Thursday, May 31, 2012

SOS: Save our Swallowtails!!!

Hey ya'll!!!

From the looks of it, it seems that the swallowtails are back in season again right now so to those of you who have gardens, do expect to find their caterpillars chomping down on your citrus plants!!! Just in case you do not know, the caterpillars come in two forms depending on their developmental stage (which is caled an instar) and either resemble brown and white lizard/bird poop, or green wormy things that look not unlike the Poke'mon "Caterpie"! Anyway, if you are the squeamish type, or the kind of feel very strongly that these little guys are pests that need to be gotten rid off... STAY YOUR HAND FOR A MOMENT and put that Ridsect back under the sink!!! Give me a shout instead! If you are from around the Kuala Lumpur or Klang Valley area, I promise, I'll do my best to get to you as soon as I can to collect and raise these (to me) precious babies to adulthood! I know that not all of us can appreciate caterpillars for what they are (and I suppose it IS understandable!) but I'm pretty sure that most of us can still appreciate the beauty and importance of the adult butterfly! 

So remember... if you find any, you may reach me here. Just drop me a shoutout in the comments. If it was a friend that told you about the caterpillars, please forward them my Facebook account (which can be accessed from the badge on the right hand corner of this blog) or my email, which is "". Alternatively, if you are interested in raising them yourselves so that you (or your kids) can witness this miracle of nature but do not feel confident about it, please do write in to ask for advice as I am more than willing to share my knowledge!!! Anything to spread the love, right?

Finally, if you are a blogger and if you own a blog, I would much appreciate it if you can help me re-blog, retweet and/or share this post so that we can all work together to save our swallowtails. 

Swallowtail raising cage
It's a Slumber Party!!!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Butterfly Hunting and Other Adventures

Hey ya'll 

I recently made a decision, to just do the things that I want, however "far out" or "unreasonable" they may sometimes seem. Due to the ever increasing certainty of certain circumstances regarding my being, I've begun to realize that all this effort that I am putting into my work right now... all this "stockpiling" I'm doing for the "future" pretty much counts for nothing if I never actually get to witness or enjoy that future first hand, and so instead I've started to learn to do something quite different (to me, anyway!) and that is take some time off to enjoy the present. And today, that is precisely what I did. It all started when I found myself, rather unexpectedly, with the entire morning off! No work. No exams to invigilate. Just a stack of assignment scripts I should be marking but have put on hold in the bottom drawer of my desk. So when a bunch of friends made plans to conduct a little "expedition" to the Forest today morning, I was rather quick to take them up on their most generous offer. I did not regret it.

The trip, though began on a rather dismal  tone as the sky was gray and huge rain-clouds threatened us with rain, gradually began to pick up the pace as the heavier rain clouds slowly blew away to reveal a moderately cloudy but still fairly sunny day. Consequently, as one might imagine, butterflies which were hiding away due to the cold weather of the morning gradually began to make their appearance as the day progresses. Like little dancers they were, in their gaudy and beautiful costumes of yellows, browns and blues, fluttering around and about us in a drunken haze. Butterflies of all shapes and sizes ranging from modestly small common grass yellows (Eurema hecabe) to the larger and more striking butterflies of the crows and tigers families (Danaiidae). At one point, while we were trailing the edge of the lake in search of Nepenthes, I even encountered a very large, and very beautiful female of the Helena's birdwing butterfly (Troides helena). Bug maniac that I am, I was in lepidoptera heaven, and I'm sure that these images will speak out for themselves. 

Common grass yellow (Eurema hecabe) puddling in large numbers
Yellow glassy tiger (Danaus aspasia)
Blue tiger (Tirumala) limniace
Royal assarian (Terinos clarrisa) ventral view
Royal assarian (Terinos clarrisa) dorsal view
Black veined tiger butterfly (Danaus melanippus hegesippus), which (as you can probably deduce from its markings and colorations) is a distant cousin to the famous Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Banded imperial butterfly (Eooxilides tharis distanti)
I also took the opportunity to enlighten my expedition mates on some basic knowledge on butterfly anatomy, such as determining sex with non sexually dimorphic species.

No, I was not torturing the butterfly! I was simply showing Joanne and Naomi the "pencil hairs" which just out from the butterfly's abdomen to disperse pheromones during their courtship rituals.

