Whenever I meet someone during my travels abroad or back here in Australia, I am often questioned about my origins. The moment they hear Singapore their usual first response is, “Oh Singapore! I have been there for a day. Great shopping and it was so clean and beautiful.” Many people think of Singapore as a massive modern concrete jungle with no trace of wildlife. In fact, I too had that opinion for such a long time.
In recent years, that opinion has crumbled to dust. There is a reason for this. When you live and breathe for the conservation of your natural environment and wildlife, you don’t quite see the world the same way anymore. As an individual, I have become highly observant and animals rarely escape my view. During my last few visits to Singapore, I suddenly started seeing all these incredible birds, reptiles and mammals which I never knew existed. This really took me by surprise and piqued my curiosity. These sightings slowly seeped into my walks around the local neighbourhoods, the visits to parks, and other places of interest. I was mind boggled by my new discoveries. This goes to show, you see when you seek.
Many of you may have read my first guest blog about the rescue of the Malayan Colugo contributed by Mei Hwang. She is a highly talented photographer who has been uncovering the wildlife secrets of Singapore for a few years now. It has been an interesting journey for me to further discover the hidden gems, which still remain a mystery to the many residents of this ultra-modern island. A few months back, Mei contributed a collection of her photographs to be featured on my Instagram account as part of a ‘Singapore Wildlife’ series. Today with utmost pleasure, I am sharing these wonderful pictures of the wild and beautiful from this collection with you. Enjoy!
So, what did you think? Hope you enjoyed viewing the photos and discovered something too. A big thank you to Mei Hwang for their generous contributions! I really appreciate it very much.
Featured Image in Header: An Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodulus porosus) spotted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Before you proceed any further, I kindly encourage you to take a couple of minutes to enjoy this picture. Isn’t this bird simply gorgeous?
This is the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus). Have you seen or heard of this species before? No? You are not alone.
Before I watched the documentary ‘Racing Extinction’, I had absolutely no knowledge of this species. From this show, I learnt that there are approximately 150 of them (or even lesser) left in the wild restricted only to Florida. This information troubled me and led me to question myself. Why is it that I know so much about some species and often have no idea about the other declining or endangered species out there? Is this because there was not much hype about it till ‘Racing Extinction’ featured it? Or are birds too often ignored in initiatives or campaigns that raise awareness about endangered species? I don’t really know. But BIRDS MATTER along with every other species.
I then started searching and reading up on this species to learn a little bit more about them and why have they become highly endangered. I have included a summary of the information gathered in the last two weeks so we can all discover this species together, and perhaps even fall in love.
Meet the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow was first discovered in 1901 by Edgar Mearns on the Kissimmee Prairie. It is one of the four subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrows residing in North America. It is fairly small bird measuring about 13 cm in length and weighing about 17 to 18 grams.
Their plumage is well suited for their habitat providing them excellent camouflage and making them very hard to detect.
Plumage – layers of feather covering a bird. This also includes the feather pattern, arrangement and colour.
This sparrow’s song is similar to a quiet buzz of a grasshopper, hence their name. Their song begins with three low pitched notes and progresses to a longer and higher pitched buzz.
Habitat and Distribution
Florida Grasshopper Sparrows are restricted to central and south interior Florida within dry prairie ecosystems. A dry prairie ecosystem has low grass and shrub cover spreading over a vast expanse of land with poorly drained soil with a lack of trees.
The Florida Grasshopper Sparrows are habitat specialists and they do not migrate or wander very far from their birth place.. Prairies preferred by the Florida Grasshopper Sparrows are dominated by Saw palmettos (Serenoa repens) and Dwarf oaks (Quercus minima). Their habitat also needs to be virtually treeless, undisturbed and burned every 2 – 3 years to thrive successfully.
This Florida subspecies is currently found in three public properties and a few private lands in Florida.
