Would Singapore’s most beautiful damselfly species be extinct by the construction of Cross Island Line?

In January 2013, the Land Transport Authority announced the plan of the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) which would begin from Changi, passing through Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah, Clementi, West Coast, and terminate at Jurong Industrial Estate targets to be completed by around 2030.

Cross Island Line 2

I did not pay attention to this news until last week when a friend shared a link regarding a petition to save Singapore’s Forest Reserves initiated by Teresa Teo Guttensohn. There was also an article on The Straits Times and TodayOnline dated 19 July 2013 where it mentioned that the Nature Society (Singapore) has opposed the future CRL and has proposed an alternative route that cuts southwards via Lornie Road around the reserve.

As a nature lover who enjoys photographing insects and bugs in forested areas, I am concerned after reading the impact of CRL on Singapore’s rich biodiversity as it would cut through the southern portion of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, between Upper and Lower Peirce and MacRitchie Reservoirs. As an ordinary individual, one of the little things that we could do is help to highlight what would potentially be destroyed by the construction of CRL. In this regard, Ivan Kwan has done a superb job in his “The Lazy Lizard’s Tales Blog” where he pointed out that many of our threatened and endangered native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, etc., live in these forests and any form of large-scale disturbance is likely to have adverse impacts on them. I am glad he included the uncommon Forktail dragonfly taken by me although I would have preferred him to mention Triangled Small Percher instead as it is classified in the Singapore Red Data Book 2008 as a critically endangered species which lives only in Upper Peirce forest. Since no damselflies were mentioned, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that there is possibility that Singapore’s most beautiful damselflies that happen to live in the affected areas could be extinct due to the construction of CRL.

CRL final

I am referring to the Libellago which is the most unique damselfly genus in Singapore with its wings distinctly longer than the body. They are rare, attractive and require pristine habitat. I have rated them as the most beautiful damselfly species in Singapore! We used to have 4 Libellago species in Singapore checklist but unfortunately, one of them known as Libellago stigamtizans (Orange-faced Gem), is already extinct here. The following image of a L. stigmatizans in flight was photographed in Malaysia.

(Libellago Stigamtizans taken at Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia)

(Libellago Stigamtizans taken at Panti Forest, Johor, Malaysia)

The remaining 3 Libellago species can still be found locally. They are Libellago lineata (Golden Gem), Libellago aurantiaca (Fiery Gem) & Libellago Hyalina (Clearwing Gem) and we should protect these Gems to the best of our ability.

Libellago lineata has a relatively higher chance of survival as it can be found at two locations, one at a protected area in Mandai forest not accessible by the general public, and the other one at Lower Peirce Reservior.

(Libellago lineate, male & female)

(Libellago lineata, male & female)

The behaviour of the Libellago genus is fascinating too. One of my most satisfying damselfly works is a series of images showing the unique and complete behaviours (ie. territory fight, mating,
egg-laying process, male guarding the egg-laying female) of Libellago lineata all taken at the edge of Lower Peirce Reservior.

(Libellago lineata engaged in behaviours such as fighting, mating, egg-laying, etc.)

(Libellago lineata engaged in behaviours such as fighting, mating, egg-laying, etc.)

Libellago aurantiaca has been recorded in Upper Peirce forest and Lower Peirce Reservior but both areas would be affected by the CRL. They are usually found in swift clear streams, typically with a sandy bottom and perch just above water as shown in the image below. I particularly like the male which is striking beautiful dressed in vibrant colour of red and yellow.

(Libellago aurantiaca, Male)

(Libellago aurantiaca, Male)

All the females of Libellago genus are less attractive with duller colours and L. aurantiaca is no exception. When both are displayed side-by-side, it is not difficult to tell which gender is more eye-catching.

(Libellago aurantiaca, male vs female)

(Libellago aurantiaca, male vs female)

Mating of any damselflies is a joy to watch, not to mention this cute and gorgeous gem in a wheel or love shape formation.

