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Happy National Day everyone! Singapore is now 52 years old 🙂 While most of us were rushing down to Marina Bay for the exciting fireworks and performances, there were some of us who were happy to stay at home. That may include me, you, or these animals and plants!
For our national day post, let us share with you some native wildlife born and raised here just like us. Since it’s Singapore’s 52nd birthday, here’s a little bit of information about five animals and two plants that also call Singapore their home.
(1) The Otters!
By now, you must have heard about these extremely eye-catching and curious animals roaming around Singapore. You may not have realised it, but there are two species of otters found locally. We have the Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and the Asian Small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus). Here are some ways you can tell them apart:
Image by Otters in Singapore (Source)
The Smooth-coated otters are found in many places around the island while the Asian small-clawed otters are only found on Pulau Ubin. Furthermore, the Smooth-coated otters are active in the mornings and evenings, while the Asian small-clawed otters are active only at night. If you spotted when you’re in the main island during day time, chances are, you just met the Smooth-coated otter.
Otter sightings in Singapore have only started to reemerge in the mid-1990s after almost three decades of zero verified sightings. These continued otter sightings provide us with an indication of a healthy ecosystem. It is indeed heartening to see them around often, as the Smooth-coated otters are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species and ‘critically endangered’ in the Singapore Red Data Book.
For more information, check out this recent paper surveying the Smooth-coated otters in Singapore here and this blog with updates on the otters here.
(2) The Malayan Horned Frog
Image by Kurt (Orionmystery) (Source)
Can you spot the frog in the picture?
These frogs have a remarkable camouflage, as its colour and morphology makes it look exactly like a leaf from the top. This gives it plenty of advantages, one of which is the ability to easily prey on forest invertebrates. It is, hence, usually found on the forest ground where you would often find leaf litter, the perfect background for these frogs. The easiest way of spotting them is by listening out for their toad-like honk.
(3) Sunda leaf fish
Image by HH Tan (Source)
Speaking of leaf-like creatures, how about the Sunda leaf fish (Nandus nebulosus)? With a flat body and brownish-black coloration, the slow-moving, solitary leaf fish strongly resembles a piece of floating dead leaf. The distinct brown-colored band across its head is said to prevent the fish’s eye from being detected. Naturally, this gives it predatory advantages, letting it have its fill of small fishes and prawns without having to spend too much energy chasing after them.
The Sunda leaf fish thrives in freshwater habitats, where it can grow up to 14 cm. It is commonly found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in Singapore, but its habitat ranges across the Malay Peninsular, Sumatra and Borneo. Unfortunately, this fish is critically endangered, and NParks have started conservation efforts in attempts to prevent their extinction.
(4) Singapore Bent-toed Gecko
Image by Ecology Asia (Source)
Aw, isn’t it adorable?
The Singapore Bent-toed Gecko (Crytodactylus majulah) is a new species of gecko from the genus Crytodactylus described in 2012. It was first confused with the Marbled Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus quadrivirgatus) but molecular information later proved them to be separate species. It can be recognised by its maximum length of 68 mm.
The scientific name of this gecko includes the Malay word majulah, which most of us are familiar with, meaning to go forward and to progress. Its name was chosen to allude to the ‘present rapid advancement of research in the taxonomy of Cyrtodactylus, in which many species have recently been formally named, and more are waiting to be described’ (Grismer et al., 2012).
(5) Straw headed bulbul
Video by Shiou Ming Lee (Source)
The Straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) has one the most beautiful bird songs. Unfortunately, as Alex Dane from Birdlife International writes, ‘it’s this same rich, powerful melody which is threatening to silence the species forever’.
Keeping songbirds like the Straw-headed bulbul as pets or using them in songbird contests are integral in some South-east Asian cultures, particularly in Indonesia. However, this results in the uncontrolled trapping of these wild birds, leading to a rapid decline in its population. Scientists believe that there are no more than 600 – 1,700 mature individuals left, with the bulbul already extinct in Thailand and most parts of Indonesia, where they were previously commonly found. Surprisingly and fortunately, it has managed to find a safe haven right on the main island of Singapore and on Pulau Ubin.
The Straw-headed bulbul population in Singapore is now estimated to be at least 202, with the population in Pulau Ubin increasing steadily over the past ten to fifteen years. This covers a large percentage of the global remaining population, making Singapore an important location for conservation. Research projects and citizen science surveys are being conducted by Nature Society and many volunteers till today, in hope for this species to regain its voice in the Southeast Asian forests in the future.
Find out more about the status of this bulbul here (Straits Times), here (Birdlife) and here (Singapore Bird Group).
(6) Lipstick plant
Photographed by Tamako Kobayashi, Copyright © NParks Flora&FaunaWeb (Source)
Moving on to the plants, here’s one with flowers are so red that it’s called the Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus parvifolius). Of course, apart from its color, it also looks very much like lipstick, with red tubular flowers protruding from dark maroon tubular calyxes. You may have seen this plant around in nurseries or plants shops. But when it is not potted, its natural wild state is to grow by climbing on tree branches or trunks, reaching for greater heights and receiving more sunlight.
(7) Malayan Ixora
Image by mygreenspace (Source)
Last but definitely not least, here’s the Malayan Ixora (Ixora congesta), or Jarum Jarum, a familiar plant that might provoke some memories! Did you know that the plant got its name ‘Jarum Jarum’ because the unopened flower buds resemble a bunch of needles?
This shrub is extremely resilient, because unlike other related species that requires full sun to bloom, the Malayan Ixora thrives in areas with very bright, indirect light. It can grow up to 1.8 to 2 meters tall – definitely taller than some of us. In full bloom, this beautiful shrub bears many clusters of bright to dark orange flowers.
Needless to say, this post is just a beginner’s course of the plenty of native wildlife to be explored. The animals and plants living in Singapore are just as diverse as us! While we enjoy living in harmony with our family and friends, let’s not forget how important it is to live in harmony with our animal and plant friends as well ☺
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BirdLife International. (n.d.). The tiny corner of Asia where an Endangered songbird is thriving. Retrieved August 09, 2017, from http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/tiny-corner-asia-where-endangered-songbird-thriving
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Written by Rachel Oh and Gwyneth Cheng