Ant man

They're not all pests, says expert who found three species here that were not seen for 40 years
Jose Hong Straits Times 4 Aug 17;

While others cannot wait to get rid of ants, Mr Gordon Yong collects them - at least 30,000 to be precise, with around 3,000 pinned down and mounted on cards that carry a description of the species with their names.

Not names like Princess Bala or Barbatus (characters from the movie Antz) but Myopopone castanea, or vampire ants. Yes, they do suck blood (see other report).

He may be only 25 but Mr Yong is already an expert and has rediscovered three species in Singapore that were not seen for 40 years. And the science teacher is on a mission to update the Republic's ant records, something last done almost 100 years ago.

The mounted ants are now mostly stored at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, while the rest are at Hong Kong University, where he did a one-month internship studying ants.

On his fascination with the tiny insects, he said that ants have carved their own world around us with farmers and warriors, and those vampires.

"You can't really see the difference with your eyes, but once it's under the microscope, it's really a whole new world. I really like how they're so different."

And he can rattle off a list of interesting ant facts. For instance, some have no eyes and only the queen and male ants have wings.

He said the leaf-cutter ants in Brazil, which live in huge colonies of millions of individuals, can change the entire forest around them by cutting down huge amounts of greenery. The ants then use this greenery to cultivate underground gardens of fungi for food.

Singapore has giant ants - each about the size of a one-dollar coin - that are a common sight in the rainforest, though they can be seen only at night.

Mr Yong's interest is only about two years old, sparked by a field trip to Sri Lanka in the third year of his bachelor's degree course in life sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Although the trip was to study ecology in general, after much field work, he realised how special ants were.

"Ants are kind of like mini-human civilisations. As a civilisation they act in certain ways - for example finding food, how they hunt and how they communicate with each other," he said.

An ant, he continued, would have to think about how it should let the nest know that it has found food, or call for help to transport the food, even dismembering it if it is a large insect or a carcass.

He already has three published academic papers to his name, with three more in the works.

His love for the six-legged creature becomes more pronounced when challenging people who view all ants as pests. Fewer than 10 species of ants can be considered pests in Singapore, he said. And at last count, Singapore had 235 species of ants.

But Mr Yong believes there may be many more species here.

He referenced his latest paper, published last month, which showed that in 9.5 man-hours, around 53 ant species were collected on Pulau Ubin.

Besides showing the diversity of ants on an island about 1.6 per cent the size of the mainland, it demonstrated that there are many more yet-to-be-identified species in Singapore.

"Because we found so many ant species in so few man-hours on a small island like Pulau Ubin, we can only imagine that a larger area in Singapore would yield many more ant species," he said.

Mr Yong conservatively estimates the number may be between 300 and 350.

"A lot of people think that there are just red ants, black ants, big ants, small ants. That is the biggest misconception.

"The diversity of ants is really great, even in a small country like Singapore."

Mr Yong said that all the different ants play specific roles in the ecosystem, and that removing any one of them in a place with so little forest such as Singapore might have unknown and unintended consequences.

He said only five people in the past five years have researched the ants of Singapore. And he may be leaving the colony soon.

After graduating from NUS last month, the Ministry of Education scholar went straight into his new job as a science and mathematics teacher at Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

For now, he said he will continue as an independent researcher whenever he gets the free time. He may even integrate his passion for ants with his science lessons in the future, though he is not sure what form this would take.

Dr Wendy Wang, the entomological curator at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, praised Mr Yong's research.

"It's impressive that despite his youth and relative inexperience, he has put in extraordinary effort in unravelling a lesser-known component of insect fauna in Singapore, and sharing his discoveries with a wider audience.

"His work, in collaboration with other young ant enthusiasts, provides valuable insights into the ants, an otherwise nondescript group of insects commonly misunderstood to exist only as pests."


Scientific name: Tyrannomyrmex rex

Where to find them: In forest environments

Special characteristics:

• Their mandibles - insect jaws - are tiny, similar to the stubby arms of the Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaurs they are named after.

• They are, unlike the fearsome dinosaurs, timid

creatures that freeze up and roll into a ball when approached by others, moving away only once they leave.

• It is unknown what they eat.


Scientific name: Myopopone castanea

Where to find them: In forest environments

Special characteristics:

• The ants feed on the blood, or the "hemolymph", of their own larvae.

• They will bite tiny wounds into the abdomen of the larvae with their mandibles, causing scarring, and then suck the blood out from the holes.


Scientific name: Liomyrmex gestroi

Where to find them: In forest environments

Special characteristics:

• This species lacks a common name, and the worker ants are blind, though the queen ants are not.

