that tree was?
Well, you might’ve guessed based on the title of this post that it is the Tembusu tree!
The Tembusu tree (Fragraea fragrans) is an evergreen tree from the family Gentianaceae that can be found in Singapore. In fact, the Tembusu tree featured in the five-dollar bill is found at Botanic Gardens, where it is deemed by NParks as a Heritage Tree.
Fragraea frangans. Its name resembles the word ‘Fragrance” doesn’t it? Well, that’s because frangans means fragrance in Latin and the Tembusu tree’s name arose from the sweet smell that its flowers give off.
The most distinctive feature about the Tembusu tree is its deeply fissured bark. When I was first introduced to the Tembusu tree, the guides even told me that the Tembusu tree looks “out of place” in Singapore because of its thick bark that resembles insulation (which is odd for a tree native to South East Asia, where temperatures are almost hot all year round).
When you come across older trees, you might notice a distinctive branching pattern in the Tembusu tree. With sufficient space, the branches of the Tembusu tree will grow out horizontally before abruptly growing vertically again, creating a sharp bend in its perpendicular branching pattern that is a signature of the Tembusu tree.
The Tembusu tree’s flowers start out white and mature into a yellow hue and give off a strong, sweet scent during the morning and evenings. Its fruits, when ripe, are round berries that are contain lots of seeds which provide food for many different species.
The wood of the Tembusu tree is hard and durable, making it commonly used for building houses, bridges, rafters and chopping boards amongst other things in the past. That being said, perhaps let’s spare the 150-year-old Tembusu tree in Botanic Gardens, shall we?
What is it: Huh? Colugo? Simi lai eh?? (translation: what on earth is that?). Well, given its elusive nature and well camouflaged body, it is not surprising that these creatures are not commonly spotted by visitors to our nature parks. Colugos are arboreal (meaning tree dwelling) gliding creatures belonging to the order dermoptera and family cynocephalidae, of which there are 2 extant and 2 extinct species . The species we have in Singapore is the Malayan Colugo or, if you are feeling particularly intellectual, you can tell your friends that you have seen a Galeopterus variegates!
How does it look like: Given that a picture paints a thousand words, let’s look at a picture of one. We can see that the Malayan colugo has fur that is mottled grey (2) or brown that is sometimes tinged with green. It is this abstract pattern that allows it to blend in so well with the canopy, making it difficult to spot.
Additionally, it has two large, forward facing eyes bestowing it with fantastic binocular vision . This could be what allows it to judge distances accurately when gliding from tree to tree. Complete with its small cupped ears, its face is certainly one that is very cute indeed! However, its party trick are its huge membranes (scientifically known as patagium) that extend from limb to limb, even in between its digits in order to give it as large a surface area as possible . Just like Batman’s cape, these membranes allow it to glide amongst the canopy, hence giving rise to its other common name, which is the flying lemur. Here’s a picture of its pretty insane looking patagium in action!
Picture from livescience.com
Picture from injusticfanon.fandom.com
What does it eat: The diet of the Malayan Colugo consists mainly of leaves, flowers and young shoots along with some insects . It even consumes durian flowers which might not seem like good news for those durian lovers out there! However, it also performs crucial ecological functions such as seed dispersal  so it’s a pretty important member of the forest as well!
Where can you find it: The Malayan Colugo is mainly found in nature reserves such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) as well as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Outside of nature reserves, parks such as Bukit Batok park also harbour some populations . I have also personally seen a few at Hindhede nature park (which is next to the BTNR) as well as on trees growing next to the golf courses of the Singapore Island Country Club.
Other interesting trivia: Did you know that the Malayan Colugo can glide up to 100m  while losing only 10m in elevation? Also, having lived in trees all its life, you might think that the colugo would be an adept climber but it is far from it! It uses a clumsy hopping motion  to move up and down trees which is not exactly the most elegant method of locomotion. Lastly, the colugo rarely ever ventures to the ground, not even to defecate! Here’s a picture of it defecating from a tree!
As you can see, it has to lift its tail and wrap the membrane over its body just to take a poop. Looks really weird doesn’t it! Attached below is a fascinating video on how the colugo hops up trees and glides. Enjoy!
Well, that’s all from me today. I hope that this post has given you folks a better understanding of the colugo, which is just one of the many interesting creatures inhabiting our forests. Until next time!
