In August 2009, Lim Poh Bee chanced upon a Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) chomping on the green fruits of the pong pong (Cerbera odollam) at Pasir Ris. Using one foot to cling tightly on to the perch, the bird uses the other foot to grasp the large, smooth fruit, its sharp claws getting a firm hold on the fruit. It then uses its strong sharp bill to take a few large bites before abandoning the fruit.
This introduced parrot has adapted well to its new environment, having found its food niche in the urban areas of Singapore. It regularly eats fruits that other animals avoid. The hard fruits of the pong pong is one of them, eaten when still green. Once they ripen, they become hard and fibrous.
The bird also takes the long, hard pods of the golden shower (Cassia fistula), perching on a nearby branch to chew on the pods or grasping the pod with both feet to take bites on it. This is an exotic roadside tree, planted for its attractive bunches of yellow flowers.
In the case of the starfruit (Averrhoa carambola), another exotic tree, it walks from branch to branch grasping one green fruit after another. It then brings the fruit to its bill where the seeds are extracted. The rest of the fruit is discarded, giving the impression that it is a wasteful eater. But the bird is a messy eater.
Image by Lim Poh Bee.
I always thought that the pong pong fruit was poisonous. Some say its can be used as a repellent for rats. Is there any truth to this?
Only the seeds are poisonous. Local schools, I am told, use the seeds to poison rats. The flesh around the seeds is apparently not poisonous.
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