Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cycles ~ Visual Novel.

Hey ya'll 

So I was going through some of my old photo albums, getting rid of stuff when I came across something I did. It's actually a writing/visual art experiment for one of my final year subjects in University and I remember the fun, messy and amazing process it was coming up with it. The piece is in the form of a small book entitled "Cycles" which features, 4 chapters themed after the Cycles of Life. Instead of writing it down in "traditional" prose form, I decided to do something a lot more visual and symbolic (as per my style) and ended up producing something that means as much as what the text says, but also the sort of images that were used and the effects that were employed. Enjoy!

I decided to go for a simple cover page. The "white" portion of the image actually a tear that reveals the background panel of the scanner. The simple and cleanly written cover page is supposed to act as a literal/metaphorical mask to the turbulence beneath every individual. The tear is present to symbolize the fractures we all have in our perfect facades, that sometimes let our "inner" turmoils leak out. 
First chapter, struggle. Tells the story of a person (gender/identity ambiguous) who struggles with coming to terms with the way the world has made "it" be. Faceless, genderless but clothed in a costume of words and definitions, scientific jargon and "knowledge" that both teaches us so much about ourselves and yet limits us at the same time. The words were cut out of a dictionary. 
Cover page for chapter 2
In Death identity is again conflated. The story shifts seemingly back and forth between the perceptions of a dolphin out at sea and a man who watches the dolphin swimming. It is clear that both characters have an affinity for each other and very strong affections as well. They both recognize their similarities as beings but are faced with the limitations of their forms. The story alternates erratically between the two narratives. As the chapter progresses, it becomes increasingly confusing as to whose perspective is being iterated. Is the man the one who frolicks in the waves? Is the dolphin really the one watching the man. One of the characters suffers a fatal blow in the end, and dies The reader can only speculate who. 
In reincarnation we are confronted with the ramblings of a spirit in the throes of transformation. The spirit, who is a flexible creature is everything and anything all at once. Through some kind of dance, the creature shifts into something that is ambiguous in that it is many things all at once. This story, unlike the others, is the most confusing in that it is bereft of any form of structure at all. The spiritual being, being one that is without boundaries cannot hope to express itself in a linear way and I tried to capture that with my erratic change of tone, language, style and topic. In describing the end result of its transformation the spirit offers two significant words which are "Sword Flowers". What they are meant to mean is open to the reader's interpretation. 
The project "Cycles" ends with the chapter "Birth". Like  the process of real birth,  the visual effects of this chapter is both structured and messy, both violent and productive in that it culminate the meaning of the entire project. The chapter birth is really a monologue of all the characters in the novel thus far. Their thoughts, feelings, emotions, identity, ideas of what it means to be, meshed together in one cohesive piece. The central focus of the chapter, the image of the uterus spilling life blood is also equiped with two flaps that may be opened to reveal the silhouette of am amorphous being inside. Not known to the reader, is a separate story that exists underneath this layer. To get to the other story, the flaps that constitute the uterus must be torn apart, literally destroying the first story, signifying how meaning can sometimes only be found through the destruction of sense and order of what is on the surface.

Every Lepidopterists Dream

Hey ya'll

I really wanted to save this post for tomorrow but the moment I removed these Ornithoptera from the spreading board, well I just couldn't control myself!!! Ornithoptera, surely one of the most coveted of all butterflies for any Papilionidae lover and now I have here my very own pair, beginning with the nominate species Ornithoptera priamus (Common/Green Birdwing) and the much rarer Ornithoptera rothschildi (Rothschild's Birdwing). So named for their enormous wingspans and avian-like flight, Ornithoptera are one of the largest butterflies in the world (although, O. Rothschildi turned out to be a lot smaller than I thought it would be). Can't express my elation and gratitude for having received such wonderful butterflies and it is only my deepest hope and dream to be able to be directly involved in their conservation someday. 

Ornithoptera rothschildi

Ornithoptera priamus poseidon

And so I will leave you for now, as I continue to marvel at these wonderful butterflies and imagine how they must have looked like, alive, and flying free, though in the meantime I will also reserve them a special place on my lepidoptera wall. 



