Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Rabble of Butterflies

Hey ya'll

As my collection of insects begins to grow and grow, I'm starting to discover that I have increasingly little places in which I can store them. Generally these butterflies and beetles get pinned and stuck on styrofoam boards in plastic containers which in turn get put up on my wall but they have gotten so numerous and so heavy recently that the blue tack eventually gave and a significant portion of my butterfly-wall came tumbling down!!! Fortunately not too many butterflies were damaged and those that lost bits of wing or antennae from the shock of the fall were rather common species that I can replace easily if and when I wanted. As it is, it gave me the opportunity to revisit with each of my butterflies as I moved them to temporary storage. So many memories, so may jungles traversed, so many fields explored, and thanks to some labeling advice from my friend Alejandro I can actually recollect the exact places I found them!

Can you spot the odd one out???

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chattering Cicadas

Hey ya'll

I know this is at least one week overdue but the cicadas have finally come off the spreading board! As you may have noticed, the cicadas are a rather new type of insect to be featured on my blog and that is quite simply because they are a very rare sight in the city! Indeed since moving here from Bidor, the only time I ever saw one of these insects was perhaps when my father went through a face in which he was quite obsessed with golf. he brought me to the golf course one day and I happened to chance upon a pale blue specimen which startled me by dive-bombing into my face before clumsily fluttering away. I will admit therefore, that as a child, I had a rather strong aversion to cicadas. And why shouldn't I! They are large, they are big, they are noisy, and to top it off they have this ungainly tendency of crashing into human beings during the most unexpected of moments. To add to all of that, my parents (well meaning though they may have been) are unfortunately not as well read about these things as I was (or rather came to be) and utterly convinced me that the cicada was really a species of very large bee and as any child can tell you, bees STING!!!! As it stands, cicadas are really quite harmless. They do not sting, or bite, but have a long piercing mouth part which is used to penetrate the thick bark of trees for it to feed on the sap within during their short lives as winged adults. I suppose it might be possible that a person might be pricked by this offensive looking appendage of the cicada but if it has ever happened before, I most certainly have never heard of it, nor have I been "bitten" or "pierced" myself in anyway.

*Species Identification update* The Bat Cicada (Cryptotympana aquila ) no doubt the common name stems from the handsome black markings on its front and hind wings.  
The first Cicada was obtained at the Genting Highlands or rather, to be more precise, the cable car station just below it, and it was in fact by mere chance that I happened upon this creature as Ray and I were about to head home. I had initially thought it was dead, by the way it seemed to simply lay down on its back in the middle of the road, so you can imagine our astonishment when we picked it up and the insect protested most audibly with its shrill ringing cries which sound remarkably like a small animal in mortal pain. The sound, which is generated by male cicadas, is really produced by a flap like membrane underneath its wings (perhaps I will photograph it and show you some other time) and then amplified by the hollow chambers in its abdomen. The volume is surprisingly loud, even for an insect of its size, and not even when I stuffed it into my backpack, wrapped safely in a plastic bag, smothered by two layers of my underwear and clothes, could I stifle the raucous din it was generating. At some point the bus-driver shot me a dirty look (as if i might be carrying a baby in my bag) and I was afraid that he would refuse me entry onto his buss but fortunately the cicada decided at that very moment that its protests were in vain and followed me home most amicably where it lived in one of my observational tanks (I gave it the largest and tallest I had on hand) until it expired. As you can see, it is really quite brilliantly patterned with golden-bronze wing veination and dark black and brown markings radiating outwards from its thorax.

This second cicada was collected from Bukit Gambang which, incidentally I am told is located around Kuantan where the Lynas controversy is taking place presently. This insect, in contrast, was quite agreeable to being collected and consented to crawl on my hand and into a plastic container I had from its perch on the wall without uttering a single cry. This led me to summarize, rather crudely perhaps, that it must certainly be female, but since my knowledge on this order of insects is limited at best, I would not rely on my rough assessment of its gender if I were you. Conversely, however, I noticed one thing in common with most cicadas and that is the patterns of their flight. Strong though their wings may seem, they actually do not possess much surface area in comparison to the insect's stout and heavy body and this may seem to account somewhat for their haphazard flight. Indeed, place one of the larger of these insects on the ground and it will seem almost impossible for the poor thing to gain altitude. Instead the flutter about in loops and circles before landing awkwardly some small distance away. Toss them into the air, however, and they will almost certainly disappear into the distance. I wonder, if that is yet another reason why many cicada nymphs seem to crawl much higher up into the trees before molting into their adult forms (based on my observation of discarded cicada shells in the wild). 

Anyway, as I have mentioned, my knowledge regarding these insects is inadequate at best so you most certainly cannot rely on me to make any identification on their species. Perhaps, however, if any of you might be so kind as to lend a hand, it would be greatly appreciated. Of course, I shall first consult with Brittanie as her knowledge of cicadas far exceeds that of anyone I currently know. 



Hey ya'll 

There's one thing I would like to say today before going on about anything else, and that is: I LOVE MY JOB!!! I know that not many people can actually say this with conviction, but I am quite happy and grateful that I can! In case you are new to this blog (though I'm beginning to suspect that this blog is starting to have a more "fixed" following of people) I recently accepted the position of tutor at Monash University, Sunway Campus and while I had originally been signed up for only one subject, it was to my extreme fortune that I now find myself teaching three subjects altogether and they are 
  • Media Studies
  • Postcolonial and Diasporic Literature
  • Mobile Worlds: Migrants, Refugees and the politics of Belonging
The term began pretty much at the start of this week and at the risk of sounding like a cheery chipmunk hyped up on coffee beans, I didn't even mind getting up so early!!! Things seem so much different somehow, being on the "other side" of the classroom and teaching it, as opposed to learning from behind one's desk, and it didn't take me long to replace "anxiety" with "anticipation" as I began to realize just how rewarding and amazing that experience was!!!  

