Thursday, December 30, 2010


Hey guys!

Check this out, befitting considering most of us are currently enjoying what's left of our Summer Holidays!
The handmaiden of Summer
Anyway I managed to find somebody to spend new year's eve with so I guess its off to the streets to party tomorrow night! But for now, let me just wish you all a


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lepidopterist's Haunt

Hey guys!

It's going to be the new year in a couple more days!!! So... why don't I feel like it's anything? Is it perhaps the knowledge that everyday leads on to a day that is just like the other? I don't know.

Anyway I thought I wanted to share some more intimate aspects of my life with you today, and what could perhaps be more intimate that a view into my workstation and living quarters. This is where I spend most of my time really, when I'm not out in the Garden or Parks and Forests doing what I normally do and so, is one of the places which I really feel comfortable in, too comfortable perhaps when there are times when I don't feel like leaving. Then again, perhaps you will understand me better if I told you that this is also my room and, I'm sure we've all had times where we've woken up and not felt like leaving the comforts of our rooms. Well, anyway, let me begin the tour without further ado~
The Memories Wall
Okay the first is my memory wall, perhaps the only part of my room that is not littered with influences from my work, this wall consists of mainly photographs from some of the most memorable moments in my life. Up there you will see postcards from Chiang Mai, that my friend Joe took of the native children, also birthday cards from family and loved ones. The certificate on the wall came from when I was crowned Prom King of my high-school senior prom (a time long past) and the picture above it (the one of the guy leaping) was from the Mr. Monash photoshoot that I did earlier this year. Many photos have come and gone from this wall over the years (some fall off when the blu-tack dries up) but the ones left here are the ones that mean enough for me to continue replacing.

The Mysterious Bookshelf
Moving on to the right then, you will see perhaps a rather strange looking shelf. Many people who've come into my room often take one look at the shelf and exclaim "Do you do magic?!" but that's a question to be answered at another time.

The Shelf of Curios and Curiosities
Most likely, they were intrigued by the strange number of jars and bottles that decorate the upper portion of this shelf. What I can say though is that the jars on these shelves contain various odds and ends that I find during my travels including (but not limited to) rare sillkworm cocoons, strange rock formations, funny-colored shells, and even, an honest to goodness four leaf clover. And below, a rather extraordinary assortment of books on the mystical and the occult that indulges some of my interests in the Spiritual and the Divine. I suppose these books will be put to good use soon during my Honours when I start researching them in earnest. But I digress.

The Lepidopterist's Shrine
Moving on, you will then find yourself facing a rather...peculiar looking area. Most of my friends have jokingly referred to this as my insect/butterfly shrine but what it really is is my Naturalist work-table and where I collect and compile most of my specimens (insects/bird feathers) and notes. The rather intimidating structure on the left of it all is the indoor butterfly breeding cage and you will also see that I've taken to displaying some of my own artwork on the wall.
Live Butterfly Sketches
I will admit this is the part of my room that I like to look at the most, if only because of all the colours involved. And finally, the latest addition to my humble chambers. My butterfly specimens!

Specimen boxes
That have been recently hung up to form my Specimen Wall!

Just a humble collection, but one I am proud of nontheless.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed the tour of my workplace and room and for those of you who've had fixed plans, I hope you enjoy a very AWESOME New Year's Celebration! Me, I'll probably just go someplace nearby for a few drinks and fireworks. Will post up some artwork and wish ya'll again when I'm done. 

I think I am beginning to understand now, why some animals choose to live alone.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pins and Needles 5: Wet and Wild ~ A Taxidermy Story

Hey guys

I just discovered a really cool method of getting my specimens soft and limber again so that they can be spread and arranged in the best positions before preservation. Now, for those of you who are new here, although I like collecting butterfly and moth specimens I do not like killing them for the sake of it. Therefore, I either wait for them to live out their natural lifespans (species which I rear/breed/keep) or simply hunt around flourescent lights during the daytime to find those that have died of natural causes. Unfortunately for me, butterflies and moths which have died for a long time often become really stiff and difficult to maneouver. Now, though, it seems my problems have been solved! Introducing, the humidifying chamber!
Roch Dafeyette's humidifying chamber.
The humidifying chamber, is really nothing more than a really fancy name for a temporary storage chamber where moisture can be allowed to enter the butterflies' body thus making it soft and supple again for spreading. It typically consists of some sand, water, a window screen, and the insects that you wish to spread. First, boil the sand to remove microorganisms and impurities. Next, pour boiled water into the sand so that it is damp but not overspilling (water level should not exceed that of the sand). When that is done, simply place the window screen upon the damp sand and put your insects on top of that. This is to allow water to enter the butterflies' bodies from all sides. Leave them there for about a day or so and voila! Soft and supple butterflies! Note, it is important not to leave your insects in there for too long or mould will begin to develop. I tried it recently on an Owl/Tiger Moth that I found.

