Saturday, March 31, 2012

MHR Colony pt. 4 ~ Mazel Tov!!!

Hey ya'll 

it seems that April's Fool has become a rather momentous occasion around here, and just when I was about done "celebrating" Keric's molt (which ushered in the Prankster's Holiday) it seems that another one of our little creepy crawly residence gave me another occasion to celebrate. Sometime last night (or rather, very early this morning as I only turned in for bed at 4 in the morning) it seems that one of my Madagascar Hissing Roach females decided to give birth!!! Of course you can imagine, I am quite disappointed at having missed the whole thing (must be quite a sight, watching her push out a bucket load of babies) but I knew she has because I awoke to the wonderful sight of small white roaches (no larger than one of my finger nails) scurrying about a less-frequented piece of wood on the tank. Their mother, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen although, comparing the abdomen sizes of my females, I have a fairly good idea which one it may be. Needless to say I spent the entire morning searching the entire tank. To my dismay, I only found four in total (two of which were dead, for some reason, and appeared to have been still-born births (can that happen with roaches?!). The two that are alive seem well and healthy enough I suppose and for that, I am rather thankful. One has already matured somewhat to a brownish-grey coloration while the other is still a striking white!!! I am still curious as to whether there are any other live nymphs, hiding in the nooks and crannies, and cracks and crevices of the wood pieces around the tank. Indeed, there is no way for me to actually be sure, short of dismantling the entire set up and that is something that I do not wish to do (at the risk of upsetting or stressing out the colony). In the meantime, here's to hoping that both surviving nymphs make it to adulthood, and that there many be many more hiding around!!! 

Fingers crossed,

Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid pt. 8 ~ Voyeurism

Anthologies of Keric the Arachnid pt. 8 ~ Voyeurism

Hey ya'll!!!

I really feel like such a Peeping Tom these days, and it really does not have anything to do with my sneaking glances at people in compromising situations (how inappropriate!) but rather my current preoccupation with watching my animals step out (all pink and naked) out of their old skins! As you know, we have been anticipating Keric's molt for quite some time now. As you may have gathered (from some of my latest posts) Keric has been fasting for about two to three weeks now and frankly, I was beginning to get worried! Turns out Keric chose tonight to make the change and it was by a good stroke of luck that I came home in time to witness the process!!! And voyeurism or not, it was definitely worth the wait!!! (I love watching invertebrates molt!! The process of them easing out of their old skins, a metaphor perhaps for a "former life" seems to be to be most fascinating!)

I suppose you can deduce that the process is an extremely interesting one, but also one that was quite slow!!! I had originally thought of filming it and then replaying it in fast-forward but the camera that I used to film the process (while these pictures were being taken with my phone) died halfway and didn't have enough memory space for a high definition video of one hour. Suppose in the future I shall transfer out all of my old pictures and videos before starting. In other news, Keric is doing fine right now and is resting from what I believe must be quite serious exertions (molting doesn't look easy!!!) and spent about an hour in the upside-down position before finally flipping back over. It will now be a week before I start feeding which gives me time to pick up a fresh batch of worms and start power feeding them with a nutritious, well-balanced meal of dried dog food pellets!!! Should be amazing as the benefits of nutrient transfer from such a diet has shown promising results in both my newts and hissing roaches!!! 

Also, and this is the last thing I have to say before signing off, I have set up a trap in the garden, in several "strategic" locations, in an attempt to capture (among other secretive animals in the undergrowth) more woodlice for my personal culture. The toadlets seem to enjoy eating them very much, and the lice themselves did a great favor cleaning up the bedding of the roach tank! Because I have live plants growing in there as well, I suppose those too may benefit from the presence of the crustaceans. Will check the trap and update you guys on the bounty tomorrow. 

In the meantime, hope you all had an awesome and austere Earth Hour, and will soon have, an auspicious and boisterous April Fool's Day. 


Friday, March 30, 2012


Hey ya'll!!!

I've got Cooties!!! And not the imaginary kind that members of the opposite sex are supposed to have when they are of below a certain age, nor the makes your head itch either. Rather, the kind of cooties I've got, are the ones that one would normally find in pieces of rotting logs, or perhaps more literally "under a rock!"

I got up rather early today, out of necessity more than anything else really, but found that it was a particularly refreshing and chilly morning that I did not quite want to go back to sleep. Instead, I head out to my favorite spot of the house, The Garden (second only to my room) and decided to poke about a little bit under the rocks and pots to see what I might find. It must have gone on for hours!!! Armed with nothing more than my field journal, collecting jars and a soft paint brush (I use this to handle small creatures without any of the danger of my clumsy human fingers accidentally closing too hard upon one of them) I must have spent hours digging and poking and nosing about the soil!!! Indeed the air was so calm and cool I barely even noticed the time passing.

