Friday, 30 July 2010

walking the amazon, from source to sea

For those who don't know who Ed Stafford is, he is the guy who has been walking the length Amazon River for 849 days since April 2, 2008, to raise awareness of the region. He began his trek at the source of the river in Peru, and was joined in July 2008 by Gadiel "Cho" Sanchez Rivera. The pair are due to reach the shores of the Atlantic on August 9. During his trek Ed has blogged using a laptop and a satellite internet link. You can follow his journey on the Walking the Amazon website . CNN has recently published an article about Ed's adventures.

Ed, 34, from Leicestershire England, has led remote expeditions all over the world. He started running expeditions after retiring from the British Army as a captain in 2002. Whilst not leading trips Ed worked alongside the United Nations in Afghanistan assisting with the first ever presidential elections advising on security, planning and logistics. Prior to this journey Ed was in production with the BBC on their conservation series ‘Lost Land of the Jaguar’. Ed’s passion lies in pushing himself to achieve feats that others may not believe are possible. He is inspired by explorers such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Borge Ousland and Mike Horn - all of whom have accomplished outstanding feats of human endeavor. Ed intends to use his expeditions to educate about environmental issues, whilst inspiring people to throw off the shackles of convention and believe that they can achieve their dreams.

I marvel at people like Ed. Sometimes, I wonder if I can do the same, perhaps not in the amazon, but trek across alaska or greenland. One needs the drive and the determination to carry one through, especially when the going gets tough.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

world's most distubing animals

I chanced upon this site known as the Most Disturbing Animals on Earth and found it to be most fascinating. Do check out the video on the illusive and very bizarre vampire squid.

my fascination with stonefish

I have formed a morbid fascination with stonefish (Synanceia). Ever since I started going on these reef trips and getting warned by the chaps to watch out for stonefish, I have become extremely curious about them.

Stonefish is the world's most venomous fish. The neurotoxin they produce is considered to be the most deadly of fish venoms, thus making them the most dangerous fish in our waters.

They belong to the family Scorpaenidae which includes some 45 genera and 380 species including the likes of lionfish and scorpionfish. Synanceiidae itself has 9 genera and some 31 species. The two species which are commonly found in Singapore's waters are the Hollow-cheek stonefish (Synanceia horrida) or the estuarine stonefish, and the Reef stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa). The former is found mainly in muddy places and estuaries while the latter is found mostly in the sandy or coral rubble areas of reef flats, shallow lagoons and tide pools during low tide.

Stonefish are found in the coastal regions of Indo-Pacific oceans. Their dorsal spines contain neurotoxins, which acts like hypodermic needles, injecting venom when external pressure is applied, i.e. stepping on them. To make matter worse, stonefish are masters of camouflage as they often look like an innocent seedweed encrusted stone/rock. Even a specimen as small as a 20 cent coin can deliver quite a punch.

And as bizarre as it sounds, stonefish is considered a delicacy in our part of the world. Below are some photos taken from this guy's blog of his experience eating the fish at a seafood restaurant at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. It's quite bizarre to see the guy foolishly touching the stonefish in the tanks like it was some harmless specimen in a touch pool. Maybe the spines were cut off, but still. I wonder if any accidents have happened yet.

Anyway, i've yet to see one during the last 2 trips but I hope to do so in the upcoming visits to Cyrene and Terumbu Pempang Laut. I've given up my booties for army boots because the soles are thicker and are probably less susceptible to penetration, so I think.

Read more about Stonefish here"-

Wildshores's write up on the Hollow-cheeked stonefish

Medical blog 'Life in the Fast Lane

Singapore Medical Journal's article on stonefish stings

camera equipment for rent

This isn't a post about nature. But it's related.

Any nature photography enthusiast knows that camera equipment can be very expensive. Just the camera and its kit lens alone is enough to set one back by a few thousand bucks. And these are hardly enough to equip and satisfy the intrepid nature photographer. In fact, more often than not, nature photography requires very specialised lenses and equipment such as macro lenses and a good flashlight for macro-photography and a powerful telephoto zoom lens for taking good clear shots of birds, butterflies and other creatures at some distance away. If one specialises in a particular sort of photography, then it makes good sense to invest in such equipment for personal use. But if one is merely dabbling in such specialised photography on an occasional basis, then it hardly makes any sense at all to spend thousands of dollars.

This is where the Camera Rental Centre comes in handy. I was first introduced to them by a friend when I was complaining about how I will be needing to spend money again on some camera equipment. I was skeptical about the idea at first, but after scrutinizing their website, the price list and reading the quick responses to the queries I posted, I was confident that this was going to work and that it would save me thousands of dollars.

