Vienna, Austria

Vienna is a romantic city that above all boasts a lot of MUSIC! Famous for Mozart and Beethoven, this city offers some of the best classical music in the world. We attended a fabulous concert at the Musikverein. Vienna was also the center of the Habsburg Dynasty. The palaces of Schönbrunn, Belvedere and Hofburg are therefore must-see attractions. The magnificent St Stephens Church in the historic center was one of the largest Gothic churches I have ever seen. Also, an interesting museum that we visited was Haus der Musik, which gave an innovative explanation about the science behind sound. Oh, and don’t forget to try schnitzel!

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Budapest, Hungary

Spent four days in Budapest and thoroughly enjoyed it! Budapest offers history, great food and friendly people. For European standards, it is a inexpensive place to visit, especially for the food and museums. One restaurants tip that I can give is the Regős Restaurant near the famous Andrassy Street. The food and wine there is really worth the money! I would suggest to try the sweet Tokaji wine during your desert. The main stand-out attraction that we did were Gellert and Szechenyi baths, Gellert Hill, Andrassy Street, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Metro Line 1, Margaret Island, Parlement Building, Great Market Hall and the many beautiful bridges that cross the Donau River. Would love to go back again!

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Jewel Cichlid

The Jewel Cichlid, hemichromis bimaculatus, is a beautiful fish that inhabits streams from southern Guinea to Central Liberia. During breeding conditions, the males have intense red colouration which is spectacular to see. These cichlids are territorial and should be housed in a spacious, well planted aquarium with abundant shelters. If there are enough shelters, these fish will be less aggressive as each of them is able to claim a certain territory within in the aquarium. Include several flat-topped rocks to mimic the cichlids natural environment. If a breeding pair is established, the female will spawn on these flat-topped rocks (flat leaves are also possible). The pair will then take turns to vigorously guard to fry. The Jewel Cichlid is omnivorous and will take dried and live foods. Keep these fish well fed or else they will become nasty fin nippers!

Goliath Tigerfish

The Goliath Tigerfish, Hydrocynus goliath, is a ferocious predatory fish native to the Congo River Basin in Africa. It can grow up to 1.5 meters long and has be known to prey on small crocodiles and tearing large catfish into pieces! It occasionally attacks human since it is able to sense low frequency vibration in the water. It prefers to hunt in fast flowing water where smaller fish struggle to swim. Its massive teeth perfectly slide into distinct patches along its jaw. The Goliath Tigerfish is very rarely kept in any sort of aquarium although I did manage to spot a few at the Singapore River Safari the other day! See video below 🙂

Building with Nature

The Netherlands constantly has to battle against the threat of flooding from the ocean and rivers as a vast area of its land is below sea level. However, the last major flood was way back in 1953. The success of water management in Netherlands is largely rooted in careful spatial planning and ‘building with nature’ to achieve a resilient flood-proof landscape. The concept of Building with Nature was invented by the the Dutch water authority, Rijkswaterstaat, and several other research institutes and consultancy agencies. The concept basically develops waterworks by integrating infrastructure, nature and society for sustainable water management solutions. Working with nature, rather than against it, is seen as being more efficient and less costly. One such example is giving room to the river “ruimte voor de rivier“. During peak discharges, usually in winter and spring, the river has special designated areas along its banks where water can be stored and transported. These so called uiterwaarden or flood plains in English are of low commercial values with almost no buildings being built on them. In this way, the (financial) damage the river can cause is minimal. During normal water levels, these areas are normally used for recreation and cattle grazing.

In the picture and clip below you can see the river Waal near Nijmegen which has been fed large amounts of rain and meltwater from Switzerland and Germany in recent weeks. Despite it looking rather serious, the situation is very much under control as the flood plains are compensating for the high water level. It shows that Building with Nature is the way to go!

 

Calabar Python

The Calabar Python, Calabaria reinhardtii, is probably one of the most toughest snakes on the planet. Its skin is more than 15 times thicker than an average snake. Scientists believe that this thick layer of skin protects the snake from bites by mother rodents protecting their young. The Calabar Python preys exclusively on young rodents, hence the need to protect itself from protective mothers. Despite the thickness of the skin, it remains flexible. Pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in mimicking the qualities of the snakes skin to develop puncture-resistant medical gloves! The Calabar Python does have some limitations. It cannot swallow large prey like other snakes normally do. This partly explains their preference for small rodents. It also has a very small clutch size for a snake laying an average of 4 eggs per clutch. Other snakes normally lay up to 100 eggs per clutch 😊

Calabar-head2

Illustration and data retrieved from Mongabay Newsletter “The toughest snake on Earth lives in Central Africa and eats baby rodents”

The Importance of Phosphate Recovery

Sooner or later, worldwide phosphate reserves will be depleted. Currently, phosphate is seen as a pollutant due to the high amounts phosphate run-off from agricultural lands. In the future, however, phosphate will become a strategic resource since it is only available in limited amounts. It is highly essential that society starts establishing ways of recovering this valuable resource. Phosphate is essential for people, animals and plants as its incorporated in DNA, bones, ATP and enzymes. Annually, 40 million tons of phosphate are mined mainly in Morocco, China and USA. The total world reserves are estimated between 3600-8000 million tons. The production of artificial fertilizer uses by far the most amount of phosphate. 80% of the world phosphate consumption is used for the production of artificial fertilizer. From this, it is clear that in the agricultural sector there needs to be a fundamental mind-switch towards recovering phosphate. Research shows that more than half of the applied phosphate on agricultural fields is lost through run-off and leaching…what a waste!! The recovery of phosphate not only recovers a vital element for life on earth, but it also reduces pollution loads into the environment.

(Obtained data from Wageningen World Magazine, Nr. 4, 2017).

Panama Canal and City

One of the most remarkable man made infrastructure I have ever seen. The Panama Canal at 80 kilometers long uses a system of three locks where these massive ships get elevated from sea level to an impressive 26 meters! The canal cuts through the isthmus of Panama through some low mountains at the Culebra Cut and an reservoir called Gatun Lake. The whole trip takes only 8 to 10 hours which saves a lot of time compared to travelling around the continent of South America! Surrounding the canal are primary tropical rainforests that act as sponges for the canal in times of high rainfall…it shows that building with nature is the way to go! Panama City is a modern, largely Americanised metroplolis, with lively residents 😊 

Old town
Down town

Leaf-cutter Ant

The famous leaf-cutter ant, Atta, is endemic to Central and South America. They can carry leaves up to 3x their body weight and use the gathered leaves for growing a special fungus that they use as food. Leaf-cutter ant colonies are some of the most complex societies in the animal kingdom with a sophisticated caste system…also their mounds, which go to 9 meters deep and 30 meters accros, have in-built ventilation and waste disposal systems! The queen of the ant colony is massive (3x bigger than anyone else) and can live for as long as 15 years producing 1000 eggs a day! 💪 🐜🐜🐜 Taken in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica 

Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish, Pimelodus Pictus, is a small species of catfish with extreme long barbels. The barbels can even reach to the caudal fin! Pictus Catfish are active bottom feeders that are usually most active at night. They inhabit the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and are common in the aquarium trade. In captivity they are omnivorous and eat vegetables, blood worms and insects among others. They are relatively peaceful fish and can be kept with other fish of similar size. Larger Pictus Catfish, however, will have a go at smaller fish (small tetra’s for example). Pictus Catfish are non-territorial so a shoal of 5 or more will make this species of catfish feel more at home. Furthermore, it is important to provide plenty of plants, rock, caves and driftwood in soft water. A dimly lit aquarium encourages the fish to be more active.

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