Friday, July 31, 2009

$4,500 Golden parrot 'escapee' found and returned to owner

$4,500 Golden parrot 'escapee' found and returned to owner
An honest STOMPer found this Golden Conure bird that costs S$4,500 in his garden and returned it to its grateful owners.

Philip told STOMP via email today (Jul 31):

"A Golden Conure parrot escaped from Shunfu Road flat a few days after I found it on Jul 17 in my beautiful garden with many fruits.

"It greeted me and I greeted it back. Its leg has a numbered tag.

"I lifted it up carefully and took it to the Wan Bao newspaper to tell the good news.

"A few hours later, it was at the Jurong Bird Park.

"The next day, Wan Bao newspapers appeared island wide regarding the find.

"A taxi-driver saw it and came to my house at midnight to enquire about the bird.

"The next day, I took him to the Bird Park.

"A few days later, it was returned to its rightful owner.

"He and his wife were very happy to be united with the parrot that was worth S$4,500."

Here's a story of a lost pet with a happy ending.

The golden conure (Guaruba guarouba) is a medium-sized parrot that is endemic to rainforests of northeastern Brazil, where deforestation and trapping for the pet trade have led to its endangered status.

National Aviary;
(Photo by greybeh1979)

Pará state, Brazil;
(Photo by smdantas)

Paraíba state, Brazil;
(Photo by Alexandre Duarte)

The golden conure is on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means that all international trade in this species requires both export and import permits. Trapping for the pet trade, combined with deforestation, mean that many parrot species are now under serious threat of extinction in the wild.

The trade in wild-caught parrots continues to be a severe problem in many parts of the world, despite the existence of laws which are meant to protect wild populations of parrots from further exploitation. Thanks to captive breeding, the pressure on wild populations has been relieved to some degree. A growing number of parrot species are now being bred in captivity, which does contribute greatly towards reducing the need to continue trapping wild birds for the trade. Furthermore, captive-bred birds are hardier, adapt easily to life in captivity, and are much better at forming bonds with their human owners. Compare this with a wild-caught parrot, which has probably been through a lot of trauma and stress, weakened by the often inhumane conditions that wild-caught birds have to suffer during transportation, is terrified of close contact with humans, and in all likelihood, carries its own load of parasites and germs.

However, a lot more still needs to be done to stamp out the unsustainable trade in wild-caught parrots.

If this golden conure had not been retrieved, and if it had managed to survive for some time in the wild, it might have ended up as a new entry in our local bird checklists. Many species of exotic parrots are already on the list, and while most of these consist of scattered sightings of escapees, some of them have managed to establish breeding populations. Which does raise a lot of questions about the possible impacts on native birds, especially our 3 native species of parrot.

Fish-eating birds flock to Marina for a good meal

Fish-eating birds flock to Marina for a good meal
The beautiful sandy beach at Marina Promenade is not only popular with sightseers, it is also a hot spot for fish-eating birds, says STOMPer Angler.

While there recently, the sender spotted many birds standing on the shore, waiting for a chance to scoop their prey out of the waters.

In an STOMPer Angler says:

"One morning I was at the corner of Queen Elizabeth Walk and Marina Promenade looking out to the sea and the Merlion.

"Just below me was a short stretch of sandy beach and at low tide, many birds gathered to wait for the fish to arrive.

"I spotted this bird that was patiently waiting for about 10 minutes (photo 1) for the tide to bring in a shoal of fish.

"Suddenly this hawk-eyed bird saw a school of fish coming in with the wave. It stood still and once within earshot, quickly penetrated the water with its beak. Lo and behold it caught a small fish and its patience was rewarded.

"It then flew off to a nearby tree to enjoy its catch."

Fish-eating birds flock to Marina for a good meal

The bird is a little heron (Butorides striatus) or striated heron, our most common and widespread heron species. This is a bird that can be found in a large number of marine and freshwater habitats throughout Singapore, from mangroves and rocky shores to rivers and marshes, and even to ponds and canals in urban areas.

