Monday, December 29, 2014

Handfeeding Parrots pt. 2

Hey ya'll 

I wasn't going to update on the Yoshi situation so quickly but I am honestly quite shocked at how quickly he is developing both mentally and physically. I've so far been feeding Yoshi and average of 26 tubes of formula a day but as of yesterday his appetite seems to have expanded by leaps and bounds. Yoshi took a total amount of 31 tubes yesterday and woke up around 1am demanding another feeding. I did not want to pamper him but upon inspection I noticed that his crop had fully emptied out so I decided to give him a small feeding of 4 tubes. I fed him again this morning at 9.30 and though he seemed quite distracted at first, and hell bent on crawling under the sofa and into small dark crevices as part of his "exploration" I eventually managed to settle him down enough to commence feeding where he surprised me by taking 12 tubes of formula in one sitting! I haven't had the opportunity to weigh him yet as the conventional weighing scale we have at home does not seem sensitive enough to accurately weigh a baby bird's weight but I can tell from "feel" that he is getting heavier. His muscles also seem to be getting a lot stronger as he is growing bolder in terms of climbing objects to try and access higher locations, and is able to stand upright, adopting an adult bird's posture, for longer periods and unassisted. As per my measurements, his tail feathers have lengthened by a whole inch. ALL this development from just 4 days of hand feeding (going into the 5th which is today).  

Standing proud and tall!
From the second day that I brought him home, the moment he acclimated to his new surroundings, Yoshi exhibited a very inquisitive and curious personality. I noticed today that  after I was done feeding him that Yoshi was picking at the spilled formula that had soaked into the nappy sheet. On a hunch I grabbed a banana out of the refrigerator and heated it in a warm water bath. When I was satisfied that it had been heated all the way through, I cut off a small portion and presented it to Yoshi. True to form he started nibbling on it and I can tell from the way he lapped at it again and again with his tongue that he was surprised that it tasted so sweet. He did not swallow the banana as expected and spat it out but when I offered him a second, larger, piece, he took it without hesitation and repeated the same actions again. I must say that all the fears I had about Yoshi being a difficult bird to wean were dispelled at this point. I think Yoshi's behavior is more symptomatic of "playtime" than actual weaning but I'm positive that if anything this natural born inquisitiveness has given me a head start on things, which should make weaning a significantly easier process given enough patience and positive reinforcement.

Nibbling on some banana
Another thing you may have noticed in these set of recent photographs is the bright orange and yellow that is appearing on Yoshi's belly and sides quite beautifully. This is not the typical coloration of a gc and I am quite confident, coupled with the light colored beak (again not typical gc coloration) and a small "halo" of yellow/orange on the edge of his red tail feathers, that he comes from either the pineapple or yellow sided mutation stock. That certainly came to me as a pleasant surprise and will be something I look forward to witnessing as Yoshi blossoms into a healthy, beautiful adult bird. 

Light and Love Blessings

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Handfeeding Parrots pt. 1

Hey ya'll

I recently came into possession of a very young parakeet that is probably between 3 weeks to a month old. It is a very fragile looking thing, still mostly covered in fluffy grey down with pin feathers erupting from its flesh here and there, but with a very scrappy and robust personality. Having spent almost a full year with the Semai people of Peninsular Malaysia (you can read more about that here) I've managed to learn a trick or two about hand raising young birds, often for rehabilitation purposes, out of necessity while living in the jungle. Most of the birds that I had successfully raised and released into the wild, however, were of the Starling (sturnidae) and old world fly-catcher (muscicapidae) family respectively. Only once was I forced to raise a young parrot and in all honesty the abandoned bird was already old enough to eat mashed up bananas and other soft foods from the tip of my finger. Nevertheless, those experiences, and the knowledge that came with it, made me believe that I was more than capable of handling a young parrot as well. After all, a baby bird is a baby bird, how different could it be? Barely 3 days into my raising this bird I can say that arguably, there IS not much difference between the hand rearing of parrots and other bird species. The general care is pretty much the same with regards to temperature and cleanliness with the chief (and most challenging) difference being triggering the appropriate feeding responses from the hatchlings. 

