A tropical rainforest is so biologically intense that you can’t help but have many meetings with its inhabitants. Here, some of my most memorable encounters with animals in Borneo, presented as a top ten list.
10. Pill millipedes are big — maybe 4 cm long — and heavy, and yet they roll up when disturbed, just like the pill bugs back home in Canada. They aren’t closely related. Pill bugs are crustaceans, while pill millipedes are, well, millipedes.
9. This lizard sat on a tree trunk, inches away from me as I brushed the trunk for spiders.
8. A cicada lands on my rice at the Mulu cafeteria.
7. Edy, Alex and I each received wasp stings. Mine was on my lip, and provided a more dramatic photograph than Edy’s and Alex’s swellings. I was stung simply walking down the trail.
6. At Camp 1 in Mulu, inside the shelter, there was this dry leaf carefully hung against the wall. A female Gelotia, one of our jumping spiders, had made a nest and was tending her babies. We left her unbothered, as our camp mascot.
On the morning we left to return to park headquarters, I was considering whether to collect her, but discovered that in her place was now a different jumping spider, a notably fat Bavia female. The nest and babies of Gelotia were gone. We don’t have enough evidence to convict, but the Bavia is strongly suspected of eating both the mother Gelotia and all of her babies.
5. Rajah Brooke’s birdwing butterflies were common every day on the main trail north at Mulu. Beautiful.
4. On our last day at Mulu, expert guide Syria Lejau Malang led us to Deer Cave, a spectacularly enormous cavern with millions of bats chittering and producing guano. The guano on the cave floor is deep enough for a human to swim in, but the only swimmers in the guano were the millions of cockroaches and other small creatures. Here’s a photo taken by Syria — the reddish material on the ground is guano.
3. Leeches. Can’t forget the leeches.
Hmmmm. No need to show another photo…
2. I posted about unexpected things that fall when we shake vegetation to find spiders. One of the last days at Mulu, I shook a tree to get spiders out, and debris fell on my head. Suddenly I felt something in my ear — something was trying desperately to scurry back into a hole. It was the strangest sensation, feeling something rooting around in there, sounding very loud as it struck my eardrum. I brushed at it and shook my head, and this is what fell out. A 4 cm long centipede.
1. And, for my top encounter, another animal dropping from a tree. After shaking a tree for spiders, I felt something wriggling under my shirt. I lifted the bottom of my shirt, and this fell out.
What is it? My first thought was, oh no, not another leech. It twitched and wriggled, but not like a leech. It felt too firm. I looked at it more closely, and realized what it was. It was the tail of a lizard. With the tail still twitching, the living lizard body must be nearby. I opened up my shirt further, and out dropped the gecko.
The gecko must have fallen down my shirt, felt squeezed as if by a predator, and autotomized its tail as a diversionary tactic. I assume that it is out in the forest, working on regrowing its tail, as I write this.
Previously in this series:
Spiders in Borneo: Introduction
Spiders in Borneo: Undiscovered biodiversity
Spiders in Borneo: The guests of honor: Salticidae
Spiders in Borneo: Team Salticid
Spiders in Borneo: Mulu National Park
Spiders in Borneo: Dreaming about salticid spiders
Spiders in Borneo: Jumping spiders in the forest
Spiders in Borneo: Beating around the bushes
Spiders in Borneo: Spiders in leaf litter
Spiders in Borneo: A Vertical Life
Spiders in Borneo: Leeches and eyeballs
Spiders in Borneo: Breaking News!
Spiders in Borneo: Falling from above
Spiders in Borneo: What I carry
Spiders in Borneo: Entangled and pierced
Spiders in Borneo: Scattered literature
Spiders in Borneo: Mulu wrap-up
Spiders in Borneo: Lambir Hills
Spiders in Borneo: Replaying the Tape of Life
Spiders in Borneo: More Hispo at Lambir
Spiders in Borneo: Geometrical Jumping spiders
Spiders in Borneo: Trees that grow from sky to ground
Spiders in Borneo: The spiders who wouldn’t be
Spiders in Borneo: The Music of Biodiversity
Spiders in Borneo: Jumping spider rainbow
Text and images © W. Maddison, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license (CC-BY)