Thursday, September 29, 2011

PIns and Needles 24 ~ Skipper (not the sailor)

Anyway, the handsome orange colored butterfly is telicota augias, or the bright-orange darter, which is a relatively large butterfly of the skipper family. Skipper butterflies, which are classified into the super-family Hesperiidae, a group of butterflies which are distinctively different from the majority of the species Papilionoidae. The butterflies resemble moths somewhat in that they posses large compound eyes and rather stocky bodies with strong flight muscles which enable their skittish, darting sort of flight which they are named after. Most skippers though (refer to the one above the telicota augias) are frustratingly hard to differentiate from each other, even to expert lepidopterists what more an amateur like myself!!! So do expect any, typically colored, brown skipper butterflies I find in the future to remain unidentified until I've received some form of help or another from an expert.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

God Save the Queen

Hey ya'll

The forest has been finally cut down, and - among the many other creatures that were flushed out from the destruction of their home - was this large, and especially intimidating creature.

Queen of the Oecophylla smaragdina
This, is the queen of Oecophylla smaragdina, also known as the weaver ant - although sometimes confused for the fire-ant due to the colloquial Malay term for it, "semut-api" (literally, fire-ant!). And they are so aptly named, because these ants make their nests not under the ground, but high in the treetops by weaving together bits and pieces of leaves, twigs and debris to form pouch-like nests on the forest canopy. Highly territorial by nature, these ants lack a functional sting but can inflict painful bites with their powerful mandibles (one need only take a look at the mandibles on this queen!) or release a painful squirt of formic acid if threatened! Societal behavior among these species of ants are particularly interesting and work division exists in the structuring of different castes of workers. Major workers - which are significantly larger in size than the minor workers - forage, defend, maintain and expand the colony while minor workers seldom venture far from the nests, tending instead to the larvae or 'milking' their herds of lycaenidae caterpillars or scale insects nearby. I stared at the regal creature momentarily - snapping a few shots as I did so - and she reacted with indignation, gnashing her mandibles and waving her antennae in warning. I decided not to disturb her from her resting spot after all and chose to marvel, instead, at the way nature will always find a way. So this one stretch of forest may have been destroyed, her former colony with it, but with her wings she and her sisters will fly off to other trees, in search of other nesting grounds. The colony would live on, through them.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pins and Needles 23 ~ Victorian vs. Conventional

Hey ya'll

So, in case you may have noticed, I practice a rather 'peculiar' method when it comes to spreading my butterflies and moths. If you will but refer to most of the specimens in my previous posts, you will undoubtedly realize that the wings of the insects appear to be in a semi-spread state (rather, they look almost half-opened when compared with the butterflies and moths one might see in a souvenir shop or a museum). This is because the method I have been using is one that has not been used in the scientific/collector community for quite a long time. The half-spread, or Victorian-spread method is one that - as it's namesake clearly defines - dates back to Victorian times and can perhaps be traced to budding interests in the observation of nature - butterfly collecting, for instance - that was the trend of that time. Naturally spreading techniques were, perhaps, less sophisticated back then but I do like to imagine that the Victorians (with their growing fascination for the natural order) placed them in such a way as to mimic the butterfly's natural, or resting posture in the wild. Indeed, this is why I have always favored such a technique! Lately I have, however, attempted to try my hand at more conventional spreading techniques, and using strips of baking paper or plastic, I would spread the wings of my specimens to their full capacities. Naturally, being only at the 'experimental' stage of this venture, I decided to try it on larger (makes for stronger wings and less risk of tearing) and more common moths. i.e my two Lyssa zampas.

Lyssa zampa female (left) and male (right) specimens spreading using strips of baking paper and  plastic
As you can see, I clearly did not do something right with the female and her hind-wing had somehow come off from it's original position to overlap the fore-wing. This was spread using baking paper. Also the hind-wings seem to have relaxed somewhat and returned to their original position.
The male, on the other hand I am quite happy with the spreading and the positioning of both wings. However on hindsight it would perhaps be best not to use strips of plastic for certain species of lepidoptera. Lyssa zampa, is notorious for it's loosely placed scales which stick to, and come off when the plastic strips are removed, most evident on the right wing. 
Eitherway, these moths are extremely memorable as a first-time attempt at doing things the more sophisticated way and I have thus, given them their own frames to commemorate it.

