Friday, January 29, 2010

The two-tail spider

Spiders are very cryptic. They somehow can blend with their surroundings in such a manner that very often the human observer will not notice one just right in front. Even as a spider hunter, I suppose that I manage to notice less than 50% of spiders that I encounter in any outing. This is because spiders tend to have a very good integrated camouflage tactics which involves colors, patters, body position and locomotion. One of the masters of camouflage is those from the Hersiliidae family which are also known as the two-tailed spiders.

The name was derived from the extremely long pair of spinnerets protruding from the back side. They are so long that sometimes the look longer than the entire body itself, which makes them look ridiculous since an animal with two tails can hardly register in anyone’s common sense. The remarkable tactic employed by the hersiliid is by having a flat body and the tendency to press itself to the surface, hence almost eliminating the shadow casted by natural light. They also seem to have a tendency to lie on a surface with patterns and colors matching their body. Some other spiders such as the huntsman Pandercetes sp. has very similar camouflage tactics and herlisiid can be distinguished by the long spinnerets and the fact that its third pair of legs is much shorter than the rest.

Close up of a hersiliid.

For those not familiar with the anatomy of spiders, the term spinneret refers to the organ there the silk thread emerges from. These things look like small segmented organs protruding at the bottom backside of the abdomen. Depending of the families, spiders may have up to 4 pairs of spinnerets weaving different kind of silk. Each spinneret is attached to a specific type of silk gland which secretes different kind of silk, for example, for making cocoon, drag line, sperm web or axial thread in webs.

One note about the two-tail spider is on its hunting habit. Mostly they hunt day and night by ambush. Due to its cryptic nature, the spider can lie on wood or rock until a potential prey arrives. It will pin the prey to the surface with its two long spinnerets and than rotates around the prey while spinning silk around it. I have never personally seen this but it is entertaining to imagine a spider doing a merry-go-round for a living.

A hersiliid found on a tree trunk in a primary forest. Note the shorter legs III.

This spider can be found in primary and secondary forest, sometimes in human habitat as well. It is not commonly seen mainly due to its extremely cryptic nature but once you have an experience identifying it, finding another would be much easier. A good thing is that this is among the few spiders where males and females are of almost equal size and appearance.

A small hersiliid who chose a painted brick wall as habitat. Some how it seems to work well.

We have four genera in South East Asia: Hersilia, Murricia, Neotama and Tama. Hersilia is mainly a tropical genus with many species recorded in Malaysia. Just in 2004 two Brazilian arachnologists described 4 new species of Hersiliidae found in Kinabalu National Park and about 10 years before that over 20 species were described in South East Asia and South Asia. Such many recent discoveries might suggest that there could be more hersiliid species yet uncovered in our region.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hunting spot: Taman Bandar, Puchong

Taman Bandar is located in Bandar Puteri in Puchong, or somewhere around that. The most direct route if you are coming from LDP southbound, just take the left exit at Tractors Malaysia at the signboard saying Kampung Puchong. If you miss that, you’ll come to the junction that splits to Putrajaya and to Shah Alam. After the turn, take another turn to the left and you will come across a traffic light facing a pump up grocery store name Puteri Mart. Take left. After 30 meters you will find the park on your right, just before a huge badminton complex.

Map to Taman Bandar

It is a decent public park with a small playground and streams flowing greywater on both sides. Some people fish there although I don’t think I have the stomach to consume anything bred inside the murky water. Walk straight upon entering and you will find hibiscus, bamboo, bakong and some other plants which are good habitat for insects and spiders. You arrival might be greeted by dragonflies and damselflies which are quite abundant throughout the park.

I have been frequenting this park since 2006, ever since I got my macro lens. There are plenty of spiders here from many families such as Thomisidae (crab), Tetragnathidae (big jaw), Salticidae (jumping), Oxyopidae (lynx), Araneidae (orb weaver) and Sparassidae (huntsman). Usually it won’t take you long to find one if you look closely at the shrubs for webs or silk trails. At the further end of the park is a patch of hibiscus isolated in a small field which houses plenty of spiders, mantis and dormant mosquitoes.