Humidified Owl Moth (Asota Plaginota) being spread with needles.
I've always found moths a joy to work with. Often their dull forewings can be opened to reveal the most striking colours and patterns, like this Asota Plaginota, which is one of the "tiger moths" I believe so named for their brilliant colouring and striped abdomen. I found this specimen in the Kitchen one day and fed with a diet of nectar and wild-flowers until it expired (some three to four days later). Once spread, I allowed the moth to dry and set for a couple of hours. (most lepidopterists will leave them for the next week or so but usually I only dry them for not more than two days with the aid of gel silica and dehumidifying agents) 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pins and Needles 4: Midnight Taxidermy

Common Rose Butterfly (Pachliopta Aristolchiae)
Common Mormon Buttefly (Papilio Polytes)

Chasing Hornbills

Hey guys!

We decided to go up to Genting Highlands (for the benefit of non-Malaysian readers, that's a theme park and casino located on top of a mountain) over the weekend...well actually the Australian Cousin really wanted to go. Personally I'm not a big fan of theme-parks, as I've said it before, I'll say it again, roller coasters take away years from my life expectancy but well, an outing with the cousins is always fun in itself. The park was pretty much the same way it looked when I last went there some 6 years ago although they did add a couple of new rides and a "parrot-walk" section. I was originally planning to bring my butterfly net/jars to go hunting for butterflies around the area (they are usually quite abundant in the highlands) but it was just as well that I didn't, there was nothing there! On the way down though, by cable car I managed to witness a rather magnificent sight.
A dark silhouette in the sky

It started off with a loud noise, which immediately made me think of geese (for some reason) followed by a large dark silhouette plummeting from the sky in a flurry of feathers. My initial thoughts were "EAGLE!!!" rather the swoop of an eagle as it picked off an animal from the rainforest canopy but as the bird settled on the branches of a rather tall tree I was quite surprised to see, instead, what it really was. The dark feathers were unmistakeable, its upright posture recogniseable, but what really gave it away was the splash of brilliant colours that formed the marvelous casque of Malaysia's Rhinoceros Hornbill. And there was not just one, but two! I articulated my astonishment which resulted in the clamouring of the other tourists for a look at this strange and mysterious creature, seldom seen in the wild.
The Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros Rhinoceros)
The Rhinoceros Hornbill is truly an astonishing creature. With its large size and horned beak, it almost seems to suggest an animal out of the period of dinosaurs rather than something which lives in our time, and yet, perhaps what is most astounding is perhaps the courtship and nesting behaviours of the birds. In courtship, male hornbills often have to go to strenous lenghts to prove his worth to the female thus sealing a bond of trust between the pair as the female has to rely on the male to provide her with everything during the incubation and raising of the chicks.

Courting pair

You see, once the pair has mated the female then proceeds to lay her eggs in the hollow cavity of a tree. Once inside, the male begins to imprison her, forming a wall around the entrance to the nest leaving but a small opening which the male uses to pass food to the female in order to raise the young. Once inside, the female often goes through a moult and looses most of her feathers, why they do this, I have no idea but this means that, should the male abandon the female during anytime of the chick-rearing process she will not only be unable to escape from her maternal prison, even if she could her feathers would be ill-equipped to protect her from the elements. Now that's trust for you! Fortunately males seldom abandon their mates and the only reason this happens is often because males are often caught, hunted or killed by predators.

Male feeding female in nest.
Considered a "near threatened" species by the IUCN, . The "horn" of the Rhinoceros Hornbills is called a casque, a decorative overgrowth on the Hornbill's beak that is made out of keratin (similar to the substance that makes our hair and fingernails) and is the reason for the population decline of wild hornbills as they are often hunted for this precious "golden jade".

