Best 10 Nature Images of 2016

At the end of the last 2 year, I enjoyed going through my photos and picking my favourite nature images.  It’s a fun exercise but I didn’t manage to do it on time this year. It is almost 3 months late!

While I still enjoyed macro photography, 2016 was my least active year since I took up this hobby in 2007!  With fewer shootings, it is normal that I don’t have many great photos. Only 10 images made the list this year!

#1 – Cousins of Hoppers

Grasshoppers and katydid are related and belong to the Order Orthoptera (meaning “straight wings”).  Although they were probably cousins, it was an unusual moment to find them resting happily on the same dewy perch.

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| F16, 1/4s, ISO 400, fill flash |

#2 – Change

It is not uncommon to see moulting of leaf-footed bug but this one stands out for the nice colour contrast which is really pleasing to the eyes.

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| F11, 1/40s, ISO 400, fill flash |

#3 – Complicated Relationship

This is not a fantastic photo but I like it because it is really rare to find three giant millipedes doing some kind of business together.  Were there mating or what?

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| F8, 1/25s, ISO 800, fill flash |

#4 – Sex competition

Mating leaf beetles at Zhenghua Forest is quite a common sight. On 16 April 2016, there were at least 10 pairs within a radius of one metre.  We were delighted to spot 2 pairs on the same perch.  It was a real challenge to get both couples in sharp focus. I am glad this image turns out well.

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| F16, 1/30s, ISO 400, Fill Flash |

#5 – In Love with Tawny Coster

Butterfly is one of the most difficult subjects to shoot as they do not stay at a position for more than a few seconds.  The best time to shoot them is when they are mating.  I was fortunate to get this beautiful pair with clean background.

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| F11, 1/20s, ISO 400, fill flash |

#6 – Mating Ladybirds

The strong sunlight at the back helps to bring out the details and lines of the leaf which makes this shot interesting.

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| F22, 1/20s, ISO 400, Fill Flash |

#7 – Katydids Love Flowers

Two katydid nymphs enjoying their favorite breakfast.  A LED light was placed behind to get a backlighting effect.

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| F16, 1/20s, ISO 400, Fill Flash with backlighting |

#8 – Mushrooms Crossing

It was interesting to watch this caterpillar crossing from one mushroom to another. It can crawl pretty fast and I was surprised that it could hold its body in midair for a few seconds during the crossing as demonstrated in this photo.

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| F8, 1/20s, ISO 400, Fill Flash |

#9 – Rob and Fly

Robber flies are also called assassin flies.  They are impressive predators that specialize in hunting almost all flying insects including this poor long-legged fly.  They have always been my favourite subjects but I have not shot them with prey for a fairly long time.  Glad to add this one in my collection.

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| F8, 1/15s, ISO 400, Fill Flash |

#10 – Luminuous Mushrooms

This a just an ordinary photo of a small cluster of luminuous mushrooms known as Mycena manipularis.   I have included here as it has been on my shooting wishlist since 2009!

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| F16, 30s, ISO 400, natural light |

That’s all folks!

Macro Outings : July to December 2016

Due to work and family commitments, I was less active in macro photography in the 2nd half of 2016.  Although I visited a few macro sites during this period, I just couldn’t find the time to write about it until today.  Here are some highlights:

Gaharu Forest (2 July 2016)

It is a narrow nature trail that will lead all the way to Bukit Timah Visitor Centre.  This place is popular with trekkers, cyclists and nature lovers especially during weekends.

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(Mating Ladybirds)

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(Unity is Strength!)

Zhenghua Forest (13 August 2016)

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(Moulting Leaf-footed bug)

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(Leaf-footed bug nymph)

During Loop (13 September 2016)

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(Beetle & Mushrooms)

Segar Nature Trail (17 September 2016)

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(Katydid nymph & flowers)

Bekok Recreation Foresst, Malaysia (27 August 2016)

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(Mating Robberflies)

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(Black Spotted Rock Frogs)

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(Heliocypha perforate, females)

Panti Recreation Forest, Malaysia (24 September 2016)

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(Robberfly with prey)

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(Robberfly with prey)

Holland Woods (8 October 2016)

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(Lynx Spider vs Leaf Hopper)

 

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(Lynx Spider vs Leaf Hopper)

Venus Drive (5 November 2016)

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(Luminous Mushrooms, Mycena manipularis)

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(Luminous Mushrooms)

Old Ford Factory (26 November 2016)

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(Spider with prey)

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(Mushrooms Crossing)

That’s all folks!  Looking forward to a fruitful year in 2017!

Lentor Streams

Lentor Forest is a secondary forest located around the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Lentor Drive. It has two rare freshwater streams and houses endangered mammals such as the Sunda Pangolin, Banded-Leaf Monkey and Sunda Slow Loris.

Sadly, it was reported in the news that Lentor Forest is slated to be cleared to make ways for private homes.  Construction works will commence in 3rd quarter of this year.

