Tag Archives: Singapore

What are the millennials up to lately?

Self-centred, self-absorbed, self-entitled. They are always on their phones, can’t let go of what they love, and seriously, they always think they deserve better in this world.

They are the millennials the society all so frown upon this day… right?

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Article posted by The Straits Times last week!

If you have seen young people watching their instagram feed every moment at noon on 15 March, looking disconnected and dissatisfied with the world, you have probably just encountered someone who has joined the Global Climate Strike 2019 (Tan, 2019). And he or she is probably more conscious about her surrounding and the world than you did at that moment.

Advocating for greater climate action is no longer the sole responsibility of climate scientists or influential businessmen and politicians; the young ones are taking charge, telling the world how the future generations deserve better and how the planet deserve better.

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Greta Thunberg (in yellow) the 16-year-old millennial who started this movement!

The global climate strike was a concerted effort of thousands of students from all over the world. In many of the countries, the students were skipping school and physically coming together to show the grown-ups that one doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to demand a change from the world.

Despite the growing movement towards sustainable development, climate change scepticism still prevails. This clearly shows that we should no longer rely on the scientists and statisticians to persuade the authorities and the general public.

In Singapore, where strikes and protests are not an option, the young people chose to make their voices heard by having a virtual strike on social media.

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Post for the Global Climate Strike from local advocates @theweirdandwild and @tingkats.sg

Several of the climate action and sustainability pioneers in Singapore have also expressed their support for this initiative. Singapore, as the forefront of urban development in Asia, has the ability to lead and set an example on sustainable development for the region (Hermes, 2019). While the booming trend of adopting zero-waste lifestyle such as ditching single use plastic straws and other disposable products used to be criticised as simply a fad, the fact that a growing number of young people have stayed religiously faithful to their commitment shows that the millennials in Singapore are ready to be the change they have envisioned.

Indeed, the millennials are still self-centred, self-absorbed and self-entitled. However, the sense of “self” has grown out of the stereotyped individualism. To the fervent advocates of climate actions and environmental sustainability, they feel the sense of entitlement not for themselves but for the environment, they are so stubborn that they refuse to budge from their pledges to slow climate change and most of all, while the world label millennials to be full of themselves, their belief that every individual has a power to change allow them to push forth many successful ground-up initiatives in the past years.

The strike may be over, but climate change doesn’t stop, and neither should our climate actions!

Written by: Andrea Law

References:

Tan, A. (2019, March 11). Global youth movement on March 15 calling for greater climate action may be held in Singapore as well. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/global-youth-movement-on-march-15-calling-for-greater-climate-action-may-be

Hermes. (2019, March 15). Strike by Singapore students unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/world/strike-by-spore-students-unlikely

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Banking on Sustainability

You might have noticed these sleek white boxes popping up around your town recently:

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Photo: Qiu Jiahui

If you’ve ever been curious enough to peruse their charming infographics, you’ll know that they’re collecting non-perishable food items from the general public, so that they can be delivered to the food insecure population in Singapore, rather than collect dust on mistake-prone shoppers (it happens to the best of us ;)).

I, too, was curious… Curious enough to travel all the way down to their warehouse on Keppel Road, which serves as the headquarters for this simple, spirit-lifting operation!

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Photos: Qiu Jiahui

That’s it! This is where the food you drop off in their boxes is stored, sorted, and carted off to over 300 beneficiaries ranging from family service centres, nursing homes and childcare centres. An office the size of a regular school classroom and a storage space the size of a regular school hallway are where a tiny organization brings their big ambition to life – and the issue at hand is certainly huge. FoodBank Ltd was born when sibling entrepreneurs Nichol and Nicholas Ng discovered the magnitude of Singapore’s food waste problem.

As a land-scarce nation, Singapore has only one landfill for waste disposal – Semakau Landfill, which does not accept organic waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). Thus, food waste is largely incinerated, generating huge quantities of carbon emissions. In 2002, for example, Singapore produced almost 500,000 tons of food waste, 94% of which was incinerated (Lang, 2008). In 2004, slightly over 300,000 kg of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions were generated per ton of food waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). The implications of this overwhelming excess on Singapore’s overall carbon footprint are obvious.

Meanwhile, 12-14% of Singaporeans are living under the unofficial poverty line of $1500 in income per month (Loh, 2011), and by extension experience food insecurity.

FoodBank aims to close the gap between these two issues, eradicating their ironic coexistence in a fast-paced, extravagant Singapore. Though we’ve seen the quaint little warehouse where excess goodies from the wealthier spectrum of our society are stored, the real genius in this operation is that it largely takes place on the go. FoodBank knows that powdered Milo, biscuits and candy are far from enough, so in addition to facilitating the donation of non-perishables, its programmes include:

  1. A fresh food truck that collects fruits and vegetables rejected from supermarkets and wholesalers for solely cosmetic reasons,
  2. The Food Rescue Project, which whisks away excess cooked meals from the kitchens of reputable hotels and restaurants, and
  3. Joy in Every Bundle – bundle pledges for members of the public to fund balanced food packages for beneficiaries.

When you think about it, our food is needlessly thrown away through countless pathways, often even before they get the chance to reach our plates. For example, at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, inspectors who need to work quickly will examine fruits and vegetables by the carton, and if they spy even one blemished item, the entire carton is discarded. That adds up. Three times a month, FoodBank’s van dutifully pulls up to the centre, fills to the brim with these fruits and vegetables, and distributes it to rental flats around Singapore. It’s hard not to think of what the situation looked like before FoodBank came along: all these riches, turned to rubbish, and on the same island where thousands of poor are living.

With that in mind, I asked an employee what she thought the organization could really use right now, and the answer is: long-term volunteers. Sorting and organizing the food items requires some training, and having nothing but ad-hoc volunteers means that the staff spends a lot of time teaching new volunteers, only to have them leave in a week. Consistent volunteers would save some of that time, and be able to train up newer ones as well.

If you are interested, do drop by their website and check out how you can get involved:

One more thing: this is going to seem trivial, but if you have a lot of used cardboard boxes around, well, the ones that they have at the warehouse are getting a little worn out. And of course, check out their website to participate in their various programmes, learn more about the food waste issue, and make a donation to help out with transport costs (you may have noticed that there is a great deal of transport involved). Wastage in general is awful, but food waste is downright painful. There’s a hole in our system, and it’s time to plug it.

Written by: Qiu Jiahui

References:

Lang, J. C. (2008) Zero Landfill, Zero Waste: The Greening of Industry in Singapore In Leapfrogging Development In Emerging Asia: Caught Between Greening and Pollution. pp 151-172. New York, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Loh, J. (2011) Bottom Fifth in Singapore. Social Space. 88-90. Retrieved from https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=lien_research

Tan, R. B.H. & Khoo, H. H. (2006) Impact Assessment of Waste Management Options in Singapore. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 56:3, 244-254, DOI: 10.1080/10473289.2006.10464463

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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/

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.

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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.

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(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.

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“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 ♫

 

 

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(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.

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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!

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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!

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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 .

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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].

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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.

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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