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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fighting Spiders - Thiania bhamoensis

I chance upon a spider last week that reminds me of an activity I so fondly remembered during my childhood. Not just any spider, only a certain species is caught and the thrill of pitching them against each other in a fight certainly rekindles happy childhood memories and because the males readily fight each other if put together, they are known as fighting spiders from the Salticidae Family. Catching the spider was half the fun, your priced specimen winning in a fight against your
friend’s is an extra bonus.
To look for them, you have to search them out in hedges with long leaves preferably in a cool quiet location with minimal intrusions like human activities or traffic. The Crinum asiaticum or commonly called spider lily is their favourite plant to nest hence the name. They build nest by binding two leaves together with strands of silk, once a nest is located, slowly and carefully open the two leaves to confirm that it is the correct spider species you are looking for. The next step is to confirm that it is a male, females are no good for fighting, the males are instinctively much more territorial and aggressive, scientifically termed as agonistic behavior. In comparison, females have larger abdomens (or is it their butts?), shorter claws and display a duller appearance with more green and less blue iridescent markings.

You catch them with your bare hands as they don’t bite and are not known to be toxic. In my days, they are always kept in match boxes and the only acceptable accommodation for champions will no doubt be matchboxes of the “King Kong” brand, some of you older guys might remember this (girls don’t play with spiders in my days and as far as I know still don’t). Then some leaves are put in to provide moisture and a “homely” environment for them to hide and to feed them, any small insect will do but first they are to be incapacitated by squishing them half dead. To train champion fighters, the practice was to feed them smaller specimens of the same species, in an attempt to ignite their cannibalistic behavior thus making them more aggressive, or so we think, it all sounds so “inhumane” now but that was how it was done.

To make them fight, all that is needed is to bring two males together and while facing each other, a sort of ritualistic dance occurs with opponents circling each other with the front legs/arms open up as if they are sizing each other up before taking any physical actions. After a brief moment, the fight begins with their front legs or arms (we thought it was their claws at the time) locking up against each other in a push and pull motion. The loser is the one that gives up and runs away. I have not come across fatalities during this fighting matches but I do see injuries being sustained when an arm seem to have gone missing after a while. Properly fed and kept, I had one champion that I manage to keep for more than a month, before it escape because I did not close the matchbox lid properly and I never had one that died on me due to old age most probably because they always managed to escape before that happen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Red Bug

Spotted this small attractive red bug flying around and it was kind enough to stop a while for me to take a few photos. I have not seen this type of insect before let us see what it is.

From the photo it looks like it belongs to the family Pyrrhocoridae (order Heteroptera), described as a plant feeding insect oval in shape and brightly coloured with red. It has also been reported for this species, Dimorphism can occur, a condition in which two or more visibly different forms exist.

That could maybe explain why it was not possible for me to match this particular specimen with photo identification available of more common species. Colour and slight variation of shapes was observed when compared.

If I had identified it correctly, this species is also known as Fire Bug. The red bug is considered as a pest in the coton industries, if present in the cotton being harvested would cause stains during further processing of cotton.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday in Taiwan

With eager anticipation the whole family waited for the pick up to arrive for our holiday in Taiwan.
It will be the first oversea holiday for the children. Proud with their newly issued passports impatiently waiting for the pick up to arrive, while we attempt to close “camp” temporarily for the next one week. With spare keys handed to the neighbour for access to the house in an emergency, electrical items unplugged, all travel documents in hand, plants watered to last the week hopefully and so forth.
Finally, the pick up arrives and our journey begins. Perceived problems started the moment we left home. Did we switch off the water heater? Was the kitchen door sufficiently locked? Did we water the plants at the back? Will the fish be fed? Is the gate closed? Is the neighbour’s cat locked inside the house? What about the dog? Hang on a minute, we don’t have a dog! That’s it .......... we are doomed, there will be no house left to come back to....! It took me a while to calm down and be rationale again.
The trip from our home to the airport took us about 5 hours, it appears the bus driver has no ambition to be a F1 driver. On arrival, as usual the low cost terminal at KLIA was bustling with people.
Our acompanying tourist guide who must have done this a thousand times herded us efficiently like cattle through the check in counters and we were in the departing gate waiting to board the plane.
We arrive in Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport on a cool windy afternoon and the tour started immediately. It was fortunate that the wife had insisted that we bring along some warm clothing against my view that Taipei’s weather at this time of the year with temperature hovering between 20⁰ to 22⁰ C, we would hardly need them and that our air condition rooms back home would be cooler, forgetting there is such a thing as wind chill factor.

The tour started with a visit to Tamsui Fisherman’s wharf supposedly to catch its beautiful sunset, unfortunately we arrive too late and it was already dark, at this time of the year in Taiwan the sun sets at around 5pm. It has floating piers and a park with a bridge in the shape of a boat. Delicious fried finger food is sold in the park.

The tour bus took us to Wulai the next morning. A town located north of Taiwan inhabited by aboriginal people of the Atayal tribe. The scenery is beautiful with its waterfall, running rivers, hot spring and cable cars. We attended a cultural show by the Atayal tribe and were dissapointed with its presentation. The show started with members of the Atayal tribe dancing to a popular western rock tune that is really out of place and inappropriate to say the least, so much for keeping its identity and culture intact, when the show ended we were not sure what culture the Atayal tribe really had.

Lunch was at the Five Dime restaurant with its unique sculpted wood decor resembling two female aboriginal dancers with flowing hair. The food in general as with most Tiawanese food, is a bit bland for our Malaysian taste which is more accustomed to food highly flavored and spicier.