Our latest baby! We aren't able to sex it because GCs do not display sexual dimorphism but based on a hunch we have decided to name "him" Yoshi.
Parrots, you see, possess a special organ at the base of their throat known as a crop. The crop is a pouch like bulge that can expand for the bird to store its food for digestive purposes. Birds like starlings and fly catchers do not possess crops (or at least I don't think they do) and so when they beg for food often raise their heads skywards, with their mouths open wide, thus facilitating the passage of food from beak to gut. Baby parrots, however, receive their meals in a more direct manner with the parent bird often regurgitating half-digested food into the baby's throat. The passage of food from mouth to gut must first bypass the crop and to ensure that the food is stored within it, the baby parrot assists the motor reflexes of its esophagus by making a vigorous pumping motion with its head. Feeding is therefore not quite as simple as placing a syringe into the chick's gaping maw and pumping its contents straight down the throat. The shape of the parrot's bill (which is hooked) makes it also somewhat difficult as they do not beg in quite the same way as other birds. I gradually learnt that unless I took a more direct approach to it, feeding was always going to be a messy business (messier than it generally is with baby birds, which is to say, fairly messy!). By gently holding it from behind I was able to support Yoshi's head with my thumb and index finger and thus able to keep pumping in the formula with my other hand all the while adjusting to the pumping motion of his head.

The baby parrot is also a very inquisitive little fellow and often gets distracted easily by other animals, or by objects lying around at the time of its feeding such as cardboard rolls or pieces of tissue paper. I usually stop between feedings if Yoshi goes off to explore something as I think this helps encourage foraging behavior later in life.
As might be expected, Yoshi didn't take to being hand-fed by a new "mommy" fron the start but with patience and a lot of coaxing (I "talk" or make soothing noises to my birds as I feed them as I imagine that they are as much vocal as they are visual animals), he has finally started to warm up to me and feedings normally take 30 minutes or less per session, including the little breaks we take in between when he finds a piece of tissue paper or the food bowl to his fancy.

I have been receiving some conflicting information regarding how often I have to feed Yoshi, and how much. With my starlings and robins, feeding was generally done at 8am each morning and then once at every 2 hour interval with the frequency gradually decreased as the bird grows larger and becomes more and more independent. With Yoshi however, I find that this is where the parrot's crop has an added advantage to function as an indicator of when to start and stop feeding. The breeder I got him from only fed him two times a day, 10 tubes of formula per session, but told me that I could adjust his feeding accordingly as they were busy tending to so many animals during the course of one day. I learnt very quickly on to adjust Yoshi's feeding based on the size of his crop. When he has had a particularly large feeding (10 full tubes of formula, as instructed by the breeder) his crop becomes slightly distended and has the consistency of a squishy grape. Other times, when for whatever reason he may not feel like eating so much, the size of the crop can vary quite significantly. On average it takes Yoshi's crop 4 hours to empty out which is an indicator for me to begin feeding again. Based on the amount of tubes he takes per feeding (averaging between 5 and 8, almost never 10), I spread out his feedings at 3-4 times a day at every 4 hour interval, or whenever his crop has been emptied out. In this way, Yoshi has never had to beg for food and (aside from day 1 when he came home with an empty crop) has never screamed his little lungs out demanding a feeding. 
I've also started keeping a record of Yoshi's feedings such as the time daily, as well as how many tubes of formula he consumes every feeding. Right now he has consumed 26 tubes daily (6 more tubes than he was given at his breeder's place) spaced out at 4 hour intervals 3-4 times daily. The size of his crop gives me an indication of when a feeding is required and how much of it. 
I will begin to post updates about Yoshi's growth and development has time goes by. I plan to buy a weighing scale and start measuring his weight on a weekly basis as well. Weaning is something that I anxiously anticipate but I think I should have less difficulty than my starlings and robins, particularly because his naturally curious disposition has already led him to start nibbling at objects in his environment. 

