Back to beautiful Mandai mangroves and mudflats

After a long hiatus and preoccupation with mammal work, I finally returned to Mandai mangroves and mudflats with Masters student Aisling (“Ice-Ling”) Dunbar from Ruth O’Riordan of University College Cork, Ireland who was formerly with our department.

Aisling will work on mangrove horseshoe crabs and kick start some studies. To narrow the proposal, a ground recce was conducted today. I had nursed my flu as tenderly as I could and thankfully this was not one of the really bad viruses, and I could hobble out of bed to get “Ice-Ling” started.

I brought reinforcements as I would tire easily and if I encountered something like the 300 entangled horseshoe crabs in 2009, I’d be defeated. So Joelle and Weiting came and were game for a visit after an even longer absence from Mandai than I have had.


Here I pointed out to Aisling that all four official languages were represented, unlike some signs around the island! We then headed towards the mangrove and were examining horseshoe crab distribution, favoured habitats, size, population status and similar issues in Mandai Kechil.

“Look for the young ones in streams” and Aisling laid hands on her first horseshoe crab!


Back in the steam it went, and then we looked for adults in the mud, easily done with all four of us spotting.


I was certainly glad to be back in Mandai, even thought the sight of fallen trees makes me feel like a howling Dogmatix.


We scrutinised Mandai Kechil and by then the tide was rising. Wading in mangroves is a lovely feeling and the horseshoe crabs were actively moving about in pairs, males hitching a ride on females. It got deeper as we headed up the banks of Mandai Besar. But this is all familiar territory, for I must know every inch of this terrain and can avoid the shin-scraping fallen trees in the water!


It was strange not seeing the railway line, which was removed last July.


And then, after some five hours, we were out. We’re all cleaned and changed and off to the bus stop to head to Kranji MRT – it’s quite a surreal change from one world to another.


Mandai mangrove is my enchanted forest. There might be cobras, mangrove whiprays and hornets but this is where I am most comfortable.


As for “Ice-Ling?” Well she had a great field trip, with no indication of problems of terrain, hydration or temperature. She’s ready for further explorations.

[Flickr of he trip]

Detouring around a hornet’s (Vespa affinis) nest in Mandai Besar mangrove

On a recce of Mandai mangrove and mudflats, I rounded a corner and froze. A hornet’s nest, holy cow! From my position I briefed my companions about the recommended reaction if they swarmed.

When I was in the army, a platoon-mate inadvertently disturbed a nest up a tree. That sent us scurrying and lobbing smoke grenades in a flash! These insects, however, were calm, so Joelle, Weiting and I chatted a bit while “Iceling” observed us somewhat nervously, wondering what to make of my “holy cow!” exclamation earlier. Her first trip to the tropics and all that. I had nly warned her about snakes, broken glass and mangrove whiprays, but the bit about moving slowly evidently covered scenarios like this!

After we had observed the hornets for some time, I decided a wide detour was appropriate since the soft ground could transmit vibrations to the nest – it was hanging off a fairly young tree. I could still remember my platoon-mate’s swollen neck when he returned from the hospital. Well, at least he didn’t need to do any more trench digging that day!

Vespa affinis nest, Sg Mandai Besar
The nest and a close-up. Hopefully Weiting’s camera did a better job!

This nest is not very high up a tree and could be easily disturbed by an unsuspecting researcher., especially someone focused on something on the ground or tree dbh! My first thought was of Rick Chin Leong and Dan Friess who frequent this area (and leave their untidy trademarks all over the mangrove). So from a respectable distance, I sent the google map placemaker to the blog, tweeted Dan and later emailed them both.

I remarked to Weiting, this is why we instruct Site Captains and Organisers to walk their site in the morning before participants turn up for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore.

Kranji 2003 - pre-cleanup inspection
Conducting the pre-coastal cleanup dawn site inspection at Kranji in 2003 (photo by Charith Pelpola).

