Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jul 15

Quiet Pulau Semakau South

Orthopterans made it to the Straits Times!
Hopping Around

Butterfly of the Month - July 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Punggol Forest (16 Jul 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG and Morning Walk At Dairy Farm Nature Park (17 Jul 2015)

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Major farms switching to food fish

Jessica Lim, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Jul 15;

Dwindling profits from the sale of aquarium fish have forced some major ornamental fish farms here to change tack - they have started cultivating food fish like grouper and plan to do it on a large scale in a few years' time.

One farm even plans to start a live seafood market.

Of the estimated 70 ornamental fish farms here, at least five - Apollo Aquarium, Panda Aquatic Centre, Nippon Koi Farm, Max Koi Farm, and Dreamfish Inc - have embarked on making the change.

The farms use sea water or freshwater recycling systems to rear food fish in concrete inland ponds.

They are helping to boost the output of Singapore's food-fish farms. The country currently produces 8 per cent of the food fish it consumes - a figure that has risen by only four percentage points since 2010 - well short of the 15 per cent target.

The owner of Nippon Koi Farm in Jalan Lekar in Choa Chu Kang, Mr Pay Bok Sing, 53, started rearing food fish in small quantities in 2013. Of his farm's 300 ponds, about 100 of the largest ones now rear fish such as marble gobi and grouper, and prawns.

Demand for the ornamental koi fish, he said, has halved over the past five years. "Few people are breeding koi as a hobby," he told The Straits Times, adding that he now produces 11/2 tonnes to 2 tonnes of fish a month for restaurants and wet markets.

"We figured that the demand for food will always be there; people will always need to eat," he said.

Singapore is still the world's largest exporter of ornamental fish like mollies, guppies, goldfish and koi, but exports have fallen to levels similar to those a decade ago.

The latest UN Comtrade statistics released in May showed that firms here exported about US$56 million (S$76 million) worth of fish in 2013, comparable to the US$54 million worth of fish exported in 2005.

At Max Koi Farm in Neo Tiew Crescent in Lim Chu Kang, food fish now make up 30 per cent of the farm's revenue. Owner Max Ng, 44, started tinkering with food-fish production two years ago because "the tropical fish industry was coming down and an alternative was needed".

He has so far ploughed $3 million into his food-fish business, and plans to go into full-scale commercial farming by year end, and to sell to supermarkets.

Mr Ng believes land-based food-fish farms have an advantage over sea-based ones.

The water used in land-based farms is treated and recirculated in self-contained systems that protect the fish from disease. This lowers mortality rates and allows more fish to be reared in a single tank. The chance of a plankton bloom is also zero, said Mr Ng.

A plankton bloom hit earlier this year, killing some 500 tonnes of fish at farms in Changi, Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin.

Meanwhile, the owner of Panda Aquatic Centre, Mr Kan Tien Siong, 69, has 5,000 jade perch fingerlings in his farm now.

He is targeting the live-fish market in Singapore, and intends to slowly build up demand for the fish, which is eaten as sashimi in some countries.

"This fish has lots of potential," he said, adding that 10 of his 35 ponds now house food fish.

Dreamfish Inc is developing a food-fish farming system and will have 2ha of its 8ha farm devoted to food-fish farming in about two years.

When that happens, managing director Nicolas Chia, 44, expects a turnover of about $4 million a year from food-fish rearing.

Apollo Aquarium started rearing shrimp in 2013, and is now growing pilot lines of grouper and coral trout. It plans to become fully commercialised in a year's time.

An Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) spokesman said a handful of the estimated 70 ornamental fish farms here are exploring food-fish cultivation and that some have approached the AVA for technical assistance.

"Indoor land-based farming has its advantage of better environmental control," said the spokesman. "However, Singapore has limited land with competing needs. Thus, AVA will continue to work with farmers to intensify agriculture land use, raise productivity and capability."

Fitness trainer Chua Ping Wei, 32, said: "Fish from a tank on land seems better. There is more control over its quality.

"It will also be good if I have somewhere to buy live seafood at good prices."

Koi farm owner changed tack - and did it his way
Straits Times 18 Jul 15;

One could say that Mr Pay Bok Sing, owner of Nippon Koi Farm, did it his way when he ventured into rearing seawater food fish in his land-based farm.

From making his own seawater to creating a filtration system, to mixing the fish feed, everything is self-made. Mr Pay decided to diversify when his ornamental fish farm was hit by the koi herpes virus in 2010, which wiped out thousands of his fish. "That was when I thought I probably should diversify," he said, adding that it was also around the time when profits from koi started to fall. "So I started studying how to rear food fish."