Blessed be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Back from The Field: Reflecting on 2014

Hey ya'll

I have just returned from the field where I spent the better part of 2014 living with the Semai people. The Semai are one of the 18 officially recognized tribes of Indigenous Peoples living across Peninsular Malaysia and by far the most numerous and widespread. The people that adopted me into their village, and later on their homes, were from the Bukit Kinta Rainforest region of Gopeng in the state of Perak, Malaysia which is a stretch of forest that borders the Titiwangsa Mountain Range (upon which the famous Cameron Highlands is located). The Semai people of the Bukit Kinta Rainforest region were spread out over three villages, Ulu Kampar, Ulu Geruntom, and Ulu Geroh. The family that I lived with the most during my time there was from Ulu Geroh and I had been sent there by my University as part of the data collection segment of my PhD to study the customs and culture of the Semai tribe, as well as note their contributions to the conservation of local flora and fauna the most notable of which were the iconic Rafflesia flower (Rafflesia cantleyi). 

Rafflesia cantleyi is perhaps one of the smaller species of Rafflesia flower but what it lacks in size it most certainly makes up in color.

I was adopted by a small family whilst in Ulu Geroh and was welcome to stay with a warm and affectionate woman and her daughter in their small one room house (for ethical purposes I shall refer to them from this point on as my Foster Mother and Foster Sister). The women of the Semai tribe are worth mentioning as some of the most resilient and resourceful people I have had the pleasure and honor of interacting with and my Foster Mother was no exception. Even during the early weeks of my initial stay I could tell that this was a woman who was used to working for what she wanted without having to wait for the affirmation or assistance of others to achieve it. My Foster Mother lived alone with her daughter ever since her husband passed away (her oldest child, her son, had married, moved out, and had fathered kids of his own by then) and had taken it upon herself to give her daughter everything her own parents had taught her were important in life: an education, a goal, and a future. To put her daughter through school, and to ensure that she had enough money when the time came for her daughter to go to college, my Foster Mother moved out of the small town house she had been living in with her husband, and back into the village of her ancestors where she hoped she would be able to make a decent living off of the land to support herself and her children. From rubber tapping at the wee hours of the morning (sometimes, with my Foster Sister *then an infant strapped to her back ) to raising her own flock of chickens, to other odd jobs such as catching butterflies and other insects for collectors, my Foster Mother has done it all.  She was also one of the first members of the village to become actively involved in Nature Conservation and is one of the longest founding members of SEMAI, a coalition formed by the villagers dedicated to the promotion of community-based eco tourism and environmental conservation, that is active to this very day. 

My Foster Mother's house

A photo of the neighbor's house and the surrounding forests which would often be beautifully misty in the mornings.
Most homes are well equipped with a gas stove but many Semai people still prefer to cook their meals traditionally over an open fire from time to time. 

The implementation of community based eco-tourism and environmental conservation in the Ulu Geroh village is a fairly recent thing and can be traced back to just slightly over a decade ago. The efforts were first officially sponsored and supported by the Malaysian Nature Society, but has since received sponsorship from various other bodies including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The SEMAI coalition was formed as part of a then-radical movement to make indigenous peoples the main stakeholders and decision makers of how best to implement Nature Conservation strategies and eco-tourism within their ancestral home land and their community. Today, SEMAI operates completely independently from any official sponsor but do continue to enjoy the support of various educational institutions and non-governmental organizations. The full story of SEMAI's formation and the growth, trials, and tribulations of its implementation of eco-tourism and nature conservation in the village is a lengthy one which I will not discuss here but I do wish to note that one of the things that I stood out to me the most was that the Semai people have always had a close relationship with the natural objects in the world around them. This, in itself is not something that is particularly remarkable and indeed, I suppose the same is often said of indigenous communities world wide. But while I had always taken for granted the "spiritual"ness in which this connection might take place, the community surprised me by showing how even the most mundane things: like the act of eating, is intrinsically tied to the various features of their ancestral homelands and so, their identities as well.  Certain forest plants, for instance, that are consumed for food, are associated with various stories of the Semai tribe that have been passed down for generations. These stories have largely withstood the tests of time and have prevailed despite factors such as modernization and the conversion of many of the Semai peoples to Christianity. By consuming these plants instead of what they call "city-vegetables" (referring to commercially cultivated greens) the Semai people are able to reconnect with their roots by accessing some form of collective based memory/imaginary that reinforces their unique identities as members of a particular indigenous tribe.