(Libellago aurantiaca, mating)

(Libellago aurantiaca, mating)

The most vulnerable of them all has to be the Libellago hyalina simply because their only home is at Upper Peirce forest. This is a precious species as it shows a great deal of colour variations, both in the female & male. The females have 3 different colours form and I like the one with a “tiger-skin” abdomen the best.

(Libellago hyaline, female)

(Libellago hyaline, female)

The other two females have duller colours and therefore slightly less attractive.

(Libellago hyaline, females)

(Libellago hyaline, females)

The males have 3 colours form too with the bluish grey abdomen being the least good looking.

(Libellago hyaline, bluish grey male)

(Libellago hyaline, bluish grey male)

The metallic blue male is more handsome.

(Libellago hyaline, metallic blue male)

(Libellago hyaline, metallic blue male)

But I like the glowing purple abdomen male the best.

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

(Libellago hyalina, glowing purple male)

With a total of 6 colours, surely it must be the most colours form damselfly species in Singapore! While doing a search of this species over the internet, I have found images of female L. hyalina from other countries that look similar to ours. However, the colours of the males are  different from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia & Cambodia.  In other words, the 3 colours form of the male Libellago hyalina above could be uniquely Singapore that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth!  This makes it all the more valuable and should be protected at all costs!  In the event that  the CRL has to proceed  to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans, LTA should find ways to guarantee zero disturbance to our nature reserves and ensure the survival of at least the critically endangered species.

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

(Libellago hyaline, glowing purple male)

Reference : A photographic guide to the Dragonflies of Singapore

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Damselfly (31) – Libellago Stigmatizans

Family : Chlorocyphidae
Common Name : Orange-faced Gem
Status : Extinct in Singapore
Location : Panti Forest, Johor

Libellago Stigmatizans is one of the 4 Libellago species in Singapore.  While the other 3 species can still be found locally, L. Stigmatizans is classified as “probably extinct” in Singapore.  The male has turquoise-blue and black markings on its thorax with interesting bright orange coloration between its eyes.  The female has similar colours of the other 3 Libellago species which is greyish black in colour.

(Male – Panti Forest, 15 May 2010)

Two males were spotted in a stream about 2 to 3 metres wide, at Panti Forest (Johor, Malaysia) where the water was swift moving but quite muddy. They were flying non-stop and engaged in territorial fights. Occasionally, one would perch near the water surface but the next moment, you would see the 2nd one attacking it and they started fighting in mid-air again. Under such situation, shooting them with a tripod proved to be near impossible. So, I released my camera from the tripod, set to full flash mode and my target was to get both males fighting in the air in a single frame.
As the stream water was almost at knee-level high, I could not squat down as it would wet my backside. Standing would not be able to get close enough to the damselflies, so I had to blend down quite a little like an old man. It was tiring shooting in this position as I had to move where the damsels moved. I had to take a break every 5 minutes or so. This went on for the next half an hour and despite my hard work I failed to get the shots I wanted. I could only manage some flight shots of individual males as a consolation.
Initially, I tried using manual focus but my hands were not fast enough. Autofocus works better for me in this condition.  I am likely to visit Panti Forest in the near future and I hope to meet the female in my next visit there.

Damselfly (26) – Dysphaea Dimidiata

Family : Euphaeidae
Common Name : Black Velvetwing
Status : Extinct in Singapore
Location : Endau-Rompin National Park, Malaysia
According to the “Dragonflies of Singapore” book, this black with a slight purplish-coloured damselfly was already extinct in Singapore long ago.  This was photographed during my recent trip to Endau-Rompin National Park in Eastern Malaysia.  It was quite big is size and liked to perch on rocks in clear stream.  This male was quite skittish and I took quite sometimes to have finally got a decent shot of it.
(Male – Endau-Rompin National Park, Malaysia – 31 Aug 2010)