Sunday, 11 March 2018

NSS Kids’ Fun with Beautiful Butterflies at Jurong Eco Garden

By Gloria Seow, Education Committee Vice-Chairperson
Photos by Gloria Seow, KC Tsang & Suressh

  Auntie Amy introducing the denizens of the butterfly garden.

CleanTech Park and the next door Jurong Eco Garden serve as a fine example of sustainable development in Singapore – harmoniously marrying green building (ie. eco-friendly built features) with manicured and wild greenery rich in biodiversity. Impressively, the eco garden conserves a hodge podge of habitats including a hill forest, secondary forest, freshwater swamp vegetation and rocky stream. It also offers a landscaped butterfly garden and artificial ponds.

Sailing out to meet us at the start was Singapore’s largest butterfly, the Common Birdwing.

We visited Jurong Eco Garden on 16 July 2017 to experience the myriad of colourful butterflies and insects within its five-hectare grounds. At the start of the walk, our group of kids and their caregivers encountered Singapore’s largest butterfly, the Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus). Several majestic specimens sailed effortlessly by, buoyed by wings as big as a tiny bird. Traipsing into the butterfly garden proper, Auntie Amy pointed out its flighty denizens in quick succession: Orange Emigrant (Catopsilia scylla cornelia), Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona pomona), Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus), Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana jacana), Tawny Palmfly (Elymnias panthera panthera) and many more.

We learnt that the Indian Prune (Flacourtia Rukam), a small tree with attractive red and green leaves, is the host plant for the Leopard butterfly (Phalanta phalantha phalantha) and saw a good many Leopards flitting about. Next, we were introduced to the distinctive Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia acuminata), a creeper with flowers that resemble a smoking pipe. Auntie Amy revealed that this important vine is the host plant for the caterpillars of both the Common Birdwing and Singapore’s National Butterfly, the Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae asteris). Poking around the vegetation, Auntie Lena spotted a Bagworm Moth caterpillar. It had a conical shell on its back as a protective mechanism, made mainly of plant detritus spun together with silk.

The Saint Andrew’s Cross Spider arranges its legs in pairs to form the letter X, also resembling a cross.

Fortuitously, a child participant noticed a most curious sight – a good number of long-legged Craneflies (Tipulidae family) massing together as if holding hands. They were strung across two plants in a rhythmic dance. This was likely a mating ritual where males perform in unison to attract females. As we crossed a rocky stream to enter the hill forest, Auntie Lena highlighted a variety of dragon- and damselflies. She taught us how to identify the Common Parasol (Neurothemis fluctuans) – the only dragonfly with both maroon body and wings for the male, and yellowish body and clear wings for the female. In comparison, most reddish dragonflies have transparent wings and can be told apart by specific markings on their wings, thoraxes or abdomens. We observed the behaviour of the bluish Indigo Dropwing (Trithemis festiva), so called because it folds down (ie. drops) its wings upon landing. It was amazing to discover that a single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes a day. Likewise, its larvae consume mosquito larvae. This makes dragonflies valuable allies in our fight against mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue.

The Horsfield’s Baron is only encountered in forested areas.

Meandering along the forested path, we were pleased to see two attractive forest butterflies, the Horsfield’s Baron (Tanaecia iapis puseda) and the Ciliate Blue (Anthene emolus goberus)Auntie Gloria found us a Saint Andrew’s Cross Spider (Argiope spp) on its web, a classic arachnid that arranges its legs in pairs to form the letter X. We also came across several frog egg clusters suspended in clear puddles, and admired the fallen blooms of the Passion Fruit (Passiflora laurifolia) and African Tulip (Spathodea campanulate). Uncle Suressh pointed out the black-and-red-striped Grenadier (Agrionoptera insignis), a large forest dragonfly that taunted us with its fly-and-perch routine. As we neared the end of the trail, a Laced Woodpecker (Picus vittatus) made its appearance as if to bid us adieu. In all, it was a fulfilling morning of wildlife spotting right next to an industrial park.

 An attractive Laced Woodpecker bidding us adieu.

Our Highlights at Jurong Eco Garden 
By 14-year-old Alastair Liew, Photos by 12-year-old Jake Liew
 Jake in front of a vertical garden of ferns and other plants.

Jurong Eco Garden is the green lungs of CleanTech Park, tucked away in a little corner next to Nanyang Technological University. It is located opposite the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln devoted to the craft of hand-made wood-fired pottery. Before we embarked on our walk, we spent time admiring the vertical wall of plants just outside the toilet at the entrance. We were lucky as it was a cool day with large fluffy clouds offering a measure of shade.

A tree with many holey leaves, the handiwork of voracious caterpillars.

We followed a paved path into the garden and came across a poor tree with leaves riddled with holes eaten by caterpillars. Sadly, we did not manage to see the caterpillars. In contrast, butterflies could be observed flying about everywhere.

Crossing a small stream proved a challenge for some little ones.

Our advance was halted by a small stream. Thankfully, there were little stepping stones to aid our crossing. A number of the younger children with over-active imagination were afraid that frogs would suddenly leap across their paths, while others were scared of the many dragonflies zipping around. Still, we all made it across unscathed.

The path led to a section with many trees that towered over us. We kept our eyes peeled. Jake was rewarded with a small yellow-and-black bug crawling on top of a leaf. Auntie Gloria pointed out a St Andrew’s Cross Spider in the middle of an intricately-weaved web. This is a species of orb web spider that holds its legs in pairs into a characteristic X-shape. Upon catching its prey, it will rotate the victim with binding silk until it forms a neat package before drawing it closer to administer the fatal kiss of death. Closer examination of a puddle of water produced a clutch of frog’s eggs that reminded us of yummy basil seeds (biji selasih) in ice jelly dessert.

     A clutch of frog’s eggs, resembling basil seeds (biji selasih) in ice jelly dessert.

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