My personal butterfly and moth collection showing various spreading methods and techniques.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This obsession with Beauty, or The Invertebrate Venus

Hey ya'll

The following piece happened indirectly because of a certain competition I was interesting in taking part in called "Science meets Art". The competition, which is a collaborative effort between the Goethe-Institute of Malaysia and the National Science Center was meant to evoke the artistic merit in the scientific world around you. Specifically the questions asked were;

1. How does science affect us in today's world?
2. What is your effect on science through your art and lifestyle
3. Can science be art?
4. How can you express this creatively?

Now, of course we weren't actually expected to answer these questions (it is an art competition, NOT an essay writing competition, after all) but I had a good idea what I had wanted to do. Quite obviously, science has changed and influenced much of what we know in our contemporary world. Indeed, one might even say that science is the basis of all the knowledge that has shaped and formed our lives as we know it. Without science, the world would be extremely different from how we know it! Contrary to popular belief, that science and art are incompatible (the general consensus is that science has rules, art doesn't) I believe that the two are in fact extremely interlinked. For a lot of my artwork, for example, I draw my inspiration from my observations and understanding of the natural world. Indeed to sketch the wings of insects and incorporate them into my portraits of magical beings would require at some level a basic understanding of insect and animal morphology - one of the basic knowledge of evolutionary science! Consequently (rejecting the ideology of the Romantics that the two were almost incompatible) I'd say that my artwork has always been very much influenced by the natural sciences.

On that note, I began coming up with a rough idea for my entry in the competition. In creating prominent coupling between the two discourse of art and science I chose the subject of aesthetics (or beauty!) which is a predominant feature in artistic appreciation, and of insects, being the little aspect of the natural sciences that I am most interested in. The medium I chose to work in was collage (the other two mediums offered being painting or sculpture).
Insectoid femininity - The Invertebrate Venus
The Venus emerges, not out of the ocean from a the lips of a half-oyster but the blossoming wings of the beautiful moon moths. She crawls out of it, slowly like the insect from it's cocoon and we can see that the skin on her leg's glisten like the hardened carapaces of the bejeweled scarabidae beetles. Around her, in place of hair is a flowing main of hesperidae butterflies, each reflecting the different brown and auburn hues of the prairie plains, or a particularly aged forest. She is the Mother of beauty, all forms of beauty and in gentle embrace she cradles a cicada against the modest mounds of her breasts as she invites the audiences into her world, to appreciate her beauty, with eyes as captivating and startling as those on the polyphemus moth. 

This art-piece is titled Insectoid Femininity - The Invertebrate Venus and it is basically an amalgamation of Botticelli's the Birth of Venus, with the body parts of various insects. The idea behind this art-piece (and it might change if you asked me in a few days or so... because that's how artists are sometimes) is critique on the constructedness of beauty, specifically in the notion that "nothing is natural anymore". So indeed what I did was cut up (literally!) and re-constructed the Venus (supposedly the representation of ideal feminine beauty) with the "natural" body parts of various insects that captured my fancy. I am especially fond of her butterfly-hair. Last but not least, as a parting note, you may be wondering why I am publishing this here... and if that is not in some way in violation of the contest rules... and the answer is, I'm not submitting it after all. You see, I did not read the requirements clearly and upon completing this piece (in A4 size) learnt that it was supposed to be in A1 size. Oh well... there goes my shot at winning RM2000.

Beauty is everywhere. One only has to acknowledge it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

PIns and Needles 22 ~ Specimens Update and my Dead Queen

Hey ya'll

half-year-thingiesary just went by!!! It was... quite normal, hahaha. The sad part was we were so excited to catch a movie but upon heading to the cinema discovered that all the good movies we had already watched. Sigh... how boring! Oh well, on to more buggish things. I continued somewhat with the re-organization of my specimens today. Unearthed my little infamous lycaenid box. These were some of the first butterflies I started collecting and I havent' even managed to identify them all. Any help here would be hot.

The lycaenid box. Okay... so I know some of them aren't actually lycaenidae but I guess I stored them in there out of convenience and to save some space. 
Besides those two, I've had another two in to spread today. The first is another magnificent specimen of the Laos Brown Butterfly which, I am told is also called a Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) of the family uranidae.

Lyssa zampa. Like the first, it's got one of the tails in it's hindwings torn off... a feature most common with these uranid moths (i suppose it must have something to do with their extremely fragile wings!)
And the next is this one particular insect of which I have grown extremely fond of... my darling Artemis. She expired today, sometime when I was not at home and it was a pity that she did for by the time I had gotten back, those nasty little ants had gotten to her first... they ruined portions of her lower wings and her abdomen. She will be missed lots.

