Friday, March 20, 2009

Raphismia bispina (Bispina Skimmer)

Thanks to Ria and the Semakau Book team, we had a chance to explore the back mangroves of Semakau a few weeks back. Because of the mangrove’s general good health, I was expecting to find the mangrove specialist Raphismia bispina (Bispina Skimmer). Thus it was a delight to finally spot two blue males flying within a sunlight spot among the prop roots.

This dragonfly is one of two or three species in Singapore that have adapted to back mangrove habitats. It is an inconspicuous dragonfly where males usually perch for long periods defending their territories. Although widespread throughout Sundaland, it breeds only in salty water of back mangroves. It is therefore highly specialised and rather rare. In Singapore, R. bispina is classified as uncommon and has been recorded from only a handful locations.

Two features are used to distinguish this species from others. Raphismia bispina has two downward pointing spines behind the hind legs at the rear of the synthorax. It also has two bifid process projecting from beneath abdominal segment S2. It’s difficult to see these tiny features unless there’s a close-up photograph.

We were lucky to observe a female while on the way out. She has mottled yellowish patterns on the thorax and yellowish streaks running down her abdomen. Like the male, she perched patiently on a branch and we could see that she’s gleaning for prey. She awarded us with good close-up shots and her vulva scale beneath the abdomen tip was visible. This ‘spout’ like structure is where eggs leave the females during ovipositing. Vulva scale is not found in those dragonflies that oviposit into plant tissues.

Mr. Joe Pan from Sabah also had a recent wonderful encounter with this mangrove specialist. In Borneo, R. bispina is known only from the extreme northern tip and Brunei.

Dragonflies larvae are typically hyperosmotic regulators in fresh to moderately saline waters. According to Corbet (1999) most species adapted to brackish habitats generally occur in waters not exceeding 8.6% of the salinity of seawater. It will be interesting to investigate if this is also true for R. bispina.

Pictures taken at: Pulau Semakau, February 2009


Corbet, P. S., 1999. Dragonflies: Behaviour and Ecology of Odonata. Cornell University Press, New York.

Dijkstra, K-D. B. & R. Lewington, 2006. Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe, British Wildlife Publishing, United Kingdom

Norma-Rashid, Y., L. F. Cheong, H. K. Lua & D. H. Murphy, 2008. The dragonflies (Odonata) of Singapore: Current status records and collections of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore. 24 pp. Uploaded 07 Nov 2008 []

Orr, A. G., 2003. A Guide to the Dragonflies of Borneo. Their Identification and Biology, Natural History Publications (Borneo) Sdn. Bhd, Malaysia.

Orr, A. G., 2005. Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, Natural History Publications (Borneo) Sdn. Bhd, Malaysia

Friday, March 06, 2009

Banded Phintella

Jumping Spiders are one of the most efficient hunters of insects. They have superb abilities to spring onto prey with precise accuracy. This precision is mostly thanks to their keen eyesight. The eyes arrangement is such that they have an almost 360° field of vision. Two huge front eyes give jumping spiders a telephoto-like system while eyes at the sides are akin to stereoscopic wide-angle lenses. A Banded Phintella (Phintella vittata) shows very clearly the ever vigilant eyes ready to process an all-round image, directing the spider to make the next precise jump.

I love the slight golden tinge on its carapace and abdomen. A closer look reveals a streak of blue on the femur. This makes the spider even more attractive. Using innovative experiments, local researchers have shown that females of another jumping spider species (Cosmophasis umbratica) would spend a longer time observing ultra-violet (UV+) males than UV- males regardless of which male display more actively. This suggests for that species, male UV influence plays a role in female-mate choice. Perhaps similarly, the iridescent bluish leg femora would help a male Banded Phintella in attracting the opposite sex.

Banded Phintella can be encountered at gardens as well as forested habitats.

Pictures taken at: Central Catchment Nature Reserves, February 2009


Koh, K. H. J., 1989. A Guide to Common Singapore Spiders. Singapore Science Centre, Singapore.

Lim, M. L. M., J. Li & D. Li, 2008. ‘Effect of UV-reflecting markings on female mate-choice decisions in Cosmophasis umbratica, a jumping spider from Singapore’, Behavioral Ecology, vol. 19 (1), pp. 61-66.