Of course, the actual number of butterflies we encountered throughout the trek numbered more than are displayed here but not all of them were "catch-able" due to a combination of factors (mostly my limited stamina and the butterfly's own skill of grace and evasion). Aside from the birdwing we encountered by the lake, I did not see many other Papillionidae save for several Tailed jays (Graphium agamemnon) and what I think may be a Great Helen (Papilio iswara). What intrigues me most, however, was a fairly large hesperid (or at least, that's what it looked like) that was colored an iridescent greenish-blue that tapered to egg-yolk yellow around its thorax. We encountered only one such butterfly at the start of the trek but it was too quick for me and managed to escape without even so much as a picture shot. Anyone know any species that resemble the above description (however arbitrarily, it would still be interesting to know, so do message me or leave a comment if you do!).  Aside from butterflies we encountered an abundance of other insect life. As you may expect, from a habitat located next to a lake, there was also an abundance of dragon and damselflies of all shapes and sizes, some of which were truly most interesting!!! 

These damselflies, which were small and blue in color, were the most abundant and rather easy to catch. Unlike their kin and cousins (the dragonflies) they seemed to adopt a rather lazy sort of flight instead. I caught this individual simply by reaching out and plucking at it with my fingers.
These extremely colorful ones, on the other hand, were a lot more difficult. They  flitted quite  suddenly away from any approaching object and despite their striking coloration (and it really IS quite colorful if you take a nice long look; green eyes, blue thorax and an orange and teal striped abdomen) they are extremely difficult to spot once they flutter away into the undergrowth. 
But the "best" dragonfly that we spotted today must definitely be one of these. Not quite as abundant in number as the other species, these dragonflies were still undoubtedly one of the more striking ones that were present by the pond. It may not be noticeable here, but under the soft glow of the morning sun, its wings actually SPARKLE (that's right, SPARKLE) with the iridescence of bronzed gold. Unlike other dragonflies it's flight is rather lazy and when perched seems to delight in angling its wings this way and that to reflect the sun (though for what purpose this may be, I really can't say). 

And speaking of insects in the area, I shall not forget to mention the patches of insectivorous plants (that is, plants that eat insects) which we found there as well! They were all pitchers, mainly Nepenthesis gracilis (identified by Joanne), though I daresay if we looked closer and longer we may have found something else and Joanne mentions that their presence in the area is puzzling because they usually colonize places with low soil quality and this forest is clearly teeming with life!!! A possibly explanation however might be the acidity of thel ake water (which was rather murky in a chalky sort of way, suggesting high CO2 content) and these pitcher plants all grew very close to the bank.
Budding pitchers
CLUMPS of pitchers
Against my hand for size comparison
The final half of our trip took us to the "abandoned shack", actually one out of two abandoned shacks, where Joanne and her friend, Steven, had previously found a pair of cinnamon tree-frogs. We had no such luck, though, and all we found when we pulled off the corrugated iron sheet that was covering the opening of a well was a pool of very clear stagnant water. The shack, however, was a different story and was quite a pleasure to explore. I discovered, upon entering that it was more of a medium sized house than a shack. It boasted a fair-sized domicile with an inner courtyard that led to two toilets. Various artifacts of the home's previous life remained in the building. The rotten frame for a bed, and cups and bowls that were so old they had began to cake with dirt and dust. But just as one life had passed from this now abandoned home, other lifeforms have found shelter and now called it home. The entire building consisted of a total of four rooms and all of these, were heavily colonized by bats of various species. I could tell summarily that a large majority of them were fruit bats though there were some of smaller varieties that might have been insectivorous bats (the emitted very high pitched quips that sounded very much like the sounds I've heard bats make when finding their way via echolocation). I could not tell them all apart though, or distinguish any individual species, but you will excuse me as I am no expert on chiroptera. Perhaps, the next time I return to this forest, I can bring along someone who is! Despite our efforts to remain absolutely silent, the bats objected to our presence somewhat, and we promptly made our way out of there the moment we noticed that many of them had began to stir and fly about. Naomi, being the smart one, stood outside but Joanne and I had to deal for a few moments with the rather unsettling over-head flutter of disoriented Bats!!! 

Bats hanging from the ceiling.
Before long, it seemed as if it was too, our turn to head out of the forest. Such a pity, as I could have really stayed in there for hours on end! But there was still work to be done, and I had already enjoyed myself quite sufficiently. I gave a respectful bow to the one that guards these lands, and we began the steady but steep trek down. By the time we reached the base, it was just barely 12.00.