The three public properties:
(1) Avon Park Bombing Range
1999 – 130 individuals recorded
2004 – 10 individuals recorded
2012 – only 1 singing male recorded
2002 – 150 individuals recorded
2011 – 21 individuals recorded
2012 – 14 individuals recorded
(3)Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area
2012 – 60 singings males recorded
Diet The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow’s diet consists of seeds (sedge seeds, star grass seeds) and invertebrates such as grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, beetles, flies and weevils.
Reproduction and Nesting
The sparrows nest between April and July. During this time, the males sing for a few hours in a day. The Florida Sparrows make their nests with shallow excavations on the ground made of grass or grass like vegetation often under Saw palmettos.
The females lay about 3 to 5 eggs. Great thing is, the fellas don’t just sit around. They help raise the young too. Their young fledge within 9 to 10 days.
Signs of trouble
A wildlife survey carried out between 1980 – 1982 revealed an alarming count of only 93 individuals across seven sites. The sparrow was then listed as federally endangered in 1986. Since then, the population has continued to decline despite conservation efforts such as habitat management.
Several reasons were suspected for this continued decline. Habitat loss and alteration, sub-standard habitat management efforts, flightless chick mortality by fire ants, and diseases. Now as a result of their small numbers, genetic problems have risen as well.
The precious habitats have undergone severe alterations with conversions to domestic pasture grass. It is believed that 91% of their habitat has been destroyed. Hence, sound management of their habitat is extremely vital for their survival.
Conservation actions have been proposed by Audubon Florida to give this beautiful species a fighting chance.
Some of the actions include: (a) consistently maintain the highest standards possible to manage the sparrow’s current habitats, (b) encourage and increase research initiatives into genetic problems and diseases, and (c) explore effective methods to enable the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow’s captive breeding.
The above was proposed and published in a status update document in July 2012. I could not find any other up to date information expanding on the progress of the suggested actions. I am hoping wholeheartedly that something positive will transpire extremely soon as the thought of losing this special species forever is really heartbreaking. If anyone knows of any updates, kindly share that with everyone in the comments.
I hope you enjoyed exploring the TOP 5 COOL ECHIDNA FACTS last week. This week, we shall take a look at the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), which is also an egg-layer and a native to Australia. It is also sometimes called a Duck-billed Platypus. Personally, I have never seen a Platypus in flesh before! Not in the wild or in the zoo. But strangely enough, everyone else I know has seen one at some point in their lives.
The closest I came to encountering one was in 2012 when I was on a first field trip for my studies. On the second day, we were brought out to the river to look for Platypus. You can only imagine my excitement. I was over the moon! For three hours, we sat still with not even the slightest peep on the damp grounds as my eyes scanned the water surface like a crazy woman. Three hours later, I found myself with a bladder full of wee and a severely cramped bum, but no sighting of a Platypus 😦 No matter, I am very determined to keep trying. Hopefully one day, this magic moment will happen to me too. And if you have seen one, please share your story in the comments as I would love to hear about it.
Now, for the TOP 5 COOL FACTS about the Platypus:
(1) Platypus pack a venomous punch
The male Platypus has two spurs which secretes venom. Each spur is about 12-18mm long and made of keratin (same substance as our hair and nails) located on its inner hind ankles. They resemble the size and shape of a dog’s canine tooth. Venom is secreted when a Platypus fights with other male rivals to demonstrate dominance or when it feels threatened. The venom is supplied from a venom gland (known as the crural gland) located in the upper leg, and it is produced when the male reaches maturity. The venom is potent enough to kill a small animal and can cause severe swelling and pain to humans lasting for weeks. The Platypus secretes more venom during the breeding season in spring than other times of the year. Females also bear false spurs, but lose them as they grow older.
(2) No need for eyesight when you have electroreceptors
A fold of skin covers a Platypus’s eyes and ears when they submerge underwater to find for prey like yummy shrimps, worms and larvae. Instead, the Platypus relies on its 40,000 electroreceptors located on its soft and leathery bill to detect the living prey underwater. Once the Platypuses scoop up their prey, they store them in their cheek and eat them when they surface.