As it turned out, the underside of rocks are homes to all manner of creatures that seemingly coexist in such small and confined spaces. One particular rock unearthed a colony of ants. While this discovery greatly interested me, the ants themselves, rather objected to this. I replaced the rock briefly, hoping that I did not cause them undue stress. Over the course of the morning, I found other similarly interesting sights (another rock I picked up revealed a fat and grumpy centipede that reared up and waved its poisonous claws in my direction. I replaced this rock rather hastily!) but the most numerous and endearing of these secretive creatures were perhaps the little wood lice.

Although some species of woodlice superficially resemble pill millipedes, they are in fact an entirely different order of creature altogether and are really crustaceans (like crabs and shrimps) that have adapted to live entirely terrestrial lives! They do not breathe through spiracles like most other invertebrates do but instead have a series of trachea-like lungs situated somewhere in the nether regions of the woodlouse. These "lungs" need to be constantly moistened if they are to continue working which is why woodlice are commonly found only where moisture is abundant or the air, humid. Needless to say, I collected quite few. The lice, I felt, would be wonderful additions for my terrariums where they can recycle organic matter and waste products of the larger insects. Not to mention, they have also come to provide a steady stream of live food for my toadlets. 

The woodlice can curl up into a sphere when frightened, which helps me narrow the species down to Armadillidae. 

Larger species of woodlice are apparently, wonderfully delicious "replacement" for prawns in any seafood dish. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nighttime Hunting

Hey ya'll 

I found myself rather refreshed today after the long drive home and decided, before entering the house, to dig around the garden a bit to see (among other things) how many snails I could find but also, what other animals might have been significantly incensed by this morning's rains that they would consent to crawling out of their hiding places and gracing me with their appearance! Some toads perhaps? Or a centipede or two? As it turned out, every pot I overturned, every hole I dug, yielded nothing more but more and more snails! They must surely be loving this wet season we are having and are probably taking the opportunity to get down on some serious eating. It is at times like these that I can't help but feel extremely sorry for gardeners like my poor mother (Snails are virtually impossible to get rid off!!!). Besides having taken a few back to observe, I also decided to mark the ones I found tonight (a small dot of nail varnish on the shell should do a trick) in an attempt to keep track of all of them and compare the growth of snails in captivity and in the wild (these conical shelled ones can grow to the size of a fully grown adult Syrian hamster... and then some!).

Now they might not look like much on their own, but snails are really a rather peculiar species of animal! I mean, besides the simple fact they (along with the millipedes) were possibly one of the first few pioneers to become fully adapted to life on land, the simply history of their evolution itself is something to remark upon. Indeed it sure looks like although a number of snails made the radical transition from sea to land that their superficial anatomy pretty much remained unchanged. The shell, for instance, which was more than adapt at defending the snail from certain predators in the ocean... turned out to be pretty useful in retaining moisture on land as well!!! Similarly, though they have diversified over vast geographical regions, their diets have remained the same and most (with a few exceptions) feed by scraping off bits of plants and algae using a toothed tongue!!! Snails generally come in all shapes and sizes but perhaps the best diversity can be found in the ocean. The snails that I find around here are of the genus Achantina and are characterized by their conical shells and large sizes.

Among all the conical shelled snails of various sizes, though, I did find a peculiar one that seemed out of place... a snail with a spiral, flat shell!!! What a find!!! They are not exceptionally rare or particularly uncommon as a species, but indeed, this was the first time I had ever seen such a snail at our garden, indeed the surrounding neighborhood! Now just wonder... how long... and over how many days did it have to creep to make it to such green pastures. It was so cute and adorable I could not bear to leave it out with the rest of the snails. Imagine if something were to happen to the poor thing... after all the effort it (possibly) took to get here! Instead I took it inside to house with the rest of my brood. I should probably start marking them soon... before they grow too much, so I can distinguish the individuals... and probably start weighing them too. In the meantime... Isn't that the cutest snail you've ever seen? 

