Thursday, December 26, 2013

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly

The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera alexandrae) is the largest butterfly in the world. It is also one of the few species of butterflies that are truly protected by law. The butterfly, which was named in 1907 in honor of Queen Alexandra of Denmark by Walter Rothschild, measures a whopping 13 inches from one wing to the other and can only be found in a very restricted eco-zone in the coastal rainforests of Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. The butterfly is listed on the Appendix 1 of CITES, which makes all trade of the insect illegal. Specimens of the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing can fetch up to 10,000 US dollars on the black market. Despite this, the main threat to the butterfly's population is arguably not collectors, but the felling of old growth rainforest for plantation land for the palm oil trade which is slowly cutting into the meager 100 square kilometers of rainforest in which the butterfly is exclusively found. The population of Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterflies also faced a significant blow during the eruption of Mount Lamington in the 1950s, which destroyed a significant portion of the species' former habitat. 

Like all birdwing butterflies, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing displays extreme sexual dimorphism. The female, which can reach a wingspan of 13 inches, body length of 3 inches and a body mass of 12 grams (all enormous measurements for a butterfly) is predominantly brown in color with cream or white markings arranged in rows on its wings while the much smaller male displays wings that are an iridescent blue-green in color and have a wingspan of approximately 9 inches or smaller. Male butterflies sometimes develop gold spots on their hind wings and this "atavus" form is often considered to be one of the most spectacular of all birdwing butterflies. 

Female butterflies lay approximately 27 eggs throughout their lifetime on plants of the genus pararistolochia. The larvae imbibe aristolochic acids from the plant's leaves which in turn functions as a potent vertebrate poison that defends them from many predators. The life cycle from egg to pupa takes about 6 weeks to complete. Pupation generally lasts for a month, and the butterflies emerge from their chrysalis only in the early mornings when the sun is not yet at its peak and the air is humid because the enormous wings may dry out before they have fully expanded if the humidity drops. and adult butterflies can live for an average of three to four months. Because of their toxicity and large size they have very few predators aside from large Orb weaving spiders (Nephila spp.) and some birds which have developed methods for eating poisonous butterflies. Adult butterflies are strong fliers and rarely stray from the canopy making them rather difficult to observe. In fact, the first butterfly to be discovered was actually taken with the aid of a small shotgun by Albert Stewart Meek (a collector under the employment of Rothschild) but subsequent specimens were obtained from captive bred stock after Meek discovered the early stages for the species. 

If you like what you see, you can check out more of my artwork, updated regularly at:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reviews of a Poke'mon Entomologist: Vivillon

Hey ya'll 

So Nintendo just announced a couple of new things recently in conjunction with the Poke'mon franchise, and in addition to the news of a new type being introduced (it is Fairy, btw), two new species of Poke'mon have alos been added to the mix one of which is the pretty butterfly Poke'mon, Vivillon. Vivillon is described on the official Poke'mon website as a beautiful butterfly Poke'mon that can perform status attacks by dislodging the scales on its wings, or create strong gusts of wind. The description of it is fairly typical, as far as bug Poke'mon go and Vivillon is pretty standard in this regard. In terms of its name I can only guess that it combines the words "Vivid" and "Papillon" (which is French, for butterfly) or "Papillio" (which is the latin name for swallowtail butterflies) literally meaning a brightly colored butterfly Poke'mon. It recycles many traits that are pretty standard of previous butterfly-moth Poke'mon and seems to particularly embody physical aspects of generation 1's Butterfree and generation 3's Beautifly. Vivillon's type is purpoted to be Bug and Flying which, again is not particularly remarkable as many Bug Poke'mon share that typical combination. Part of me is hoping, however, that Nintendo will do a surprise switcheroo at the end and maybe give it a more unique type casting, perhaps Bug and Psychic, or maybe even Bug and Fairy. Having said that I am quite psyched by the appearance of this poke'mon as it marks the return of the butterfly-moth that was introduced in almost every installment of the poke'mon game save the latest Black-White edition.  Am definitely going to give Pokemon X and Y a go when it comes out later in the year, even if it means having to buy a whole new console for it. Which brings me to the question: anyone have second hand Nintendo 3DS for sale? 

ps. if you haven't yet noticed it, check out the animated Vivillon that now inhabits my side bar! Pretty nifty huh? 