Hornet nest in Mandai Besar - 1.436344,103.761541 - Google Maps
Click for map

The hornets appeared to be the common Vespa affinis (lesser banded hornet) as the first two abdominal segments were yellow (see Chan, 1972. The hornets of Singapore: their identification and control. Singapore Medical Journal, 13(4): 178-197.

John Lee who maintains has lovely photos such as this one below:

John Lee: Lesser banded hornets (Vespa affinis) in Singapore :: 6 -- photo sharing network

He observes that “In Singapore, it can frequently be found on the beach, staying near rotting mussels which smell bad and attract flies. … they were simply creeping into the mussel shells and hiding there to ambush the flies!”

He also says, Vespa affinis is not particularly defensive near the nest so it possible to approach for observations. Then comes a big ‘however’ – “large numbers of workers will swarm out and attack pugnaciously when the nest is disturbed. ”

Oooh. Nice that we detoured!

Mandai Besar 24 May 2012
“Ice-Ling”, Weiting and Joelle – recce over and not a single swollen neck!

Oh well, otherwise, we’d make pretty impressive exhibits during the Festival of Biodiversity – all of us will be there, so join us at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, 26-27 May 2012!

To read more about John Lee and his work, see “Hooked on Hymenopterans!” Part 1 and Part 2 by Marcus Ng. Celebrating Singapore’s Diversity, 03 Feb 2010.

Blood Bank has updated their “Overseas Travel Criteria for Blood Donation”

During my 108th blood donation, HSA staff flagged my blood for a malaria check, due to my visit to Taman Negara in Malaysia last year.

They had not done so for blood donation no. 107, so I queried and they simply said something about having to be careful about malaria.

Then last week or so, I learnt that HSA had announced recent updates to its Overseas Travel Criteria for Blood donation.

The section on Malarial areas of concern says,

To ensure our blood supply is free of malaria, we test the blood of donors who may have been infected or exposed to malaria when they resided in or travelled to a malaria endemic area.

Click here for the latest list of malaria endemic areas.

First-time donors with a history of malaria will be deferred indefinitely. Persons who have had malaria may still carry a low level of parasites in their body although they have recovered and display no symptoms.

Donors’ blood donations will be tested if they have:

  • Visited a malaria endemic area in the last 12 months.
  • Lived in a malaria endemic area for more than 6 months continuously.

If your donation is tested positive for malaria, you will be deferred indefinitely.

For donors who return less than 4 months from a malaria endemic area, they will be deferred from blood donation for at least 4 months from the day they left the area. This deferral period enables us to reliably test for malaria in the blood donation as it takes about 4 months for the body to develop antibody after exposure.

However, for Singapore residents who travel frequently and have returned less than 4 months from a malaria endemic area, they may still donate blood. But they are required to return 4 months after their departure from the malaria-endemic area for a malaria test before their blood can be released for transfusion.

It’s not that new to be careful about malaria. When I was actively in and out of odd places in the region, and with my my platelet count too low, I switched to plasmareisis to avoid the possibility that I was a symptomless host of the malaria parasite!

The other advisories are about Chikungunya fever, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and West Nile Virus. Note that the latter two concern travellers to Europe and North America/Greece.

Black screen instead of pdfs? Safari, Firefox bamboozled by Adobe plugins: just delete!

When attempting to open pdfs in Safari 5.1.7 on OS X 10.6.8 recently, all I saw was a black screen. Housekeeping failed but using Chrome circumvented the problem. So I carried on until I had a breather to delve further.

Recently, an Adobe update (10.1.3) presented itself and I thought hmmm, perhaps that might fix it. After clicking through the update installation, still no joy.

So I googled and it seems that Safari and Adobe aren’t playing nice with each other! Not the first time, and I fact tried makmacapplefan’s solution from 2009, which worked.

All I had to do was delete the Adobe plugins I found in Macintosh HD > Library > Internet Plug-Ins: AdobePDFViewer.plugin and AdobePDFViewerNPAPI.plugin.