It was wet... and sticky... and not something I would do again in a hurry... I think in the future I shall just pick them up with a stick. 
I did find other "treasures" out hunting, besides snails though, and I think the best of all would be a large and striking looking hawk moth, but I will perhaps save that specimen for a post of its own. With all the influx of other invertebrates and insects I'm almost forgetting that my main passion is with lepidoptera!!! (guilty!!!) But perhaps next season, when the swallowtails return to our garden to breed.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Scintillating Snails

Hey ya'll

Around here, an empty tank/cage/container usually means another animal that I can bring back and observe, and while exotics like the madagascar roaches, giant millipedes and mantises are all well and interesting as they come by, sometimes it is the more common and humble of animals that one can learn the most for. The rainy season has brought out with it, the snails and they have appeared in droves in our garden, chowing down on decaying plant matter mostly but also wreaking havoc where plant shoots are concerned. Thinking I might be doing a favor to the snails, my mother (who, incidentally is quite an avid gardener) and, of course myself, I decided to take these snails in and observe their life-cycles form tiny mollusks to the lumbering giants I know they will grow up to be. Housing was not an issue because, having moved the millipedes all to one large tank I now had the smaller tank Caryn presented me for my birthday "free" and it is here that the snails are being housed. As one might imagine, they are rather "uneventful" animals that wake up all night and sleep all day. Never was a metaphor more apt than the term "snail's pace" because they really are rather slow... except, of course, when they are eating.  I feed the snails on a mixture of live greens (sprouted budgie seeds) and slices of fruit (mainly apple) dusted with cuttlefish bone as a source of calcium and boy can they eat fast!!! In fact these snails can eat twice the amount of apple in just two nights than a colony of 19 Madagascar hissing roaches take to finish in 3 days. And then some! I predict that if anything, the development of these snails would be most interesting to observe indeed. 

Snails having dinner
And doing other snail-ish things, I suppose. 

Bejeweled Butterfly

Hey ya'll 

I would like to express my utmost gratitude and appreciation today, (as well as a million "thank yous" and "I love it very much-s"), to Jeremy Soon, who agreed to bedazzle my rather plain-looking Nintendo DS with rhinestone stickers. Acknowledging my love for all things creepy and crawly we agreed that the subject of his magnificent artwork should be an insect of some sort and although my original idea was to have a gold and black nephilla spider emblazoned across the enamel white gaming device, he eventually settled on one of my favorite butterfly species of all time... Priam's Green Birdwing or as it is known among us lepidopterist; Ornithoptera priamus. 

The artwork of the butterfly that was used as a reference.
I don't know exactly, how long the actual process took... but suffice to say, his deft hands and nimble fingers managed to complete the paint-staking job of sticking down the rhinestones pretty much in one day. The other challenge was perhaps the lack of colors of rhinestones available (and of course there are various shades of green on the Priamus butterfly) but I daresay that Jeremy captured the essence of the insect nonetheless. 

The artist at work... 
And all done!!!
Just some background on the butterfly: Priam's green birdwing butterfly is found on the islands of New Guinea and is perhaps one of the more variable of the birdwing species with individual subspecies displaying varying shades of green and/or blue wings. Female butterflies are significantly larger than male specimens but, like other butterflies of the birdwing family, are duller colored in comparison and do not possess the iridescence of the males. Of all the birdwing butterflies, it is one of the most widespread but is constantly threatened by habitat loss and destruction.
A live ornithoptera priamus that I encountered 6 years ago
As you can see, the butterfly is rather beautiful and I'm actually quite glad that we changed the idea from the original Nephila spider to the birdwing butterfly instead. 

Jeremy's capturing of the butterfly.
I rather fancy that the rhinestones that Jeremy uses for his artwork capture the iridescence of the real butterflies. 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

MHR Colony pt. 3 ~ The Roach Motel

Hey ya'll 

Sometime in the mid 70s, a revolutionary kind of Roach Trap was introduced called the Roach Motel. Their tagline read "Roaches check in, but they never check out!" We have a roach motel around here as well... in fact, it is one that is growing larger by the day, and when roaches check in they too never check out, but probably because they wouldn't want to. Here at our ever growing collection of live insects and other creepy crawlies, we place great importance and emphasis on the comfort and well being of our invertebrate friends and ,as such, always attempt to create as natural an environment as we can for their living quarters. 

The Motel

So this is a brief overview of our roach motel. The tank is from Exo-Terra, specifically Advanced Glass Reptile Habitat (I think they make some of the best terrariums around) with a measurement of 30x30x40 centimeters. Considering how roaches are naturally ground dwellers and forage among the forest floor I would have actually much preferred it if I could have housed them in the "wide" model (instead of the "tall" which I have now) but the terrarium was handed to me as a gift (a very generous one, I might add!) and I figure that these insects wouldn't be too picky anyway if I furnish and decorate it just right, which is what I did!!! The Roach Motel is divided into several sections which have been set up to ensure the comfort of the insects, practicality for housekeeping and also (of course!) the visual aesthetics for the entomologist voyeur who enjoys ogling at the "private" peepshow that is their lives. 