To Malaysians, this bird possesess some cultural significance. Generally accepted as the natural bird of Malaysia its likeness often graces many tourism advertisements promoting the country and is even featured prominently in the state crest of Sarawak where many of the natives consider the bird to be a manifestation of their War God, "Singalang Burong". Personally, I just feel that they are like many of Mother Nature's wonderful creations a great addition to the already rich biodiversity of our country and yet another pressing reason to preserve the rainforests which are so abundant and yet, are getting lesser and lesser every day.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

House Warming

Hey guys

a couple of days ago I got a new nestbox for the loving couple. I was afraid they weren't going to warm up to it but, lo and behold ~
The loving pair checking out their new home
Hmmm do you reckon there'll be the sound of little birdies chirping soon? I sure hope so! =D

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pins and Needles 3: (Spread-eagle)

Hey guys

I've become something of a pin-junkie it seems! Taxidermy galore!!! Although today I want to share what is more of my experience than just mere pictures of my butterfly collection. First of all, in case you are new to my blog you should know that I never kill butterflies, ever, not even for specimen displays as I believe you can always do the same and so much more wiht sketches and photographs. However, should I come across a dead butterfly, or a friend find one and hand it to me in a box well, I must say I wouldn't be averse to doing it. But I digress, one of the most important points in preserving a butterfly, as my acquaintence and fellow lepidoptersit K takes delight in pointing out is the spreading process.

Prepping a dead Archduke (Lexias Perdalis) butterfly. This is the best way to handle butterflies, by the way to avoid damaging their wings.
The spreading process is where the lepidopterist or collecter opens up the wings of the insects in the position best able to display their beautiful patterns prior to display. Now, if you hunt for live butterflies, like K, then spreading won't be of any problem because the butterflies would still be soft and supple as they are *gulps* fresh *gulps* from death. However, if like me you choose a more peacable path well, then I suppose spreading can become a problem as butterflies tend to stiffen up really quick when they die.

Same method with larger butterfly
There are many ways to spread a dead butterfly. Most lepidopterists will use some sort of spreading board or another, made usually by two soft-wood planks with a groove running down the centre to support the butterfly's body but I find that I can achieve a similar effect with a slab of plastic. Note, if you are going to do things "my" way, you probably will not get as nice a setting for your end product but I think its pretty passable by my standards so poh-tay-to poh-tah-to eh?

Spreading the wings using sheets of paper
To spread the wings some people will stick pins into the stronger supporting veins of the butterflies' wings. Personally, because I am rather inexperienced and also because I don't like having unsightly holes in my specimens wings I use sheets of paper instead. The sheets of paper are measured and then cut to about exactly the right size of the wings. Once you've gotten the wings into the position you want it to be, simply press it down firmly (but DO NOT RUB) and then tape the corners of the paper down. The body of the butterfly can be prone to swivelling sometimes, which is not ideal if you want a nice spread and while this is easily solved in use of a spreading board, it can also quite easily be solved by simply sticking two pins on either side of the butterfly's body, at the base of the hindwing.
Note the three pin, one in the center of the thorax and two on either side of the abdommen. Note, this specimen came in with a torn wing.

Same methods can be used for very small butterflies as well and are in fact ideal since a pin anywhere on a tiny butterfly's wings will surely mean disaster.

Different view
So once you've got your butterfly all spread out, all there's left to do is leave it to dry. Again normally the drying period is supposed to take one week but usually, I just leave it overnight. However, I do advice if you put some sort of drying agent in it if you want to do it my way. I normally use silica gel. Note, failure to use a drying agent may result in really soft butterflies that break apart when touched. (This particular Rajah Brooke lost its abdommen the following day when I took it out to apply the usual coating of insecticide *I had run out of silica gel*) Anyway here are the results

Beautifully spread Rajah Brooke, if not for the torn wing and the fallen off abdomen segment I'd say this would have been my first successfully spread Rajah Brooke.

