Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bukit Timah Does Not Have More Plant Or Tree Species Than North America

I have been hearing or reading about it so many times that it's beginning to get on my nerves.

No doubt, I love Bukit Timah (the dipterocarps, the colugos, pangolins!!!), and I think being so highly urbanised, Singapore still has a rather high plant diversity and that is really something. However, I think it is really embarrassing that so many publications and websites, including those by NParks and unfortunately, even NUS, gave the wrong information that Bukit Timah has more tree or plant species than the whole of North America.

In some websites and publications, it was said that a 2ha plot in Bukit Timah has more than 350 tree species, and this is more than all the tree species ever recorded in the whole of North America. However, a search using the Internet shows that according to Elbert L. Little Jr.'s Checklist of United States Trees (Native and Naturalized), published in 1979 as Agricultural Handbook 541 by the United States Department of Agriculture, USA alone has 747 species of native trees (including Alaska but excluding Hawaii)! That means, North America certainly has a lot more tree species than the 2ha plot.

Some other websites claimed that Bukit Timah has more tree species (not just the 2ha plot) than the whole of North America. According to NParks, Bukit Timah has more than 840 species of flowering plants, including the various shrubs and herbs. Even if we were to outrageously assume that there are only about 100 shrubs and herbs, and the rest are all trees, USA alone with 747 native tree species will still have at least the same, if not more than what Bukit Timah has.

Going to the total number of plant species. According to some websites, Dr David Bellamy, a renowned conservationist, once pointed out that the number of plant species growing in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is more than that in the whole of North America. We already know that Bukit Timah has 840 species of flowering plants (hence excludes the gymnosperms and ferns etc), but finding the total number of plant species in USA proved to be a challenge. I managed to find the USDA website, and just looking at the list of threatened plants in Florida, North Carolina and California, there are already 1,085 species! Obviously if you include the non-threatened ones, the list will be a lot longer.

Update: Thanks to Pat, who highlighted that discounting Hawaii, continental USA (including Alaska) has ~17,000 species of vascular plants. See comments below for details.

So, Bukit Timah certainly does not have more plant species than the whole of North America. In fact, what we have is a lot less than what North America has.

However, what we can say is that we certainly have more tree species than the United Kingdom, or Canada, and possibly many other temperate countries. And if we conserve well, future Singaporeans may still be able to say that proudly in say a few hundred years' time.

Hopefully this clears things up and the embarrassingly wrong information will not be passed on to more people.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Changi on a Not-so-low Tide

The tide at Changi today was not really very low today, but I was glad that we still managed to see a number of interesting things.

Pink Sand Dollar (Peronella lesueuri)
Found this Pink Sand Dollar (Peronella lesueuri) just beneath the sand among some seagrass.

Arachnoides placenta
There were several of the usual plain Sand Dollars (Arachnoides placenta) too.

Salmacis Sea Urchin
The Salmacis Sea Urchin (Salmacis sp.) did not appear to be in season, as I only found one of them, and a few tests. These interesting sea urchins carry all kinds of marine debris to help them camouflage.

Pencil Sea Urchin (Prionocidaris sp.)
A little Pencil Sea Urchin (Prionocidaris sp.) was spotted among the seagrass. The thick spines resembles pencils sticking out of a pencil holder, and hence the common name.

Cake Sea Star (Anthenea aspera)
We found only one little orange Cake Sea Star (Anthenea aspera). Guess the tide was not low enough for us to find bigger ones.

Sand Star (Astropecten sp.)
As it turned a little darker, the Sand Stars (Astropecten sp.) starting emerging from the sand.

Pink Thorny Sea Cucumber (Colochirus quadrangularis) and Pink Warty Sea Cucumber (Cercodemas anceps)
There were lots of Pink Thorny Sea Cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis) and a few Pink Warty Sea Cucumber (Cercodemas anceps). The latter has shorter spines and yellow markings.

Sea cucumber
This poor yet unidentified sea cucumber was washed ashore by the strong waves.

