Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)
It is an important habitat where a variety of unique plants and animals live, some of which can only be found here and nowhere else. An excellent example of this is a species of brackish water snail that is preyed upon by the larvae of a certain species of firefly.
Pasir Ris has a mangrove patch which is hidden in a secluded corner of this seaside haunt of joggers, picnickers and cyclists. On the way in, cutting across a grassy patch from the MRT train station, many tiny bluish grey butterflies can be seen fluttering close to the ground. Aptly named the Lesser Grass Blue, this species has a wingspan of about one centimetre that is grey on the underside with numerous tiny black spots and a luminous light blue on the upperside. Although very common in urban areas, they are easily missed because of their small size.
Approaching the outer extremities of the park, a few of us spotted a small dark brown shape disappearing into an area of long grasses. Closer inspection revealed a specimen of a subspecies of Mycalesis. Commonly known as Bush Browns, they are distinguished from other similar drab-looking butterflies by their numerous ocelli or ring patterns on the underside.
Passing by one of the many Pong Pong trees in the vicinity, a mangrove species once popular as a roadside tree, I could not help but hopefully cheek its leaves for caterpillars of the King Crow (Euploea phaenareta castelnaui). Exactly three months ago, I managed to find two of its black-and-white striped caterpillars on the same tree and have succeeded in seeing them to maturity. But alas, this time around they weren't any.
Following the boardwalk trail that led us into the mangrove forest, we came upon a fast-flying butterfly circling an Ixora bush overgrown with Mile-A-Minute creepers. Settling on the small whitish flowers, it displayed its striated dark grey underside and the distinctive black tornal lobe on its tailed hind wings. Rapala varuna orseis, as it is scientifically known, is a forest denizen but is an occasional visitor to the urban areas.
A short distance away, the boardwalk forks into two, forming a circle with clumps of mangrove vegetation in the middle. Perched high up among this lush greenery was a Chocolate Pansy, happily sun-tanning on a leaf. To hasten the drying of its wings, it flapped continuously, revealing its rich brown upperside contrasting with the matte black of its underside.
Our presence disturbed a Common Grass Yellow from its slumber. Totally yellow, except for thin black borders on its upperside, it was last seen flying in a wriggling fashion towards the shade of the forest. Further down the trail, a stone's throw from the second circle, we chanced upon an area infested with small red bugs. A knowledgeable member of our group remarked that they were Cotton Stainers, a pretty bug found mainly in the mangroves.
By now we were well on the path that cuts across the healthy-looking mangrove forest but it was a sad sight that greeted us. What we saw upset us. Plastic bottles of every kind littered the swampy forest floor.
Another mangrove-dependent species, the Mangrove Tree Nymph (Idea leuconoe chersonesia), was still commonly found in our mangroves at the turn of the 20th century. Singapore's rapid development has all but reduced mangrove habitats to what it is today. Having lost vast tracts of mangroves that it depended on for survival, this graceful species finally succumbed to local extinction.
Deciding against backtracking, we continued our walk on the footpath back to the entrance of the park. Flashing colours of black and white, a Common Mormon was seen swinging in and out of the fringe.
On our way back to the MRT station, a Plain Tiger appeared out of nowhere and flew across the side road before disappearing in a haze long grass. Once fairly common, this local species is threatened with extinction. Unless the host plants, the Crown Flower and Blood Flower are grown extensively, this beautiful insect will go the way of the Dodo.
Fighting over territorial rights, two male Blue Pansy butterflies were spotted chasing each other all over the grassy land. In the midst on this unfolding drama, a lone and fresh specimen of the Peacock Pansy could he seen enjoying the show.
At the end, we managed only to see two of a number of the known mangrove species recorded in the park. Our remaining mangrove forests must be conserved, not just for these butterflies, but for many other mangrove-dependant plants and animal species. At the same time, all of us can do our part for the environment and not pollute by littering.
<<Back to Issue contents
© Nature Society Singapore