Cheers, Cyren

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Never Forget

Hey ya'll

What's really sad about the state of the world today is that people always complain about how ugly it is, or how corrupted... about how all beauty is lost, when the fact is that that couldn't be any more further than the truth! Beauty still exists. Despite all we've done to the planet, it's still there.  Want to try to find some beauty in your life? Try to be more observant to the things around you. 

Beauty is everywhere. The problem is most people these days don't bother to look. We expect beauty to be presented to us on a silver platter, or a silver screen, the way we are so used to being entertained by our computers, television sets, and smart phones, and so are equally quick to judge the "world" as an ugly place when its beauty is not readily visible to our eyes.

But I challenge you today, to take a walk around your neighborhood. When you've found a comfortable spot, bring yourself down to the level of the Earth. Now, I want you to observe a blade of grass. Pay attention to every detail of it, the way it grows out of its roots, the shade of purple in the smallest petals of the impossibly small flowers, the delicate wisps of fur that sometimes grow from the stalk. For a brief moment try to appreciate the complexity of it. Remind yourself that this is not "just a blade of grass" you are looking at, but a living thing. An organism with a complex system of cells and processes that contributes to the life giving oxygen that we all breathe.  And then try to look even further, observe the many creatures that frequent that blade of grass.

There are always ants of course, but if you look even closer you might see other things. Woodlice, perhaps, that can roll into perfect spheres when they are alarmed. Or maybe even the almost microscopic creatures. So small that they would seem like "insects" to the already diminutive insects!  Sit there for fifteen minutes or half an hour or so and take note of the various activities these animals partake in, so busy in their own tasks, or too small to may anything else any significance. I hope it won't take you too long before you realize that there is an entire world that is centered upon this blade of grass! Now take a step back and look all around you.  Take in every single blade of grass in the area, each containing its own secret little society. Take a step back further and think about this on the scale of the entire neighborhood. There are multiple "worlds" within our world, so close to us and yet so invisible from our own. Each blade of grass is its own community, each garden, a world, each patch of green, a universe! 

My friends, there is beauty everywhere (especially where there is a little Green!). One only need take the effort to look. 

Life History of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus).
photo source:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memoirs of a Light Trapper - Miniature Monsters pt. 2

Hey ya'll 

It's been quite a while since my last update and the reason for that is that I have been quite busy with sorting out the logistics of my field study at Gopeng Hill, Malaysia. The field study, which will commence next year, is part of the research requirement for my dissertation as a Doctor of Philosophy candidate and will consist of an 8 month stay with the Semai Orang Asli in smaller periods of 2 months at a time in 2014. There, I hope to be able to witness the initiative and participation of the Semai in conservation of biodiversity through their involvement in ecotourism. But more on that later. For now I would like to upload the rest of the pictures from our light trapping expedition last month. Our photographer, Miss Joanne Tong has had her hands full with work from her other expeditions and I am very grateful to her for having been able to assist us in documenting some of the magnificent finds from our trip. Photographing insects proved to be something of a challenge to her, as she had never before participated in a light trapping experiment of this scale but to see her sitting out doors in front of our light traps, a jumble of beetles, moths, and cicadas fluttering about her hair was to see the mark of a photographer, dedicated to capturing the perfect image of her subjects! And boy did these images turn out wonderfully. She even remarked, jokingly, that up close many of the insects she photographed reminded her of of very tiny (albeit cuter versions of) monsters. 


