Sunday, June 23, 2013

The 19th ICA starts today

Kenting, Taiwan has been selected as the host for the 19th International Congress of Arachnology. The event kick started with a welcoming reception for congress participants to network. Nice food and excellent companions.

The congress will start on the 23rd June.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Laos Spider Symposium 2012

I attended the symposium in Pakse last year which focused on spiders within the South East Asian region. The event was organized by Peter Jaeger from Sackenberg with the help of some others. The most interesting thing about the symposium is that it was organized in a very informal manner. No chairman, no grand opening ceremony and no ribbon-cutting VVIP. We had some ice breaking session and the presentations went one after another. It was marvelous, cheap and practical. A very nice approach.

Many of the presentations are very exciting. The topics range from ecology, diversity, conservation, embryology, genetics,and one dude talked about photography. That was me, doing my second talk.

Founding members of the Asian Society of Arachnology.

Peter Koomen, Mustakiza, Patchanee, me, Mogana, Kamil, Gokula
The symposium was held in Arawan hotal in Pakse. It was the largest hotel in the nice little town at the southern province of Laos. Not many people are talking about Laos, even less considering to go there. There is probably not many things to do there it is certainly a good place to look for spiders. The meeting in Pakse also marked the formation of the Asian Society of Arachnology.

Manju from India, talking about tarantulas.
On the third day the delegates went to Wat Phou, a heritage site where there are ancient temples of earlier civilization. The arachnologists spent more time looking at the bushes than the relics. We visited some other places of interest which brought us to cross the Mekong river on a barge. 

This won't get you across the Mekong very quickly.

Dinner in a place I forgot what the name was.

On the fourth day we moved to the excursion site in Tad Etu which has a beautiful waterfall. The bunch of insane scientists spent days and nights doing collection in the area. I spent most of the time with Peter Koomen who is working on salticids in Sabah, Joseph Koh who is writing a book on spiders in Brunei and David Court whose primary interest is in mygalomorphs, thomosids and scytodids. 

A green lynx spider Peucetia sp. found where we were having lunch.

The two Olympus users. Peter has the OM-D though.

Most of the photos I took during this trip were taking using the waterproof camera Olympus TG-1. I found it most convenient to use a small compact that can be tucked in a pouch since there was a lot of traveling in this trip. The camera can take decent macro too and proved to be a very useful utility gear. I brought the E-30 with Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 but did not use it very often as expected.

Here are some of the spiders I photographed during the excursion. I spent more time exchanging knowledge and understanding their ways of studying spiders hence the trip was not much of a photography bonanza.

Many debates on what this is but I suspect it is a lycosid from genus Hippasa.

One of the good thing having a waterproof camera.

Very small theridiid.

Amyciaea lineatipes feeding on a weaver ant.

A beautiful green theridiid.

A beautiful crab spider which later collected by David.

Peucetia lynx spider with emerging spiderlings.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Laos Spider Symposium

The good people at Senckenberg Institute will be hosting a symposium in Laos from 12th to 15th November 2012 which will be themed on the spiders of grether Mekong. I expect this to be an educative meetings among arachnologists and spider enthusiasts who are looking at the South East Asian region.

There will be several presentations and posters on spiders. Further details can be seen from the symposium's website:

Entrance is free but you have to arrange for your own travel and accomodation. The host, Dr. Peter Jaeger, can be reached at if you need his help in securing a place.

From 16th-23rd you can join scientists in a series of workshop and excursion in Tad Itou. This is how the place supposed to look like.

Dorm rate is USD10/night and nice room at USD40.

I will be presenting on spider photography and spiders which might be of medical interest.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gea spinipes

This is a rather common spider found around grasses and low shrubs. Their webs are hardly more than 1 foot from the ground, often decorated with stabilimenta. The genus Gea (family Araneidae) is closely related to Argiope (often called St Andrew's Cross) and the more uncommon Neogea. Females can reach up to 11mm which makes them easy to spot and photographed. Sexual dimorphism is not as extreme although males are significantly smaller.

This spider has an extensive range throughout the tropics with records even in India. I often found then in large numbers among long grasses along trails, even nearby human settlements. Approaching one is considered easy as they do not easily startled. At most, the spider will move to the other side of the web in a flash.

