Saturday, February 26, 2011

Atari Space Invader

If there is ever going to be a cute spider, this has to be it. What does the pattern remind you of ?
Spiny spider (Gasteracantha)are known to use markings on their backs to attract prey.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The mystifying lip

Found this small Phalaenopsis growing plentifully on trees just beside a stream which used to be clear but now has turned dirty brown due to construction and erosion upstream.
Not totally sure what species it is - Phalaenopsis lamelligera ? Perhaps pantherina...or even a spotted cornu-cervi. I decided to zoom in on the complicated lip to assist identification. In orchids, the lip is usually the landing pad for insect pollinators. I wonder what the 2 small hair-like appendages are for - tickle the pollinator ? And what about the erect structure with narrow via like the eye of a needle ? Quite baffling.

Hopefully, an expert can come along and throw some light on this.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bulbophyllum membranifolium

A native of SE Asia, this smallish orchid is tricky in the lowland as it prefers cooler temperature - which is a pity.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blue Club Moss

A couple of years ago Huperzia goebellii was the rage in collector's circle, with large specimens fetching several hundred USD in the west. I used to see big clumps of these on sale by natives along a jungle road, but I doubt they are still as common now . I was totally captivated by these bluish fronds, some of the truly awesome specimens have branches more than 2 metres long.

This club moss is native to the tropical jungle of Malaysia and Borneo, its northern distribution appeared to terminate before Thailand. Growing this plant can be a bit tricky. Being an epiphyte, it rots easily if its over watered so growing it in spagnum is a bit dicey. The plant was actually mounted on a small fern slab so I merely adhere this on a bigger slab. Despite all the care I took, my large mother plant recently rotted away - perhaps a victim of the La Nina wet spell, and I was left to pick up the pieces, literally, recloning it from bits of rooted cuttings.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Total control freak

While trekking in northern Johore, we stopped by to examine a body by the side of the stream....

It belonged to the Giant Forest Ant (Camponotus gigas), one of the largest species of ant in the world, reaching close to 3cm.

Infected by an Ophiocordyceps fungus (O. unilateralis or similar) and banished from its nest, it was brainwashed to climb to a higher staging area and anchor itself by biting on the leaf blade of a lallang. Here, it was summarily executed - fruiting bodies punched through the exoskeleton like Howitzer-guns, ready to fire spores which eventually fall to the ground to infect passing victims.

Interestingly, in spite of the fact that the spores mostly make contact with the host on the ground, Camponotus leonardi, a tree dweller, was found to be the principal host in Thailand. I would have assume that this terrestrial giant forest ant would be a more suitable host.

Researchers had reported very surprising things about this fungus, like the fact that the it is very exact in its manoeuvre - dead ants invariabily face northwest, about 25 cm from the ground at sites with at least 90% humidity. Strangely, if the ant is allowed to die in its nest, the survival rate of the fungus is zero. Though it turns vital organs of the ant to mush, it also protects its turf by growing into the cracks and niches of the exoskeleton to prevent entry of microbes competing for its food and fortress.

Isn't it weird that a lowly organism can so brilliantly take over the body and psyche of such a complex (relatively speaking) animal ?

References :
D.P.Hughes et al, The Life of a Dead Ant: The Expression of an Adaptive Extended Phenotype. The American Naturalist, V173, no3 September 2009.
D.P.Hughes et al, Graveyards on the Move: The Spatio-Temporal Distribution of Dead Ophiocordyceps-Infected Ants
Also search for the brilliant BBC footage with commentary by my fav Sir David Attenborough
Here's my previous post of this subject - which infected a fly in Singapore.

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