Tag Archives: nature

Going vegetarian for the environment

Personally, I’m an omnivore and my only concern for food is how good it tastes. Although I have always heard about how environmentally damaging eating meat is, I never put much thought into the situation. This led me to picking up this topic to learn more about the nitty gritty of meat production. It turns out the problem was worse than I expected. My steak probably didn’t come from a cow who frolicked in the clovers. It was probably confined in small cages and rested on a cold, hard cement floor. Similarly, my chicken was probably confined into small cages known as battery cages.

Such is the reality for the meat we eat. In fact, the majority of meat we eat comes from animals bred and confined in a place called an AFO (Animal Feeding Operation) (Worldwatch Institute, n.d.). According to American standards, AFOs are facilities where animals are confined and fed for at least 45 days in any 12-month period, and their feed is delivered from outside to the mouths of the animals (EPA, n.d.). AFO’s elder brother, Concentrated AFO (CAFO), has an additional criterion of having at least 450,000 kg worth of livestock in it (USDA, n.d.).

1.pngAs they say, a picture speaks a thousand words… or cows

(Picture taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950338558/in/photostream/)

Squeezing so many animals into tight conditions is not only unethical, but also poses serious environmental problems. At such high densities, the resulting quantities of manure (aka poop) can range from 3 to 20 times that of human waste produced in America (Hribar, 2010). In addition, CAFO owners typically add monstrous amounts of water to the manure before placing them in a pool. In this manure lagoon, bacteria guzzle on the nutritious meal and generate huge amounts of gas; greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxides as well as foul smelling ones like hydrogen sulfide (with a rotten egg smell) and other Volatile Fatty Acids (with a manure smell). 1 kg of methane and nitrous oxide can trap as much heat as 25kg and 298kg of carbon dioxide respectively – that’s how potent they are.

Given that there are so many AFOs nowadays, the combined greenhouse gas emissions are astronomical. In events of high rainfall or flooding, the contents of the lagoon can overflow and pollute the environment. The two main concerns are the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and eutrophication. I shall stop here before I turn this into an essay, but bear this in mind – what I’ve just said is the tip of the iceberg.

Energy wise, eating meat is not a very efficient method. According to the ecological pyramid, only 10% of the energy is transferred from one tropic level to the next. This means that a cow would only receive 10 units of energy from a plant with 100 units of energy; a human would then only receive 1 unit of energy from that plant, should they eat the cow. However, they would be able to receive 10 units of energy if they eat the plant directly. This makes eating meat more energetically inefficient than eating plants. Given that mechanization has replaced much manpower in the crop and meat production, we are also wasting the resources used to produce the meat itself.

As we can see, while delicious, meat may not be the greenest food. However, crops are not all that good either. There are flaws in the way farmers are farming, which causes problems like loss of topsoil and leaching of nutrients. However, we can’t live without food! If we want to both survive and stay green, eating vegetables seems like the lesser of two evils. If you are indeed concerned about the environment, I would recommend you going vegetarian. Start small! One meal a week, followed by 1 day a week, then 2 days a week and so on.

At this point, you may have given up the thought of eating meat. Sorry to disappoint you, but I foresee a future where eating meat may be more common than eating vegetables. This is due to the rise of insects and lab-grown meat as alternative sources of protein. Once they become commercially viable, we may be eating them in the future! Who knows? Perhaps 10 or 20 years down the road my juniors will be critiquing my post for advocating the consumption of vegetables (especially broccoli L).

2.pngWould you eat this? I would!
(Picture taken from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/lab-grown-meat/565049/)

That’s all from me for now. Personally, reading up on this topic has made me more conscious of eating as much meat as I did.

Be green, eat green!

Written by: Lee Yang

References:

Worldwatch Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from Worldwatch: http://www.worldwatch.org/rising-number-farm-animals-poses-environmental-and-public-health-risks-0

EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/npdes/animal-feeding-operations-afos

USDA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/

Hribar, C. (2010). https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf.

 

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The Flora of Singapore: Woody Liana

Before we get into anything, what’s a woody liana? Liana (or Liane) is a woody plant that is rooted to the soil but which requires physical support from a neighbouring tree. Its weak stem and branches rely on other plants to reach the light. Since they are not self-supporting, their stems are narrow and flexible.

1.png(Credits: Rhett A. Butler)

Large lianas in a forest indicate that the forest consists of many matured trees and plants.

When a liana reaches the top of its host, it puts out searcher shoots to look for a taller support of suitable diameter. Searcher shoots can extend up to 2m from their last support; if they are not able to find another support, they fall over and will be replaced by another shoot. While most vines climb to the canopy with the help of taller supports, some vines climb up the stems of other vines attached in the canopy.

