Of spiders, birds and butterflies: New treasures uncovered on Pulau Ubin

Researchers recently found 20 new species of animals on Pulau Ubin. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Pulau Ubin, already well-known for its rustic trails and rich natural and cultural heritage, may also be home to treasures yet to be discovered.

Researchers recently found, during a comprehensive survey of the island's biodiversity, 20 new species of animals there.

They include a spider species new to science, six other species recorded in Singapore for the first time, and 13 others that had never before been known to be found on Pulau Ubin.

The findings of the Comprehensive Ubin Biodiversity Survey were unveiled by Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Friday (Sept 25).

National University of Singapore (NUS) biologist N. Sivasothi said Pulau Ubin plays an important role for the conservation of wildlife not just in Singapore, but also for Malaysia.

He noted that because the island is located between Singapore and Malaysia, it serves as a "sink" for animals from southern Johor, which means animals from there may come to the island.

Similarly, Pulau Ubin can also be a source for wildlife in Singapore, pointing to how the once-extinct hornbills have dispersed to the mainland from Pulau Ubin.

"As a refugium, there are many examples of wildlife which flourish here: the straw-headed bulbul, red jungle fowl, greater mousedeer, smooth-coated otters and the short-clawed otter," added Mr Sivasothi.

The Straits Times highlights some key findings from the survey.

NEW TO SCIENCE

Piranthus sp.

This spider from the genus Piranthus has actually been discovered in other parts of Singapore before, but it had previously been wrongly classified as being from the genus Bavia. PHOTO: PAUL NG

This spider from the genus Piranthus has actually been discovered in other parts of Singapore before, including at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the mangroves in Lim Chu Kang. But it had previously been wrongly classified as being from the genus Bavia.

Upon closer examination of the spider found on Ubin's coastal secondary forest, researchers found that it was likely to be a species new to science.

NEW RECORDS FOR SINGAPORE

Swamp tiger butterfly (Danaus affinis)

This butterfly has been found in coastal areas and mangrove swamps in Malaysia. PHOTO: KHEW SIN KHOON

This butterfly has been found in coastal areas and mangrove swamps in Malaysia.

In Singapore, it was discovered on the aptly named Butterfly Hill on Pulau Ubin, said Mr Khew Sin Khoon, who runs the Butterfly Circle (Singapore) citizen science blog documenting Singapore's butterflies.

The caterpillar host plant is a milkweed vine species that is found in mangrove habitats.

Ruby-cheeked sunbird (Chalcoparia singalensis)

The ruby-cheeked sunbird can be found in other parts of Asia. PHOTO: ROGER BOEY

So named for the blush usually sported by male adult birds, the ruby-cheeked sunbird can be found in other parts of Asia, from China to Bangladesh and Indonesia.

A female bird was photographed at Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin during the survey. This species prefers the primary and secondary forests, forest edges and sometimes mangroves.

NEW RECORDS FOR PULAU UBIN

Buff-rumped woodpecker (Meiglyptes tristis)

This woodpecker was photographed in August 2018 on the western part of Pulau Ubin. PHOTO: DILLEN NG

This bird had previously been found on the mainland, with a paper published in 1950 reporting that it was found mainly in thickly wooded areas.

But there has been no subsequent record of it since then, until it was rediscovered in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on the mainland in October 2012.

On Pulau Ubin, this small and heavily barred woodpecker with a small crest was photographed in August 2018 on the western part of the island.

Black-bearded tomb bat (Taphozous melanopogon)

The black-bearded tomb bat is native to Singapore, but is rarely seen even on the mainland. PHOTO: NOEL THOMAS

The black-bearded tomb bat is an insect-eating bat native to Singapore, but is rarely seen even on the mainland.

This species had been found on Pulau Ubin through the use of specialised audio recording equipment called bat detectors. Researchers were able to record this species by the bats' echolocation calls many times across Pulau Ubin.

NUS mammal researcher Marcus Chua said some tomb bats, as their name suggests, inhabit tombs, likely because these are dark areas favoured by the nocturnal animals.

But other members of this group of bats roost in a variety of other habitats, including natural structures such as caves, or buildings.

"Most are fast fliers in open spaces, where they hunt flying insects," he said.

SOURCES: National Parks Board, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Khew Sin Khoon, Marcus Chua

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.