Journey to Becoming a Rockstar: Discovering Geography in Ubin

As a reader of this blog, you might already know plenty about the amazing biodiversity in Singapore, ranging from pitcher plants to crocodiles. While these flora and fauna are certainly interesting, have you read about the amazing life of rocks in Singapore? If not, sit tight as I introduce to you one of the many types of rocks in Singapore!

Seemingly unimportant, yet found everywhere, Singapore has a surprisingly large variety of rocks despite our small size. I would even argue that they are the bedrock (pun intended) of every aspect of the Singapore we know and love today. Before we begin, allow me to give you a quick crash course about rocks.

Understanding Rocks

There are 3 types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.

Firstly, we have igneous rocks. Derived from the Latin word for fire, these rocks are formed from solidified lava or magma (Rocks Information, 2017). These rocks are generally hard and can be commonly found in Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin (Friess & Oliver, 2015). Picture 1 depicts granite, an igneous rock.

picture 1
Picture 1: Granite, an igneous rock. , Taken from: http://geologylearn.blogspot.com/2015/03/granite.html

Secondly, we have sedimentary rocks. As its name suggests, these rocks are formed by sediments. Transporting agents like rivers transport and deposit these sediments, causing them to pile up. With layers of sediments piling on top of one another, the bottommost layers eventually fuse together to form a new type of rock (Rocks Information, 2017). Such rocks can be found in Jurong and Sentosa (Friess & Oliver, 2015). Picture 2 depicts sandstone, a sedimentary rock.

picture 2
Picture 2: Sandstone, a sedimentary rock., Taken from: https://www.minimegeology.com/home/mgeo/page_84/banded_sandstone_sedimentary_rock.html

Thirdly, we have metamorphic rocks. When igneous or sedimentary rocks experience high temperatures and pressures, they transform (or undergo metamorphosis) to form metamorphic rocks (Rocks Information, 2017). These rocks are the least common ones in Singapore due to the lack of high pressure and temperature we usually need to form them (Friess & Oliver, 2015). Picture 3 depicts gneiss, a metamorphic rock.

picture 3
Picture 3: Gneiss, a metamorphic rock., Ttaken from: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/earth/metamorphicrocks.html

Armed with some basic background information about rocks, let us now go on a virtual field trip in Pulau Ubin through my phone lens.

Pulau Ubin

For those who have never been there, Pulau Ubin is an Island located in northeastern Singapore. Despite experiencing no geologic activity today, Singapore saw frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions a mere 250 million years ago (Friess & Oliver, 2015). “Old” Singapore was comparable to today’s Indonesia. The upwelling of magma and the occasional volcanic eruptions translate to a large amount of igneous rocks being formed. Most of Singapore, Pulau Ubin included, sits on large igneous rocks.

Picture 1 above shows an igneous rock known as granite. It consists of visible grains of greyish-white feldspar, black mica and transparent quartz. These crystals are visible because the magma cooled slowly underground over a long period of time. Eventually, erosion of the land on top revealed these rocks. Since these rocks are more resistant to erosion (because of how hard they are), they result in the “hilly” appearance of Pulau Ubin (and Bukit Timah) (Friess & Oliver, 2015) as seen in the picture 4 below.

picture 4
Picture 4: Ubin is the dark coloured, hilly part of the picture in the background! Photo: Lee Yang

In our hot and wet climate, feldspar in granite weather quickly. Surfaces of granite exposed to water (especially the corners) decompose, causing the parent rocks to become smaller and rounder (Friess & Oliver, 2015). Such rounded rocks are common in Singapore, Ubin included. Picture 5 shows one of such rocks in the process of rounding. As we can see, most of the rock is still “trapped” underground and perhaps a few thousand years later, more of the rock will be exposed!

picture 5
Picture 5: One of the many granite rocks still stuck underground in Ubin. Photo: Lee Yang

Feldspar decomposes into clay, which is then transported by water and carried to the sea. In Chek Jawa, I saw a mini delta formed by a small river. In Picture 6 below, we can see the river as it heads into the sea and deposits the clay particles in the delta, forming the mud of the mangrove. Mangroves are very important habitats that provide many ecoservices such as being nurseries for fishes and coastal protection (Brander, et al., 2012), and one mightc say that without all this mud, the mangroves would not be present. On a side note, Picture 7 below shows a Black Spitting Cobra we encountered! Needless to say, the mangrove was teeming with life, and I argue that the geography (climate and geology included) of Singapore plays a fundamental role in sustaining Singapore’s high biodiversity. Hence, as we appreciate the diverse wildlife of Singapore, let us not forget the seemingly unchanging and boring rocks for breathing life into Singapore. I hope that this post has given a small preview of the complexity of the world and the beautiful web of relationships present, allowing you to better appreciate the Earth for everything it has and have made our planet just that bit more precious to you.