Once the liana reach the canopy, they begin to grow between the tree crowns. These bridges are very important to animals that cannot fly long distances. Without such bridges between crowns, these animals would have to descend to the ground where they are very vulnerable to predators. However, these connections also increase the possibility of trees pulling their neighbours along with them when they fall.

As liana grow over the trees that provide them physical support, they are the trees’ strong competitors for sunlight. In additional, since barely any resources are invested in making their stems and branches thicker, vines use a large amount of their resources to grow more leaves, and for reproduction. Since lianas grow very fast, it is to their disadvantage if they climb onto trees that are slow in growth.

Although lianas hinder forest regrowth in canopy gaps, many animals rely on them for the nutrition in their leaves, nectar, fruits, sap and pollen.

2.png(Credits: Dick Culbert)

Now, you might be wondering if there is any relationship between us and lianas. Indeed, we make use of lianas in a variety of ways; from providing fresh drinking water (vines are usually hollow, transport water through the liana) to producing poisons and drugs (curare, a chemical used for muscle relaxation and in arrow poisons by South American Indians is obtained from a type of liana). Indeed, vines are extremely useful to humans.

3.png(Credits: Wellcome Images )

I hope you have enjoyed reading about lianas as much as I enjoyed learning about them! Indeed, there is so much to learn about the flora around us!

Writer: Thang Hui Lin

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2000, December 14). Liana. Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/plant/liana#accordion-article-history

Maheshwari, R. (2009). Structural characteristics of a giant tropical liana and its mode of canopy spread in an alien environment. Current Science , 58.

Putz, F. E. (2012). Vine Ecology. Retrieved from Ecology: http://www.ecology.info/vines.htm

 

 

The Bio”D” in Disney

It is a widely known fact that many of the beloved Disney characters that we are all too familiar with are based on actual animals. But really, how well do we know about the real-life creatures that inspired them? And how accurate are their real-life behaviours being portrayed through their fictional counterparts? Amongst many, five characters across the Disney universe have been chosen for you to compare fact to fiction because it is honestly such a pity that many of these real-life creatures and their equally interesting character traits lay hidden behind the spotlight.

  • Winnie the Pooh- Canadian Black Bear

(Credits: Heroes Wiki, Alex Pawlowski, New York Public Library)

One of the most timeless and oldest characters in Disney history, Winnie the Pooh, needs no introduction. He was based upon a teddy bear owned by the creator’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. Though the original teddy bear was not based on any actual bear species, the boy named it “Winnie” after a Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo. Perhaps this explains the stark difference in fur colour!

Fact:

Winnie the Pooh had a chronic addiction to honey and constantly plotted ways to raid hives with his Hundred Acre companions. Canadian black bears, or bears in general, do in fact love raiding hives too! They have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb up trees to reach the heights the hives are at.

Fiction:

While you only ever see Pooh Bear consuming honey, actual bears may be going in for the more succulent prize, as they are rather opportunistic eaters with a taste for almost anything. The bees and larvae are extremely nutritional and rich in protein and fat.

Also, actual bears are coated with long, thick fur which makes it hard for bees to reach the skin surface and sting them, thus making them resistant to bee stings. Their faces and ears, however, are areas uncovered with fur, so they are not completely immune either. So in fact, Pooh doesn’t have to make such elaborate plans just to get to his meals.

2) Zootopia’s Mr. Big – Arctic shrew

 

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Clara Chaisson)

You’d be surprised at the amount of thought that went into casting the characters of “Zootopia”. As a good example, the filmmakers consulted animals experts for “the most vicious carnivore” to play the part of the Mafia king of sorts, and it surprisingly was this petite little creature.

 Fact:

Shrews are as much of savages as Mr. Big in the film. Though seemingly adorable and harmless, these rodents will not hesitate to take on animals larger than them, such as mice, snakes, and scorpions. At one point, it was even believed that the shrew’s bite was poisonous, but it was later discovered that the saliva of some shrew species are lethal to mice and can cause substantial pain to humans. In fact, they hold economic value to farmers, ridding them of pests like insects and slugs.

Fiction:

It would be highly unlikely that an arctic shrew would possess such a wide network of family, friends, and servants, for they are highly solitary animals. Adults are territorial to the point where any forced extended interaction between two shrews would render one of them dead within a matter of days, as studies have shown.

3) The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba – Meerkat and Warthog

(Credits: Toonbaboon, Metro News)

It’s everyone favourite comedic duo and #BFFgoals, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King”! Have you ever wondered whether these inseparable characters are based on actual, real-life animal interactions? Let’s put their friendship to the test.

