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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Behaviours of Libellago Lineata

I was fortunate to witness some interesting behaviours of Libellago Lineata recently.  I saw a few pairs of males involving in territorial fights on separate occasions.  When they fight, the two males would confront  and face one another in mid air. They hover a few seconds and make forward movements but without contact.  Usually, one would flee the area after a minute or so but it would come back shortly to challenge the temporary winning male again until the utimate victor is declared!

(Two males involving in territorial fight – 29 Sep 2010)

The winning male has the right of the territory usually within a small area of not more than 3 metres.  I was told that female Lineata normally perch high up in trees and would come down to find a mate when they are ready to do so.  I have seen 3 mating pairs within 2 days and what was interesting is that unlike other damselflies where they usually mate for a long period (sometime in hours), Lineata only mates for about 20 to 30 seconds! Within such a short period of mating time, getting a good shot at it depends alot on luck.  I only managed to shoot about 20 shots from the 3 mating pairs add together, most of which are not of the best quality but I am happy to have finally got a good record mating shot of this species.

(A mating pair in wheel formation – 29 Sep 2010)

  
After separation from mating, the female would perch on nearby floating log or large tree roots to lay eggs by submersing its adbominal tip into the water.

(A female dips the tip of its adbomen into water to lay eggs)

Based on my observation, the ovipositing process takes about 15 to 30 minutes.  During this period, the male will guard the ovipositing female from the disturbance by rival males by perching very nearby.  The female does not lay its eggs on a fixed spot, it would crawl usually forward as they ovipositing.  Sometimes they would fly away for a second or two but return to the perch.  During this egg laying process, there are good apportunities to shoot both the male and females in a single frame ie. side by side, back to back, facing each other, etc.

(A male guarding the ovipositing female)

Damselfly (30) – Libellago Lineata

Family : Chlorocyphidae
Common Name : Golden Gem
Status : Rare
Location : Lower Pierce Reservior

According to the The Singapore Dragonflies Book, this Golden Gem has only been recorded at Mandai forest stream.  The male has a similar thorax of Libellago Hyalina but it can be easier distinuished with its golden-yellow markings on the first 5-6 abdominal segments and black colour from segment 7-10.  The female is said to be bigger with greyish & dark marking on its thorax and abdomen.

(Juvenile Male – Lower Peirce Reservior, 23 Sep 2010)

The above damselfly was spotted perching on a dry twig near the edge of Lower Peirce Reservior.  From afar, based on at its colour and size, it looked like a female L. Hyalina to me.  But when I moved closer, I got the feeling that it could be a juvenile male L. Hyalina.  It was quite cooperative acutally but I could photograph only 3 shots due to my carelessness.  My tripod touched the twig accidentally when I moved closer causing it to shake violently.  It flew away and disappeared into nowhere!  I searched high and low for the next 20 mins or so but I could not locate it.

I seek Mr Tang’s advice on its id and he told me that this could be a juvenile male, L. Lineata.  It doesn’t quite look like what was described above as its colours have not fully developed yet.  A great find accordingly to him as it means that this species can be found elsewhere other than in Mandai forest.  He  asked me for the exact location which I obliged as he wanted to study this species further.  I shall visit this place again with the hope of shooting the adult species soon.

Afternote : I revisited this morning and was rewarded with this shot below.  The striking yellowish orange colour of this beautiful damselfly is particularly attractive to me.

(Adult Male – Lower Peirce Reservior, 27 Sep 2010)

(Male dorsal view – 27 Sep 2010)