The eyes of lichen huntsmen gleam like terrestrial stars when headlamps are aimed at trees where they lurk. They almost always hang head down, ready to grab small arthropods (though strangely not bristletails or the harvestmen that prowl the same reaches) that land on the trunk before them. How they perceive their prey is a mystery; do their double row of unremarkable eyes possess the ability to pierce the veil of moonless nights or are they relying on a sixth sense that riles the hair of their legs whenever a wing stirs within reach?
The spiders presumably have some means of distinguishing between the footsteps of potential mates and the flutter of a meal. This female, however, was ignored by the resident male who scuttled away when we placed her on his tree after she landed on a hapless husky. Instead, she lunged at a passing wasp and supped to her heart's content by a trail of palpable abundance.
Hersilid spiders with outrageous limb proportions probably outnumber the huntsmen, and share the latter's predilection for unreasonable turns of speed.
Lacking the brute strength of sparassids, two-tailed spiders perform a laborious dance to envelope their prey with a coat of silk. This large female appears to be on the brink of a massive eggplosion.
Most jumping spiders are diurnal, building shelters from curled leaves to spend the night. But this nervous myrmimic, with its forelegs raised to ape the antennae of foraging ants, was active close to midnight on an earthern bank.
The same wall harboured the mud-daubed body of a cryptothelid. Small, slow and all but invisible amid the leaf litter, these ground-dwelling spiders reveal little of their habits and what they secure for sustenance in a layer of soiled life.
Inscrutable proclivities may help the cryptothelid escape the attention of theraphosids that had carved up the bank into a cheesescape of silk-lined burrows. There were minute holes occupied by button-sized tarantulas as well as spacious caverns whose owners seldom venture far lest their hides suffer the assault of even more ferocious hunters.
Disturbed by attempts to freeze her form on a well-spun web, this orb weaver dropped onto a blade that allowed me to render her features in sharper dimensions.
Arachnids that spin no traps rivalled the spiders in numbers. Opiliones from different suborders stalked every vegetative stratum, rarely with haste but never at a pace still enough to permit a clear view of their face. A more amenable subject was this amblypygid that chose stealth over speed, crouching on a pebbly slope until it could resume its touchy-feely game of catch and crush.
Scorpions play by similar rules, with added venom. These arboreal buthids seldom resort to their pointy ends, however, preferring to shy away or leap into the litter when they feel cornered. Certain trees on the trail are reliable dens for these miniature monsters with no desire to live up to their reputation or display the temperament imposed on their class by those whose fear of small things overrules any fascination for bigger pictures and broader minds.
A short dip into Venus Drive a fortnight ago yielded no glowing things. Instead, we came across the unsettling sight of a dense aggregation of barknymphs on a large tree on the upper ridge of the trail, shortly before the path edged by a collapsed stream bank.
Hundreds of orange berries formed a vertical stain that cropped lichen
and algae and pulsed with the slow waves of long, wiry antennae. Wingless and the colour of juicy fruit, the nymphs appear to have no means of defending themselves save the security of numbers and the luck of the draw. Do they amass to feed only at night, retreating to the canopy or under a shelter of silk before their cover is blown by the death of the dark?
A return to the site two weeks later found the tree a little more bereft, with a mere handful of adults grazing on the bark. Like their immature selves, the insects were a little photophobic, turning their backs when they sensed the sweet spot of a focusing light. It was also too soon to tell if the winged individuals were survivors from same batch we saw earlier or merely interlopers drawn to imbibe fungal threads and miniature thalli on the trunk of a tropical harvest moon.
Great-billed herons patrolled the reef flat of Pulau Semakau, while grey herons wheeled and barrowed as they feted the falling tide on Friday evening. The sky turned cobalt and grew cold as a southwestern storm blew over the landfill towards a city that is just learning not to make light of the weather. Plovers of uncertain origin puttered on the sandy fringe of the seawall, while low, lingering whistles signalled the flight of passing greenshanks. In the higher strata above the shore, brahminy kites spun tight whirls as a flock of pied imperial pigeons dashed towards islands of guns and fire.
There was on the seagrass bed a drift net so long it was impossible to see where it began and ended. We were mulling the destruction of the trap when its owner, bearing a little sack, came within range. Asked if he were aware that the shore was a no-fishing zone, he retorted with the reasonable observation that no signs prohibiting such activities were evident. Neither had he faced any reprimand from passing coastguards or other marine authorities for what appeared to be a weekly affair. Crushed by this irrefutable logic, it seemed a shame to hinder the good man's efforts to reap the bounty of the sea and harvest whatever that's left and living in a refuge that remains in the eyes of free spirits fair game.
Cotton stainer bugs plague sea hibiscus, sucking the life out of the seeds and keeping these coastal trees from overwhelming the landscape with their broad, broken hearts and golden blooms that last for barely a day. Adults often gather in disturbing aggregations under a favoured leaf, scattering with abandon when their communal perch is mishandled.
The wingless nymphs, however, rely on the good sense of their parent to deposit each new generation in fortuitous locations. The bugs are said to lay on the host plant or drop their eggs on the ground nearby. At Pulau Semakau this afternoon, we observed a loose batch of nymphs, possibly newly hatched, near the foot of a tree by the bund. With jet black heads and flat, red bodies that remind me of ticks, the young bugs made slow progress, their ascent a mountain of bark and at times interrupted by chain gangs of beady, black ants. Encounters with the latter, however, were uneventful; though little larger than the formicids, the nymphs, perhaps armed with unpleasant coxal gland secretions, aroused a perceptible non-reaction akin to the disdain of skinny kittens when hairy chins are rendered unlickable with a tincture of tiger balm.