She made good practice, though, as this was my first time spreading a praying mantis, and I do hope at least one of her multiple egg-cases hatch soon!!! Babies, it's time to live up to your mother's legacy in keeping my garden pest-free!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PIns and Needles 21 ~ Laos Brown Butterfly

Hey ya'll

I've been really quite meaning to write something here but I haven't quite had the time. Instead, whatever it is remains seated somewhere in the 'drafts' section of this blog. No matter, I do have something today and (I'm afraid) it is another specimens post.

Laos brown butterfly (lyssa zampa)
Though called the "Laos brown butterfly", lyssa zampa is actually a species of moth from the uraniidae family (often characterized by their almost butterfly-like appearance) that is fairly common in Malaysia around this time of the year. In fact, often when I get calls to "check out this large brown butterfly/moth I found", I almost instinctively know what to expect. 98% of the time, it is indeed lyssa zampa. The adults have a proboscis, unlike the equally large and impressive saturniids, which mean that they can feed, but the wings of these moths are so fragile (their scales so easily brushed off) that they seem to avoid flying whenever they can and are usually tame enough to coax onto one's palm. Conversely, one might be able to tempt the moth to feed, unfurling it's long proboscis in a frenzy, by dipping one's finger in some sort of sweet fluids and brushing them against the moth's fine antennae. The larvae feed on plants of the genus endospermum, though in all my years of observation I have yet to find any (it would be a joy raising such a beautiful moth, I believe!!!)

At any rate, things have pretty much slowed down around here and things have settled back to normal. Thesis on the way, final chapter drafted, all that's left is for me to actually find a day to sit down and finish it... which shall be...eventually. Till next time then. Adios


Or the unfortunate Charaxinae butterfly that lost hers

Sunday, September 18, 2011

PIns and Needles 20 ~ Butterflies and Sleepovers

Hey ya'll

It is said, by the Ancient Greeks that a butterfly present by the bedside of a loved one was the person's soul, preparing to take flight from the body during the moments of dream time, but in our household, butterflies by the bed usually point to countless hours of specimens sorting, cataloging and labeling and consequently, late nights for Ray and I. Although specimens sorting and cataloging have always been - up to this point - a pretty personal affair, it was by some rare moment of generosity (for I guard my specimens jealously!) that I allowed Ray to participate in the effort yesterday night. He was, among other things, to help me with the labeling, Wikipedia at the ready, to spell-check and re-confirm the identities of many of the butterflies I've prepped for mounting (mostly the Birdwings and Swallowtails I've blogged about these past few days. The idea, you see, was to create a papillionidae display (they truly are, some of the largest and most beautiful of the butterfly families in my opinion) and it is only by some lack of foresight that I already boxed my lovely demoleuses, two  birdwings and a pair of rather tattered (but still prized) Great Mormon swallowtails into the previous display (it would really be too much of a hassle to dismantle and re-assemble the whole thing... ). Consequently, there were gaps in the display (not enough swallowtails to fill up the spaces) but not much considering how most of the butterflies in this display were quite large, and I did manage to fill in the remaining gaps with what nymphalidae and pierridae butterflies I had left.

Papilionidae (and other miscellaneous butterfly) display. From top to bottom
1st Row
pachliopta aristolochiae, graphium doson eurypylus, polyura delphis, euploea radamanthus, hypolimna bolinas, danaus chryssipus, cyrestis lutea.
2nd Row
pachliopta aristolochiae, graphium sarpedon, paranticopsis delessertii, polyura athamas, junonia hierta, ideopsis vulgaris, charaxes bernardus
3rd Row
troides helena, trogonoptera brookiana
4th Row
papilio helenus, papilio bianor, papilio paris, papilio polytes, appias nero.
5th Row
papilio demoleus, prioneris clemanthe
Another pic without the special-effect thing

Eitherways, I took all precautions this time, dousing my specimens with a layer of insecticides (although I think I must've accidentally breathed in some of the vile stuff because I felt sick afterwards... or maybe it was just lack of sleep) to prevent ants, mites and/or dermestid beetles... and to make sure things stay nice and dry in there I used not one, but FOUR sachettes of silica gel. They're still drying up from the insecticide treatment, currently but when they're done I will upload the pictures of all the display together. They really look more impressive this way (I know my own meager 50+ species display is NOTHING compared to some couple hundred species display some people have...but I'm really quite satisfied). And to think, all this was done under 2 hours. All thanks to the help of my trusty assistant!!! I should really have Ray help me out more often (although... there was the heart-stopping moment where, in his bid to reach for my phone, Ray nearly crushed all of my birdwings with his foot. "OMG RAY!!! DON'T PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN!!!")