Picture 6
Picture 6: Can you see all the clay deposited by the stream? Photo: Lee Yang

picture 7
Picture 7: A well camouflaged Black Spitting Cobra. Can you see it? Photo: Lee Yang

Written by: Lee Yang

References:

Brander, L. M., Wagtendonk, A. J., Hussain, S. S., Mcvittie, A., Verburg, P. H., Groot, R. S., & Ploeg, S. V. (2012). Ecosystem service values for mangroves in Southeast Asia: A meta-analysis and value transfer application. Ecosystem Services,1(1), 62-69. doi:10.1016/j.ecoser.2012.06.003

Friess, D. A., & Oliver, G. J. (2015). Dynamic environments of Singapore. Singapore: McGraw Hill.

Rocks Information and Facts. (2017, January 18). Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth/inside-the-earth/rocks/

Advertisements

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.

1

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

2

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.

3

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)

Look At All This Global Warming

The other day I stumbled upon this on my twitter feed:

1.png

Ironically, she’s making quite a good statement about climate change!

While I strongly believe that climate change deniers constitute a very vocal minority with an oversized internet megaphone, I still physically cringed when I saw that tweet. Fortunately, there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that global warming is a real issue which can manifest itself in many ways (including more intense weather conditions like the blizzard the girl is posing in). In fact, there is an entire international group dedicated to quantifying climate change and its implications on the world – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is UN’s massive team of scientists dedicated to conducting research on climate change; their main goal is to churn out reports that can inform governments on the ‘what’s, ‘why’s and ‘how’s of everything related to climate change. Just last year, they published SR15, a report which was honestly quite scary for someone like me who had only just begun to learn about the environment in depth.

Essentially, the report concluded that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C instead of 2°C by 2030 (at the very latest) or we risk causing too much irreversible damage. The entire report itself is way too comprehensive and detailed for any average person to fully read through, which means that even their executive summary is 30 pages long!

2.png

From the official IPCC website (click to be directed)

For Singapore and the SEA region in general, the main concerns include climate change’s impact on marine biodiversity and ecosystems. To put things into perspective, it is predicted that by 2050, a global temperature rise of 1.5°C will drive the decline of 70% to 90% of all coral reefs; with a rise of 2°C or more, more than 99% are at risk! It is indeed quite disheartening to think that it is possible see the loss of such large ecosystems in our lifetimes.

Beyond the risk of species extinction and shrinking marine populations, this may also affect our local food supply. With increasing ocean acidification and rising sea levels, global warming has already been observed to cause declines in the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture; considering the fact that crop yields and the nutritional value of these crops are also expected to diminish, this spells some trouble for global food security.

Apart from affecting marine resources, SR15 studied over 10,000 species and found that among them, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their habitat ranges. This is definitely not surprising when you look at the spate of recent extinctions and a growing list of endangered species.

There are other implications as mentioned in SR15, of course, and I would recommend anyone truly interested to read the executive summary. Otherwise, here are some pretty neat infographics by WWF:

3.png

4.png

Source: WWF at COP24

Fortunately, Singapore takes climate change quite seriously. In fact, the recent Singapore Budget 2019 addressed a bit of how our country has and will continue to adapt and mitigate. Quite in tandem with what SR15 suggests, we have a mix of adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to global warming. For instance, the budget includes how we have some infrastructural adaptations to rising sea levels and also some mitigation measures like restructuring diesel taxes. Notably, last year’s plan to implement a carbon tax has finally been implemented at the start of 2019.

As average Singaporeans, there’s so much we can do to contribute to the cause! Besides the usual advice of going vegetarian or using less disposables, it is also important to be open minded and help spread the good word to those that are not aware of the pressing issues surrounding climate change. Perhaps this is best done by inspiring a love for nature in them first, and perhaps this can be done by inviting them for a nature walk with us!

Written by: Afiq Sulaiman

Finding Samurai

They can’t say for sure how old he is, or how healthy he is. They’re not certain which trees he sleeps in at night. But they know he is alone, and that’s how they knew to call him Samurai.

The Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group couldn’t exist without pure optimism. Deforestation and urbanization have pushed the native critically endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur population further and further into the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, where they have dwindled down to fifty individuals. On top of that, the working group discovered in early 2018 that a male individual had been separated from his troop, and was wandering an isolated patch of forest alone. During my brief time as an intern at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), I stumbled over roots and pricked my fingers on thorns as I followed the volunteers, combing the forest patch, mornings and afternoons, day after day, for the slightest sign of him.

Here’s what it all comes down to: we need every single Raffles’ Banded Langur out there; every individual that carries the genes of the Presbytis femoralis femoralis is precious. A lost male is a lost parent is a lost generation. Samurai has to be taken out of that isolated forest patch where no one but a troop of wary macaques even remotely looks like him, and returned to his own troop.

