Macro Highlights – The Best of 2023
2023 went by in a flash, but not without a bang. I managed to document lots of amazing lifers and did field trips in Borneo and Thailand as well. I’ve finally launched Isopod Site which started as a photo compilation of terrestrial isopods and slowly adding in information on taxonomy and biology of isopods. Towards the end of the year, I also managed to dive briefly into microscope photography. It is completely different from macro photography in the field, but an important skill for documenting microfauna.
Based on my 2023 iNaturalist statistics, I’ve recorded 1723 observations and 769 species, with over half from insects and almost all of the other half from arachnids, and most of the rest from myriapods and isopods.
Many thanks to my group of dedicated friends in macro photography who selflessly shared their finds throughout the year – Vin PSK, Alvin, Cham, Mok, 星爷, Roger, Amber, James, Nick, Melvyn, KS. Special thanks goes to Paul for finding lots of cool arachnids that I’ve included in this compilation!
Micro Four Thirds Setup
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk4
- Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO [Review]
- Godox TT350 with a DIY diffuser and reflector
- Nikon D850
- Laowa Aurogon 10-50x + Slip Ring Set
- Godox TT350 x3 at about 1/16 power
- Meike MK-320 at 1/128 power as trigger
- Cognisys Stackshot
- Vertical stand 2.0 with vertical and horizontal kit
Here are 2023’s most memorable shots in chronological sequence.
Wagler's pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)
This pit viper is very common, but its docile nature always allows me to attempt some wide-angle close-ups! This was photographed at less than 2cm from the viper’s face.
Moth fly (Psychodinae)
The most common moth flies tend to be dull gray. We commonly call them drain flies, sewer fairies, etc. but they are generally flies that look like tiny moths. This individual had brilliant blue scales!
Planthopper nymph moulting (Tongini)
I’ve had several shots of this scene before and it always ends up in the annual showcase.
Flat-headed leafhopper (Tituria sp.)
During my family trip to Fraser’s Hill, this flat-headed leafhopper turned up at the light traps. See more at Cicadellidae Checklist: Leafhoppers.
Huntsman spider (Heteropoda davidbowie)
Classic portrait of a male David Bowie’s Huntsman Spider.
Ant (Discothyrea sp.)
During one of our weekly night hunts, we found this cute Discothyrea, a lifer genus for me! See more ants at Formicidae Checklist: Ants.
Tailless whip scorpion (Sarax sp.)
I’ve been bringing a glass jar for scenes like this. A heavily gravid Sarax shows the legs of the babies in the eggs.
Saw-tooth lantern bug (Zanna nobilis)
This is my main lantern bug lifer for 2023, known for its “saw-tooth” anterior process. After spotting it for the first time, we encountered it several more times during other trips in the year. The person in the picture is not me, just a very happy and dedicated macro photographer. Check out Fulgoridae Checklist: Lantern Bugs.
These colourful plant lice were found in abundance, but very rarely photographed due to their small size.
Jumping spider (Microbianor sp.)
This is an adorable beetle-mimic jumping spider which very oddly has only been found in a cemetary. View more jumping spiders at Salticidae Checklist: Jumping Spiders
Spiky assassin bug nymph (Centrocnemis malayana)
Spiky subjects are always exciting to macro photographers. These spiky assassin bug nymphs are very well camouflaged. Hope to see the adult of this some day!
Whitefly larvae (Aleurocanthus sp.)
I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one thinking that these whitefly larvae are pin cushions…
Blue Pseudoscorpion (Paratemnoides sp.)
Possibly new from a moult, we found a pseudoscorpion with a brilliant blue tint.
Handsome fungus beetle (Eumorphus marginatus)
While doing a private workshop, we encountered a large bracket fungus with its underside completely covered with these fungus beetles. It was so crowded that I had to take lots of wide angle shots of the scene and had water dripping into the lens. View more at Endomychidae Checklist: Handsome Fungus Beetles.
Bird dung crab spider (Phrynarachne sp.)
Juvenile of a rare bird dung crab spider. Very hopeful to see a mature individual next year! View more at Thomisidae Checklist: Crab Spiders.
Pseudoscorpion (Paratemnoides sp.)
The pseudoscorpions usually hide inside crevices of railings. When unsuspecting prey (usually ants) walk by, they’d be ambushed by many tiny pincers.