So far I found them to be diurnal. They are especially easy to find in the morning following a raining night. The webs will be covered with water droplets, making them visible from quite a distance.

This one was seen moulting during daytime, about 11am or so, in a forest not far from Kuala Lumpur.

Small flying and hopping insects seem to be their main prey. Usually I found plant hoppers being caught and in one incident I saw an Aedes mosquito being devoured.

A contrast in size between sexes can be gauged from the video below.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The 1st South East Asian Spider Workshop

The notion to organize this event came following the visit of a delegation from the Faculty of Medicine in Universiti Malaya to the National University of Singapore earlier this year. Then the team of Dr. Noraishah Abd Aziz worked on putting up a workshop to congregate spider academicians within our region. We had 2 renowned professors from NUS- Prof Gopal (as seen on NatGeo) and Prof Li (the spider behaviour expert) who shared their expertise with the participants. Dr Noraishah and me put a presentation on the last day on the gene expression of spiders.

Prof Gopal shared the biochemistry of toxin and how the venom from spiders can be valuable to sciene. Apparently its venom, after isolation, can have a selective effect on certain ion channels in human nervous system. With further research, crucial drugs with little side effects can be developed. An example of established venom-derived drug is Arvin which was taken from the Malayan pit viper.

Prof Li Daiqin showing spider morphology as seen through a microscope connected to LCD screen.

Prof Li and mosquito entomologist Mr. John Jeffrey. Behind is Dr Lau (UPM) and Syuhada (UM-ISB).

The next day we looked at spider morphology and flourescence under conscopic microscope. Prof Li, who published a paper in Science on the latter subject, gave a lecture on effect of UV reflectance in spider courtship behaviour. In the evening we had a field trip to look at nocturnal spiders in their habitat. We went into the forest at 9pm and came out slightly after 12 midnight. Some of the spider we encountered are shown below.


Caerostris sumatrana.

Pandercetes sp. guarding egg sac.

From Left: Mustakiza, Syuhadah, Prof Li, me and Azmizi. 

On the last day of the workshop we looked at gene expression of spider. The model chosen was the local Pardosa wolf spider and we saw the development of spider embryo from newly a fertilized egg well into the fetus. The application of this study is immense since this is where the biological blueprint resides. It's like playing lego.

We are looking forward to have more such event to be organized in Malaysia as it gives the room for researcher with common interest to communicate freely. It may not be something which brings in foreign investment or spur the country's economy directly but is certainly an area where we have a lot of room to work on the research. If we are to become a knowledgable society, then we must not stress only on immediate financial gain. While this kind of study might not directly produce extra income to the country, it can contribute to the prevention of deaths from vector-borne disease and disaster by crop pests. Fundamental scientific studies need to be done before we can tap such knowledge for applied science to start working, not the other way around. This is the kind of development our country needs, even more than new condominium projects.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Macro Photography Workshop

Meet me in person this Saturday!

I will be conducting a mini workshop on macro photography on the 12th February 2010. It will be held in Fototeacher training center in Megan Phoenix Cheras. You may refer to for more details on registration.

Among the topics I will be delivering are:

1. Macro photography equipment with DSLR.
2. Basic camera settings and techniques.
3. Basic lighting system.
4. Case studies on how I photographed some award winning macro photos.

The workshop will be delivered in Bahasa Melayu. Please register early to get a place as seating is limited.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tropical Undergrowth World Through E-5

Part 4: Night Macro

Another long delay was inevitable as something unexpected happened to my family.

I have been doing macro both daytime and at night for some years. There are several reasons why night macro is preferred- nocturnal animals go out at night and they are less sensitive to human presence. Some more it is cool, atmosphere wise of course. The not-so-good thing is, of course, the lack of available light. This means focusing will require assistance from a light source such as a torch light. Unless you have a DIY torchlight holder like what my friend Benten has created, you will need the left hand to hold one. This leaves only your right hand to hold the camera.

By holding with one hand we have several issues- weight and stability. E-5 is a heavy camera by Olympus standard, almost double my E-500. For someone like me, I cannot hold it with one hand long especially with a flash unit mounted. Especially the STF twin flash. What saved me was the fabulous ergonomics of the camera and the built-in stabilizer which I supposed helped to compensate hand shake. While we might not be dealing much with image blur due to shake, getting the focus shifted is a major problem.