Here comes the SUN, du~ du~ du~ du~

Saturday, September 17, 2011

PIns and Needles 20 ~ ALARMING!!!

It's so alarming, the effect of what happens when you treat your specimens with insecticides to keep off ants and dermestid beetles... the iridescent ones turn a funny shade of brown and for the first few seconds you can't help but go... OH EFF, what have I done? The effect is of course, temporary and the colours soon return, as you may see on the drying right-side wings of my two Rajah Brooks (trogonoptera brookiana) specimens here.
Oh and on the bright side, I may be making another trip to the Curve tomorrow... so, new display case, maybe?

Friday, September 16, 2011

PIns and Needles 19 ~ hidden treasures

Hey ya'll

I know one of the things I do publicly on facebook is make myself seem buzier than I actually am (mostly for the bnefit of my family and supervisors... ) but seeing as to how none of them have the links to this blog, you can be sure that I am being quite honest when I tell you... I AM EXTREMELY BUZY!!! And it doesn't help either that the air vents of the office seem to have been switched off. A guy could suffocate in there... really. To make matters worse, coming home now = long hours spent ant-guarding all my specimens (I'm taking no chances!) which basically means more work before it is finally time to sleep... sigh. The good thing about this, though is that I have re-discovered so many butterflies I've had previously that have (up till now) remained forgotten.

From top. Glassy Blue Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris), Malayan Zebra (Graphium delessertii), Redspot Sawtooth (Prioneris clemanthe), Bluebottle (Graphium Sarpedon),  Orange Albatross (Appias nero), Common Rose (Pachliopta Aristolochiae)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pins and Needles 18 - The Problem With Ants

Hey ya'll

so It was just recently during one of my trips into the forest that I managed to catch myself a pair of beautiful birdwing butterflies. Though I was hoping they'd mate and I could add them to my breeding list, this wasn't to be and the male expired first, followed by the female some hours later. I wonder if I do not only manage to catch these butterflies because they are at the end of their lives... anyway, seeing as to how I want to do a papillionidae collection soon and I do not have the species yet, I turned their bodies over to science, spreading them in my usual manner.

The Common Birdwing (troides helena) female (top) and male (bottom)
Female of the Common Birdwing (troides helena)
Also managed to bag a couple other species. From left to right, the Magpie Crow (Euploea Radamanthus) and the Common Nawab (Polyura Athamas)
Was feeling quite self-satisfied when I spread them last night and left them to dry.

Today, sometime around 9.00pm. HORROR!!! It seems the seal on my Troides Helena case was not airtight and an entire parade of ants had gotten in!!! Oh sad, sad day... they had done some extensive damage, mostly to the female and they had already eaten half of her abdomen before I arrived to save them. Such a pity and I'm hoping the wings and thorax would still be intact and sturdy enough for display... it is really quite a bummer when such things happen. I wonder if anybody might share preservation techniques... fortunately enough though I have managed to procure some of the vines on which they feed and will hopefully be growing them around here sometime soon. Maybe we'll be seeing majestic birdwings flying around if we're lucky. Whilst I was at it, I also took the opportunity to spruce up on some already existing specimens of mine, collected many years ago when I was but a boy.

Clockwise from left. Paris Peacock (papilio paris), Yellow Pansy (junonia hierta), Little Mapwing (cyrestis lutea), Plain Tiger (danaus chrysippus), Chinese Peacock (papilio bianor), Tawny Rajah (charaxes bernardus)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ghost in the Machine

Hey ya'll

I had some leftover specimens so I decided to come up with something artistic. Anyway this next piece was inspired by something I read about the moth and the flame. The metaphor of the moth and the flame is often used to describe tragic love and/or obsession. The moth, so enamored by the thing it loves becomes oblivious to it's deadly heat and flies towards it, only to be engulfed and utterly consumed by the heat of passion. The reality of course, is quite different, and many studies have been done on this peculiar behavior of moths to circle, and be attracted to lit objects. Some conclude that this is because the moth's navigation at night depends greatly upon the positioning of the stars and so, when an object like an artificial light bulb comes into play, the moth keeps correcting its position in an attempt to navigate but ends up flying in a circular spiral, eventually hitting the light bulb and falling down. The moth of course, gets up, sees the light, assumes it for a star, far away in the sky and tries again. But I digress, so I had some extra moth specimens lying around that didn't make it into the shadowbox when I thought of this myth and decided, to marry the moth with the light bulb.

