Author: Ray & Angela Hale
The small tender gently beached as the outboard motor fell silent. The water was crystal clear and warm to our legs as we stepped out of the boat on to the shore. This was a small uninhabited island halfway between Lombok and Sumbawa. This was the beginning of an adventure for my self and my fellow travellers. As my new friends marvelled at the soft white sand between their toes and prepared their snorkel gear I did what I always do when I find new horizons to explore. I wandered off with my camera in hand. After all, I was the ship's naturalist and had a duty to find, report and record any wildlife that may be present.
The island is not a big one with a perimeter that could be probably walked in around an hour. To the north shore is a beach of ivory white sand whilst to the South is a line of trees that cling to life precariously and protect the open grassland that lies to the centre of the island from the strong winds that blow in from the sea. At the time of our visit, the whole area had been suffering from extreme drought and the scrubland had at some time fallen victim to fires although the charred grass was now showing signs of recovery.
Unidentifiable green birds swooped overhead dipping down into the scrub before rocketing upwards whilst higher in the sky seabirds effortlessly hung on the wind motionless like a child’s kite. Given the remoteness of this place, my initial thoughts were that there was little here to excite me. It was barren! Beautiful but barren. There were however telling signs that in recent times the island had been well visited. Small beach huts now stood empty, paint flaking in the hot midday sun and the odd long-abandoned beer bottle could be found staring out to sea as if lamenting its owner’s brief passing. The focal point of the landscape was the large hill to the West of the island. I pondered whether I should attempt the arduous climb but as time was not on my side and I decided to explore the perimeter
As a naturalist, I have a mantra given to me by an old friend now long passed. It simply says “Hope to see everything but expect to see nothing”. It has stood me well when faced with such landscapes. It pays to realize that if you want to see something you must be patient. It was obvious that large animals did not exist in this landscape, I further accepted that the birds overhead were more than likely to be fleeting visitors from the mainland. No, if I wanted to find something of interest it would have to be small. Of course, as an entomologist and arachnologist that would suit me just fine.
I began to poke around in the tufts of grass. I soon came across a few elaborate spider webs centred around the grass tufts. They were obviously those of some kind of funnel-web spider but any attempt to tease their reluctant occupants out proved in vain. I then turned my attention to the trees on the shoreline. I came across the web and there in the centre sat a small but nevertheless beautiful spider. It was a Gasteracantha species also known as thorn spiders. Such spiders have evolved to be unpalatable to birds that swallow them. The birds soon spit them out allowing the spider to continue on its way.
Content with my find and to be honest feeling rather smug I continued with my search. If there was one, there would be others. As I looked closer I came across a big web. A very big web. Probably some 400mm in diameter and there in the middle sat a huge spider.
It is hard to describe the feeling when one comes across something like this. It’s a eureka moment. An epiphany. I looked closer this was new to me. My excitement grew. I knew it was an Argiope species but which one if indeed this had been seen before. The closest I had seen previously was Argiope assenta otherwise known as the Hawaiian garden spider but this was different and the two islands are some 6000 miles apart. This was intriguing. The body shape was similar but the abdominal pattern different. The legs on Argiope assenta are striped but those on this spider were uniform. I crept ever closer my camera in hand. I reeled off a few shots. I could hardly breathe I did not want to disturb my quarry. Another shot and then I retreated to examine my prize. On closer examination, I realized that not only had I captured this potential new species on film but there sitting calmly in front of the large female sat the much smaller male. This was indeed a coup.
Finding new species is difficult anywhere but actually describing them to science is a daunting task and male and female specimens are required. But I had no intention of disturbing these beautiful creatures. My weapon is my camera. I proudly rejoined the group and like a schoolboy with his first straight-A report card, I shared my luck with them. Content that I had fulfilled my first task I too slipped on my snorkel gear and slipped beneath the waves to the coral reef that lay beneath this idyllic sea. Back on the ship I tentatively called the find Argiope sp. “Kenawa Island”…..I will return one day and marvel again at this new wonder of nature.
Visit our website to see the many trips that we have to some of the remotest parts of Indonesia, where so much remains to be uncovered.