I haven't really had the time to go about identifying each and every one of them, but I have posted the photographs on facebook where they may be identified by some more experienced lepidopterist friends of mine and you can bet that I will be back to update on this post as and when the species and genera come to me! In the meantime, I hope everyone has had an eventful and fruitful year thus far! Just a few more days before June comes along and we'd be halfway into 2013!!! Isn't it funny how fast time flies? And on that note, I shall leave you with a picture of my trap setup and the little insects that were attracted to it.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chinese Wildlife Park a devious guise for a Tiger Farm


This is a picture of the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in Guilin, China. The establishment houses over 1500 captive tigers which is the largest concentration of tigers in the world (perhaps more than half of what is thought to remain in the wild). Despite being littered with billboards declaring the park's dedication to protecting wildlife, many of the animals are skinny, underfed, and covered with sores. The reason for this, as revealed in the stunning expose by Richard Jones in 2010, the tigers are far more valuable dead than alive.

The Wildlife Park was founded in 1993 with only 60 tigers by Chinese millionaire Zhou Weisen. Under the guise of conservation and re-population, the park launched intensive breeding initiatives that quickly raised their numbers to the hundreds, then thousands (The park's current population of 1500 tigers is more than 2500% of the original group). And yet, the sad fact is that many of these tigers will never be rehabilitated. Some tigers are kept in open cages for display, others are locked in small concrete enclosures in perpetual darkness.

Here, they will spend their lives in concrete cells wasting away from malnutrition, neglect, and illnesses until they die. The nightmarish "tour" of Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village ends with a trip to the establishment's "Science Hall", where a cheery salesperson (often a young woman) will offer to sell visitors six- and nine- year vintages of tiger wine at at £60, £92 and £185 a bottle. As quoted by Jones, "We have more than 1,500 tigers,' she says. 'There is no lack of raw materials for us. There are a few hundred dead tigers lying in our freezers. I can promise you that we sell only authentic tiger products." This response is significant for two reasons the first being that it displays the flippantly callous attitudes of the staff for the well being of their tigers, the second (even worse) would seem to imply that Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village is not much of a wildlife park, as much as it is the highly publicized "cover" for a tiger farm.

Tiger wine is a medicinal tonic made by distilling the bones of tigers in rice wine/spirits for a long period of time. The resulting concoction is said to be an elixir that can cure arthritis, relieve rheumatism, and even prolong life! Understandably, it is also one of the most expensive! The bones of a single tiger, which might weight about 55 pounds, can sell for as much as 250,000 pounds to the right buyer. As one might imagine, seedy entrepreneurs and greedy businessmen are all to quick to exploit this myth which has resulted in what is believed to be one of the largest scale trade of exotic animal products in history!

Tiger Bone Wine is a non-elixir, based upon the erroneous claim that the distillation process can capture the "essence" or "strength" of the tiger. Scientifically speaking, these claims hold no merit as the bones of tigers may be said to be essentially the same to the bones of cows, or sheep, or even humans! They are all made out of the same biological substance and have no medical properties to speak of! Indeed, this fact has been recognized by several progressive traditional medicine practitioners in China who have come up with herbal alternatives to this supposedly "miracle" cure.

Although the Chinese government have recognized tigers as endangered animals and have implemented laws against the killing of tigers, there are no laws against the re-appropriation of tiger parts from animals that have supposedly died of "natural causes".
This is the issue! Improper legislation and blatant loopholes in conservation laws provide seedy business men ample opportunities for exploitation. Couple that with a desperate public willing to pay through the nose for a mythical elixir and you have an ethical, environmental disaster waiting to happen! This needs to change! It's time to start educating ourselves! 

further reading:
Jones' expose

AnimalAsia article (complete with details of the "entertainment program" of the establishment)

TripAdvisor comments and suggestions dating back to 2011 to March 5th 2013.