The Community Eco-Tourism Center was constructed more than 10 years ago from what was an abandoned Surau  (Muslim prayer building) that was provided for the villagers by the government. It now also serves as the village's Community Hall and important occasions such as meetings with NGO representatives and "village trials" are commonly held there. 
Living out in the forests with the indigenous peoples was something that I have always wanted to do all my life, and though I expected that there would be certain challenges along the way, some challenges that I anticipated were a lot more difficult than others. Going to the toilet, for example, was something that was particularly tricky to master in those early days. Many Semai settlements are constructed alongside rivers or other such fast moving bodies of water. As such, there didn't seem to be much need for Semai households to construct bathrooms or other such areas where one might discreetly eliminate waste. I can attest to this: squatting in the middle of a fast moving river, in full view of any person who might potentially pass by, all the while trying to balance precariously on mossy rocks is not the most conducive environment for waste elimination. Particularly when nature decides to call in the middle of the night. There is nothing quite so "frightening" as squatting on a slippery rock in the middle of the river in the middle of the night in pitch darkness. There's always the constant fear of falling into the river and being swept away by the current (particularly if it has been a rainy day), or being attacked on one's sensitive areas by any number of wild animals or creepy crawlies that might be lurking in the darkness. When I was not watching out for my behind (literally), though, the river was a fun place where people commonly headed to to cool off, especially during the dry season when there was not a cloud in sight and the weather could be most unforgiving. Of course, as common sense would dictate, any frolicking or "bathing" in the river was done much further upstream, away from where any elimination activities might take place.

Some of my closest friends in the village were the children, who often knew the best places to go to in the surrounding forests, whether it be to find turtles of fresh water shrimp, or to see the most beautiful waterfalls.  Many of these children, I would be told later in my stay, commonly referred to me as their "big brother" and would commonly seek me out when they were on holiday from school. 
Being a nature lover and an amateur lepidopterist, I kept a field journal studiously and recorded the various species of butterflies, insects, and animals that I encountered there. Fortunately for me, my Foster Mother was a woman who did not shy away from animals and indeed, kept a small flock of poultry (a mix of turkeys, guinea fowl, jungle fowl, and domesticated chickens) around her house, as well as several ornamental birds, parrots, and cats. This collection grew steadily and remarkably during my stay there. My Foster Mother would later confess to me that she felt more confident raising a larger variety of animals because I was there to provide the information and show her how. Having learnt about my love for butterflies from some of my sketches, she would also invite me out into the forest (especially during the first few months of my stay) whenever we had nothing to do around the house to search for butterflies and other insects for me to draw. Along the way, she would also enlighten me about the various plants we encountered. In this way I quickly learnt which leaves could be used to stop bleeding, or which flowers when chewed, could produce a numbing effect not unlike that of a moderately strong local anesthetic. My Foster Mother educated me in the ways of traditional indigenous medicine and passed on to me, as it was passed on to her by her father, the herbs one might use to produce a soup to cure fever, and the roots and spices needed to form a poultice that is beneficial for women who have just given birth. She also enlightened me on the different leaves, fronds, and woods that were commonly used by the Pawang (shamans) for spell casting and delighted me with stories about the various kinds of spirits that inhabit the forest as well as the appropriate methods of avoiding their wrath or mischief. The Semai tribes have a very different view on spirituality than most as spirits are considered beings that are of this world and are as real as say a tiger, or a tree. They are often spoken of as a matter of fact and almost never in a metaphorical or symbolic sense and though the worship or petition of spirits is frowned upon by most members of the community who have converted to Christianity, belief in such spirits continues to this day and traditional indigenous methods and knowledge of dealing with malice associated with said spirits are sometimes preferred in lieu of a Christian exorcism or prayer. Such a concrete belief in spirits has a profound effect on the community, typically when community members' fears of having transgressed in a particularly spiritual or "haunted" area is manifest in a "possession" of sorts: often diagnosed by symptoms such as unexplained violent outbursts, sudden change in personality or disposition, and hysteria. During my stay at Ulu Geroh, I attended no less than 6 such sessions.

