By Alastair & Ryan Liew (13 & 11 years old)
Photos by Gloria Seow & Alastair Liew
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve reopened its trails in October 2016 after two years of restorative works. The NSS Kids ventured forth into its lush rainforest on 19 February 2017. Sunday mornings are popular with families out for some exercise and fresh air.
Armed with binoculars, cameras and note pads, we eagerly lapped up the factoids that sifu Uncle Si Guim fed us.
Right off the bat, we came across something peculiar – a plant with many spikes on its stem, making it look like a porcupine. After some discussion with our guide and nature guru Uncle Si Guim, we found out that it was a rattan palm. Stripped of its thorns, the rattan can be used to make cane furniture and the fearsome rotan. Rattans are climbers, with hooks to help them cling onto other plants as they grow upwards.
Careful! The rattan palm has many spines and hooks on it, and can be used to make the infamous rotan.
We then learnt about the different layers of the rainforest. Being the highest layer, the emergent trees stand above the canopy layer. The canopy forms the middle tier and blocks off most of the sunlight, allowing slivers of golden rays to reach the forest floor. The plants in the lowest level or undergrowth are hardier and are adapted for survival in the shady zone.
We pressed on and came across many vines dangling off the dense vegetation. We felt lucky to see Tarzan’s vine or lianas (Entada spiralis), which appeared thick, woody and wound around a tree. Vines can grow up to half a metre thick. Upon further inspection, certain vines turned out to be aerial roots. Such roots can serve different purposes including providing clinging support for creepers.
A cicada moult.
Our attention was drawn to a cicada moult hanging from one of the wooden safety barriers. Depending on the species, cicadas can live underground for between two to 17 years feeding off tree roots. They only come up to the surface as nymphs to moult into the adult winged form, undergo courtship, mate and for females, to lay their eggs, all within the span of a week before dying. As true insects, cicadas have piercing proboscis used to suck fluids from the xylem of trees. Singapore has six cicada species.
Taking a few steps forward, we felt something sticky on our faces. We had to pull off thin strands of spider web. Looking upwards, we were astonished to find another humongous web about half a metre in diameter belonging to the Golden Orb-Web Spider (Nephila pilipes). Spiders are extremely sensitive. They tend to hang out in the centre of the web to better feel the vibrations of any insect landing on it. The unlucky victims will either be eaten immediately or “dabao’ed” (Chinese for takeaway) in the silky web to be eaten later.
Uncle Si Guim then pointed to the forest floor which was full of decaying matter being eaten and decomposed by microorganisms, insects and fungi. While surveying the ground, a huge forest cockroach suddenly emerged from a pile of leaves. My brothers and I were petrified and remained a safe distance away. This brown forest cockroach was well camouflaged against the rotting leaves and soil.
We spotted two types of terrestrial ferns lining the trail – the Singapore Fern (Tectaria singaporeana) and Selaginella willdenowii, an introduced fern ally with iridescent blue leaves that has been naturalised. Later, we found a third fern high up in a tree. Putting our binoculars to good use, we enjoyed views of the Staghorn Fern (Platycerium coronarium) with attractive fronds that resemble deer antlers.
Just as the walk was coming to an end, we stumbled across a Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) or Flying Lemur clinging contentedly to a tree trunk. This nocturnal mammal is able to glide a substantial distance between trees, using a thin membrane that stretches between its limbs and tail. What a great find! The forest walk experience was very fulfilling and we hope that more kids and their families will join us on our next NSS Kids’ adventure!
An adorable Colugo in quiet repose up a tree near the trail.