I know teaching is not really meant for everyone, and to be honest besides conducting my little drama workshops and volunteering, I've not had much experience myself... but I really do believe I can see myself doing this in the long run! 

There's an old and simple saying, but a true and honest thought; that when you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Hey ya'll 

The insects from Kuantan and Genting have officially come off the spreading board and I would like to start with non other than this beautiful insect known as a Katydid. 

When I first tell people of this insect's peculiar name, they often respond with a "Katy did, what?" possibly in reference to a question regarding something a certain Katy might have done. But considering how I do not know anybody, nor have I ever known anyone personally by the name of Katy, I find this somewhat perplexing. Instead, I explain to them that the name Katydid is really an onomatopoeia of sorts as it somewhat resembles the insect's "cry". Though often called long-horned grasshoppers, Katydids are really closely related to crickets and are from the family Tettigoniidae. Known more colloquially as bush-crickets, Katydids are one of the many invertebrate masters in the art of camouflage. They have two pairs of wings, like many other insects, but while the lower pair are used primarily for flight, the upper-most pair of wings are often adapted to resemble flowers, leaves and other such parts of plants. The camouflage is so effective, in fact, that when kept in groups in captivity, other Katydids are sometimes fooled into believing that they are parts of the plant and will even take a bite off of the wing of an unsuspecting insect! That being said, while many katydids are in fact herbivorous, some have been known to demonstrate carnivorous tendencies and will attack small insects, reptiles and even (though rarely) snakes! And they are certainly equipped for this for they possess a pair of jaw-like mechanism known as "mandibles" which are so sharp as to be able to strip off bark! Indeed should the insect object to being handled by one such as myself, it might even be so bold as to use it's mandibles to inflict a nip, which can be rather painful.
Katydid with its wings open
When we think about record-breaking body parts, we often think of other animals, but it is in fact a member of this species which holds the current record for having the largest testes in proportion to the size of its body. The reproductive organs of the males are so large in fact, that they are thought to comprise of up to 14% of the entire insect's body mass!!! Indeed this is perhaps useful for it would mean that the katydid would have relatively faster reproduction cycles in the wild.

On a separate note, I'm sure if you read the papers at all, that you will be aware of the demonstrations that have been taking place in objection to the Lynas rare-earth plant that is scheduled to be opening in Kuantan. Still anxious as to how that will eventually work out although, I must say it was very heartening to witness so many Malaysians showing their support and concern for the environment!

All of that aside, I start my semester as an official teacher tomorrow!!! Will probably write more about that as the semester goes on but you can be sure I will be trying to engage my students using these metaphors and examples from the natural world! Stay tuned!!!


Friday, February 24, 2012

Mantises and their Feeding Habits

Hey ya'll 

check out the latest addition to our creepy-crawly family!!! 

This is Dian-Dian, (點點) which means small in Chinese because she is probably one of the smallest mantids of her species that I have ever raised! However though small in stature she may be, Dian-Dian is perhaps one of the most exuberant and spunky mantises I've ever had the pleasure of raising. Though this might border a little too closely along the lines of anthropomorphism, it never fails to astound me the amount of "personality" praying mantises seem to have. Consequently you can imagine that while most mantises (especially the more robust females) would eat just about anything and everything that moves  (my very first, Artemis, would even eat large dead dragonflies if I tied them on a string and waved them in front of her) there are others who are slightly more picky than the rest. One of our mantises, Diana, for instance would only eat crickets and nothing else! Not a fat moth, offered enticingly, or even a meal worm with its side split open to reveal its juicy innards could tempt her. Fortunately this only occurs in very rare cases and many will eat a wide variety of insects and invertebrates if you can get them to try it first.

Not surprisingly, between an insect it is familiar with and one that is newly introduced, a praying mantis will almost always go for the familiar one. This is perhaps some evolutionary trait which has enabled the mantis to survive in the wild by avoiding distasteful, or otherwise poisonous or dangerous foe. This can be quite frustrating in captivity, however, because while a caretaker is highly unlikely to feed any of the former to a mantis, the mantises own preoccupation with food that is familiar with can make it difficult to offer it a more varied diet. Similarly, this can become something of a necessity when a specific feeder insect is out of stock or unavailable for purchase at the local pet-store. One of my personal favorite of insects to feed my carnivorous charges:

Super worms (or meal worms as they are sometimes called) are really the larval form of a species of beetle, and while they may not always be readily available at many pet stores near me, I like using them as feeder insects because unlike crickets (which are more commonly sold) they do not smell as bad and they seem to be able to last longer. That aside they are also juicier and simply oozing with what I am told is fatty goodness (I wouldn't know as I've never tasted one before). Problem is, though many of my mantises are brave enough to tackle prey much larger than themselves, even the most rambunctious ones seem to shy away from these meal worms which can give a startling jolt-wriggle when they are picked up. As such, a little coaxing is sometimes necessary. I do this by "force-feeding", and for those of you out there who might be a little alarmed, it is really not as horrid as it sounds... not for the mantis anyway.

I start by chopping off the head of the meal-worm. Again, this need not be as messy as it sounds and all you really need to do is... well, snip off the head end of the worm with a pair of scissors. Now, if for whatever reason you find this disturbing I suggest you stop reading now although, I will remind you that the worm was about to be macerated alive by the insect equivalent of the Alien from ALIENS so perhaps chopping off its head so that it need not "see" this process happening might be a blessing after all. Conversely if that still bothers you, you can always kill the worm first by putting it in the refrigerator for five minutes. Anyway when I am done with that,  grip the other end of the worm firmly with a pair of tweezers, then squeeze really hard until... well bits of it come out of the "newly-made" entrance on the top. Carefully, and with some deftness about you, shove this end straight for the mantises face.

