Invertebrate of Kinabalu

" Mosquitoes, sand flies and leeches"

In my opinion, mosquitoes, sand flies and leeches were the most disfavor invertebrate in Borneo Island. In fact, these animals can causes unpleasant skin rashes for certain people who is allergic to their bites. However, the existence of these invertebrate which made tropical forest differ from temperate forest. For those who have been in real forest of Borneo, it is an obligation to experience leech bites. I remembered when I first joined SFC, one of the question asked was, "Have you been baptized before?". I was blur that time, because I thought it was about Christianity. Actually, what he meant by "baptize" was leech bites. If you have not been "baptize" (bitten by leeches), then you are not qualified as a real forester. So, for those who have gone through this course, I don't think leeches were a big problem, and yet we should be glad that we all have been "baptized" by the jungle of Borneo, the richest forest in the world. I'm sure it was a very meaningful experience.

Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between Himalayas and New Guinea, located at Northern Borneo, Sabah, Malaysia. The area covered is approximately 1250 km2 and the center of this circular area lies near 6° 5' N, 116°35' E, with a radius of about 20 km. The elevation ranges from about 200 m to 4094 m on the Low's Peak, the highest point. As a compliment, all hikers who managed to reach the highest point on the Low's Peak, a certificate will be given. Fortunately, all the students (BB08) managed to reach the tip, though some student almost give up. This mountain is one of the youngest major mountains in the world and may still be rising at a rate of about 0.3 cm/year. The glaciation occurred during Pleistocene produced the present ice-carved topography of the summit area. During the Pleistocene, the summit supported an ice cap of 5 km2 in extent. Deglaciation of the summit occurred about 9200 years ago and today, we can still see the remains of the glaciation and deglaciation processes, which constituted the unique and aesthetic view of Mt. Kinabalu.

On the basis of species per unit area, Mt. Kinabalu may have one of the most diverse floras on the earth. The high diversity of Mt. Kinabalu may be results from a combination of factors, such as great altitudinal and climatic range from tropical rain forests near sea level to freezing alpine montane forest near the summit; precipitous topography causing effective geographic and reproductive isolation of species over short distances; geological history of Malay Archipelago involving movement of several tectonic plates; a diverse geology with many localized edaphic conditions; frequent climatic oscillations influenced by El-Nino events; and environmental instability resulting from landslides, droughts, river flooding and glaciation. A substantial part of the high species diversity may have resulted from natural selections and adaptation of new genotypes to new environment owing to alterations of gene pool within a community.

For insects and other invertebrates, diversity decreased rapidly, when the altitude increases. For instance, no ants and mosquitoes can be found at elevation 3000 m and above. On our stayed at Raban Rata, only insects such as bees, beetles, moths, Lycaenids, stick insects, some dipteras, and water skater (near Paka Cave); mollusc such as snails; arachnid such as spiders; nemathod such as Giant Earthworm; and Annelid such as 
Giant Red Leech. We are very lucky to spot the giant leech and also the giant earthworm which are thought to be endemic to Mount Kinabalu. This Giant Red Leech which can reach 30 cm (one feet) of its length, only preys on the Giant Earthworms. It is very fortunate for us, as if this leech feeds on blood, I can't imagine how much blood it can suck for one serving. The giant grey-blue earthworm can reach 70 cm long when stretched out, and lives in burrows in the soft and thick soils that build lush forest around Paka Cave shelter, at some 3,000 m above sea level. Similarly, this giant leech can be found at 2,500-3,000 m altitude, whereby the trail runs over a rocky outcrop near to the Mempening and Paka Cave shelter, and it is only during or after a heavy pouring rain. Apparently, very little to no study were done on this giant leech and giant worm occurrence at Kinabalu. Some possible reasons of their occurrence may be the giant earthworm will come out to the surface to breathe or mate after heavy rainfall, and at the same time, this giant leech will come out during and after heavy rain pour to prey on the giant eartworm.

According to Santiago (one of our TFs), there are less butterflies can be found on such high elevation near the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. In fact, more moths can survive near the summit, and this moth is active at night. In order to adapt to the harsh environment (high UV rays and freezing weather) of Mt. Kinabalu, there are some modifications on its wings, such as thick hairs and very colorful wings. The hairs on its wings will trap the heat and the colorful wings will reflect the UV rays. This modifications allows the moth to survive in such harsh environment and the moth sometimes can be mistaken as butterfly by its colorful appearance. As we know, Lycaenids and ants were in mutualism relationship, but on Mt. Kinabalu, Lycaenids did not associate with ants as no ants can survive on freezing weather and high UV rays. This Lycaenids can survive without association with ants, owing to lesser parasites and predators found on the mountain. Every single alterations of climate and environment will change the species composition and diversity. Mt. Kinabalu is so unique that many isolated speciation have occurred and more species which is endemic to the mountain were found each year. There are more species waiting to be discovered or described in Mt. Kinabalu.

Some pictures of inverterbrate (name and contributor) found during our stayed at Laban Rata;

a) Insects (Arthropod)

b) Snail (Mollusc)

c) Worm (Nemathod)

d) Leech (Annelid)

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