The Archduke (Lexias Perdalis) although something wrong happened during the spreading process (one of the pins came loose) resulting in a slightly skewed upper left forewing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Butterfly Pea

Hey guys

Today is the Winter Solstice Festival and I suppose those of you who celebrate it will know what that means... Tang Yuen! Now, Tang Yuen are actually really easy to make, they comprise mostly of rice flour balls encasing a small bit of brown sugar that is cooked in pandan and "gula malacca" syrup until they float. However, at our house, we being of the rather artistic sort often like to try to do different things with the rice flour. Last year we made pokemon shaped Tang Yuen, I'm pretty sure we had most of them floating about in the boiling water and the year before we made little bunnies and carrot shaped ones. This year was no different although we took it a step further in making our own dyes as well.

The butterfly pea, Clitoria Ternatea
This lovely little plant - which my mother has unceremoniously dubbed as the "blue flower" - is in fact a butterfly pea, so named for its strange petals which form "wings" around a central bud. The latin, or scientific name for this plant is called Clitoria ternatea, which sounds kind of like a bad word if you think about it...or a rather vulgar reference ot a certain human body part. Anyway, what most Malaysians can tell you is that the sap from this flower, can be used to produce the most beautiful blue-colored dye.

The first step is of course, to collect the flowers. Make sure you pick the fresh ones and not the ones which have begun to wither to get the most of the blue colour. Wash them thoroughly and check for bugs
Grind them with a pestle until their all pasty... so. The grounded petals should now produce this horrible grassy smell which I can never get quite used to. Anyway when they have been ground to a pulp, remove them and press them against a strainer to get the juices.

And there you have it! Brilliantly colored organic blue food dye!
 Now...I'm not quite so sure yet to what creative means this blue dye can be put up to besides the obvious but I must say the blue is quite strikingly similar to ballpoint pen ink, wouldn't you say so? Anyway just in case you were wondering, these plants are hideously easy to cultivate and do not require much, or at all care save a place to cling unto as they grow and besides providing an ever ready source of blue food colouring, this plants is pretty amazing in that its roots (which also possess a medicinal quality by the way) fix nitrogen and therefore improves soil quality as well! Pretty amazing huh! Anyway I'll leave you now as I have got more butterfly specimens coming in. Smell ya later~

If people are trying to bring you down, be proud of it. It only confirms that you're above them

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh Mr. Sheffield!

Hey guys!

I'm not sure if I have done this, but please let me introduce you to my fish, Mr. Sheffield!

For those of you who do not know this, Mr. Sheffield is a Fighting Fish and, in Malaysia, these fish are actually pretty common and can be found sometimes in drains and paddy fields. But Mr. Sheffield did not come from any drain or paddy field, he was bred in captivity and eventually found his way to a pet shop where I bought him for RM10. I have reason to believe that Mr. Sheffield is getting horny though. Yesterday morning I saw him blowing bubbles. One at a time. When I checked on him later today this is what I found

The bubbles are actually a sort of nest that Mr. Sheffield's species uses to store their babies. In the world of fighting fishes it is the ferocious fathers that make good parents. The females, which leave after laying their eggs, play no part in the growth of her offspring. Instead it is the male fish which carefully picks up the eggs and stores it within the bubbles until they are ready to hatch. What do you guys think? Should I get Mr. Sheffield a Miss Fine?

White Bird in a White Cage

Most worrying news, our other white budgie - the albino, Nimbus - appears to be looking poorly lately. Although she is still exhibiting signs of liveliness and pep I'm not going to take the chance. Have isolated her in one of Tweety and Polly's old cages, poor thing she looks positively bored.
Although its positively smaller than the aviary, there's something about this cage that I like a lot. All those old memories I suppose from when I first found Tweety in my garden on a stormy day.

I have fed her some millet spray (her favourite) and possibly going to give a serving of brown rice later in the evening to help with the digestion but if the problem persists I think its time to take early measures and make a trip to the vet in Taman Megah. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, though.
Hang in there buddy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pins and Needles 2

Hey guys,

this is just going to be a quickie picture post. I managed to find some dead butterflies just the other day by one of the lights at my university (poor things must have gotten drawn to them at night) and I was quite surprised to find a Rajah Brooke's birdwing amongst one of them!
attempting to spread the Rajah Brooke's wings
I know if my acquaintence and fellow lepidopterist Kai Vin sees this he will comment on how I am doing it wrong but really the butterfly must have been dead for quite a long time already because its antennae simply broke off the moment I touched it! And that's how brittle it was. There were other corpses too, most of them worst for wear but I managed to pick out a rather lovely Orange Cruiser (Vindula Arsinoe) which was even more brittle its wings actually crumbled slightly when I picked it up.