• In the Philippines, these eyeless ants have been found living in entire termite colonies, though it is not known whether they rely on the termites for food or whether the relationship between the two insects is less predatory.


Scientific name: Odontomachus simillimus

Where to find them: In urban environments

Special characteristics:

• The mandibles of these carnivorous ants extend straight from their head.

• The mandibles will snap shut on prey that come close, with enough force to crush or even kill them. One can even hear them snapping when there is nothing between them.

• That is how the ants earned their "trap jaw" reputation.


Scientific name: Pheidole megacephala

Where to find them: In urban environments

Special characteristics:

• The soldier ants of this species have disproportionately big heads, hence the name of the species.

• These ants are also extremely invasive, and have spread across much of the world, displacing native ant populations.

• They may not be native to Singapore, and the academic literature points to either an African or Asian origin.

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97 smuggled Indian star tortoises to fly back from Singapore to India

Preparations to create suitable environment for them back in India have already started. Their health will be constantly monitored in Wildlife SOS Field Station in Koppal. They will be released back in natural habitat in North Karnataka after a period of six months of observation.
India Express 3 Aug 17;

At least 97 endangered Indian Star Tortoises, which were smuggled into Singapore, will soon be brought back to India where they will be released back into their natural habitat. Karnataka Forest Department and Wildlife SOS have taken the responsibility of repatriating the Indian Star Tortoises from Singapore. The Chief Wildlife Warden of Karnataka Sri Anur Reddy travelled to Singapore along with Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan to carry out discussions regarding the repatriation.

Both of them reached ACRES wildlife rescue centre in Singapore to carry out the spot inspection of the tortoises who are currently under observation and quarantine. After this, request letters were sent to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), Customs and DGFT to issue necessary permissions to get back the tortoises.

“Inspection of tortoises revealed that 85 tortoises were in good health & fit for immediate repatriation. Remaining 12 are under treatment & will be repatriated once they recover,” said Sri Anur Reddy. Geeta Seshamani co-founder Wildlife SOS said, “Indian Star Tortoise is a rare and endangered species of land tortoise that is often poached from the wild and sold internationally for pet trade or for use as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.” They are protected under under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and listed under Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), which regulates international trade of wildlife.

The tortoises will be accompanied by a team of Veterinarians from Wildlife SOS India and ACRES Singapore. Preparations to create suitable environment for them back in India have already started. Their health will be constantly monitored in Wildlife SOS Field Station in Koppal. They will be released back in their natural habitat in North Karnataka after a period of six months of observation.

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Asia needs to close natural catastrophe protection gap: MAS' Ravi Menon

Insurance protection against natural catastrophes has not kept pace with economic development in the region, says the MAS managing director.
Channel NewsAsia 3 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: Mechanisms must be put in place to insure that Asian prosperity is not set back by the economic and social disruptions that natural disasters bring, said Mr Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), on Thursday (Aug 3).

"We must put in place mechanisms for the effective assessment, management, and transfer of disaster risks. Advances in technology, innovation, research, and market integration put us in a strong position to address these challenges," Mr Menon said in a speech at the Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management (ICRM) Symposium.

In order to do so, he outlined four key enablers: Technology and data, production innovation, research and development and an interested ASEAN market.

Under tech and data, the MAS official cited the use of big data analytics, which is "at the core" of Singapore’s Natural Catastrophe Data Analytics Exchange. The system aggregates a variety of data sources, including economic loss and exposure data, as well as drone and satellite data, to create a comprehensive database of Asia Pacific natural catastrophe risk, he explained.


He also noted that insurance protection against natural catastrophes had not kept pace with economic development in the region.

While Asia has accounted for almost half the world's economic losses from natural disasters over the last 20 years amounting to more than US$900 billion, less than 5 per cent of those losses in developing Asia were insured, he said. By comparison, the figure is at 40 per cent in developed countries.

"Insurance can and should play a bigger role to reduce the financial impact of natural disasters and improve disaster resilience," he said.

Towards this end, he called for product innovation as seen in new forms of insurance products and solutions, such as index-based and parametric insurance. "These make pay outs based on catastrophe events hitting pre-defined parameters such as hurricane wind speed or earthquake magnitude", thus removing the need for loss adjusters to survey the extent of losses, he said.

A local start-up co-founded by NTU graduate Alex Chen and Professor Haresh Shah called Asia Risk Transfer Solutions has developed such a risk analytics platform, he noted.

He also called for the use of research and development to close the natural catastrophe protection gap, saying Singapore has made good progress in fostering a natural catastrophe research ecosystem.

