Mostly nature and photojournalism of amateur standard.

By: Amir Ridhwan

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Sunday, 10-Jun-2007 09:46 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The Tarantula

Burrow. See the legs
Camouflaged hole
Possibly adult tarantula
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Phylum: Arthropoda
Order: Araneae
Sub-order: Mygalomorphae

There are 3 suborders of the order Araneae (spiders)-
1. Mesothelae which is the most primitive spiders.They are living fossils and lived during the age of dinosours. Only one family exists and the best place to find them is South East Asia. Surprised?
2. Mygalomorphae which are commonly addressed as tarantulas. Primitive.
3. Araneomorphae whice are modern spiders consisting hundreds of families. All the photos I have published until now belong to this group.

Tarantula is the term used loosely to describe any excessively hairy spider. The most commonly known family is the Theraposidae which consists some of the largest spider on earth. Some live in holes in trees though most live in underground burrows. Their holes are recognized by the strands of silk protecting the entrance and inner walls. In some hole, the entrance is well camouflaged with dry leaves.

A tarantula burrow

Since I started my crusade to document spiders, I have set a very personal attachment to find 5 types of spiders- the Long-horned Gasteracantha Arcuata, the ant-mimmicking Myrmarachne, the fishing spider Dolomedes, the tarantulas and the trap-door spider Liphistius. I found the G. Arcuata in Bukit Belacan, the Myrmarachne in Batu Pahat and just yesterday I photographed the tarantula in Bukit Fraser. But what makes it so special compared to any other spider I have photographed was the planning that was involved. This was not a mere coincidental encounter, it was a hunt. And there was only one target- the tarantula.

Tarantulas will scout for potential hazard before leaving home. In this case, a human with a camera.

I went to Bukit Fraser with my in-law family for a vacation. 4 months ago I identified some of their burrows and vowed to return to photograph them. Little I know about their behaviour except that they spend the day in the hole and only creep out after sunset to search for food on the forest floor. Therefore I went to identify the holes during the day and at about 11pm I went to look for them together with Mas and her brother Anuar.

A medium-sized adult just at the hole entrance. Taken at about 11pm.

Since tarantulas are active at night, we have to search for them in total darkness. A powerful flashlight is indespensible. I had to use a telephoto lens for fear that I might not be able to come close to a specimen once we found one.

A small tarantula. Judging from the hole diameter, the adult must be 3-4 times larger. Taken 10 minutes after the above.

Due to the limited time and some unnatural feelings at midnight, we decided to call the hunt off after I have photographed this cute little tarantula. As with all other images here, I photograph spiders only in their natural habitat with as minimal disturbance as possible. The flora and fauna in Bukit Fraser are protected by law, therefore any destructive contact with the animals are prohibited. I believe that even without the law, we should not hurt the animals just because we want to take some photos. Their existance is much more important than our selfish pride.

Gears used: Olympus E-500, Zuiko Digital 35mm f3.5 macro, Sigma 55-200mm f4-5.6 DC, FL-50, home-made flash reclector.

Assistants: Mas (my wife) and Anuar (my brother-in-law).

Anuar found a very weird spider not far from the juvenile tarantula in which I will try to identify before making an entry of it.

Monday, 4-Jun-2007 16:33 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Strike of Death

This lynx spider just ambushed a katydid. Taken on 3rd June 2007 in Bukit Belacan. I am a bit tied up recently so just to ensure there is something for this entry, I hope this photo would do. Personally, I think this is one of my favourite.

Lynx spiders (family Oxyopidae) are hunters. They do not weave webs but instead hunt their prey similar to the wolf and jumping spiders.They are very agile and known to jump into the air to catch flying insects.

They are very sensitive to the environment and will hide once they sense hazard coming. You can note them by several characteristics:

1. 8 eyes in the formation of an octagon.
2. Spiky legs.
3. The abdomen is tapered to the back.
4. No web but stalks low vegetations.
5. Body length about 1-2cm.

In this image the prey is a katydid, a relative of grasshopper.

Sunday, 20-May-2007 09:22 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Crab Spider- Family Thomisidae

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A master of camouflage, the members of Thomisidae family usually wait for their prey among flowers before strike. They are catogorized as hunters meaning they don’t weave web traps but unlike other hunters they do not maraud for preys.

There are 63 genera of crab spiders in South East Asia with 26 of them are endemic meaning they are not found outside of this region. Further more, 20 of those genera have only 1 species which suggest that the study of this family has been poor, at least in our country. Scientists believe that there are many more species of crab spiders waiting to be discovered and to be documented by science. I have no idea if the specimens I found are new species or not since there are very few literatures to refer.

Probably the major obstacle in studying the Thomisdae is the fact that it is very difficult to spot. They are small, usually less than 8mm in length, and have superb camouflage. They usually hide among flowers of the same color as theirs and move only when a prey is within striking distance. Their venom is very potent to insect as most of the preys are much larger than themselves.

