Coelops robinsoni (Hipposideridae), the Malaysian tailless leafnose bat. This family of bats have elaborate nose and muzzle formations thought to help focus echolocating signals from the nose. Photo by Tigga Kingston.
I find bats rather cute in a fugly sort of way. My grandmother preferred her Pteropus vampyrus stewing in the pot though, and on roadside peddlers would on occasion appear with a huge cage of live toddler-size fruit bats for the boil. In balmy evenings, the swirling heat would unleash a plague of swarms that draw out die Fledermäuse from their roost under the eaves of our house while it is still light and the swifts have not yet had their fill. Hunting early is not without its hazards though, for manueverable raptors would grab the opportunity for a nightcap.
The Chinese, I am told, would welcome a housewarming bat as a harbinger of good fortune and longevity, and stylised bats adorn many a glazed bowl. Our clan, regrettably, clearly does not subscribe to this belief, as one unfortunate flitter that got lost on the upper storey was floored by my dad with a badminton racket.
This little island alone harbours at least 23 species of bats, including a miniature flying fox and its frugivorous relatives whose existence and nocturnal freedom are vital to the pollination of a certain fruit much beloved of landlocked apes. There is only one true forest fruit bat native to Singapore (Penthetor lucasi the dusky fruit bat), which was rediscovered in Bukit Timah Reserve in 1995 after an absence of 70 years. No permanent roosts of P. vampyrus are currently known, although stray individuals from Malaysia are not unheard of. The cave fruit bat (Eonycteris spelaea) though, is finding new havens in the island's abundance of expressway flyovers. There is also one species, the Singapore whiskered bat (Myotis oreias), that is thought to be endemic to the island but now extinct.
Across the causeway, a rather batty enterprise has been underway for some time now to document bat chiropteran biodiversity in Krau Wildlife Reserve in Pahang. The Malaysian Bat Conservation project is a program underwritten by the Earthwatch Institute and is spearheaded by Dr. Tigga Kingston (left, cuddling a Hipposideros diadema), assistant professor of biology at Texas Tech University. Volunteers from across the world have the opportunity to join Kingston's team in their nightly and netty pursuit of forest bats, and at least two Singaporean participants are known to have joined in the sampling and banding work.
Kingston calls Krau a bat paradise. “It is home to the greatest
diversity of insect-eating bats in the world, with at least 60 species.
When the fruit-eating bats are included, the species list tops 71 bats” Kingston recently summarised her four years of
trapping at the 36th Annual North American Symposium on Bat Research,
in Wilmington, North Carolina on 18-21 October. She reported nearly 16,000 bat
captures at five sites, probably one the most intensive studies of bat
“assemblages” in the world, including 38 species in six families. (Pictured left: Hipposideros bicolor (Hipposiderida). Photo by Tigga Kingston)
Kerivoula pellucida (Vespertilionidae), the clear-winged woolly bat. Photo by Tigga Kingston.
assemblages generally include all the bats in a given area. Kingston
reported that bat assemblages in Krau Wildlife Reserve vary drastically
from one site to another, and from one time to another, a finding that makes life difficult for both conservationists trying to conserve bat populations and habitats as well as researchers into bat evolution and ecology.
Malaysia is host to 10% of the world's known bat fauna (picture left is Hipposideros ridleyi, photo by Tigga Kingston), but more than a
quarter of these species are on the IUCN red list of endangered taxa. Poachers hunt the larger fruit bats for food or in the mistaken belief that they harm crops. Smaller insectivorous groups suffer from the loss of feeding grounds and roosts (often quite separate and distant locations). Forest-dwelling species are also highly adapted (with rapid short-range echo-location calls and wing morphology built for high manoeuvrability) to the clutter-rich environment of dense jungle and suffer greatly in exposed areas requiring longer-range echo-location capabilities and greater speed. (Only four species of forest-dependent bats survive in Singapore's fragmented reserves). According to Kingston, bats are not only a key component to Malaysian biodiversity but also valuable providers of services such as pollination, seed dispersal and insect predation. Might it take an unaccountable dearth of durian supplies to convince common folk that bats aren't such foul flyers after all?
Still on visual topics, local school exercises seem to have contributed to a new coinage. From the same source, there's also an article on some bastardly mongrel language so unpure that it incorporates lingo from some five hundred other tongues! Aiyoh! So chap-pa-lang one this language, like some anyhow mix one rojak, how can be international lingua har??