(Photo by mjmyap)

Some little herons are known to use lures to increase their chances of success while fishing; using small objects such as leaves, feathers, or even pieces of bread, these individuals will place the item on the surface, and wait for curious fish to swim close enough. They hence qualify as one of a handful of birds to actually use some sort of 'tool' to obtain food.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Please DON'T cut down this old tree at Eu Tong Sen St

Please DON'T cut down this old tree at Eu Tong Sen St
This venerable old tree along Eu Tong Sen street has borne witness to great changes in the area over the years. STOMPer Fire Phoenix hopes that the authorities will spare it for many more to come.

Here's what the STOMPer had to say:

"I passed by Eu Tong Sen Street and saw that workers were cutting the branches of this old tree at the corner of the former CID compound.

"The tree had grown to embrace the iron fence and workers were chipping the trees's branches and leaves from the fence.

"I hope they were just trimming the tree and not cutting it down."

Please DON'T cut down this old tree at Eu Tong Sen St
Please DON'T cut down this old tree at Eu Tong Sen St

Monday Morgue: 27th July 2009

White sea urchin (Salmacis sp.)
Changi, 16th November 2008

Wild Fact Sheets

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pangolin spotted on Hillcrest Road

Pangolin spotted on Hillcrest Road
A STOMPer came across this pangolin taking a nap when he was cycling along Hillcrest Road.

Peter told STOMP via email today (Jul 25):

"Just wanted to send a picture of a pangolin at the end of Hillcrest Road as I was cycling.

"It was all curled up sleeping."

Hillcrest Road is relatively close to the forests of the Central Catchment Area, so I'm not surprised to see a pangolin sighting in the area. Still, it is a nice sighting of the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), although I am a little puzzled as to why it was sleeping out in the open in broad daylight.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yucks! Mystery creepy crawly invades my house

Yucks! Mystery creepy crawly invades my house
STOMPer Dickson was disturbed to find this bizarre creature crawling around on the floor. He sent in a video hoping someone would know what it was.

Here's what the STOMPer wrote in an email today (July 23):

"What is this creature?

"Is it some kind of new bug or something else?

"Tell me please."

Do check out the video posted on STOMP.

It appears that this is a silverfish (F. Lepismatidae), but the video quality is simply too lousy to discern any identifying features that would help in narrowing down the species.

It is possible that it is a common silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), a cosmopolitan species that can be found in homes all over the world.

Common silverfish;
(Photo by misterjingo)

The silverfish gets its name partly due to its smooth silvery appearance, as well as the tiny scales that cover its body.

Common silverfish;
(Photo by johnhallmen)

Silverfish like dark, cool and damp places, so it is not uncommon to encounter them hiding inside cupboards where dried foodstuffs or books are kept, or beneath sinks. They feed largely on substances containing starch, which includes all sorts of items, such as glue, book bindings, paper, cereals, sugar, and even hair and dandruff. This helps explain why silverfish are often seen hiding among old books or piles of old newspapers. Apparently they can survive for up to a year without food.

These insects can become pests and cause serious damage to books and textiles, but do not pose any threat to human health. However, their feeding habits pose a challenge for those who wish to preserve and maintain old books, works of art and other items of cultural significance in good condition.

I suppose the risk of damage to books because of silverfish infestation is a major reason why libraries in Singapore are so unbearably cold. The lowered temperature and humidity must make it more challenging for undesirable organisms (silverfish included) from establishing themselves and reproducing.

Common silverfish;
(Photo by keith tooley)

Silverfish belong to the family Lepismatidae, which in turn are the largest family in a very primitive group of insects known as the Zygentoma. Zygentomans are among the most primitive living insects; only the bristletails (Microcoryphia) are thought to be more basal. These 2 groups were once classified with other tiny 6-legged arthropods such as the springtails (Collembola), proturans (Protura) and two-pronged bristletails (Diplura), and this group was known as Apterygota, as members of this group lacked wings at all stages of their lives. However, more recent research shows that such a grouping is artificial, and that while bristletails and silverfish are very primitive insects, the other 3 groups fall outside of the Insecta.

The common silverfish is not the only species in its family that is adapted to living in our homes. A close relative of the common silverfish is known as the firebrat (Thermobia domestica), and it prefers much warmer places than the silverfish. Hence, this insect can be found living close to ovens, furnaces, fireplaces and water heaters.