Haddon's Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni)
I was pleasantly surprised to find this rather big Haddon's Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) so near to the upper shore. These big sea anemones are unfortunately collected by poachers for the aquarium trade.

Moon Snail (Polinices didyma)
Not sure what this Moon Snail (Polinices didyma) was doing getting all bloated and kind of twisted. Could it be feeding? This animal feeds on smaller snails and clams by holding them in its huge foot, secretes an acid to soften the shell, and use its radula (something like a tongue) to drill a hole through the shell to reach the meat inside.

Orange Striped Hermit Crab (Clibanarius  infraspinatus)
As per our other trips to this shore, several Orange Striped Hermit Crabs (Clibanarius infraspinatus) were spotted.

Hermit crab
I also saw this unknown hermit crab in a pretty murex shell. Unlike true crabs which have a hard exoskeleton protecting the whole body, hermit crabs have a soft abdomen, and hence need to hide in the shells of dead snails for protection.

Mantis Shrimp (Harpiosquilla sp.)
The tide started rising rather quickly as we were leaving, and we saw two Mantis Shrimps (Harpiosquilla sp.) got washed ashore. These are spearers which hunt for small fishes and other small animals with their power and spiny claws.

Anyway, nice to be back in Singapore exploring our shores! :)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Exploring Chek Jawa on Nparks Volunteer Appreciation Day

It was NParks Volunteer Appreciation Day last Sunday, and this time round, the event was hosted on Pulau Ubin.

Initially, I was hoping to reach Ubin earlier and explore a bit, but the queue for the bumboat was surprisingly long, and I ended up reaching just half an hour before the meeting time, and hence only had time to look around the volunteers' hub.

As usual, the Kemunting (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa) planted near the volunteers' hub was blooming with pretty pink flowers. This shrub is rather uncommon in Singapore, but interesting is an invasive species in some countries where it was introduced.

Here are the fruits.

After the award presentation and lunch, we moved on to Chek Jawa for a walk. At the entrance, we were greeted by a rather tamed Wild Boar (Sus scrofa). Guess the visitors were really feeding it too much, and it was obviously sniffing around us for food!

I managed to take a look at the Pemphis (Pemphis acidula). There were lots of fruits.

Most of the flowers looked like they were withering though.

I also took a look at the Lenggadai (Bruguiera parviflora) near the mangrove boardwalk, which I noticed was flowering when I was guiding here two weeks back, but didn't have the time to take photos.

There was even a crab spider which climbed onto one of the flowers.

And I also spotted an interesting-looking caterpillar.

Also near mangrove boardwalk, I noticed a Dungun (Heritiera littoralis) fruiting! Wow! My first time having decent photos of the fruits! Previously when I saw them fruiting, they were always too high up, or I did not have my camera with me. Some of my friends call it the ultraman fruit, as the fruit has this ridge-like structure running across the middle of the fruit, making it appear like the head of the TV character, Ultraman.

The Sea Almond (Terminalia catappa) trees appeared to have just shed their leaves and were growing ones.

When we reached the intertidal area, many volunteers were already down on the sandflat!

The top find of the day must be this Honeycomb Stingray (Himantura uarnak). Adults are reported to be able to grow to more than 2m long! The one we found was probably just about 1m long.

There were lots of Noble Volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) laying eggs that day! I saw at least 15 of them, and at one spot, 3 of them within a 1m radius!

There were lots of Glassy Bubble Shells (Haminoea sp.) on the soft sand. Like other headshield slugs (Order Cephalaspidea), they have well-developed headshield, which is a broadening at the head used to plow beneath the sand surface and help prevents the sand entering the mantle cavity.

We also found another headshield slug, a Philinopsis sp. Members from this genus generally feed on other headshield slugs, such as the Glassy Bubble Shells!

There were several Sandfish Sea Cucumbers (Holothuria scabra). These sea cucumbers are the same species that are usually served in restaurants, but must be treated to remove toxins in them before they can be eaten.