Main Apartment Complex

A series of hollowed out mangrove wood logs make up the main apartment complex of our roach motel and provide many safe and dark spaces for the roaches to hide in during the day (which is important to ensure that they do not get unduly stressed from prolonged exposures to the light). Because Madagascar hissing roaches are territorial in nature and form social hierarchies within their colonies, you can imagine that location  of living on the log is very much related to social standing within the colony itself. Paolo (our dominant male) for instance inhabits the "pent house" or rather the upper most part of the main log. All around him are the females and sub-adults. He occasionally patrols th e entire length of the log and will sometimes permit one of the other males (who hiss subservience to him) to inhabit its lower quarters. Males who challenge his dominance get kicked off of the log and inhabit one of the minor logs which surround the main. In the daytime (as when this picture is taken) the log seems devoid of life, but at night it is positively crawling with roaches of all sizes. 


Though not actually a nursery in the sense of the  literal definition of the world many of the smaller nymphs and juvenile roaches have taken to residing in this "cave" created by the strategic packing of dirt and the overlapping of two logs. They do venture out occasionally but (possibly because of their much smaller size) are extremely shy and will not eat outside of the safety of their "burrow". Food is usually brought into the cave and eaten right at the entrance. As you can imagine this makes cleaning somewhat of a hassle but it is fortunate that the babies seem to be in possession of a more voracious appetite than their seniors and usually do not leave behind any leftovers.

Cafe and Eatery

At the bottom of the log, just outside the entrance to the "nursery" is the Roach cafe, or eatery where a variety of foods are served on a daily basis. As a staple diet, the roaches are fed on protein rich dried dog  or turtle pellets but is also supplemented with slices of cut fruits and vegetables.  Also scattered around the tank are bits and pieces of dead leaves and other such plant matter that has been soaked and run under water thoroughly to remove harmful chemicals/bacteria. These are present in case a roach might desire something more fibrous as a snack. As you may notice there is no water dish in this tank but the roaches do get their water intake from the fruits and vegetables they eat and those who stick only to dry food will no doubt get their moisture from the daily "rains" which are provided by heavy misting. Some roaches clearly do not like this and scurry away to hide while others seem to have been invigorated by the misting and would come out to forage.

The Gardens

And besides simply providing a daily source of water for the roaches, misting is also very important in tending to the roach's very own garden!!! A portion of the cage is left cleared and a scattering of budgie seeds are mixed into the soil. When the grasses grow to a significant height, they often provide an additional source of food for the roaches. As you can see, the roaches are rather systematic about it and defoliate the grasses as they grow in a uniform direction, working their way to the glass-side of the tank. As imaginable with so many individuals in the tank, these seeds have to be replaced quite often!!! 


As you can see, we really do put in extraordinary effort into keeping our insects comfortable. The cage is spot cleaned once every two days to prevent the rotting of leftover food and this is usually done during the day (when the roaches are all hidden and sleeping) to prevent any disruption in their nightly routines and I imagine that the roaches themselves might appreciate this gesture (don't you just hate it when people try to "clean up" in the middle of your doing something!). We are still planning to expand the Roach motel in the future but for now, we think that these residences suit their needs most proficiently. Wouldn't you agree? 

A happy roach is a healthy roach


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ray Says: Beautiful Un-expectation


This is Raymond and due to the fact that I haven't written anything in this blog for a really really really long time, I have decided to further my involvement here with this blog. Of course, Cyren "insisted" that I write once in a while to prevent my writing skill from spiraling into an abyss of atrocity.

So, something amazing (as some of you would call it) happened a few hours ago to me. While I was strolling to a nearby cafe for dinner, unexpectedly, a butterfly crashed down onto the pavement not more than a 5 steps in front of me. I just stood there staring at it as it helplessly strove to fly again. Alas, it could not and it lay there - still.

Upon closer inspection, it was not any of the common butterflies I saw around the vicinity. Without further hesitation, I gently let it crawled to my palm and I waited for it to fly. Yet, it strove and to no avail. So, I held it on my palm (no container) with a paper covered it (I did not intend to answer others when asked why would I have a butterfly on my hand). Oh and the reason why I kept it because obviously, I wanted to show Cyren.

I ate faster than usual and ran back home at once in case the butterfly chose not to befriend me and hopped off to commit suicide. When I got home, I took a picture as shown below:

Though me and Cyren are still discussing the exact species of it, he did mention it was rare. Any help from the lovely readers would be much appreciated. As of now, the little critter is resting peacefully in a container I dug up from my room. That's all from me.