I also learn that the act of scoring against an opponent in a game is known as "breaking one's duck". This is rather distressing as there is no indication as to how a broken duck could be fixed or replaced. So does the severed fowl end up as duck soup to be loved by lords? And why is a small and smelly fish given the incongruous name of Bombay duck?
When I was a little duck, frogs and toads were very common. They sang from the gardens and ditches, leapt from the sidewalk to escape my webby feet, their wriggling tadpoles filled temporary pools in nearby playing fields, and their corpses lay flat on the road every morning, especially after a moonless shower. Few signs of their urban presence are evident now, for want of suitable breeding areas in this city fearful of standing water and unpaved streams.
Among all the vertebrate classes, the amphibians face the bleakest future in a world ravaged by man. According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, 32% of the world’s amphibian species (representing 1,896 species) are threatened, compared to just 12% of all bird species and 23% of all mammal species. And as many as 165 amphibian species may already be extinct, including the yummy little golden toad of Costa Rica and Australia's gastric-brooding frogs. On top of that, climate change and a lethal fungus are conspiring to decimate amphibian populations worldwide. So take a little time to smackponder these little leapers before they leave this earth to the mercy of silent nights and bug-filled dusks.
Malayan giant frog (Limnonectes blythii) at Nee Soon freshwater swamp. This is a largish (up to 20 cm) frog that is near threatened for its culinary appeal. It's perhaps a mixed blessing that attention has turned to the American Bullfrog to satisfy local demand for sweet chicken.
Asian toad (Bufo melanostictus) on Mt. Emily. The lily pools at Hangout Hotel house a good number of croaking specimens.
Unidentified frog (Rana paramacrodon, the masked swamp frog?) near Kota Tinggi.
Treefrog (Rana sp.) near Kota Tinggi. Some frogs, like monkeys, have taken to the trees and are even learning to fly.
Unidentified frog in Belum-Temenggor.
Tiny puddle frog (Occidozyga laevis) in Nee Soon.
Frogweb offers an excellent resource on Malaysian frogs, while an annotated checklist of Singapore amphibians can be downloaded here.
Tupaia glis ferruginea, the common tree shrew. Once thought to be basal primates (but now placed in their own order Scandentia) tree shrews are pretty common in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Tupai is Malay for squirrel, but though they resemble arboreal rodents, their habits are more insectivore-like. In the October issue of Natural History magazine, ecologist Jonathan Moran shares the observation that tree shrews are known to frequent the nectary pitchers of Nepenthes lowii, a pitcher plant endemic to the highlands of Borneo, and in the process they leave behind copious amounts of their poo in the pitchers, which presumably serve to fuel the plant's nitrogen needs.
Detouring to the latter group, it may seem surprising, but Old World pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp. Nepenthaceae) are remarkably abundant in Singapore and Malaysia, given suitable habitat, namely areas with nutrient-poor soils such as acidic heath forest and open ground adjacent to peat swamps along the east coast of the peninsular. Nepenthes gracilis (lower pitcher on the left, as indicated by the 'wings', wingless upper pitcher on the right) is the most common local species, occurring as clambering vines in secondary forests and belukar.
Often found sympatrically with N. gracilis (and hybridising with it as well) is N. rafflesiana, which produces much larger pitchers with deep maroon markings. In his article, Moran notes that this is a more sophisticated predator, featuring a broad peristome (the perimeter around the mouth of the pitcher) that absorbs ultraviolet light as well as fragrant nectaries that combine visual and olfactory lures to draw a wide range of insect prey.
The third species found in Singapore is N. ampullaria, which forms squat clusters of cute little pitchers on the forest floor. Moran notes that this species has a vestigial lid, undeveloped nectaries and lacks the slippery layer of wax found on other pitcher species that causes insects to stumble into the pitcher fluid. He believes this species derives a not insignificant portion of its nutrients from vegetable matter (leaves, twigs, flowers) that rains down from the surrounding forest canopy. By comparing the nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 ratio (a higher N15:N14 ratio indicates a diet rich in animal matter) in pitcher plants growing in forests with those growing in open areas, he found lower ratios in the forest populations and estimates that these plants obtain 35.7% of their foliar nitrogen from leaf litter.
The crabby girl probably knows this already, but the land crab Geosesarma malayanum is known to visit the pitchers of N. ampullaria, perhaps to replenish its gills or steal prey. A final interesting fact is that the Malay name for pitcher plants is Periuk kera or monkey pot due to its culinary use by certain primates....