And then, they were one... It wasn't until I was done that I belatedly realized that my contraption was not a light bulb but really a miniature gumball machine, which led to the art sculpture being spontaneously named; "A Ghost in the Machine." (the ghost, of course referring to the corpse of the moth inside the gumball machine) which is perhaps a metaphor for my mind... sweet on the outside (like a gumball machine) with the promise of rainbow coloured candy, but forever troubled on the inside, by the fluttering of an unseen ghost.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rise with the Sun

Hey ya'll

you may, or may not recall the two fortunate chrysalids I managed to rescue from the - now-razed - weed patch and the forested area and how amazed I was when one emerged, brilliantly orange in colour, the other, a duller shade of brown. Indeed so excited I was that I figured the butterfly may have in fact been exhibiting signs of industrial melanism and even wrote an entire post about it using the classic text-book study of the peppered moth. Turns out, of course, there was nothing exceptionally special with my butterflies (aside from the fact that they are extremely remarkable specimens for their kind) and I had decided to release them - away from where I found them, somewhere closer to home - in the hopes that they would exploit the overgrowth of passiflora vines which are ever threatening to creep into my own garden from the abandoned house next door. Of course, these are not the first butterflies of the Tawny Coster (acraea terpsicore) which I have released around here, and it is sad for me to report that of all the hundreds of these brilliant, lazy-flying orange butterflies I have released, thusfar not a single one has ever returned, not to make nurseries out of the passiflora vines, nor to make merry amongst the lantanas (which are currently in full bloom at our garden.) So imagine my pleasant surprise, today, when I opened the door to get to my car and noticed this.

Lovely, aren't they? And as soon as I left I noticed them taking off towards the passiflora patch next door! A male and a female... heading towards host plants. I may be lucky yet... but there's no way to tell until next season, when I see more butterflies coming back to the garden! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pins and Needles 17 - Specimens Display

Hey ya'll

So I know it's about around now that we are normally scheduled for a Ray Says column but I think Ray's internet must be down (again! It usually is...) because I can see the draft of the post here, in all it's incomplete glory, and it still has not been published. I suppose I will just leave him to it then but as a little preview of a hint for the rest of you; it's about X-Men! At any rate I will perhaps now talk about something else that I'm more familiar with. Insects, for instance, more specifically butterflies. Even more specific, butterflies and moths of my collection. As you all may know by now if you have been frequenting Confessions of a Lepidopterist, I have been on a constant hunt for a nice shadow box. A display case of sorts large enough to house a significant portion of my specimens. The problem is, you see, that I have taken to - for a lack of a better method of storage - keeping them in sealed microwavable plastic containers. The downside to this, mainly, is that the plastic containers are not exactly transparent which gives me some trouble looking at the precise patterns and colors of their wings (indeed, why taxidermise if I cannot even make proper references to my specimens?!). That, and of course the fact that I have way too many plastic containers of butterflies and moths stacked up to the brim of my room... My problems were solved yesterday when a trip to IKEA (a.k.a the affordable Swedish-made Furniture Emporium) unearthed this treasure; a reasonably large display case, glass fronted, white framed that I knew at a glance would have been perfect for my specimens! Oh sure, it did cause me quite a steep price of RM55... and there was some issues regarding frame depth, but after some minor adjustments on my part, these were of little consequence.

Lepidoptera of Malaysia, some of the specimens I've collected over the years of extensive observation and research in captivity and in the wild. They are arranged taxonomically, from top left (Papillionidae), bottom left (Pierridae), center top (Saturniidae), center bottom, (Geometridae), left column (Nymphalidae)
Pretty neat isn't it? And I really do love the way they all look together! There was some dispute, however between me and Ray as to how they would be positioned. Ever trying his hand at creativity, he suggested placing flowers inside the display case in a sort of diorama of the lepidoptera flying around in their 'natural' surroundings whereas I was quite adamant that I wanted these to be displayed quite 'scientifically'... also to enable easier reference for myself and for viewers in the future. In the end, of course, the decision lay with me (them being my specimens and all) and I did go for the more naturalist look for this. I do think it looks rather lovely in my room on my shelf.

Cyren's shelf of entomology!!!
As you can see there are more plastic containers of insects on the right hand side of the shelf... but that's another story, for another post, at another time after I manage to find another RM55 to spare, for another display box.

Ray Says: Mutation

Ola! For this column of Ray Says, Imma be all geeky and lament about the comic world, specifically X-men.

Who are the X-men? Those of you who have this question in mind should really climb out of your rock right now. Nevertheless, I shall explain. They are this a species of humans who develop super human powers via mutation. A dude in a wheelchair by the name of Professor Xavier was the first to try and gather a selection of these mutants or "Homo Superior" to teach them on how to use their powers for the betterment of mankind. Because for some reasons, the humans in Marvel Universe detest mutants while embracing the likes of Fantastic Four and the Avenger. Contradictory much?