Some of the animals from around the house
The Malayan Lorikeet/Blue Crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus) is a very significant bird in the Semai people's spirituality as it is believed to be one of the "good" animals that wards off the "dark" creatures. Certain insects, such as butterflies are also considered significant spiritually because they are believed to be the "pets" of certain powerful entities that have control over natural phenomenon like the weather.
Saying "hi!" to a particularly friendly sunbird. 
Also, due to a combination of factors: and abundance of the right host plants as well as several mineral springs in the surrounding forests, Ulu Geroh is constantly visited by BUTTERFLIES!!!

MORE butterflies...

And more butterflies than I ever thought I could see in the wild, all in large numbers and in one place

All in all, I'm going to conclude with saying that 2014 is ending on an all time high! Sure I did not come out unscathed (indeed I don't think some of these battle scars will ever heal) but what is an adventure without a few bumps along the way? And to top it off, I think I just fulfilled my New Year's resolution: to be a stronger and braver person than I was the year before. Personally, I think that I have exceeded my own expectations and more! So on that note I wish you all a very happy new year and shall leave you with these pictures of some life long friends I've made along the way: 

Blessed Be

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dr. Carin Bondar of Wild Sex brings us - Ode to the Female Bedbug

Hey ya'll

Super sexy, super beautiful Biologist with a Twist, Dr Carin Bondar of Wild Sex is back! This time with a lesson on the traumatic mating habits of bedbugs in the form of this awesome music parody video. The song: "I Don't Want to Love Again" is sang in the style of Pink's "We Can Learn to Love Again"

Bedbug sex is traumatic. It's so violent that it's actual scientific description is 'traumatic insemination'. You see, males use their razor-sharp 'penises' to stab their sperm into a females' body. They do not stab it anywhere near the females' genital opening either. Sperm that has been 'traumatically inseminated' will travel through the lymphatic system to the ovaries.

This is an unfortunate reality for female bedbugs. So, I wrote them this song. I hope they like it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Just Another Batty Monday

Hey ya'll

Mondays are generally a downer in most people's weekly routine but there are ways of coping with the dreaded Monday Blues. For me, nothing will beats surfing the interwebs and finding a visual goldmine such as this. 
Now this may look like a fairly unassuming hole in the ground, picturesque maybe but hardly anything to shout about... 
Until the photographer zooms in to reveal this...
...and this
...and THIS!!! 
The images above, that seem to be a vision straight out of any naturalist's dreams or chiroptophobe's nightmares is a one of a kind phenomenon that is only observable at the Monfort Bat Sanctuary on Samal Island, Philippines. There are some 5 openings leading to a network of underground caves that are home to an estimate of 1.8 million individuals of Rousette fruit bats (Rousettus amplexicaudatus). Other bat species that may be found in these subterranean networks are the Lesser False Vampire bat (Megaderm spasma) and flying foxes (pteropus sp.) making it the largest colony of its kind in the world since recorded history. Because they live in the tropics and food is abundant all year round the bats are continuously feeding and mating and breeding that overcrowding has begun to pose a serious problem. Using heat thermal cameras researchers have observed bats acting aggressively toward pups and at times, even cannibalizing them as young and adult bats alikejostle about for space in the tightly packed cavern. In an effort to elaviate the probme, management of the Monfort Bat Sanctuary have even proposed the construction of artificial caverns and networks that will enable the bats to roost more comfortably. The caves are maintained and managed by Ms Monfort, a local resident of Samal, who works with bat conservationists to protect the habitat of what is undoubtedly the single most impressive congregation of flying mammals in the world. 

