Sunrise – Starfish – Insects

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 4th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’m going a little crazy getting ready for my trip. Regine, a long-time friend from Austria, is back visiting again in Madang. She brought three friends with her. I’ve been entertaining them for the last few days. Along with my feeble attempts to think of everything I need to do to get ready to travel, I feel rather more busy than I care for.

It’s been months since I have been in the mood to get out before light and catch sunrises. A few days ago, I could no longer resist. The sky across the harbour seemed to be on fire:

The colour, coming through a narrow slot between the horizon and low-hanging clouds, covered nearly a quarter of the sky. Here you can see nearly the entire eastern quadrant ablaze:

That was worth getting up for.

I got a couple of interesting starfish shots on my last dive. This is a nice image of a Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae) :

These are quite common in the waters around Madang. They are about the size of a football.

Here is another very common sight. This is the leg (arm?? which is it?) of a starfish. It was probably bitten off by a fish. You can clearly see that a whole new starfish is growing from the severed end of the limb. Given time, it will look like any other starfish:

I found this moth wearing a fancy coat out on my veranda one morning:

And this is a rather large grasshopper which I spotted only a metre away:

This got me thinking about large grasshoppers. I feel strangely calmed when I let my mind wander. Google is a fantasy land. I wish I could get a job Googling all day. Ask me anything. I’m the answer man. So, you want the world’s largest grasshopper. I deliver:

Of course, I make no claims of accuracy for the information which I supply.

Still not had enough of grasshoppers? What about this one (the grasshopper is the one on the right):

If you recognise that one you are probably a mature adult who watched a great deal of  TV in your youth.

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Things I See

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I went to the Fred Hollows Eye Clinic at the hospital here in Madang. You may have read about my paranoia concerning the near certainty of losing or misplacing my eyeglasses. Silly as it seems it was of so much concern to me that I was compulsively checking my one pair of multi-focal glasses to make certain that I knew where they were at all times if I didn’t have them on. The resulting behaviours would have been comical had it not been for the fact that merely thinking about misplacing them and having to call a friend to search my house would set me trembling. I blame it on stress. I have to blame it on something.

I had gotten three pairs of glasses to replace my one varifocal pair. While I’m yakking on about pairs of glasses I want to ask you why is it a pair  of glasses? I know it’s because there are two lenses, but it still doesn’t sound right. It’s a little like a pair of pants or a pair of pliers. Are there objects called a pant or a plier? I don’t think so. I can see a pair of socks. That makes sense; there are two separate socks. Together they make a pair. However if there are not two things called a pant, then how can you have a pair of pants? Same goes for pliers. I couldn’t say, “I had gotten three glasses”, because that might be confusing if the context was not clear. You might think I was talking about drinking glasses. No, I had to say three pairs  of glasses so you would know that I’m talking about  . . . Okay, this is getting silly. I’d better move on. I have to admit, however, that this is something which has bothered me for years. I feel better now that I’ve gotten it off my chest.

Anyway, I got a +4 for distance, a +5 for computer work and a +6 for close-up work like reading in bed. What I discovered is that after a while the distance formula was not working any more. It was too strong. Things a bit close were fine, but when I was driving the distant objects were fuzzy. I went back today and got a pair of +3.5 glasses. That did the trick. Now when I’m driving everything from the gauges to infinity is in perfect focus. I’m happy with that, considering that these eyeglasses cost me only about $8.00.

Okay, that was not very interesting, I admit. Nevertheless, I wish to report to myself here in my journal that I can now see perfectly at any distance. The only problem is that I have to carry around four pairs of eyeglasses. Also, most of the time my eyes feel as if they are about to pop from their sockets. Am I giving myself eye strain? Hey, I’m blessed. Some people can’t see at all.

So, here are some things I have seen lately. By the way, I wasn’t wearing any of my pairs of glasses. I have a prescription dive mask. It is perfect underwater. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out of the water. Otherwise, I would just wear it instead of buying so many pairs  of glasses.