The wind grew stronger as the dark clouds loomed. The meeting point was crowded with people from the approaching rain. Even the resident long-tailed macaques were indoors to seek shelter. It was a quarter to nine when our guides started to worry. Will the trail carry on or will it be cancelled? Just as the clock struck nine, the clouds started to part and the sun shone brightly on MacRitchie Reservoir Park. It was time to commence the trail!
Our five nature guides and six participants made their way to the start of Petai Trail for the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) Drongos guided walk. As they began, the team spotted the native red jungle fowl from its distinctive call. Who would have known that such a brightly-coloured and loud animal could be found in our forests?
As our guides shared about the history of Macritchie Reservoir Park as a plantation and a kampong¸ they pointed out distinctive plants that have remained through the ages. They included the tall and majestic chewing gum tree (also known as the Jelutong), and the twirling rattan tree.
The trail was filled with the sights and sounds of many of Singapore’s native wildlife. Thanks to our nature guides, our team was able to spot and identify a wide diversity of animals such as the pin striped-tit babbler, long-tailed macaques and common sun skink.
Long-tailed Macaques (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
Common Sun Skink (Photo by Nicholas Lim)
As the trail came to an end, the group was greeted by a cool breeze along the reservoir. It had been an exciting and informative trail, with both the participants and nature guides learning more about Macritchie Reservoir Park from each other.
If you are interested to learn more about the wildlife in Macritchie, then join us for a free guided walk at Petai Trail by signing up here. Our friendly nature guides would love to take you on a trail you will not forget!
It’s just been slightly more than two months into 2017 but we’ve had so much going on! Three walks have already been concluded, and we’ve also had a booth at the Biodiversity Roadshow in NUS. But apart from all the guiding action, BES Drongos has also undergone several revamps!
Our flock has expanded!
As with every new semester, BES Drongos has recruited new members to join our flock. This time, we have a record addition of 15 new Dronglets into our BES Drongos family!
Our new guides have been all trained up, and are ready to put up a good show for you. Do join us in our remaining walks to catch both them and our more senior guides in action!
Besides guides, we have also formed up a new writing team and photography team to bring you more insights into our biodiversity and all the action happening at our walks, so stay tuned!
A brand new committee
Just like ecological succession in our forests, change in leadership is also a natural progression for us here at BES Drongos. With committee handovers completed, a new team is born! We have a diverse team comprised of Drongos from Year 1 all the way to Year 3, and we sure hope this diversity will give BES Drongos a breath of fresh air!
Presenting, the BES Drongos Committee 2017/18:
President: Lee Juin Bin
Vice President: Sandra Chia
Secretary: Chow Tak Wei
Volunteer Manager(s): Sara Choo & Chua Ying Zhi
Research and Training Head: Quek Xiao Tong
Publicity Officer(s): Angela Chan, Ashley Tan and Nicholas Lim
With new blood and a new team, we are definitely stoked for what’s ahead, and we hope you are too!
Cock-a-doodle-doo~ The year of the rooster is here! In certain parts of Singapore, you can still see the ancestors of the domesticated chicken, which are the Red Junglefowls! For those who have joined us on our walks, you might recall seeing or hearing this bird near the start of our trail. And yes, it is a bird, that CAN fly! Many people think that they can’t fly, but when the Red Junglefowls are disturbed, they can very well fly. They even roosts in the tree.
While the numbers of the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) may appear to be on the rise in Singapore, not every ‘chicken’ that you see may be it! Many are the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus); some are hybrids. The Red Junglefowl is the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken, and can be distinguished by its white ear patches, white rump patch and grey legs. While its call may initially sound like the familiar ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’, listen carefully, and you will realise that it actually ends abruptly (versus the trailing end note of the domestic chicken)! It is believed that the Red Junglefowls on Pulau Ubin are of pure stock, and while individuals (probably) do occur on the mainland together with their domestic counterparts, it is difficult to tell for sure as hybrids can look very similar. One thing’s for certain though, the Year of the Rooster is upon us, and we’d like to wish all a Happy Lunar New Year (else happy holidays)!
Throwback to one month ago, we conducted our last public walk for this semester. Here’s a a BIG thank you from all of us at BES Drongos, and our namesake Greater racket-tailed drongo, for all the support you have given to us all this time!
