About a year ago I went to Malaysian Borneo, a unique place of its kind in the natural environment where the natural environment is presented under various and indefinite aspects, its beauty seems inexhaustible as its natural resources. Entering the jungle is a unique and unparalleled experience as it is a territory where man is still in complete harmony with the multiformity of nature, with the succession of seasons and years.
Because of its geographical position, far from everything and everyone, it is called the “Lost World”.
It is the only place in the world where you can find endemic species of wild animals such as the pygmy elephant, the nebulous leopard, the Malayan bear and the Nasica monkey; while on the banks of the Kinabatang River in the Sabah region there is the highest concentration of wildlife in South East Asia. In Borneo, forests are still populated by Dayak tribes, once warriors and head cutters, who live in traditional houses (longhouses), built on stilts where 30 or more families live in one building. Being a region that retains its primordial characteristics, in my opinion no description can make an adequate idea of its magnificence.
From the first days spent in the tropical forest, I realized that I saw the place under a much more stimulating view compared to other primary forests that I visited before. I found this place much more rewarding at the sensory level: it is possible to come into contact with many more animals such as reptiles, amphibians and insects especially at night, all seasoned by a multitude of smells and above all of surreal sounds. In fact, some animals during the night produce particular and very intense sounds; among these the Goniocephalìis horneensis, a species of large lizard seen by me several times, characterized by a long serrated crest on the back, which produces a very strong cry. This sound together with another equally strange (wa-wa), produced by frogs, is one of those noises that are hard to believe that it is produced by animals. To feed the multitude of sounds in the forest, did not go unnoticed the song of the balm cricket Pomponia imperatoria, which is particular both for its sound produced that is very reminiscent of the braying of a donkey, but also for its large size that can reach. In Sarawak during the hottest hours it is not uncommon to see flying lizards (Draco volans) passing from one tree to another, and hovering in the air with the membranous expansions, which are provided on the sides of their body.
Not only do flying lizards live in Borneo, but also lemurs, squirrels and even a species of snake that can jump from tree to tree. Since there are relatively numerous animals that in this territory possess the characteristic to use the flight, considering that their locomotion of origin was not intended to do this; it can be assumed that some particularity in the environment in which they have lived for millennia must have contributed to change their behavior. This particularity can be recognized in the eminently forestry character of Malaysia. The territory from its primitive state was covered by a homogeneous forest from the sea to the mountains, discovered only in the stretches where the rivers passed and along the coast. Evidently, the vertical development of vegetation has involved both arboreal and aerial adaptations for many animal species to reach food resources such as leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits that are found in the highest part of the trees.
Among the colorful hunting strategies used by animals in this place, one of the most unique is certainly that of the archer fish (Toxotes). This fish is able to use its mouth to generate a spray of water to hit the prey from several feet away and then feed on it. These fish create inside their mouth, a structure similar to a barrel of a rifle. By effectively positioning the tongue along the upper part of the mouth, at the same time closing the gills generate a thrust that shoots the water towards the prey. This is particularly impressive considering that the fish must take into account the reflection of light on the surface of the water to shoot at targets up to 60 centimeters away.
In Sarawak near the Baku National Park, close the mangroves I came across the Perioftalmi (Mudskipper), visible in herds that count even more than 20 individuals and recognizable by their typical blue dotted gray color. These particular amphibians are very active even out of the water where they feed and reproduce, and have the particularity of using their pectoral fins to walk and jump up to a height of 60 centimeters, adapting to intertidal habitats, survive the withdrawal of the tide hiding under the wet algae or in the formed pools of the tides. They have the particularity of performing a cutaneous respiration when they are immersed, through the mucosa that covers the mouth and with the larynx, while when there are holes in the water they breathe as they do in traditional diving, where through the gills it is stored a bubble of air dissolved in water that allows him to breathe.
Speaking of skin breathing, the only frog without lungs was discovered in Kalimatan in 2008.
“The only breathless frog in the world leaves the scientists breathless”.
A particularly ra re evolutionary event that has been documented only three times in some species of salamanders. The Lungless frog (Barbourula kalimantanensis) is considered one of the most elusive and enigmatic amphibians of Borneo. This amphibian breathes entirely through its skin, also having a flattened shape that maximizes the surface of its skin allowing it to absorb all the necessary oxygen in its habitat, characterized by cold running waters such as streams, streams and springs. This frog is in danger and could be wiped out by illegal gold mining practices that are destroying its habitat.
In Borneo, bats can be found asleep in the arms of carnivorous plants.
Bats (Kerivoula hardwickii), have the habit of falling asleep in a carnivorous plant (Nepenthes). Generally, other species of carnivorous plants live feeding on insects, from which they suck the nitrogen necessary for their survival, in this way during the nocturnal rest these intelligent little animals defend themselves from the various parasites that threaten them using the host plant also as a toilet. In fact, the plant benefits from their droppings, which constitute a supplement of food for this.
Also a type of kamikaze ant (Colobopsis explodens) populates Borneo, able to explode in case its colony is attacked by foreign ants of another species or by other predators. These ants already known for years in Southeast Asia have been identified in the Sabah region. As you can see in the movie below, when one of the foreign ants’ “YG” tries to settle in the territory of an “AR” ant it detonates, breaking its own abdomen and releasing a yellowish toxic substance that after a short agony brings the rival to death. The cause of these behaviors can be explained by the fact that the colony is like a single living organism: in case of danger the inhabitants are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the life of their companions.
Finally I could not fail to mention the snail Iachico rachelae nicknamed by the researchers the “ninja snail“. This green and yellow snail was discovered atop the high mountains of the Malay area of Mount Kinabalu. The snail has a tail three times its length and wraps itself on itself when it rests. It is part of the Ariophantidae family, and uses an unusual courting strategy by shooting “darts of love” containing calcium carbonate. The dart is similar to a harpoon that pierces and injects a hormone into a companion and can play a role in increasing the chances of reproduction.
In this article I focused on analyzing some species that I encountered on my journey, which struck me in a particular way, others that I thought interesting that I had heard about and I investigated their behavior. There is so much to say about this territory that is covered by the world’s oldest rain forest, dating back to 130 million years ago. Thanks to the tropical climate and abundant rainfall, in Borneo there is a very rich vegetation, with a rare variety of trees, plants and flowers, including many endemic species such as Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, which can reach up to 1 meter in diameter. Other species present in the country are, the tapir, which can reach 2 meters in length and weigh up to 300 kilograms and the pangolin, covered by scales. We also find: 100 species of bats, 300 species of reptiles including 100 of snakes, 14 of turtles and tortoises and 3 of crocodiles. Wherever it is easy to realize the variety of birds, which reaches 600 varieties.
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