Jumping spider mimic planthopper (Rhotana marmorata)
Apparently not too rarely sighted, but this lovely species is new to me. From far, I honestly thought that it was a jumping spider. View more at Fulgoroidea Checklist: Planthoppers.
Plant louse (Psylloidea)
First time seeing this tiny tiny plant louse adorned with numerous stripes.
Planthopper (Sarebasa celebris)
Lucky to have Ee Hean bring me around Botanic Gardens to document cicadellids, but I got pretty distracted by many other things!
Ant (Tetraponera allaborans)
I really need to photograph more ants. Have chosen to only photograph the unique-looking ones, or stationary ones.
Pseudoscorpions (Paratemnoides sp.)
Another pseudoscorpion predation scene.
We rarely see weevils with such a long rostrum.
Jumping spider (Hyllus giganteus)
I was lucky to document one of the largest salticids in the world, Hyllus giganteus at the spider lab.
In the middle of the year, we visited Sarawak and dropped by Borneo Highlands for a quick field trip with Chien Lee. Many thanks to Chien and Pearl for hosting us!
Vampire crab (Geosesarma sp.)
Paul found several terrestrial vampire crabs and this one was carrying a clutch of eggs. You can even see the eyes of the little ones waiting to hatch.
Darkling beetle (Malaysphena sp.)
Cham found this super cute darkling beetle which we initially mistook for an ironclad beetle. View more at Tenebrionidae Checklist: Darkling Beetles.
Hairy snail (Opisthoporus biciliatus)
I’ve only seen pictures of this hairy (or spiky) snail before. Seems that this is a common species in Sarawak.
Cat gecko (Aeluroscalabotes felinus)
Chien showed us this cat gecko resting peacefully on a thin stick. It remained at the same position even after everyone took shots from every perceivable angle.
Mulu National Park – Deer Cave
After Gunung Penrissen, we spent 4 rainy nights at Mulu National Park, famed for its limestone caves. This is where the bat exodus would take place every evening.
Lantern bug (Scamandra rosea)
Our first subject at Mulu National Park was this beautiful lantern bug right in front of our rooms.
Spiky handsome fungus beetle (Cacodaemon sp.)
On our first night, we spotted a beautiful blue spiky Cacodaemon.
Lantern bug (Penthicodes farinosus)
Penthicodes farinosus was pretty common throughout the park. There were several in front of our rooms as well.
Bolas spider (Ordgarius sp.)
The top find at Mulu National Park was this spectacular Ordgarius, which is likely to be new to science. In fact, we’ve not seen photos of it anywhere else before. View more orb weavers and bolas spiders at Araneidae Checklist: Orb Weaver Spiders.
Cave spider (Pandava sp.)
We visited the caves on the second day, and found several lifers, including new families like Titanoecidae.
Jumping spider (Portia sp.)
We were just talking about a white Portia beautifully camouflaged on limestone walls, which Chien photographed and featured in his latest book Nature’s Tricks. Imagine our excitement when we saw a mature male on the railings just outside the caves!
Also found at the cave entrance was this stunning epedanid with its super long clasping pedipalps.
The spittlebugs were pretty exotic to me as well. View more at Cercopoidea Checklist: Froghoppers.
Mok spent a long time at a fallen log along Paku Loop, and found a highly cryptic podoctid.
Stalk-eye fly (Diopsinae)
There were also some stalk-eye flies flying around and I couldn’t resist some record shots.
Take a closer look at this leafhopper. The posterior end resembles a snake’s head, yes??
Tortoise beetle (Malayocassis hilaris)
One of my favorite photos from this trip had to be of this tortoise beetle that Cham found. This particular species has beautiful blue network patterns in the transparent sections and a golden splotch in the centre of its dorsum. View more at Cassidinae Checklist: Tortoise Beetles.
Cave harvestman (Miopsalis sp.)
We spent a day taking the Fastlane Tour and visited Lagang Cave for the blind crabs. There were several of these stylocellid harvestmen which we mistook for sandokanids initially. View more at Opiliones Checklist: Harvestmen.
Cave huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)
The cave walls also had some giant huntsman spiders. We were lucky to see some at eye-level. View more at Sparassidae Checklist: Huntsman Spiders.