Now, this has to be done rather quickly and skillfully because you can be sure than if you're doing this for the first time that the mantis is going to object. What Dian-Dian does (I'm still in the process of "training" her) is wave her arms about furiously in a karate chopping action that sends bits of worm guts flying everywhere which can get quite messy so you want to avoid this if possible. If you find that you can't seem to get the oozing end of the worm into her mouth, what you might do alternatively is wipe the stuff on her front claws. I think they must feel the same way I do about the worm guts because they will waste no time to "lick" it up (their version of cleaning) and when they do, I often find that they no longer object to it so much were you to place the worm closer to their mouth. A few nibbles later and they might even extend a claw to "take" the worm from your tweezers. 

Indeed with all this talk about insects and their preference food, one cannot help but entertain the idea of the possibility of these amazing animals having individual characteristics. Indeed Sir David Attenborough has himself remarked on the seemingly individual characteristics of bolas spiders his cameraman observed while filming on the set of Life in the Undergrowth. Personally I have yet to come to a conclusion myself, but perhaps, if I manage to obtain more mantises and/or spiders for my menagerie, I can attempt to document some observations on my own. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid pt. 4: Keric's First Meal

Hey ya'll 

It's been about two days since little Keric had his molt and I finally managed to get a hand on some worms so I thought, why not try my "luck" with feeding? I must admit, I was not expecting much to happen because Keric has been known to refuse food. But lo' and behold, I had barely lowered the worm into his cage when he quite literally pounced upon it, fangs bared! I must say it gave me quite a fright but I fortunately did not manage to do much other than drop the worm upon which it was greedily picked up by Keric and brought to a tiny little corner where he could macerate it at his own pace.

Keric's first meal!!! 
Almost 6 hours later and he's still not letting go!!!

The Secret Life of Ants and Butterflies

Hey ya'll 

Not all relationships are brutal in the minuscule world of invertebrates, and sometimes, when it suits the needs of both parties, relationships can be mutually beneficial as well. Once such relationship is the textbook example of the caterpillars of the lycaenid butterfly and ants. As many a lepidopterist - or indeed anyone whose seen Sir David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth - might tell you, lycaenid butterflies are unique in that many species rely on the care of ants in order to mature as fully grown butterflies. Indeed, the species I am currently observing seem to be reliant on a particular species of weaver ant. 

From my observations I have documented that the caterpillars are herded by the ants during the day, much like cattle or other such life-stock, from branch to branch that they may feed off of the leaves. As you might imagine, as soon as one leaf seems to be damaged extensively by the voracious larvae, the ants would then move it to another leaf, and so forth in a similar fashion. 

weaver ant grazing lycaenid butterfly larvae
As the caterpillars seem to lack much means of movement, it is often up to the ants to carry them, when such a move is necessary. Indeed, the fat, green larvae often seem content to do nothing more than wave their heads left to right, quite content to chew whatever it is the ants direct their bodies towards. This seems to take much effort out of the poor ant and as the caterpillar grows into its final instars, it sometimes takes up to two ants to lift one such caterpillar (kind of  life a farmer attempting to graze a particularly lazy cow). But the ants don't seem to mind this, however, as the caterpillar rewards the ants by secreting a deliciously sweet fluid that is relished by the ant's own larvae. Because of this, the ants guard the caterpillars jealously. 

Usually, only one or two ants tend to each caterpillar at a time. One to stand directly above it (to protect it from things like wasps) and another to stand slightly in front. For a long time I was quite puzzled as to the purpose of the front most ant-sentry but I soon discovered what it was for. As I waved my fingers menacingly towards the caterpillar, the ant in front turned around, made a dash to the other ant and communicated with it in some way. It then pivoted back around to face my fingers and snap its jaws menacingly. If I moved my finger to the left, it would follow, and so would it, if I moved my finger to the right. For all intents and purposes the ant would not let me get past it without a fight. All the while I was doing this, the other ant was scampering furiously up the branch and back to the safety of its nest, with the caterpillar clutched firmly within its jaws. I also noticed belatedly that the other ants nearby were doing the same. 

A lycaenid butterfly pupa. I only managed to obtain it with 
much difficulty, and not without suffering from a few bites. 
Sorry ants! I swear I mean it no harm! 
When the time comes for the caterpillars to finally pupate, though, one might think that the mutual relationship between the two insects would end. The chrysalis, of course, cannot secrete anymore sweet fluids for the ants to feed on and would therefore be of no purpose to the overall welfare of the colony. But it is during this, the most vulnerable time of the butterfly's development, that the ants seem to redouble their efforts in living up to their end of this symbiotic bargain. More ants emerge from the nest to guard the chrysalis as the butterfly starts to develop within. Indeed in some instances I have observed as much as five to six ants guarding one particular chrysalis at a time, almost twice as many as the number usually found guarding the larvae. Because the chrysalids are tethered to the surfaces of leaves, the ants can no longer retreat with their precious quarry into the relative safety of their nests. As such, they will stand guard over them day and night. Occasionally, other ants will come to replace them but always there will be at least five or six of them per chrysalis. They even stand by the chrysalis and call for reinforcements when threatened as demonstrated when I waved my own finger menacingly at them once again to see what they might do.

An adult lycaenid butterfly
Eventually, the moment passes when the butterfly has to emerge. It is around this time that the ants begin to relax their vigil. As the chrysalis darkens, signalling the emergence of the adult butterfly, so to does the number of ants decrease. One by one they leave until eventually all that is left is a single bluish chrysalis on top of a leaf. A few minutes later and split will appear in the front portion of the chrysalis, a sign that the butterfly is about to emerge. I am still unsure if the coincidence between the timing of the ant's departure and the butterfly's eclosure is significant of anything but I might hypothesize that it has something to do with the difference in the sort of pheromones the butterfly would release, designed perhaps to protect it from the very ants that raised it, which might no longer recognize the butterfly as the same insect.  Conversely, this behavior might be something on the part of the ants themselves, evolved to protect the butterfly from the off chance that an ant attacks while it is spreading its wings. This ensures, of course, that the butterfly would survive thus leaving more eggs (and therefore more livestock) for the ants to tend to the following season.