(3) Best of many worlds
When you look at a Platypus, its odd outer appearance immediately strikes you. Positively of course. When you take a closer look at a picture of a Platypus, it looks like a mishmesh of three different animals: bill and webbed feet like a duck, body and fur like an otter and tail like a beaver. In the water, its front feet has a broad expanse of skin acting as a great pair of paddles while the hind feet acts as a rudder navigating it in the direction of the prey. When on ground, the Platypus folds away the webbing neatly under the feet making it easier to walk and dig burrows.
(4) Milk from skin patches
A clutch of between 1 to 3 leathery shelled eggs is laid about 2 to 3 weeks following successful mating. The female incubates the eggs for about 10 days by clasping them between her tail and belly as she lies on the side (or back). The female Platypus does not have any nipples or a pouch. Milk is secreted from two round skin patches onto the female’s tummy fur which is very rich in fats, about six times more than a cow’s milk. The Platypus young are nursed for up to 3 to 4 months until they are ready to swim.
(5) Platypuses have their very own tick species!
Yes that’s right! The tick species is known as Ixodes ornithorhynchi. The ticks are most prolific around the Platypus’s lower hind legs as this area is hard to get to for grooming. There are also found in other areas of its body like the fur and front legs, but are found in much smaller numbers.
Hope you enjoyed the TOP 5 Cool Platypus Facts 🙂 Now, a short visual treat (less than 4 minutes) with more information about the Platypus:
All mammals give birth to live young right? Well, not quite. Mammals are divided into two subclasses based on their reproductive systems: ‘monotremes’ (egg-laying mammals) and ‘therians’ (mammals which give birth to live young). ONLY five egg-laying mammal species currently exist on our planet, one platypus species and four echidna species. In Australia we have two species, the ‘Platypus’ and the ‘Short-beaked Echidna’. The other three are the Long-beaked Echidna species found in New Guinea.
While there are many cool stuff about these weird and wonderful creatures, I have decided to list a Top 5 about our local aussies: the Short-beaked Echidna and the Platypus. This week we shall enjoy reading about the Short-beaked Echidna and next week, we shall visit the curious looking Platypus 🙂
Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Echidnas are widely distributed in a variety of landscapes throughout Australia. These light brown spiny animals are quiet, extremely shy and tend to keep to themselves making it hard to spot them in the wild. The echidnas over in Tasmania are much darker, almost black in colour. They weigh between 2 to 7 kg and love feasting on ants and termites. After a successful mating season, a female lays a single soft and leathery egg, and incubates it in her pouch which takes about ten days to hatch.
In the past, the only way I had spotted them was when I heard some scratches coming from the shrubs or behind some rocks, or when a brave one decided to cross a busy country highway for reasons unknown. Sadly, echidnas crossing the highways sometimes end up as roadkill. Seeing any roadkill is hard enough, but seeing an echidna roadkill always evokes strong reactions from me (crying mostly). I simply love them with all my heart. This is why for so many years and for many more to come, whenever I go bushwalking, the first sentence which departs my lips will always be, “Oh my gosh, I hope to see an echidna today!”.
Without further ado, here are the TOP 5 COOL Echidna facts:
(1) Echidnas use electroreceptors to detect living things
In addition to their keen sense of smell, Short-beaked Echidnas have 400 electroreceptors concentrated on the tip of their snout. This helps them to detect the electromagnetic signals emitted by living things (electrolocation) such as ants and termites giving them a good tummy full of feed. The Western Long-beaked Echidna has about 2000 electroreceptors on its snout. Electroreceptors are quite exclusive to aquatic animals such as sharks as water acts as a great signal conductor, making this land dwelling mammal an exception (other exceptions include bees and cockroaches).
(2) No nipples here!
Yes, echidnas have NO nipples. The female echidna secretes milk from milk patches found within her pouch. The milk is secreted from up to 150 pores onto special hair follicles which is then happily consumed by the puggle (baby echidna).