May bugs be forever with us (tacky, I know)

Cyren's update: Thanks to Khalid, we can now safely identify this butterfly as the common mime (Chilasa/Papilio clytia clytia)

Friday, March 23, 2012

MHR colony pt. 2 ~ Expansion and Turf wars

Hey ya'll 

so aside from the rather awkward documentary video, I have some new updates on my Madagascar hissing cockroach colony, namely the inclusion of additional individuals into the bunch. As of right now, the colony consists of a modest total of 13 individuals with the individual make up being 

  • 3 adult males 
  • 4 adult females 
  • 6 juveniles/nymphs
Because the males of this species can be quite territorial, you can imagine that the introduction of so many new individuals caused a little bit of a "turf war" last night as the roaches attempted to establish the hierarchy of the colony. One contender against the other, they battled it out, all vying for the largest portion of driftwood upon which he can establish his territory. Quite surprisingly it was Paolo (he was in the video with me), the "friendliest" of all my roaches, that ultimately won the fights. In fact, there were moments when he rammed into his opponents so hard the entire log began to tremble and shake (I kid you not!). I read that these battles are often accompanied by fierce hissing from both sides of the battlefield but thusfar I have not observed any such occurrence. Indeed the insects seem to perform the headbutting in relative silence and the only sounds are that made by the log as it trembles from the aftermath of their exertions.

A sort of hierarchy has been established with Paolo and Isabella as the dominant couple. Other females crowd around Isabella (who has gotten really fat and inactive and simply sits there on the log all day) and the juveniles are never too far away. One of the newly introduced males may be considered a subordinate and stays close, but on the outskirts of the colony while the other male has left entirely to lead his hermetic existence in the least occupied and frequented corner of the tank.  Small fights still break out every now and then when one of the other males stray too close, or if Paolo stumbles into one of them but they are getting less frequent. What amuses me is sometimes that Paolo gets so eager in his battles that he accidentally rams into one of the females in his harem and they all hiss their discontentment at him in unison. I'll try to get this on film someday but it is unfortunately difficult because most of these activities take place at night. 

Check out these new guys!!! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Insect Zoo

Hey ya'll

of all the dreams and aspirations that I've had over the years, there has been one long standing one that I have always wished to accomplish, and that is to someday open Cyren's Insectarium/Insect zoo... a tropical green-house like setting where I can house a multitude of insects that will be open for visitors to come and learn about these amazing creatures, and hopefully dispel some of the negative stereotypes about insects. So many environmental/conservation efforts are focused on the prolific and typically "cute/majestic" animals like Rhinoceros and Pandas but not many have explicitly acknowledged and promoted the importance and values of some of natures smallest and most often overlooked of inhabitants. I took part in a contest recently, by AmBank that will hopefully bring me one step closer to reaching this dream of mine! As such, I would greatly appreciate it if you could vote for my video entry.

Simply follow THIS LINK, "like" the Facebook page and then choose to "vote now". My entry is in the "videos" section and will contain the following video.

SO SORRY IF I COME OFF ENTIRELY TOO AWKWARD!!! It feels weird talking to a camera.


Mysterious Larva pt. 2 ~ Silk and Hair

Hey ya'll

I write in with some updates on the "Mysterious Larva" we found on the walkway at Sunway several days ago. 

Well, my suspicions were proven true once again and we opened the container today to find that it had spun for itself a beautiful silken cocoon. Like many other furry lepidoptera, the hairs seem to have been incorporated into the cocoon structure itself.

What did I tell you? Isn't that the cutest looking ball of silk you've ever seen? Meanwhile I really love it how some moths spin cocoons like these! It reminds me of that scene in Godzilla vs. Mothra when the larval Mothra spun a cocoon just like this one alongside the Tokyo tower!!! In the meantime, I suppose there is really nothing left to do but wait!!! The caterpillar/cocoon is rather large so I suppose the adult moth might be pretty huge as well!!! Stay tuned for pictures and updates.


Let it Grow~

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

MHR colony ~ Death

Hey ya'll 

I couldn't help but take some time off to write this as our MHR colony just witnessed its first casualty. Perhaps it was the stress of travelling (being moved out of its old colony), or perhaps even some problems with molting, but one of the female roaches that I brought back from Dr. Saga's collection started behaving very strangely yesterday. The unfortunate event came as somewhat of a shock I'm afraid as the insect had earlier seemed to be fitting in rather well into its new surroundings. Indeed for the next few hours after introducing it into the tank I had observed it following the rest of its tank mates up and down the driftwood, scurry in the soil, even nibble on bits of dried leaves and apple but things gradually began to take a turn for the worse. 