Longhorn beetle (Pterolophia viridegrisea)
We didn’t find many longhorn beetles at Mulu, but of the few that we found, they were really remarkable. This had a lovely shade of lime green with ornate patterns. View more at Cerambycidae Checklist: Longhorn Beetles.
I’ve had many lifer harvestmen from this trip. This assamiid was common but it bears distinctive tiger stripes.
Lantern bug (Scamandra polychroma)
Every morning, I walked about 5km to scan the trees for Pyrops cultellatus, a lantern bug that’s entirely green. I didn’t find any but was lucky to find Scamandra polychroma during one of the hikes.
Lantern bug (Pyrops intricatus)
I was expecting this pair of Pyrops intricatus to mate but gave up on waiting after half a day. They just…. stayed next to each other all day.
Unfortunately it rained heavily every day and night and we had only a few hours to shoot in each morning. The trails were so heavily flooded that we couldn’t even see the raised boardwalks at some spots.
Stick insect (Orthonecroscia fuscoannulata)
We had some respite from the rain on the final night, where Paul found this dazzlingly colourful stick insect. It was really skittish and took flight several times while I took some record shots.
One of the numerous beautiful species of harvestmen from the trails.
Wandering spider (Acantheis sp.)
Pill millipede (Glomerida)
I found a very slow moving pill millipede on a tree, and mistook it for an isopod initially.
Woodlouse (Adinda sp.)
Paul found some impressive looking scleropactids in the crevices of some vines. I guess all the flooding forced them to climb up the trees. View more at Isopoda Checklist: Pillbugs & Sowbugs and Isopod.Site.
Longhorn beetle (Glenea pulchra)
Before we left Mulu, I did a quick hike to look for the lantern bug again, but found this longhorn beetle instead.
Velvet ant (Trogaspidia sp.)
Mating velvet ants have been on my wish list for the longest time. During a seemingly uneventful hike, I managed to get some decent close-ups of this amorous pair!
Treehopper (Centrochares sp.)
I saw sightings of this rabbit-eared treehopper at Pulau Ubin online and took a few hours off work one morning to look for it. It took quite a long while but I found it eventually thanks to some help from Janice Ang. View more at Membracidae Checklist: Treehoppers.
Tortoise beetle (Aspidimorpha deusta)
Thanks to directions from Michelle Chun, I got a rather easy tortoise beetle lifer and managed to document this species in almost all of its life stages.
Hairy comb-footed spider (cf. Argyrodes sp.)
While observing a female Macracantha on its web, this was hanging around as well. I thought that it was a typical kleptoparasite but it turned out to be a really hairy specimen that I’ve never seen before. View more at Theridiidae Checklist: Comb-Footed Spiders.
Springtail (Dicranocentroides sp.)
While messing around with the leaf litter, we found lots of pretty little springtails.
Two-eye tarantula (Euagridae)
Also from the leaf litter was this tiny mygalomorph that has only 2 eyes. It could belong to the family Euagridae but we’ve yet to find a mature specimen so the ID is provisional.
Tailless whip scorpion (Sarax sp.)
Finally got a chance to see the small species of tailless whip scorpion carrying a rather large juvenile.
Jumping spider (Chrysilla acerosa)
During a family trip to Hong Kong, I took a side trip to the park for about 2 hours with Marco and Jimmy and we found lots of pretty jumping spiders!
Jumping spider (Irura bidenticulata)
We were trying to find the caterpillar-mimic jumping spider Uroballus carlei but didn’t have any luck. There were lots of other colourful jumping spiders though!
Palp-footed spider (Boagrius sp.)
Palpimanids had eluded me for many years in Asia. But in this year alone, I saw several of them from sifting the leaf litter. Really cute eyes!
Purse web spider (Calommata sp.)
While assisting Peter Schwendinger in a field trip, he kindly showed us a juvenile purse web spider. The jaws were amazingly huge and this shot shows the venom at the tip of its fangs. Next, I’ll have to find and document its web.
Blue ant (Paraparatrechina malaccana)
Lucky find from the leaf litter! Not many blue ants around…
Jumping spider (cf. Cytaea sp.)
This was not shot in the wild, but intercepted from the spider lab. Can’t get any blue-er than this!
Jumping spider (Mantisatta longicauda)
Also from the spider lab, Mantisatta had been on my wish list for a very long time. I’ll need to find them in the wild next!