"Since its launch in 2010, ICRM has emerged as Asia’s leading research institute in catastrophe risk," he said. Besides leading the Natural Catastrophe Data Analytics Exchange, it has also been involved in 16 core research projects, such as conducting seismic analysis for Sumatra and flood risk assessment for Jakarta.

Lastly, he called for improved access by insurers to an integrated ASEAN market to "enable greater risk diversification beyond national boundaries".

"Last year, ASEAN member states made a commitment to liberalise by 2025 the cross-border supply of international Maritime, Aviation and Goods-in-Transit (MAT) insurance, catastrophe reinsurance and remaining classes of reinsurance."

The majority of member states have already committed to liberalise MAT insurance and are aiming to substantially liberalise catastrophe reinsurance by 2019, Mr Menon said.
Source: CNA/jp

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Malaysia: Lure of the much prized sea cucumber

MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 4 Aug 17;

KOTA TINGGI: A huge mothership sits in international waters while dozens of smaller boats crewed by Vietnamese fishermen, some armed with guns, encroach on Malaysian territory in search of a prize catch – sea cucumbers, which are abundant in the waters off eastern Johor.

Roaming nearly 1,400km from home and at sea for up to two months, including the time spent fishing off Sedili here, the fishermen are guided by state-of-the-art navigation systems.

When their holds are full, they return to the waiting mothership to fill its freezers and cold rooms with sea cucumbers and fish.

At the end of their “tour” the whole fleet returns to Vietnam with tonnes of delicacies that are worth millions, especially in China.

The growing issue of encroachment is causing serious problems for local fishermen, who are intimidated by their bigger vessels and weapons.

The raiders also use pukat harimau trawler nets, which cause massive environmental destruction as they scrape along the seabed and damage corals.

The local market for fish has been affected, with prices rising by more than 50% on average since last year.

Ikan kembung (mackerel), which used to cost about RM6 per kg, has shot up to between RM10 and RM12.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) southern region director First Admiral Adon Shalan said these boats were now a problem as their skippers knew the loopholes to stay out of trouble.

“Every time they see our patrol boats, they immediately head to international waters to avoid being caught,” he said.

However, he added, MMEA had some success in detaining Vietna­mese fishing vessels and their crew in the past few months.

MMEA had also stepped up its operations against encroaching foreign fishing vessels but Adm Adon believed that the syndicate to which they belonged had local informers spying for them.

“Each time we managed to locate the vessels and deployed assets to catch them, they would immediately leave for international waters,” he said.

“We do not have the jurisdiction to catch them as they are in international waters.

“And even when we do catch them, their syndicate has pockets deep enough to appoint lawyers for them,” he said, adding that the fishermen were also able to pay the fines imposed.

He added that MMEA had gathered information that some of these crews had parang and firearms on board.

“We hope the new Abu Bakar Maritime Base at Middle Rock will help us monitor and act against illegal activities in Johor waters,” he said.

A source said MMEA has advised the fishing community on the eastern side of Johor not to engage the Vietnamese vessels in any way for their own safety.

On May 23, the Johor Fisheries Department detained 22 Vietnamese fishermen, aged between 19 and 45, and seized RM5mil worth of sea cucumbers from three boats.

The source said serious government action is needed because fines alone did not deter the offenders.

“We need to seize their boats and jail them for committing economic sabotage,” the source said.

An expensive and exotic delicacy
GAN PEI LING The Star 4 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: Imported dried sea cucumbers, a luxurious delicacy during Chinese New Year reunion dinners, can fetch up to RM3,200 per kg at traditional medicine stores.

Depending on their size and origin, the dried sea cucumbers, or hai shen in Mandarin, cost between RM760 and RM3,200 per kg at stores in SS2 here.

The cheapest is the finger-sized South African tu shen while the most expensive is the arm-sized Australian tu shen.

Hai shen from Australia is considered the best among Malaysians but those looking for cheaper choices opt for alternatives from other countries, said a shopkeeper who declined to be named.

Larger forms of South African tu shen sell from RM1,555 to RM2,300 per kg, compared to different sizes of the Australian variety that start at RM1,600 per kg.

Retiree Irene Lim, 72, said she buys 1kg of dried sea cucumber a year for her family of five.

“I cook it once every three or four months, during special occasions like Chinese New Year and ancestors’ prayers,” she said.

Her favourite types are imported from Australia and Papua New Guinea.

She buys these from wholesalers for RM800 to RM1,200 per kg.

Five years ago, she used to buy them for RM600 to RM700 per kg.

She said the Chinese believe dried sea cucumber can cure arthritis.