It’s…fiction!

The meerkat-looking animals you see in the photograph on the right are actually mongooses and not meerkats! (That’s right, it’s not mongeese.) Warthogs and mongooses have been observed to share a rather rare form of symbiotic relationship between mammals known as mutualism, where both parties benefit – the warthogs cleaned and the mongooses fed.

Limited research has been conducted on this behaviour, though if you would like some evidence, do check out the 2010 BBC special called “Banded Brothers”, here:

4) Finding Nemo’s Pearl – FlapJack Octopus

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Dante Fenolio)

That’s right, for all those of you who thought this adorable character was a jellyfish or squid of sorts, you were wrong! This is a flapjack octopus, appropriately named after the way it collapses on the seabed, looking like mush. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the resemblance ends, and from here it’s mostly…

Fiction:

If there were indeed fish schools, Pearl would probably not be going to school with the other fishes as octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and very possibly the most intelligent invertebrate on earth. They have highly developed nervous systems that allow them to solve puzzles, mimic other animals through camouflage, and develop both long and short-term memory.

Sadly, Pearl and her father would not have coexisted in the same time period either. Octopuses mate sacrificially, as after they practice external fertilization, the males wander off to die shortly after, and the females either starve to death obsessively guarding the eggs for many months (depending on the species), or her own body degenerates on its own. This, coupled with the fact that octopuses only live from a few months to a few years, is why experts think that humans are instead the dominant intelligence on earth because there was no way for octopuses to accumulate and pass down knowledge without generational overlap, despite their incredible cognitive and learning abilities.

5) Jungle Book’s King Louie – Gigantopithecus

(Credits: Walt Disney. Co, Wookieepedia)

Enough of the present, let’s dig up some of the past! Those of you who have watched the 2016 version of The Jungle Book might have guessed that King Louie’s character is based on the extinct ape species, Gigantopithecus, the largest primate to ever roam the earth.

Fact:

Indeed, it is possible for an early human and this real-life King Kong to have crossed paths. Archaeologists found the fossil remains of the Gigantopithecus in parts of Asia, India included (where the movie was set in), and it existed alongside human ancestors, Homo Sapien and Homo Erectus, for tens of thousands of years.

Its size is no disappointment either, as the Gigantopithecus easily stood up to 3 metres tall and weighed up to 600 kg! (There is, however, a slight locational discrepancy, as the species found in India, G. Giganteus, is only slightly taller than a human, as compared to its much more massive China counterpart.)

 Fiction:

Sadly, a meetup between King Louie and Mowgli would not have been possible, as the Gigantopithecus has been extinct for around 300, 000 to 400, 000 years ago.

Poor King Louie might also have been overly demonized as the Gigantopithecus, after research on its dental structure, has been proven to be a gentle giant with a general liking for bamboo – its cavities closely resembles that of a giant panda, indicating similar diets.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this magical carpet ride, and realised that actual animals can also be as fascinating as their fictional counterparts!

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Barras, C. (2018). Jungle tales: the real King Louie was the biggest ape of all. [online] Newscientist.com. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2088989-jungle-tales-the-real-king-louie-was-the-biggest-ape-of-all/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Bear.org. (2018). North American Bear Center – What do bears like to eat in a beehive?. [online] Available at: https://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/foraging-a-foods/206-what-do-bears-like-to-eat-in-a-beehive.html [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Defenders of Wildlife. (2018). Basic Facts About Black Bears. [online] Available at: https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Disney Wiki. (2018). Mr. Big (Zootopia). [online] Available at: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Big_(Zootopia) [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Encyclopedia.com. (2018). shrew facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about shrew. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/animals/vertebrate-zoology/shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Arctic shrew. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Gigantopithecus. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantopithecus [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Griggs, M. (2018). Consent Form | Popular Science. [online] Popsci.com. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/warthogs-take-themselves-to-mongoose-gleaners [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Harness, J. and 1, R. (2018). 11 Things You Might Not Know About Winnie the Pooh. [online] Neatorama. Available at: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/01/18/11-things-you-might-not-know-about-winnie-the-pooh/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Manning, E. (2018). ASK A WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. [online] Adfg.alaska.gov. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=371 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Nuwer, R. (2018). Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses. [online] Smithsonianmag.com. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Softschools.com. (2018). Octopus Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/octopus_facts/23/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. YouTube. (2018). A Warthog Spa – Banded Brothers – Series 1 Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXW_1i1pA0w [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

International Biodiversity Day 2018

Macaques7_Hongedited.jpg

Happy International Biodiversity Day! Today, 22 May 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the day the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect. Why not celebrate by donating a tree or two in support of our planet?