So an earlier Adobe update must have messed things up. Problem solved, hoorah! My work efficiency is highest in Safari with all my shortcuts and customisation, so using Chrome was slowing me down.

Otterman MBP II - Adobe plugins

Many solutions are presented in that Apple Support Communities thread [Safari – PDF Black Screen… Can’t view embeded PDFs – help.] and if what I did wasn’t enough to solve your problem of black screens when viewing pdfs, check the other (more complicated) suggestions.

Why keep Adobe Reader? Well, it overcomes some problems I sometimes encounter when viewing pdfs in Preview. So that it won’t trip me up somehow, for good measure, I unchecked the box in Adobe Reader > Preferences > Internet > Display in Read Mode by default.

In the background, I had tried opening a pdf in Firefox 5 (yes, I know, I just updated to 12). I switched back to Firefox and found it complaining about AdobePDFViewerNPAPI.plugin. You see, Firefox identifies culprit Adobe plugins on its blocklist which Mozilla maintains and will prompt you to click to disable the offender immediately. How smart is that?

So Safari isn’t smart enough to warn us, and I feel Adobe was obnoxious by sneaking in a problematic plugin. An Adobe Employee on their forum said in January that “Adobe Reader does not support PDFViewer in Safari on OSX 10.7.x. Hence, please try to open the pdf/fdf in Adobe Reader instead of safari.”

Ha, ha, ha, yeah right.

Calling NUS Biology alumni: Join us to guide for four hours at the Festival of Biodiversity, 26-27 May 2012

Festival of Biodiversity 2012With the Festival of Biodiversity just a week away, I decided to see what Raffles Museum Toddycat Volunteer Managers (aka civetgirls) Xu Weiting and Fung Tze Kwan had been up to since they started recruiting volunteers. They had recruited their honours junior Meryl Theng (aka ottergirl) which is wonderful. And they had seen to all the critical things required for the exhibition.

Well, after a fine performance at numerous exhibitions and with their familiarity with GDocs and blogging since their honours years with me, I wasn’t expecting to find gaps to plug. Which is why I have had peace of mind since the end of the semester.

But I remembered how tough it used to be and fiddled with the Guide Recruitment Google Doc. After re-organising it, I realised we had an impressive number of volunteers, but not nearly enough.

This has always been a critical and tough part of the job.

The most important element of a Raffles Museum Toddycats exhibition has always been the volunteers behind these specimens – enthusiastic proponents of biodiversity in Singapore telling stories to engage, fascinate and inspire have always been well received by members of the public.

This year we are hoping to put up our largest exhibition to date to engage as many people as we can. The previous exhibitions we have done would be a dry run for this Festival of Biodiversity, which we hope to be an annual affair with the community.

After reviewing the manpower, I realised we still needed zoology guides to take on four-hours slot each (and to stay fresh):

Sat 26 May 2012

  • 11.00am – 5 volunteers needed
  • 2.30pm – 6 volunteers needed

Sun 27 May 2012

  • 8.00am – 3 volunteers needed
  • 11.00am – 3 volunteers needed
  • 2.30pm – 2 volunteers needed

So I’m calling out to our biology alumni, especially those who took LSM3261 Life Form and Function, to join in the fun and take on a 4-hour slot. Just sign up here:

During the Festival, Raffles Museum Toddycats will have these stations:

  • Animals of the forest
  • Animals in freshwater and urban areas
  • Animal of the Sea and the threat of marine trash
  • Paper craft and RMBR mechandise
  • Kid’s station with games

And the list of specimens in preparation are here: It’s quite the load, and I am lugging the lot down next Friday and hope I will find help!

It’s really wonderful to see this all happening – we have a new generation of Toddycats led by young and enthusiastic leaders who are entering the fray, at a time when this is all the more important. I know they will have as much fun with this as we have had, for over a decade now!