This is a very cute little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

I call them them “puppy fishes”, because they look like . . . mmmm, puppies.

Okay, this is not going so well. I seem to have forgotten how to write tonight.

This is a colony of sea squirts called Lissoclinum patellum:

I could think of several things which I’m reminded of when I see these and none of them are pleasant, so I won’t trouble you with that. I find it amusing that something as lowly as a sea squirt can be placed in the phylum, Chordata, which is the same phylum to which I belong. Or maybe it’s not so surprising when I think hard about it. Sea squirts have something like a spinal column only while they are mobile juveniles. As adults they form colonies and lose all of their backbone. They become blobby and are plastered solidly in place. Come to think of it, that’s not so different from me after all. I’m a giant sea squirt. I’ve become rooted into immobility and have lost my backbone. I’m going to double up on my calcium pills and see what happens. Is that a wild goose I hear calling to me?

Okay, there goes what I so laughably call my brain again. It’s off on a tangent, slipped a gear, got its wires crossed, blew a fuse. Little purple sparks are coming out of my ears. I’m unable to escape the chorus of Frankie Laine’s old hit Cry of the Wild Goose:

My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin’ fool or a heart at rest?
Let me fly, let me fly, let me fly away.

Where does a moody hankering for change cross over into the realm of escapism? I remember a time not so long ago when I would have hopped a plane to Kathmandu if only that wouldn’t have left such a big mess behind. I could get a job as a dishwasher somewhere. I’d be the best dishwasher in the business. You could eat off my plates. Yeah, I wanted to run. Recent events have made many of us flinch. The flinching continues. Today a friend and I voiced it in the same moment, “How much can we take?” I’m reminded of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail  when the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog viscously attacked King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Run away!

Well, I don’t really want to get all sombre tonight. I’ve felt that way all day and now I need to cheer up a bit. A little balance is in order, eh? Sometimes situations are so miserable that you can find nothing resembling humour. However, you can always stand back a bit and laugh at your own reactions.

This bizarre critter is a kind of sea slug or Bêche-de-mer,  a Bohadschia argus:

This one has a single incredibly sticky white filament trailing out of its . . . uh, unpleasant  end. Often there are many filaments. It is a defence mechanism. This individual was angry and defensive because I accidentally disturbed it while I was photographing something else. I know from experience that you do not want to allow these filaments to come into contact with your skin or anything else for that matter. If scientists could develop a glue as efficient and durable as this stuff, they would see big bonuses in their pay-checks.

This strange wormy thing with an all-over beard is a kind of nudibranch called a Pteraeolidia ianthina:

I’m reasonably sure of the identification, but if I’m mistaken I’ll blame Rich Jones. He recently took back his giant nudibranch field guide upon which I had been drooling for the last few months. So many nudibranchs to photograph, so little time.

Here is another nudi, one of my favourites. It’s an Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra):

What an utterly charming name. It dredges up visions of Unicorns, Ashwinders, Mermaids, Mooncalves, Murlaps and Kneazles.  (that should keep you Googling for a while).

This is the only balding Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  which I have seen:

I have no idea what has caused it to lose its tentacles in this spot. It is not something which I have observed before. It seemed otherwise healthy. I once fed a Magnificent Anemone  half of a banana. It took it about fifteen minutes for it to transport the banana treat across its tentacles, passing it along the tips like a rock star being carried along on the up-stretched hands of fans. The banana finally ended up in the anemone’s mouth. I didn’t stick around long enough to ask it if it liked it.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a very common Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae)  which is most uncommonly beautiful:

It takes things such as this to remind me of the incredible riches of my life. People pay vast sums of money for the privilege of doing the things which I enjoy every week. I’m still able to see these things as privileges which are not to be taken for granted.

I must accept that Madang is not my eternal home. Some day I will have to leave this place. Maybe my body will stay here in the ground and my spirit will depart. Or perhaps while body and spirit are still merged circumstances will arise which require me to leave and I’ll be led to another place. The future is very fuzzy.

