The Wildlife of Malaysia

I made a two week visit to peninsular Malaysia in June of 2008, about 13 years after I visited this same area for a week, at the end of a month-long working trip to Brunei.

A lot changed in that time, and my interest in wildlife had also developed, so I made a point of getting out to natural areas as much as I could to photograph the wildlife.

Unfortunately rain followed me around for the whole trip, but of course that suits some animals very well, like this attractive green cascade frog living in the Cameron Highlands, a short drive north-east of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

These frogs are found all the way from east India to China, and scientists recently decided that this frog actually consists of at least eleven separate species, all of which are slight variations on the same appearance.   The confusion also applies to the scientific name applied to this complex of species.   Originally (and still most commonly) known as Rana livida, the synonym Huia livida later appeared, and now it's called Odorana livida, which also led to the rarely seen and rather unflattering alternative common name "large odorous frog".

As with most tropical countries, there are plenty of cold-blooded animals, like this attractively coloured tokay gecko I encountered in the Perhentian Islands off the east coast of the peninsula.   There are many gecko species in the world, but this is the one which gave the whole family its name, because of the "gecko" call it makes at night-time, when it's active.

This flying gecko was out on the same night as the tokay gecko, and in the same small area.   They can't actually fly, but it does use the webbed skin around its body to glide from one tree to another.   This one seems a bit happier than the angry flying gecko I photographed in Thailand the year before.

Still in the same area and still at night, but unlike the previous two lizards, this forest crested lizard was trying to sleep.   It has some pretty formidable spines on its head and back to discourage predators from attacking it.

This very attractive skink was in the Sekayu waterfall nature reserve.   I never got to the top set of falls because the path was longer and more strenuous than I expected, and it also didn't help that I was being bitten by leeches!   However at least I got this photo and some others, like a 20 centimeter long millipede.

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I always seem to find snakes in the wrong place!   In spite of looking closely for them, I didn't come across any while I was in the warm lowland areas of the country, but I found three in the space of a day while I was in the cool environment of the Cameron Highlands, which was made even cooler by the rain.   This is a small juvenile, I'm guessing it's either some type of boa constrictor or a ratsnake.

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I think the last snake was harmless, but I treated this one with a lot more respect.   It's another juvenile, probably only 20 or 30 centimeters long, but I realized when I saw it that it's a pit viper, and therefore probably quite venomous.   I later found out that it's called, appropriately enough, a mountain pit viper.

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The wet weather meant that I saw far fewer butterflies than I hoped, however I did come across this Malay red harlequin in Taman Negara, the large lowland nature reserve in the north, central region.

This butterfly is unusual because it lives in dark, shady parts of the forest.   It was also fairly difficult to photograph, because it flew away whenever I got close; it took a good 15 minutes before I was able to get near enough to get some decent photos.

The Malay red harlequin belongs to a family called "metalmarks", most of which have metallic bronze coloration on the tops of their wings.

Coincidentally, the Malaysian postal service released a set of butterfly stamps in April of 2008, and one of these stamps features the Malay red harlequin.

There weren't too many butterflies, but at least there were several interesting caterpillars like this one, which was also in Taman Negara.   It's shaped like a classic "looper" caterpillar (sometimes called inchworms), which would mean that it's a juvenile moth in the family Geometridae; however they're not normally as colourful as this.

Here's another interesting caterpillar, its colouration and patterning looks like one of the North American tent caterpillars, but it also has those interesting handles on its shoulders, which it was able to move up and down.   It's the juvenile form of a lappet moth known to its friends as Kunugia divaricata.

Moth caterpillars are often more attractive than the adult, this Tinolius eburneigutta being a good example.   Like the first caterpillar, it's doing the whole "looper" thing, but this species is called a "semi-looper" because it isn't a Geometrid moth, instead it's an owlet moth, the largest family of moths in the world, with maybe 100,000 species.

This beauty looks like some type of swallowtail butterfly, but in fact it's a swallowtail moth called Lyssa macleayi - surprisingly, for such a prominent and frequently seen creature, it doesn't have a common name.   You don't have to go deep into the jungle late at night to find one - I photographed this one during the daytime in the park at the base of the Kuala Lumpur tower, in the middle of the Malaysia's biggest city!   There was another one on the ground outside the front entrance to the Petronas Towers, which for six years were the tallest buildings in the world.

This moth was in the jungle late at night, it's in very good condition which probably means that it had only recently emerged from its chysalis.   Apart from the attractive blue scales on its back, I thought the "snake's head" patterns on its wings were also interesting.

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Believe it or not, this is another moth, though not in as good condition as the previous two!

This one has become infected with a fungus, which has eventually taken over the whole insect, finally producing the fruiting bodies you see here, one sticking out from the head and others looking just like little pins holding the moth to the leaf.

This sort of thing is relatively common in the tropics, and in fact different species of fungi specialize in parasitizing different insects.

Ants which show signs of fungal infection will be carried by their colleagues far away from the nest, to prevent the spores from spreading throughout the colony.

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This isn't the strangest fungus I saw in Malaysia - that prize goes to this very small bioluminescent mushroom which was growing in a large, spread-out colony quite close to the accomodation at Taman Negara.

Bioluminescense occurs in a number of fungi, but this is the first opportunity I've had to photograph it in operation.