Here is a video of my visit to this beautiful piece of nature before it is gone forever.

Macro Outing : 2nd Quarter of 2016

I visited many places during the 2nd quarter of 2016 including my favourite hunting grounds at Zhenghua Forest, Rifle Range Nature Trail, Jurong Wood and Venus Drive.  There were 3 interesting new macro sites discovered by my friend Endy namely, East Wood II, Gardenia Forest and Gaharu Forest.

On 16 April, I led a macro outing to Zhenghua forest. We was upset to see that part of the areas was under construction. I have taken some of the best pictures here and so, I am afraid that this piece of precious greenery might be completely destroyed in the near future.

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(Construction at Zhenghua Forest)

Despite the super hot weather in the past weeks, we were lucky to find insects covered with morning dew such as this Leaf-footed bug nymph.

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(Leaf-footed bug nymphs, Zhenghua Forest, 16 April 2016)

There were many adorable orange leaf beetles. We saw a group of more than 10 within a radius of one metre. We were particularly delighted when we spotted two mating pairs on a same leaf. We took turns to shoot but it was not easy to get both couples in focus.

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At Rifle Range Nature Trail, a metallic blue robber fly sit quietly on a leaf.  My previous encounters with this species was that they were rather skittish in nature.  Hence, I was pleasantly surprised that this individual allowed me to get close and to take some decent shots.

A large cluster of wild mushrooms was spotted not too far away.  They should belong to Mycenoporella sp.

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(Wild mushrooms, Rifle Range Nature Trail, 18 April 2016)

Here is a close-up shot showing the details of the underside pores.

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It has been more than a year since I last visited Jurong Wood.  It is a good place to find crab spiders with preys. This time, we found two crab spiders enjoying a delicious grasshopper and housefly as breakfast.

There were many butterflies here but they were too skittish to photograph.  Robber fly, skipper, praying mantis, red hopper nymph and dragonfly were much easier to shoot.

Eastwood II is new a site near Upper East Coast Road.  The catch of the day was this lovely pair of Tawny Costers.

Another interesting shot from this outing is two ants with some white subjects.  Were these Aphids?  I read that Aphids are sucking insects that feed on the sap of plants and secrete a substance called honeydew.  This sticky resin is a favorite food of ants, who actually “milk” the aphids for it by stroking their abdomen. The relationship between aphids and ants is symbiotic in that both receive some benefits from the arrangement

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(Ants & Aphids, Eastwood II, 30 April 2016)

Gaharu Forest is another new macro site situated somewhere along Rifle Range Road.  It is is a narrow nature trail that will lead all the way to Bukit Timah Visitor Centre. This place is popular with trekkers, cyclists and nature lovers especially during weekends.

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(Beautiful sunrays at Gaharu Forest)

 

We found many different species of spiders with preys including two big-jawed spiders known as Leucoge decoratus and Striated tylorida, both having winged ants as breakfast.

Another winged ant became a victim for lynx spider.  They seemed to an easy meal for spiders.

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(Lynx spider with prey, Gaharu Forest, 15 May 2016)

We had two night macro shoots and our target was to find luminous mushroom.  We found only a cluster of four at Gardenia Forest.

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(Luminous mushrooms, Gardenia Forest, 1 May 2016)

There were more luminous mushrooms scattered at Venus Drive but mostly were only one or two individuals.

We were glad to find two cute little frog at Gardenia Forest namely Black-eyed Litter frog and Masked Rough-sided frog, my first sighting of these beautiful amphibians.

Scorpions were easily spotted at Gardenia Forest.

Hutan Lipur Sungai Batang, Bekok – 23 April 2016

Bekok is a town located at the eastern side of the district of Segamat, Johor, Malaysia. It has a Recreation Rainforest known as Hutan Lipur Sungai Batang. It lies on the south western entrance to Taman Negara Endau Rompin, the second largest national park of West Malaysia. The locals go there to picnic and to dip into the cool fresh waters of the mountain stream.

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(Map leading to Bekok)

I joined Nature Photographic Society, Singapore on a macro photography outing here on 23 April 2016. This was my third trip to Bekok waterfalls. The meeting point was at the first Petron Petrol station after Tuas Second Link. 21 of us gathered at 6.45 am, drove to Kulai, Yon Lai Restaurant, for breakfast. Thereafter, we took the North-South Highway and exit at Yong Peng. Then moved north pass Chaah along Jalan Labis and arrived Bekok at 10.20 am, approximately 200 km of driving.

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(Breakfast at Kulai)

Before we commenced our photography, let us take group photo at the entrance of Bekok waterfalls.

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(Photo Credit : Tony Png)

There is a crystal clear stream near the entrance which was the main area for our macro photography.

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As in our previous outing, the Black-Spotted Rock frogs were plentiful mostly cling on rocks just above the swift flowing stream.

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(Black-spotted Rock frog)

When the frogs were in abundant, it was not difficult to spot 2 of them together.

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Frogs are photogenic subjects and it was no surprise to see our photographers trying to get the best angles.