The Trillion Tree Campaign has allowed people around the world to pledge and donate to plant trees since its 2006 launch by the United Nations Environment Programme. As of 2016, more than 14.2 billion trees have been planted by people who care about the earth. Last year, the campaign set a new goal of a trillion trees. A 2015 study by Yale found that there are about 3.04 trillion trees on earth. However, we lose about 15 billion trees each year – imagine what a difference we could make with a trillion trees! You could become a part of that movement with just a few clicks.

Join in the effort at https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/treecounter/billion-tree-campaign-2, and spread the word!

World Water Day 2018

world water day

Psst, World Water Day is coming up soon! Here’s a little tip for you to celebrate the upcoming World Water Day on March 22nd:

Go on down to one of the Singapore World Water Day (SWWD) roadshows with your latest Singapore Power (SP) bill, and if the folks at the roadshow see that you’ve been a diligent water saver, you’ll be able to receive an exclusive premium. This sweet opportunity will be waiting for you during the entirety of March, but limited stocks are available (just like one other precious, precious resource).

Find your nearest roadshow here: https://www.pub.gov.sg/getinvolved/singaporeworldwaterday

The above link is also where you can find SWWD’s official partners, including Ben & Jerry’s and oBike, who are eager to offer you a steal of a deal for the right water-saving attitude.

Here’s something to think about this World Water Day: wetlands. Sure, we need to do all we can to keep that fresh, clean, thirst-quenching clear water running out of our taps. But is that enough? Nature needs water too, and we need nature.

Urbanising cities have a common trend of gradually encroaching on natural spaces like wetlands. These cities will only expand and multiply as time passes, and it may seem a waste to preserve a wetland when it could be a bustling hub. The truth is, however, that wetlands are important to us, even to those of us who live highly urbanised environments. Wetlands provide a wide array of ecosystem services, such as absorbing excess rainfall during storms and helping to reduce the risk of flooding. Now, that’s relevant.

In particular, Singapore boasts a sprawling Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is not only a site teeming with heritage, but also with birds of every shape and size. Native birds, exotic birds that have travelled from across the world to spend the winter in sunny Singapore – our very own wetlands are a key stopping point in the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network, which include Kakadu National Park in Australia, Mai Po in Hong Kong and the Yatsu Tidal Flats in Japan.

This World Water Day, maybe leave a little room in your thoughts for the wetlands around the world and in our own garden city, while you’re taking a short shower.

 

Save A Spider Day

It’s Save a Spider Day! OK, I know you’re about to click away because spiders are, well, look at them. If you haven’t gazed deep into a spider’s multiple eyes and shuddered, then you’re just a big, hairy, leggy, liar. But if you think about it, like really think about it, you’d probably still choose to live in a world with spiders in it, rather than without. I mean, I doubt Baygone would be a good enough substitute for a worldwide population of diverse spiders deviously conspiring 24/7 to eliminate their next insect. Do you like birds? Well, good, because birds love spiders. (As food.) Do you like diseases? No? Then thank your lucky stars, because spider venom will soon be used to treat a variety of diseases that cause muscular dystrophy. By the way, can YOU pull the natural world’s strongest material out of your butt? No? Then please, take a seat. (If yes, call 995.)

Hey, check out this fancy boy over here.

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Video: Jurgen Otto (https://www.youtube.com/user/Peacockspiderman)

Fashion week has nothing on this male peacock spider. When it’s time to find a lady, the male peacock spiders show off their brightly coloured backs and sweet moves. Peacock spiders are tiny, with the largest species measuring a whopping 5mm. Imagine that, a tiny colourful speck waving its arms at you because that’s the sexy thing to do. Also, the females eat the males who don’t dance well enough, but let’s not dwell on that.

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This spectacular shot by local wildlife photographer Nicky Bay does great justice to the silvery markings on the mirror spider’s abdomen. When the spider is at rest, the silvery shapes on its abdomen visibly enlarge. It almost looks like a piece of stained glass art!

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Photo: ggalice via Flickr

Net casting spiders are metal as it gets. They weave webs that resemble fishnets, which they then launch at their prey to capture them.

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Photo: Nicky Bay

Look at those eyes. They’re not messing around.

Next time you see a spider, maybe think twice before screaming and squashing it (you can still scream, though). First of all, it cannot be denied that spiders are way cooler than us and also do us a huge favour by catching insects. Second of all, I don’t think you’d want to make an enemy of a spider at this point.

 

Sources:

http://www.medicaldaily.com/venom-medicine-how-spiders-scorpions-snakes-and-sea-creatures-can-heal-328736

http://animals.mom.me/importance-spiders-ecosystem-6242.html