Bats leaving the caves at dusk in search of food
Rare sighting of an albino bat, who is also a mother making a stark contrast among her brown and black peers.
And a closeup of the beautiful mother and her young
Photo credits: Josh Aggars @ Flickr
If you are interested in witnessing this or learning more feel free to contact the Monfort Bat Sanctuary directly at their Facebook Page: Monfort Bat Sanctuary @ Facebook 

Peace Out! :) 

Living the Rainbow: A Selection of Exotic Birds from Around the World pt. 1

Hey ya'll 

I'll be moving back to the Bukit Kinta Rainforest come March 1st 2014 so updates at the blog will foreseeable grow a lot slower. In between now and then, however, I would like to take the opportunity to clear up some of the things I've had stored away for the past few months or so. The following are a list of paintings I did of exotic birds from all over the world. The theme of inspiration for me at that time was the idea of the "Rainbow" and how so many birds seemed to embody it so effortlessly. 

The Scarlet Macaw (ara macao) is a large colorful parrot that is native to South America. They are predominantly red, yellow, and blue in color although certain individuals may ehixibit various patches of green. The range of the scarlet macaw is relatively large but deforestation and capture for the exotic bird trade has made populations of wild birds largely fragmented with small groups existed over large distances in various regions. 

Like many other macaws, they mate for life and nest in the cavities of hollowed trees. Birds are relatively long lived with some individuals recording a whopping 75-80 years of age in captivity. In the wild they may often bee found gathering in large flocks with other macaws and parrots at the banks of rivers partaking in a phenomenon that is known as "clay licking". The reason for this is thought to be because of the macaws largely herbivorous diet that may sometimes include the leaves or flowers of poisonous plants. The clay from the Amazon basin is believed to neutralize many of these toxins and make them safe for the birds to digest. The scarlet macaw is the national bird of Honduras. 

Also a member of the parrot family, the Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) is a small, colorful bird that is native to the Southeastern portion of the Australian continent, and some parts of Tasmania. In recent decades, however, the Eastern Rosella has also become naturalized in many parts of New Zealand, typically North Island and Dunedin. Because of its brilliant coloration, the Eastern Rosella is sometimes kept as a pet bird although, they generally do not socialize as well with their human captors and other birds as other species of parrots. Like most parrots, the nest is made in an abandoned tree hollow and a clutch of five to six eggs may be laid. The yare one of the most colorful of the Australian parrots (barring the Rainbow Lorikeet, which is a fair contender) and may be seen readily in both rural and urban areas. 
This last Living Rainbow is not a parrot at all but a pheasant.  Probably the most underrated of the birds, the males of some pheasant species such as the handsome Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) pictured here are some of the most spectacular members of the avian world. The Golden Pheasant is native to the mountainous areas of Western China but because of its popularity as a show bird, it has since established self sustaining feral populations in various parts of the world. The birds are about a meter long, with the tail accounting for most of its length and like many other galliforms, both sexes are highly sexually dimorphic with male birds exhibiting the more beautiful feathers. Golden pheasants are capable of flight but their rounded wings make them rather clumsy in the air. Despite their brilliant coloration, however, the birds are difficult to spot in their natural habitat and consequently, not much is known of the birds' behavior in the wild.  The bird is believed to have inspired early painters and artists with regards to the design of the Chinese Phoenix. 
As always, if you are interested in purchasing any of these images as high quality prints, feel free to browse around the print gallery at my deviantart account

Peace Out

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Birdwing Butterflies prints now available on Deviantart!

Hey ya'll

The prints in my birdwing butterfly set have been really popular on deviantart as postcards or prints. Birdwing butterflies are probably one of my all time favorite of butterflies. Not only do their large size make them a breathtaking sight in any setting - both captive and wild - but their iridescent wings and uniqueness to the Southeast Asian region also give them an exotic touch that is quite unique to the species. 

