Lazy entomologists, whose eyes are easily distracted by bright, buzzing wings and whose ears are vulnerable to the the rustling of skinks and agamids, can do little worse than probe and poke around the feet of trees that sprout by the side of forest trails and threaten, until they are condemned by sawry minds, to impede the passage of softer trunks. A few of the larger stumps are wont to harbour a resident rock gecko or two, while the lower reaches of mature figs, whose tangled limbs hide the hollow heart of a long dead sapling, offer a wealth of nooks and knotty crannies – in these lairs lurk the nymphs of assassin bugs, clad in the filth of a riotous youth, arachnids that scurry, leap or slide away into the shadows, and little spiders that bridge the gaps between broken stretches of bark with traps of silk.
Even in the day, when scorpions, darkling beetles and other crepuscular monstrosities are safely nestled within loose bark, these wooded fringes can brim with bodies lithe and leggy: beetle larvae with bristly processes, dragonflies that lay claim to vertical stages, caterpillars in setose phalanges, a restive harvestman with its raptorial forelimbs in repose, minute beetles that could sit on the head of a ladybug, hidden moths, winsome millipedes and loose columns of Pheidole ants guarded by megacephalic majors. Dark brown derbids with stiffly held wings and shiny dolichopodids that prey on soft-bodied hexapods may cling to the darker portions, while patches of lichen and dessicated mosses provide a wall of invisibility for huntsmen that clasp, with spiny thighs, the unruly curves of their arboreal refuge.
The dampness of recent months, during which storms blew in almost every day to wreck the plans of running dogs, has turned the edges of the track, and portions thereof, into swampy terraces and flooded planes. Parts of the canopy have also fallen to the monsoon, and now litter the ground, fodder for a fresh cloud of spores and other creatures that begin life in a cot of decay. Cactus flies are among the many insects that seek out dead and damaged plant tissues, which provide their maggots with a soup of botanical putrefication. With slender torsos and elongated heads that are usually held at a sharp angle away from their perch, neriids are a small family of true flies formerly lumped with the similarly leggy micropezids. The common name stems from the fondness of one neotropical species for wounded cacti; in the Old World, neriids have been found on papaya and papaya trees, as well as logs that ooze plant juice and the vicinity of holes made by bark beetles. Two genera – Telostylinus and Gymnonerius – are known from Singapore, though little else can be said about their biology. Males are reliably territorial, though, and one swarthy specimen, flushed from his turf in a shady corner, soon returned to stand porrect over a pool he shared with grenadiers and flatwings and await the arrival of willing mates.
Other flies are more pro-active in their efforts to attract a partner. Males in the families Tephritidae and Platystomatidae, which often bear wings with bold patterns, can be found strutting in low foliage or near the base of large trees, gamely extending, twirling and twisting their banners to amorous rhythms, earning the disregard of other passing arthropods and dashing off to a nearby leaf when the show is interrupted, before returning with subtle haste to resume their displays of coded signals. On the same buttresses, secure in their shells and of a more guarded nature, are celyphids, tiny flies that have adopted, with passable success, the likeness of rotund beetles. Oddballs in an order that survives on instinctive wits and instantaneous reflexes, beetle flies have ditched the freewheeling flights of fancy that define their fellow dipterans, relying as they do on the element of confusion to stall the approach of foes who may have trouble getting a grip on a glossy shield or simply fail to recognise in these metallic nubs the essence of a body that prefers repose by tropical streams and is hardly, if ever, on the fly.