Mr Pay visited kelongs but realised that they were vulnerable to plankton blooms. So he decided that it was safer to rear food fish in his land-based farm.

He has since invested $400,000 in his new venture.

Armed with information from online research, the 53-year-old invented a seawater recycling system for each of the roughly 100 tanks now being used to rear food fish at his Neo Tiew Crescent farm.

He then bought barrels of minerals, including magnesium and calcium, and started mixing them to make seawater.

But when the fish were put into the seawater he created, some started to act like "zombies", Mr Pay said in Mandarin, explaining that they moved very slowly and seemed to be in a state of stupor. Others became ill, he added.

"We would monitor the (fish) and change the mix," he said.

It took numerous attempts over two months to get the mix right, which he described as "hitting the jackpot". Thereafter, he started producing the secret concoction in large volumes. His fish feed is also a self-made formula that includes fish meal, spirulina and flour.

His tank system - which filters, oxygenates and cleans seawater in three-hour cycles - allows the farm to rear 500 prawns per sq m of water. That is more than five times the amount compared with a similar-sized cage in the sea without such a system. It also lets him rear three times the number of groupers in a given space.

Mr Pay has come full circle. His business started in 1973 as a pig, chicken and food fish farm in Sembawang owned by his father. Mr Pay, who has Secondary 4 education, started helping out at the family farm when he was 10 years old.

He took over the business and started rearing koi in 1986 after a friend's farm shut down and he was given 20 breeder koi.

Mr Pay sold his first batch of groupers to wholesalers in 2013. He started rearing prawns last year. "Now, we are trying to breed lobsters and crabs. The plan is to open a live seafood market here soon," said the father of three.

Jessica Lim

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Pasir Panjang road-widening project to proceed

Residents who petitioned against project have been told that 38 of the 93 mature trees will be transplanted
HOLLY MATTHEWS Today Online 18 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — The project to widen Pasir Panjang Road, first announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in April 2013, is to proceed despite a last-ditch petition mounted by residents in the area who say the felling of nearly 100 mature trees required for the project will strip the area of its tranquil charm.

But residents have been told that 38 of the 93 trees, some of which are more than 50 years old, according to Pasir Panjang residents, will be transplanted.

In addition, about 300 new trees — triple the number of trees that will be affected by the works — will be planted along the stretch of road, once it has been widened into a two-lane dual carriageway.

In the latest update on the petition last Thursday, given after a meeting the night before with the Member of Parliament for the area and Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, as well as LTA officials, Mr Kelvin Lee, who started the petition on on June 27, expressed his understanding of the justifications given by the authorities. The petition had gathered 1,191 signatures as of last night.

“All of us were admittedly very disappointed, but we were realistic about our chances given this late stage,” he wrote.

But Mr Lee described the assurances by the LTA as a “silver lining”.

He said: “There were many reasons given, but the long and short of it is that there is a master plan in place for Pasir Panjang Road, which requires more homes to be built and, therefore, larger roads are deemed necessary.”

The residents on Pasir Panjang Road, which is dotted with landed properties and 19 condominiums, had sought to argue that traffic was heavy only during two hours a day, from 8am to 9am and from 5pm to 6pm.

They also singled out the bus stops along the single-lane dual carriageway for causing congestion. Because some of these stops are located directly opposite each other, during peak hours, vehicles would end up converging behind buses stopping to pick up commuters. But the residents argued that this problem could be solved by either shifting the bus stops or creating bus bays so traffic can continue to flow when buses have to stop.

Other concerns brought up by residents included their worry that traffic flow would increase with the wider road, making it more difficult for residents, in particular young children, to cross at the junction.

One resident in the area, homemaker See Chian Ting, said: “It takes years to grow these trees, so it’s a waste that just because they want to expand the road, they are going to sacrifice the trees.”

In response to TODAY’s queries, the LTA said stopping buses were not the only cause of the constant delays, especially during peak hours. Vehicles making right turns into residential developments and other roadside activities add to the traffic snarl.

A spokesperson said Pasir Panjang Road and West Coast Road serve as the primary access into several residential estates, offices, hotels, food and beverage establishments, tourist attractions, religious facilities, research and educational institutes in the vicinity.

The stretch of road undergoing works also serves seven bus services and 10 pairs of bus stops, she added.

“With further residential and commercial developments expected along this corridor, traffic volume is slated to grow by at least 50 per cent in the next two years, leading to greater congestion and longer journeys,” the spokesperson said. “It was therefore necessary for the LTA to embark on the widening project to increase the overall road capacity to meet the anticipated increase in traffic volume, provide connectivity to new developments and, most importantly, enable smoother movement for buses travelling along this road corridor.”