(it should be of note that I am yet to find any eggs of the butterfly on the tree so it is really anyone's guess if the butterflies lay their eggs on the tree  which are then harvested by the ants, or if the ants bring the caterpillars to the higher parts of the tree, where the fresher, more tender leaves are, when they find them. Some lycaenids live part of their lives independently before finally moving in with the ants so this might be the case also. It would also be interesting to note that the caterpillars do not seem to thrive without the care of the ants. I once experimentally removed one caterpillar from a leaf in hopes that I might raise it myself to no avail. The caterpillar grew lethargic after 2 days and would not eat any amount of leaf I offered it. I suspect the ants play a crucial role in cleaning it which perhaps prevents infection or fungal attacks.  I promptly returned the caterpillar to its caretakers later where it eventually recovered)


Long Kang Fish pt. 2

Hey ya'll

I went back to my "fishing hole" this afternoon and discovered to my utmost delight that despite the torrential downpour yesterday evening and this morning that my little aquatic paradise was still intact and that the little Drain, or Long Kang fish, were still in there in large numbers. I came prepared today though, with a small fishing net, and unlike yesterday when I had to sweep my container in the water with the hopes of catching even one fish, today I could squat at the edge and sift through the water at my own pace and to my heart's content. The fish seemed to remember my presence from yesterday though, and many swam away to hide underneath the moss covered rocks other such places but I did manage to learn something new and pleasant; that some of these fishes were not the usual silver-brown, but rather quite colorful! I decided to catch a few to take a closer look! 

The colorful variant of the Drain/Long Kang fish. The patterns varied from one individual to another but many of them had patches of iridescent scales and random spots of colors on them. One even boasted a large black eye-spot that reminded me of nothing as much as the ocelli on satyrid butterflies! 
Long Kang fish fry.
Upon closer inspection of the fish, I started to realize several similarities between them and the fancy guppies I raise at home. The colorful variants namely, were smaller in size than the drably colored ones. Also they had fins which tapered slightly and a rather "sharp" and elongated anal fin. The drab fish, on the other hand were much larger in comparison (almost twice the size of some of the colorful fish) and had shorter fins, but also an anal fin which spread in a half-fan shape. Indeed, it is perhaps no coincidence that these are the traits to distinguish the sex of male and female guppies! It is as such that I might surmise that the drain, or Long Kang fish, are really feral strains of the fanciful guppies one might buy for RM1 at the pet-store! I decided to capture more of the colorful ones to observe them at length at home in my fresh-water tank. 

As you can see, I have put the Long Kang fish in together with my fancy guppies. After my females have all given birth to their current progeny, I intend to try and see if the Long Kang fish and the guppies will breed, as an experiment! I am currently picturing guppies with eye-spots and colorful patches on their bodies. Lovely!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Genting Moths

Hey ya'll 

the Genting moths have finally come off the spreading board!!! I've yet to identify them (buzy, buzy, buzy!) but I already managed to snap a few shots of the individual specimens to share with the rest of you here. In the meantime, if anyone of you happen to know which species these particular moths are it would be much appreciated and save me quite a bit of time labeling them before placing them in their permanent display cases. 

You may notice that the hawk moth suffered quite a significant loss of scales during the spreading process (as evident in the third photograph) and that was caused by a rather unfortunate incident involving the insecticides I usually spray on all of my drying insects to deter ants and other such scavengers. 


Origin of the Tarantula

Hey ya'll!

So a new term has just begun and the clock has officially started ticking, counting down the seconds to the moment when I have to begin sending in my PhD proposals and coming up with other boring things like budgets and timelines.  What is interesting right now, however, is the conception of various ideas and concepts which can constitute my PhD research topic. As it is, I have had the idea to combine my love for widlife with my degree in anthropology and write something on cultural perceptions of local wildlife. But I won't go into too much detail with that ( you can read it, if you like if and when it becomes a publication!). Instead, let me share with you an interesting little tidbit I learnt today regarding the conception of the term "Tarantula".

While it has come to represent a large number of large, hairy spiders, the term "Tarantula" was originally given to an entirely different species of arachnid. Native to the Southern Italian town of Taranto, this comparatively small spider (supposedly measuring about one inch in length) was greatly feared for its supposedly fearsome bite which would result in a form of envenomation called Tarrantism. Indeed, it seemed that during the Middle Ages the only cure to being bitten by one of these arachnids was to dance around violently and continuously, until eventually the patient collapsed from exhaustion. Only then, would the potent effects of the spider's venom be nullified. Consequently a very vigorous dance which was also popular in the region would eventually come to be known as the tarantella and was evolved from this sort of therapy. That being said, it was extremely common for musicians to travel the countryside in those days, ever ready to assist in a cure should the need arise. Though much smaller than its current counterpart, this "original tarantula" was still undoubtedly one of the larger spiders to be found in the European continent. As such, when the bigger, hairier spiders were eventually discovered in the New World, they were also given the same name, Tarantula, with many of its early discoverers mistaking it for an older and larger variant of the local species. And there you have it, the origin of the term Tarantula.

Chilean rose Tarantula

Ps. though the term is now traced to the Spanish wolf-spider Lycosa tarentula, the original spider of whose fearsome bite inspired such tails is believed to be the infamous black widow. While tarantulas (and to varying degrees wolf spiders) can, and do bite, their venom is hardly fatal to humans. Spiders of the letrodectus genus, however, have bites that are potent enough to cause intense pain and spasms which, if reached the heart, can cause death. Dancing vigorously was believed to be effective in some cases as it elavated body temperatures and dispersed the venom before it can have any severe effects.


Gone Fishing!!!