The great thing about E-5 for night macro is its autofocus system functions very well, both S-AF and C-AF even under low light. Even with the dreaded Zuiko Digital 50mm f2.0. It tracks better with ZD 50/2 compared to E-500 with ZD 35/3.5. This allows great macro opportunity when we are dealing in very tricky situations whereby older cameras tend to cause the lens go hunting.

Due to limited time I only tested the E-5 at night twice. Here are some of the better photos taken when the MyChiaroscuro Olympus-user club had a night macro safari.

Some kind of treehopper only found at night. See how well the highlight was controlled even when obviously flash was used.

A pholcid spider with eggs. Again we see the reflective-prone eggs have sufficient dynamic range while the leaf at the back is well illuminated.

 A very small crab spider (Thomisidae) with rich texture on its body and legs. The textures are well rendered with amazing clarity.

An excellent case study of how the E-5 controls the dynamic range to avoid blown highlights. Even in this low-res 600 pixel photo you can see the hairy texture of this poltys spider's abdomen and legs.

 Some kind of lizard I saw. Not my favourite subject but the scaly skin is a good test for finding excessive moire.

Hersiliid a.k.a. two-tailed spider. Can't say much on this photo but I think people would agree that if a camera can take this kind of photo, it is definitely a really good one.

OK. I find myself boring because I have been doing nothing but praising the E-5 since the beginning. No, the company didn't pay me. All I got from them was a few A4 papers with some marketing points. Frankly I am was very skeptical when the specs of this camera were released as it was the most lackluster model other than the E-450. What impressed me later was the immense improvement of image quality and AF system. Not saying the other models have low IQ, they are all good but this is a huge leap altogether. The AF performance in E-system cameras have been badly ridiculed for ages especially in low light. I hate them when shooting indoor. Now E-5 provided the answer needed.

Bad thing? Haaa... now we get things more interesting. Other than weight, I didn't have much time to find other weaknesses. Probably size is a bit of a problem to me since I cannot reach some of the buttons with my right thumb as easily as I did with E-500. But you see, I am a small person weight 50kg.

For a hobbyist, you cannot go wrong with this camera provided money is not an issue. It allows you access to the exotic Zuiko Digital lenses which are known to provide extremely high resolution and very impressive MTF behaviour. You can use the only two f2.0 zooms in existence with this camera. If your concern is about available lenses, just check out the Olympus website for the line up. Note that the company recently announced that they are not looking at developing new 4/3 lenses at this time so stop hoping for new ones to be released. This disappoints me as it means the planned (since 2007) 100mm macro lens will not see the light of day as of now.

Is this camera good for newbies? If you got the money, yes. It is not so complicated to use and definitely more than capable of producing great photographs. By now there are a lot of E-5 owners sharing their works on the web. Go google up and judge for yourself.

For E-5xx users, this is a very useful upgrade from your dinosaurs. You will love the new features (not really that much) and the excellent AF. The 12.3MP is reasonably high although not the best in the market. Most of the improvements are very helpful in making great photographs easier to take. If your AF tracks better, the image is sharper, the dynamic range higher, then this is pretty much settled. For those who are considering jumping to D300s or 7D, give a shot at E-5 and then only decide. Don't be a sensor size paranoid.

For E-3 and E-30 users, the upgrade is still very substantial. In fact most people I know who ordered the E-5 belong to this group! Ok, financial muscles aside I give the benefit of the doubt that they find the improvement to be worth the upgrade rather than jumping to another boat. I have been using E-30 for the past 1 week, courtesy of my friend Khairul, and would say the AF performance in E-5 is noticeably better. Even the IQ is better although both are using the same sensor.

For potential ship jumpers coming to Olympus, do study the E-system closely before fire selling your gears and buy the E-5. If you do that and still jump, you will appreciate this beast better. You will get to play with Zuikos but will lose great HD video (E-5 runs on 720 HD with noisy AF motor) and 5-figure ISO. I cannot comment much on the usage of other systems but one thing I take note is the colour. You can't beat Olympus' colour.