Thursday, November 8, 2007

Weaver Ants and Noni at Buloh

Today is Deepavali, and I would think that most people will sleep late and will be somewhere other than Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

I was totally wrong, upon reaching this place – bus after bus were discharging their occupants, and that is not counting people who took public transport and drove there. In was maddening, to say the least. This place was noisy and decided to go for the Kranji trail instead. But before I capture some shots of the Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

We have much flora growing on our shore, and most of these unfortunately are not indigenous to our land, but were planted by early settlers as well as our attempt to green the nation.

The Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum) originates from Africa and is now quite a common sight here. This grass can easily grow to a height of 4 m or more. Used to be gathered as fodder, but now they grow wild.

Below is a picture of the inflorescence.
Closed up of the flower.

Fern – having neither flower nor seed, this plant propagates by spores which is being produced from the underside of the leaves.
When the leaf first emerges from the centre of the fern, it is curled, and to a certain extend has the resemblance of a “foetus”.

Slowly, it will uncurl itself, and a new leaf is formed. From this image of the underside of the leaf, there seems to be “holes” where the spores are produced and released. (Try to search for articles on fern, but did not go very far).
Along the mangrove area of Kranji Trail, there are a lot of Noni Plant (Morinda citrifolia). The Malay calls it Mengkudu, but the common name Noni as adopted by most of us came from Hawaii.

This plant has both the medicinal value for the human, as well as one of the favourite home for the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina). In fact, every part of this tree, can be eaten or to be used to treat various illness face by us. Previously before the convenient of medicine, this tree has been used to treat eye, skin, gum, respiratory, constipation etc.

The bark of this tree is also produced a purplish red or brown dye that is used in making batik.
Somehow, the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) is attracted to the Noni, and build their nest. The weaver ant builds one of the most intriguing nest in the family of Ants.

The Weaver Ant will find two leaves, and form an ant-chain and slowly close the gap between these leaves. Once it is closed enough, the ant will carry their larvae in their mandible and squeeze out silks which act like glue. Interestingly, only the larvae is able to produce this silk. The adult weaver ant is incapable of this act. The colony can span many trees, with the queen ant in the nest.

The Weaver Ants are large, and in certain country they are eaten both as adult as well as in the pupae stage. (The Noni flowers grow out from a fleshy structure that looks like a fruit)
In my attempt to take the picture, this Weaver Ant was in an angry posture, as to tell me to back off. In the past, farmers encouraged the Weaver Ants to build colony on their plants which offer protection to their crops. Now this has been revived, and definitely it will be one good way to grow organic food, provided you know how to handle the ants!The Noni that I came upon was in a cluster with the Weaver Ant Nest nearby, the weaver ant was busied harvesting nectar from the Noni Flowers as well as the Mealy bug (Cataenococcus hispidus). The weaver ant will stimulate the mealy bug with its antennae, and in response will produce a sweet liquid which the ants will consume.

The Weaver Ant can also be found in the Sea Hibiscus plant, and they are fiercely protective of their host.

Observe the 3 shots below (shot in sequence), where the ants have obtained the sweet gems from the mealybug. Notice the liquid in the mandible of the ant.

Beside foraging in the Noni plant, the Weaver ants were seen harvesting nectars from other plant, and in this case the Morning Glory.Common Sun Skink (Mabuya spp), this is a lizard but unlike lizard, skink has a smooth and overlapping scales like the snake. The interesting feature of the skink is actually the “missing neck”.
Did not realize that there was a pair hidden the undergrowth until I downloaded the shots. They would have gone un-noticed if they have not tried to avoid me by scurrying away into the undergrowth.Along the way, I came across this partially closed leaf which was housing a family of beetles (unknown). These look liked juvenile beetles. And on a separate branch, I found this pair of shiny beetles with “red eyes”.
Looks like they were in the process of mating! (Again a search through literature and Internet did not prove fruitful in coming up with the ID).

(To those of you who know the ID of these beetles, please do drop me a note. Thanks)

Glad that I made my way from the maddening crowd and into Kranji Trail. Though I walked a short distance, there were much to be seen.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cape Town - South Africa

Suppose to be with the Semakau guides to do the Exploratory Walk on the 28th Oct, but duty calls.
For late that night, I have to be at the airport making my way to Cape Town in South Africa on a business trip.

South Africa is buffeted by two oceans (Indian and Atlantic), and where the oceans “collides”and with the different in temperature, the sea here is most active and life most abundant.

Believing that I will have no chance to drink in the local scenery and enjoy its beauties, I left my camera at home. Fortunately, I was still armed with my handphone which comes with a 3.1 Megapixel camera. So this is the first time, I am blogging with pictures taken with a handphone!
(All pictures taken with Sony Ericsson K800i - no editing of any sort)

I was staying in this hotel, that overlooks the Table Mountain. It is a classic geographic term for Plateau, the top is FLAT. It rises to about 900 m, and there are many ways of going to the top, for me I can only enjoy the view from where I was staying and standing, the hotel.

In the morning, the top of this mountain is cloaked with layer of mist, and at times, the whole mountain “disappear” behind this misty shroud, but by late morning with the sun warming and clearing the air, the mountain will appear.

I took the opportunity to comb the beach, and found many dislocated kelps that have been uprooted by the constant pounding of the waves. The waves in this bay is “small”, but bigger waves can be seen outside the cove.

I examined a number of these fallen “trees”, and the trunks are round and hard, and the leaf blades are like leather - Thick and tough. But looking at the anchoring point, it seems to be held by a small root section onto rock. Kelp is one of the fastest growing organism, and in S Africa there are 3 types, of the fallen specimen, I have no idea which one is this.

The kelp forest provides safe haven for fishes, as they can hide from their predators. Sea Otter has been seen using the kelp as a type of "rope"which it will wind around its body when it is feeding on the water surface. This will keep them in one spot and not be swept away.

(Below picture was taken in the Two Ocean Acquarium - Cape Town, showing the simplified kelp forest formation)
The Kelp forest forms a very important part of the eco system just like the trees on land. The root system, the swaying "trunks"and leaves. Many other organisms rely on the kelps for their survivors.

Strewn across the sandy shore, unfortunately are the many shells of mollusks and leftover of human occupation! So similar to most of our shores.

(looking very much like Water Hyacinch, there were many of these that were brought in by the waves)

Along the strewn path to the water line, many native and maybe imported flowers can be seen. Unfamiliar with the S African fauna, I perceive that this may be the daisy, and probably brought over by the early settlers.

There were many types of birds, was unable to capture them with my simple phone.
Gulls flew with the wind and look for leftover scraps from the human. Dove of types, that I have never seen. Over the sky, a flock of ibis flew with their curve beaks.

South Africa faces the same economic dilemma as most countries, the Abalone has been over-harvested. River extraries have been polluted by development effort.

South Africa – there is really so much one can see.