Hey ya'll

The monsoon winds, which seem to have finally hit us with full force have brought about it constant torrential downpours and the occasional flooding in certain areas. But more than just bad weather and varying levels of inconvenience this may pose to the average Malaysian, they sure have brought with them also an explosion of life. Once bone-dry areas have become filled with water, and as many of these are in fact overspill from a great number of drains, rivers or streams they undoubtedly carry within them an abundance of fresh-water organisms. Indeed I happened to chance upon one such location earlier today. Having left my appointment with Dr. Moore some one hour earlier than expected, I left the office early to take a leisurely stroll down the road leading to the carpark. Presently a darting dragonfly caught my attention and I casually started to follow it. I had no intention to capture the dragonfly as I had not my net on hand but I could see that it was circling what seemed to be a stagnant water source and I was hoping to catch it in the act of egg laying or other such behavior. Upon strolling towards the water-source, however, I discovered to my amusement that it was quite positively brimming with all sorts of minute aquatic creatures.

What was really an abandoned drain had quite literally turned into a self-contained paradise in but the span of a few days! Grass-like moss had begun to grow on the bits of concrete creating the illusion of grassy hills and meadows. Larger strands of water plants with small purple flowers floated languidly on the surface. In between these darted all sorts of fish, some larger than most, but none bigger than my little finger. Indeed, though they could not have been there for more than 3-4 days (the drain was still bone dry when I last passed it last Thursday) it seemed that the aquatic inhabitants had adapted themselves to it quite succesfully. Already many of the fish were spawning and I could see their miniscule babies darting about the grass-like moss, feeding no doubt on the microscopic things that dwelt within. Why I was abuzz with excitement at finding the latter that I almost completely forgot the dragonfly. Fetching the plastic container I now carry everywhere I go, I scooped up some of the water (which was as clear as freshly filtered tap water, by the way) and with it, three of the small baby fish (the larger ones were too nimble to catch without the aid of a net!) I surmised that the fish and other inhabitants of this particular self-contained ecosystem must have been inadvertantly washed into their current location by the storm that occured several days past.

Three of the little "Drain fish" I managed to catch. There were some rather colorful looking fish swimming in the mix and I wonder if any of these would grow up to be one of those! I wonder if they can inter-breed succesfully with any of my guppies!

On a separate note, I also allowed myself to indulge in a different kind of "fishing" later in the day. Turns out that a sort of small carnival of sorts was taking place at the Sunway University and one of the games they had was the traditional Japanese one of catching a fish with a net made out of tissue paper. I believe the trick with such games is to exercise the right ammount of precision and delicacy to catch live goldfish and baby carp without rupturing the delicate piece of tissue paper that is strung between the wire frame of a net.

The more conventional fun-fair fishing pond with hundreds of small golfdfish and baby carp.
Though Ray would not consent to catching "Drain fish" with me, he was more than agreeable at trying his hand with these fun-fair fish.
I exercised some delicate and precision fishing myself and ended up catching three small sized carp! No doubt one of the highest catch rates of the day because many people tried at the same time and failed to catch even one. The trick, of course, was to allow the disturbances of their frantically waving tissue-nets to scare the fishes over into my quadrant where they could be scooped up most delicately as they casually swam on top of my own film of tissue paper. Ray also caught one fish himself, and this was despite the fact that his tissue net had a hole in it!!!

Our prized catches of the day! Two of the carp are really deformed if you look at them carefully (they have crooked spines) and I think this is possibly due to the effect of in-breeding as many of these fish have been bred so many times over.
 I ended up putting the baby carp in together with my little "drain fish" because the plastic bags offered by the people at the fair seemed insufficient for the fish but it turned out to be quite a mistake as one of the more rambunctious of the carps belatedly made a meal out of the smallest drain fish I had caught. Oh well, if it doesn't rain today, I can always go back and catch more of them tomorrow!!!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Phenomenally Pahang

Hey ya'll 

As you may have surmised from my previous post, I just got back from Pahang, and if you're wondering why the chronicles weren't presented chronologically, well... I was so overwhelmed with Keric's molt that I just had to write about it first. You know what they say; when inspired, write! Because you won't know when that inspiration will come again!!! Anyway, treasure hunting with the familia in Pahang was rather fun, I must admit, and despite my suffering from a severe lack of sleep, mum's usual amount of incessant nagginess, and dad's inexplicable stubborness (shhh! Don't tell them I said that!!!) we actually managed to come out on top and win first place!!! Not too bad eh? On a separate note, however, I did not allow my parents to drag me half-way across the country just to take part in a treasure hunting competition, indeed I must admit that my agreeableness to taking part in such a fiasco in the first place was my significantly high hopes of bagging multiple insect specimens in the rainforests of Pahang (you may recall my previous post). As it turned out, it rained most of the trip, and although I did not manage to find as many insects as I might have liked, the excursion into the forest and later to Lake Chini was very well worth it. 

Some views of Lake Chini
I must say that the natural beauty and wonder of the place really did an impression on me, though I can't help but wonder if the only reason Lake Chini has remained so pristine and positively crawling with wildlife is that it still remains relatively unknown and out of the way. Indeed, the only people I met on my little sojourn to the supposed "Lake resort" were National Service trainees on their day off! Indeed, upon learning of the purpose of my visit, a very nice young lady recounted a story of how she was "attacked" early that morning by a blue cicada! Sadly, it was no longer in its supposed spot when she brought me to "see" it but I daresay we had a great time chatting with her friends, who seemed very interested to hear what I had to tell them about many of the insects I knew about. I suppose it must have dispelled some of their fears, but not all as was evident when I discovered three very large and robust female nephila spiders hanging from their enormous webs on the tree. A male was lurking nearby, too, and one might almost mistake him for a baby, or a spider of a different species altogether on account of his diminutive size! 