These guys are equipped with mainly Canon and Nikon cameras and lenses, including some of the latest lenses in the market. They also carry all sorts of equipment like speedlites, battery grips, filters, remotes, teleconverters, tripods and a whole lot more. Best part of all this is, the prices are really reasonable. I rented the Canon telephoto zoom lens EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.5 for $40 for the weekend. These guys also have a 'Super Value Saturday' which gives a 50% discount on selected equipment every Saturday. If you sign up with them, you will get an email notification each week on the equipment on offer. They also have other promotions such as the coming National Day weekend where all equipment is half price for the entire 3 days. Pretty neat deal if you ask me. Now you can snap away without feeling the pinch, money-wise!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

shiny green beetle

I caught this shiny green beetle munching on the leaves of my mickey mouse taro (Xanthosoma atrovirens 'Variegated Monstrosum). The same beetle was last seen attacking the leaves of my white lotus a few years ago. I tried to look up the internet for an ID and i've basically narrowed the search to 3 species, the 1) fig eater beetle (Cotinis mutabilis), 2) green rose chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata) and 3) Anomala albopilosa. All three look very similar and have the same shiny green body. However, after further research, and through the process of elimination, I've concluded that this is the Anomala albopilosa because this is the only beetle of the 3 which feeds on the leaves of certain plants. The fig eater beetle thrives on decaying matter while the green rose chafer feeds on nectar of flowers, mostly roses.

Anomala albopilosa belongs to the genus Anomala which comes from the family Rutelidae. They are mostly nocturnal and feed on leaves of various fruit trees, often damaging them in the process.

The body is bluish green overall while the head, thorax, and horny front wings are densely covered with pits. The compound eyes are dark brown, and antennae are reddish black. The horny front wing lacks distinct longitudinal dotted groove, but has vague lines. The shoulder area of horny front wing and wing tip are protruded like bump. Long white hairs are sparely developed on hip. The ventral side of body is golden green, and ornamented with long yellow hairs in front, and pits and sparsely developed long yellow hairs on abdomen. Legs are golden green and ornamented by pits and rows of long yellow hairs.

battle for the rambutans

I was playing around with the Canon telephoto zoom lens and decided to focus generally at the rambutan tree which has seen so much action recently. The action hasn't stopped because I witnessed territorial behaviour amongst insects, this time between a group of butterflies and a Banded Paper Wasp (Polistes sagittarius) . The prize? A rambutan fruit. There were easily 3 to 4 species of butterflies feeding on what must have been the sweet juice of an overripe rambutan. Strangely, the wasp wanted a share of the sweet endings, so it began attacking the butterflies. The butterflies were not the least perturbed by the wasp because they kept returning back again and again, each time with more in number. I wonder if this sort of behavior is common amongst insects. Doesn't the butterfly know what it's dealing with?

where aliens the movie, got its inspiration

I wasn't sure what this was, but it flew into my room and spent much of its time at the window sill, trying to get out.

Thanks to Jason's tip, I found out that this little attractive bug is in fact, an emerald cockroach wasp/jewel wasp (Ampulex compressa). It is a solitary wasp belonging to the family Ampulicidae and is much known for its unusual reproductive behaviour involving stinging a cockroach and using it as a host for its larvae. It is therefore considered a entomophagous paraside, i.e. insects which are parasitic on other insects.

The Emerald Cockroach Wasp is mostly native to the Pacific islands and South East Asia, and it’s unique in that it is a brightly colored, solitary wasp with a complex, paralytic venom. It has a metallic blue-green body with red legs.

It is also unique in that is a master of the undead that utilizes intricate stings, poisons, and amputation to achieve mind control of another species in order to birth its babies within their still-living bodies.

When it comes time for the female wasp to lay her eggs, she finds a roach and stings it in a precise spot in the thoracic ganglion to reversibly paralyze its front legs, then stings it in the ganglia (brain) to disable the escape reflex. The cockroach will first groom extensively, and then become sluggish and fail to show normal escape responses. She then chews off half the roach’s antennae, and uses the stubs to lead the zombified roach around like a dog on a leash until they reach her burrow where she lays her eggs in its stomach, and buries it alive. The lobotomized roach then rests quietly while the baby inside of it hatches in 3 days, and proceeds to systematically eat the roach’s internal organs in a specific order that keeps it alive until the very end, at which point the new wasp finishes hollowing out the shell and emerges. While a number of venomous animals paralyze prey as live food for their young, Ampulex compressa is different in that it initially leaves the roach mobile and modifies its behavior in a unique way.

Here is an interesting article on the bug

the koel revisited

The Asian Koels seem to like roosting on the rambutan tree. I see them, at least 2 males (below) and 1 female (above), every day, at all times of the day, though they appear to be more active in the mornings and evenings. From far, the males appear black but on closer inspection, they are actually dark green/blue. The one take below is definitely more bluish - almost cobalt.