The key is the sleeping tree. When a volunteer spots him resting on a tree, a ribbon goes around that trunk. Sometimes the trees are so old that it takes two of us on either side, giving its wide girth as tight a bear hug as we can manage, so that our outstretched fingers can meet each other just long enough to pass the ribbon over. We do this over and over, because we’re not sure which ones he sleeps in at night, which ones he naps in, and which ones he just plain sits and takes a dump in. Most shifts, we don’t even see him, just the bounce in the canopy as he bolts from our sight, leaving us with a heavy rustling. But once the all-important tree is identified, a team of specialists will sneak into the forest before dawn and gather around it. They will scan the overhead boughs for Samurai’s sleeping form. They will aim and shoot a tranquilizing dart, and if all goes well, he will be falling into a net and whisked away before he even begins to understand that something’s out of the ordinary.

Once he’s determined to be healthy, he will be reunited with his troop. That is, if all goes well. If they ever find his sleeping tree. If he doesn’t get spooked and abandon his usual haunts. It would all be so much easier if they could just read his mind, but you don’t try to get into the head of a wild animal the way you invent gadgets to translate dog barks. You observe and take notes and do what you can, because you weren’t evolved to be best buddies or to gently place your hands palm to palm like in Tarzan. You’re just two components of the same world. In Singapore, not many of us become close friends with our neighbours. But we sweep the corridor and press the lift button for each other and turn down the music at night.

On my last ever shift, I was re-entering the forest for a second round, and a silhouette leapt from a disturbance in the canopy and landed on a branch just a few metres from me, low enough that I only had to raise my head a little to see. My eyes were caught off guard and unfocused, but I remember that our gazes met. I turned to softly call my companion, and then he was already nothing more than the sound of branches crashing in the distance. You must have seen the ubiquitous Long-tailed Macaque before, so imagine this: twice as large, black hair instead of brown, tinged very slightly with purple. Limbs somehow stockier. Tail always longer than you expect; white smudges on the abdomen and the inner sides of the arms and legs. Quiet, inscrutable.

profile_s.jpg

Photo: Sabrina Jabbar

Written by: Qiu Jiahui

 

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.

1.png

(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.

Never_Smile_at_a_Crocodile_restored_version.gif

“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 ♫

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

(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.

9.png

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!

Untitled

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!

Untitled2

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

 

Meat Lovers: Pitcher Plants

You’ve probably seen pitcher plants around. After all, they are a common sight in nurseries and at pasar malam markets. They are well known for being carnivorous, trapping small insects inside fluid-filled jugs where they unfortunately meet their sorry end. But what exactly are pitcher plants and why are they so different from normal plants?

The term “pitcher plant” generally refers to any carnivorous plant with pitchers that trap insects. This includes several families of organisms such as Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae .

Untitled1.png

Image: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090804081545.htm

So, how do these plants catch their prey? Basically, insects make a beeline for the pitchers, attracted by their colour or the smell they emit. However, when they stand on the peristome, also known as the edge of the pitcher, they fall in, landing in a pool of enzyme-containing fluids where they are slowly broken down into simpler nutrients such as amino acids [2] [3].

Untitled2.png

Image: https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/-SS2521889.html

Pitcher fluid contains more than just insect-digesting enzymes. In fact, the components that make up the fluid of different types of pitcher plants vary. While generally acidic, the fluid in certain species are mostly made up of rainwater that collects in the pitcher, while those in other species contain more secretions from the plant itself. Pitchers also have an operculum, or lid. In some species, the operculum prevents rainwater from entering the pitcher diluting its fluids.

Untitled3.png

Image: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/growing-pitcher-plants/

Pitcher plants generally live in areas where the soil does not have enough nutrients for typical plants to thrive. Therefore, they rely on insects to obtain sufficient amounts of what they are unable to get from the ground. However, pitcher plants still photosynthesise to produce glucose. Insects are only a replacement for substances they would otherwise have absorbed from the soil.

It is interesting to note that many species of pitcher plants are not closely related to one another, suggesting convergent evolution – different organisms independently evolved to have this particular appearance and insect-trapping ability. For example, the Australian pitcher plant is more closely related to starfruit than to other species of pitchers [7]. It’s pretty amazing how all these different pitcher plants adapted to their situation in similar ways.

So the next time you see one of these protein-guzzling plants around, do remember that they’re simply doing what they can to live their life to the fullest, just like you and me.

References:

[1]: https://www.britannica.com/plant/pitcher-plant

[2]: https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/pitcher_plant.htm

[3]: https://www.botany.one/2013/10/adapted-kill-pitcher-plant-traps-prey/

[4]: https://academic-oup-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/aob/article/107/2/181/188441

[5]: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150420-the-giant-plants-that-eat-meat

[6]: https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/questions/carnivorous-plants-can-photosynthesise-so-why-eat-flies

[7]: https://www.nature.com/news/how-plants-evolved-into-carnivores-1.21425

 

 

The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!