05 March 2014

"Spiders of Brunei Darussalam" - a great book for Singaporeans too!

As an ordinary nature lover without any scientific background, I fell in love with the book "Spiders of Brunei Darussalam" by Joseph K H Koh and Leong Tzi Ming.
click on image for larger view
Joseph is well beloved, especially in Singapore, for his awesome BP Guide to Common Singapore Spiders. Which has launched many an inquiring mind into the deep end of spiders and creepy crawlies as well as nature in general. So it's wonderful to see this massive upgrade in his latest book about spiders of Brunei Darussalam.

His Excellency Ambassador
Joseph Koh
in his natural habitat.
Full disclosure, Joseph is a major influence in my own interest in nature. He was my boss and he used to take us out on trips to the wild side of Singapore. His excitement with nature is infectious and opened my eyes to the wonders of our natural places. Some of our most joyous moments were spent knee-deep in mud. More about Joseph and his influence on me.

What I love most about Joseph's latest book are the gorgeous photos of LIVE spiders in their natural habitat. The photos are crispy sharp and printed HUGE, taking up all or at least half of the full 20.5 x 14.5cm page. No more squinting at tiny blurry photos of spiders!

I love the photos of the spiders in their webs, so I have some clue of where to look for the spider when I see a similar web. From the book, I also learned about the amazing variety of spider webs and lines and how to look for them. Photos of mama spiders with their egg sacs also helps me understand not to disturb them.

But the most fascinating photos to me are of spiders that don't look like spiders. Spiders that resemble dead leaves and rubbish, spiders that look like ants! The book really motivates me to look harder when I'm outdoors. I realise I have probably overlooked a great many spiders all this while!

There are also many close-up microscope shots that greatly improve my understanding of what a particular spider is all about. These include fascinating glimpses of tiny scales that create the delightful iridescence of some spiders, a closer look at eye arrangements and other fascinating body parts, like knobs on legs that are believed to help the spider produce sounds during courtship.

The text is easy for the layman to understand, concisely outlining distinguishing features, matched with helpful arrows on the photograph. This is life-saving for an amateur like me. I am often frustrated by other guidebooks that describe features in obscure scientific terms and do not point these out in the photograph.

At the same time, the text is delightfully engaging. For example, describing the male of one spider looking "like a punk with a white moustache" while it "looks like a clown" from the side. Who can fail to love such an adorable spider? By the way, it's the Double Yellow-Lined Epeus (Epeus flavobilineatus).

I now view spiders with awe, after reading about their mind-boggling adaptations and hunting techniques. I learned, for example, that the Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes sp.) are "known for their fishing prowess" and "can dive for fish, tadpoles and even prawns, impale them with their fangs and drag the prey ashore for consumption". Each family of spiders has its own introductory page, easily distinguished by the solid coloured background to the page. Here, we learn all kinds of fascinating behaviours of the family members, illustrated with striking photos.

Brunei's spiders are indeed awesome as highlighted in a review of the book: Brunei too has amazing spiders by Daniel Wood, Brunei Times 11 Feb 2014:
[The book] also lists a number of firsts for Brunei and possibly for anywhere in the world. The oddly-named Small Tits Dipoenura (Dipoenura sp.) has not been recorded outside of Brunei and is listed as “probably new to science”. Challenger for aptly-named spider is the Four-Nippled Bighead (Deione lingulata), described as “a rare jungle spider with a large bulbous cephalothorax and four prominent raised knobs at the posterior of its abdomen”.

The book covers an incredible number of spiders, as well as inspiring information about spiders and spider research in Brunei, and the lush ecosytems of Brunei. Accompanied as always, with breath-taking photos that make me want to go to Brunei to see these spiders. Alas, as a small consolation, at least to go out in Singapore's gardens and wild places, in the hopes of seeing similar spiders.

Where to buy the book?

Joseph just shared that a few copies of the book is still available in Singapore at the sales counter of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Library at the Botany Centre (NOT the Botanics souvenir shop).

If you missed getting these copies, here's more about where the buy the book.

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