03 August 2009

Lim Swee Cheng's "Guide to Sponges of Singapore" and updates to wildfact sheets

After much anticipation, Lim Swee Cheng's fabulous Sponge Guide is now on sale! I rushed out to get my copy as soon as I heard of this.
Now we finally get to learn all about these fascinating ANIMALS (yes, they are not plants) of our shores!

The Guide is packed with lots of helpful information for ordinary people. It explains what is a sponge, how to recognise and identify a sponge and where to find sponges on our shores. The clear and helpful text is made even more easy-to-digest with Chim Chee Kong's charming cartoons!
As well as lots of diagrams and photos of the different features of sponges. And uniquely local explanations, for example, a conulose surface is durian-like! Now that's a description that I can't forget.

There are also fascinating insights into sponges that we don't usually observe during a field trip. Such as the different kinds of animals that live inside sponges! And the internal structures of sponges.
Swee Cheng sheds lots of light on the colourful sponges we commonly see on our shores. With photos of their spicules!
Among the more fascinating sponges are these colourful ball shaped sponges which have filaments to anchor themselves to a hard surface.
And on the page on the right hand side, is the famous new SPECIES that Swee Cheng found in Singapore! It is Tethycometes radicosa, which means 'sea comet with roots'. More about this find in the Straits Times article about Swee Cheng and his work on sponges in Singapore. In addition to this new species, Swee Cheng also found 40 new records of sponges in Singapore, raising the sponge list for Singapore to a grand total of 102!

It was a real honour to have Swee Cheng come along some of our field trips during his study. Here's Swee Cheng with Chee Kong (taking photos) at Chek Jawa in Aug 07, with some sponges we saw during that trip.
Swee Cheng is getting no rest and is currently already hard at work on finding out YET more about Singapore's sponges!

The new Guide of course allowed me to quickly update the wildfact sheets on sponges. Here's some of the more drastic changes that I've made.

This animal that looks like melted chocolate is a sponge! All along, I thought it was a colonial ascidian. Oops. Being rubbery and slippery sure makes it appear quite unsponge-like. Swee Cheng shares that this is Chondrilla australiensis.
Another chocolate confusion sorted out are these brown chocolate-coloured sponges that come in different shapes. Some may be an irregular mass with many tall stout cones with holes at the tips; on an irregular mass with globular lumps attached, sometimes on a stalk; or an irregular mass that is low and flush with the ground, usually full of little holes. All of them are Spheciospongia cf. vagabunda.
The globular lumps can break off to form new sponges elsewhere! Kind of like sponge tumbleweed. Cool!

Reading the Guide closely, I finally figure out what the little animals are that live in these sponges. The little bristley arms (photo on the left) belong to tiny brittle stars. I knew that. But I couldn't figure out the identity of the fan-shaped animals that I also often saw in these sponges (photo on the right).
The Guide shares that barnacles (Membranobalanus longirostrum) may also be found in this sponge. So perhaps the tiny spotted fans often seen on this sponge are the feeding 'feet' of these barnacles? Wow.

Swee Cheng also takes pains to explain that these sponges we often see are often wrongly referred to as Neptune's cup sponges. Oops. They are more correctly called Barrel sponges (Xestospongia testudinaria).
Swee Cheng shares that Neptune's cup sponge is another much larger sponge (Cliona patera) that is sadly no longer found in Singapore.

There were lots of other 'Aha!' and 'Oops' moments as I eagerly went through the Guide. I've tried to consolidate and update the wildfacts sheets on sponges as best as I could. All errors and omissions remain mine. Please do let me know if you spot any! Thank you!

I bought my copy from the store at the Science Centre itself. The staff at the store could not tell me which other bookshops carried the book. I did check at Kinokuniya (Takashimaya) a few weeks earlier, but they did not have the Sponge Guide among the other BP Science Centre guides that was on the shelves.

Do get a copy of this fascinating and invaluable guide to truly magnificent creatures that are often overlooked on our shores. More about sponges in general and why they are important to the marine ecosystem and to humans too.


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