Having just posted a representative of “beauty” with an image of the Rainbow Pitta it seemed only fair to give the “beast” category some exposure. The Bearded Pig (Sus barbatus) is native to mainland Malaysia and Borneo and some other South-East Asian Islands. This cheerful creature was happily pigging out on jungle fruit at Bako National Park, not far from Kuching in Sarawak. The IUCN Red List website warns us that the Bearded Pig is vulnerable (category Vulnerable A2cd ver3.1). The Red List commentary says the Bearded Pig was abundant and widespread in the Malaysian Peninsula until recently but has now probably been extirpated from northern Peninsular Malaysia and northern Sumatra. The species is most widespread in the island of Borneo which might now hold the bulk of the population. Its decline has been attributed to heavy hunting and habitat loss. Bearded Pigs consume roots, fungi, invertebrates in rotting wood, small vertebrates, turtle eggs, carrion, and items from at 50 genera and 29 families of plants. They are NOT fussy easters but fruit supply is the key factor in determining growth rate, fat deposition and reproduction.

The Giant Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa latipes) is a native of Borneo and we found this spectacular specimen in Sarawak a few years ago. The Giant Bee reaches 35mm in length and is built like a tank. On body bulk it is the biggest bee in the world but for length is outclassed by the Giant Mason Bee (Megachile pluto) which is found in the Northern Moluccas and can grow to 40mm. However it’s a more slender beast and the Giant Carpenter Bee has a good case to argue for title of world’s biggest bee. As the name suggests they excavate their nests from timber and nest entrances are recorded up to 2cm in diameter. It seems likely that my picture shows a male Carpenter Bee surveying his domain from his territorial perch.

Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) spends quite a lot of time perched motionless on low branches of small trees and bushes. It doesn’t have to move very much to change from a resting position to launching into a strike. As well as being a stealth predator it also hunts actively for warm-blooded animals such as birds, mice and rats, as well as frogs. It uses the heat sensing organs in the pits (as in the name) behind its nostrils to hunt at night, locating body heat from prey. Maximum size is about 100cm but the average adult is around 60cm, and the female is larger. It occurs in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and assumes many different colours and forms. These two snakes were photographed just behind the bungalows at Bako National Park in Sarawak. My reading suggests that the lighter spotted snake is a male, probably a juvenile and the darker more robust beast is a female. They are venomous but most bites, it is said, are relatively minor in effect. Nevertheless for me, it is reason enough to admire the jungle from well maintained paths or boardwalks.

Fish-Tail Palm

The Fish-Tail Palm (Caryotis mitis) is a native of SE Asia and India and I photographed these cascades of inflorescence in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. The small flowers attract huge numbers of native stingless bees. In the Northern Territory I think the plant has the potential to become a weed in the Western Arnhem Plateau where it would love the moist ravines.

Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park

If you’re a David Attenborough fan you’ve probably seen the entrance to the Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park Sarawak more than once and undoubtedly with a countless dark cloud of bats emerging like a starling murmuration. The day I visited they decided they didn’t like the weather and stayed home. Lucky I’d seen the movie! Walking the boardwalk into the cave I saw this cuddlesome little group looking down at me. Can’t tell you what species. Twelve species are known to live in Deer Cave.

Sarawak Rooster

This magnificent rooster was tethered on the communal porch of a Penan longhouse near Miri when we visited in 2011. The flat sheets in the background are blocks of latex, natural rubber, harvested from the jungle and now curing before sale. In this state latex has a pretty unpleasant smell…but it brings a good price. Enjoy the week. I plan to post again next Saturday … perhaps with some rock art images from Arnhem Land.

Longhouses

The Penan indigenous peoples of Sarawak have a tradition of living in multi-family longhouses and this tradition continues, albeit with some new materials and designs. These photos are from three communities, the top two from near Miri — one ultra modern and the other a little older. The individual family units are narrow, but extend over several levels and run a considerable distance back from the front door into the communal space. Satellite television brings the globe to the family hearth. In the lower right photograph is the remains of what happens in a longhouse when someone’s hearth goes wrong. In this case a fire in one family unit destroyed the whole longhouse of about 20 units. Rebuilding was under way but corrugated iron and other building materials had to be brought long distances by the needle-shaped river boats, powered by outboard motors.

The large scale replacement of the healthy natural disorder of lowland rainforest by neatly ordered rows of oil palms, is a disaster for many species. But on the face of it, this squirrel I photographed near Miri in Sarawak, looks forward to taking a share of oil palm harvest. My identification is a google image based guess but I think this attractive creature is probably Callosciurus prevostii, one of the genus known as “Beautiful Squirrels”. But if any one knows better, please correct me.