“Wait Till You See My Smile”

Posted: February 20, 2010 in butterflies, macro photography
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Can You Tell A Veil From A Smile?

Having seen through the spider's veil, I went back in search of the clever master of disguise.  This time the black ant mimic spider did smile for me.  I went back to the leaf which had been webbed in two and found it sitting there in the shadows waiting for another gullible victim.  And man, it was a smile indeed.  Those large and long jaws (or chelicerae) are typical of males of this species.  Members of this genus (Myrmarachne) typically have jaws which can vary from about half to nearly as long as the carapace.

Weirdly enough, there was a grasshopper much bigger than it standing nonchalently on the same leaf no more than a few centimetres from it.  But I was on the hunt and didn't stay to see who won.

 

Girl, Interrupted

While walking along the routes in search of the Common Duffer, we had to destroy many of the webs of this particular spider (Opadometa fastigata) because they were so numerous and their webs so thin and transparent, you usually don't see it until you see an odd shaped critter moving its eight legs quickly in the direction of the nearest branch or leaf… and usually it will already be too late. 

Your whole face is in the web.

This is one odd shaped spider.  The abdomen tapers strongly and overhangs most of the carapace.  There is also a characteristic and substantial brush of hairs along the 4th leg/tibia 4IV (if you look at the photo, it's the two legs far right).   

A Kiss of Death

I found what looked like the remains of a small tree hopper "kissed" to death by an assassin bug, stabbed to death at the end of its cone-like mouth.

Known as "conenoses" or "kissing bugs", this is one bug you don't want to be kissed by.  Depending on the species, some of these bugs can inflict a really painful bite.  Fittingly named, many assassin bug species (Reduviidae) are bloodsucking parasites of mammals and require blood meals to complete their development while others prey on flies, caterpillars and other insects.

If one lands on you, flick it off or brush it off but don't slap or try to crush it, because it'd definitely bite you then and this is one kiss you want to avoid.

 

Lurking In The Shadows

Both the Palm King and Common Duffer belong to the sub-family of Morphinae, which has the largest-sized butterflies in the family of Brush-Footed butterflies/Nymphalidae, some of which are as large as dinner plates.

The Palm King was huge (approximately 7cm across the wings), although not as impressive as a dinner plate.  In spite of its size, it was very difficult tracking the butterfly in the shadow of the canopy, as it kept close to the ground and was "swallowed" up into the ground the moment it landed with the aid of its clever disguise.  Eventually this individual was photographed after "walking into" the butterfly (since I couldn't see it) while blindly searching in the dark.  It flew up from the forest floor into a tree where it posed on a branch, hoping that I wouldn't see it.

The young of the Palm King feed on coconut palm leaves but although coconut palms are plenty here, this is the first time I've seen and photographed the butterfly.  The larvae also feed on the Nipah Palm and the African Oil Palm. 

The Common Duffer wasn't as big (approx 4cm) or even as distinctly patterned as the Palm King.  A dull brown, several of the butterflies were perched around and in a huge bamboo tree together with several Bamboo Tree Browns.   

Once disturbed, they fly higher up the bamboo tree or away into the shadows, which makes them almost impossible to trace.  Add the dead dry bamboo stems all over the ground and pear-shaped Leucage spiders hanging everywhere to the mix and trying to photograph these butterflies is like one of those Japanese game shows where it's Game Over with just one false move, one trip, one false start.  And it's another long wait sitting on a disused well in the middle of nowhere listening to a soft hooting from the canopy overhead.     

References:

Frances & John Murphy (2000) Introduction to Spiders of South East Asia. Malaysia: Malaysian Nature Society

G.S. Robinson, P.R. Ackery (2001) Hostplants of the moth and butterfly caterpillars of the Oriental Region. Malaysia: The Natural History Museum and Southdene Sdn Bhd 

Corbet & Pendlebury (1992) The Butterflies of the Malay Peninsula. Malaysia: Malaysian Nature Society

J. L. Capinera (2008) Encyclopedia of Entomology. USA: Springer

http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2082.html 

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