Hey ya'll

The first of the butterflies have started to come off the spreading board today and I must say that they took my breath away! Having been a butterfly collector for several years now, I've come to regard the family Papilionidae as one of my favorites, and over the years have come to admire and appreciate the beauty of many South American species in the family. The Cattle Hearts, or parides, are one of my favorites. The sleek long wings characteristic of Papilionidae butterflies, colored a deep velvety black, broken only by the splashes of vibrant reds (for which they are named), greens and blues, truly make this butterfly species a sight to behold and as I removed the tracing paper that held their drying wings in place today, I could not help but take in a deep breath of satisfaction and disbelief. Here they were, in all their glory... some of the species of butterflies that are coveted by butterfly collectors (what more Papilionidae specialists/lovers) from all over the world. 

Parides lysander (Picuroy acu, Amazon River, Loreto Peru)
Parides vertumnus (Picuroy acu, Amazon River, Loreto Peru)
Parides arcas (Costa Rica)
Parides agavus (Argentina)
Parides erlaces (Peru)
Parides anchises (Picuroy acu, Amazon River, Loreto Peru)
The feeling of spreading these butterflies, and adding them to my collection will arguably be rivaled only by the addition of the Ornithoptera birdwings, that I shall be "unveiling" soon! This is definitely turning out to be quite an exciting week!!!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THe Birds and The Bees

Hey ya'll 

This was something I wrote several years ago, that started out as a project for Dr. Sharon's Writing Experiments workshop that I later published in a small magazine. Anyway the theme (as with most of my creative writing pieces) is on women issues. This particular story is one that tells, through metaphorical devices more than anything else, of the "rape mythology". 

X pulled a stool out into the garden. It was a beautiful day; the flowers were in bloom and the birds were singing... but maybe you'd get a better picture from one of those children's books... it was getting hot, though. The afternoon sun beat down on X's shoulders like an unforgiving stare, but maybe X deserved that also. Was it guilt? Or shale? It was sometimes hard to tell between the two.

There was a bee by the honeysuckle that grew along the trellis that lead up to the window. It flew around in circles, wings all a quiver. X knew that bees are benevolent creatures. They pollinate plants and flowers so that we may reap the benefits of fruits and crops. They make honey, which X was actually quite fond of. But today, something about the little insect repulsed X. Today it lost any semblance of benevolence. It could have been a housefly really, or a disgusting cockroach, for all X was concerned. A pest which deserved to be killed, crushed, dashed or pulled to bits by some particularly horrid child. X watched as the bee circled the trellis, at last alighting on one of the flowers, small, red. Barely a flower, in fact, as much as it was a bud.

It is often said, X didn't quite know by whom, that it is those flowers - not quite buds but not yet in bloom - that possessed the sweetest honey, and apparently the bee must have known this because though the relatively small opening of the flower resisted it, it pushed and strained with convicted fury. Those repellant legs, skittering, wriggling... like so many disgusting claws upon flesh. The loud buzz of wing against petal, organism against organism. Bravely, the flower withstood the onslaught... but what else could the flower have done really? What should a flower do when it was supposedly "created" for the very purpose of being violated day after day by an army of brazen and insensitive bees? Or was it?

There were birds around. Sparrows, X though. Or maybe magpies. Chirping and calling and singing. And like the bee, their songs too seemed repulsive. Still the bee strained against the puckered lip of the half-closed flower. Still, it pushed and pushed its way to the beckoning honey. X longed for one of the birds to swoop down, to take the bee firmly within its unforgiving beak and dash it against the bark of a tree to remove its sting. What is a bee without its sting, really, X wondered. If we take away the sting, they loose their power, they loose their intimidation. In fact, all the power of a bee comes from its sting! So valued is this one small barb that other insects, moths for example, have taken to mimicking the striking colors of the bee in hopes that other animals are fooled into believing that it possesses a sting. But really, remove the stong, and perhaps they too will loose everything it means to be a bee. But none of the birds would come that day, they would only sing. 

X can still remember the moment of penetration. The moment when that bee, straining with all its might, with its repellent legs and beating wings broke through the natural defenses of the flower. The moment those petals tore, staining the bee red with its scarlet sap. The moment the bee dug - clawed, more like it - its way to the sweet spot, stealing the honey. Then flying away. X still remembers the flower, hanging form the trellis, petals torn and bleeding. One organism violating the body of another. Supposedly, as nature intended it. Suddenly the day didn't feel so warm anymore.

