In celebration of our National Day, let's feature some of our favourite marine life which sport our national colours!
Here are five red-and-white marine creatures that are special to Singaporeans and to our planet!
The False Clown Anemonefish: Singapore's own 'Nemo'
Made famous by the cartoon "Finding Nemo", clown anemonefishes may still be seen among the sea anemones of our Southern shores.
Besides being really cute and colourful, the most amazing feature of anemonefishes is that they can live happily among the tentacles of sea anemones that would otherwise kill (and eat) other fishes, including larger ones.Experiments suggest anemonefishes may protect their host anemones from predatory fishes such as butterflyfishes. They may also clean the anemone of parasites and remove dead tissues of the sea anemone. Their swimming action may also increase water circulation around the sea anemone and remove sediments that would foul the sea anemone. Some studies suggest anemonefishes attract other fishes that are captured and eaten by the sea anemone.
Our clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) is called the False Clown anemonefish, to distinguish it from another closely related fish called the Clown anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) which lacks the black bands on the top edge of the dorsal fin. 'Nemo' of the film fame is A. percula. The natural distribution of these two species of anemonefishes do NOT overlap.
Unfortunately, our False clown anemonefish is listed among Singapore's threatened animals. Globally, anemonefishes are taken in large numbers from the wild for the aquarium trade. The harvest may involve the use of cyanide or blasting, which damage the habitat and kill many other creatures. There have been some success in breeding anemonefish for the aquarium trade. Although captive bred anemonefish are hardier, they are more expensive. Harvesting from the wild will probably continue so long as there are unscrupulous traders and aquarists.
The Mosaic crab: the most poisonous crab in Singapore
The stunning red-and-white Mosaic crab (Lophozozymus pictor) is the most poisonous crab in Singapore!
Their toxins are not destroyed by heat or cooking. Eating them can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning which can lead to death. There is no antidote to their toxins. While these crabs may be poisonous, they are not venomous. That is, they cannot introduce their toxins by stinging or biting. But nevertheless, it's best to leave these crabs alone. For example, those who are allergic might get a reaction by even touching these crabs.
Unfortunately, this crab is listed among the threatened animals of Singapore.
Sea apple sea cucumber: a colourful toxin bomb
This amazing technicolour sea cucumber is sometimes seen on our undisturbed Northern shores. The body is usuall red shading to lilac and white with five rows of yellow tube feet. The mouth is ringed with blue. During low tide, it retracts its colourful feeding tentacles. When relaxed, the normal shape is short and sausage-like as with most other sea cucumbers. When stressed, however, it may inflate itself into a large round ball.
The Sea apple sea cucumber is listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. These beautiful sea cucumbers unfortunately are harvested for the aquarium trade. Ironically, they do not make good aquarium specimens. When distressed, the sea cucumbers may release potent toxins that kill off the entire aquarium.
Knobbly sea stars: star of our shores
Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) are not venomous, although they are often brightly coloured and covered with dangerous-looking knobs, nodules and spines. They are also called the Giant Nodulated sea star, Horned sea star or Chocolate Chip sea star.
Knobbly sea stars are harvested from the wild for the live aquarium trade, often selling for only a few dollars. In captivity, they are unlikely to survive long without expert care.
In the past, Knobbly sea stars were among the most common large sea stars of Malaya. They are now listed among the threatened animals of Singapore. Cyrene Reef is among the few places left in Singapore where they can be seen regularly.
Seahorses: gentle fishes in danger
Seahorses are still regularly encountered on our reefs and seagrass meadows. They come in a wide variety of colours and patterns, including this pinkish one among hard corals at Sisters Island.
Seahorses are true fish, although they don't appear very fish-like! Each seahorse is enclosed in an armour of bony rings just under the skin. It also has an internal skeleton just like other fish. With reduced fins and rather inflexible bodies, a seahorse cannot swim quickly. Instead, it relies on camouflage to blend in with the vegetation. The seahorse has a prehensile tail (can be curled around a firm object).
In seahorses, the male carries the eggs inside a pouch. The female have an ovipositor to lay eggs into the pouch, where the eggs are then fertilised. The father 'gives birth' to live young, which emerge as miniatures of the adults.
Our seahorses are listed among the threatened animals in Singapore. Globally, seahorses and pipefishes are considered threatened. Seahorses as well as pipefishes are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Some species are also caught for the live aquarium trade. They are naturally uncommon because they reproduce slowly and usually seldom travel far from one spot. Usually, in the wild only a handful of babies survive from each batch of eggs. Being slow swimmers without a free-swimming larval stage, they don’t spread quickly to new places. Being slow-moving and defenceless, they are easily collected.
Singapore still has amazing marine life! It is up to us to make a difference for them. Here's more on how you CAN make a difference.