At night, the still colours of diurnal paths give way to a more frantic world of fleet shadows and high frequencies. Pillars and floorboards that stood bare of life under the sun erupt with a swarm of arthropodal activity. Springtails, pseudoscorpions, ants, termites and a nameless horde of tinier hexapods swirl about in a nocturnal feeding frenzy. Each cubic foot of flaking nooks and grainy crevices becomes a miniature hunting ground for beastlings red in fang and claw.
Spiders that hid under leaves and in the axils of trailside shrubs by day shed their shyness to spin vast orbs that get in the way of shiny faces and sweaty fingers. Abandoning their customary stupor, bark and lichen scurry about on legs too long and hairy for the comfort of weak knees and fragile hearts. And courtships that cost a limb or more linger on tree trunks to ponder the wisdom of unequal pairings.
Near the foot of a straggly mangrove at Sungei Buloh, David Court spotted a pale blue light. It came from a hand net held in the outstretched forelegs of a spider with the face of an ogre and the brutish charm of an ugly stepsister. Dangling from a single thread attached to a flimsy scaffold, the spider surveyed the earth below for suitable quarry. Her primary eyes offer a wide angle field of vision and gather starlight with a hunger that surpasses the fastest of glass cannons. She might have also deposited a pale drop of beetlejuice to provide a spot of visual contrast. Over ants, hoppers and other random wanderers Deinopis casts her fatal spell of sticky silk, entangling jointed legs in a snare of cribellate fibres. Some prefer to hunt from higher perches, flinging their coiled traps on moths that flutter too close for consolation. This individual stayed so close to the trailside that it was impossible to capture the beauty of her beamers, even with backs against gravel and bums in dirt. Clearly a lady who likes to be on top and delights in making her admirers grovel and grubby...
The lagoon between the two islets that make up Pulau Hantu is a sloshy field of grey and on this windless night, each step through the mud is a balancing act that saps the energy of many regular paces on solid ground. There are spiral secrets and hidden columns lurking beneath the flat, but these cryptic burrowers were lying low on Sunday morning during a tide of middling proportions.
In a puddle that'd fit a soup dish, a half-inch snapping shrimp with a dubious identity prowled around a valley of rubble and rolling sand that forms its rice bowl. By chance or choice, a goby sat near the entrance of the burrow, putting at ease the short-sighted fears of its pool companion, who dug and dressed his pad to fit a pair of unequal yokes.
Firmer mounds between soft expanses provide a suitable substrate for fiddler crabs, who venture from their tunnels for meals dictated not by tummy growls but by the vagaries of the daily tide. In the dark, the males focus on feeding and not fighting, and flee on trails of scent to their holes of comfort when shadows shade the cloudless night.
Decapods that despise dry land swarm in semi-isolated pans of shallow water. Transparent mysids hover in mid-water, paddling half-hearted wishes to make it through another night of hungry mouths and spiny claws. Below them, penaied shrimp dash in shellshocked circles before resorting to silty cloaks of invisibility that hide less than they'd hope.
The movement of heavy bodies through the tidepools sends regular shockwaves that cause silversides and other baitfish to scatter the still water with an eruption of leaps through the surface. Non-pelagic swimmers prefer to lie low, refusing to panic until they come within an inch of a foot and suffer a shadow of doubt in their powers of illusion against the mottled grain. But for the most part, these benthic hoppers have found freedom from the floating tyranny of air bladders to conquer the seabed and play a game of unbeatable numbers near the bottom of the fast food chain.