Photographs courtesy of Joanne Tong. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hand Pairing Butterflies

Hey ya'll!!! 

I've not been this excited in ages!!! I just learnt of a new method for pairing up my butterflies today known as hand-pairing; a process where two individual insects are coerced to mate via human interaction. The process (and I have watched the video tutorial) seems relatively straightforward and involves gripping both butterflies in either hand and manually aligning the male's mating claspers along the female's ovipositor. As you might expect, the butterflies are sometimes quite indignant at being made to go through this procedure (the male needs to be "pinched" slightly to get his claspers open) but once they have been "connected", so to speak, both insects often calm down and find the process quite agreeable after all. The success rate of breeding is significantly increased which avoids "wasted specimens" fluttering around in captivity without ever reproducing and the other benefit to this is that you get to choose which butterflies to pair up (therefore ensuring that only the strongest, healthiest insects get to add their genetic material to one's breeding stock). Hand pairing, however, is not necessarily suitable for all species. While most moths are quite ambivalent about the procedure (Saturnids are especially cooperative!), not all butterflies are able to reproduce thusly. From what I've read, danaiidae and papilioniidae have been most successfully bred in this way! Fortunately for me, I have got a batch of swallowtail caterpillars on the way to adulthood. I can barely wait to start on them!!!

I wonder if this is how I can create hybrids...


Love Story

Hey ya'll 

It's not easy to find someone to love. Or rather, it's not easy to find someone who loves you back. Doesn't matter what your gender is, or your sexual orientation. You can be a homosexual, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, pansexual or asexual for all anyone cares, love ain't easy. Some people say that everyone has someone for them out there. A soulmate. A complementing half that makes you whole. I think think it's one of those random things, though. One of those moments that happen entirely by chance. Like being there at the precise moment a baby bird opens its eyes, or climbing down the mountain and seeing two rainbows at once. Everybody's heard of it. Everybody somehow wishes to experience it. But it does not necessarily happen to everybody.

Falling in love with somebody is relatively easy. Having affections toward an object. It's just something that you do. But finding someone who loves you back, who is as devoted to you as you are to them. Who would give you their heart, their world, in the same way that you have given them your's. Someone whom you can trust to catch you. Even when you've blind folded yourself and jumped off a cliff... that's something difficult to find. Some people say that every person should stand on their own. That they should be independent. That they should not ever fully fall into someone else's arms. While there is a lot of merit in these words of wisdom, the romantic in me cannot help but wonder if this is truly because there exists an underlying code of conduct. One that that is so embedded in our system that it seems almost "natural". Or if it is simply because not everyone has had that moment, that improbable moment of chance when things happen in such a way that two equally devoted individuals meet each other?

I believe in love. I believe that it can happen. I am not disillusioning myself to believe that it will happen to everyone... or indeed, that anyone will ever have a say in whether or not it happens, but I do believe that it is possible. I know there are probably some of you reading this right now who may be a little skeptical about the entire concept, and I respect that. And of course, trust does not happen overnight. But when it does... there's really nothing quite like it. So today, and for every other day for as long as I live, I will always look back at this past year and remember it as the time of my life when I knew for certain that there was a person who would do anything for me. When I could blindfold myself, and jump.

Dedicated to that special someone. Thank you. 

Fluttering together, for one year, two months, and three days.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The OTHER Ugly Side of Dog Breeding

Hey ya'll 

I write this post today in response to this article on The Ugly Side of Dog Breeding that I read as a post on an acquaintance's wall on Facebook. As I perused the article and nodded in acknowledgement of all the points, I could not help but think about the OTHER ugly side of dog breeding. Breeding itself. Or rather, to be more specific, the prevalent method of breeding that resulted in the myriad of contemporary dog breeds we know today: Selective breeding. Before I go further into this I would like to apologize beforehand if my article offends anyone. I realize that there are many people who are dog lovers out there, and that people who love their pets can become very defensive about what is being said against them (heck! I, of all people should know this!!!). But what I would just like to say is that (while I may be more partial to other animals) I am a dog owner myself and that I write mainly in concern of my two companions, and the future prospect of other dogs of their "breed". But first, let us take a look at this picture...