The Southern Tailed Birdwing (Ornithoptera meridionalis) is the smallest of all the birdwing butterflies. Like the Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterfly (which is the largest butterfly in the world) the species was discovered by Walter Rothschild in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. The species is fairly widespread and may be found in several localities in southeast Papua New Guinea and the southern coast of Irian Jaya. Along with the Paradise birdwing (Ornithoptera paradisea) it is the only butterfly of the birdwing family whose wings are tailed.  Like several other species of birdwing butterflies, it is classified as "endangered" in the IUCN red list due to habitat loss in various parts of Papua new Guinea.  

Conservation initiatives that engage local communities have proven to be fairly successful and there are to date several villages in Papua New Guinea which farm the butterfly for conservation and commercial purposes. The specimens are incredibly valuable and may fetch prices as high as US$1000 per pair. Despite its desirability, collecting of the butterfly has little to negligible effect on its population size provided the original habitats are left undisturbed. The butterflies are remarkable in that they have an extremely small amount of wing area in relative to its large and bulky body. Male butterflies have hind wings that are severely reduced, tapering at the end into a pair of filamentous tails which are easily broken. The males of the species are thus rather clumsy and weak fliers and spend most of their day resting on the canopy layer of primary rainforests. The larva of the butterfly feed on the plants of the genus pararistolochia and incorporate its toxins into its defense system during its development and adult life.  

Ornithoptera priamus, or the common green birdwing, is a very widespread species of birdwing butterfly that is found in New Guinea, Moluccas, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, and Northeast Australia.  Because of its sizeable range, the butterfly is extremely variable and is believed to have evolved multiple subspecies each exhibiting different markings, patterns, coloration, and forms. According to some experts, there are as many as 99 subspecies of Ornithoptera priamus butterflies although others would contend that some of these subspecies are to be treated as independent species altogether.  Most of the subspecies of Ornithoptera priamus feature brown and cream-patterned females and iridescent green males, although several subspecies such as Ornithoptera priamus urvilleanus, and Ornithoptera priamus miokensis have blue wings. Despite being an overall widespread and established species, some subspecies of the butterfly which are endemic to certain parts of the world are threatened by habitat destruction: primarily the clearing of primary forests (which the butterfly needs for its survival) for the palm oil trade. Many other subspecies, such as Ornithoptera aesacus may be seriously endangered in the wild but otherwise fairly commonly bred in captivity. 

Fun fact: the butterfly is named after Priam, the King of Troy during the Trojan War. 

IF you would like to see similar prints or show your support by purchasing them, do check out my profile on deviantart :

Friday, February 7, 2014

Flying Dragon @ Ulu Geroh, Gopeng, Malaysia.

Flying Dragon @ Ulu Geroh, Gopeng, Perak, Malaysia

Several species of "flying dragons" may be observed in the forest around Ulu Geroh but these yellow ones were by far the most common. The "dragons" are part of a diverse group of lizards in the genus Draco that are endemic to Southeast Asia. While they are generally relatively unremarkable in appearance, these reptiles possess a most unique ability to extend folds of skin stretched out between its modified ribs to create a set of wings that enable them to glide from tree to tree. While not exactly capable of sustained flight, some species of "flying dragons" have been observed to be able to obtain lift in the course of their glides and a total gliding distance of up to 60 meters has been recorded, although the average is commonly about 8 meters or so.  Unlike the rest of their bodies - which are commonly drably colored to aid in camouflage - the wings of the dragons are usually brightly colored and patterned. Both male and female dragons also possess a colorful fold of skin under their chins called a dewlap that they can extend at will for display purposes.  Despite their small size, the dragons are highly territorial and males will defend their respective trees from the intrusion of outsiders. In Ulu Geroh, dragons can sometimes be seen dropping from the tops of trees, gliding in a circle, before landing at the base of the tree and slowly making their way back to the top on foot. They are insectivorous and feed on a variety of insects though from my observations it would seem that they are particularly partial to a variety of ants.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rajah Brooke Birdwing Plate