(Photo by Mundo Poco)

While doing research for this post, I found out that the common silverfish and firebrat are not the only species that can be found living in homes.

There is the four-lined silverfish (Ctenolepisma lineata).

Four-lined silverfish;
(Photo by Goshzilla - Dan)

There is also a species known as the grey silverfish (Ctenolepisma longicaudata).

Grey silverfish;
(Photo by Bettaman)

The grey silverfish bears a very close resemblance to the common silverfish, but grows to a larger size, reaching 19 millimetres in length compared to the common silverfish, which maxes out at about a centimetre or so. There are several other anatomical details that can be used to differentiate the various species. For example, common silverfish have broad and flattened femora (the first segment of the leg), whereas the grey silverfish is somewhat stout-bodied compared to the slender build of the common silverfish. Unfortunately, these details can be hard to spot in such tiny insects.

Grey silverfish;
(Photo by Bettaman)

Because of this, I suspect that the insect in the video is a grey silverfish, since it does appear to be quite large compared to the silverfish I used to find in my cupboards. Still, given the quality of the video, it is difficult to make such a conclusion with any certainty. I don't even know if the grey silverfish is present in Singapore or not.

Silverfish are not the only insects that a bibliophile should worry about; the Psocoptera has several wingless members that are commonly known as booklice. These tiny insects belong to the family Limnoscelidae, in the genus Limnoscelis. Like silverfish, they can be found in homes worldwide, where they nibble on the paste used in book bindings. They can also be found hiding beneath peeling wallpaper, or feeding on flour and other cereal products.

One species of booklouse in particular, Liposcelis bostrychophila, has a worldwide distribution;
(Photo by Alby Oakshott)

A wide variety of arthropods have adapted to living in our homes, so much so that it can be impossible to find them living in a so-called 'natural' or 'wild' state. We are familiar with various species of cockroach, flies and ants, but we tend to overlook the multitude of other critters that find a ready source of food and shelter in our homes.

For many of them, it just so happens that we have an abundance of the food they have specialised to munch on. Various species of beetles, moths and mites are significant pests, feeding on food products to clothes, carpets, and furniture. Some beetles are especially partial to museum specimens, and can ruin entire collections of insects or furs. These in turn attract a host of predators, such as spiders, centipedes and pseudoscorpions.

Chelifer cancroides is a cosmopolitan species of pseudoscorpion that can be encountered in the home, where it feeds on mites and tiny insects;
(Photo by Erling Ólafsson)

Like it or not, our homes form an entire unique ecosystem, full of tiny creatures living in our midst. Given the worldwide distribution of many of these species, it would be interesting to study how they managed to colonise new areas, usually by hitching a ride as we move goods and cargo to and fro. The growth and development of transportation networks all over the world has certainly assisted in the spread of these little commensals.

"Gigantic insect flies into my house for the third time!"

"Gigantic insect flies into my house for the third time!"
These gigantic insects have been flying into STOMPer Reine's house frequently.

Reine is unable to identify these insects and wonders whether they are dangerous.

This STOMPer says:

"Since last month, this is the 3rd time such a gigantic insect has flown into my house.

"Luckily all three succumbed to insecticide.

"They have a special affinity to the lightings in the house.

"They made a clear and crisp sound when their bodies hit against the casing of the lighting fixtures.

"Anyone knows these insects are? Are they dangerous?

"They seem to have a needle-like tip at the end of their body."

"Gigantic insect flies into my house for the third time!"

Related posts: "It only took 12 hours for these bees to infest my house toilet" (24th April 2009)
Bees, bees and more bees at Clementi! (6th April 2009)
Several beehives in overhead bridge leading to SGH (16th February 2009)

It is possible that there might be a colony of lesser banded hornets (Vespa affinis) nearby, which would explain all these hornets flying into this person's home.

Hornets, like honeybees and ants, are eusocial and live in large colonies.