Additional article

Undercover investigation video on Youtube from 2010

note. as of 2012 Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in Guilin, China was still fairly popular among tourists (despite campaigns and lobbying by various internal and external parties) on websites such as TripAdvisor, with one visitor from Melbourne even commenting that the park is "Sensational because you will not see stuff like that in our oh so politically correct west which panders to the minority and aims to spoil our fun by subjecting us to a nanny state."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Love Insects, Love Life

Hey ya'll

today's post will be more of a rant and a personal call for action more than anything else. I realized if I don't speak up for the insects, no one will. Are you an insect lover yourself? If the answer is yes, then maybe it is time for us to raise our voices a little higher. These small, often overlooked, creatures form the basic building blocks of our existence! Despite all the talk of conservation and animal rights going on, not many people stop to consider the plight faced by many insects as a result of climate change, habitat loss, and general environmental degradation. It is time to understand that these living things are not "just bugs". I really hate to put it in such words, but if a species of monkey goes extinct, life would probably still manage to go on as it is... but if an entire species of bee, or wasp goes extinct, you can be sure that life would not longer be the same as we know it! The majority of our world's pollination activities are attributed to insects! In fact, many higher order of plants are pollinated by insects! Many of these plants are also species specific pollinators which means they are pollinated only by specific types of insects. It's a very simple equation, really: No pollination = no propagation of plant species = no more fruits and flowers! It is time to understand that these animals are not "just bugs". A world without insects is a world without plants and a world without life!

But I didn't just write here to rant. We can prevent this! The change begins with you! How? Observe these simple steps. 
  1. Do some research! Be observant of the world around you! What kinds of insects come and go in your neighborhood. What sorts of plants do they feed on? What can you learn about them? 
  2. Satellite Gardens. Cordon of small parts of your garden as an allocated space for insects! Plant the host plants of insect larvae (if you can identify them), and grow all sorts of flowering plants that wasps, butterflies, and bees can feed on! This way you will ensure that the insects always have a place to return to and a source upon which they can rely for food! In our rapidly developing world, where vast plains of vegetation are constantly being cleared in the name of progress, these small sanctuaries may be all that's left for the insects at the end of the day. 
  3. SPREAD the word! The more satellite gardens we provide, the more we can ensure the insect's survival! If you are a student, speak to your school administrator about this. Speak to your friends, your neighbors, anyone who will listen. Together, we can make a difference. 

Love all animals, love insects, love life. 

Autumn leaf butterfly (doleschallia bisaltide) eclosing


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top 5 Insect Super Powers

Hey ya'll

In the first part of "Super Powered Insects", I talked about comic books characters that were inspired by the wonders of the entomological world! In the real world, however, many insects are similarly known to possess unique and amazing super-power like abilities! The following are a list of the top 5 insect super powers that I could come up with. 

1. Super Strength! 

A staple in any superhero comic universe: what would DC comics be without Superman, Marvel without The Incredible Hulk, and the natural world without... the industrious ant? Ants are one of the strongest creatures in the animal kingdom, capable of lifting several times their own body weight!!! The actual degree of super-strength varies between ant species, but on average an individual ant can lift anywhere between 10 - 50 times its total body weight. They can even do this upside down, while clinging on seemingly smooth glass-like surfaces! That's pretty amazing. Now it may seem surprising that such a small animal is capable of such feats of strength but the reason behind it all boils down to good old fashion physics and the concept of scaling. Because of their relatively small sizes, ants do not have much body mass. In comparison with this body mass, however, a large proportion of the ant's body is made up of small insect-muscles. Proportionately speaking this gives them the ability to lift and manipulate objects that are much larger and many times heavier than their own body weight. And its not just ants, but insects in general! Honey bees, for instance, have been observed to be able to lift up to 80 percent of their body weight in FLIGHT! More, when they're on the ground. It is not an absolute rule but a general one that the bigger the animals get (and the larger their body mass is) their ability to lift objects of equal to, or heavier than their own weight greatly decreases. Take elephants for example. Elephants can lift up to many tons but did you know they are quite incapable of lifting their own body weight? I guess this is one of those instances where small size, works to their advantage. 

