Tag Archives: hairy clidemia

Planet of the Apes! Kind of.

Hey all! With the public walks coming up, BES Drongos have been going down every weekend to hone our guiding skills. It’s been hard work but fun at the same time.

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BES Drongos Flock:)

This post will be slightly different as it will be both about the creatures that we saw and about invasive species. We hope not only to show what the BES Drongos are doing but also to show readers how nature works.

So, what is an invasive species?

As you can infer from the video, they are usually an exotic (not native) flora or fauna that has a negative impact on the local environment. They usually thrive in the introduced environment and can outcompete local species (which is a fancy way of saying they can snatch away precious food, water and other natural resources). It’s kind of like Planet of the Apes, only that highly evolved apes are more often than not highly evolved plants and smaller creatures and the people who are being terrorized are the local biodiversity, which might or might not include us.

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Hairy Clidemia

A famous example of invasive species is the Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta). This hairy leaf is commonly seen along the edges of our forest and is found throughout Singapore. While this plant might look innocuous, it has spread from its native continent (South America) to as far as Australia. Producing about 500 fruits in a single year, it is capable of outcompeting local plant species by sheer reproductive capacity. This has given it its nickname, Koster’s Curse. Koster, in fact, was the man who introduced this species to Hawaii. The plant wrecked such havoc on the coconut plantations there that it was considered a curse. Hence, Koster’s Curse, which in hindsight might not exactly be the legacy you want to leave behind.

However, as of the time this post is written, the Hairy Clidemia is not considered an invasive species in Singapore. This is because it is currently found only at forest edges and not within the forest itself. However, this does not mean it has no effect on the local ecosystem.

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Look familiar? A Red-eared Slider as seen in Bishan

It’s not just plants that are invading our local forests, animals are too. The cause this time, are Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans). They don’t sound familiar? I’m pretty sure you have seen them before, just take a look at the picture below.

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Red eared sliders spotted by the boardwalk along the Petai Trail

They’re the cute terrapins that you had as pets as kids. Small and placid, they were perfect when you were little. However, these terrapins live for up to 30 years and grow much bigger. They’re no longer able to keep them in those small, blue plastic tanks. These terrapins, more often than not, are released into reservoirs and ponds. They’re in their natural environment, right?

Wrong! These Red-eared Sliders originate from the Land of the Free, USA. They’re brought over here because they’re so popular as pets. When people release them into our ponds, they start competing with our local turtle species for basking and nesting sites. This has led to a great decline in numbers of local turtles. They’re so successful as an invasive species that places like Australia and Europe has banned the trade of them. Maybe it’s time for Singapore to do the same.

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Green Crested Lizard, spotted along Petai Trail

Another example of local species being outcompeted by invasive species is the displacement of the Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) by the Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor). The pictures are both Green Crested Lizards, native to Singapore. As you can see, they’re a brilliant green-bluish colour though (as seen above), prior to mating, the lizard has been observed to change into a dark brown colour (as seen below).

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Another Green Crested Lizard though not quite green. This is likely due to the mating season.

In Singapore, these lizards have often been displaced by the more aggressive Changeable Lizard, an exotic species. Now, Green Crested Lizards can rarely be found in urban areas and forest edges but are still frequently seen in our nature reserves and forests.

Photo taken from Ecology Asia
Changeable Lizard, photo taken from Ecology Asia

However, we cannot always blame the invasive species for the fall in local diversity.  These species could simply be moving into abandoned areas, rather than outcompeting native species. What do I mean? Take for example the construction of a park. This would undeniably change the natural habitat from a forest to an urban area. Native species, unused to such an environment, would eventually leave because they cannot find food and other necessities. Hence, it would be inaccurate to say that the invasive species are the cause of displacement of native species when they are simply expanding into an abandoned area.

Habitat disruption as a matter of fact is far more likely to be a greater threat towards biodiversity than invasive species. Habitat disruptions is a global trend and occurs even in Singapore. A very recent example that its currently happening in the Johor straits would be the reclamation of land causing destruction of coral habitats, or the clearance of existing forests to build more housing. These are just some examples of habitat disruptions that have changed natural habitats to such great extent that native species can simply die out. This trend is so prevalent in our time that many scientists are now certain that we are going through the 6th Mass Extinction! This is frightening if you consider how the last Mass Extinction was the period by which the dinosaurs went extinct. So, here’s a short video that would tell you more about this event and why we should worry about this.

Well, all these issues might seem insurmountable and a problem best left to the authorities and experts. That’s not exactly true. This problem is our problem and sticking your head under the sand like an ostrich is not going to make it go away. Such large issues need both global and community action and your choice to be aware of such an issue can be a tipping point for your community. We encourage you to read, research, join our guided walks and watch more TED videos in order to, in the words of Jac the research officer, find out what you have to lose and then decide if you want to save it or not.

