In the Undergrowth

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Most encounters with wildlife are undramatic. Continue reading “In the Undergrowth”

Flying Dragons

My blog’s title isn’t hyperbole. This is literally a flying dragon. Not kidding.

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Well, the ‘dragon’ part you may consider taxonomical license. The technical name of this particular lizard is the common gliding lizard – but it belongs to a family colloquially known as flying dragons. They’re rather smaller than the public’s general perception of dragons. But they deserve the moniker, because they can fly.

See, the traditional image of lizards is of them scurrying across the ground – maybe up a tree, at a stretch. This one literally jumps into the unknown and soars – for distances up to 8 meters, that is. It’s not sustained flight; rather, it’s a flight enabled by neat little flaps on their abdomen, visible in the above picture. Essentially, between its ribs is stretch a large membrane called the patagium – this membrane folds in when not in use. When they do, however, want to use it, they spread their ribs forward, thus increasing the surface area of their body and in due course transforming themselves into a lean, mean flying machine. Their long, slender tails act as a rudder, directing them on to new heights.

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The patagium isn’t the only flap hidden on their body. The second one is on the throat of males – in this species, it’s yellow, but it varies. During the breeding season males rapidly extend it when sitting below a female in a display of their manliness. The lizard above probably wasn’t trying to attract a female, though – sometimes they do it just for the heck of it, or, rather, to make themselves seem bigger than they actually are. In females, the throat flap is much smaller and blue-mottled: they don’t need to work to get the boys.

And before you sigh, and mutter, well, kudos for you, but I’m never going to see it, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. This species is a common inhabitant of parks and lightly wooded areas. Two more species are found in Singapore’s forests – the black-bearded and five-banded flying dragon, the latter only discovered in 2001.

Our little island holds more than we know.

Also, this is my 200th post. Who knew?

A Tale of Sungei Buloh and BESG

Most members of the Singaporean wildlife community will know BESG, or Bird Ecology Study Group, to use its fully name. Not fully limited to birds, it’s a blog that commits itself to recording behavior and ecology among animals and is globally famous.

Now to Sungei Buloh. The other day I decided to go over and explore its new Kranji Extension. To get there, however, I had to first pass through the parking lot – innocuous enough, but then I saw a lizard.

It took barely a moment to identify it as the overly-common Changeable Lizard. Still, with no other animals in sight or to pursue just then, I decided to pause a while and photograph it. What then transpired is best detailed in the article I submitted to the blog and that was published just the other day. (You should totally go and check out the rest of the blog. It’s completely awesome. Go on. Do it.)

“I visited Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve yesterday and in the car park observed a Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor). I was photographing it when all of a sudden it pounced on something in the leaf litter I had not observed previously.

“It was total chaos for a few seconds and I realised it was another lizard it had ‘attacked’; they thrashed together, the lizard I had seen first on top, and after a while they dis-attached.

“The two lizards sat facing one another and bobbed heads alternately. I realised this must have been a mating display. Just then a large group of people arrived and confronted with the sight of me lying flat on the ground for no apparent reason, became understandably worried that I had fallen.

“By the time I looked up, the second lizard had gone. I continued to observe the first lizard until the group went too close to it and it ran away.”

Me being looked at weirdly? Check. (I request the person from that group who took a photograph of me to please come forward and submit it for inspection.)

Cool animal behaviors? Check.

Article in BESG? Resounding check. All in all, a good day’s excursion.

Something Insanely Exciting

So, the other day I got an email. (See if you can tell where this is heading.) From Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

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Most wildlife photographers have heard of this competition – organised by the Natural History Museum of London (only one of my favorite museums ever – dinosaurs, anyone?) and BBC Wildlife, it’s considered the Oscars of wildlife photography. They’re halfway through judging this year’s entrants now… aaaand three of my photographs got selected for the Final Round! (Yes, that deserves to be capitalized. It’s that important.)

I submitted at literally the last minute, realizing submissions were open a day before they closed. I had almost forgotten about it, to be honest, so this was really, really surprising.

Without further ado, here my three shortlisted images – some of which you may recognize from this blog, some of which you may have seen on Saving MacRitchie.

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Read more about my spotting of this spider on this post from Saving MacRitchie.

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Not seen this image before? Well – wait till next Monday, when I post on Saving MacRitchie, and you will have. Hop on over then to read about the fascinating and aptly named robber fly.

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You will have seen this before, in my post on my visit to the Dairy Farm Nature Reserve here. But the lizard’s red eyes haven’t stopped holding me thrall.

I’m so, so happy my photographs made it this far in the judging process – even if they don’t go any further, the honor at being considered amongst the number of fantastic photographers out there is just – woah. Thank you all for sticking with me all this way. I’ve enjoyed – and will continue enjoying – every minute.

Monitored

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Monitor lizards are not dangerous, the logical side of me argued. They have nothing with which to attack with (ignore its tail, ignore its tail) and malevolent grins are not grounds for panic.

The illogical side of me decided the logical side had held sway for too long and booted it out of the forefront of my mind. Run! it screamed. Run for your life in the other direction! There’s a huge lizard smack dab in the middle of the trail; obviously it’s out to get you!

But the problem was running for my life in the other direction would only hinder matters. We had just finished a one and a half hour walk along Sungei Buloh’s looping path. Did we really want to go all the way back?

The logical side of me gained sway for moment enough to shout, No!

The monitor in question was a beast of an individual, at least two meters long. It occupied the very center of the path and seemed in no position to move an inch. Earlier we had encountered other monitors, but these were fairly cowardly creatures that only gave us a fright when we heard the sudden rustling and soft splash when they slipped away into the water from where they had been sitting, just out of sight. This one, however, held a distinct aura of superiority to it; lowly humans, it seemed to say, who can’t even sunbathe properly. Hmph. Get out of my way.

But we couldn’t get out of its way. The worst part is we could see the exist, right behind it.

Just walk past it calmly, logic argued. It won’t move a muscle.

I decided to see what results this woud produce and inched slightly past it. Was it me or had its eyeballs shifted slightly to look at me? Another careful shuffle. Yup, its eye had moved.

I imagined the sudden blur of movement as it spun around and attacked and –

Before Illogical Thoughts could get any further in its campaign for precedence in my mind, I hurriedly walk-jogged the rest of the way, only breathing a sigh of relief when I was all the way past it.

Monitor lizards are not dangerous.

Quiet Contemplation

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A young clouded monitor lizard (Varanus nebulosus) was engaged in quiet contemplation at Pasir Ris Mangroves. The most common monitor in Singapore, despite the fact that these lizards cannot harm you, one individual caused pandemonium when it took up residence on a housing estate.

Eyeing the Greenery

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A recent trip to the Dairy Farm Nature Reserve with NSS yielded this Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella). These beautiful reptiles are usually found solely within primary and secondary forest but can be found in disturbed areas as well. When they feel threatened, they turn brown; however, these stunning creatures’ population here is steadily decreasing due to competition with the more adaptable Changeable Lizard.