I think that even that fuzziness is a blessing. I’m listening. And I’m leaving plenty of room for surprises.

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Items For the Easily Amused

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on May 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m greatly relieved that Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  now seems to be alive and kicking again. A recent double-whammy of weird interactions between plugins and some possible security problems conspired to knock me off of my own site and caused many readers to receive weird offers to download a mysterious “wordpress.gz” file, dump them to a 404 “Not Found” page, or behave normally, as the fortunes of fate dictated at the moment. I’m sad that this happened, because the last thing which I want to generate in my readers is frustration. My game is amusement, not apoplexy. If you do encounter any problems with the site, please inform me by email or leave a comment, if possible. I can’t fix anything which I do not know about. I’ll praise once again my WordPress guru, Michael VanDeMar, who, for a modest sum, plucked my precious baby from the tar pit and washed her clean. If you are a WordPress user, you will probably need Michael someday. Put him in your contacts now before you forget.

If you’re a long-time “local” in or around Madang, you will remember Doctors Michael “Mick” and Margaret Horwood who were the local sawbones in town for years. We lived in a small flat above their office. They are wonderful, caring doctors and excellent friends. Mick still comes up to Madang on occasion and dives with us. His son, Will, recently visited us along with some of his fellow medical students. Will was visiting Sam Young, a friend in New York City, and got this phenomenal shot of the skyline with an iPhone!

Not too shabby for something with an Apple logo on it. I confess to not being an Apple fan. Please don’t hate me. However, one of our co-workers has just arrived with a new iPad. In a couple of days I will deliver to you the definitive review of this absolutely fascinating, but seemingly useless product. I admit that I was mesmerised the first time that I squeezed my fingers together and watched the images shrink and then grow again when I moved my fingers apart. Mind blowing!

Here is something that I’d bet that you have never seen. It is the underside of a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae):

It clearly shows that it is really a starfish with the stubbiest possible legs. Yeah, yeah, I know that most people call them arms. But, we don’t walk on arms, do we? If somebody asks you how many arms a starfish has, answer, “Zero, dummkopf.” If you click to enlarge this image and look carefully, you will see some small shrimp crawling around on the underside of the critter. Look for the two dark eyes and then you will see the rest of their nearly transparent bodies.

And, here is yet another thingie which only the most bizarre of you may have ever seen:

It is an extremely juvenile Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor).  When I first saw this from a couple of metres away, I bubbled into my regulator, “What the . . .” It is very small, only about 20mm across. I honestly couldn’t say what it was until I got the shot on my computer and enlarged it. Seeing it big made it clear from the shape of the little bulbs with the . . . er . . . nipples on them (hey, what would you  call them?) that is is definitely an itsy-bitsy Bulb Anemone.

At the Madang Lodge Hotel and Restaurant there are several carving similar to this one of two old men and a dog in a canoe:


There is a guy in Madang who carves these. I think he may have a patent on the design. I have coveted these for years. Maybe if my new jobs work out, I may commission one. I don’t know where I’ll put it. Our house is so full of artifacts that we’re running out of wall space.

I saved this one for last because it makes me giggle. Click to enlarge this image of a Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus):

I’ve uploaded it to my server lager than usual so that you can see the raw hatred and anger on the face of this fish. If this fish had been a tiger, I’m certain that I wouldn’t be sitting here boring you into a catatonic state. Fish don’t usually react to me this way. Maybe it got out of bed on the wrong side.

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Starfish Day for Julie

Posted in Under the Sea on January 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Julie, a Facebook Friend, tells me that she really digs starfish. Because I can use all the friends I can get and Julie never scolds me for attempting a humorous comment on her status changes, I think that her polite hint deserves an appropriate response.

Since I do, despite my geeky aura, appreciate the sentimentality evoked by images of starfish, I’ll set the stage with this mushy shot:

I can hear the murmurings of “Awwwwww . . .” from here. I have no idea who the people were. They simply happened to be standing on the rock while I composed the image. It was a very lucky break.