Anyway, me and my hubby have always embrace the X-men characters with open arms. Ever since we first lay eyes on them, we just couldn't get enough of them. Hubby's favorite mutant has always been Jean Grey or prominently known as Phoenix. As for me, I used to think Wolverine, the feral dude with retractable claws, was cool. Numerous depictions of him later, I grew tired of him and currently, I don't really have any favorites. However, if I were to have a list of my top five favorites mutants for the time being, here's who I will pick (pay no attention to the numeric orders cuz as I said, I don't have a favorite):

1) Gambit - A Cajun native with mad card-throwing skill that makes the projectile ka-boom. His power causes the very things he touched to react subatomically unstable and explode moments later. He's also good with his staff.
2) Shadowcat - From the surface, she looks like a down-to-earth kind of girl but underneath it, she's a woman who can fight her own battles. Along with her phasing power (ability to pass through objects as if they were thin air), she's also skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Plus, she owns a pet alien dragon. Cute right?
3) Emma Frost - Though she is not as popular as the other characters among the public yet, she's growing to become one of the prominent X-men characters. Her on-screen depiction may not do her well, she has been shown to play more important roles in the comic. Siding with Cyclops through all kinds of hell while supporting her role as the first-lady for Utopia. Her powers include the ability to turn into diamond and telepathy with a hint of telekinesis.
Emma Frost
4) Deadpool - The Merc with a Mouth. He may not be a real mutant himself but he has been associated greatly with the mutant community. As a former mercenary, he was subjected to the same thing as Wolverine but it rendered him hideously repulsive. Of course, it comes with great powers. He is able to regenerate faster than Wolverine himself and he's an expert on strategies and weaponry. Furthermore, he's one of the only few characters who can break the fourth world. This is to say that he knows that he's a comic character and his creation is merely to entertain us.
5) X-23 - Yes she has retractable claws. Yes, she's a female clone version of Wolverine. Yes, I mentioned I don't really like Wolverine nowadays. But then, for some reasons, I prefer X-23 over Logan any time. Just like Harlequin, she was popularized by a X-men cartoon series and fans love her so. She has the exact same power as Wolverine and just as ferocious. Personally, I think X-23 is more passionate than her male counterpart. She doesn't really show it but she would when it's necessary. Maybe that's why I like her XD
Enough of my personal likes, let's talk about the recent happenings in the X-men universe. Recently, there is a division in the mutant community. After the events in X-men: Schism, the mutants must decide whether to join Cyclops's team or Wolverine's team. Now, both teams have their pros and cons. Cyclops is a good strategist but he's harsh on his followers. He's more militant now. As for Wolverine, he's more of the hit first ask question later type. Yet, Cyclops wants to seclude the mutant community from the rest of the world whereas Wolverine wants the mutants to mingle with the humans. Here's the images for both teams (sorry about the size)

For bigger quality, go to

Before I end my post, for those of you who care, I wanna know which side would you choose and it would be great if you give an explanation for your choice. Hope I can hear from you guys. Cheers~

The Importance of Color.

Hey ya'll

I'm going to talk about evolution again today... or rather more specifically, how the evolution of certain species of lepidoptera can be used as indicators of environmental quality. Now I'm sure - and I make this reference because it is considered a textbook example of what I'm talking about here - of the peppered moth (Biston Betularia) and how it has evolved since, to cope with living through urbanization, a process that has changed drastically the habitat of which the moth is accustomed to surviving in.

Peppered Moth (Biston Betularia) typica morph.
In it's original form, the peppered moth is fairly light in color. Often white/off-white in base with a smattering of black or gray spots, the moth's coloration enabled it to blend quite efficiently among the bark of lichen covered trees in England. Indeed though it may be argued that darker individuals existed within the moth populations, the presence of light colored lichen on the trees meant that dark colored individuals were quick to be picked up by birds and a retrospective estimates reduce the presence of the dark allele in peppered moths to about 0.01%. However, at the turn of the century during the industrial revolution, many of the trees were blackened with soot. Indeed it could be said that sulfur dioxide and the emission of other forms of pollution killed of much of the light-bodied lichen that used to grow on tree bark. This in turn caused the light colored moths (which were more plentiful then) to be quickly picked off by birds. The dark colored moths, on the other hand, were able to camouflage quite efficiently against the bark of the now blackened trees.