2. Flight

Another fairly common staple power in comic books, flight is an ability most adult insects possess. These guys were virtually the first living things in the world to evolve the ability and subsequently, may be said to be one of the most accomplished as well. Of all the fliers of the insect world, however, it is arguable that none are perhaps as accomplished as the dragonfly! Dragonflies have been around for millions of years, and aside from a drastic decrease in size, have not seemed to have changed very much from their prehistoric ancestors. Consequently, they've also had ample time to perfect their flying skills making them quite literally, the masters of the air. Most dragonflies flap their wings at only 30 beats per second (this is very slow, in comparison to most insects like bees who flap their wings at about 300 times a second) but are still able to complete aerial feats of stunning magnitude! They are accomplished fliers, reaching speeds of up to 58 kilometers per hour (that's about 36 miles) and are more than capable of making sharp turns, sudden dives, and even flying backwards! The reason dragonflies can do this is because of their unique anatomy that enable them to use all four of their wings independently. When used in conjunction with their excellent vision, the dragonfly's mastery of flight makes it an excellent and accurate predator, capable of snatching insects up in mid-flight. 

3. Webbing

Okay, so this is not exactly your typical super power! But what would this post be without a reference to spider man! Spider silk is one of the strongest organic substances known to man! The drag like silk of many spider webs (designed to stop flying insects in mid-flight) has often been equated to having the tensile strength of a high grade allow steel filament of the same diameter (purportedly a proportionately spun silken web would even have the strength to arrest a commercial airplane in mid-flight). And while spiders are arachnids and so, not insects (no need to get into a twist, I did not forget that fact!) they are not the only animals capable of producing webbing! The larvae of many insects, perhaps most notably those of butterflies and moths, are quite capable of excreting a similarly fibrous substance that is also known as silk. The silk produced by silkworms (bombyx mori) for instance are one of the strongest natural fibers known to man! In fact, silk garments dating back to 1782 was discovered in relatively durable condition in a wreck expedition in 1840! Silk. is also naturally resistant to most mineral acids. 

4. Radioresistance

Man destroys man. Insects inherit the earth.
I am sure that most of us are no stranger to the urban legend that cockroaches are the only animals capable of surviving a nuclear blast. Now, while it might more accurately be said that cockroaches are capable of surviving the aftermath of the blast (the actual blast would probably kill any roach caught in its vicinity by sheer explosive force a lone), I've got even better news for you: same goes to all insects! Now, I am no expert on radiation, but from what I have read up on the subject, this has something to do with the differing nature of vertebrate and invertebrate cells. Radiation is DEADLY to vertebrate animals and this is because our cells are constantly multiplying. Old cells die every second and are replaced by new cells through the process of mitosis (or something). Radiation affects these growing cells by causing them to act and multiply in ways that are different to their original function which would then eventually lead to mutation (the kind that gives people cancer. Not superpowers). Invertebrate cells, however, only multiply rapidly at specific times of the year. Typically, when they are about to undergo the process of molting. This means that of all the insects who survive the initial nuclear blast, those that are not close to the process of molting would be able to withstand the effects of radiation. In fact, some of these insects may be exposed so long, that their bodies begin to adapt to be genetically radioresistant. This positive trait is then passed on to future generations of insects born in the environment creating a strain of radioresistant insects! And this is no longer the stuff of science fiction or urban legend! Naturally radioresistan insects, worms, and plants have already been discovered in places like Minas Gerais, Brazil, that possess naturally high levels of radiation. 

5. Mind Control 

Take me to your leader! 
I saved the best for last. Mind control is often associated with super villains in the comic book genre. Even when heroes actually possess the capacity for it, they use it only sparingly. There is something entirely sinister about invading the thought processes of another creature and bending it against its will. It is therefore with no surprise that this category goes to the super villains of the insect world: the parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps are quite literally the nightmares of the insect world. Imagine the worst fear you've ever experienced in your life and now multiple it by a hundred. If insects were capable of complex emotional thought, that would be the kind of year you would feel if you were a helpless larvae facing down the nightmarish gaze of a parasitic wasp. Like elegant but deadly assassins, the wasps employ a wide range of methods to subdue, and coerce their prey. The female of the jewel wasp (Ampulex compressa) for instance, preys on the common cockroach. She delivers two stings, both targeted at the roach's ganglion (that's the insect equivalent of a central nervous system). First, she does this to paralyze the front legs of her prey thus reducing mobility and inhibiting resistance. Next, she delivers a second sting at the direct spot of the roach's brain. This causes an immediate behavioral change in the roach. It becomes docile, it becomes compliant, and it will now follow the wasp willingly (as if being led on a leash) to her nest ,where she will proceed to deposit a single egg upon the roach's abdomen. When the egg hatches the larvae will feed on it, eventually living inside of it as an endoparasite. The larvae feeds only on the non-essential organs of the roach thus keeping the host alive until it is matured and ready to emerge as a fully grown wasp. Throughout the entire process, the roach is motionless. It is alive, but does not attempt to escape, seemingly content to rest in the burrow allowing the larvae to eat it alive. For all intents and purposes, the wasp's sting has turned it into a zombie. In another species of wasp, the larvae becomes a parasite of large spiders and upon maturity, will alter the spider's behavior to use its dying strength to spin a silken cocoon to protect the larva during its final stage of development. Talk about creepy. 

