a publication of Sungei Buloh Nature Park

Vol 8 No 2
Aug 2001

survivors of time: the horseshoe crab

insect study
tips on insect watching

the landward mangrove fringe

landmark invasion
a walk in the past

fat worries of common

Allan Teo
long-lasting companion
of the park

young naturalists
of the park

a nature journal
javan munia
text and illustration
by joseph lai
conservation officer

Remember that monumental step on the moon? Astronaut Neil Armstrong leaping off Apollo 11to make that first footprint on the lunar soil in July 1969? I was 9 years old then. It was the talk of the town for as many weeks as I could remember. We kids were no doubt excited too. The moon landing added spice to our huge appetite for spaceships, aliens, Ultraman and the like. 'One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind' meant nothing much to us kids then.

Of course we grew up and knew better. Man's two most entrenched aspirations since ancient time—to fly like a bird and to explore unknown frontiers—had taken a leap beyond the wildest dreams. The moon landing was a landmark victory for science, engineering and most of all, for the human spirit.

Yet as a biological entity, we human species are not alone in frontier exploration. Mudflats like those in Sungel Buloh were the monumental landing sites for sea-bound ancestors of plants that invaded dry land during the Silurian Period, 425 million years ago. With little more than rudimentary stem, ancient plants exerted their presence on land, leaving behind their familiar marine abode. 'One small stem for Plant, one giant leap for Plant Kingdom'- a landmark invasion from the sea that heralded land-plant evolution and aided the proliferation of land-dwelling creatures thereafter by becoming food for their sustenance.

The remains of many fossilized plants are still valuable resources in shaping the way we think about how present day plants are grouped (classified). Their presence also provided clues to ancient geography and climate of the earth. One good example is the humble nipah palm. Paleobotanists (paleo - meaning ancient) are unravelling more mysteries as new fossils are discovered.

But more significantly, paleobotany reveals to us that Nature can survive, and did survive for about 3500 million years, without Man. Modern Man's evolution about 2 million years ago pales in comparison. Yet within this last century alone, despite our achievements, Man had been the single most destructive force against Nature through habitat destruction, pollution, and over-exploitation. The greatest irony is that Mankind cannot survive without Nature.

If wishes were wings and time space, I would like to travel in time to see the ancient landscapes with a bird's eye view. Who knows, one day we might. For the moment, a walk in Sungel Buloh will reveal many links to the past. And if knowledge should inspire, let the spirit of aspiration be rooted in love for the only home we know and should cherish—the Earth.
... a walk in Sungei Buloh will reveal many links to the past

living fossil
Belangkas or horseshoe crabs are not crabs as their name suggested. They are closely related to the spiders and scorpions. Horseshoe crabs, which are sometimes called king crabs, have hardly changed in structure for the last 400 million years. For this reason, they are highly regarded as a living fossil.

first flight Insects first appeared during the Carboniferous Period 345 million years ago. They were the first animals to take to the air, 150 million years before the birds. The giant Meganeura dragonflies, with a wingspan of over 27 inches, were one of the first. Though becoming smaller, the dragonflies remain the lords of the air as highly accomplished predators of the insect world.

nest surprise Crocodiles have been around for about 200 million years with little change. Their closest relatives are the birds. In fact, many crocodilians even gather grass to build nests. Crocodile brains are far more complex than those of other reptiles. Their hearts are almost as advanced as the birds and mammals.

first feathers
Birds are believed to have evolved from a crow-sized species of dinosaurs that appeared 150 million years ago. The first known bird is called Archaeopteryx, which means 'ancient wings'. It had lots of feathers, sharp teeth and a long rigid tail with two rows of feathers. Today's birds have no teeth or true tail. Instead, tail teattiers are attached to a reduced bony stump called the pygostyle.

small miracles
Pollen of nipah palm is the one of the oldest known mangrove fossil found, dating back to 70 million years ago. Small miracles, considering how well they can be preserved. The toughness is attributed to the presence of sporopollenin in the outer coating, the exine. Fossil fruits of nipah have also been found in the clay of London and Paris, showing a much wider distribution than it is today.

ancient mariner Algae, bacteria and fungi represent the earliest life forms on Earth. The oldest known fossils dating back more than 3000 million years are the blue-green algae. Most algae are found in the sea either as plankton or as seaweeds. Seaweeds are simple, usually feathery or ribbon-like plants and have no system of veins or roots, leaves or woody parts. They may be anchored to the scabed or free floating.

forever fern One plant that has been widespread in both ancient and present vegetation of the Earth is the fern. Ferns are believed to have originated at about 400 million years ago and formed the main vegetation under the canopy of the tall prehistoric Clubmosses and Horsetails. Today, ferns number nearly 12,000 species and are still widely distributed throughout the tropics.

naked seed Naked seeds, not enclosed in a fruit wall, is a mark of distinction for the flowerless seed-plants called gymnosperms which include conifers. Examples of conifers are the pines, the giant redwood as well as Jati Laut (Podocarpus polystachyus) a native tree found above the high tide in our back mangrove. Early conifers first evolved at about 380 million years ago during the Devonian Period
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