5 February 2023

Living with the imposter

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Kisah minggu ketigabelas

Sehari sebelum warga kampus mula bercuti untuk perayaan Tahun Baru Cina baru-baru ini, pasukan kami sempat menjengah Fakulti Kejuruteraan untuk merakamkan suasana kampus.

Memperkasakan ta’aruf, tafahum dan tasamuh dalam Masyarakat MADANI di Malaysia

Masyarakat majmuk terbentuk di Malaysia melalui sejarah yang panjang. Ia merupakan ciri keunikan tempatan kerana kejayaan menghasilkan miniatur Asia yang mempunyai komposisi pelbagai bangsa utama Asia seperti Melayu, Cina dan India. Takdir sejarah ini perlu diterima dan diperkasakan dari semasa ke semasa.

Let’s craft an ideal 21st century city out of KL

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s. It began as a small tin-mining settlement in the 1850s and was granted city status in 1972. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kuala Lumpur developed rapidly as a centre of tin mining and trade, leading to increased immigration and economic growth.

Normalisasi sembang lucah: Mengemis perhatian murahan

Walau bagaimanapun, banyak unsur gurauan atau lawak jenaka dewasa ini yang berbaur lucah atau mempunyai maksud tersirat dilihat semakin berleluasa dan parah.

Ibu bapa pendamping tumbesaran anak-anak zaman digital

Teknologi telah banyak memberi manfaat kepada masyarakat di seluruh dunia. Walau bagaimanapun, tidak dapat dinafikan, terdapat juga kesan negatif ke atas perkembangan kanak-kanak dan remaja.

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By: Mohd. Faris Amjad Mohd. Fisal, Dr. Azidah Abdul Aziz

It was the first of Syawal, when I saw a large dragonfly perched high up on the ceiling of my front porch. Since we were still in the Movement Control Order at that time and did not expect any visitors, so I get my trusty DIY butterfly net and ladder, and carefully swooping the poor, seemingly lost, visitor. It was orange with clear wings, and some orange-brown translucent hindwings. It looks like a typical dragonfly that I used to see around my house, but one thing was totally off: there is a pair of long, clubbed antenna protruding from its head!

Lo and behold, it was an owlfly (specifically, a female Acheron longis). Although having similar external features to a dragonfly, they are not even closely related. Dragonflies, as well as damselflies, are from the Order Odonata while owlflies belong to the Order Neuroptera, which includes antlions and mantisflies. Although lacking in terms of feathers, beaks, or talons, it is their rather large and bulging eyes that the name ‘owl’ came from.

Greek Mythology

Owlfly belongs to the Family Ascalaphidae, the name not dissimilar to the story of Ascalaphus in Greek mythology, who was cursed and turned into a screeching owl by Demeter, the Greek Goddess of Agriculture.

The tale began when lovestruck Hades had kidnapped Persephone from her mother, and brought her to the Underworld and made the Queen. To soothe the ache of missing her mother, Hades dedicated an orchard for his queen in their castle. Ascalaphus was made the custodian of the orchard and to watch over Persephone.

Realising her daughter was now gone, Demeter with the help of Hecate scoured the Earth for Persephone. After receiving tips from Apollo and threatening Zeus to kill all crops and let humanity starve to death, Demeter and Hecate finally went to the Underworld to claim Persephone from his abductor.

Before taking Persephone back to the surface world, Ascalapus reported that Persephone had eaten 6 out of 12 pomegranate seeds from the orchard, hence she only can be on the surface for 6 months and must return to the Underworld for another 6 months. This enraged Demeter and buried Ascalaphus under piles of heavy rocks as a punishment for letting Persephone eating foods from the Underworld. He was later turned into a screeching owl by Demeter, just as Heracles released him from the rocks.

Reclusive lifestyle

The sighting of an owlfly can be considered as rare, and their reclusivity can be considered as one of the factors contributing to their reputation. Owlflies have a unique resting position that helps with their camouflage, where they will sit with their body including legs and antennae compressed to the stem or branch while their abdomen was extended outwards to the air, making them look like a broken twig to an untrained eye.

They are also crepuscular, meaning that they are active during dawn and dusk; although some species of owlflies can also be nocturnal. Even as a juvenile, the owlfly larvae spent most of their time hiding in the leaf litters, awaiting their prey to come close enough before snatching them using their powerful sickle-shaped jaw.

The horrific-looking but timid larvae of owlfly (from Wikimedia)

The appearance of the owlfly larvae looks like one of those creatures that you might see in Tim Burton’s horror films, but rest assured that they presented no harm to us unless you are a small invertebrate that gets too close to their powerful and poisonous jaw. After hatching, the larvae usually eat their eggshell first prior to feeding on the trophic eggs that were laid by their mother. Trophic eggs are not meant to be hatched, but serve as meals for the newly hatched larvae.

The larvae at the early stage will normally stay in a group for protection. Some may also attach detritus (dead particulate organic material) on their flat backs to help them blend in into their environment, which in turn functions both as protection and used as an attacking mechanism to an unsuspecting prey.

Ecological role and benefits

Both adult and larval stages of owlfly are carnivorous, and they preyed on other insects that they could catch. This is somewhat similar to antlion and dragonfly, despite being weaker when compared to the latter. Their insect-based diet helps to control the insect population in their territory. This obviously can be beneficial to humans, acting as a natural pest control.

However, there is no known or well-documented record of their main prey. They had been observed to prey on small, soft-bodied vertebrates on litter and smaller insects in flight during their larval and adult stage, respectively. Naturally, owlfly cannot help but to become prey to other predators, creating a balanced food web where the population of each organism can be controlled through predation.

The owlfly is indeed a rare encounter, and not many had been observed in Malaysia. Clearly it would be necessary for us to learn more about these magnificent insects. It definitely plays an important role in the unique ecosystem of our rainforest and environment; so in conjunction with World Wildlife Day on the 3rd of March, let us help keep them alive and well, shall we?

The beaded ends of owlfly’s antennae (from Wikimedia)

Mohd. Faris Amjad Mohd. Fisal and Dr. Azidah Abdul Aziz is a student and senior lecturer, respectively, at the Institute of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, Universziti Malaya. The authors may be contacted at azie@um.edu.my