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Indonesia: Efforts ongoing to put out peat fires in Jambi

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 3 Aug 17;

A joint effort to extinguish peat fires around the Sayang River in Sadu district, East Tanjung Jabung regency, Jambi, has been ongoing since Thursday morning.

Personnel from the local police, the Manggala Agni Fire Brigade and the Fire Agency, with support from local communities, are working together to put out fires that have been burning the area since Wednesday. However, numerous hot spots and a lack of firefighting equipment have hampered efforts.

Sadu Police chief Adj. Comr. M. Tohari said the team dispatched to extinguish the fires comprised eight police officers, eight Manggala Agni personnel, five Fire Agency officers and dozens of local people.

“We are still looking to extinguish the fires,” Tohari said on Thursday.

The fires are spread across around 10 hectares of peatland. Authorities previously tried to stop the fires when they broke out on Wednesday but they ceased the operation that night.

A separate string of fires started in and around Mencolok village, Mendahara Ulu district, East Tanjung Jabung, on Wednesday.

East Tanjung Jabung Disaster Mitigation Agency official Rizon Wilyadi said that a team was dispatched to extinguish the fires. “We are working toward putting out the fires [...],” he said, adding that the number of hectares of land burned down in the area was not known. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Java’s northern coastal area threatened by subsidence

The Jakarta Post 3 Aug 17;

National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) head Bambang S. Brodjonegoro has said Java’s northern coastal area is facing a daunting threat, namely land subsidence.

“What I’ve seen is that the island’s northern coastal area is threatened [by subsidence]. We cannot hope for a magic wand or a god to prevent Java’s northern coastal area from sinking further,” said Bambang as quoted by on Thursday. He was speaking during a national work meeting held by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in Jakarta.

Bambang believed the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development’s (NCICD) reclamation and giant seawall projects could be the answer to the problem.

“The government must make efforts to protect the people. But they themselves must be ready to embrace the changes,” said Bambang.

He said Java’s northern coastal area was different from the Maldives, an archipelagic country also threatened by land subsidence. He further said that without belittling the geographical challenges the Maldives was facing, it had a much smaller population than Java Island.

Bambang said Java’s northern coastal area had a huge population. Greater Jakarta, which is part of the area, has 20 million people, he added.

“Tangerang, Bekasi, Cikarang and Karawang are all located along the northern coast. If you’ve heard about the tidal flooding, it happens not only in Semarang but also in Pekalongan, Tegal and many more places,” he said. (ecn/ebf)

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Vietnam: Land subsidence, rising seas threaten Mekong Delta

VietNamNet Bridge 3 Aug 17;

The sustainable development of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta faces many threats, especially the rising sea level, worsening land subsidence and declining sedimentation, Dr Le Xuan Thuyen of the University of Natural Sciences has warned.

Speaking at a seminar last Thursday in HCM City titled "Challenges for sustainable development of the Mekong Delta," Thuyen said: "The delta is formed by sediments and fairly steady sea levels. Now the two elements are no longer present and so the delta is facing an uncertain future."

The delta used to receive an average of 160 million tonnes of sediment a year, enough to fully cover it to around 2mm depth thick, he said.

But by 2004 the sedimentation had decreased by a third and could decline further in future because of the construction of dams upstream, he said.

In addition, land is sinking at 10 times the rate sedimentation is forming new land, he said.

A published study showed that coastal areas and mangrove forests in the delta are sinking by around 3cm a year while other places are subsiding by over 1cm.

Human activities also affect the delta’s situation, such as the construction of dams which block sedimentation and thus cause erosion along the banks of rivers and streams.

The use of water upstream increases salinity levels as less fresh water flows back to meet seawater.
Dr Dao Ngoc Canh of Can Tho University said irrigation systems controlling floods and saline intrusions in the Long Xuyen Quadrangle and Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds) regions increase the amount of land available for agriculture but cause the loss of water storage capacity.

Floods distribute silt and nutrients along the delta, and a cessation increases the risk of erosion in the delta, he said.

Consequently, the delta is shrinking at its mouth, he warned.

Seeking solutions

Thuyen said the biggest challenge is the lack of full understanding of the delta, which easily leads to wrong conclusions.

Experts said if sea levels rise by one to two metres in the 21st century, the extent of coastal submersion in developed countries would increase by several times compared to the likely submersion in case of a moderate rise.

Thuyen said the delta should have long-term solutions rather than short- or medium-term ones to resolve these problems.

"Solutions need to be researched and considered carefully.”

The delta has a coastline of nearly 1,000km and hundreds of kilometres of rivers and tributaries, and these require a large outlay for building sea dykes and embankments.

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