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. 


Brittanie said...

Reading this brought back memories of my escapades at camp. Hiking up mountainy trails and mini caves and finding bundles of epicness.

You're seriously making me want to get a plane ticket over there. Just wait till I win the lottery. :P I saw a dragonfly zip by me in the park a few days ago.

By my standards they're EARLY!! Yeeeees! Speaking of their colors I should tell you we have purple ones here. *^^* Pure violet purple with black stripes.

They like landing on my legs and having courtship flights and what not around people like crazy. But if you approach them they're gone. XD

Cyren said...

WOW!!! That's beautiful!!! Damsels or Dragons? Is it really that expensive for you to come to Malaysia? I have always been under the impression that travel here is really cheap for people from your side of the world since the exchange rate is in your favor. One US dollar is the equivalent of three of ours. Entry to most butterfly parks will cost you about 2 dollars only.