X remembers plucking the flower and returning to the stool to sit. X wonders sometimes; why hadn't X simply walked up to the flower and shaken away the offending insect? Perhaps it was some sense of voyeurism, the act of watching something so offensive being committed upon something else. Perhaps it was a mirror to X's own sense of helplessness. Eitherway, X wasn't in any condition to think that morning. Or at least, X didn't think. X took out a paper, and on it scrawled;

"So all that morning I sat on my tsool, and watched as the bees raped the flowers, and the sparrows sang their approval."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Over-excited Suggie!!!

Don't you just love how animals are so transparent with their emotions and feelings?!! I swear sometimes you can actually see them "smile". Here's Honey, getting extremely excited about going out with daddy, and getting perhaps a plump apple-carrot fed mealie for a treat! 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CITES Teasers Unveiled!!!

Hey ya'll

I know it's been more than one week (or was it two?) since I last dropped the teaser on the CITES permits I got, but here they are!!! My very first set of Ornithoptera, all flexed and ready to spread!!!

Ornithoptera priamus poseidon, male
Ornithoptera rothschildi, male
Aren't they magnificent?! I just can't tell you how nervous I was picking them out of their chambers! One wrong move and it could make all the difference between an A1 specimen and a tear that's going to kill me for the rest of my life (birdwings don't fall out of the sky!!!). One thing to note though, relaxing chambers don't actually work for Ornithoptera. Not when they've (apparently) been dead for over two years!!! Which reminds me, thanks so much to Gregory Nielson and Luan Felipe who offered the advice on injected the butterflies with hot water in the thorax! Worked like a charm it did!!! Anyway, in addition to the two males you see, I've also got two magnificent females on the spreading board. Their size, if anything, is really quite impressive! And speaking of sizes, O. rothschildi turned out to be a lot smaller "in the flesh" than I thought it would be! It's barely larger than one of my medium-large P. memnon specimens. At any rate, do stay tuned for updates!!! I can't wait to remove these babies off the board as I'm sure that they will be exquisitely stunning!!! Also of note are the Parides that also went on the board today!!! Unfortunately a closer inspection revealed two of them to have slightly torn wings!!! Quite a disappointment indeed!!! 

Ps. I just named my Wisdom Tooth. Her name is Wisdy. Wisdy is a real temperamental bitch. Always hurts when I eat nice things. WHY CAN'T I EAT NICE THINGS? I think Wisdy should be more like Dom (my other Wisdom tooth) He never seems to cause a fuss. Just sayin'. 


Monday, June 18, 2012

What we really do... (Lepidopterist)

Hey ya'll 

so there's always been some confusion, I feel, about the general public and their perception of the "work" lepidopterists do. Indeed when I meet people who've come upon my blog for the first time, I am often asked the question: so exactly what is it that you "study" about butterflies. Well, the truth is... everything!!! Or rather, everything I possibly can with what knowledge and (limited) scientific background I have. It could be something as straightforward as observing their behavioral habits in the wild, to something more personal, like raising their larvae and breeding them in captivity for conservatory purposes. Indeed, at times (though not often admittedly) it is more "heavy" with all sorts of reading and research to just know more in general about the species. Anyway, I was dealing with some of these questions the other day when I inexplicably thought about the "What we really do" meme that has been circling the internet. When a quick google search turned up nothing for lepidopterist associated memes, I decided that it was about high time I made one myself. And that is exactly how I wasted my time what I did all this morning!!! You will excuse the uneven coloring and lack of shading but I am without my photoshop for the time being (an artist with only Microsoft Paint to work with is like a starving man being offered breadcrumbs!!!), but perhaps this will give you some humorous insight into what it really means to be a lepidopterist. 

ps. The last panel is my salute/tribute to the wonderful online community whose generosity and camaraderie in terms of sharing knowledge, information and ideas, has been most appreciated and valued throughout the years!!! Thanks guys!!!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Honey, Honey~ Pet World Expo @ Mid Valley