This is a Pomeranian. And it is CUTE! Isn't it? Well, I suppose undeniably it is!!! Pomeranians today are known as small, vivacious and affectionate dogs that make some of the most wonderful animal companions for the animal owner who needs to be more discriminate about space. But what if I were to tell you that there is in fact nothing natural about this dog's appearance, indeed, about its behavior. In fact, everything about this dog that has made it so desirable to humans (its size, disposition, coloration, snout length, bodily dimensions, and fur quality) was "manufactured", so to speak, through years and years of selective breeding.

If you look at one of the charts in your vet's office, the one with all the dog breeds on them, you will notice that each animal is not categorized as an individual species but rather lumped together as a whole. They are called Canis lupus familiaris. And why would this be so? Quite simply put, because all of these contemporary dog breeds (which look quite different from each other that you might think them to be different animals) have all in fact originated from a (theoretical) single species of dog. In other words, all of these dogs probably (and very likely, based no current scientific evidence) had a common ancestor. Due to the breeding of specific individuals for very particular traits (both physical and personality), they then began to diversify into the vast number of recognizable breeds we know of today. Now while you may think that this process took place over a long span of time, the truth is that many of these breeds only came to "exist" as we know them during the past 200 years or so. The Pomeranian therefore, which we now desire for its small size, used to look something like this...

YES! That large white dog is the Pomeranian. This canvas dates back to only 1785.  
This is the earliest dated image I could find of a miniaturized Pomeranian. This picture dates back to only 1915. 
The difference in appearance between both dogs, and both dogs to the one at the start of the post is rather drastic and therefore, quite telling of the sorts of physical (and possibly behavioral) differences that have occured in each animal. Assuming then, that these two pictures constitutes a rough frame of measurement, I suppose we can deduce that the species only came to be what it is today in only 130 years!!! That is an extremely short time in terms of such drastic change!!!  But "get to the point already!!!" you might be telling me, and indeed I shall!!! Clearly by now some of you might be trying hard to see what the big deal of all of this really is. After all, so what if these animals were bred for specific and desirable physical traits? So what if some of these traits are impractical for its survival should it live in the wild? These animals are bred to be companion animals anyway! And you are most certainly right!!! For the better part of the story, none of this would really matter... but if only that were the only conundrum to take into consideration.

The Problem

The crux of the problem falls down to the notion of "pedigree" that is to say the tracing of the animal's geneology for things like "pureness" in terms of bloodline and quality. This in turn involves the foregrounding of certain physical traits (like length of legs, body size, fur etc.). However, when breeders choose to breed dogs for very specific physical traits they also inadvertently end up foregrounding the genetic material that determines this which in turn results in the inexplicable sidelining of other genes that may in fact be beneficial to the animal's overall well-being and health. The domestic dog is descended from canis lupus or the gray wolf. A comparison between the wolf and just about any dog breed you can think of in today's day and age will show you how much selective breeding has done in terms of altering the animal's physiology. The wolf, if its life is not cut short by predation or disease, can have a lifespan of up to 25 years. The domestic dog on the other hand, may live up to an average of 15 years in some toy breeds, about 6 or 7 years in others. Other, more specific genetic problems can also be linked to the accentuating of certain physical features of the animal. Flat-nosed breeds for example, because of the shapes of their faces, have frequent breathing problems because of their shortened air passages. Certain breeds, like Shih Tzus have become prone to hip dysplasia, and some dogs (like the Bulldog, because of the shape of their body which starts of broad at the head and becomes narrower at the back makes birthing a very difficult and potentially dangerous process for the animal without proper attention. And what do you think happens to animals that don't quite make the "pedigree" cut?

The Solution

I think that it is about time more awareness is raised regarding this issue. New "genetic material" must be added to otherwise "pureblood" lines to increase the variation of genes involved therefore reducing again the probability of puppies inheriting recessive-negative genes. Pedigree breeding, while necessary for show competitions aren't entirely fundamental in the decision to raise a dog as a companion. Indeed, any number of dog owners out there can probably tell you that their dog has been an awesome companion to them, and these dogs possibly span almost all known contemporary dog breeds. Furthermore show-dog associations can be petitioned to adjust their guidelines and judging criteria accordingly. The relatively short and recent life-history of contemporary dog breeds proves, if not anything else, how arbitrary these criterion are anyway. If you are a dog lover, I firmly believe that the health, longevity, and physical wellbeing of the animal and its offspring, should matter more to you than how specifically short its legs are, or how distinguishably flat is face can get.

ps. for a more comprehensive list of selective-breeding related genetic disorders in canines, please click on the following links.