According to the excellent Asian Hornet Net:
Social wasps build their nests with paper-like fibres, which are made out of wood pulp. They bite and tear fragments from tree trunks, rotting logs, plant fibres and even wooden man-made structures, then chew the fragments and mix them with saliva till they are soft. This material is then applied in layers to the surface, and dries to form a tough, fairly strong paper.

The adult wasps themselves feed on nectar from flowers or other sweet liquids, and also on a type of fluid produced by the larvae. Most wasps (queens and reproductive females being a possible exception) are unable to digest protein themselves. It is the larvae that are carnivorous, and the workers catch many insects every day to feed them. In this way they are useful as they capture many pest species in the process. However, some species may be pests to beekeepers by capturing honeybees.

Lesser banded hornet killing Asian honeybee (Apis cerana);

Local hornets can be seen scavenging on leftovers and carrion, although it is possible that the hornets' main objective is to ambush and catch the flies that are also attracted to them.

Lesser banded hornet scavenging on prawn used as bait for fishing, Pasir Ris;

Lesser banded hornets ambushing flies drawn to stranded green mussels (Perna viridis), Changi;

The risk to human safety is minimal, as several accounts state that hornets are relatively docile when out foraging. It is only when the colony is under threat that hornets become aggressive and attack en masse. Still, it is understandable that most people are uncomfortable with hornets living in close proximity, especially if there are individuals with potentially dangerous allergic reactions to bee and wasp stings.

Lately, one very interesting area of research focuses on interactions between hornets and their relatives, the honeybees (Apis spp.). Hornets can be significant predators of honeybees and their larvae, which is bad news in areas that depend on honeybees for crop pollination and honey production.

The Japanese subspecies of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) has earned a fearsome reputation; not only is this the world's largest hornet species, but the infamous ability of a couple of dozen hornets to decimate an entire honeybee colony has made this hornet a favourite of nature documentaries.

The content in the videos above is quite repetitive, but it can be clearly seen just how defenseless European honeybees (Apis mellifera) are against the marauding giant hornets. Even yellow hornets (Vespa simillima) don't seem to stand a chance against their giant kin.

The European honeybee is the most widely used species in beekeeping, and has been introduced to countries far beyond its native range. Its close relative the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) has already been domesticated on a smaller scale for millenia, but the amount of honey produced by the latter is smaller than that of the European honeybee. This is due to the fact that Asian honeybees tend to have smaller colonies, and also because this species has not been subjected to the heavy selective breeding that has been carried out on European honeybees.

In Japan, European honeybees may trump the native Asian honeybees in terms of honey output, but they are very vulnerable to attack by giant hornets. Having been introduced only recently, the European honeybees have yet to evolve an effective defence against the marauding giant hornets.

The Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica), on the other hand, has found an unusual but effective tactic to deal with hornet raids.

As the videos explain, the Asian honeybees surround the hornet, forming a ball. By vibrating their wing muscles, the honeybees then raise the temperature in the middle of the ball, baking the hornet alive.

However, recent research has revealed that there is more to this story; the hornets are killed after being surrounded by bees for 10 minutes at 45 degrees Celsius. However, they are able to survive an incubator at 47 degrees for far longer than that. Something else must be happening to lower the hornet's heat tolerance when the Japanese honeybees launch their counterattack.

It turns out that the bees not only raise the temperature, but also increase the concentration of carbon dioxide. Within the ball of bees, the carbon dioxide level increases to a whopping 3.6%. At these elevated levels, the upper limit of the hornet's heat tolerance is reduced, bringing it within the temperature range of a honeybee heat-ball.

In Cyprus, the endemic subspecies of European honeybee (Apis mellifera cypria) carries out a similar tactic against the local hornet species, the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). In this case, however, the hornet's heat tolerance matches that of the honeybees. What happens instead is that the honeybees surround the hornet and prevent it from expanding its abdomen. This interferes with the ability of the spiracles to absorb oxygen, causing the hornet to suffocate to death.

Returning to the topic at hand, yes, hornets can be dangerous, but the risk is somewhat exaggerated. If the colony is found and removed (or destroyed), it's likely that the visits will stop. Otherwise, keeping the windows on that side of the house shut should be another effective deterrent.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Banks of S'pore River covered in beautiful sakura-like petals

Banks of S'pore River covered in beautiful sakura-like petals
These lovely flowers, which resemble the Japanese sakura, were spotted not in Japan but along the banks of our very own Singapore River.