There were also several of this smooth and slimy sea cucumber which I am not sure of the exact ID.

Our hunter-seekers also found us a few Sand-sifting Sea Stars (Archaster typicus)! They feed on tiny organic particles among the sand, and digestion is done externally. And to do that, they have to push out their stomachs through their mouths located on their undersides, and lay the stomachs over the sand to digest the edible bits.

The Sand Star (Astropecten sp.), on the other hand, swallows its food and digest it internally. It feeds on small snails and clams.

We saw a Pencil Sea Urchin (Prionocidaris sp.) too! Unlike most other sea urchins, the spines of this sea urchin were thick like pencils (with some imagination), hence giving it its common name.

The animal above is a Pygmy Squid (Idiosepius sp.), and is only about 1cm long!

Several juvenile Mangrove Horseshoe Crabs (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) were spotted too, burrowing just beneath the sand surface, probably searching for little worms to feed on?

All too soon, tide was rising and we had to end the walk. We were really luck that the weather was fine throughout the entire event. Thanks to NParks for organising this! :)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Titan Arum at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Is it finally opening?

The above photo was taken earlier today about 7.30pm. It appeared that it was finally opening up, as we could see more of the maroon spathe!

For the past few weeks, I have been regularly visiting the Singapore Botanic Gardens, hoping to catch the matured inflorescence of the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) - the biggest unbranched inflorescence in the world! It was initially estimated to mature between 17 and 20 Nov 2010, but it appeared that the estimation was way wrong. As such, I had lots of photos of the immature inflorescence instead during my various visits.

Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
Here's how it looked like during my first visit on 17 Nov 2010.

Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
This one was taken on 19 Nov 2010. One of the bracts had withered.

Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
During my visit on 23 Nov 2010, all bracts covering the inflorescence had withered.

Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
Read some where that it should start maturing soon after the last bract has fallen off, and so I visited it again on 24 Nov 2010. However, the spathe remained closed.

For the past one week, I decided to just call the garden's hotline to check if it has opened up, but there were no good news.

It was only earlier today that Angie told me that she had visited the plant in the morning, and it appeared to be opening up. We visited it around 7 plus in the evening, and while it's still a long way from opening up fully, it had certainly made a lot of progress!

Will be visiting it again tomorrow morning to check if it has opened up fully.

During my trip to the Singapore Botanic Gardens the past few weeks, I saw quite a lot of other interesting stuff..

Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum)
At one corner, a Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum) was also blooming spectacularly!

Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum)
From a distance, it looked like cherry blossom!

Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum)
Here's a look at a flowering branch..

Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum)
When I was there on 19 Nov 2010, the weather was great and I managed to get quite a few nice close-ups.

Pink Mempat (Cratoxylum formosum)
Lots of bees were attached to the flowers.

Spikemoss (Selaginella sp.)
Some of the non-flowering plants were pretty without the flowers, like the Spikemoss (Selaginella sp.).

Mosses (Division Bryophyta)
So are the mosses (Division Bryophyta).

Apart from the plants, there were a few "sure-can-see" animals in the Singapore Botanic Gardens too!

Lesser Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna javanica)
Among them are the Lesser Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna javanica).

Lesser Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna javanica)
Facing different directions...

Lesser Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna javanica)

Black Swans (Cygnus atratus)
And the Black Swans (Cygnus atratus). I was really lucky that they had a few young cygnets with them.

Black Swans (Cygnus atratus)
Once in a while, the parents would tuck their heads into the water and pick up some freshwater plants.

Black Swans (Cygnus atratus)
Black Swans are actually native to Australia. I remembered seeing wild ones when I went to Western Australia a few years ago.

Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)
I also saw an Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) near the entrance on one of the days.

Spotted Wood-owls (Strix seloputo)
And of course, there were the super cute Spotted Wood-owls (Strix seloputo) that I blogged about earlier.

So I guess even if there were no blooming Titan Arum, there were actually still plenty of things to see! :)