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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Malaysian Fresh Water Grass shrimp.(Palaeomonetes)

Other common names include ghost or glass shrimp, usually seen in aquarist shops sold as bait food for large fish or in lakes, rivers and jungle streams. I have observed in the past that fish fed with Grass shrimps have their natural colors enhanced and this I found out is due to carotenes in the shrimp, evident when they die by turning pink.
The jungle stream where the two specimens shown below were caught.
My favorite activity when I take an occasional dip in jungle streams to cool myself down is to look out for grass shrimps that can be found hiding in rock crevices or beneath rotting wood and vegetation by snorkeling under water (if it is deep enough).

For years I have often wondered about the difference in shrimps and prawns and it appears there are no clear definitions described and it can vary from nation to nation which causes more confusion, like most layman I have used this two descriptions interchangeably without problems, it most probably boils down to the receiving end having the same problem.

So what is the actual difference? Shrimps and prawns are closely related, both are crustaceans.
Crustaceans are creatures that have primarily adapted to life in the oceans and have a hard shell with mandibles to handle and consume food. Lobsters, shrimp, barnacles and crabs are examples of crustaceans. If we were to go one step up, they are arthropods but let’s not even go there. It seems even wood lice are crustaceans to confuse us mere mortals more.

For many, the descriptions are that prawns are larger, while shrimp are smaller is generally accepted but is technically wrong. Shrimp and prawns are from different suborders. Prawns are in the suborder Dendobranchiata, while shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata. The differences lies in the gill structure, front pincers and leg length, subtle differences indicating deviating steps taken along the evolutionary path and other boring biological stuff.

Grass shrimp with their almost transparent body blends in well with the environment where they can be found, it helps them to survive from predators, camouflaging has always been nature’s way of defense, even though it is known to be an important food source for many predators lurking nearby, mostly fish. No doubt their small size, not exceeding 1.5 inches helps, females are larger.
Still find it hard to tell whether it is a prawn or a shrimp? Stop fretting, you are not alone.
If you want a full time cleaning crew in your aquarium put some grass shrimp in and you will see that they are also excellent scavengers, eating any left over your fish can’t finish. In fact, because of their translucent body, you can actually see what they have just eaten or clean up. If you chance upon an egg bearing grass shrimp it is even more intriguing, eggs or live baby shrimps can be seen under their swimmerets or swimming legs if you may.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Elephant Ear Plant (Alocasia Macrorrhiza)

A big leaf plant which is endemic to Malaysia, with record of a specimen found in 1966 in Tawau, Sabah with leaf measuring more than 3 m long and 1.9 m wide, hence the common name of Elephant ear.

Malaysians often identify it as a Yam plant and that includes yours truly till now, possibly due to the similar shaped leaves, tubers/corms and toxic qualities when raw. Yams are from the genus Dioscorea, these are perennial herbaceous vines whereby their starchy tubers can be eaten. The elephant ear plant is from the Family Araceae.

The elephant ear plant is fleshy and non-woody, with leaves that are heart shaped often found growing near damp, shady areas with nearby streams or rivers.
Not popularly viewed as a vegetable food plant in Malaysia, they are cultivated in some countries as such for its edible corm and leaves, and are known as Taro in the Hawaiian Islands and Gabi in the Philippines.

Corms are stems that are solid and are unlike bulbs, when a corm is cut in half it is solid, but for a bulb it is made up of layers, an example of a bulb would be onions which when cut with its layers are a bulb.
Although edible, care must be taken to remove the raphid crystals of oxalic acid that causes numbness and swelling of the tongue and pharynx when eaten raw.
Raphides are elongated crystalline form of calcium oxalate found within a plant cell and due to its needle-like form, it is toxic and unpalatable, consuming them would cause severe discomfort and death in some cases. Fortunately, the calcium oxalate can be destroyed with cooking and are thus made edible.

Due to its large leaves and imposing appearance, it is also popular as an ornamental plant, often seen potted, decorating hotel lobbies, gardens, offices and homes.