The spokesperson also said the LTA had set up an office opposite Heng Mui Keng Terrace to provide residents with up-to-date information on the project, and provide a channel for them to give feedback.

Regardless, the residents are sad to see the mature trees go.

Mr Lee said the sprawling foliage creates a nice environment in the vicinity. “The trees have grown to such a mature age that they provide such a beautiful canopy, which you can hardly find in any other estate.”

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Crickets hold a special place in his heart

Samantha Boh Straits Times 17 Jul 15;

This young man's love for crickets knows no bounds.

Science graduate Tan Ming Kai spends at least three days a week searching for the elusive insects, and has already uncovered 35 species of crickets and their close cousins, the katydids, which are completely new to science.

The 25-year-old named one of them after another of his loves - his mother, housewife Toh Siew Tin, 65, who had joined him on a survey in Thailand where he discovered the cricket, the Arnobia tinae .

"She has been supportive of my research since I started," said Mr Tan, who has just graduated with a science degree from the National University of Singapore.

He admitted, however, that his mother still does not know he has named the cricket after her.

Mr Tan Ming Kai's interest in crickets started when he was in kindergarten, when he would catch and keep them in plastic containers as pets. He made his first discovery in 2011 with a katydid which he named Asiophlugis temasek. He also named another

"I just think it is a bit awkward to tell her. Maybe it is an Asian culture thing where we don't really show our feelings."

Part of his collection is being used at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for research.

Grasshoppers, crickets and katydids belong to the order Orthoptera (straight wings). Mr Tan has discovered 25 of the 250 species found in Singapore to date.

The other 10 in his collection are from the region.

Armed with a torchlight and an insect net, he often makes excursions to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve, both areas being prime real estate for the creatures.

At his peak, he was out in the field almost every day, morning and night, for three hours each time. And although he says he has since cut down on his expeditions, he still spends at least three days a week searching for them.

Mr Tan said that his interest in the insects started when he was in kindergarten. He would catch them and keep them in plastic containers as pets.

Although he was always an animal lover, he had a special place in his heart for crickets, though he cannot explain why. "I would cry when they died," he said.

He made his first discovery in 2011, a katydid which he named Asiophlugis temasek because the small light-green insect with bulging eyes is a species native to Singapore. And that find was what spurred him on.

He has since expanded his research to other parts of South-east Asia, including Bukit Larut in Peninsular Malaysia and the Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve in Thailand.

Mr Tan has spent so much time studying the insects that he can now predict how each of them will hop, simply by their appearance.

And he can tell common species apart instantly, a process which initially took him around two hours.

Mr Tan is pursuing a PhD in biological sciences at the National University of Singapore, where he will focus his research on the dietary preference and diversity of common orthopterans in Singapore, and whether flower-visiting katydids help with pollination.

"What I hope to understand is how a tiny insect like a cricket affects an entire ecosystem," he said.

Five species of crickets and their close cousins the katydids discovered in Singapore
Samantha Boh Straits Times 17 Jul 15;

Science graduate Tan Ming Kai is just 25, but he has already uncovered 35 species of crickets and their close cousins, the katydids, which are completely new to science. Here are some of them:


This cone-headed katydid from the Conocephalinae subfamily has a fierce appearance with its brown spotty body and black face, but in reality, it spends most of its days hiding inside hollow branches.

This species is named after the Bidadari Cemetery where it was initially discovered but it is more commonly found in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves.

Bidadari also implies nymph, which means an immature form of an insect that does not change greatly as it grows.

It is appropriate for this species as the adults have reduced wings and can be easily mistaken as juvenile katydids.


Most cryptic orthopterans are found in the nature reserves but this cricket was discovered at Admiralty Park. It was named admirabilis which means surprising in Latin as it was unexpected to discover a new species from a non-reserve parkland in a highly urbanised Singapore. It is so far endemic to Admiralty Park.


A typical looking brown cricket, this species was found in the understory of a coastal forest in Singapore. It was named after Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum insect curator, Ms Lua Hui Khen, for her selfless work in museum curation over the past thirty years.

Mr Tan said he named it after her because he was grateful that she had taught him the basics of insect curation, and had allowed him to work with the specimens in the collection.

"Without her guidance, it is hard to imagine the subsequent work that was made possible," he said.


Little is known about this orange cricket which can be found in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves, including its diet and life cycles.

Mr Tan said this epitomises the state of many invertebrates in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, and highlights the need for more research on these highly cryptic but abundant animals.


Most people associate grasshoppers and crickets with grassy areas. This cricket - which has scales visible only under a microscope - was however discovered in the mangroves of Singapore. It was named after the Sungei Tampines river in Pasir Ris Park, where it was discovered.

