13th August 2017 (Sunday): FREE Guided Herp Walk @ Treetop Walk

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An uncommon Yellow Striped Tree Skink (Lipinia vittigera) at Treetop Walk!

Yes! We’re back! After the last two months of doing walks at Pulau Ubin, we are resuming our monthly free guided walks. TreeTop Walk is one of our favourite places to herp. So come join us on this walk through Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Learn more about the natural heritage of our tiny island. And if we’re lucky, we might meet some of our scaly friends!

Our coming walk will be held on Sunday, 13 August 2017, 8.00AM-12.00PM

So what are you waiting for? Register for this walk at this link. See you there!

HSS at Pesta Ubin!

Pesta Ubin is happening in full swing! Check out all the action on the Pesta Ubin Blog! The Friends of Ubin Network (FUN) have organized this amazing 10-week long celebration to showcase this amazing island to Singapore!

Pesta Ubin 2017

HSS is joining the fun as well! For the next few weeks, we will be collaborating with Strix Wildlife Consultancy and the Vertebrate Study Group to do guided walks at Pulau Ubin!
So far, we have done a few walks already. Check out these pictures from our last few walks!

Looks like fun? Join us on the following dates and see what biodiversity Ubin has to offer:
Saturday 24th June 2017, 6.30PM-9.30PM
Saturday 1st July 2017, 6.30PM-9.30PM
Saturday 8th July 2017, 9.00AM-12.00PM
Saturday 15th July 2017, 5.00PM-8.00PM

Each walk will cost $15 per pax, with payment made on the spot! There is no need to register. Simply meet at the Assembly Area (In front of the Ubin NParks Office) 30 minutes before the walk starts! Here’s a handy map that you can use to find the meeting point!

We will resume our regular herp walks in August! See you on Ubin!

Herpy Anniversary to us at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve!

On 2nd April, we organized our very first Herp Walk at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Bleary-eyed, (from having woken up at 5.30AM), the HSS guides and participants shuffled into the Wetland Centre at 8AM. Despite the early start, we were excited to explore the Reserve!

Right off the bat, as we walked out onto the main bridge connecting the Wetland Centre and the trail, a flurry of activity greeted us. Serin’s sharp eyes spotted the distinctive movement of two Smooth-coated Otters further up the river.

otter
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan, one of our Participants

Closer to where we were standing, we were able to get a great view of two Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), including the famous “Tailless”. Saltwater Crocs are the largest reptile alive today. They are apex predators, and it takes a well-functioning ecosystem to support predators of their size! So their presence is somewhat indicative of the health of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

croc
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

Evolutionarily speaking, crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to other “reptiles”. Birds and crocodilians are both grouped under the clade Archosauria, along with the extinct dinosaurs. So the crocodiles we see today are of somewhat “royal” lineage, and it’s really cool to be able to observe them up close!

Further up the road, we saw a frog, albeit one we didn’t want to see! A Gunther’s Frog (Sylvirana guentheri) sat perched on a leaf at the side of an embankment. This species is not native to Singapore and is possibly an invasive species. It has been recorded locally since 1977 [1]. It was worrying to encounter this species so far within the Nature Reserve.

 

guenthers
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

We walked along a little further and were ecstatic to find a normally skittish Draco sumatranus lizard resting on a leaf. We shortly realized that the truth was much more morbid. The Draco, a female, had a single thread of spider silk wrapped around her neck. It is not entirely clear what transpired, but one possibility is that the lizard had gotten accidentally tangled in the web and strangled by it. This was also a testament to how strong spider silk can be!

draco
Photo by Toh Weiyang, a HSS volunteer

These lizards are able to escape predators by gliding from tree to tree, by expanding their ribcages to spread patagia that they have. You can read more about this at this link.

