Friday, 2 September 2011

Fun in the Forest

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson
Photos by Timothy Pwee

How would you describe a forest? Dark, mysterious or fun? Led by veteran nature guide Goh Si Guim, a chirpy group of kids and their caregivers chose the last adjective of 'fun' to describe their forest foray on 19 February 2011.

Uncle Si Guim briefing kids and their caregivers at the work-in-progress submerged boardwalk.

Circumventing MacRitchie Reservoir’s work-in-progress submerged boardwalk, we proceeded towards the Lornie Trail. Here, hundreds of joggers and trekkers zipped pass, quite unaware of the intriguing life forms that co-existed in the trees and undergrowth.

Near the trailhead, we visited our favourite patch of Slender Pitcher Plants. This carnivorous climber lures unwary insects with sweetened droplets, invariably leading them to a watery deathtrap. Digestive juices reduce the drowned insects into a nitrogen-rich supplement for the pitchers. As a result, pitchers typically flourish in nitrogen-poor soils where most plants cannot grow.

Uncle Si Guim pointed out the contrast between the hot and unsheltered landscaped garden that we had passed, with the cool and canopied forest that we had entered. Waving his hands animatedly, he explained in simple terms the role of plants in the ecosystem and the amazing biodiversity that it supported. Then we started poking around the undergrowth.

The cool and canopied forest revealed life forms that go unnoticed by most.

Kids grew increasingly fascinated with the micro organisms that Uncle Si Guim uncovered. They learnt that Jumping and Wolf Spiders did not build webs, but prowled the forest floor to hunt for insect prey. They saw a ‘ladder’ of bracket fungi, forming a ‘stairway’ up a dead tree that had possibly been zapped by lightning. Peering closely with torch and magnifying glass at the uneven bark of a Pulai tree, we found a well-camouflaged Whip Scorpion and several pinkish Forest Silverfish. Different species of Forest Cockroach (adults and nymphs) scampered amongst the leaf litter, quite unlike their American Cockroach cousins that live in our houses.

An entomophagous (insect-eating) fungus slowly snuffed out the life of this fly.

Next, Uncle Si Guim stumbled upon the ultimate find in the insect world. On closer examination of an innocuous-looking dead fly resting on a twig, he was ecstatic to witness for the first time, an entomophagous (insect-eating) fungus growing out of its head and body. A spore of this fungus had landed on the unfortunate fly. Its deadly mycelia had spread inside the fly, slowly drawing the nutrients and life out of its unsuspecting host. We could only see the fruiting bodies (“mushrooms”) of the fungus that had sprouted on the fly’s desiccated exoskeleton. These “mushrooms” were laden with spores that could infect the next victim. Kids learnt from Auntie Gloria that Cordyceps is a famous example of a medicinal entomophagous fungus.On the way out, some of us found a Kendall 's Rock Gecko resting in the branched crevice of a huge Callophyllum inophyllum tree near the exercise corner. In all, this trip cultivated an appreciation for the seemingly insignificant world of insects - a microcosm that can turn out to be terribly intriguing too.

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