Long-legged velvet mite with mites (Callidosomatinae)
Mite-ception. Here’s a shot of a mite getting a taste of its own medicine.
Vincent found this pair of mating millipedes in a very nice position.
Mite-mimicking harvestman (Stylocellidae)
Paul found this tiny little harvestman which we mistook for a mite. No eyes and completely bizarre-looking.
Giant dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys desiccata)
Selfie by a giant dead leaf mantis.
Pseudoscorpion (Lagynochthonius sp.)
This is a rare pseudoscorpion found only from the leaf litter. Unfortunately this individual was ridiculously tiny and couldn’t sit still.
Huntsman spider (Thelcticopis sp.)
Throughout the year, I’ve been taking stereogram shots to see the subjects in 3D. Some day I’ll put everything together and write an article about it. To view the photo, make sure the width of the photo is just smaller than the width of your face — it must not be wider than your two eyes. View from a comfortable distance and focus beyond the photo until the two images merge together.
In November, we finally did a trip to Doi Inthanon in Northern Thailand in hopes of documenting some unique highland spider species. Many thanks to Pakawin for generously organising and paying for the trip!
Funnel web spider (Macrothelidae)
Several Macrothele were found at the roadside. This one was obviously angry with me…
Tarantula (Cyriopagopus sp.)
While we were photographing this Cyriopagopus (not in situ), our driver wanted to catch it to eat, believing that it’d boost his vitality. It could be due to the lack of protein in their olden days when they felt some difference after consuming tarantulas…? No, the driver did not manage to catch it eventually. 😜
Planthopper (Loxocephala unipunctata)
Unfortunately, the end of the year was also the end of the season for lantern bugs. However, we were lucky to find this multi-coloured Loxocephala unipunctata.
Longhorn beetle (Rosalia formosa)
We found 2 of these stunning orange longhorn beetles.
Giant armored spider (Perania sp.)
We thought that the habitat was ideal for Perania. True enough, we found this male along the embankment, showing the distinct “nose”.
Armored trapdoor spider (Liphistius yamasakii)
Our main target for the first night was this Liphistius. It was much more active than those found in Fraser’s Hill, coming out very readily when any movement is sensed outside its burrow. This was shot using a custom relay system with a cctv lens.
Comb-footed spider (Chrysso cf. scintillans)
This species of Chrysso was quite common, we’ve seen many of them over the next few days at Doi Inthanon.
Golden tortoise beetle (Aspidimorpha sp.)
Amber spotted this dazzling golden tortoise beetle near to our rooms.
Also near to our rooms, we found several harvestmen. This had a unique dinosaur-like dorsal humps and when observed closer, had tubercles around its eyes like stubby eyelashes.
Blue earth-boring beetle (Enoplotrupes sharpi)
Near the summit, this blue dung beetle can easily be spotted flying around in the mornings.
Orchid mantis nymph (Hymenopus coronatus)
We were also very pleasantly surprised to find the white orchid mantis nymph! According to recent studies, the flattened legs served to help the mantids glide further when escaping and had nothing to do with camouflage among orchids.
Ground spider (Euryeidon sp.)
Paul found a few of these big-headed zodariids on the trees.
Lantern bug (Penthicodes atomaria)
Alvin walked a little further from our rooms and found a common lantern bug species Penthicodes atomaria, which can also be found in Malaysia.
Springtail (Dicranocentroides sp.)
Paul found this magnificent springtail with fuzzy pompoms as antennae.
Boxer mantis nymph (Ceratomantis saussurii)
We saw at least 3 of these boxer mantids in front of our rooms.
Armored trapdoor spider (Liphistius bristowei)
By some uncanny luck, Paul found this Liphistius bristowei on a tree trunk behind some moss. We were so excited that we had to drag Pakawin out from his room.
Orb weaver spider (Araneidae)
Initially thought to be Argiope, this is an unknown orb weaver that builds an orb web over large leaf surfaces.
Shield-backed bug nymph (Scutelleridae)
At Royal Pagodas near the summit, Alvin showed me this metallic blue shield-backed bug. View more at Pentatomoidea Checklist: Shield Bugs & Stink Bugs.
Snout mite (Bdellidae)
Also from the Royal Pagoda, I found this interesting little snout mite along the metal railings.