Natural History Style plate of a Male Rajah Brooke's Birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana albescens) an artistic side project and work in progress of the insect life of Ulu Geroh

The Ingenuity of Carpenter Bees (excerpts from my Ulu Geroh Field Diary

Day 2

There were so many things that I wanted to talk to the people about and so many things I wanted to do, but it was hard in the early stages to insert myself into daily situations in such an intrusive manner and so there were some mornings - when families were going about their more intimate of household chores - that I would have literally nothing to do and would thus be relatively free to wander around and entertain my own curiosities. I sat that morning, in the common eating area underneath a beautiful trellis made of very large vines. The vines, which had leaves as big as my upturned palm (some even larger) also sported some very large purple flowers that would attract a large number of animal life. Sunbirds, butterflies and hummingbird moths could usually be found here but today it was the big,  fat carpenter bees. Now, if you've never seen a carpenter bee in your life and saw one buzzing about the flowers as it was doing today you might mistake it for a very large black beetle for that is what it most looks like. You may also notice a distinct buzzing sound like the engine of a very small motorcycle that is made by their wings when they fly. Indeed, this buzzing sound is so loud that carpenter bees are often heard before they are seen. This morning there were two of them flitting about the flowers, and they were doing it with such ferocity that it almost seemed as if they were engaged in a private little race with each other to see which bee could sip from, and pollinate, the most purple flowers on that vine before they ran out. For you see, the bees seemed to possess this remarkable ability - like a special kind of sixth sense - which prevented them from visiting the same flower twice!  A bee would buzz up to a flower, crawl clumsily into its open, upturned "mouth", do it's thing, and then fly noisily off to the next one. Should it happen to hover around the same flower cluster that it had visited before,  it would simply halt its flight, hover a little as if making sure, then move off to a new cluster. This was the same should another bee attempt to feed from an already fed upon flower. In effect, the bees were the epitome of efficiency! No bee visited the same flower twice and the other bees seemed to be able to know which flowers had already been visited as well. In this way the two bees were able to complete their rounds of the vine rather quickly and without any overlapping of flowers between the two of them. I could almost imagine them talking over the buzzing sounds they made a they left.

"Hah! I win today," a triumphant bee one might say.

"Oh we'll see about tomorrow. Just you wait!" says an indignant bee two. 

Xolocopa latipes (tropical carpenter bee) image source: wikimedia.commons

Rajah Brooke's Birdwing Puddling Site

Hey ya'll
First of all, allow me to apologize for the lack of updates. It amuses me somewhat to see that, despite my absence, the blog has continued to receive a fair trickle of visitors! Anyway I just got back from my field work at Ulu Geroh about slightly under a week ago. I am living there with the Semai community, an indigenous group of people of Peninsular Malaysia, as part of the field work process for my PhD dissertation.  Among other amazing natural wonders, such as several species of Rafflesia which flower there, there rainforests surrounding the Ulu Geroh settlement is renowned for having a high diversity of insect species, most notably, butterflies. It is also one of the few remaining sites in Malaysia where the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing butterfly gather in large numbers on the banks of river to imbibe upon the nutrient rich salts that are present in the mud. I shared the video of one such puddling site sometime earlier this week and so it only natural that it would soon be followed by the photographs. Check it out. 

Some of these butterflies grew so "drunk" on salts that they abandoned much of their usual, jittery dispositions and could be coaxed to climb upon my outstretched palm.

Butterfly roosting on the palm of my hand.

Butterflies precariously perched on a layer of algae that has grown over some of the more stagnant puddling sites. Some of these algae platforms "give way" when there are too many butterflies on top of them and the "Drunker" are not always able to react fast enough and  fall into the water.

A first, butterflies puddling on grass!!! Actually this shot was taken very close to a natural hot springs so it is possible that the soil was equally rich in salts and minerals.