Soft but high pitched chirps heard along the boardwalks of mangroves are likely the calls belonging to the males of this scaly cricket.

- See more at:

Beautiful Science
Crickets, grasshoppers and their cousins the katydids don't just come in brown and green. Their palette includes yellow, black and pink; some even come in polka dots or stripes. Living in the understorey of the forests of the Bukit Timah and Central
Straits Times 17 Jul 15;

Crickets, grasshoppers and their cousins the katydids don't just come in brown and green. Their palette includes yellow, black and pink; some even come in polka dots or stripes.

Living in the understorey of the forests of the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves, for instance, is a yellow-striped Traulia azureipennis. It belongs to the short-horned grasshopper family and can also be found in other parts of South-east Asia.

Also found in Singapore are the unique Chorotypus grasshopper, which eludes detection with its dead leaf-like appearance, and the Scambophyllum katydid, which is ant-like and black when it is a juvenile (above) and becomes green in adulthood. An adult Scambophyllum also has bright red hind wings - meant to distract predators - which are revealed when it flies.

Globally, there are around 27,000 species, including 250 species in Singapore, belonging to the orthoptera order, which places them among the most common macro-invertebrates on earth. The name orthoptera was derived from the Greek "ortho" meaning straight and "ptera" meaning wing, a reference to the parallel-sided structure of the front wings. The hind legs of these insects are large in proportion to their bodies, which enables them to jump long distances.

Crickets and katydids also rub their wings together to produce sound, while grasshoppers do so by rubbing their hinds legs with their abdomen.

Humans are unable to hear the chirping of grasshoppers as the frequency is too high.

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Malaysia: Haze in Penang only temporary

LO TERN CHERN The Star 17 Jul 15;

BUTTERWORTH: The haze enveloping Penang on Friday should be temporary and was caused by stagnant air.

A spokesman of the state Department of Environment said Penangites should not be worried by the situation.

"We expect the winds to blow away the haze and clear the sky by evening," she said adding that the air in Kedah and Perak remained good.

The Meteorological Department has forecast for fair weather on the island with rain from Sunday to Wednesday.

The Komtar building in George Town and the Penang Bridge were barely visible from the Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in Butterworth.

At 5pm, the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading in Seberang Jaya was 75 (73 at 6am) and at Universiti Sains Malaysia 67 (66 at 6am).

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

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Major greenhouse gases hit record highs in 2014: report

Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 16 Jul 15;

Miami (AFP) - In 2014 the world's oceans swelled, major greenhouse gases that fuel global warming hit record highs and the planet's surface temperature reached its hottest point in 135 years, international researchers said Thursday.

The findings are contained in the 2014 State of the Climate report, a peer-reviewed study that examines temperature, precipitation and weather events around the world.

A total of 413 scientists from 58 countries around the world contributed to the report, the 25th in a series that is based on data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, water, ice and in space.

The warmth reached deep into the oceans and high into the atmosphere, and scientists warned that the climate continues to change quickly compared to the pre-industrial era, with no end in sight.

"If we were to freeze greenhouse gases at their current levels, the seas would actually continue to warm for centuries to millennia," said oceanographer Greg Johnson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

"And that means as they warm they expand, and sea level would continue to rise," he told reporters on a conference call to discuss the report.

- 'Consistent picture' -

Many of the same trends seen in the past two decades continued in 2014.

"Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide -- the major greenhouse gases released into Earth's atmosphere -- once again all reached record high average atmospheric concentrations for the year," it said.

Amid worldwide heat records, eastern North America was the only major region of the world to experience below-average annual temperatures.

"Europe observed its warmest year on record by a large margin, with close to two dozen countries breaking their previous national temperature records," it said.

"Many countries in Asia had annual temperatures among their 10 warmest on record; Africa reported above-average temperatures across most of the continent throughout 2014; Australia saw its third warmest year on record, following record heat there in 2013."

In Latin America, Mexico had its warmest year on record, while Argentina and Uruguay each had their second warmest year on record.

"It is a fairly consistent picture," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information.

- Oceans rise -

The world's oceans experienced record warmth last year, and sea level was at its highest in modern times, too.

"Owing to both ocean warming and land ice melt contributions, global mean sea level in 2014 was also record high and 67 millimeters (2.6 inches) greater than the 1993 annual mean," when satellite measurements of ocean levels began, said the report.

Johnson said the oceans are a good measure of global warming because they absorb much of the heat and carbon dioxide given off by the burning of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, even if humankind took strong action to curb fossil fuel use, the trend would not reverse anytime soon, he said.

"I think of it more like a fly wheel or a freight train. It takes a big push to get it going," said Johnson.

"But it is moving now and it will continue to move long after we stop pushing it."

The full report is published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

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