Sunday, 14 September 2014

On Hold

I'll be busy for the next three weeks with my examinations.The rest of the Tiger Orchis posts will come after that. Sorry about that!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

On The Prowl: Tiger Orchids

There are tigers roaming in Singapore - well, almost. Recently, many nondescript fern-like plants all over the island have been set ablaze by thousands of fiery flowers. These huge plants, some two metres tall, are tiger orchids - and they're in bloom. 

This spectacle only happens every four or five years and lasts for up to two months when it does. Many of the tiger orchids planted in Singapore flowered last year in May: our first flowering season since they went extinct in the wild here a long time ago. I'm guessing that these plants in bloom now are the ones which did not flower last year. In an effort to reintroduce various orchid species in Singapore, tiger orchids have been planted in many locations, one of them being my favourite haunt, Dairy Farm Nature Park.

The tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum) is the world's largest orchid species, in terms of the entire plant's size. Some specimens span over three metres wide and weigh close to two thousand kilogrammes! It is distributed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, growing as an epiphyte (on trees - very strong ones given their weight) in lowland rainforests. However, they seem to do just as well growing on the ground. When not sporting metre-long inflorescencesthey appear like ferns; their leaves are thin and strap like.

The flowers grow up to about ten centimetres wide and are yellow, with dazzling crimson spotting, and smell wonderful; soft and sticky-sweet, of ylang ylang and mangoes. It is no wonder there were so many bees swarming around the flowers purposefully. Quite a few joggers were drawn to take a whiff and admire the sheer number of flowers too. 

With the end of this flowering season, the tiger orchids will become adorned with dangling seed pods and hopefully a few of the billions of minuscule seeds released will drift in the wind and settle in a crevice on a strong tree, waiting to start a new generation of tiger orchids. And until the next flowering season, the orchids will be much quieter and plainer, dressed only in dull green leaves. 

PS: Over the next few posts, I'll share some of the (just as exciting) critters that the orchids attracted.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Malay Dartlet

It stirred up quite a bit of hype when it first appeared in Singapore in 2011; Serene Ng, Senior Biodiversity Officer of the National Biodiversity Centre of Nparks took a picture of a strange skipper - dark ochreous brown with clearly defined orange patches on both wings. It was a Malay Dartlet, a new discovery! I remember rushing over to the place it was found the weekend after the news reached me. I never got the shots I was after during the time that the Malay Dartlet colony was there but just recently, three years later, I saw it again - and this time it came to me.

I was shooting some moths attending to an array of Leea indica flowers, when a skipper began circling the bush at rapid speeds. I was shocked to see a Malay dartlet when it landed - I was in Dairy Farm Nature Park; far away from where it was discovered so many years ago. It was shortly joined by yet another Malay dartlet. They stopped at each flower for just a few seconds before moving on to the next but always came back to the same few favourite blooms. After five or ten minutes of feeding, they would fly off somewhere to sunbathe or rest in the shade.

It is encouraging that this rare butterfly has spread across the island and is no longer confined to a single grassland. However, it is not all that surpising on hindsight. The Malay dartlet caterpillars feed on a common grass, Ottochloa nodosa, that is found in many places here. Regrettably, I did not scout the area for that grass. Having two of them there could mean that they are breeding nearby. I will just have take note the next time! And for a window into the Malay dartlet's fascinating life history: Uncle Horace's wonderful post.

PS: It's been a while since I've posted! Sorry for those two dead months. School's getting busier and I will be taking my exams in a few weeks. Oh well.