Secretive Critters Always Spark My Curiosity

Love MacRitchie Walk @ Venus Loop with Cicada Tree Eco-Place
Saturday 13 May 2017
Text by Teresa Teo Guttensohn
Photos by Zhang Xu Cheng and Teresa Teo Guttensohn (TTG)

Secretive critters always spark my curiosity,” said Zhang Xu Cheng, one of the Love MacRitchie Walk participants, who came equipped with essential gear – tan hat, light tropical jungle wear, camera, and most important of all, passion for forest critters!

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What rainforest critter is hiding there? I wanna see! Photo: TTG

Looks like he’s not the only one whose interest has been piqued by our local wildlife from the relatively big (we first bumped into a Clouded Monitor Lizard foraging), to the not-so-big (a furry Colugo), to the small (forest birds), the smaller (lively freshwater fish), and the even smaller (amazing flatworms and insects)!

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“Yikes! Please be gentle with my home hor!,” said the little critter in his creative self-made abode. Photo: TTG

OK, so by now we were dying of curiosity, what animal was resting in that rolled up leaf? We all peeked in, saw something tiny burrowing itself further inwards, and Zhang gently took a few shots.

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Here it is! A leaf-rolling cricket within his cool green DIY habitat. Sorry to disturb Mr Cricket! Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng

A leaf-rolling cricket! Never heard of that one! Now my curiosity was totally aroused. Besides the leaf-rolling or raspy cricket (Gryllacrididae), what other teeny animals live in rolled up leaves? What sort of and how many crickets do we have in Singapore? I know that crickets do chirp, adding to the beautiful, sonorous forest chorus that makes the rainforest such a delight.

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What am I? Mind you, I am not just a bit of fluff, I am a forest dweller! Planthopper nymph (Fulgoroidea). Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng
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What am I? I blend in really well with my leaf! Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng
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What am I? I’m just a fly with a hammerhead! Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng

I decided to check with Tan Ming Kai, a local entomologist with NUS who has discovered 35 species of crickets and katydids in Singapore new to science! Awesome work!

According to Tan, “there are as many as 17 species of raspy crickets of the family Gryllacrididae recorded in Singapore, but only nine species have been recorded in recent surveys (Tan, 2012), including seven from the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It is likely the other eight species might be extremely rare or even locally extinct.”

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What am I? Tiny crickets are mostly unseen in the dim undergrowth, but are an important food source for birds and other wildlife. Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng

Crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids belong to the order Orthoptera, and even in a small place like Singapore, there are amazingly approximately 250 species of orthopterans!

And yet, new species are waiting to be discovered each day. 27 species new to science had been described from Singapore since 2011. One could say that our nature reserves, though small, are indeed a precious minefield of undiscovered discoveries.

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What am I? I am a katydid, a close cousin of the cricket, and one of the approximately 250 species of orthopterans in Singapore. Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng

To quote Tan Ming Kai from an article he co-wrote with Robin Ngiam and Mirza Rifqi bin Ismail, which was published in Nature Watch (2012):

The importance of an animal species does not rest entirely on its size and charisma. Despite being small and largely inconspicuous, orthopterans provide an important link in the ecosystem.”

Therefore “the conservation of nature areas and nature reserves must continue, in order to maintain the habitat of current populations. Without these conservation efforts, we may end up losing some species of orthopterans or other poorly studied organisms, even before discovering them.”

Special thanks to Tan Ming Kai for his expert input.

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13 May 2017 – Folks full of glee and curiosity about nature out on a Love MacRitchie Walk. Author Teresa is at bottom of picture and student photo contributor Xu Cheng is on her left. In the group behind are Samuel and Pei En, Anusha, Elaine, Kripa and Muralikumar. Photo: TTG
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Check out my chic orange outfit! Do you know what am I? Photo: Zhang Xu Cheng

References:

Tan MK, Ngiam R & Mirza Rifqi (2012) The Ground-dwelling Songsters of the Insect World. Nature Watch, Jan-Mar 2012: 9-13.

Tan MK (2012) Orthoptera in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves (Part 2) Suborder Ensifera. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 70 pp.

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