The truth is, I nearly overstayed my prime time. During an attempt to catch the sailboat out on Astrolabe Bay,  I was nearly inundated by a wave crashing on the rocks:Now that I’ve set the mood in my inimical way, we shall proceed to tickle Julie’s fancy with some yummy starfish.

You know, I’ve seen  this shape before.  There is a logo somewhere, on a product or representing some organization, that is a cartoonish figure of a starfish (two eyes, a mouth, etc.) with the top of the star a little crooked, as if it were wearing a hat which is a bit askew. This Fromia milleporella  reminds me of that:Please keep in mind that this is Annual General Meeting week and I’m sitting here trying to stay interested and not fall asleep. My mind wanders in particularly unusual ways. I keep feeling fluid draining from my sinus cavities. It’s seawater. My wife, Eunie, tells me when to raise my hand to vote on a motion. As you can imagine. I’m a little more distracted than usual.

But wait! Let’s get back to Julie’s starfish. This is one that you’ve seen here many times, the lovely Choriaster granulatus:You may be tiring of seeing this critter, but I’m nowhere near finished taking pictures of it.

Here’s is another which you have seen here many times:I’m sure that everyone out there has seen images of the Mimic Octopus which is able to contort and recolour its body in marvelous ways to appear to be any of several non-octopus critters. However, have you ever seen a Linckia laevigata  mimic a snake? As of now, you have.

It may surprise some that this lump is a starfish:Called a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae),  it appears more like a bumpy, spiky football. In fact, it is supremely tempting to pick it up and attempt to kick it back and forth between divers using the floppy fins.

Of course, we never actually do  that.

Bon appétit,  Juli.

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The Dreaded Sticky Thong and Other Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on October 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Before we get to the thong (no,  not that  kind) I’ll show you a few other odd critters that live in my front yard.

This peculiar thing is commonly known as a Cushion Star, or as my Grandmother told me, a Sea Pincushion. If you’re on less familiar terms with the critter, you may call it Mr. Culcita novaeguineae:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

I doubt that they are aware if you get the gender right, so it won’t much matter. They reproduce both sexually and asexually, so such distinctions probably seem silly to them.

I admit with some shame that it nearly impossible to resist the urge once in a great while to pick up one of these football sized legless starfish and give it a toss at your dive buddy. I’m certain that this activity is much opposed by “Amalgamated Cushion Stars Committee Against Humans Playing Football With Us”, a loose confederation of local Cushion Star bowling clubs. How they manage to bowl with no arms is beyond me. Anyway, here’s a side shot:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

They are squishy in a very strange way. If you poke it, it feels hard at first, almost stone-like. However, if you nudge gently and continuously, your finger will begin to make a dent that continues to deepen until you begin to feel very guilty and pull your finger away. Then, slowly, the dent will become more and more shallow until it is gone.

You’ve seen Notodoris Minor  before. It is absolute torture to get an image of these things which shows their actual shape. They are so monochromatic that the camera, even your eyes, can’t capture the subtleties of shading that model the contours of the critter. Visually, they look like a vivid yellow blob. It strains the eyes to make out any details. I worked feverishly on these shots to bring out the fine differences of shade in these images to show you bizarre shape of these nudibranchs:

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)Compare the distinction of detail between the shot above and the shot in this post. I think that I’m finally getting it figured out.

Hard to please today?  Okay, how about two Notodoris Minor ?

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)

Take that!  However. I think that we may have intruded on a little tête-`a-tête,  so let’s leave them to it.

Finally, I can complete my report to you concerning the stickiest substance know to man, the filamentous cuvierian tubules exuded from the stinky end of the Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  I wrote about this before.
The sticky white filaments of Bohadschia argus on a flip-flop

What I didn’t know, on the day a friend accidentally stepped on one (no harm done to the Leopard), that my friend Amanda Watson took a photo of the goo-encrusted flip-flop (or thong, as we call them here).

I managed to get most of it off without covering my fingers. Imagine the stickiest, nasty old chewing gum that has been baking on the sidewalk for a week.

This stuff is worse. Much worse.

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