Hey ya'll

School is finally out for the semester and that means that my time at work is also (about) finally over!!! Of course, I end the first semester of my stint as a sessional tutor at Monash University with a somewhat heavy heart (the students have certainly been an amazing bunch), but the other part of me just can't wait to enjoy my three weeks of rest and recuperation. Of course, part of that "resting period" will involve a lot of me getting back in touch with my delightful animal friends! And speaking of animal friends, the holidays could not have come at a more opportune time.  It all started today when I decided to bring Cookie along on an excursion to the 2012 Pet World exhibition at the Mid Valley Megamall convention hall. I had taken Cookie for a "ride" on my shoulder yesterday, and he behaved most admirably by not straying from my person at all times. As such, I felt reasonably confident about bringing him out today though (excusably), in the security of my waist pouch, and indeed he was so well-behaved it really exceeded my expectations. Not one moment of crabbing or a single "escape" attempt the entire outing!!! *ps. I think my gliders really do prefer to ride in waist pouches as opposed to the traditional bonding pouches when they get older. Something to do with more space to stretch out in, I suppose. Cookie has utterly rejected being placed into the bonding pouch. In fact, he objects to that particular arrangement with a passion!* 

Waking up for tea-time/treats

Somewhere in the middle of our little excursion, we also managed to procure a new addition to our little family. A beautiful baby female sugar glider that was going on offer for a price that could not be matched. That, and the fact that I have been contemplating getting Cookie a companion for some time now, eventually sold the idea to me and before I knew it, I was cradling my new darling Honey gently in my cupped palms. Cookie reacted to this arrangement most agreeably, which I take as a good sign but as a precaution I will not be introducing them until they are roughly the same size (so those of you who wish to request for babies... WAIT! I'm not running one of those deplorable suggie mills here...). Honey, unlike her namesake, has a pretty crabby disposition though and by that I don't simply mean that she can get crabby at times. Now, I've heard of moody gliders, but she is actually the first who pounces and takes little bite out off my hand (even when I'm feeding her in a seemingly calm fashion). Oh well, nothing that good old-fashioned love and patience can't overcome I'm sure!!! Oh, and I nearly forgot...

Honey! Named after my favorite organic sweet-treat!

Friday, June 15, 2012


Hey ya'll 

So while we're all waiting for the butterflies to relax sufficiently for spreading (I'm leaving them in the chamber for a week at least, just to be sure!) I thought of trying my hand again at hand-pairing some of the emerged butterflies in my flight (now turned Savage Garden) cage. True, I no longer have any butterflies of different species with which I may create hybrids with... but at the very least it will give me some experience with hand-pairing in the future. I enticed the male first, by placing him in a box under a bright light to increase his body temperature to about thirty degrees celcius (that got him bright and active) and then held him firmly by the wings in one hand, the female in the other, to start my first attempt at hand pairing. Now, many of the online websites will tell you how easy it is to get the male's claspers open by gently pressing his abdomen. Truth is... it's really not. Not for me, anyway. Getting the male to "open up" was so much tougher than it looked, and even though he was "excited" by the light, I could not get his clapsers to open up wide enough to accommodate the girth of the female's own behind. I eventually managed, though, with the help of a fine pin head and no sooner than I had put the female close to him that he seemed to take charge. A quick flick of the abdomen, and half a second later... 

My very first hand-paired butterflies!!! The male is the one on the bottom and the female  can be distinguished by her orange-tinted wings. If you look closely, you will also notice some yellow fuzz escaping the bottom crevice of her abdomen. I'm really not sure what this is and I most certainly did not see anything like it in any of the online tutorials... but I suppose we can only let her lay her eggs and hope for the best
The butterflies were relocated (carefully!) after photographing them, to the top of the enclosure. Closer to the UV lights, where they may benefit from both its rays and heat. I really hope this works!!!


Thursday, June 14, 2012


Hey ya'll 

so the butterflies arrived in the post today and in addition to the six beautiful S. American swallowtails that were in the package, I also got two magnificent beauties that came with their very own CITES permits.

Stay tuned for updates. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

Butterflies eclosing in the Middle of the Night

Had these two butterflies emerge last night around 12.00am barely an hour apart from each other. What was also amazing was how fast their wings expanded to full length. The first and second picture (which are of the same butterfly) has only a time lapse of 5 minutes between shots. The third picture depicts the second butterfly eclosing from its chrysalis right next to its sibling. If you notice the chrysalis behind it you will be able to make out the butterfly's body though it didn't actually eclose until this morning.

All three butterflies taking their first meal
Welcome to the world, my darlings.


The Truth about Cute Slow Loris videos on Youtube.

Hey ya'll 

I write this in response to the viral videos of supposedly "cute" Slow Lorises that have been circulating the internet via Youtube. 