Dogs that Changed the World: Selective Breeding Problems

Identifying Genetic Disorders in Dogs


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evil Keneevil

Hey ya'll

I'm changing his name... from Archimedes to Evil Kineevil. I'm sure from the proceeding picture that you can probably guess why...
I'm surly and I know it
Meanwhile, Evil molted for the second time yesterday since I got him and I must say that besides increasing quite dramatically in size, he's also started to develop those wonderful spotted markings that give these amazing geckos their names. Also, besides the markings, is the increasing vibrancy of the yellow in his skin! Wonderful!!! I guess a leopard can change its spots!!! When it is actually a reptile, that is. 


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jungle Gym

Hey ya'll 

Those of you who know me, or who have been following this blog for some time now, will probably also know that when it comes to my animals, nothing can be too much!!! I absolutely love spending time (and sometimes money >.< ) on then, lavishing them with nothing but the most balanced of diets and the best habitats I can possibly set up for you see, while I firmly do believe that animals can make wonderful companions for human beings, I also stay true to my principals that animals ARE unique from human beings and therefore have very different wants and needs. These wants and needs should then be acknowledged, and fulfilled by their human companions wherever possible. For the last few months that Cookie has been with me, he lived in a fairly large cage that I used to house my birds in, but as he began to settle down and fall back into his natural exploring instincts, I could tell that the cage (though large enough to house a pair of small parakeets) was not adequate for my dear Cookie. It just did not have enough space and angles for me to hang the hammocks and swings and artificial foliage upon which Cookie can jump and climb. No, a new habitat was needed and I knew just the place to find one. One week of research (I thought of making one on my own) later, and several trips to sugar glider and exotic animals forums, I eventually found someone who was willing to part with a flexarium for a fairly reasonable price!!! Unhesitatingly, I agreed! A flexarium would be exactly what I needed to construct an adequate habitat for Cookie and that is precisely what I spent my entire day on.

The "flexarium" which is really just some really strong nylon netting pulled across a PVC frame was surprisingly light for its size and equally easy to set up. I could see, despite it being a pre-loved object, that it was in a very good condition with no tears or runs in the netting at all (I was afraid that I might have had to replace this!). Decorating was a bit of a challenge because unlike a conventional cage, a flexarium does not have bars upon which I can hang stuff and one needs to be careful with clips in case they leave runs/tears in the fabric. I finally managed this by using fine safety pins (on the outside of the cage so that Cookie doesn't accidentally hurt himself on one!) and hung all manner of things in such a way that gave him both the freedom and space to jump and climb to his heart's content.

Cookie just woke up, and is exploring the cage! I tried taking him out but he seems quite eager to get back in and just climb every inch of it!!! I think he loves this new environment a lot better!!! 


Friday, May 18, 2012

May Updates.

Hey ya'll

welcome to the weekend!!! Just want to say that I've got some pretty awesome stuff lined up for posting but I've not really been able to find the time. Swallowtail season is back again which means that you will probably be seeing a lot more updates on the butterfly breeding program though I'm afraid the plan to open the butterfly garden in Monash University has been put on hold indefinitely bu I'm still hoping though. In the meantime, it is the week for final assignments to come in, and for students to start prepping for exams so I'm about up to my neck with that (not to mention the "welcome surprise" I am planning for the kids on their last day of class). On another note, I've been re-exploring my performing side once again! Auditioned for a couple of things, including the Disney medley production by the Monash Performing Arts Club (I'm a sessional staff so I am technically allowed to participate) and I may (or may not) be auditioning for the Showchoir Splash by the Broadway Academy since I've got tons of free time on my hand next semester (I'll only be teaching Film and Television Studies... for now). Indeed I've been so buzy I've hardly had time for myself or to spend actual quality time with Cookie (most days he just sits on my shoulder and watches the world while I work) who has been enjoying regular naps lately in the new bed I've fashioned for him out of a used hamster ball lined with old shirts. 

Oh how I wish I could be like him and sleep in for a change!!!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Happy Teacher's Day

I think, that I finally understand this holiday!!!