This particular spider was really as large as my palm! I would have caught it for better photographs and closer study but I had run out of containers for the day, and my spares were back at the resort, some one and a half hour's drive away.
I decided to treat myself to a boat ride then, and was quite delighted to learn that we would be visiting a nearby "Orang Asal" village. For the unfamiliar reader, the "Orang Asal" are the native aborigines of Malaysia. It was here that my trip took a rather unpleasant tone for a pair of foreign tourists told me off, upon my getting into the same boat as they, for catching cicadas. The young lady warned me in no uncertain terms that I was not to catch a single insect upon visiting the native village as it would be disrespectful to them and their culture. Needless to say, I was quite taken aback by this presumptive behavior but I neglected to say anything. I was significantly incensed however, to the point that I actually confronted the pair, when we reached the village. As our boat drifted languidly among the marshes, we happen to chance upon a young aborigine lady taking her bath by the riverside. As any gentleman might have done, I averted my eyes. 

However imagine, if you may, the audacity of the foreign couple. Instead of similarly lowering their gaze and giving the poor woman some privacy to at least protect for modesty and then scamper for cover, they instead brought out their fancy cameras and pointed those lenses in her direction. click, click, click they went as the lady lowered herself into the water until her neck and screamed at them to go away! Meanwhile the boatman paddled as fast as he could. Why, I simply could not stand it anymore I tapped the foreign man on his shoulder and told him most curtly, but as politely as I could manage that I found the two of them simply hypocritical and disgusting! Imagine that they would have an issue with me pinching a cicada or two from the forest because it was supposedly disrespectful to the natives, when they themselves had gone to the extent of  humiliating and objectifying a young lady simply because they have come to portray her through a particular mindset. Well I told them that they should very well review their own sense of ethics, before taking the orientalist stand and judging and questioning mine! Now, I'm pretty sure there would have been an issue about this but the boatman, being of that community himself, pretty much squared his chest and gave them a piercing look that broke no argument. Suffice to say I enjoyed the rest of my boat ride and the foreign couple gave us no further problems that day.  

At the jetty of the "Orang Asal" village
The day then ended with a quick trip to the beach, which was another 2 hours drive from Lake Chini, and even though I was not dressed to take a swim (the ocean was quite rough, and there were jellyfish warning signs up anyway) I did spend a good time digging through the sand for crabs. And there were many! I found one, for example, that made a quick getaway not by scuttling but by hopping briskly so that it would be carried forward a few feet each time by the strong winds. 

One such "hopping crustacean"

Chilling by the beach
Anyway, the insects that have been spreading since Genting should have dried out sufficiently by now, so stay tuned for those. In the meantime, Summer Holidays are almost over so good luck to all of you who are going back to college/uni, and to those of you new and returning students whom I will be teaching next week, I certainly hope we will have an amazing year ahead of us!!!


Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid pt. 3: Our FIRST molt!!!

Hey ya'll 

I came back from Pahang today (more on that later) just in time to witness my first momentous milestone with my darling Keric: his first molt!!!  Tarantula enthusiasts are always talking about molting as one of the most exciting and best times to photograph their arachnid companions but they never do seem to tell you just how fast the process actually is. Truth be told, I missed the actual process of the molt because I pretty much figured he might take as long as some of the praying mantises I've raised before (some take a better part of one hour just to crawl out of their skins!) and left him alone to do, among other things, wash my clothes and charge up the camera for my phone. So you can imagine the disappointment I had when I got back to find him already out of his exuvia, in the corner of his cage looking quite satisfied with himself. Still, the disappointment was not enough to dampen the excitement and sense of accomplishment I felt at having raised him successfully past his first molt. 

Keric, looking much "brighter" and larger after his molt!!! Seems he's gotten slightly more cranky too! It was such a hassle, trying to remove the cast of skin (exuvia) as he would insist on raising his front legs in a "bad attitude" pose and, upon realizing that that still failed to deter me, would start trying to flick those urticating hairs at me! Poor baby, I think he's still feeling a little bit vulnerable since the exoskeleton is yet to harden. Still, this means no need for feeding for the next 4 days or so (they need the time for their fangs to strengthen) which will give me more time to settle things at work AND find those worms he's so fond of. 

In the meantime, I did also manage to retrieve the exuvia with as little stress to poor Keric as possible and I think I will hold  on to it, and other future exuvia, as a sort of marker of Keric's growth and progress! 

I am told, that you can tell the gender of Tarantulas from these cast-off things,  but I've yet to learn how. Either way I think this is a little too small an exuvia (and my camera a little too low-tech) for me to send a photograph of the molt's interior to a specialist for sexing.
I must say that this weekend has come to a rather exciting stop! I wonder how long it will be until Keric's next molt. From what I've read, the Chilean rose hair is a slow-growing and long-lived species. That being said, juveniles do tend to molt more frequently than the adults. Stay tuned!!!! 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid pt. 2 : week 1 and still not feeding

Hey ya'll 

It's been about one week since I've gotten Keric, and although he/she seems to be adjusting fine to his/her news home and climate, I'm afraid that I've not been having much luck with feeding. Online, as well as other personal sources tell me that I should not be overly worried about this (G. Rosea spiders are notorious for their tendencies to fast over long periods of time) but the paranoid parent in me can't help but fret slightly and wonder if it's because he/she is not partial to the pinhead crickets I've been attempting to feed him/her. I really wish I could try my luck with the meal worms but I'm afraid the fish shop aren't carrying any appropriate sized ones in stock just yet. Perhaps I'll have better luck when I call them next week. In the meantime I've noticed a slight change with Keric and that is his/her toes have started to turn darker in color! Natural process of aging, or perhaps he/she is picking up some of the dirt from the container's substrate? also there's that patch on his/her bum that I never noticed was there before. 