The flowers are actually not cherry blossoms but are called Tabebuia rosea, says STOMPer Arborist.

Perhaps they can be considered Singapore's version of the beautiful cherry blossoms found in Japan.

In an email dated July 22, STOMPer Arborist says:

"These two pictures were taken at the Singapore River.

"The tall trees (Tabebuia rosea) usually bloom at this time of the year and when the flowers drop you can see a carpet of white and pink flowers on the ground.

"The flowers are bisexual, large and showy, purplish pink to white.

"The sepals are fused into a tubular structure about 2 cm long.

"These trees are very attractive from afar as they often catch your attention with a spectacular display of flowers after a dry spell.

"In Japan, the cherry blossom (sakura) is the unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very important position in Japanese culture."

Similar stories:
Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River
Cherry blossoms do happen in S' least something like it
Beautiful pink flowers in Jurong resemble cherry blossoms
Beautiful pink and white flowers at CCK cemetery- Is it sakura?

Banks of S'pore River covered in beautiful sakura-like petals

Related posts: Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River (21st July 2009)
Cherry blossoms do happen in S' least something like it (9th April 2009)
Beautiful pink flowers in Jurong resemble cherry blossoms (16th March 2009)
Beautiful pink and white flowers at CCK cemetery- Is it sakura? (27th February 2009)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Could this be a Komodo Dragon at Jurong Lake?

Could this be a Komodo Dragon at Jurong Lake?

Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River

Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River
These cherry blossom-like trees were spotted along Geylang River by STOMPer Lee Hock Seng who hopes that NParks would plant more of these trees so that Singaporeans can enjoy its beautiful blooms.

In an email to STOMP today (July 21), the STOMPer wrote:

"These cherry pink and blossom white trees are situated beside Geylang River, at Jalan Benaan Kapal.

"NParks should consider planting more these type of trees beside rivers and parks, so Singaporeans can enjoy the sight.

"This can even become a tourist attraction, like the cherry blossom season in Japan."
Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River
Cherry blossom-like trees along Geylang River

Related posts: Cherry blossoms do happen in S' least something like it (9th April 2009)
Beautiful pink flowers in Jurong resemble cherry blossoms (16th March 2009)
Beautiful pink and white flowers at CCK cemetery- Is it sakura? (27th February 2009)

I guess it was the spate of hot weather that we'd been having recently, which was followed by heavy rain. I do remember seeing quite a number of roadside trees in flower, and the various flowering bushes and other ornamental plants in the planters in front of my block were also in full bloom over the weekend.

'Gangs' responsible for graffiti at Pasir Ris mangrove site

'Gangs' responsible for graffiti at Pasir Ris mangrove site

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pest control called in to handle the birds, says TC

No happy meal at Redhill Hawker Centre with these dirty, pesky birds around
Tanjong Pagar Town Council said that it has called in pest control to handle the bird and pigeon population, following a STOMPer's contribution.

According to STOMPer I hate birds, the pigeons and birds at Redhill Hawker Centre make the place unhygienic for people to eat there.

In an email to STOMP today (July 20), a Town Council spokesman wrote:

"We wish to thank STOMPer I hate birds for the feedback.

"The Town Council has informed our pest control contractor to monitor this situation closely to ensure that the birds and pigeons population is kept under control."

Earlier article:
No happy meal at Redhill Hawker Centre with these dirty, pesky birds around

Related articles: Invasion of the birds (19th July 2009) (Mirror)

Related posts: No happy meal at Redhill Hawker Centre with these dirty, pesky birds around (18th July 2009)
Poisoned birds left to suffer all around Toa Payoh estate (17th July 2009)
Killing of pigeons is last resort, public also has role to play, says East Coast Town Council (17th July 2009)
Pigeons poisoned because people won't stop feeding them (14th July 2009)
"No avian flu here but this bird can spread other diseases" (6th March 2009)
Bird droppings everywhere because of too many pigeons (29th January 2009)
Crazy pigeon is not afraid of people and steals food from their plates (23rd January 2009)
Dead birds found near Taman Jurong market (4th January 2009)

Monkey business in Toa Payoh

Monkey business in Toa Payoh
At first, STOMPer Dylan thought a cat was walking towards him, but after seeing its long tail, he realised that it was a monkey.