Thanks so much to all of my teachers, Dr. Sharon, Dr. Andrew, Dr. Yeoh, Dr. Julian, Dr. Helen for everything they have done for me that made me the person I am today. Thank you, Monash Christian Fellowship, for this kind and wonderful gesture (really made my day!!!), and finally thank you, all of my beloved students. For your hardwork and dedication throughout the entire semester! Just a couple more weeks to go! Let's keep pushing to the end of the semester and go out with a bang!

Happy Teacher's Day


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Web pt. 2 ~ Molts, molts, and more molts!

Hey ya'll

As I have said before, it has been quite a week! But just as this has been quite a momentous period for me, I'm sure it was even more exciting for many of my little critters who seemed to engage all at once in an "explosion" of mass-molting!!! Several of the Madagascar Hissing Roaches, one of the millipedes and even our Leopard gecko, Archimedes, molted within days of each other (I got to watch the last of these, and it was quite a process!!! I will be sure to record it again when it happens in the future!). But perhaps the momentous of all these momentous occasions, was the molting of two of my spiders, the very bashful and shy Honduran curly hair (Brachypelma albopilosum), and the much anticipated Mexican flame knee (Brachypelma smithips. we're just on tenterhooks, waiting for its wonderful colors to start showing.

Honduran curly hair (Brachypelma albopilosum). It was really hard to get such a photograph of this spider as it is quite shy and reclusive, retreating to its burrow at the slightest sense of danger
Recently molted Mexican flame knee (Brachypelma smithi). You can see its old exoskeleton still trailing off behind it. Quite skittish, but such a cutie! We're eagerly anticipating her colors to start showing! 
To top it all off! I am expecting Keric to molt too, within the next few days or so which makes that THREE moltings the span of just over one week!!! Totally amazing! I feel like a father of a hundred children right now, though, instead of collecting photographs and things like that for memorabilia, I'm collecting their shed skins instead. One more shed skin for the molt-box~


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Greetings from Cookie and Me

Hey ya'll!!!

Sorry for the lack of posts and/or updates recently but I've just been so caught up with work!!! Final assignments are due soon, and so are the class tests/exam period so you can just imagine how hectic things are right now! Indeed, I seem to have come upon the misfortune of falling sick!!! And right at the start of the weekend too!!! How bleak is that! I even had to cancel my forest hiking trip with Joanne (you remember her, from the Light Trapping experiment?) on account of this recurrent fever that just won't seem to leave me be! Go away virus!!! You're so not wanted!!! In the meantime I've had to minimize my contact with Cookie significantly (I don't want to risk sneezing on him or accidentally "transferring" something to him and my poor boy has been pining for his daddy. He will constantly come up to the bars of his cage and call for me when I come home only to be told in as soothing a voice I can muster with half a blocked nose "no baby~ maybe next week, when daddy's better." I think in some small way he knows that I'm not feeling well because he does try so hard to not be in my way. Speaking of which, we have been getting along really well these past few weeks and I think he's beginning to adapt to the idea that I'd be in work most of the day (so he now spends it sleeping) and only back to play after it gets dark. He's gotten so cooperative that I no longer get crabbed at (even when I scoop him out of his bedroom when he's half asleep) nor bitten at all. In fact, we just had our first nail trimming session earlier this week with not so much as a squabble or a peep from him. 

Anyway aside from that things are going pretty well. Cookie is pretty happy, because his nails no longer snag on my clothes when he wants to watch the world from one of my shoulders and so am I because now he won't tear runs in my shirts (AND SKIN!!!!) when he does so. Also, one of the spiders molted recently (I won't say which just yet so that I can blog about them all in one post) and so did Archimedes, our resident mystery (leopard) gecko! He's grown quite significantly in terms of size since them and I think is starting to show some of the beautiful markings he will no doubt possess when he matures to full size. It is on that note that I shall leave you to convalesce. 


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Butterfly Relocation Project pt. 2 ~ Heritage

Hey ya'll 

Five months ago, I was faced with the potential devastation of the way of life of my beloved butterflies. Due to expansion of the parking area, building of a highway, and construction of the university condominiums, large areas of land had to be cleared which in turn affected many of the butterflies' original breeding grounds/habitat. Not willing to leave anything to chance, I began to take proactive measures, culminating in Butterfly Relocation Project 1  which you can read all about HERE. To make a long story short, I scattered seeds of the butterflies' host plants in various locations around the same area (places which are less likely to be cleared for development) and began the slow and meticulous process of catching individual butterflies and releasing them at those sites.

