You will be amazed at what life exists under a leaf if you take the time to look!
One hears all about the importance of the biodiversity of the world’s tropical rainforests to mankind and the need that that it be preserved. But it is only when you start to “look” do you really start to appreciate the enormity of the meaning of the word Biodiversity.
I’m embarrassed to say that until I bought a Macro lens I never paid much attention to what might be under the leaf next to me. It’s almost as if buying the lens was like getting a new pair of glasses and being able to see clearly again. It turns out that many of “leaves” are not leaves at all, but cleverly disguised insects either hiding from predators or waiting to ambush some smaller prey. It’s amazing what vision brings to life.
At first I figured this macro stuff would be much the same as bird photography. Concentrate on the light, composition and aperture settings, take a few shots of something and then go home and identify it. Well, I can tell you, it’s much more complicated than that. Firstly I don’t have all the macro lighting kit. Everything I’m showing here is naturally lit, no mean achievement for me in dim light conditions. Secondly, it turns out that it is quite hard to compose an interesting shot of something that is half hidden and always turned the wrong way. So excuse me if the compositions are not perfect. And by the way, the moisture droplets are not dew, they’re sweat!
Finally it turns out that identifying insects is a hell of a lot more complicated than identifying birds. Unlike the three or four hundred species of birds, the Malaysian jungle is home to thousands of species of insects and spiders, all with obscure Latin names. Not understanding Latin and knowing even less about insects doesn’t help at all. Searching the web to try and find a photo of something similar to what I photographed is a mission in pot luck. So, excuse me again if I don’t have a name, or get the name right. Trust me when I tell you, you will never start to appreciate the meaning of the word Biodiversity until you have to start searching the web to check on the names of insects, spiders and frogs!
The yellowy orange insect above was quite happily sleeping out the day in the hollow of a leaf. The problem was the angle wasn’t quite right, so I slowly tried to twist the leaf to a more composed angle. I might have just as well pricked it with a pin because it suddenly fanned itself out and let off a loud screeching noise. Boy, did I get a skriek…. I nearly crapped my pants! I never managed to find out what type of insect it is and to tell you the truth I don’t care. But I will never go near one again!
In contrast, the tiny Leaf Mantis below happily posed even though my lens was less than an inch from its face. The amazing thing about these insects is that they look very much like dried leaves. If it were on a dry leaf and not a green one I would never have spotted it.
Here’s something my research did identify. A Reinwardt’s Flying Frog. Up until now I never even knew Flying Frogs existed, but they do. I think I’m correct in saying Malaysia is home to two species and this is one of them. The interesting thing about this frog is that it is not that common a sight despite it being quite a large frog. Yet it was right there in front of our eyes for at least two hours before it was spotted by hawk-eye Lynette. Now, when I tell you there were two other guys doing macro photography within meters of it and they never never spotted it, is testimony to how camouflaged it is in the jungle foliage. Equally as strange it never moved while getting blitzed by camera lights, and then all of a sudden when no one was looking, disappeared, never to be seen again.
Next up are some spiders. After searching the net trying to identify these species I realised this is altogether another world. Fortunately there are people like Amir Ridhwan who do a fantastic job photographing and cataloging them. (You can see his photo’s at http://www.flickr.com/photos/labah-labah/ .) So, it was relatively easy just scrolling through all 19 pages of Amir’s photos until I came to the ones which look similar to mine. Good stuff Amir. You are a Pro at what you do, and I salute your dilligence.
The first spider, below, is a Nephila pilipes. I’m showing it because I like the photo. The bright colours of the spider contrast superbly with the blue background. Now, when I tell you this was photographed in the jungle you are going to question how the background became so blue. What I can tell you is there was no photoshop manipulation of the frame and I didn’t place a blue card behind the spider. How the background got so blue is for me to know and you to figure out.
The next spider below is a Leucauge decorata. It was a very tiny spider, less than 15mm accross the span of its legs and hanging on a horizontally spun web of very fine threads that were difficult to see. I presume it spends time on top of the web, and not always under it. Anyway, its colourful black and yellow web sac made it an interesting subject.
Last but not least is the Argiope versicolor with its fantasic yellow striped brown web sac and furry head. This guy, like most spiders, weaves a vertical web which must be more efficient for catching insects than the horizontal one of the one above.
In closing I hope this peek into the underworld of the Malaysian jungle has been as interesting for you as it has been for me. Obviously I’m limited in how many pictures I can post, so I tried to concentrate on the ones I found most interesting but there is a lot more to find under the foliage. We will try to bring you more in future blogs.