Keric, one week after moving in with us. ps. I moved him into a ear-cotton container, filled almost to the brim with eco-dirt (to prevent him from climbing up the sides and falling from that terrible height) with larger holes drilled into the top of the container. I think he wasn't getting enough ventilation in the pudding cup as it was always getting fogged over.
Anyway I will be going away again for the weekend (I seem to be traveling so much this month!), this time to Pahang, so stay tuned cause I'm about 80% positive that this trip will yield more creepy crawly results than my short excursion to the Genting Highlands. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Return from Genting

Hey ya'll 

I just got back from Genting Highlands!!! Well, to be honest we got back around 1.30pm this afternoon but I pretty much spent the entire day out (and am feeling kind of exhausted too) so you get the point. Meanwhile the holiday was everything I had hoped it would be and despite spending a better part of our two day stay there indoors (on account of the weather) the copious amounts of mist and drizzle, if anything, managed to rejuvenate my somewhat somber spirits. Indeed no more than two hours of stepping foot there and taking a deep breathe of the fresh mountain air and I was already raring to write again. Fortunately for me I did not bring my laptop as it would have defeated the purpose of taking a vacation, somewhat. Anyway, we did manage to take a visit to the outdoor theme park on the first day, and while Ray and the boys thrilled themselves with the myriad of amusement park rides that were available (I'm not partial to roller coasters and things such as the "Solero Shot" myself) I did spend some time snooping about the park's spotlights in search of the more creepy-crawly and botanical attractions. 

Ray and Calvin on the Space Shot. Never in a million years would you get me to ride on one of those contraptions! Not unless there was something other to gain than the thrill of placing ones life in the hands of a machine!
Walking was less of a chore up there, mainly because the cool weather . 
Dinner was tom-yam steamboat buffet!  The main thrill for me being that I get to cook my own seafood just the way I like it (fried to perfection with thousand island sauce) 
For Ray, of course, it was being able to eat until he was 99% near exploding point!!!
We also managed to take a visit to the Ripley's Believe it or Not emporium at the indoor theme park. On the off chance that you have not heard of this amazing man before, Robert Ripley was an anthropologist who traveled the world collecting and exhibiting strange and bizarre objects and artifacts. To share his amazing discoveries with the world, he founded the "Ripley's Believe it or Not" newspaper panel, which would feature various pieces pertaining to his travels/discoveries. Indeed, his popularity was so great that even after his death, the Ripley's Believe it or Not franchise would continue to amaze and beguile people with curiosities from all over the world. Certainly, we witnessed ourselves many of these in the Ripley's Believe it or Not emporium, but what captured my fancy the most was non other than the infamous Fiji Mermaid. Thought to be a taxidermised specimen of a half-mammal, half fish creature resembling the traditional depiction of the mythical mermaid, the Fiji Mermaid was an exhibit created by entertainer and side-show purveyor to fool the American public into believing he had captured a real-live mermaid. The creature was eventually revealed to be a hoax, of course, and was really the torso of a baby monkey, sewed onto the rear end of a carp-like fish and then covered with paper mache for a mummified effect. 

The Feejee (Fiji) Mermaid. 
The Mermaid itself is actually quite small, when compared to a full grown human!!! (and here I had always imagined it to be at least the size of a human baby)
In the meantime, despite the unfavorable weather (frigid rain that fell down in sheets and mist so thick I could barely see beyond my nose!) I did manage to catch a few insects, mainly large to medium moths and a cicada and a katydid. I did originally find two sphingidae but one of them (Daphnis hypothous) somehow slipped through my fingers and flew out of reach, behind a tall fence that surrounded the base of the Spider-Man roller coaster. I did try asking the workers if they could halt the ride but for a moment for me to enter and retrieve it but they were not so open to the idea so I eventually let it slide. 

The modest collection of moths I obtained from Genting
Anyway I can see that this post is getting rather long... so instead of going on about the insects I found there I suppose I will allow them to properly spread and dry first before dedicating specific posts to them so if you have come here for the insects, please wait a few days or so. I guarantee that the pictures of the spread specimens will be worth it (Especially the cicada and the katydid which are both novelties to me as I do not collect insects of their order very often.) Meanwhile, I hope everyone had a splendid Valentine's Day! Of course, having spent two days in Genting, you might say that we've had our fair share of the holidays and so today was spent rather modestly. But who am I kidding, sometimes, the company of the one you love is really all you ever needed in the first place! 


~And we spent our evening dining under the romantic glow of fluorescent lights, accompanied by the steady hum of the hawkers' woks, as they toss their frying contents like so much edible fireworks into the air~ 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid. pt. 1 ~ Introducing Keric!!!

Hey ya'll!!! 

I finally did it! I finally got myself a baby tarantula! Now I've been fascinated by these arachnids for some time now but for a myriad of reasons, usually pertaining to the care of such creatures and the potential objection on behalf of the family at sharing the humble abode with yet ANOTHER creepy crawly creature (that it is also a poisonous one is not much help either!) has thus far stayed my hand from obtaining one. But when I first laid eyes on my beautiful Keric it was like love at first sight! The rest, as they say, is history. Needless to say, I'm as nervous as a mother holding her child for the first time, and although I have read up on my fair share of Tarantula care literature (I am not, nor have I ever been in the habit of obtaining, whether through purchase or otherwise, an animal on impulse without first studying about it) I must say... nothing has quite prepared me for the real deal. Feeding for instance, seems quite a chore as little Keric is refusing the pin-head crickets I've been laying out for him the past few days. Meal worms would have been more ideal, of course (that being his staple diet prior to this) but in a most unfortunate stroke of bad luck, all the pet shops seem to be out of meal worms currently and the only one that carries it only offers specimens that are already as large as my pinkie! Way too big for a spiderling that's barely the size of a ten-cent coin. Anyway, tomorrow is THE day and I'll be getting up in about 7 hours or so to catch the first buss up to the mountains. Hoping to find tons of insects there, in particular moths. I'll probably not have any internet to update so, expect to hear from me only on Tuesday (which, incidentally, is also Valentine's Day). In the meantime, here's a picture of dear Keric, who is kept in an empty pudding container for now until he grows larger.