Five months later, I had quite forgotten about my butterfly relocation sites, to be honest. Indeed, I had stopped checking up on them after the first month or so, but just by chance today I stumbled upon one of those sites again, and what appeared to be a barren and weed-strewn path turned out to be practically seething with butterflies!!! I had not seen them earlier because they were not flying high, rather, simply fluttering at ground level, feeding on the large variety of flowers that grew there naturally. The sight of so many butterflies... possibly the great, great, great grandchildren of the ones I relocated (many times over), fluttering about and not simply living, but thriving, was truly a sight to behold. It was like forgetting about a favorite childhood toy and then stumbling upon it by chance only to discover that it had improved better than ever! But don't just take my word of its success. I'll let these images do the talking. 

And in case you are hard pressed to believe that those tiny orange specks actually are butterflies...

Aren't they simply magnificent? The sight of them all, not just surviving, but thriving really brought a warm feeling to my heart!!! And it turns out that the Tawny coster (acraea terpsicore) were not the only butterflies that have reappropriated the environment as their home. Others, like the common grass yellow (eurema hecabe) and various other satyriinae were present too (not to mention a host of lycaeniidae and hesperiidae that I could not identify). Other more prolific butterflies that seem to have settled there were a pansy butterfly (though not the blue pansy, as I had hoped, but the peacock). 

What a beautiful sight, and what an inspiration as well!!! But the butterflies' settling here is anything but permanent. Land can still be claimed for construction and this little paradise that I have created can disappear in but a blink of an eye. If anything, this  has given me renewed drive to push for the butterfly conservation garden on our campus grounds... a place where we can shift the population to that will be safe for development, safe from pesticides. A place where the plants can thrive and butterflies may feed and breed and fly freely. A paradise for butterflies.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider Peacock

Hey ya'll!!!

So unless you have a particular fondness for eight-legged creepy crawlies (like I do!) you would probably be hard pressed to find ANY spider cute and/or beautiful. But I dare you, even the most hardcore of arachnophobes to take a look at this beautiful creature and not (at least consider) retracting your statement and appreciating it (if only from a distance... )

Lovely, isn't it?

This is a Peacock Spider (maratus volans) and like its namesake, the males of this species often perform these elaborate and colorful displays through which they attract their mates. The colorful "tail" of the peacock spider is actually made out of two adjacent flaps on its abdomen. These flaps are supported by small white hairs which, when the spider so wishes, may be raised and expanded in a manner as to produce a beautifully patterned fan. Courtship in this species is truly quite a sight to behold and in addition to displaying his colors the male will also wave his legs about and skitter around in a "dancing" fashion. 

Though it is sometimes called the Gliding Spider (Its latin name, volans, suggest flight) this spider does not in fact engage in such forms of locomotion.  Indeed this might have something to do with the mistaken belief that the flaps used in courtship were instead used by the spider to propel itself through the air. Like regular peacocks, it is the males that possess these wondrous colors and females and immature individuals are colored a plain brown. The spider is relatively small (measuring about 5mm) and is found in... wait for it... Australia!!! 

Australia truly has some of the most interesting and amazing wildlife in the WORLD!!!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Cookie Monster

Hey ya'll!!! 

I would like to introduce you to my little bundle of joy!!! I know it is not uncommon these days, for people to speak of their companion animals as if they were their children, but Cookie really has become something like a son to me... if only because of his dependency and attachment to me as his primary caregiver!!! But let's not allow me to get ahead of myself and let me begin first by introducing the latest addition to our growing family (and this one actually feels and behaves like a family member, opposed to the Tarantulas which kind of just sit there looking beautiful)... Cookie!!! 

Cookie in his pouchey! 
Now, I'm sure many of you do not need an introduction to what sort of animal Cookie is (they are becoming ever so popular in the exotic pet trade) but for the benefit of those of you that don't, he is a sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps).