So that's it for my list of the top 5 insect super powers! Know any others I might have missed out, or wish to request something be added to the list? Send me a shout on any of my social networking pages (twitter, facebook, email) or leave a note in the comments below! 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

True Facts

Hey ya'll 

I've actually been a fan of this series for quite a bit now and figured that now is as good a time as any to share it out. If you're already a fan of "Wild Sex" by Dr. Carin Bondar (if you don't know what that is and wish to know more, click here ps. you won't be disappointed!) you will probably also love "True Facts", by ZeFrank. Here, I'll even give you a link to start of you off featuring one of my favorite animals: The Praying Mantis. 

Best watched when stoned, or on high.

Note: This blog does not endorse the throwing of stones at a person until death ensues. Or the use of drugs. 

pps. I am not a fourteen year old boy who happens to be a sexual deviant with a violent streak.

Bug Biters

Hey ya'll

Just a random post in the middle of the week! Comic Fans, Anime Geeks, Otakus and Poke'mon Nerds will probably appreciate this!

These guys were all on my team!!! 

Have a great middle-of-the-week everyone!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Memoirs of a Light-Trapper: expeditions and experiments in light-trapping pt. 1

Hey ya'll

Chasing after butterflies and other flying insects with a net can be great fun during the day, but catching nocturnal insects is a totally different ball game altogether. It is, after all, not very practical for one to go traipsing about in the forests in pitch darkness while waving a net blindly around in hopes of accidentally catching something that flies by! As such many entomologists and lepidopterists have developed, over the years, a variety of techniques and methods that are quite reliable at attracting insects for the purposes of study or collection. The most efficient of all these, is probably light trapping. Light trapping is basically a method of attracting insects that involves the use of a light source (usually a mercury vapor bulb, or some other source that emits UV light). The light is often dispersed through the use of a white cloth (that can greatly increase the light's surface area) and functions as a veritable beacon that attracts moths, beetles, and any large number of flying insects to its surface. Think of a bug zapper, but on a larger scale. And minus the deadly electricity. Insects attached to the white cloth may then be studied in closer detail, photographed, or collected depending on its purpose.

Recently, I've had the opportunity of conducting one such expedition which took place in the form of a mini experiment. Two light traps were set with different bulbs, one emitting a specturm of UVA (orange/warm light), the other of UVB (white light). Through the course of the night we discovered that different insects were attracted to different spectrum of light. While the UVA bulb seemed to attract more insects on the initial stage, many of them eventually shifted their focus over to the UVB bulb where they proceeded to swarm and seethe in a writhing mass of antennae, legs, and wings. The diversity of insects which arrived was also, to say the least, quite astounding and we had (in addition to moths of just about every shape, size, and color) some very attractive looking beetles and cicadas. Below are some of the amazing insects that were attracted to our light traps that night.

These are some of the moths that were attracted to our light traps. Among all the insects that eventually came to the traps and stayed, I'd have to say that the moths were the most numerous. Most of them were small and brilliantly patterned, although we would eventually come across several sphingiids and saturniids as well. Geometriids were the most common and most of these came in various shades of yellow or green, many similarly patterned with geometrical map-like markings on both wings. 

We eventually nicknamed this moth "Hellboy" until a more concise definition
can be offered.