Big-jaw spider, Tetragnathidae

Mangrove jumper Ligurra latidens, Salticidae

I noticed that the frequency of finding certain kinds of hunting spiders here varies according to the time of the day. Morning usually means plenty of encounters with jumping spiders including the ant mimic genera Agorius and Myrmarachne. The latter is very easily distinguished by the ridiculously extended jaws which makes it looks like an ant carrying something. There are also the larger salticid like Ligurra which preys on other spiders, often seen invading the nests of crab spiders or any spider retreat they can find. Along the jogging trails are patches of purple plants where several kinds of jumping spiders can be easily found since their camouflage does not work well with that colour.

Female lynx spider guarding egg sac, Oxyopidae

Afternoon is when the lynx spider takes over. At the hibiscus patch I mentioned earlier, you can see them almost everywhere. At one time I counted 12 of them in visual range from the point I was standing. Lynx spiders need to be approached carefully as their eye sight is pretty keen albeit the small eyes. If you are lucky, you can trace a mature male (the one with big black pedipalps resembling boxing gloves) moving to court a female. There is quite a variety of lynx spiders here and I reckon at least 3 distinct species. This was also the place where I encountered my first lynx spider.

Crab spiders can be found both morning and afternoon although they are the most cryptic compared to the others. At least 8 different species of crab spider can be found in this park- 4 of them white or whitish yellow, 2 brown and 2 green. Because they hardly move around and they camouflage will with whatever they are sitting on, very careful observation is needed to locate one. The body length of adult females is usually between 6-10mm while the males are usually about 3mm and mostly have 2 shades of brown.

Female crab spider, Thomisidae

Other day time orb weavers are present from sunrise to sunset. At the bamboo patch you can find some Argiope and other araneidaes. There are also plenty of Tetragnatha near the water edge and occasionally you might find some Opadometa having their webs beneath the big trees.

An unidentified spider, maybe a Clubionidae

Ant mimmick spider Myrmarachne sp., Salticidae

For those who are also interested in finding insects, you need no help in finding dragonflies and damselflies as they are all over especially at the side bordering the badminton complex. Other interesting insects you might be able to find are hoverfly, mantis, butterfly, ladybird, phasmid and grasshopper. Just look for the greens and you’ll be on the right track.

Crab spider, Thomisidae

Towards the end of 2009 there has been a steady decline in the number and variety of arthropods that can be found in this park. There is a construction works being carried out just not far from the park which I suppose contributed to the situation. Since the park is not far from housing areas, fogging activities within the surrounding area might also have a strong impact on the fauna population. One hope we have is its rather close proximity to the Ayer Hitam forest reserve where new individuals might migrate to the park to replenish the decimated population.

Hazard: Some mosquito.
Families encountered: Salticidae, Thomisidae, Tetragnathidae, Araneidae, Pholcidae, Sparassidae, Clubionidae, Oxyopidae, Lycosidae, Uloboridae.
Other remarks: Not advisable to go during weird hours such as noon. I have encountered a bunch of people gambling discretely and doing some weird stuff.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spiders on NTV7's The Breakfast Show.

Recently I was invited by a national television company to talk about macro photography and spiders. It was initiated when a senior producer in NTV7 was interested in the photos I published in my facebook in the Macro Mania album. So we corresponded via email on the particulars and agreed to have on The Breakfast Show of Thursday 21 January 2010.

My friend Marcus was also invited to the show as he is also a spider enthusiast. To make things more realistic and fun, we decided to go to the set wearing our usual outdoor outfit, which for Marcus means his short pants. Against the pleas of some people I insisted on wearing my signature macro shirt and the turtle sanctuary hat which had been with me for many years. I felt very excited to appear on TV for the first time but when the program day drew close, usual nervousness started to creep in. Now, how if I make a fool of myself on live TV? Yes, it’s live.