Though small and rodent-like in appearance, sugar gliders (or Suggies, as they are colloquially called) are really marsupials which means that they are closer related to possums, and even kangarros, than squirrels and/or rats and can thus be distinguished from the latter by the possession of a marsupium (or pouch) in female members of the species!!! Furthermore, unlike placental mammals (a majority of mammals fall into this category) which incubate their developing young within an internal womb until they are fully developed and ready for birth, Sugar gliders and their marsupial relatives give birth to under-developed fetuses that develop externally, which is to say within its mother's pouch.

As their common name suggests, sugar gliders have a natural disposition towards sweet food stuffs (they feed on a variety of fruits, nectar, tree sap and insects in the Australian wild) and are able to glide through the air for quite an impressive amount of distance for such a small animal using a pair of patagium (the extra folds of skin that is stretched between the animal's wrists and hind legs on either side). Though similar in terms of locomotion to flying squirrels, the two animals are in fact non-related and only came to be so through a process known as convergent evolution (where two distinct and unrelated species, evolve similar traits). But enough with the animal trivia lesson!!! 

Cookie's stay-at-home living arrangements. Note: an exercise wheel and a soft-toy have been recently added.
I got Cookie through chance, more than anything, and the short version of it is basically that he was rejected from his previous family for his unpredictable, and sometimes violent mood swings. This I knew, through instinct more than anything else, was possibly nothing more than a cry for a little bit of love and attention. True enough, after suffering from several bites during the initial stage, I can safely say that I have bonded quite well with Cookie and have not been bitten since though... I do get crabbed at sometimes when he is feeling cranky, particularly when he is woken up accidentally from his slumber. But what can I say eh? Boy's will be boys...  Speaking of which... he is also surprisingly intelligent and was able to learn to operate the mechanism of the zipper, his cage lock, and the lock on all my other invertebrate cages within a week of his living with me!!! I've had to be extra secure lately just in case Cookie decides one day to make a meal out of my mantids or spiderlings!!!
In all seriousness though, sugar gliders (as rewarding and amazing as they may be) are not a "for everyone's" pet. They are not like hamsters or guinea pigs that may be bought and left in a cage at home for lengthy periods of time while its owner is busy. Incidentally I would much rather recommend that someone get a tarantula or a leopard gecko (they seem MUCH MORE EASIER TO CARE FOR). Being highly social animals, they constantly crave attention and will enjoy spending lengthy periods of time with their owners, even if it is only to ride around their owner's neck while they sleep in one of those bonding pouches. Cookie, for instance, follows me around almost everywhere. I take him with me when I know I am not going to have too strenuous a day and will pack lunch for him (several pellets and a slice of apple) and sometimes some treats (various other fruits and vegetables and fruit flavored yogurt drops). Cookie's breakfast and dinner consists of a mix of dried pellet food and live insects (gut loaded meal worms) which are essential to keep him on a diet as close to his natural one as possible (many glider owners make the mistake of feeding them nothing but fruits and the dried stuff... which can be quite detrimental to their health). 

As you can perhaps tell, I have grown attached to the little biter as much as he has grown attached to me, and though he does not always get along well with other animals... and humans (Ray included, for now), I still love him to bits!!!

When we go out together, with you in my pouch... I feel like a Papa Seahorse, or a Mama Kangaroo!!!


Thursday, May 3, 2012

URGENT ATTENTION: Hunt for the Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya)

Hey ya'll

Not many people would have noticed this, and not many may actually care...

but I have over the years witnessed a disturbingly drastic decrease in the number of blue pansy butterflies (Junonia orithya).  
Male from my personal collection
Female from my personal collection.
Once abundant all around the Klang Valley, they have become almost non-existent in places like Bangsar, Subang/Sunway area (where most of my field observations are). I know the butterfly in itself is not exactly threatened of endangered but I think it is very important  that we take note whenever species loose  their footholds in local environments. This, is after all how some species disappear seemingly "without any signs" from their once abundant habitats/environments. We have seen instances of this multiple times with various other animal species, and just because a butterfly species may be widespread does not make it invulnerable to such threats.

However, because of a clear lack of resources and manpower on my part, it is increasingly difficult for me to make any empiric claim to this based on my observations alone. As such, before I make a mountain out of a molehill, I would like to call out now, to my fellow lepidopterists, entomologists, environmentalists, and everyday photographers to keep an eye out for this beautiful butterfly, its larvae, or pupae and report any sightings (location, time, date and number of individuals with pictures, if possible) of them in urban areas to