We were soon treated to our very first snake of the walk! A lovely Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) that quickly slithered up a tree. Much like the Draco, it is able to glide from tree to tree! It accomplishes this by flattening its body like a ribbon and jumping off a tree! You can read more about this at this link.

paradise
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

Not too far ahead, we were treated to two more snakes, both Oriental Whip Snakes (Ahaetulla prasina). These are some of the most common snakes in Singapore, and can even be found in urban areas bordering green spaces. Of course, they are harmless and mean humans no harm!

whip
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

We also caught a glimpse of a juvenile Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) catching and attempting to eat a crab. These ubiquitous creatures are the second-largest lizards in the world, after the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis). Despite their intimidating appearance, they are harmless and will not attack humans unprovoked.

monitor
Photo by Mahesh Krishnan

Finally, near the end of the trail, Serin spotted a Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus) coiled up in the foliage at the side of the embankment. These are one of the seven highly venomous snakes that can be found in Singapore and are not commonly seen due to their sit-and-wait behaviour. They are restricted to mangrove habitats like Sungei Buloh.

pitviper
Photo by Toh Weiyang

We ended off the walk with a group photo at the Main Bridge. It was a fantastic herp session, with many different herps showing up. A big thank you to ALL the participants and volunteer guides!walk

We’ve enjoyed every day of the last two years because of amazing walks like this. It’s been another wild year of showing Singaporeans how cool reptiles and amphibians are. We would not be able to do this without the constant, enthusiastic support of all of our volunteers and guides! And of course, none of this would be possible without the support of the Singaporean public (That’s YOU!) and the Nature community! A big thank you to anyone who has supported us in any small way over the last two years. Singapore has lots of biodiversity to be seen. We hope we can continue bringing them to you for many more years to come!

References

[1] – Leong T. M. & K. K. P. Lim, 2011. Occurrence of Günther’s frog, Hylarana guentheri (Amphibia: Anura: Ranidae) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore. 4: 135-141.

 

Genomics and Venomics of the sexually dimorphic Temple Pitviper

We invited Dr Ryan McCleary, Postdoctoral Researcher at Utah State University, to contribute a guest writeup about the effort to sequence the genome of the Temple Pitviper.

The Temple (or Wagler’s) Pitviper, Tropidolaemus wagleri, is a venomous snake found in tropical Asia, from southern Thailand; through peninsular Malaysia and Singapore; and into Indonesia (Sumatra and nearby islands). It belongs to the family Viperidae and subfamily Crotalinae (the pit vipers), which have the common characteristics of enlarged, front-rotating fangs and heat-sensing facial pits. The Temple Pitviper itself is extremely unique.

©Herpetological Society of Singapore
A male Wagler’s Pitviper from one of the HSS Herp Walks

Although most snakes have very minor differences between the sexes (what we call “sexual dimorphism”), the Temple Pitviper’s differences are extreme. The females get fairly large-bodied and have colorful spots over their surface, with white, yellow, green, and blue speckling over a black background with yellow bands. The males, on the other hand, are much smaller and narrower in girth, with a fairly uniform light green color and white and/or maroon spots or bars down the body. They are so different that it is really easy to mistake them as being different species. What is even more incredible is that both males and females start off looking the same…like little males! How the change occurs over time is really not known, nor is when exactly it happens.

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Female Wagler’s Pitviper, Photo by Serin Subaraj

Besides the sexual dimorphism, Temple Pitvipers also have a unique venom. Like many vipers, the venom is quite complex, with many different types of toxic proteins present. However, the Temple Pitviper is the only species known to contain a specific family of proteins, the waglerins, in its venom. These waglerins are relatively small (compared to many other toxin protein families) and function as extremely selective inhibitors of neuromuscular activity. It is because of this activity that their venom is currently being studied for potential use in human medicine.

Many Singaporeans may also be familiar with this snake because it is an abundant resident of the Temple of the Azure Cloud (Snake Temple) in Penang, Malaysia. In the Temple, the snakes go about their business unhindered by humans and vice versa. These snakes also rarely bite humans in nature.

We are interested in many aspects of this snake, starting with its natural history and going all the way through the evolution of its venom. We are interested in the genetic basis of the size and coloration differences between the sexes and how this relates to the habits of the species in nature. Do they consume different prey?