My first encounter with a crab spider was totally accidental. I was photographing flying insects in Puchong when I noted a damselfly was hanging upside-down in a very peculiar manner. A careful inspection confirmed that it was dead and I cannot help but to wonder how the carcass can end up among the vines. Then I noted a black ant nibbling its head and thinking this makes a good photo, I took a few shots. It was then that I realized one of the little flowers was moving and the crab spider was revealed. Below is the image and you can hardly notice it if you are not looking for it.

The crab spider (left) sharing its meal with a black ant. Some crab spiders even eat ants.

A frontal view of the same spider. Puchong.

There are several physical trademark of the crab spider:
1. The 2 front pair of legs are much longer than the rest.
2. Very small eyes arranged in 2 rows (4-4).
3. Usually a stout abdomen.
4. Usually the cephalothorax and abdomen are of the same color or pattern which are similar to its habitat.

Though the venom of a crab spider is lethal to most insects, it is not known to cause harm to human. The fangs are very small that it might not even penetrate a human skin. Unless a person is suffering from severe allegy to spider bite, no one should be terrified at this little beast.

This shy little guy was seen hanging around the stalk of a senduduk plant. Genting Highlands.

Another crab spider trying to hide under a leaf after it spotted me. Seems to be playing dead. Puchong.

How to find them?
They might be hiding among flowers and stalks of low vegetation. They are very sensitive and should be approached quietly. Look carefully at the flowers and try to spot a peculiar pattern or shape which could well be a crab spider waiting for its prey.

Shy little one. Tanjung Tuan.

Saturday, 12-May-2007 13:40 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Weekend Trip to Kuala Tahan

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I want to Taman Negara the last weekend to attend my second cousin's wedding together with ikelah, P5 and our families. At first I was reluctant to go but Ikelah poisoned me by telling tales of exotic spiders lurking in the bushes of Kuala Tahan. Apart from strengthening family ties, we have some hidden agendas- a back to nature stay at Kuala Tahan and to devour as much asam rong as possible.

The happily married couple.

The wedding reception was in Kampung Pasir Durian, not far from Jerantut. We ate our fill of smoked patin stew and buffaloo veal. Later we stayed at Agoh resort which is located across the river from Taman Negara's jetty. The room was clean and well taken care of. For RM50 a night with 2 beds, this is a very good rate. The location is just about 20 meters from the jetty where the floating restaurants are. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Taman Negara. You can view the room here and all units have air-conditioner installed.

A young Myrmarachne maxillosa with a prize in its jaws.

A green shield bug laying eggs.

The next day I took a hiking trip up to the summit of Bukit Teresak some 2 hours from the entrance. Maman and Daniel tagged along with me while the rest went for a boat ride to Lata Berkoh. Trekking is not a really productive way to photograph macro subjects especially when you are chaperoning 2 restless juveniles. Nevertheless I managed to photographed some very interesting subjects including a Portia species from the family Salticidae.

This is a spider from genus Portia. Quite difficult to get it pose for me.

A robber fly found along the path to Bukit Teresak.

Spiders in a mating call.

For anyone going to Taman Negara, I strongly recommend that you order patin asam rong at the floating restaurant. It is ultra delicious and you can hardly find it outside of Pahang.

This is gulai asam rong made specially for us by Kak Arfah who took care of me when I was an infant. The fish used is called ikan combat aka kenerak.

Sunday, 6-May-2007 15:04 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Genus Cyclosa- Have you noticed them before?

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Order: Araneae
Sub-order: Araneomorphae (59 families in South East Asia)
Family: Araneidae (orb weaver)
Genus: Cyclosa

My first encounter with the Cyclosa was about a month back when I went back to my hometown in Kuantan. It first, it does not look like anything alive. Since the whole body is shaped like some long seed while it is resting, I took it as some enwrapped prey in an abandoned spider web. A careful inspection made me realize that it is a living spider.

This is what you see from some 2 feet away. Kuala Tahan.

Once I got my camera close to take its photo, the Cyclosa moved away as it may sense a possible hazard. The abdomen suddenly curled upward as it crawled along the silk thread. Some spiders such as the Argiope simply let itself fall when sensing danger but the Cyclosa took its time crawling to the end of the web and hide at the connecting leaf. Even with 8 legs it seems that this one is quite a sloth.

Taking a bite. Bukit Belacan.

Their webs are usually quite close to the ground and built among tree shrubs. The webs are marked with stabilimentia- either in circular form or something similar to the spider itself, which depending on the species. The spider hides among the stabilimentum and sometimes you may notice the egg sac there as well.

Trying to run and hide but lack speed. Kuala Tahan.

This Cyclosa species is multicolored and the abdomen is not shaped too much like a tube. It is also known as the Decoy Orb Weaver due to its elaborate stabilimentum. Bukit Fraser.

Someone might mistaken this for a scorpion. Taman Gelora, Kuantan.

Cyclosa is a very interesting genus consisting some species with peculiar shapes. You can distinguish them from the body shape- some are tube-like and walk like scorpions while some have weird geometrical abdomen. The 4 front legs are aligned to the front in a row, unlike most other spiders. Finally many of their webs carry stabilimentia which looks like debris either in a linear formation or circular spiral. Look for their webs close to the ground, perhaps just a few inches above the grass.

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