(3) Hop on the love train
Forget a one male one female courtship rituals! During an echidna’s breeding season, a train of up to 10 males is formed behind a single female. Males line up nose to tail forming the train which can last up to a month or more. During this time, male echidnas can hop off or on in the line anytime they want. Of course, the one who persevere the longest is most likely to stay ahead of the game. When the female becomes receptive, the males dig a trench around her, then begins some jostling action for the ultimate mating right!
(4) One opening does it all
The cloaca is a single opening in an echidna serving multiple purposes. Through this one opening, echidnas urinate, defecate, lay eggs and receive sperm. This anatomical feature is common in reptiles and amphibians.
(5) Echidnas have a four-headed penis
I saved the best for last of course 🙂 Before I started writing this, I had NO idea about this. Male echidnas possess a four-headed penis. Each head extends like a stumpy finger with no nails. I saw some pictures of it and to me it looks like a shiny pink heart valve of sorts. It was strange and fascinating at the same time, if this makes any sense at all! It is believed that this gives them a competitive edge during mating season due to the high competition with so many males lining up for one female. Apparently only two of the penis heads function at any one time, while the other two tuck away waiting for their turn. I also found out that the male’s sperm travels in a bundle (like a pack) making it travel much faster, thus increasing the chances of his offspring making it to the next generation. These facts bring mating competition to a completely different level! Phew!
For further information and pictures about the echidna’s reproductive organ, click here.
Did you know?
Unlike the ‘least concern’ conservation status of the Short-beaked Echidna in Australia, all three of the Long-beaked Echidna species found in New Guinea have been listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN Red list due to severe habitat loss and hunting (for meat).
The Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) is also known as the Malayan flying lemur or the Sunda flying lemur. This is one of the two ‘flying lemur’ species, with the other being the Philippine flying lemur. Contrary to its name, the Malayan colugo is not a lemur (found in Madagascar) and does not fly. It is a large arboreal (tree-dwelling) night active mammal species found throughout Southeast Asia in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore. Their habitats include tropical rain forests, gardens and plantations. A recent research has found that they preferred habitats with thick tree canopy cover.
If they don’t fly, what then?
They are gliders. The Malayan colugo use their amazing gliding skills to descent to lower heights from the forest canopies. Extending their strong large fold of kite shaped skin (known as patagium) when leaping off trees help them to glide from point A to point B. Records show that they can glide up to a distance of 100 metres. Gliding between longer distances enables the colugo to avoid high impact landing leading to injuries¹. So further the destination, the better.
It spots a reddish/brownish grey fur shade and can measure between 34 to 38 cm (head to body) in length. The tail measures between 24 to 25 cm with a weight range between 0.9 to 1.3 kg. It is definitely not a small fella!
The Malayan colugo has big beautiful forward facing eyes, giving it excellent vision complimenting its night time activities. The facial features include a small head, small rounded ears and a blunt muzzle. Although they look like a large bat (e.g. flying foxes), they are more closely related to primates.
What does it eat?
The diet of this herbivorous species consists of leaves, buds, shoots, flowers, fruits and sap (only from selected trees).
When you refer to the IUCN page, the justification for the ‘Least Concern (ver 3.1)’ listing is that their population is not declining at a fast rate to escalate to a higher status (e.g. Near Threatened, Vulnerable). The main threats are habitat loss (e.g. housing developments), deforestation, competition from other species with similar diet and habitat requirements and finally, hunting. Good news is, they are protected under national legislation with some populations found in protected areas (i.e. Peninsular Malaysia and Java).
I am sure many will agree that no matter what the conservation status is, the threats faced by these species are real and ongoing which affects their population numbers. By reading this post, together we have discovered what a Malayan colugo is and hopefully continue to learn more about them and share this knowledge with our family and friends. To me, awareness is always a great first step towards species conservation.
¹. Byrnes, G., Norman T. -L., Lim., and Andrew, J. Spence. (2008). Take-off and landing kinetics of a free-ranging gliding mammal, the Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus). The Royal Society Publishing. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1684. Free full text.