It all started when the individual began to behave rather irritably towards the rest of the colony, hissing fiercely and scurrying backwards whenever another roach came into contact with it. Eventually it started to isolate itself, but rather than calming down its actions started to get rather frantic. From what I had observed (and recall) there seems to be a distinct pattern to this supposedly "erratic" behavior. First the cockroach would rear up on its hind legs. Cockroaches are thigmokinetic and generally respond well when a large majority of its surface area is in contact with an object (they feel safe this way) so it was then that I knew off the bat that there was something quite wrong here. In fact this particular cockroach seemed to be trying to get as far away as it could from its surroundings. The other thing I noticed when it started to do this was the lowering of its antenna (all the way down so that it tucked underneath the head) and how it would flail its other limbs about wildly in the air! This was followed by a rather violent hunching motion where the cockroach would lurch its thorax forward before flipping its abdomen inward at a 90 degree angle. At times it seemed to do this so suddenly that the force was enough to knock it right off its perch! When this happened, it demonstrated great difficulty in turning itself over again. Initially I thought that the roach might be molting and so I gave the habitat a quick misting to raise the humidity somewhat to aid the process.

By 2am nothing much had changed (except that the cockroach seemed significantly weaker) and I was beginning to worry by now that it might have an infection that could spread to the rest of my colony so I removed it and placed it in a smaller tank still hoping for the best. I must have been worrying more than I thought I was because in my dreams, I kept having these lucid dreams of Madagascar roaches splitting through their skins and crawling all over the place. I woke up rather blurry eyed to find that reality was not quite the same though. The roach was on its back, but still very much alive with its legs and antennae flailing weakly in the air. I helped flip it over and left for work. Dr. Saga called in response to the email I sent him later in the day to mention that this might be some sort of mating behavior. I thought this might be unlikely because the female cockroach in mention was possibly only in her 4th or 5th instar (roaches don't become sexually mature until their 6th) but I thought that it was also possible that she might have been a very small female and this allayed my fears somewhat.  Turns out it was a false sense of security, if anything. Returned home to find the roach quite dead. This worries me somewhat but as I notice the rest of the colony still behaving in an (apparently) healthy manner, I suppose this might be an isolated incident.
Set out on the drying board. Waste not, want not eh?
I suppose I will need to monitor the tank extra closely for the next few days or so.

All around the world people are trying to kill roaches, and here I am trying to make sure these individuals stay as comfortable as possible, and breed as prolifically as they can!!! Story of my life... but then again, these aren't just any regular roaches!  


Monday, March 19, 2012

Roaches, Doctors, and other Pleasant Encounters

Hey ya'll!!! 

Making lots of friends sometimes means that you also get to meet tons of interesting people in life! For instance today, when Ray finally introduced me to Dr. Sagathevan (more familiarly known to his students as Dr. Saga). Now, I'm sure if you're a Sunway student, and one from the school of science no less, you might know Dr. Saga immediately as the "lecturer who is so passionate about animals!" and he is, as I learnt today when he gave me a tour of the biology lab and showed me some of his taxidermized and live animal collections. I must say it is actually quite an honor to be shown around by an actual biologist!!! The reason why Ray arranged a meeting for us, however, was really so that Dr. Saga might help me out with my plans to breed the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Indeed my own pair (which were obtained almost a month ago) seem to be rather incompatible with each other and though the male is quite intent on breeding, the female is not. I got rather tired of attempting to "induce" mating between the two when the female was quite clearly unwilling to do so and rather hoped that Dr. Saga would be able to provide me with additional females to try my luck with. As it turned out, he was more than willing to contribute and as a result, I left our meeting feeling very much enlightened and delighted at having made a new acquaintance, but also with three additional members for my budding roach colony. 

The roaches have since been moved into one of my larger "habitats" (the old tank would be a little too crowded for all five of them, I think) and seem to be doing very well. My original pair, which usually do nothing more than hide under the piece of driftwood, occasionally coming out to feed, have grown much more confident with the addition of the new tank-mates and have all come out of their little cave to "forage" even as I write this now. 

And speaking of pleasant encounters, we were just about leaving from our meeting with Dr. Saga when Ray suddenly spotted this magnificent looking creature wriggling quite restlessly among a patch of calyptocarpus flowers (incidentally the calyptocarpus is of the family asteraceae, from which my other name derives from). I knew from a glance that it could not have possibly been living off the little plants with their small dainty flowers because there were no bite marks and a quick look overhead confirmed that it must have somehow come down from the tree above (the leaves were positively riddled with bite marks!). At a glance it reminded me of nothing more than one of the noctuiidae caterpillars (but much larger of course) but I also had a suspicion that it might in fact be of the family arctiidae. Well, there's only one way to be sure and we have since collected it and shall wait patiently for it to metamorphose before determining exactly what kind of moth it will eventually be. 