Fortunately the Breakfast Show crew team had been very helpful which reflected their experience and professionalism. The senior producer of the show, Tengku Firhad, greeted us at Sri Pentas lounge before bringing us through the maze of the Media Prima complex for make up. I think the last time I had make up was when I was in a stage play back in primary school. Those are not memories I really fond of.

The Breakfast Show starts on 8.30am every weekday. For that day we will be the first guests with my slot starting at about 9am, I think. The lovely hosts were Joanne de Rozario and Aishah Sinclair who greeted us when the show was on commercial break. Me and Marcus sat on a sofa opposite them and when the crew gave the cue that we are on air, my mind simply went blank. All prior preparations suddenly vaporized and I felt at the mercy of the ladies.

It was not much of a slaughter actually as they have been very kind to make sure the show went smooth. I admit that I was nervous and tended to mumble rather than speaking like what people usually do on TV. Earlier I sent 20 photos to be used in the show and when we got to the part of talking about the photos, the first one shown was a female Argyrodes with her newly hatched babies. I think that was considered the most decent photo being talked about during the show. The next ones were about mating, courting, predation and mating again. Having to describe the mating process of animals to celebrity girls on live TV was not what I had in mind earlier.

At a point during the show we had a live call with the GM of Epson Malaysia who shared on their recent initiatives to promote photography in Malaysia such as bringing in Steve McCurry to conduct workshops here. There will be a photo contest soon with Mr. McCurry as the judge so stay tune to their website in February for details. The next guest that day was Vince from Akademi Fantasia.

There were a lot of other subjects which I wish I talked about during the show, especially on the importance of spider in our environment and conservation of the endangered species. The show was about 20-30 minutes and I believe it was a good one with a lot of facts about spiders has been shared. Nevertheless there are other fascinating information and messages that I would like to pass across to Malaysians. It is my hope that I can do it here in my blog with you.

Watch the program online here (go to Part 3) THE BREAKFAST SHOW 10 - 21 January 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

The biodiversity of Malaysia

I feel privileged to be born and raised in Malaysia. While some people (sometimes including myself) complain about fuel price, toll, traffic jam, and about fifty gazillions other stuffs, I admit that we live in a place which is blessed with extremely beautiful flora and fauna. Just look at the colourful corals of Perhentian Island and the greens of Fraser's Hill which are objects of envy for those not blessed with tropical climate. For a nature lover, Malaysia is simply one of the few places on earth which is closest to the seventh heaven.

To appreciate the vast biodiversity in Malaysian rainforest you don't have to go deep. Even at the suburbs and forest edges we can find plenty of wild life from arthropods to small mammals. The roads that connect the major towns sometimes pass through dense forests and at times travelers can witness even more spectacular creatures such as tapirs and gibbons. Of course you cannot expect to see these if you are using the highways.

Perhaps most of the large mammals in our rainforests have been discovered and documented by science. If there is any more awaiting discovery, they are most likely to dwell in the remote untouched forests such as the Royal Belum and the Maliau Basin. While I am equally fascinated by the flair of the flying fox and the agility of linsang, my prime interest belongs to the world of the tiny and often forgotten arachnids. Related under the same phylum to the insect, arachnids are 8 legged creatures with no back bone and sort of primitive in their behaviour. They can't swim nor can the fly. The most interesting of all is the spider.

This blog is about spiders that I have found and photographed since 2006. I will also talk about my journey in finding as many spiders in the wild and my attempt to photograph them. While photos are nice to view, the most important message I want to broadcast is about conservation of our flora and fauna. Rapid development, climate change and deforestation have drastically affecting the survival of our wild life with many species not found anywhere else in the world. These are our national treasure, an inheritance which should not be taken for granted.