Observation Series
Companions of Sendudok

The idea to record the observation of the visitors and companions of this particular Sendudok or Straits Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) over time was prompted by the discovery of several Mirid bugs or more specifically Tea Mosquito Bug (Helopeltis species) on its leaves several months back.

Straits Rhododendron is a very common wild native shrub in Singapore. It can be easily identified by its mid-size light purplish flower which is relatively abundance on the plant all year round. This particular specimen that I will be visiting at least once a week is located in a park just beside the block of flat where I stay. The shrub is surrounded by 3 trees, namly Tembusu (Cyrtophyllum fragrans), Sea Apple (Syzygium grande) and Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), and has been in that location for probably over 10 years. I expect it to continue to stay there as long as the park exist since it has become part of the accepted plant population by the people that maintained the park.

The journey began on a Sunday, 28 October 2018 at around noon time. I had wanted to start the day before but the rain prevented me from doing so. Even though it was a sunny morning, the dark clouds had started to gather again at noon. I had to do a quick visit to the site before the downpour or else will have to wait till the next weekend.

A semi-parasitic plant, Common Chinese Mistletoe (Macrosolen cochinchinensis) had attached itself to the Straits Rhododendron over time. The bond was definitely a strong one since the parasitic plant were already flowering. Being a semi-parasitic plant and with leaves the same size as that of its host plant, it produces part of its own food but will not stay alive on its own. On the slender branches of the parasitic plant were a few small white bell-like structures. Though they were motionless, they were actually living creatures belonging to the group known as scale insects (family Coccidae). Scale insects are small to tiny in size and come in different shapes. This particular one is commonly called a wax scale and might be Ceroplastes ceriferus.

The insects seemed to be aware of the incoming rain and went into hiding. After scanning carefully through the entire Straits Rhododendron, I could only locate 4 insects (an ant-mimicking katydid nymph, an Issid planthopper (Thabena brunnifrons), a midge and a Braconid wasp) despite the blooming status of the shrub. There was not even a single ant on the plant which was rather unusual. This shrub was usually fully of insect activities during sunny weather.

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As for the Tea Mosquito Bug (family Miridae), not a single one was found. Its non-existent this time round may be due to the weather or may be its peak season had passed. However, I am quite hopeful that they will be back.

Reported on: 28 October 2018

This piece of follow up was written about 4 years later. Unfortunately, I did not fulfil my plan of doing regular observations on the small wild creatures that visited the particular Sendudok or Straits Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) plant that I had targeted previously. In any case, the plant was no longer there and I had no idea when the removal took place as I had not been visited the park for quite a while despite it being just next to my home.

But, not all is lost. That was the reason that I had done up this follow-up piece. While losing the original targeted plant in the park, I had managed to grow one in a large pot along the corridor area near to the entrance of my home. It was a very healthy-looking specimen that had already flowered profusely once in April this year but I had to trim it because I was away for 2 weeks. At the time of this writing, flower buds had started to appear again. Another flowering season was expected soon.

This healthy plant with its bushy leaves had attracted some curious wild visitors as well. A recent visitor was a caterpillar of the Looper Moth from the family Geometridae. These caterpillars also go by another 2 common names, Inch Worms and Twig Caterpillars. When I saw some leaves were being disfigured, likely consumed by some creatures, I started to scan the plant for the culprit. The type of damage to the leaves could potentially provide clues to track down the responsible parties. This caterpillar was hard to spot because it looked like a twig when motionless which blend really well with the twigs of the plant.

This caterpillar might be the late instar of the moth, Hyposidra talaca. The caterpillar of this moth feeds on many different host plants, a characteristic know as polyphagous. Two days later after spotting it, the caterpillar had disappeared from the plant.

There are many different species of geometrid moth in Singapore. Pictures of 41 native species was available at the Biodiversity of Singapore website while I had 13 in my pictorial collection as of this writing. There were also several local publications on them over the years.

Another moth caterpillar found on the plant was a Pagoda Bagworm, Pagodiella hekmeyeri. This caterpillar took shelter in a self-made home that shaped like a pagoda. Circular holes found on leaves were sign of attack by this caterpillar. As there was only one Pagoda Bagworm on the entire plant, the damage done was relatively minor.

Besides the caterpillars, another prominent minibeast that congregated on the plant was a Flatid Planthopper, Euphanta munda. There were at least 5 of them on the plant. Following the trail of the resident ants in my pot, I spotted some tiny aphids on a growing tip region of a branch. However, they were gone after a few weeks without my intervention. These were the visible wild visitors spotted over the last 3 months.

This plant shared the pot with 2 other plants, namely a Giant Mahang (Macaranga gigantea) and a Hairy Clidemia (Clidemia hirta). The Giant Mahang was destined to be a large tree but it had been trimmed to keep it at the right size. I did not plant them together intentionally. It just happened that they all sprouted spontaneously in this same pot. Due to my intervention, the Straits Rhododendron was the tallest among the 3 plants in the pot with a height of around 1.6 metres. I intent to keep it at this height by trimming it as needed.

I will do another write up when there are interesting happenings related to the plant in the future.

Reported on: 31 August 2022

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