Watch out for the all new chronicles of the Mystery larva #2
Anyway I'm just taking the time off to write in from what promises to be a rather busy week! Assignments are possibly due at the end of the week and I really need to see many of my students through it! Especially the first years, so do expect some delays in the posting for the time being. 

ps. On a separate note I've finally started placing my bettas into the breeding set up. The male so far has responded quite enthusiastically (the bubble nest is thicker and larger than I've ever seen before!) while the female has taken to hiding behind the water plants, but I'm told that that's also to be expected. Hoping for babies soon!!!

pps. Keric (Grammostola rosea) started to refuse food as of last Saturday so I'm expecting a molt soon within the next two weeks, hopefully. Wish me luck!!!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mothering Mantises

Hey ya'll 

I am afraid that I have neglected to report a rather unfortunate turn of events and some pretty sad news, but with the positive hype that was surrounding the celebrations of my birthday finally coming to an end, I do not see any reason to withhold this any further. Dian-Dian, our female praying mantis (Hierodula membranacea) had a fall whilst molting and while this may not sound like a very big deal (insects are generally more than well equipped to deal with falls), such an accident during the molting process generally ends in death. An insect, you see, is covered by a tough, water-proof like material called chitin which composes the insect's exoskeleton.

Throughout its brief life, it is the exoskeleton that gives many insects their unique appearance and protects them from the elements and predators. Generally speaking, this exoskeleton is really pretty tough and durable but there are moments during the insect's life when it needs to be shed in order to make way for a new and stronger one that had been growing underneath. When the insect sheds its old exoskeleton, the new layer underneath is still quite soft and takes quite some time to harden. This is to enable it to expand so that the insect can, too, increase with size. Now an insect with a soft exoskeleton is really nothing more than a collection of gooey fluids trapped inside a very thin bag of membranes and tissues so imagine, if you may, what might happen if you were to drop such an object from a great height upon a hard and unrelenting surface! The results are best left to your imagination but should the insect even survive the impact of the initial fall, it is often so deformed as a result that it finds itself quite crippled when the exoskeleton eventually hardens up.

Dian Dian our Giant Asian Mantis (Hierodula membranacea) after her little accident. Note the awkward posture of her body, dysfunctional leg on the left side, and strangely positioned claws which cause them to overlap thus making it difficult for her to catch her own food. 
Fortunately for Dian-Dian, the fall took place only within a short distance and it just so happened that I was there to notice it and rescue her. Unfortunately, though she did not suffer any fatal injuries, the accident had left her quite deformed with one dysfunctional leg and a rather awkward and twisted posture that positioned her claws in such a way that made it pretty much impossible for her to capture prey on her own. Needless to say I was quite saddened and disappointed by this as I had put in much effort into raising her and was hoping to breed her with our earlier mantis (currently residing in Sabah). My spirits were lifted, however, when she recently began accepting hand-fed food and demonstrated that she could easily feed herself if the worms were offered within the grasp of her claws. I'm hoping as such that these deformities can be corrected with the following molt (insects can regrow lost limbs with each molt so why not a posture problem?) and I'm feeding her with worms that have been themselves fed with nutritious vegetables and supplementing this with calcium powder made from ground cuttlefish bones (the powder is generally for my amphibians).

Feeder Worms: Today on the menu Carrots!!!
Cocaine for bugs!!! NAH! I'm JUST KIDDING!!! It's ground cuttlefish bones that I use as a calcium supplement for my newts.  
Anyways I think things are definitely looking up for now so please stay tuned for updates and wish me all the best in this undertaking!!!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Birthdays, Birds and other Adventures

Hey ya'll 

It is not often that I have had friends around to celebrate my birthday (usually we're on separate continents of the world) and as such I have gotten quite accustomed to having quiet little birthdays, which are more formal-ish gatherings of dinner and drinks and light but hearty conversation before going home to sleep off, what I imagine are the ravages of yet another year added on to my life. No such "luck" this year though and from having dinner with Caryn on the eve of my birthday to meeting up with Jeremy the day after I truly had quite a memorable 23rd birthday (everything my 21st promised to be but wasn't!). But seriously though, I am extremely grateful and very much thankful for everyone's kind wishes and wonderful gestures this year. Indeed to top it all off they all seemed to have gotten together behind my back to plan this amazing surprise picnic in the Lake Gardens, followed by a outing to the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. 

