Day 10: Giant beetles, moths and football!

As the cool grey jungle dawn gave way to the now familiar barrage of animal noise, we crawled slowly out of bed; unwilling to perform yet another final task in the jungle. Most others had packed last night while Ted and I had been hunting and so, as usual, we were the last to be ready with our kit (although on previous occasions this was because we had found something exciting!). After breakfast, we waved goodbye to the unfathomable depths of life at Waterfall camp and set off down river to everyone else at base camp. The river had somewhat receded and so it wasn’t hard walking, although it was entertaining watching the occasional fall – something I had done multiple times while distracted by other animals.

The plan for the rest of the morning at base camp was to present our cockroach project findings and to listen to everyone else’s. The presentations weren’t assessed and, although everyone took it seriously enough, we had been drawing on each other’s faces in charcoal in the minutes leading up and so may not have looked the part.

A lot of happy group photos ensued and no goodbyes to any people as we were all headed out of the forest. Setting off into the river (apart from the few of our number who had developed bad foot-rot or succumbed to a broken toe who got a lift back in a kayak) we began our walk out of the jungle. There was somewhat of a divide in the group at this point. Quite a few powered ahead, eager to begin the journey home to tell all of their families etc. while others dawdled right at the back, still looking at everything, hating the idea of leaving.

Crossing the final river we picked up our heavy bags which had been kindly ferried to the trucks via kayaks and began to pile on to said trucks. Of course, a few of us had to be shouted onto the vehicles as a large and beautiful Odontolabis species of stag beetle had been found: perfect for the opening shot of our video!

Our video we had to make as part of our assessment. All about beetles!

We bumped down the track in convoy, on the way back to Setulang village, we had a night there before heading to Tarakan city tomorrow. We took our bags back to our homestay people when we arrived and, after lunch, sat fidgeting through a debriefing, eager to FINALLY get the chance to play football. At last it was finished and we fairly dived out of the longhouse and onto the pitch. Barefoot and high energy, we were glad it was early evening so it wasn’t too hot. The football was decidedly scrappy from the British contingent. The rains had formed big puddles and swamps across crucial areas of the pitch and so beautiful football was out the window as we tactically resorted to hoofing it upfield to the strikers. I was one of those strikers and almost invariably fell over as I lunged for the ball or left it behind in the mud. A lot of player swapping between teams happened as players joined or left or one team got too far ahead and so any sort of scoreline was quickly lost. However, I vividly remember scoring two which is the most important thing anyway.

Football video courtesy of Luna Tilles

Night was falling and the lecturers were calling us back in to look at camera trap footage. Caked in mud we dashed to the river to wash before dripping at the back of the longhouse to see what our camera traps had trapped. As mammals are so secretive in the jungle, remote camera traps are your best chance of seeing anything and we had been lucky! Photos and videos had been captured of banded civet, two species of porcupine (Long-tailed and Bornean), leopard cat and, my favourite, a moon rat! I would have loved to have seen a moon rat, I think another group did who I was of course pleased for but also envious. They are such endearingly strange animals. Pure white and with an awful smell!

 

After our last great feast was greatly appreciated and the speeches of thanks were done, the dancing began. I love the dances here, especially the ones that tell the stories of animals as they capture the character and story of the hornbills (for example) so perfectly. A couple of British students braver than me (Laura and Ash) got up to dance with the villagers also!

Amazing food and brave Laura and Ash dancing

At one point during a dance, a young village girl came up to me holding a huge beetle! I was very pleased about this and was amused at how noticeable my insect obsession was. The beetle was a massive female Chalcosoma species, either atlas or moellenkampi. It also had incredibly sharp legs which got caught in your skin as it clings on. The males of this species have a large triceratops like horn arrangement on their head to impress the females. In terms of etymology, Chalcosoma originates from the Greek Chalcko- meaning copper which refers to the metallic sheen of these beetles – more evident in the males. Atlas of course refers to the Greek titan, Atlas, who held up the sky. Moellenkampi is named after the German entomologist Willhelm Moellenkamp. What is a less heartwarming fact is the local common name for both C. atlas and C. moellenkampi is ‘Kapiting’ which refers to the beetle’s similarity to the stout logging machinery used in carrying timber.

Mr Garden Figure and Chalcosoma sp. and me

On this last night it seems as good a time as any to go through the highlights for this section of the trip.

Seeing and talking to and learning from the Setulang people was just an amazing thing. Seeing how much they love the forest and their success story of how they have prospered by caring for their forest while others sold theirs for timber is an inspirational model to follow. (Day 1 and 2).

 

The trip started very excitingly for me with Laura’s discovery of Rhitymna pinangensis, the hairy monster of Penang spider – one I had not expected to see.

Rhitymna pinangensis!

Day 3 was spent walking very slowly into the jungle, blown away by the sheer abundance and diversity of life. My favourites from this day were the wonderful tree hole frog that sings differently depending on the acoustics of his hole, one of the only arboreal tarantulas that we saw, the sticky frog and the absolutely unbelievable nocturnal bee Xylocopa myops. This day ended by having a yellow and black mangrove cat snake thrust into my face by an excited Ted just as I had fallen asleep.

Tree hole frog, mangrove cat snake and Xylocopa myops.

Day 4’s highlights were the amusingly named Phallus species of bridal veil fungus attracting all manor of insects, lacewing larvae camouflaged with an afro, absolutely huge swimming huntsmen, and the coolest beetle from the trip – the violin beetle.

Bridal veil fungus, afro lacewing and swimming huntsman.

Day 5’s excitement included crawling through a rotten log full of very big ants and an even larger pregnant swimming hunts(wo)man, to ‘find’ last night’s violin beetle for our video. Wading upriver in a rainstorm at night to look for fish and an amazing nocturnal bat flower!

Violin beetle, bat flower and crawling through a log

Day 6 involved getting bitten by a (very small) spider, eating a poor soft-shelled turtle, and catching some magical fireflies.

A small but bitey spider, fireflies, and Malaysian soft shelled turtle.

Day 7 was an excellent day for spiders: ones that mimic ants, others that release pheromones to attract their prey, ones called tiger-marshmallows and common pizzas, before the day ended with finding some massive wood-boring cockroaches!

Tiger Marshmallow spider, Phoroncidea lygaena, and Argorius sp.

Day 8 was immense with the predatory flatworm which can reproduce by cutting itself in half; finding the most salt-resistant frog in the world; the elegant but a little scary Scutigera centipede; beautiful, beautiful lantern bug with its blue nose, possibly my favourite spider in the large but seemingly friendly orange huntsman. Before the staggeringly pretty Bornean keeled pit viper finished the day off.

Lantern bug, Orange huntsman, and bornean keeled pit viper.

Day 9 was our final full day and some exciting ant-eating spiders were found; the most intricate of cocoons attached to a branch courtesy of a tiger moth; web making fungus gnats; tiny, tiny frogs; and social whip scorpions!

Tiger moth cocoon, whip scorpion and a pothole, narrow mouthed chorus frog.

The village of Setulang has an amazing story and the people there are so friendly and made us feel genuinely welcome. However, other than the food, the insects and the people, it is the football that I will remember most!

 

Next up I will be going back in time to talk about our crazy adventures in the jungles of Sungai Wain in southern Borneo before eventually concluding our trip with a more marine theme…

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