All Slow Lorises come from Southeast Asia and they are on the CITES 1 list which means they are a threatened species that is protected by law. And yet, the numbers of Slow Loris in the wild are continuously decreasing day after day. The main reason for this: they are captured, and subjected to the illegal pet trade. Aside from being shipped in cruel and hazardous conditions (that often result in the death of many of these animals), Slow Lorises are also mutilated in order to "prepare" them and make them more "suitable" for the exotic pet trade. 

The Slow Loris is unique among mammals in that it is one of the few animals capable of producing toxins as a means of self defense. This toxin is administered through a potentially toxic bite. In order to make the Loris seem more "children friendly" and "suitable" as a pet, Slow Lorises often have their teeth forcibly removed prior to shipping, often in unsanitary conditions and without any form of anesthesia. It is at this juncture that I would like to gently remind you that these animals are primates and therefore have a similar teeth and jaw structure as ours. Now imagine, if you will, the kind of pain and agony you would have to go through if someone took a giant pair of clippers and went ape shit in your mouth. As you can imagine, many Lorises do not in fact survive this procedure and eventually succumb either to blood loss, shock, and severe blood infections. Those that do live have to cope with chronic pain. 

But the suffering of these endearing looking animals does not end there. Even if they survive the grueling journey to whatever country it is they are to be traded in, they will now have to deal with the hardships of living in captivity. As a predominantly wild animal that was forcibly removed from its native environment, the experience can be very stressful. Remember, these animals are primates and are therefore reasonably intelligent by animal standards. This also makes them prone to suffering from any number of "human-like" diseases such as depression and anxiety that can manifest in behavioral problems, self mutilation or aggression. Should they be so lucky as to be placed in loving and caring homes, they still need to suffer the life-long effects of their bodily mutilation. The removal of the Slow Loris' teeth is permanent. They WILL NOT GROW BACK. This can make it very difficult for them to eat and would (as you can imagine) change their acceptable diet quite dramatically. Consequently many of those that have lived thus long, then succumb to various ailments related to malnutrition. Slow Loris are not captive animals and do not do very well in captivity. In fact, when kept in a caged environment, they do not readily breed, which means that everytime a Loris dies and needs to be replaced, it is replaced by one that was caught from the wild! 

The problem is that while Slow Loris are growing in popularity as pets in countries like the United States and Japan (and apparently, Youtube) where they can sell for exorbitant prices, not many people (Loris owners included) know the "true story" behind this. Indeed we watch those videos and it is so easy to succumb to how "cute" and "docile" these animals look when they are being handled miniscule props like umbrellas, or tickled while they are laid down on their backs when the fact is that this is actually behavior that is characteristic of their passive-defensive reaction to threatening situations. It is thus my hope that you can help me spread awareness by sharing this with your family and friends and in doing so, make the "truth" become viral as well. So the next time one of us comes across another one of these "Cute Slow Loris Videos" on Youtube... as will be better educated and we can educate others, and in doing so spread awareness, because now we know better. Remember, when the buying stops, the mutilation will stop too.


Further reading:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Butterfly Hybrid Project pt. 2 ~ Setback and Unexpected Surprises

Hey ya'll

Unfortunate news. Though I have been feeding and caring for them in a routine fashion, the male butterfly that hatched not 2 and a half days ago was found dead in the flight cage for unknown reasons. Perhaps the temperature at night was too low for its liking, or perhaps it was just an unhealthy specimen but either way I found myself with one robust, healthy female, but no male to mate her with. As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed (though part of me told myself that perhaps this is a sign that this just was not meant to be). Either way I was about to release my female into the wild (so she can find her own suitor) when lo' and behold... she started laying! Why, I must admit I was taken completely by surprise! Was it possible, that the two different species of swallowtails mated in the flight cage on their own accord when I was away? Or... is it possible for female butterflies to lay unfertilized eggs (the same way some birds and mantids do)? I suppose there is only one way to find out... keep the eggs, and see for myself. I waited half an hour until she had stopped laying and  then rubbed her abdomen against the leaves, causing her to expel two more. By the end of this process her bulbous abdomen had shrunk somewhat and when I was sure that there were no more eggs in her, I released her into the great outdoors! Good luck my baby, and I hope you find your way out there!!! As I released her, two rather large swallowtails, Papilio memnon and Papilio helenus swooped down from, oh I don't know where... and fluttered about around her!!! Seems like this baby of mine somehow has a knack for attracting diverse suitors!!! Oh well, to each her own! 