Dwarf orb weaver (Anapidae)
Anapids have been on my wish list for the longest time, and the hunt was even featured in a TV series that focused on my macro photography. I was really delighted to document these tiny orb weavers in their natural habitat, which in this case was inside crevices of fallen logs. Incidentally, the anapids all looked like angry bald men. I’m not the only one who sees that.
Long-legged velvet mite (Leptus sp.)
Paul found a sexy looking velvet mite with very nice patterns.
Blind woodlouse (Exalloniscus thailandensis)
At a running trail, Paul also found these blind woodlice from rotten logs. They have no eyes and are completely white. These would commonly be mistaken to be from caves which are devoid of light.
Jumping spider (Aelurillini)
A surprise find is this aelurilline with a funky hairdo and could be new to science.
Trapjaw ant (Myrmoteras cf. opalinum)
I didn’t notice the trap jaws when taking record shots of this ant, until Paul found another specimen and pointed it out to me.
Treehopper (Choucentrus sinensis)
This treehopper is often found on plants covered with thorns. I had many thorns jammed up my fingers to get to them.
Red velvet mite (Microtrombidiidae)
Another beautiful find by Paul, this is just… a tiny walking strawberry. 🙂
Checkered beetle (Clerinae)
We revisited Siriphum Waterfall many times in hopes of seeing lantern bugs. But this velvet-ant mimicking checkered beetle landed on my sleeve instead.
Malaysian moon moth (Actias maenas)
This is my first record of a lunar moth. Pictures from my camera were crap so here’s a shot from my mobile!
Emperor moth (Rinaca thibeta)
I found this emperor moth in the toilet, and brought out with me to the trails where it fluttered off quickly and landed on this fern. Also shot from my mobile phone.
Soldier aphid (Hormaphidinae)
During our hike to Pha Dok Sieo, there were many soldier aphids on the railings. I had mistaken them to be pseudoscorpions initially.
Turtle bug (Neocazira sp.)
This cryptic turtle bug got a few of us excited too.
Hawkmoth caterpillar (Elibia dolichus)
Close-up of the pseudo-eye of a hawkmoth caterpillar.
Trapdoor spider (Conothele martensi)
On our final day, we tried some leaf litter sifting and was pleasantly surprised to find a Conothele!
Ground spider (Storenomorpha sp.)
Storenomorpha is another spider on my wish list for a long time. We found at least 5 individuals but surprisingly, 2 adult males were found behind our light trap when we were keeping the sheets. They look like little tarantulas that walk really slowly.
Periscope orb weaver (Eriovixia sp.)
Over a period of 3 months, I experimented with Laowa’s new Aurogon 10-50x Supermicro lens. This was my favorite shot of a live periscope orb weaver at 20x magnification. View the photo journal here: A Photographer’s Guide to Laowa Aurogon FF 10-50X NA0.5 Supermicro APO.
Madagascan Sunset Moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)
I also managed to do some test shots on preserved moth specimens at 50x magnification.
Madagascan Sunset Moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)
The scales of moths and butterflies can truly be breathtaking when viewed up close.
Darkling beetle (Macrosynopticus costatus)
This unique looking tenebrionid was found on a fallen log.
Handsome fungus beetle (Trochoideus desjardinsi)
I spent a very long time chasing this fungus beetle when I noticed its enlarged antennae. The only time when it stopped sprinting was when it was hiding under something, making it super frustrating to photograph.
Handsome fungus beetle (Amphisternus vomeratus)
This rarely seen fungus beetle has 2 “dorsal fins” on its elytra.
Handsome fungus beetle (Cacodaemon hystricosus)
Cacodaemon has got to be one of my favorite genus of beetles. This is the second species in this post! Interestingly this species is commonly found with little mites on its elytra. There happens to be mite-like spots on its elytra as well.
Wrap-around orb weaver (Talthybia sp.)
To wrap it up, here’s a 360° animation of a wrap-around orb weaver to give you a good idea of how it conceals its silhouette when at rest. I took over 50 shots handheld to get the entire sequence.
Bye Bye 2023
2023 has been very productive, largely due to the few trips I had to neighbouring countries. I’m not sure if I’m able to go on as many trips in 2024 but one can hope and one can plan until it becomes a reality. So… Vietnam perhaps?
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