Aside from moths, the traps also attracted more than their fair share of cicadas! The large insects are clumsy fliers and, after slamming unceremoniously into the light bulbs and walls repeatedly, they would often crash onto the ground where they remained, seemingly in a state of stupor. They were so stunned by this I could even pick them up and place them side by side on my outstretched palm with little or no effect. 

Cicadas came in all shapes and sizes that night! We counted no less than 6 different species that were attracted to the traps. 

There were also an astounding diversity of beetles at our traps. Of all the insects, these were perhaps the worst! Beetles are clumsy fliers at best and when in a state of fright, have sharp claws that they can use to devastating effect. I had many bad experiences with beetles that fell down my color and proceeded to dig their claws into any portion of my skin they happened to come into contact with that the time! I shall take note to wear tighter fitting clothes when I try this again in the future! Most of the beetles weren't particularly remarkable, but we did find several of the long horn (Cerambycidae) and rhinoceros (Dynastidae) variety. Some of these, I ended up keeping, for virtue of their unique appearances! Second note to self: long horn beetles have fearsome jaws and can deliver quite a bite!!! 

The largest cerambycidae that was attracted to our traps that night. It measured several inches from head to tip of abdomen and eventually managed to bite hard enough to crack the flimsy plastic lid of the container.
Of all the other insects that were attracted, most were aletes, the winged generation of various ants and termite species whose identification simply goes beyond my capabilities. There was also a stick insect that somehow found its way there, and a rather opportunistic praying mantis. There really are a lot more pictures to go through, and I will upload them in the second part of this blog post when our photographer, Miss Joanne Tong, has sorted them out from her camera. Until then, Happy Monday.



Butterfly display case

Hey ya'll 

Just a quick updates before Monday. Display cases an be so difficult and near impossible to locate in Malaysia and so,  I finally decided to invest some time and money into constructing my very own butterfly and moth display case! It wasn't easy, and it cost me a lot of painful fingers, and quite a bit of money... but I daresay the result is well worth it! Anyway I have more buggy delights coming up in the next few weeks or so, so please stay tuned. Somewhat inspired by the success of this display, I'm thinking of constructing another one detailing the life history of various Malaysian cicadas! Stay tuned. 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Butterfly Spreading for Dum- Beginners!

Hey ya'll

The collecting of butterflies to be preserved as specimens has always been a very touch subject, even among lepidopterists! There are those who study butterflies who limit their observations only to live insects seen in the wild, and those who practice the added dimension of observing dead specimens in the lab. From a scientific point of view, the advantages that come from having preserved specimens far outweigh any possible moral outrage that might result from such a course of action. Dead butterflies, for one, do not flutter about so (thus damaging themselves!) meaning that they can be observed and categorized with greater depth and precision, and some butterflies are even difficult and near impossible to distinguish unless looked at under a microscope! Many skipper butterflies from the family hesperiidae are like this. Even for the average Joe collector, butterfly collecting can be a very insightful and rewarding experience! It is true that to obtain perfect specimens, butterflies do get killed in the process. But if it is any small consolation to those of you who might be sufficiently morally outraged by now: 

  1. No butterflies have ever been hunted to the brink of extinction! (You can blame deforestation and general environmental degradation for that!) 
  2. Butterflies are primarily instinctual creatures, they do not perceive emotions like pain or fear the way humans do
  3. Most collectors, experienced ones at least ,are very "humane" in their methods and either use killing jars or the refrigerator method to put the insects to "sleep" where they eventually slip away into death. 
For those of you who might be interested in collecting butterflies, however, spreading the insects can be a fairly daunting thought! Butterflies, unlike other flying insects like dragonflies, cicadas, or even grasshoppers, have very thin and fragile wings! Furthermore, the colors of butterfly wings are made out of millions upon millions of overlapping scales which rub off easily causing the butterfly to lose much of its color and grandeur! With all these difficulties in mind, I have thus decided to put together a step-by-step guide for the beginner on how to properly spread and preserve butterflies. 