SURPRISED!!!! Evidently I make a botox face whenever I'm surprised!!! *Stretch out those wrinkles Cy!!! Every one year you celebrate your birthday you grow a little bit older!!!*
Huff and puff and blow out my two candles!!! Hahaha one for each decade (plus three!!!)
It was simply amazing!!! A scene straight out of one of those movies, and Farah (who on her superawesome diet managed to loose 7kgs in just 2 weeks!) was kind enough to bake me this delicious peanut butter and chocolate cake with a little purple icing butterfly on it!!! Everyone else brought something too (Jia Wei brought baked potatoes and Caryn brought home made chicken-potato pie while Ray brought drinks and ice) which of course, made me feel like a terrible free loader!!! Ray had to keep reminding me that it was MY birthday party and I was therefore not required to bring anything. Oh!!!! 

Datin Vu/Farah sipping A&W  Rootbeer shortly before I noticed a small crab spider making itself comfortable in her hair!!! Reminds me somewhat of the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet... 
Of course, being in the great outdoors meant that we were naturally greeted by greedy and inquisitive little animals who were more than shameless about imposing themselves upon our little meal. Among them was a beautiful little black striped squirrel (Callosciurus sp.) who was quite bashful at first but when beckoned to, found himself quite attracted to the delicious smells of Farah's fruit salad diet. I ended up giving him a small piece of fruit which he promptly took up to the tree to nibble on. Other animals of the day included a pair of surprisingly tame swallows and a poor pigeon who seemed to have lost an eye in a fight. I wish there was more we could do for it but Ray managed to convince me to leave it as it was (it seemed to be fine as the owner of a nearby stall apparently made a habit of feeding it) and I did. 

We'd almost finished with our lunch when (and I'm not sure who it is anymore) Farah (or perhaps Caryn) suggested that since we were all at the Lake Gardens that we should make a trip to the birdpark which was nearby so we all agreed. The entrance fee was quite exorbitant though (25 Ringgit!!!) but in retrospect it was fairly worth it and after and after a rather uneventful initial tour seeing virtually nothing but herons, crowned pigeons and peacocks, we did get to meet with some of the more exotic bird species. 

Peahen  (Pavo cristatus) and her chicks. If you look really closely you can see the baby right under the mother's wing!!! Interestingly enough, peahens make rather devoted parents.  Pictured here is actually the peahen spreading her wings to shade the little chick on what was a rather hot day.
The male peacock of course is too busy philandering with other ladies that he doesn't take much notice in what's going on with his family's lives. Here he is, preening to a gaggle of tourists
Also were these elegant flamingos (Phoenicopterus) that Caryn wanted so much to see. They remind me of aliens somewhat... the way they are all stick like and knobbly at one end, and then lithe and curvy on the other!!! Flamingos are not naturally born pink. In fact their chicks are covered with rather dirty-looking gray-white down feathers. It is only through their diet that they eventually turn pink. A diet that is poor in these natural coloring might result in otherwise healthy individuals lacking in the startling pinkness that has become a trademark of this species.
Also present were enough parrots of various hues and colors that could make even a rainbow cry!!!
Getting chummy with the sun-conures (Aratinga solstitialis)...

And this lovely blue-variant of the Indian ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri) 
Of all these, the most friendly were to be found in the Parrot House where several species of parrots and lorikeets greeted us with their shrill calls and raucous squawks!!! I think everyone was quite enjoying this part of the trip and I, naturally, was the first to volunteer to be used as a human perch for the noisy but colorful things. I suppose the others might have volunteered too but the birds chose that precise moment to defecate, noisily and wetly, all over the floor!!! Fortunately they ejected these out projectile like and so my person (being the thing they were standing on whilst doing this) was spared from being covered in any form of bird excrement!!! Not so lucky was the poor tourist girl trying to take a picture of one of the birds on me, though.   
These Chattering Lories (Lorius garrulus) were the worst of the entire lot!!! They kept bullying the other birds who were trying to feed off of the nectar cup I was holding and upon finishing their fair share, tried bullying me (by intense pecking and clawing) into giving them more as well!! 
My favorite was the eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus) who was, despite its gigantic size, rather gentle and "slow" looking if you know what I mean. The eclectus parrots are a rather interesting and beautiful species because, unlike other birds in the parrot family, they demonstrate extreme sexual dimorphism. The bird you see above here is a male. The females, on the other hand have black beaks, striking blue tails but a predominantly scarlet body. 
Anyway in conclusion... I really had the most SUPERAWESOMEST DAY today guys!!! Thank you so much!!! Farah, Jia Wei, Ray... and especially you, Caryn, whose idea (I'm told) was to hold this "party" for me in the first place!!!