Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pilot Experiment

Hey ya'll!!! 

Labor Day is a day when we commemorate the workers! It is a day when they get to kick back and relax and feel appreciated for all that they do! Seeing as to how I've just started working recently, I can safely say that I've never felt the same way about Labor Day as I did yesterday morning!!! But instead of simply taking the entire day off to laze and bum around the house (although I was sorely tempted to do so!) I decided to do something little bit more productive with my Labor Day instead!!! Fortunately for me, a fairly new acquaintance of mine, Joanne Tong (who is a third year Environmental Management Science student from the same institution where I work, by the way) had invited me along as a "consultant" of sorts to aid her group with their experiment  , Light trapping insects (I think they are testing which light spectrum insects respond to etc.) and I had gratefully accepted her offer! Surely nothing could be more exciting than trekking into a jungle at night, setting up light traps and waiting to see what sorts of insects come flying by! Also, what could possibly go wrong... ?

Apparently, everything!!! Our little expedition started off on a rather dour note and was apparently met with some disapproval from the clouds as no sooner than when we had finally decided to head off, we were met with sheets and sheets of frigid cold rains followed by thunder loud enough to rattle your rib-cages, and one of the most impressive light-shows I've ever seen! To top it all off, one of the group members, who already felt poorly from the beginning, started to fall sick and had to pull out of the last minute! It almost seemed that the expedition would not happen after all, but despite the rocky start, those of us remaining decided to put on a brave face and try it out anyway! It was still raining when we got to the entrance of the Ampang Forest Reserve at 7.00pm so we decided to wait it out over a few drinks at a nearby Golf Club. Indeed we also took the opportunity to discuss the appropriate trap setup.

The girls expertly measuring the "mah-jong" paper, which would have been the backdrop for the trap (for future reference cloth would have worked better, I suppose, as it is generally more resilient to dampness)
The experiment was postponed all the way till 8.30pm and though the rain had slowed down significantly, it was still drizzling on us when we get there. The entrance to the forest looked suddenly quite intimidating and (to our surprise) it was our gung-ho expedition leader Joanne, who raised the question as to whether or not we still wanted to go through with it. Decided that we had not come all the way, braved one intense thunderstorm and lost a group member to flu for nothing, we unanimously agreed to trudge on!

Despite the torrential downpour and the still falling rain, the path into the forest was surprisingly rewarding and as we were walking in we saw one large moth (possibly noctuiidae though, because we only saw it momentarily as I shone my flashlight on it, I can't be sure), a beautifully patterned snail, several crabs (CRABS!!! I know right!!!) and a very small frog which promptly hopped out of our path. Many of these we did not photograph as the main objective of the expedition was to set up the light trap and we figured that the sooner we had got it up, the longer we could leave it on (thus the probability of attracting more insects would increase as well).

The light traps were set five meters apart from each other, each using different kinds of colored light. Within seconds of setting up the first we were already beginning to get visitors! A couple of stalk-eyed flies Diopsidae (very interesting insects *you should totally google image them to see what I am talking about, or simply click here for a photo*  who really do have their eyes on tall stalks on either sides of their heads *HOW DO THEY SEE?!*) were among our first visitors, followed by any number of mosquitoes, gnats and other small insects that generally flutter or buzz near ground level.

A photograph of one of the more cooperative visitors! As you can imagine with small insects, many of them were simply too flighty to pin down long enough for a photograph! (ps. any help on identification here would be hot!)
We even had a mantis deposit an ootheca on my net when I was not looking!!! Judging on its size and shape I would guess this to be the common grass mantis, or odontomantis planiceps. 
Once the trap was set, however, there was really nothing to do but wait and because we were bored (also if we sat down for too long we might begin to attract leeches!!!) we decided instead to walk up and down the path in hopes that we could spot other creepy crawlies and animals. And we did!!! A quick torch-light against the pond/stream nearby revealed a number of pond-skaters/water striders (Gerridae sp.) of varying sizes!

Another quick sift of the water with my net revealed tiny fishes as well!!! Possibly the feral cousins to the domesticated guppies!!!

As the night got older we started to attract more unwelcome guests...

A small-sized leech, trying its best to look like a twig sticking out of the ground under the glare of the torch-light! 
Fortunately there were no casualties... or so we thought, until one of our  group members, Mathini, discovered "something fat and squishy against [her] leg!!!". Other invertebrates that we stumbled upon on the trail were a number of small orb-web spiders, and offspring of a similarly beautifully patterned snail (like the one we saw at the start of the journey)

Other insects like fireflies, crickets and moths showed up to at varying times of the night but not many of these settled on our traps. The dampness particularly seemed to inhibit the fireflies which mainly settled just-out-of-our-reach on foliage, dimly flickering their lights. We ended the experiment early, after it became evident that the elements and weather were not in our favor and decided to head home (most of us had class/work today!!!) though the journey was not entirely in vain as I still saw a fair share of invertebrates to sustain my interest and  the girls learnt a thing or two about improving the designs on their traps! I was so tired by the time I got back, and after a more thorough sweep of my body confirmed I had not brought back any blood-sucking parasites, I went straight to bed. I had strange dreams that night, mostly of flesh-eating viruses and bio-luminescent crabs!

Incidentally, it was also Cookie's (our resident sugar glider, and I must blog about him soon!) first night being home alone (the dripping wet jungle is no place for a prepubescent marsupial) and I must say that he was quite brave despite the thunder storms that must have passed over our home on its way from Ampang to Subang. Needless to say, he greeted me with much enthusiasm when I got home and was given some of his favorite appetizers; meal worms!



Chong Tiann Nerng said...

could have mentioned me *whistles*

Cyren said...

How do you even factor into this entire equation? LOL!!! You did not go on the trip, you were not part of its planning process, neither are you generally intrigued by all manner of things creepy and/or crawly.

ef.ae said...

nice. very interesting post. nvr seen that fly before or even know it's existence! so wht's the wrap of the experiment? is there any?

Cyren said...

Hi ef.ae!!!

Thanks for showing your interest!!! Unfortunately there is no 'wrap' of the experiment... not yet anyway! It was mainly a pilot experiment to test their equipment setup and account for some of the unpredictable variables present. The actual experiment will be conducted again on Monday and (whether or not I am free, it depends) I might be attending! Be sure to check back for any updates :)