Well, we have more misadventures ahead of us whether on the Petai Trail or on the other roads of life. So, do continue to come back to read more about it!

Credit for the brilliant photos: Aw Jeanice, Ecology Asia, Jac and Rachel Lee.

For more fascinating photos, check out our Flickr account.

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Trails by Fire, the nomnomnom edition.

Hey Everyone! I hope you’re getting excited about our upcoming public walks! Trails by Fire, 24 August, happened last Sunday and it was awesome to see the great lengths that BES Drongos have improved since the start!

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Look at all the Drongos diligently guiding their fellow Drongos!

The weather was the typical unpredictable Singapore weather with odd drizzles in the middle of the trail. Thankfully, there wasn’t lightning and the drizzles were short so we pushed on. We managed to see some animals particularly the Malayan Blue Coral Snake and Malayan Pit Viper which we had seen previously on our trails. However, this post will be about something that we haven’t talked about, something that will satisfy our stomach…

NOMNOMNOM.

You guessed it: Fruits! While we humans cannot consume all the fruits of the forest, they are nonetheless a source of food for the creatures of the forest. Here are some the fruits we spotted along the trail:

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These Golden Hairy Figs (Ficus aurata) crowding at the base of the leaf does sort of look like a longan, doesn’t it? However, they are in a completely different family as their fellow tropical fruits and are inedible. This particular fig-tree can be distinguished by its distinctive stiff golden hairs that cover its leaves and fruits. It isn’t just the nickname that reflects this fig’s characteristic nature. In fact, it’s latin name, aurata, meaning glided with gold also hints at the golden hairs found on the plant. This shrub is common throughout Singapore so try to spot this enchanting tree if you can!

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Here’s another hairy fruit: the berry of the Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta). This plant is extremely common throughout Singapore and can be found on the outskirts of forests. You can easily recognized it by its hairy leaves! These sweet dark purple berries are a favorite of birds and as you can guess, are dispersed by animals. This berry is supposedly edible and taste like deeply favoured blueberries. However, one should try it with caution as you could get a stomachache.

We have encountered this particular plant many times on our trails so to read more: click here and here.

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This woody pod is not actually a seed as some of you might think; it is actually a fruit! It is the unopened seed pods of the mighty Chewing Gum Tree (Dyera costulata) or perhaps a name that you might be more familiar with: Jelutong. Well, you might be astonished to find that this brown, stiff pod is actually a fruit since we are all used to seeing our typical juicy and fleshy fruits in the supermarkets.

This is due to the mode by which the seed is dispersed from. As you can observe, this unappetizing fruit is probably not going to attract any animal to eat it. Instead, this tall tree (can grow up to 60m!) disperses its seeds via wind. The seedpod will usually open high up in the tree canopy, releasing winged seeds which will be scattered by the wind. It is similar to how your clothes sometimes fall from the bamboo poles. They are rarely found directly under the pole but some distance away!

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This blueberry lookalike is actually the fruit of the Nibong palm (Oncosperma tigillarium). The Nibong Palm is usually found in clusters near water bodies and is distinctive due to its black spine on the stem of the trees. Though the berries might look delicious, they are likely to be inedible so don’t eat them if you see them! However, should you need food desperately, the heart of the palm (inner core of the palm) can be eaten raw or cooked with coconut sauce. Yum!

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Unripe fruit of Rattan palm
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Ripe fruit of Rattan palm

This colorful, scaly fruit is from the Rattan palm (Calamus sp.)  The fruits shown above aren’t ripe yet, but they will soon take on various shades of brown. While we cannot eat it’s fruits, it is still important in the musical world!. Some of the fruits of the rattan will exude a red resin which is called, interestingly, Dragon’s Blood. It is currently being used as a vanish for violins. There are even more common uses for the rattan palms itself how the skin of rattan strands can be weaved into baskets, “cores” made into furniture and perhaps the one we are most familiar with: the rattan cane our parents used to smack us with.

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Last of all, this striped dark and light brown seed is a Rubber Seed (Hevea brasiliensis). It might look innocuous but the capsule (fruit that contains the seeds) actually exploded to throw this seed as far as possible from the parent tree. Though this seed looks rather unextraordinary, the struggle to bring these seeds out of Brazil (the native country) is fraught with bio-piracy, controversy and blood. This makes a fascinating read if you can spare the time.

Well, I hope you have been enlightened about the seeds and fruits of our forest. We’re be going about our trail soon again so do look out for our next misadventures.

For more cool photos: check out our Flickr

First Flock Session

Hello everyone! The Drongos have had their first guiding for our expanding flock! Due to stormy weather, our guiding session was pushed back for half an hour. Because we started a bit late, we did not manage to see as many animals as we did previously. However, it was still a very fruitful session with the flock picking up many new and fascinating stories about the trail!

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Jac, the ponytailed one in blue, was our official guide. Though hoarse from all her work in the zoo, she was enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable throughout the trail!