On a separate note, I will be expecting a parcel to arrive in a few weeks time. They should contain, among other things, several coveted (by myself) papilionidae butterflies that would no doubt be precious jewels to my collection. I do not wish to reveal them (lest I spoil the surprise!!!) but I can say this much: that two pairs of them are going to be birdwings from Papua, the other six are Parides from Southern America. Oh I can't wait for them to arrive!!! I feel like a child again, in the last few weeks of the year... waiting for Christmas... in June. 


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Self Realization.

Hey ya'll

A friend said to me today, she said to me; "why [did] you stop writing your previous blog? I like that writing style. I used to be your daily reader," 

I started this blog to talk about my love for the natural world, to share with everyone else, a small piece of what I find beautiful about the other living things around us. Of course, arguably everyone can to a certain degree already appreciate that beauty, but, having seen some of the things I've seen, and having appreciated them from that angle... let's just say that I wanted to show the world more. In doing so, however, I apparently lost myself. Lost the ability to write about more intimately personal things. My thoughts. Feelings. Emotions. Everything else that I used to blog about, I have explicitly avoided here. I still wrote about life, of course. Just not mine. And indeed, it would seem as if I had stopped doing that for so long that I no longer know how. 

And so today, I began the onerous task of challenging myself, to write about myself. But writing a biography, even a short excerpt, of one's life can be more difficult than it sounds. What should I write, for instance, with regards to my experiences today, or the past week even. What can I say, about my rejection from the Disney Musical, and my unfortunate inability to attend the auditions for Splash show choir? My disappointment, surely enough. Sadness. Anger, perhaps. But more specifically what can I say about these things? I go to my old blog (the link of which shall be withheld, for various reasons) and peruse my old posts for inspiration. I start from August 15th of 2010, and scroll all the way back to October of 2008 (how time flies!!!). Nothing. In fact, what I got was scarier than nothing... it was the sudden realization that I no longer recognized the "voice" in all of those previous posts. I had memories of them, sure enough. I remember writing them, and I remember going through those experiences... but I could no longer relate to those viewpoints. No longer felt the same emotions. 

Was the Talent competition in high school really so important to me? Did it really matter that I was the star of Broadway Extraordinaire in my final year of high school but did not have any pictures to show for it because I did not own a camera back then? Did it really hurt so bad... the way Brendan betrayed my trust? It all doesn't seem to matter now. And that in turn got me thinking about my future, what I wanted to do in life. What I am GOING to do in life (and there is a difference), and for once I am stumped. I had always thought that my goals have always been very clear. But they are really not. Getting a PhD, being a stage performer, working for an environmental organization so I can be with my beloved plants and butterflies all day long... they all seem like things I can do. But are they things I really want to do, for the rest of my life?I guess in this day and age, people can have multiple identities. Multiple facets. Pretty much the same way people can have multiple Facebook or email accounts. But I guess some people are more adept to that sort of thing than others. I set out today to write a post about myself. Instead, I ended up writing about how I can no longer write in depth about myself. It is now that I will part with the small realization that dawned upon me at this precise moment. Perhaps the reason why I now write about nature and animals, and not about myself is because I know those things so well. So dear to my heart. But I no longer know myself. Can someone say First World Problem or what? (except, I live in Malaysia and we are, arguably, not (yet?) a First World country. 

"Once you're with a person, you will love them for life. What changes is that instant you got so disgusted you lost your trust and respect for that person because you're no longer in love... but that doesn't mean you don't love them [anymore]" Singing Coconut


Butterfly Hybrid Project pt. 2 ~ Advice and Well-wishes?

Hey ya'll

the second butterfly had eclosed by the time I got home and I am pleased to report that it is indeed... a MALE. Mazel tov, it's a boy!!! From what I have read online, the males need about 3 days or so to mature before they are ready for mating (I am presuming that their anal claspers don't work or "loosen out" until them) so in the meantime (while I wait for this Saturday afternoon to try anything), I will just continue to care for and feed the babies while watching and reading up all I can to refresh my memory on hand pairing!!! What I do not understand so far is the concept of squeezing the male's abdomen so that the anal claspers will open... how hard do I have to squeeze? And at which point? If anyone of you here has any experience doing this, any help would be hot. 

