Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ascidian galore at Cyrene

On a fine Thursday morning, we gathered at West Coast Pier to head for Cyrene Reef. Our boat was really really REALLY slow and we decided to name it the "Onchi Boat" after our dear onchs.

The sunrise was phenomenal as our boat approached the reef which seemed to rise up from the sea as the tide moves away.

Finally on dry land after the amphibious landing, we wasted no time to get everything up and kicking.

You can see that as the tide goes out, it magically reveals the marvellous Cyrene which in other times, submerged under water.

I couldn't help but post this picture to show just how nice the morning sky was

There were seagrasses on Cyrene too! (A very huge meadow actually)

And of course there was the common Halophila ovalis amongst the other 5 species of seagrasses there

Here's a pic of what I think are burnt seagrasses

Looks really bad for this patch

Look at the diversity of life in this puddle! Nature's ever amazing...

There were these hairy looking algaes everywhere and on closer look, there are small shirmp on the strands. (Yes, those white stuff are actually shrimp)

This thing felt hard, is it some green coralline algae?

The corals over at Cyrene were also gorgeous with organisms like brittlestars and fanworms living in them

Hard corals and soft corals grow together side by side. The leather coral (Sarcophyton sp.)on the right has long polyps and might engage in chemical warfare with the hard coral beside it whe it grows bigger.

A colony of zoanthids growing on coral rubble. Do you know that zoanthid polyps are all connected to each other? Yet if you cut the tissue joining them, each would colonise again into another colony.

This interesting looking creature is actually a worm that lives inside a tube that it makes. The feathery projections are used to trap food particles drifting in the water. It'll then retract into the tube to consume its food. If you look closely, there are some red specks on the crown and I'm guessing these are microscopic organisms living together with it.

Is hard coral (Pocillopora sp.) has neon green polyps and are frequently used in coral research studies. I only managed to find 1 such colony of this coral but Shufen said she saw quite a few... guess I need to buck up my spotting skills.

This one looks like the one above right? Its actually a leather coral which is a soft coral. Quite amazing that corals can look so alike each other.

This is another hard coral (Montipora digitata) and Ron was very interested to find these especially big colonies as he said seahorses live among them. But try as we might, the team did not find any seahorses on the trip.

I saw quite a few tube anemones too and I'm never once not amazed by these creatures. They come in all sorts of colours from orange to pink to green to purple. And the fact that they live in a tube makes them so different from the anemones we tend to associate the name with!

Here's a green one

This one actually came out of its tube! Wonder whether its stressed or eating something?

There were lots of ascidians too and they also come in all sorts of wacky colours.
Here's some pink ones...

And some white ones...

And green ones living on the blades of seagrasses!

We also found some flatworms. This one was found my Gaytri when we went exploring together.

This phychedelic one was caught by Ron. And you thought worms were long, ugly and squishy haha.

While hunting for the knobbly seastar with Ron, we chanced upon a school of eel tail catfish. They look like little tadpoles from the surface.

And we found what we were looking for. This is a juvenile knobbly seastar as its knobs had not fully developed yet.

And straight after the knobbly seastar, Ron shouted for me from like 100m away and said he found a cushion star. Well, here it is!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Of jellies and snakes

Its Sijie's last installment of the snake hunts and I'm sure not gonna miss a bit of it

Today was only SJ, me and Guy3 because Helen had injured herself...

As usual we went to find snakes that had already eaten for SJ to bring back to the lab.

There was an interesting find though, as SJ caught sight of this jellyfish that got washed ashore. On the previous hunts, the volunteers said they saw jellyfish but we didn't find any.

I also came across another one near the bank. Seems like there's really jellies here

There were lots of Green Chromides (Etroplus suratensis) there too. Its the first time I've seen them so close to the shore.

And the doggy! Beautiful isn't it?

For those who had not experienced the hunt, this is how it looks like when they come up to shore.

One thing I can't grasp is why this species is called dog faced?
Does it look like a dog to you? (say no haha)

And here's the drama of it eating a BIG fish. Beats watching any documentary hands down!

And of course, being a mangrove area, there are other creatures such as this bugger here whom Sijie made very very grumpy.

And as Gaytri requested, here's a pic of her with a baby dog face

Thursday, March 8, 2007

More on the doggies

Went for another 2 more snake hunting sessions with Sijie and his volunteers. I thought I could share what I learnt about these beauties on the blog.

For the past 2 days, I was trying real hard to differentiate the guys from the gals because a visual clue is at this region called the cloaca which is somewhat like a little bellybutton near the rear underside of the snake. For the males, there would be a "barrel" or a segment of equal width just after the cloaca before the tail starts to taper off and this was supposed to contain the penis. For the females, the tail would taper off rather abruptly after the cloaca.

The dog faced watersnake would catch its prey using 2 methods. First one is to "sit and wait" where they basically lay motionless till a fish comes by and then it strikes. According to Sijie, this method is usually used to catch small fishes. The other method is to be actively hunting where the snake would go to deeper waters and catch their prey. This then, is the method of choice for larger fishes.

After catching their prey, the dog faced watersnake would then bring its prey up onto shore and this serves to suffocate the prey and at the same time, provide the snake some leverage to swallow the prey. Ingenious isn't it?

The snakes depend on motion to sense their prey too. This means, you can do all the ugly faces at it and it'll not strike but once you move your fingers in the water, it'll give you a nasty bite. Sijie showed this by splashing water in front of a snake and true enough, it attacked the water droplets.

On the last night, Sijie caught this baby one which was no more than 15cm long and it was really really tame. One of the volunteers fell so much in love with it that she wanted to bring it home but due to the risk of a scale infection, she got the honours to release it instead.

There was also another ambitious fella who had caught a big fat juicy fish a little too big for its size and while attempting to swallow, it actually coughed out blood. Look at what a blood stain it had, gosh it just knew its going to get a bad sore throat....

Higher up on shore, there were lots and lots of nerite snails. I actually found these guys way up on the slope and I wonder why they were not found closer to the water. On the second night, Helen also found a brownish black flatworm at the top of the slope too.

It was really a good experience for me and it is really worth it even though I was dead tired from a day of camping. Many many thanks to Sijie for letting me tag along and showing me these wonderful creatures. And also many thanks to all the volunteers for making the trips as exciting as it was.

More on the snake hunt on the wildfilms blog

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cut by barnacles

Went with Sijie for a snake hunting trip to catch the dog faced water snake cerberus rynchops for his project
Sijie was very good in explaining the background info about them as I know nuts about snakes
At first I thought it would be kind of big from the picture he had of it but I later found out the bigger ones are probably of managable size

First, we spotted a medium size one but it is not feeding and we went around to see what it looks like
Then Sijie caught one to show the morphology and explain the sexing (which I still can't do)
After that, many more appeared and finally we saw our first one that caught a fish and was trying to swallow it

Almost like a chain of events, there was another one spotted and then it turned out that 2 snakes were fighting over the fish
Subsequently we caught a few more including some large one which really stink
Then the tide came in and the "magic moment" was almost over and most of the snakes went into hiding again

Didn't bring my camera along so no pictures of the trip from me
But I did take a picture of this cut I had when I slipped and went straight into a barnacle covered rock

Its quite a deep cut actually, but not a problem at all and I'll be back with Sijie and guys for the next 2 sessions

It was really an eye opener for me today, hopefully someday I can bring Chloe along since she is the only one who had not been involved in these stuff

Still anticipating the Semakau TeamSeagrass transect
Heard it had the largest seagrass meadow in Singapore!
Got to go see it for myself haha