So this is Keric in his little tank of a home.
His species is a chilean rose tarantula (grammostola rosea) and they are supposedly one of the hardiest and easiest tarantulas to rear in captivity... well, time to live up to your name Keric!

ps. Thanks to the Malaysian Tarantula Society, Lee Chia How, Ryo and William Wong for all the help they have provided in terms of advice and anecdotes from personal experiences thus far. 

pps. I only use the term "he" very loosely here as I am unsure if Keric is really a male or female. I'm hoping for female because they usually grow much larger and lead significantly longer lives!!! 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Guppies and Goodbyes

Hey ya'll 

It has come to that time of the year again. The time when everyone starts packing up and going off on their own separate ways. Such a blurry of movement is recorded on my Facebook page that at times I no longer remember who is coming or going.. and where! Indeed the metaphorical chaos that ensues reminds me of nothing more than the bird sanctuary after peak bird-watching season, and all the beautiful avians that had come from all around the world to mingle, and breed and raise their voices in sibilant cries and caws have all but taken wing and left for foreign shores. True enough, many will return the following year but right now... things seem pretty quiet at this sanctuary and I can't help but wonder if I had not appreciated as many of those birds as much as I should have... oh well. I suppose there's nothing left but to wish them all a safe journey and a hearty farewell!!! To all my darling birds~

Mei Li the Swan
Crystal the Sparrow
Jern the Owl
Naz the Warbler
Lindley the Nightingale

and of course last but not least...

Kaylex the Penguin (although, Penguins aren't really the sort of migratory bird that would end up in a bird sanctuary... but I know how fond you are of those things... also I might have said "Duck" if not for the negative association associated with the term in Chinese)

I wish nothing but the best for all of you!!! If it is meant to be, may this not be goodbye for good, but goodbye for now! Now go, spread your wings and fly!!! 

Meanwhile, in other less depressing news... we set up a tank today! In my room, on my working table next to the laptop where I do most of my work. We figured that the fishes swimming around may alleviate me from my periodic moments of anxiety!!! So far, so good. I love decorating small contained things!!!

Also I think one of the fish might be pregnant... YAY, babies!!! I love babies!!!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February goes to the Swallowtails

Hey ya'll

I am so excited! I can't believe it is only just three more days before I finally get to go on the vacation I've been jabbering about for the past three months! Three more days and I will be embarking on the trip I've had planned for the past three months: three full days of rest and rejuvenation in the cold mountainous air of Genting Highlands... hmmm, I suppose good things really do come in threes! And speaking of good things the passing of the Chinese New Year has brought with it, as it usually does, a population boom in the swallowtail butterflies!!! I suppose all that citrus being imported into the country has catalyzed in a lepidopteran orgy of epic proportions. Why, just yesterday I found several common mormon females (Papilio polytes) and red helen swallowtails (Papilio helenus) ovipositing on my lime plants. I didn't have much time to observe and harvest their eggs but I'll check back in a few days to spot the larvae.

On a more sour note, I'm experiencing first hand the terrors of damp on a lepidopterist's collection. Several butterflies that I have kept in storage (some of which I intended to trade with an Italian collector later this year) had somehow gotten damp (despite the copious amounts of silica gel and charcoal I placed inside) and are now sprouting fluffy white fungi! I've since treated many of them with nail polish remover before leaving them to dry thoroughly but I'm afraid some of them were so damaged that they had to be thrown away... in the meantime, it seems that the moisture acted as a humidifying chamber because many of the butterflies were as pliable as if they had just died an hour ago! I even spread one as an experiment. Glad to say that none of my butterfly display was affected by this, and thank goodness too! I have some rather prized  (and irreplaceable) specimens there... 

Assorted butterflies and moths being spread for display
On an ending note, Ray is studying a particularly interesting subject this semester known as Pet Psychology, and the stuff on Animal Assisted Therapy aside, it is actually pretty cool because they get to meet and greet with a whole lot of creepy, crawly and sometimes slithery creatures up close and personal! Last week it was snakes. Today it was tarantulas! Gee, I can't wait to hear what they will encounter next?! Meanwhile, we often joke that he is fortunate that he has me as my knowledge on these things would no doubt come in handy!!! In the meantime, I should probably do something more with this influx of swallowtails... maybe if I have the time I'll try to make a species count everyday. I heard there's a way to mark butterflies by sticking small stickers on their wings (they do it in some places to keep track of Monarch populations). I wonder if I can improvise something here. Perhaps, but more research is needed. Till next time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Unidentified "red" moth (notodontidae)

Hey ya'll 

Just after my fortuitous and unexpected run in with the beautiful disphania subrepleta a few days ago, it seems that my good luck has been extended, for we found a rather strange and beautifully colored moth on the wall outside of our little apartment complex.

Anyway, as you can perhaps observe, it is a rather strange looking moth. At a superficial glance it appears to have only four (two pairs) of legs but this is of course not true and if you look a little more closely you might be able to see the foremost pair of legs tucked up real close to its body. Also interesting is the presence of a snout-like protrusion at the front portion of the moth, where in other species the proboscis might instead be. I must admit, rather than make a fool out of myself, that my knowledge is somewhat limited when it comes to moths and I'm not sure I have encountered an insect quite like this before. Indeed, I have heard of "snout moths" but I do not think that this is one of them. Indeed the stout body and the alignment of the wings seem to point instead to the family notodontidae, which was somewhat confirmed by an acquaintance of mine who narrowed it down possibly to the Gangarides sp.   I intend to add this to my fairly new (but growing) moth collection and it has since been left to dry on one of my spreading trays, but I still would appreciate it if anyone could step forward and help me out here with a more definite identification on the species. More interesting of this family is perhaps their larvae which go to extreme lengths to disguise themselves sometimes adopting features like "faces" or trailing tentacles, perhaps most prominent in the case of the lobster moth larvae which looks something like this:

Stauropus fagi larvae
Now isn't that a creature only a lepidopter-entomologist could love?!