Noel 2
Photo by Noel Thomas

Do they inhabit slightly different microhabitats? Is there a sex-based difference in venom composition? The genome will help us to understand the mechanisms by which these snakes produce their venom and exactly what compounds may be found in the venom, including some that may be used as leads for the development of human pharmaceuticals or research tools. Besides this, there are currently two other snake genomes that have been undertaken—the Burmese Python and the King Cobra. The addition of the Temple Pitviper will expand our understanding of snakes in general and venomous snakes in particular, both in terms of their evolution and their relationships with each other.

There is a lot to do before we can answer these questions, but we currently have a great opportunity. Although we have begun the sequencing of the genome, we have not yet utilized an extremely powerful tool known as PacBio sequencing, due to constraints on funding. This type of sequencing is very important to include for various reasons, but one way to think of it is that the normal sequencing is a bunch of puzzle pieces – with no direction and lots of time, you can still make the picture look right. However, PacBio sequencing is like having the photo on the puzzle box to help guide you and make things a lot easier. Pacific Biosciences (the creators of PacBio technology) have selected our project as one of five (out of 200+ applicants) to compete for complimentary PacBio sequencing, but we need your help!

If you would like to see our project—the only project from Singapore and the only one utilizing a herp species—succeed, you can help by voting for us. The winner of the competition will be selected by popular vote. Anybody can get on the website and vote once every day through the end of the competition (5 April 2017) using up to three different e-mail addresses per name.

Noel
Photo by Noel Thomas

 

The website for our project, which includes a video, can be found at:
http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/smrt-grant/pag2017/temple-pitviper/
We have a Facebook page at:
https://www.facebook.com/TemplePitviperGenome/
And a Twitter feed at:
@TemplePitviper or #TemplePitviperGenome

The competition is stiff, and we need every vote we can get. Thanks for helping!

Ryan McCleary
Postdoctoral Researcher
Utah State University (previously with National University of Singapore)

FREE Guided Herp Walk @ Bukit Timah

©Herpetological Society of Singapore
Beautiful Wagler’s Pit Vipers are often encountered in BTNR!

In an effort to promote an awareness of Singapore’s natural and historical heritage, and to promote conversations amongst Singaporeans, the HSS has begun the Herp Walk! We want to raise awareness, in particular, about Herps! These misunderstood creatures are often thought of as scary or unnecessary. But we want to show Singaporeans that Herps are important and integral to the Singaporean ecosystem!

This walk will take place on Sunday, 12 February 2017, 8.00AM-11.00AM

Come down for a brisk walk up Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which has recently re-opened! Learn about the Primary Rainforest and see the animals that live within! Hopefully, we’ll be able to see some reptiles and amphibians on the way up and down. Register at this link!

FREE Guided Walk @ Pulau Ubin

©Herpetological Society of Singapore
An Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina), one of the cool snakes you can expect to see on Ubin!

In an effort to promote an awareness of Singapore’s natural and historical heritage, and to promote conversations amongst Singaporeans, the HSS has begun the Herp Walk! We want to raise awareness, in particular, about Herps! These misunderstood creatures are often thought of as scary or unnecessary. But we want to show Singaporeans that Herps are important and integral to the Singaporean ecosystem! So join us for the first walk of the new year.

This walk will take place on Saturday, 7 Jan 2017, 9.00AM-1.00PM

Come down for a leisurely stroll at rustic Pulau Ubin. Learn about the biodiversity that still exists on this relatively isolated island. If we’re lucky, along the way, we can even spot some of our scaly friends!

Register at this link!

FREE Guided Walk @ Treetop Walk

In an effort to promote an awareness of Singapore’s natural and historical heritage, and to promote conversations amongst Singaporeans, the HSS has begun the Herp Walk! We want to raise awareness, in particular, about Herps! These misunderstood creatures are often thought of as scary or unnecessary. But we want to show Singaporeans that Herps are important and integral to the Singaporean ecosystem! So join us for this walk.

This walk will take place on Sunday, 18 December 2016, 8.00AM-12.00PM

Come down for a leisurely stroll along Treetop Walk. Let the guides regale you with tales about the natural history and transformation of the entire area. Learn about this green space in your very own backyard! If you’re lucky, you might get to see some of our scaly friends! So don’t wait! Register at this link