Not sure if they are eating or not, but both butterflies expelled transparent liquid from their bottoms shortly after so I take that as a good sign. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Butterfly Hybrid Project pt.1

Hey ya'll

The first butterflies eclosed from their chrysalids today. The first one (which seems to be the only P. polytes pupa I have... which is strange considering the sheer number of caterpillars I raised this season) hatched around 5am this morning, fooled perhaps by the 24/7 UV light that shines on its cage and the second one is due in a couple of hours time, possibly when I am at work. An unfortunate, but anticipated twist in the turn of events is that the P. polytes that eclosed first was a female. This puts a cramp, somewhat in my breeding operation as I would have preferred to have my females as fresh as possible. No matter, if the chrysalis at home turns out to be a P. demoleus male, all is not lost and I daresay I can attempt breeding them some 2-3 days later.  As it stands, I can only reduce the temperature in the room and make sure that the female remains as inactive and healthy as possible. 

I've started feeding her with a solution of 15% sugared water but am thinking of "kicking it up a notch" with 100 Plus or Gatorade as I have read online that these make much better nectar substitutes. As it stands, swallowtail butterflies can be notoriously difficult to feed in captivity (they seem to have trouble feeding from artificial flowers soaked in the sugary solution) so hand feeding is sometimes necessary. As is what I did today. The set-up may look quite appalling but it is really quite harmless and is really designed to prevent the butterfly from getting its wings and legs "contaminated" by the sticky syrup thus hindering its movements/damaging it. 

Eat up my baby!
Anyway I am really hoping this project can come to fruition (am curious and anxious to find out what kind of butterfly will result from the pairing of these two... indeed, if such a pairing were even possible to begin with) but we can only hope for the best! Stay tuned for updates!!!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fashionable forestry

Hey ya'll

sometimes I wonder, why I even bother to dress up when I go into the forest. Hiking is pretty grueling business, and so is climbing up steep muddy hills with nothing but pieces of rope to hold on to, so "practical forest wear" is usually in order. Problem is, when I think of "practical forest wear", the first things that come to mind are the khaki shorts and dirty-green shirts that many of my idols (Steve Irwin, and Ruud Kleinpaste) are often see with on screen. And so, perhaps on a subconscious level, I find myself "replicating" those looks... careful to match earthen colored bottoms, with foliage colored or themed tops.

Of course, there ARE actual benefits to dressing in such a manner. Shorts are comfortable, airy and permit movement in our sweltering tropical heat, cotton shirts breathe well and avoid that ghastly (and frustrating) feeling of having unabsorbed sweat pooling on the cleft in one's back. Natural shades also mean that animals are less likely to notice me coming in for a close-up shot provided that I move stealthy enough. As good as these points may turn out to be though, they are entirely coincidental and I must say that I do not set out picking my "hiking outfit" with these considerations in mind. Usually, and I am not ashamed to admit this, my thoughts go along the lines of something more similar to this

"How will I look when I put these clothes on... ?"


"will Steve Irwin or Ruud Kleinpaste wear the same things?!"

But you would think, at the end of the day, that hiking in such nice clothes would almost always result in their soiling by sweat, mud, and all kinds of other dirty things one brushes up against when walking into the forest, and indeed, those were my precise thoughts as I stared ruefully at my shorts. Stained brown from where I leaned sideways against a tree not five seconds earlier. Why do I even bother dressing up when I go into the forest... it's not like I have a camera crew documenting my every exploits (though maybe part of me wishes that I did). As I begin the long and steady hike down and prepare myself for the onerous task of scrubbing dried mud off of khaki, I notice among the brown a small red stain. Slowly, like a flower, kissed by the warm caress of the morning sun, it blossomed. Belatedly I realized yet another coincidental benefit of wearing light/tan colored shorts into the forest; you always know immediately when you've been bitten by leeches.

But for the net and the convenient backpack, looking like I could be lounging around the golf-course at a reputable country club.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Moth that mimicked the Butterfly

Hey ya'll 

In most individual's minds, the butterfly is almost always contrasted with the moth. The butterfly, supposedly being the more beautiful of the two flies exclusively during the day and is wonderfully patterned. The moth, in comparison is often depicted as being ugly, or dull, and flutters about in the shadows of the night. Now, while this has no doubt helped most people with the general classification and distinction of a butterfly and a moth, the reality is quite the opposite and these arbitrary classifications (while applicable for a large majority of the species) are not always the truth. Butterflies are not always colorful, and moths, not always dull (arguably one of the most beautiful lepidoptera in the world is the Madagascan Sunset Moth Urania ripheus whose rainbow colored wings have become iconic somewhat for light refraction on lepidopteran scales). And just as not all butterflies fly exclusively during the day (a quick Google search revealed that some butterflies like the Caligo Owl Caligo sp. do indeed fly at night), not all moths stick to the cold, dark shadows of the night. Indeed, there are moths that are diurnal and the Sunset Moth can perhaps be argued to be one of these.