And I may have damaged them some more during spreading as well.
So there you have it, two more butterflies for me to put into little microwave tupperwares and stick up on my wall. Sounds rather macabre doesn't it, but there you have it. As Anthea would say to me "I hope your little excursions with taxidermy do not extend beyond butterflies and insects" and as I would say, "I can't even touch raw chicken meat without using super long chopsticks!"

On a separate note, wondering what I was even doing in uni on a holiday in the first place? Well, I was checking up on my research proposal and I am quite happy to announce that Dr. Andrew has agreed to facillitate my research paper on Mythical Creatures. He really is the best in that sort of thing. Till next time my friends.

As crazy as it sounds, the easiest way to remove pomengranate seeds is by spanking the back of the fruit with the flat end of a spoon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Malacca Butterfly Park and Reptile Sanctuary

Hey guys!

The cousin has arrived from Australia for about a week or so and the parental units thought it might be a good idea to bring him to Malacca. The original plan was for us to go to the A Famosa resort but upon checking their entree fees we were forced to reconsider. Instead, I thought it might be a wonderful opportunity to check out the Malacca Butterfly Park and Reptile Sanctuary. As far as I recall, the last time I made a visit to this place was almost ten years ago! Over a decade! The grounds of the establishment was fairly huge, larger even than the Penang Butterfly Farm although I must say the actual butterfly enclosure itself was dissapointingly small. Quiet a lot of butterflies though, for such a small area.

Really quaint Choclate Albatros Butterfly (Appias Lyncida)

I think this is a Common Crow Butterfly (Euploea Core)

A lovely Malay Lacewing Butterfly (Cethosia Biblis) almost as strikingly coloured as the Ixora it was feeding on

Some sort of red-bodied Swallowtail, possibly Atrophaneura Phegeus

Not to forget the cryptic Indian Leaf Butterfly (Kallima Inacchus) that looks like a dead leaf with its wings folded...

only to reveal splashes of iridescent blue and orange when it flies!

A very large swallowtail butterfly, possibly an Andaman Helen (Papillio Prexaspes) ?

And of course, the majestic birdwing butterflies. This one is the endangered Yellow Birdwing (Troides Helena) which feeds on the Aristolchia vine.

I am particularly fond of the birdwing species because, despite their reputations as strong fliers they are usually also the most agreeable to being handled by humans. This one allowed me to gently lift up its forewing to reveal the beautiful yellow patterns underneath.

Overall, I would say that the number of butterfly species present at the park was not bad for a enclosed walkway taking less than one minute to complete. On the other hand, what the facillity lacked in butterflies they made up for with other animals. They had many small animals and reptiles

like these incredibly cute Slow Lorises


And even a pair of very handsome looking leapords.
Being a Reptile Sanctuary as well, there was no shortage of gators or snakes, of the latter I managed to embark on a most heart-thumping experience through the claustrophobic snake walkway - an enclosed area positively packed to the brim with black and yellow mangrove snakes
....I swear one of them actually touched me!
And last but not least, something I can appreciate as well as an aviarist... BIRDS! They should have called this place the butterfly, reptile and BIRD sanctuary because they probably had mroe birds there than any other animals.

The extremely large, and extremely endangered Palm Cockatoo greeting visitors at the entrance
Lovebirds in the aviary
And a white peacock...which just did not open its tail feathers (possibly because they kept it together with another male.
The park was fairly vacant when I entered but apparently it is quite popular with the tourists and visitors alike because no sooner than when I began to leave (I got there very early in the morning) did tour busses start flocking the area. In fact, on my way out I noticed the Malacca Zoo with an even longer queue to get in! Now, if only I had known earlier there was a zoo as well... anyway spent the rest of the day at Jonker Street and then head back home. Traffic on the way back was phenomenaly BAD! Left Malacca at 3.30 and didn't reach KL till around dinner time! Someone should do something about all those unnessescary traffic lights at Ayer Keroh! ... I'm just saying.