Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A series of lepidopteran surprises!!!

Hey ya'll 

first and foremost, allow me to apologize for my unannounced period of absence. Not that I'm under the illusion that my blog has such a huge following or anything, but it always makes me feel better to apologize. Anyway as you might imagine, things have been getting pretty crazy around here (as they usually are when I fail to post updates here) and I think this is a very good example of one of those instances where you decide that you can handle a bunch of stuff at the start of the year only to realize, later on when they all fall down upon you, what a big mistake that was! Anyway, the worst of this 'hell spell' has somewhat abated and I am very much looking forward to my vacation to Perhentian Island next week! In the meantime, despite the unpredictable weather and incessant haziness, I've been getting a lot of lepidopteran surprises over the week! Beautiful butterflies and moths, literally popping out of nowhere! Talk about a sight for sore eyes! Anyway as I have put off collecting insects for the time being (I know it's probably silly of me but I can't bring myself to do it for the time being after Honey passed) most of these I just appreciated and then let them be on their merry way. But I did find some already-dead ones by the light that I thought might be worth adding to my collection. 

This moth, for instance caught my eye the moment I saw it! Not very big in terms of size but it has the most beautiful striking red abdomen, reminiscent of those you might see in Atrophaneura butterflies. 

This Sphingid moth on the other hand was very much alive when I found it. It was buzzing around with such ferocity that I had to catch it and place it in a container for it to calm down before I could snap a picture (it would have flown away otherwise). Khalid has identified it as Hippotion rosetta and, judging from the splashes of red peeking out from underneath its upper wings, I'm sure you can see why! I really do love Sphingids! They are arguably some of the 'manliest' looking, and yet stunningly beautiful moths one can ever find. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Angel is finally starting to recover. He had enough strength today, even, to step up and take treats offered from my hand. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Loving Lycaenids

Hey ya'll 

The next few weeks are going to be exceptionally hectic!!! Not only are the PhD application dates drawing perilously close, all the activities that I have so "cleverly" spaced out at the start of the year all seem to be falling in "that week" or "another"... more out of necessity than anything and I'm "forced" to get those out of the way as well! To top it all off, another animal under my care has fallen ill. Angel, our budgerigar has been having a case of the runs. He's recovered from them before, but I'm not taking any risk. I've written in to Dr. Jenny for a prescription of anti-diarrhea medication. Unfortunately for all parties involved I can only fetch them on Friday which means... I basically have to make time to get away from my marking and writing to get the medication. Dr. Jenny has also asked for a stool sample... as fresh as possible, so that makes my window a lot narrower. Well, at least I've finally started to find a narrower and more precise focus for my PhD research topic.

With all the mayhem that's been going on though, I am quite glad to report that the lycaenids have started to return!!! Related perhaps to the recent bout of construction work that has been mushrooming all around the campus grounds of late (prompting my initiative to kick-start a butterfly garden/breeding pit stop), Lycaenid numbers had dropped to an all new low and I was beginning to think that many of them would be gone for good! Indeed, for the past 6 months I had been fearing as such. These butterflies rely, after all, on the hospitality of the specific species of ants that hosted them and with all the digging that's been going on... why let's just say I was very much concerned. Apparently, some butterflies are made of much stronger stuff! And of course, their ants too, for I saw today, on a patch of wild flowers, a rabble of these minuscule butterflies! What a wonderful sight! My dearest friend and fellow insect blogger Brittanie McCormack is quite fond of saying that Nature has a way of connecting with those who loves Her, and I truly believe that! But all in all, I'm just so glad to be seeing these guys back here again! Perhaps, in time the other varieties of larger lycaenids would start to return as well. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Butterfly Garden Pre-Activity Outing

Hey ya'll 

Thanks to the efforts of Joanne Tong, Carolyn Tay and the Monash University Green Representative Movement, the Butterfly Garden that I had envisioned could be set up around campus grounds as a permanent breeding spot for our insect friends is finally coming to fruition. But while the administrative body are going about their own way, settling the paperwork and everything else that is required before we can actually begin building and planting this garden, the student volunteers and myself are off to a lot more "fun" things so that we can start to learn more about butterflies, insects, and appreciating these animals in general. This weekend, we had our first "meetup" of sorts, which took place as a short session where I could do what I do best; talk about butterflies. The "outing" was divided into two sessions, a sit-down session and a part where we tried to spot butterflies and their young in the wild and while I must say I had fun getting to know everyone via the sit-down session, it was the spotting them in the wild that really got me going. And here are some pictures courtesy of Miss Nurul Tasnim. 

The weather was not favorable when we set out that day, but fortunately, things began to pick up and the sun started to shine halfway into our walk which in turn started to stir the butterflies. Having just awoken from their temperature induced slumber, many of the butterflies were still quite 'tame' that morning as they went about their way, sipping nectar from the freshly blossoming flowers.

However, while butterflies are quite easy to spot but this is hardly ever the case for their larvae and pupae. Here I think the students are trying their best to spot the spiny caterpillars of the Tawny Coster (acrea terpsicore) on the leaves of the wild-growing passion vines. 
Finally! Our first caterpillar sighting. Can you see it? 
The caterpillars of acrea terpsicore are gregarious, which means they seem to enjoy each other's company.  However, this is only the case with caterpillars from the smaller instars as I've observed the larger ones tend to lead relatively solitary lives before finding a nice spot upon which they can hang and pupate from.
Here. a larger caterpillar hangs on its own as it begins to pupate. This poor fellow was unfortunately attacked by ants before it could finish. We tried saving it, by blowing and brushing as many of the ants off, but the caterpillar began to succumb to the poison from the ant bites and we didn't see any reason to deprive the ants of a meal after that. 
We didn't see much in terms of other butterflies there and were lucky to find this single Peacock pansy (Junonia  almana) fluttering among the flowers. Here I am showing my students the eye spots which give the butterfly its name. 
No worries though! No butterflies or any other animal was harmed in the process of our outing! Here is the very same butterfly shortly after it was released. 
All in all, I think we had a great outing! If there was anything i regretted or wish I could change about it, it would have to be the lack of variety we saw on that day. But I suppose there's nothing to it. We do not control nature, after all. Perhaps for our next trip we should go somewhere a lot more 'wild'. The Ampang Forest sounds like a really good choice!