After lunch, the township of Jiufen was our next stop. The literal translation of Jiufen means nine portions, legend has it that this town was inhabited by nine families and was inaccesible by road long ago and all materials need to be transported through the coastline by ships, whenever anything is needed, nine portions are always ordered and that is how the town derived its name. For local snack food and sovenirs, a visit to the Jiufen old street is a must. We particularly like the ones which offer free tasting of snack food being sold. Popular local snack food is rice cakes called moe chi with its many types of fillings.

Today we started with a visit to the Xuang Zang Temple enroute to Sun Moon Lake, reputedly holding the largest body of water in Taiwan. We took a boat tour of the lake where we make a stop at a small island in the center of the lake named Lalu. The National Palace museum was our next destination where we had the opportunity to look at some exquisite exhibits of jade carvings and other precious artifacts from the various Chinese dynasties. Since no camera was allowed in, no photo was taken.

The next day we visted the Martyrs' Shrine in Taipei where it was built to honour the 330,000 men who had sacrifice their lives during the Sino-Japanese war and the Chineses civil war prior establishing the Republic of China.
The ceremonial change of guards we witnessed is impressive.

The afternoon took us to Chung Tai Chan Monastery constructed with an unconventional design compared to traditional Chinese temples.

In the evening we were in the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, the granduer of the memorial hall was not amissed with its majestic structues and statues of Chiang Kai Shek in the main hall. There was also a Chinese opera being performed on the evening of our visit which adds further attractions to the place.

Yehliu Geopark was visited the following day, reknown for its sea-eroded landscape with eroded rock formation resembling a Queen’s head, Dragon head and other objects. Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily on the day and we have to cut short our visit.

Of course, a visit to Taiwan would not be complete without going to 101 Taipei. It is currently the second tallest building in the world. It was filled with people to the brim during our visit and we did not have the chance to venture up this impressive building except to browse through the shopping mall, all selling high end branded name items.

On the last day before departing for home, we visited the former residence of Chiang Kai-shek. Walking along the well maintained garden with the sun shining and a cool breeze blowing was refreshing. I can imagine Chiang Kai-shek taking a very comfortable “secure” stroll through it as some of the old garrison buildings and guard post was still evident.

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable holiday for the family. The only part we could do without is the unplanned visits to commercial establishments like specialty tea house, cure all pearl powder and lingzhi health food shops, selling at highly inflated prices where we all know the tour guide and bus driver gets a commision on anything we buy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Unidentified Assassin Bugs

This are photos of Assassin bug that I just couldn’t seem to identify to which specific species it belongs to.
Basically, assassin bugs are members of the family Reduviidae in the order Hemiptera.
These small specimens in the photos show the many varieties of assassin bugs with different markings found in the Malaysian rain forest.

As previously described, assassin bugs has a short beak that sucks fluids from its victim after stabbing its prey with its proboscis and injecting a toxin that dissolves tissue. As such, handle them with utmost care their bites will be extremely painful.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Click Beetles

From the beetle family Elateridae, commonly called Click Beetles because its body has an unusual click mechanism when activated will produce a violent click which can bounce the beetle into the air. Its function is to escape from predators and also used for righting itself when it finds itself inadvertently on its back, due to its very short legs, without the clicking mechanism it would be difficult to right itself.
There is about 9300 species worldwide, so identifying which specific genus they are from would be challenging.

Click beetles have long, flat bodies and are masters of feigning death, where it can remain still for a long time pretending to be dead by merely touching it, which makes it an ideal subject for macro photography. They range in length from 1/4 in. to 4 in. Generally found in shades of black or brown, adults are usually nocturnal leaf-eaters.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Two-striped telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata),

One of the many jumping spiders found in the Malaysian tropical rain forest, jumping spiders forms the largest family of spiders from the family Salticidae.

Jumping spiders get their names from its ability to jump from place to place spunning silk if need be while jumping, the silk is used as anchorage just in case it falls, it can climb back up the spunned silk.

The two striped telamonia, made famous by an e-mail hoax circulated widely around the globe around 2002 and till now occasionally still being circulated in many edited form still referencing to the two striped Telamonia spider. The hoax claims its bite is fatal and they are usually found lurking under toilet seats waiting to bite on any unsuspecting victim’s butt. Some e-mail hoax actually titled the e-mail “Butt Spider”.

Further information on the hoax can be found in this site:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stick Insect

I had read and seen pictures of it but this is my first physical encounter with a Stick Insect, it was so well camouflage it would not surprise me if I had encountered it in the past but not took notice of it. It looks exactly like a twig and if this particular specimen wasn’t spook by me and attempted to fly off, I would not have seen it.

With a body shape that mimics the twigs of plants including matching its colors, it is among the best camouflaged of all creatures.

Stick insects are strictly vegetarians and feeds on leaves, generally nocturnal it would remain motionless, hidden under plants during the day. There is another variety of Stick insect that resembles a leaf, I am sure I will come across one someday.

Interesting facts about Stick Insects:
1. There are more than 3,000 types of Stick Insect identified worldwide.
2. Stick insects can reproduce without a mate and if there are no males, the females will lay eggs resulting in a population consisting entirely of females.
3. It has the ability of partial regeneration, for example regenerating a lost leg after several successive molts.
4. The Malaysian stick insect, Pharnacia serratipes, maturing to about 13 inches, is known to be the longest insect in the world