An Odonate Researcher from Sri Lanka Photographs a Spider While Looking for Birds in Malaysia - Observation of the Week 2019-07-21

Our Observation of the Week is this Gasteracantha diardi spider, seen in Malaysia by amila_sumanapala!

Amila Sumanapala first delved into bird watching when he was thirteen years of age and was growing up in Sri Lanka. “By late teens my interest had broadened to include a wide range of faunal taxa,” he says, “[and] I joined several volunteer nature organizations in the country such as the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, Young Biologists' Association of Sri Lanka and Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka and developed my capacity to become a researcher and a conservationist.” He is now a postgraduate researcher at the University of Colombo.

It was his original interest in birds that brought Amila and some friends to Malaysia, where they attended the Fraser's Hill International Bird Race. “My friend Kasun first observed the spider and showed it to me,” he recalls. “We recognized it to be a Gasteracantha species but it was different from what we have observed previously. So we photographed it hoping that we would be able to identify it later and we could do that thanks to INaturalist.”

Also known as spiny orbweavers, memebers of the genus Gasteracantha are found around the world as far north as the Korean Peninsula all the way to the southern tip of Africa. Gasteracantha diardi range through much of the islands of southeast Asia, and like other members of their genus, only the females are large and have spiked abdomens. Despite their diminutive size, Gasteracantha spiders spin quite large orb webs, and they decorate them with tufts of silk. It is presumed these tufts make the web easier for birds and other large animals to see and thus avoid, saving the spider from the onerous task of fixing a damaged web.

While Amila photographed a spider while on a trip where he looked for birds, his main area of interest is actually Odonata, or the dragonflies and damselflies. In about 2009 he developed an interest in them, and tells me 

Most of my colleagues at that time did not know much about odonates, thus I started observing them by myself and studying them in detail using the available literature. This has now become the main interest in my life as a biologist and I am conducting various research on their taxonomy, ecology and biogeography. I also authored a field guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Sri Lanka in 2017. My postgraduate work is also on the damselflies of Sri Lanka.

While he joined iNat in 2014, after hearing about it at the Student Conference in Conservation Science, Bangaluru, Amila (above, doing field work in Sri Lanka) says he’s only been using it regularly for about the last four months, “currently trying to document the insects I observe around the country using photographs and understanding their distribution patterns. 

I started using INat to get identification support on the insects and other invertebrates I observe and photograph during my field work and it has been a great support in my work thanks to all the identifiers in the community. This has motivated me to record more and more biodiversity every time I'm out in the field and share it on iNat. I also contribute as an identifier, especially for Odonata and other major insect groups observed in Sri Lanka and India.

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


- Check out this array of Gasteracantha species!

- Here’s a photo of a male Gasteracantha cancriformis. Note the lack of spikes.

- You can watch a Gasteracantha finish here web here. Note the little tufts of silk on the spokes.

Posted by hannahsun99 hannahsun99, September 05, 2020 10:50

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