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These thick, woody Lianas can commonly be seen weaving through the gaps of trees. They are commonly referred to as Tarzan’s vines as you can very well imagine him swinging through the forest using one of these. OOOAAAOOOOO!

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The recent wet spell seems to have resulted in a great mushroom boom, and we certainly saw a pretty big variety today! They sprouted almost everywhere: from amongst the leaf litter to rotting logs. We are not quite sure what the exact species of these shrooms are but it is better to not to pick or eat any mushrooms growing in the wild. Some mushrooms can be very poisonous (even if they look pretty familiar or tasty), so try not to eat and random mushrooms you find outside your supermarket!

Branded Imperial (Eooxylides tharis distanti)

This Branded Imperial Butterfly (Eooxylides tharis distanti) was spotted perching picturesquely on the stem, allowing for this wonderful shot. It is a rather common sight and can be seen in gardens and parks all around Singapore.

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This Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta)might be a common sight along the roads of Singapore but did you know that it is an alien species? It actually originates from the American Neotropics (Mexico to Paraguay) and has invaded three continents including Africa! Its nickname, Koster’s Curse, is well-founded as it is known to grow in dense thickets and smother hence outcompeting native vegetation.

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This winged fruit is from a Diterocarp (Greek for two-winged fruit)tree, likely belonging to the Seraya genus. It’s three wings help disperse the fruits so that it would not compete with the parent tree for resources such as water and sunlight. It was great fun watching these fruits spinning down like helicopters! Moreover, these tall trees are known to be keystone species, it’s effects far outweighs its abundance, serving as a home for mammals and providing food for them. Isn’t it cool how such little seeds are so important?

Golden silk orb spider

A Golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila pilipes) was seen hanging by sidewalk, a common sight in most nature reserves in Singapore. Surprisingly, the Golden within the name does not refer the bright yellow strips on the spider but how some threads in their web glimmer like gold in sunlight.

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The Rattan (Myrialepis paradox) looks forbidding with its spiky bark but more people are familiar with it when the spikes are gone. After all, it is from this plant when our parents commonly get their canes from!

Sweat Bees (Nomia sp.)

This Halictidae (Nomia sp.) or more commonly known as Sweat Bee, seems intent on gathering nectar from this Sendudok (Melastoma malabathricum). Its nickname is apt as these bees are known to be attracted to perspiration.

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It was a fun, informative and wet session spent together with the flock! Do look out for our next exploits with our new flock and hopefully more sightings of animals!

Credit for the brilliant photos: Aw Jeanice, Judy Goh and Jac Chua

Petai Trail Recce

Hey everybody! We are the BES Petai Trail team (name pending) and we are happy to report that our first recce of the petai trail along MacRitchie Reservoir was while wet, was also very fruitful. The Petai Trail is a boardwalk that explores an intriguing area of jungle that sits right next to the reservoir itself, and is home to a variety of very interesting plants and animals. The trail itself is located 0.5km from the main MacRitchie reservoir visitor center and is a fairly easy walk. As we are still exploring the area and developing our stories to tell, please enjoy these photos we took on our first trip for now!

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We found quite a few of these shiny beetles (Colasposoma auripenne) hiding among the plants. This particular one is sitting between the leaves of a Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta).

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A Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus walgleri) was found curled up in a bush near the boardwalk. These snakes are some of the most common in Southeast Asia and is considered venomous, although this species is generally not very aggressive. However, that does not mean that it is safe to touch; as with all other wildlife, one should always admire snakes from a distance, and not provoke them!

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This Blue Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis Bivergatis) is one of our most venomous local snakes, and has been known to eat other snakes as well! Don’t worry though, staying on the boardwalk means that the snakes was largely unhindered by our presence, and simply slithered away without even bothering to take a second look at us.

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This Many-Lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata) was pretty well camouflaged in the leaf litter. These skinks are quite common in many parts of Singapore, and can be found in both primary and secondary forest and can sometimes be found in parks.

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The lovely view of the reservoir from the trail!

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The recent spate of rain has resulted in quite a few mushrooms popping up all over the place and can be found on a variety of things, from rotting logs to dead leaves. We are not too sure what kind of mushroom this is, but it sure has some nice gill ridges.

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This fabulous unidentified cricket is posing on a Singapore Rhodendron (Melastoma malabathricum), which is also commonly known as Sendudok. This plant is considered medicinal by a variety of cultures across Southeast Asia, but is often called a noxious weed in the US. 

 

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The Leaf Litter Plant (Agrostistachys longifolia) is an understory plant with leaves that grow in a spiral, that tends to catch fallen leaves, thus earning itself such an odd name. The plant directly absorbs nutrients from the decomposing leaves trapped in its own leaf spiral, enabling it to grow quickly in the undergrowth.

Well, that’s all for now. Look out for our next misadventure soon, featuring the Toddycats as we do our second recce of the trail!