This weird creature was only a hundred meters from the bioluminescent mushroom patch.   It looks positively prehistoric and I must admit that I wasn't even sure what sort of thing it is, though my best guess at the time was that it was a firefly larva, like the large firefly larva I photographed at night in Vietnam.   I didn't notice that this one in Malaysia was glowing, but it turns out that both this and the Vietnamese "firefly" aren't fireflies at all, they're actually the larvae of net-winged beetles in the genus Duliticola, otherwise known as "trilobite larvae" because of their prehistoric shape; the one you see here is Duliticola hoiseni.   The drops of liquid on this one's back look like they are some toxic substance exuded for protection, I'm not sure if that was for my benefit or whether it was already feeling stressed when I arrived.

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Fireflies are actually a type of beetle, as is this little fella, which is one of many weevil species - in fact weevils are the largest family of animals in the world.   The mouth is at the end of the long "snout", and together with those antennae and the protruding eyes, it gives this insect quite a comical appearance.   Apparently scientists thought it was the other end which looked funny, because they named this species Megaproctus exclamationis, which roughly translated means "amazingly big butt".

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Not to be outdone in the weirdness stakes, this is some type of true bug in the family Derbidae, with strangely outsized wings.

The two little rods sticking out of its face add to its alien appearance.

I saw a similar one in Indonesia, though it coloration was slightly different.

How many ants do you see in this photo?   There are actually two, and if you can't see the second one then look in the jaws of the one you do see.   Here's the scary thing - the small one is a "normal" sized ant, and the one that's eating it is a giant forest ant (Camponotus gigas), measuring a good two or two and a half centimeters in length.   I first saw giant forest ants in Brunei, though I wasn't able to get a photo there; Latin America has a similar monster called the bullet ant, which has a bite which can make you seriously sick for several days.

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A soldier termite on a lookout above the workers it's protecting.   These ones are nocturnal and you can see from its tiny eyes that the soldier can't see well enough to "look out" for anything.   But it's very sensitive to vibration and any chemical distress signals emitted by its comrades, which will quickly bring those nasty looking jaws into action.

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I don't photograph too many snails, but this one was colorful enough to merit a few shots!   It's another inhabitant of Taman Negara national park called the green tree snail, Amphidromus atricallosusa.

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Here's one of the coolest spiders I've photographed in a while, a horned spider which belongs to a family called the "spiny orb weavers".   I've photographed other members of this family in Thailand, and even one in the United States.

Presumably the horns and spines which this family of spiders possesses makes it harder for birds and other predators to swallow them.

Another extraordinary spider.   I've never seen a spider before which has shiny metallic spots on it, and even the shape of its belly is quite unusual.   Unfortunately many bugs are very difficult to identify, and so I don't know what this spider's name is.

There were several large spiders wandering around at night in Taman Negara, including this very hirsute individual.   It's named after another hairy individual - believe it or not, its scientific name is Heteropoda davidbowie!   It's an appropriate name for a number of reasons, not least being David Bowie's 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

This spider might look like it's from Mars, but it's actually an uncommon species found only in Malaysia.   Its rarity is another reason it was named after the pop star - its discoverer wanted to raise public awareness of its plight, and thought this would be a good way to do it!

It's a huntsman spider, and like most members of that family it's got very small eyes, so it's obviously not hunting by sight.   Instead it's probably sensing vibrations on the leaves and stems that its legs are touching, and even air vibrations which it feels with all of those hairs.

As well as all of those tropical goodies on the mainland, Malaysia is also a famed destination for scuba divers looking for beauty below the water line.

Most of the world-class diving sites like Sipadan and Labuan are in Malaysia's states on the island of Borneo, however there are several islands off the east coast of the Malaysian peninsular which have worthwhile diving.   Tioman Island is probably the most popular because of its proximity to Singapore, and many people consider Redang in the north to be the best peninsular dive site.   However I only had time to spend a couple of days on the Perhentian Islands, just to the north of Redang.

One of the many attractive fish you can see here is the long-beaked coralfish, which is a type of butterflyfish also called a copperband butterflyfish.   With a small mouth like that, about all it can eat is small crustaceans and other invertebrates.

Another attractive fish, but this time an angelfish rather than a butterflyfish.

This is a blue-ring angelfish, and like the long-beaked coralfish, it's a species I'd never seen before, but there were many of them at different sites around the islands.

As you can see, it has a large blue spine on its cheek, which it can use to defend its territory.

This zebra lionfish chilling out inside a barrel sponge looks beautiful, but it's a much more sinister customer than the previous two.   As well as being a voracious predator of small fish, those long spines on its back are packed with venom powerful enough to deter all but the most foolish or unobservant predator or diver.

Into the home stretch, so let's crank up the creepiness factor a couple of notches!   These reef lizardfishes like to rest on hard surfaces, waiting for a small fish to swallow.

This is Tridacna maxima, the small giant clam (if that's not a contradiction in terms), with a sea slug climbing over it.   These sea slugs have a great sense of smell, but they're blind and not too smart, either, so there's nothing really stopping the slug from crawling to the wrong place and falling into the clam.   The clam might close if that happens, but I doubt if the slug would be injured too badly, though it would probably be an uncomfortable feeling for both of them.

This green turtle swam past on one of my last dives.   The fish that are with it have suckers on the tops of their heads which they use to hang on to sharks, mantas, turtles and even divers (the trick if that happens is to push them forward, which breaks the attachment).   There are a few species of fish which do this, most people know of remoras, but these ones are called sharksuckers.