Melancholy is the night, but the full moon blazes on this morn of enlightenment, rivalling the brazen beacons that line the shores of the city. Earlier, Godzilla rawred over our breakfast of wanton mee and stimulant beverages by Syed Alwi Road. Leaving the insomnia of Little India, we sped to the pier through the underused park that will in the future offer a green repose from the rapacity of roulette tables. By starlight we landed at the jetty and plodded to the beach hut amidst the fragrance of flowering tembusus, while evading the gang-raping natives of the island.
In the darkness, the evading tide reveals more life than the blinding light of day, when creatures shy and skittish retreat to the depths of a bed of sand or the deeper nooks of coralline crevices. Typically found wedged in tight corners by day, red egg crabs were out in force, foraging at leisure in the security of their protective toxins. We also came across their cousin, the mosaic crab, which bears the ominous reputation of being the most toxic crab known. The danger of regarding any one crab as equal to the other (as well as failure to recognise nature's red flags) is most aptly illustrated with the not-uncommon incident of fatalities across East Asia following the capture and consumption of this species.
By torchlight, snapping shrimp are found away from their burrows in search of hidden prey. With its enlarged claw that features a rounded tooth on one movable 'finger' that fits into a depression on the other (fixed) finger, the shrimp generates powerful 'snaps' that stun prey acoustically as well as physically, via the sudden jet of water produced by the action. The claw action of some species is able to penetrate coral or even balsaltic rock. This individual was inserting its claw into a hole and snapping away, probably to knock out some other creature within. According to Arthur Anker, the world's leading authority in Alpheids, there are more than 550 species of snapping shrimps worldside. Some tiny species live in ant-like colonies within the chambers of sponges, and there are even a few freshwater species. Their cacophony of clicks is evident to anyone visiting the Southern Islands, where countless shrimp issue regular warnings to each other from their tunnels. In mangroves, some species dwell in the hills of mud lobsters and even in our remnant swamps, new species have been found.
According to Joe, the animal above is Grapsus albolineatus, which seems reasonable given the white lines on its carapace. This is a shore crab (Grapsidae) that spends much time out of water on littoral rocks in search of algae and seaweed. The genus Grapsus also bears the nick Sally-Lightfoot crabs for their agility on slippery surfaces. A relative, the Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis), has earned the dubious status of globe-trotter, invading North American and European shores via ballast water from the Far East. In the water, swimming crabs (Portunidae) are ubiquitous, hunting pelagic prey. These crabs have their final pair of legs transformed into paddles that propel them in pursuit of fish and shrimp. The two most well-known representatives of the family are the mud crabs in the genus Scylla and Portunus pelagicus, the edible flower crab, but dozens of species in other genera are found in local and regional waters. For some reason, many Porturnids bear mythological monikers. Scylla is a ravenous six-headed sea monster, while Charybdis is a whirlpool-causing former naird. Portunus/Portunes himself is the Roman god of the ports. When disturbed, swimming crabs typically brandish their claws in a pose that looks more aggressive than defensive. Even tiny ones an inch long have a nasty pinch, so my duck takes care to stay beyond the range of their pretty pinchers. This bird is no fan of