But more interesting than that, perhaps, are moths who have taken so much to the wonderful day-time world of sunshine and flowers that they have gradually begun to mimic butterflies! It's quite easy to romanticize all of this and concoct a tale that the moth, madly jealous of his beautiful cousin the butterfly, one day decided to put on her clothes and parade about in all his imitated glory, but the truth is that mimicry often takes place to ensure these insect's survival. Consequently, many of these day flying moths seem to mimic Atrophaneura swallowtails, Danaiidae, or any other amount of butterflies that are recognized as toxic or unpalatable to predators in a process known as Batesian Mimicry (where a supposedly harmless animal mimics the appearance of toxic or dangerous ones to avoid predation). The actual mimic, when one looks at it, can really be quite stunningly similar to the "original" animal and over time (through evolution, variation, and other complicated processes that are still too difficult for my non-scientific-background brain to process) produced a wide range of animals all resembling various forms of each other all for the purposes of survival. Fascinating, isn't it!!! Either way, most of this would be purely theoretical for me if not for an incident that happened a week ago when I myself was quite nearly fooled by a Batesian Mimic myself.

It happened when I was wandering the grassy area next to the University (now my place of employment). As is personal custom, I always make it a point to stroll around the area for several minutes every day in search of "something new" before I make my way to my car. As it turns out, I did find something that caught my eye. A red-bodied swallowtail of the genus Atrophaneura, surprisingly small for it species, fluttering just several centimeters above the tall grass. This, on its own, would have already been quite a find to me (Atrophaneura sp. is almost never found in this area as they prefer more shaded, forested habitats with an abundance of aristolochiae vines upon which to feed) so imagine how my surprise was compounded when I netted the fluttering creature to find that it was in fact NOT a swallowtail butterfly, but a medium-sized moth! In rest, the moth holds its wings flat over its body (as is "traditional" with moths) and resembles something as unremarkable as a pitch black "triangle". But when disturbed or startled, the moth quickly raises those unremarkably dark fore wings to reveal a strikingly iridescent set of blue under-wings, set against the stark contrast of a brilliant pink-red abdomen.
The moth, which has since been identified as Histia flabellicornis ultima
Being quite partial to swallowtail butterflies (or the genus Papillionidae, in general) myself, I fortunately had many specimens of Atrophaneura (to which the red body is characteristic as a warning sign to birds that the butterfly is poisonous) with which I could compare it to and decided ultimately that this particular species of moth seeks to mimic the Common batwing, or Atrophaneura varuna.
Dorsal view of the Common Batwing Atrophaneura varuna (male) 
Dorsal view of the Common Batwing Atrophaneura varuna (female)
Arguably, there is a striking difference between the two specimens in that the body of the batwing is a velvety black-blue and not red but I think that may have something to do with the fact that the moth may not itself be poisonous/unpalatable to predators and birds and therefore, has a greater need to flash these red warning colors more explicitly. If you were to compare the moth's red abdomen to the ventral view of the abdomen of the batwing, however...
Ventral view of the Common Batwing Atrophaneura varuna (male)
Ventral view of the Common Batwing Atrophaneura varuna (female)
The resemblance is really quite uncanny. What is more remarkable is also the fact that the level of mimicry does not stop there, at the adults. Indeed the larvae (and I had to grab these images off google because I have not raised EITHER insect on my own) themselves exhibit this sort of Batesian mimicry as well.
Histia flabellicornis ultima larvae
Atrophaneura sp. larvae.

It really is quite spectacularly outstanding (and the moth was such a dear when I picked it up that I almost did not have the heart to collect it) and I hope to be able to add these beautiful moths to my breeding list sometime in the future, but aside from that, there's little more my limited knowledge can tell you about these wonderful insects. If you would like to know more about Batesian Mimicry, though, and the kinds of butterflies and moths that are into this sort of thing, I suggest you hop by Brittanie's blog. She has a very devoted fixation with Heliconius butterflies which are, sort of the poster-boy for lepidopteran mimicry.