Peppered Moth (Biston Betularia) carbonaria morph
Though the dark colored moth became the obvious survivor in post-industrial England, light colored individuals still continued to be produced as the majority of individuals in the species, but as more and more of them failed to survive due to predation, the dark colored variation of the species started to flourish. As a result, by 1895, the dark colored moth turned into the dominant color variation of the species, the frequency of the dark allele having risen to 98% (some 1000%) from it's original frequency of 0.01. Indeed, this example of evolution, involving the darkening of color as a result of increased levels of pollution and rapid changes in animal habitat have been termed "industrial melanism". Interestingly enough, I was observing two of my recently hatched chrysalids the other day. One chrysalis was taken from the infamous "weed patch" (of which I have written most fondly about on more than one occasion) located near the industrial part of Sunway, the other from the other equally famous "hutan" or "forested area" where I got most of my butterflies from. Indeed one of the interesting things I noticed when they emerged was the significant difference in coloration.

Tawny Costers (Acraea Terpsicore) *left* taken from industrial area, *left* taken from hutan.
Indeed I was so excited! Perhaps coming across an instance of industrial melanism as well... turns out though, it was simply a male and female butterfly showing characteristic sexual dimorphism. Oh well. On another note, Ray and I finally made that long awaited trip to IKEA and managed to procure for me a display case for my mounted specimens. I spent almost 4 hours last night, prepping the case and arranging the butterflies but it was most certainly worth it! More on that later though, because I want to dedicate an entire post to it. Till next time...

As an afterthought, I wonder if the diversity in human skin colors can perhaps be attributed to something akin to the situation of the moth... though not necessarily pollution, but the drive to survive. After all, if we were all descendant from Africa - assuming we possessed much darker skin tones in our primitive form - then would it not be plausible to assume that the 'white' skinned variety of human would be seen to be something more novel and/or desirable among the otherwise 'common' dark-skinned majority? But that thought leads to near to the path of racial essentialism (something we should avoid at most costs!) and that is something I shall not delve on for too long. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pins and Needles 16. - The Crows

Mounted Crow Butterfly specimens. [top to bottom]
Common Crow Butterfly (Euploea Core)
Striped Crow Butterfly (Euploea Mulciber)

Nymphamania!!! No, not the sexual kind.

Hey ya'll

It's been quite a week lately and despite a small bout of fatigue and continence I have recovered almost fully, up and about and ready to do - among other things - some work! I regret to report though that despite the early accomplishment of completing the Marilyn Monroe essay, I've not yet had much success with the second chapter of my thesis - indeed, I am stuck somewhere between conceptualizing and beginning - but if it is any consolation to myself, I do suppose I may be considered as a fast worker. Once I actually get started on this thing, it shouldn't be two or three days before I finish the note-form draft to be viewed by my supervisor - whom I am very tempted right now to approach for an application for extended submission deadline! However, work aside, one of the other ups of having gotten back my health at this juncture is my ability to explore the natural once more! Of course the world waits for no person and I had been pining for days, the things I must've missed out in the forest and other parks when I was too preoccupied by remaining indisposed in bed. Some of the more drastic changes would have been man made I suppose and I returned to my usual spot to discover the weed patch - of which I had written so fondly about two posts back - had been summarily cleared out. One of the cleaners noticed me staring ruefully at the carnage left before his shears and asked me if there was a problem. I promptly told him about the caterpillars I had come to observe and their pupae and he started explaining how he was just following orders. I did not blame him though, and he was very apologetic about it, and I told him so but in a fit of apology he rummaged inside one of his sacks - the ones where cut leaves are thrown into - and produced a larvae and offered it to me. I declined, "Thank you, but no." I told him. "It is still too small, and I would have nothing to feed it with." I did, however, managed to rescue two beautiful chrysalids which now sit on the office table - captivating a group of my office mates who no doubt cannot wait to witness the transformation from pupae to butterfly themselves.

Lone survivors. My two Tawny Coster (acraea terpsicore) pupae
But on a separate note there is the haze, which is only growing thicker by the day... and more suffocatingly so!  Really, I wonder what is it about this time of year that always seems to bring haze to our country... it's horrible and even a few minutes of walking outside is enough to make one wish one were back indoors. Nature, however seems to be countering the dull gloominess of the haze with Her own attempts at injecting color and it seems the forest - now definitely on it's last leg (for it is but a week before she is torn down) has been in full bloom. It almost seems like it knows its time is up and is therefore rushing to disperse it's progeny! The mixed fragrance of flowers and fruits so strong that even the haze cannot block out completely seem to be attracting out of their hiding spaces tons of insects, butterflies and birds who will no doubt disperse the seeds to further locations. For the better part I was content to leave them at it. It is extremely fascinating how nature on Her own seems to possess this will to survive... then again, which living being doesn't? Either way, I would not hinder the process and took my collecting - and observing - self elsewhere. Which is good, because it gives me the opportunity to scout out a lot more different habitats as well. And so many things I have learnt. For example, upon taking a walk to the park below my house (I needed something to calm me down after the blood test ... I HATE NEEDLES!) I discovered a wide variety of butterflies, many of which I had no idea flew in this area. I netted a few of them (with MUCH exertion considering my low platelet count!) but only one of each species (there was no need to be greedy!) and here they are.