A quick summary
From September to November 2016, we conducted 4 public guided walks and as always, it has been real fun for us to share with the public the interesting animals and plants of MacRitchie forest. Even after many guided walks, the nature and biodiversity of the forest still never fail to amaze us! We got to meet cool creatures, and for some of us here at BES Drongos, it was the first time we got to see these animals in person! Another memorable walk will definitely be on 6th November, when we encountered a fallen tree across the Petai Trail.
Other than the public walks, the other main highlight for this semester will be that our flock of BES Dronglets has once again grown larger, with many new juniors joining the team of volunteers! Read on to find out more and to see some photos about our highlights for this semester.
During August, the BES programme ushered in our 5th batch of students and with that, BES Drongos decided to conduct a walk specially for the students of BES. Other than to share with the BES students about native flora and fauna, we also hoped to inspire more students to join us on this movement. The turnout was great and our BES Drongo flock has since then successfully expanded with 14 new volunteers! Many of the new volunteer are in their freshmen year, so we are very excited for any new ideas that these young bloods can bring to the team.
As per the usual practice, our new Dronglets underwent both indoor and outdoor training under the supervision of existing guides. On top of that, the new Dronglets received special training by the team from LoveMacRitchie as well (big thanks to the LoveMacRitchie team). Some of the new volunteers have already guided in our walks so do sign up for our walks in future to meet these new passionate guides!
A first for the BES Drongos
Other than new people, we also met with many new creatures for the first time! This includes one of the most raved about animal in the recent months – the adorable Oriental Boobook, also known as the brown hawk owl. In November, when Bukit Timah Hill first reopened, everyone was very excited to find the Oriental Boobook near the visitor centre. The BES Drongos was also lucky to have seen one earlier during our October walk along Petai Trail. We also saw an Asian paradise flycatcher and a Crow-billed drongo for the first time during our walks.
Asian paradise flycatcher (Photo by Sandra Chia)
Crow-billed drongo (Photo by Sandra Chia)
Besides these popular birds, there’s also the cool invertebrate critters that can be found in our forest. BES Drongos are learning more about these critters and training our skills in spotting them so that we can show them to you on future walks. These critters are often overlooked due to their smaller size but they play a huge role in our forest as well, and many of them have their own awesome stories to share.
Yamfly, Loxura atymnus fuconius (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Ornate Coraltail, Ceriagrion cerinorubellum (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Scalloped spreadwing, Lestes praemorsus (Photo by Chloe Tan)
Rhyothemis obsolescens (Chloe Tan)
A kind of orb weaver (Chloe Tan)
Unexpected tree fall
The final highlight for this semester we’d like to share is the tree fall that we encountered during one of our November walks. Because of the tree fall, The guides and participants took a walk on the wild side and had to climb over the tree fall in order to continue with the trail. Good job to the brave and adventurous bunch!
Tree falls can happen naturally in our forest due to old age, diseases or bad weather conditions (such as storms). As the Petai Trail lines the edge of the MacRitchie Reservoir, these trees are more exposed to the strong winds during storms. Trees in poorer health are particularly vulnerable during such tumultuous weather conditions. While tree falls tend to be seen as something dangerous and disastrous, it can actually bring about new opportunities for the forest. When a tree falls in the forest, it creates a treefall gap and such disturbance can help maintain the diversity of plants by providing some other species a chance of growing as well.
That being said, the effects of tree falls are mixed and things do not necessarily change for the better all the time. High rates of tree falls can be an indication that the forest is succumbing to Edge Effects, a phenomenon exacerbated by fragmentation of the forest, where the forest’s edges increasingly become exposed and vulnerable. Sudden tree falls along our forest trail can be dangerous for the trail users as well. However, despite the potential dangers that tree falls bring, it should not deter you from exploring our forest! Just remember to stay safe while on forest trails and head out of the forest in times of bad weather.
Also, here’s what you can do if you encounter a tree fall along the trails in our nature reserves:
Call NParks’ 24hour hotline at 18004717300
Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drop them a PM on their Facebook page to attach photos
Till next year!
With that, we’ve come to the end of the summary post of this round. The BES Drongos will be a taking a break and we’ll be back in January 2017 so do stay tune for more updates. This month is also the month that site investigations for the Cross Island Line will begin. This gives us even more reason to continue sharing about our wonderful forest and how it should be protected from the potential impacts brought about by the site investigations.
The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!