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(Photographers in action)

We found a few Giant Asian Toads. They were huge and looked grouchy but still attracted many of us to photograph them.

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(Giant Asian Toad)

We spotted a few damselfly species. The most common one here should be Heliocypha perforata.  This is an elegant damselfly where the male as a distinctive blur markings on its thorax and abdomen.  The female, in comparison, is less colourful.

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(Heliocypha perforate, female)

One of the most interesting behaviours of this sun-loving species is when two males are involved in aerial territorial fight.  Getting both males sharp while they are fighting in mid-air are extremely difficult.

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Another gorgeous damselfly species is the common flashwing. It has metallic green colouration and  attractive clear wings that can sparkle with purplish iridescence when photographed at a correct angle with fill flash.

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(Common Flashwing, male)

Butterflies were not difficult to find too.

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(Lesser Darkwing)

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(Straight Pierrot)

There are many mini waterfalls, small in terms of height but not in terms of volume of water. Swift flowing stream making its way through numerous big and small boulders form the waterfall.

 

 

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We stopped for lunch at about 1 pm.  Most of us bought packet nasi lemak from Yon Lai Restaurant.

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After lunch, we walked through the forested path towards the upper stream where there are nicer refreshing waterfalls.

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Along the way, we spotted two lantern bugs. As they are very rare in Singapore, it was not surprising to see most of us taking turns to add this to our collection.

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(Lantern Bug)

At the upper stream, a small slender snake was spotted near the edge of the fast flowing water.  It should be a Haasi Bronzeback, a rare species of Dendrelaphis in Singapore.  It was extremely cooperative that didn’t move an inch for more than half an hour.  Here are two images, one taken with fill flash and the other with full flash.
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There are more waterfalls in the upper stream which were relatively taller and wider. Does it give you a sense of peacefulness and relaxation?

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We called it a day at about 4.30 pm. After washing up, the iMOG (Informal Macro Outing Group) leaders posed for a group photo.  This was their first overseas outing where all 7 leaders were present.

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(iMOG Leaders)

It was a tiring but rewarding trip. We headed back to Kulai for a well deserved yummy dinner!

Macro Outing : 1st Quarter of 2016

There were very little photographic activities in the first quarter of 2016.  I injured my back early this year which took more than 8 weeks for me to completely recuperate from the pains.  I could visit only two macro sites, one at Zhenghua Forest before I hurt myself and a night shoot at Chestnut Nature Trail after I recovered from it.

At Zhenghua Forest, there were many different species of grasshoppers.  Hence, I was not surprised to find these two friendly ones resting happily on the same dewy perch.

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(Zhenghua Forest, 16 January 2016)

But I was certainly amazed to find three giant millipedes doing some kind of business together. Were they Mating? And why three of them? After about 15 minutes or so, each went their separate way.

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(Three Giant Millipedes)

It is not uncommon to see moulting of leaf-footed bugs as there were so many of them here.  The nice colour contrast of this image is really pleasing to the eyes.


Not too sure about ID of this wild flower but they are attractive to me especially when filled with morning dew.

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(Wild flower)

Night macro photography is not really my specialty but occasionally I would join my friends like this one at Chestnut Nature Trail on 25 March 2016. At night, you would come across different insects that you use to see during the day such as stick insects which only come out at night to feed. We found 2 different species:

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(Stick Insects)

Someone spotted a moth’s caterpillar in a pupating position and a green chrysalis probably belongs to one of the butterflies from the Baron’s family.

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(Caterpillar & Chrysalis)

A pair of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug was found high up on a leave. Always a challenge to shoot subjects above eye level.

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(Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs)

The catch of the night was this photogenic Oriental Whip Snake.  This was a juvenile about a metre long.  Adults can grow up to 2 metre and in almost fluorescent green colour.  It was my first time seeing a light brown oriental whip snake.

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(Juvenile Oriental Whip Snake)

It was already 1.20 am when we called it a night!

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

It has been about 3 years since Land Transport Authority (LTA) first announced its plan to construct the Cross Island Line.   On 3 July 2014, it appointed Environmental Resources Management (S) Pte Ltd to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the section of the line around and though the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, targeted to complete this year.  Before LTA makes the announcement on the study of the EIA, I hope they would read this article that I wrote sometime ago on my dragonfly blog which I am reproducing here:

“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.

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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 Time 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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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 behaviour

(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(Libellago hyaline, female)

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

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(Libellago hyaline, females)

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

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The metallic blue male is more handsome.

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(Libellago hyaline, metallic blue male)

But I like the glowing purple abdomen male the best.

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(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.”

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(Hyalina, front view)

References:
1. A photographic guide to the Dragonflies of Singapore
2. Two New Rail Lines and Three New Extensions to Expand Rail Network By 2013 (Land Transport Authority – January 17, 2013)
3. Environmental Resources Management to Assess Environmental Impact of Cross Island Line (Land Transport Authority – July 4, 2014)