The four beauties
The first butterfly of today was this Glassy Yellow Tiger (Parantica Aspasia) which was extremely beautiful in the way the sunlight shone through the transparent patches of its wings. The butterfly was easy to catch, possessing a floating, lazy sort of flight and there were several of them high up in the trees. 

The Crow butterflies were also rather numerous and plentiful and I managed to catch two of them. I can identify this one quite surely as the Striped Blue Crow (Euploea Mulciber) and the other - somewhat reservedly - as the Common Crow (Euploea Core). An interesting fact about these crow butterflies such as the Common Crow is that they possess leathery wings and tough bodies, capable of withstanding most predators! When attacked, rather than simply running away, the butterflies ooze a vomit inducing liquid which causes predators to instantly release them. Upon the release the butterfly continues to fake it's death until the predator leaves. The butterfly than 'miraculously' returns from the dead and promptly flutters away!
Last but not least, this magnificent and large butterfly. This butterfly with its large size, white spots, and tailed hindwings are often mistaken in flight for the Red Helen Swallowtail (Papilio Helenus) but what it actually is, is a member of the Satyrinae sub-group of butterflies called the Malayan Owl (Neorina Lowii Latipicta). Satyrinae generally prefer to fly in shaded areas and although are mostly day flying, tend to show aversion towards the sun. It was a wonder one as beautiful as this would deign to appear before me on such a hot day as today!
Now finally, one last snippet of fun filled trivia before I leave... you will notice, perhaps the rather strange lettering of the word "Nymphomania" in my title... but rather than a spelling error, it was a deliberate play on the butterflies' sub-species. Now, if you had caught one of these butterflies (and indeed I regret now for not taking a closer shot of their bodies for you) that they possess only four legs. Four, instead of the insect customary of six. And while many first time observers have come to remark upon astonishment that the butterfly had somehow got one pair of it's legs detached, this is actually something which is quite natural. These butterflies, the two danaidae (the crows and tiger) and the satyrinae are both members of the nymphalidae butterflies, sometimes also called brush-footed or four legged butterflies. And this is quite simply because - for whatever reason - the species have evolved to grow reduced pairs of front-legs (resembling small brushes) with only four of their remaining legs visible upon observation. Indeed, I could probably go on and on about butterflies, but work is calling and I would be wise to use what small ammount of strength I have left to get some of it done. Till next time, my readers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Love, and other things

Hey ya'll

Do you know, that I consider myself to be extremely lucky? Lucky in the sense that I believe everything to happen for a reason, though seemingly by chance... that is to say, that although things always happen to the effect of other things happening to which a loose sense of 'purpose' may be served at one point, they always almost takes one by surprise when it happens. Oh I'm sure you know what I mean... like how I met my Ray for instance. Poke'mon. Who'd have thought right? But that's how it went... a meeting that was supposed to take place between me and a friend, who in turn invited his friend (Ray) whom I liked so much. Liked enough, anyway, for me to connive a most cunning and brilliant plant to give him a lift home that night. Indeed, I suppose he must have liked me a whole lot as well because he quite politely declined an offer for a lift home from his other friend, opting instead to follow me. (that, or quite simply, he left his water tank in my car!) But either way, accidental or not, the rest as they say is history. But it is so hard as well, to be in love. So much to have, also means so much to loose. There are moments when I can't help but feel scared, the sharp pang in the middle of my stomach, somewhere beneath my solar plexus, accompanied almost by the characteristic bitter tang at the back of my mouth, whenever I think of what it would be like to loose him. It's scary you know, and I know some of you may have trouble digesting this, but people like us have feelings for our loved ones too, and those feelings are - if not more - exactly the same sort of feelings you may have for yours. Anyway, I'm coming up with something really special for Ray, to mark half a year of us being together (when time is short, time is all you have!) and I really wanna discuss it at length here, and ask for all of your opinion as well... but seeing as to how we share this blog now, I guess it will have to be a surprise for all.

Holy Mother of...