Step 1:
First things first, you are going to need to pin your butterfly! It is often ideal to use entomological pins for this, but I understand that they are not always so readily accessible. I use tailor marking pins (the kind that is used to make marks on tailoring dummies) and have no problem with them except for some of the smaller specimens for which the pin may be a little too big. Anyway pins often come in various sizes anyway so you can always just adjust the size of the pins that you pick up from the store. Now, you want to put the pin as close to the center of the abdomen as possible and at a vertical angle. This is, obviously for aesthetic purposes, but also because it is arguably the strongest spot in the butterfly's body. The butterfly's body when straightened should form a 90 degree angle with the pin. Don't worry about it if you get this wrong on your first try and  I would advice removing and reinserting the pin too many times. Remember, each time you do that, the pin will leave a hole in the insect's body... too many little holes may eventually lead into some very serious, and irreversible damage to your specimen! 

Step 2:

Prepare a spreading board for the butterfly by placing two smaller boards of styrofoam on top of a larger board that will form the base. There should be a gap or a wedge between both styrofoam boards and this is where the butterfly's body will go. Make sure the boards are securely pinned down as you don't want them to shift about while the butterfly is being spread as this can cause damage to the wings, or cause unwanted changes in alignment. Once you've prepared the board sufficiently, place the butterfly's body inside the wedge, making sure the pin attached to it is securely stuck onto the main base. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure that the wings rest nicely and evenly on the boards on either side. If the butterfly's body is not secure within the groove (i.e it still moves about) you may hold it down by placing two pins on either side of it. Stick the pins on either side of the butterfly where the lower joint of the hindwing meets its body. This is the strongest spot and will prevent it from moving while you work on the wings. 

Step 3: 

The most crucial part of the process: spreading the butterfly's wings! Now as previously mentioned, butterfly wings are VERY fragile so you have to take special care not to damage them in the process. Different lepidopterists will have different methods of doing this, each involving different tools but I'm just going to tell you of the one I like the best. Using the flat end of the pin (that's the end OPPOSITE of the sharp bit), gently coax the wings into the desired position. Do this by slowly slipping the pin head underneath the upper edge of the forewing and gently tugging on the primary wing vein close to the insect's body which is the strongest structure of the wing and the least likely to tear. You may have to use your fingers, or a pair of forceps (depending on how confident you are about your control) to edge the wing into position but the same rule applies. Always work with the primary wing veins. When you have got the forewing in the desired position, gently lay down a piece of tracing paper (I use it as it is the most gentle) and pin it down around the edges of the wing. Depending on the species and the strength of the wings, you may have to use more than one or two pins. For the hindwing, slip the pin head on the lower edge of the wing, close to where the wing joint meets the body and gently push until the upper border of the hindwing rests somewhat covered by the fore wing. The goal is to ensure that the border of hindwing-forewing is set at a 90 degree angle from the butterfly's body. 

Step 4: 

Simple enough, repeat the above process for the other side. When you are done, you can place a ruler from one tip of the wing to another to see if you've got a butterfly that is "straightly" and "evenly" spread. Don't worry too much if you do not achieve this at your first try. I've got tons of botched up specimens this way and I can only say that practice makes perfect! Now is the time for the final touch ups. Using the pin heads, gently coax the antenna into desired position. You can place several more pins to keep it there, or use a separate strip of tracing paper. If the butterfly's body had contorted or moved slightly out of position during the spreading process, you may now use a pin to gently push it into position and leave the pin there until the specimen re-dries where it will stay in said position. To preserve specimens and prevent fungal growth or attack by ants/pests, I spray all butterflies with water-based insect poison. Don't be alarmed if you notice discoloration as the wings will return to normal once they have dried up.

Anyway I hope this guide has been sufficiently helpful with your butterfly collecting endeavors! I understand that other's may have different methods from mine and I daresay it's pretty much a case of whatever works best for the individual. I learnt most of what I know from more experienced friends and now really just wish t to pass this knowledge down. Just remember, practice makes perfect so do start with common, more readily accessible specimens as opposed to jumping straight into the swing of things with, say, a birdwing!