In an email to STOMP today (Jul 20), the STOMPer says:

"From far, I thought it was a cat walking towards us. But it looked weird as its tail was extremely long! Then I realised that it was a monkey!

"Finally I get to see the real thing which I heard has been roaming around in the Toa Payoh Lor 7-8 area for some time. Just nice I have my DSLR with me this time and managed to snap some shots before it ran away.

"Quite harmless I must say but you never know when they can attack when hungry.

"Thought of informing the police but what the heck, they would take ages to arrive and later have to give some description to them for something we won’t get to see in front of us again.

"Forget the trouble. If it must be caught, it must be red-handed. Hopefully someone else will be luckier."

Monkey business in Toa Payoh
Monkey business in Toa Payoh
Monkey business in Toa Payoh
Monkey business in Toa Payoh
Monkey business in Toa Payoh

Related post: A surprising sight: Monkey forages for food at Toa Payoh (28th April 2009)

Biotope garden: A source of cleansing rainwater

Biotope garden: A source of cleansing rainwater
A STOMPer is amazed with NPark's novel way to save water loss by building this biotope garden where rainwater can be cleansed for us to use safely.

Water Engineer says:

"These pictures were taken at the Alexandra Park Connector near to Dawson Road.

"NParks have built a biotope garden where aquatic plants are planted and some fish are kept in the water.
Biotope garden: A source of cleansing rainwater
"Plants can be used to clean up the canal water.
Biotope garden: A source of cleansing rainwater
"Rainwater which flows into the catchment area can be filtered and pumped to our households.
Biotope garden: A source of cleansing rainwater
"The term 'biotope' means a small uniform environment occupied by a community of organisms.

"In this garden the cleansing biotope is an area planted with wetland species and aquatic plants.

"During a storm, rainwater runs off the roofs of buildings into the cleansing biotope.

"Canal water can also be pumped into the cleansing biotope.

"The water filters through the plant root systems where contaminants are removed and treated by bacterial activity on the root surface.

"The cleansed water is stored in an underground cistern and eventually piped underground to the reservoirs.

"Since Singapore has no mountains and big rivers, every drop of rainwater is important and the cleansing biotope is one way to increase our meagre water supply from natural sources."

Monday Morgue: 20th July 2009

Horseshoe crab (F. Limulidae)
Chek Jawa, 20th September 2008

Note to self: I need to inspect all horseshoe crab carcasses and moults more carefully in future. I've been automatically assuming that any horseshoe crabs (or remains of horseshoe crabs) encountered outside of a mangrove setting are coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas), when there is a high chance that they could have been mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda).

Wild Fact Sheets
Online Guide to Chek Jawa
A Guide to Seashore Life
A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Poisoned birds left to suffer all around Toa Payoh estate

Poisoned birds left to suffer all around Toa Payoh estate
A STOMPer wonders what happened to these birds, which were spotted fighting for their lives at Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

In an MMS to STOMP, the sender suggests that they could be victims of poisoning.

The STOMPer says:
"These pictures were taken at Blk 62 Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

"Three birds were found poisoned and dead.

"The third was in a drain suffering!"

Poisoned birds left to suffer all around Toa Payoh estate
Poisoned birds left to suffer all around Toa Payoh estate

Related posts: Killing of pigeons is last resort, public also has role to play, says East Coast Town Council (17th July 2009)
Pigeons poisoned because people won't stop feeding them (14th July 2009)
Dead bird spotted in Ang Mo Kio. How did it die? (24th February)
Dead birds found near Taman Jurong market (4th January 2009)

Is this an example of collateral damage? As far as I know, there is no deliberate culling of common myna (Acridotheres tristis) or Javan myna (Acridotheres javanicus). Did these mynas consume poison that was intended for feral pigeons (Columba livia)?