Tawau Hills Day 1

7 March 2015

Tawau Hills 2015: [ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 ]

I had been wanting to visit Sabah for the longest time, but clashed schedules and many other issues held it back until this year. I was more than impressed by the rich biodiversity of micro fauna in Borneo, so much that I had to organize a Macro Photography Bootcamp here almost immediately after coming back!

Many thanks to Dennis and Jeff for arranging most of the logistics, and to Nick and Amber for the fun bug hunting time we had!

Note: I have been using Borneo, Sabah and Tawau in my recent posts interchangeably. For those confused, Tawau is a town in Sabah. Sabah is a state in Malaysia. Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world, which includes Brunei, parts of Malaysia and parts of Indonesia.

Day 1 – Arrival

Day 1 was more like just a night shoot, as we traveled via Kuala Lumpur and took the later flight to Tawau. Had time to buy some groceries in case we got hungry at night, had a nice dinner, got worried when it rained, checked in, and wasted no time to get our butts into the trails! This blog post simply documents what we have found, and is not a photographic showcase – it will include blurry shots too.

    Orb web spider (Neoscona sp.) - DSC_2653
  1. Orb web spider (Neoscona sp.)

    This Neoscona was perched on the plants in front of our cabins, good warm up subject! Could have taken close ups but I’ve recently chosen to take shots of spiders in their natural positions wherever possible in order to document their habitat.

  2. Big jaw spider (Tetragnathidae) - DSC_2656
  3. Big jaw spider (Tetragnathidae)

    Several tetragnathids visible in the foliage, with their inclined orb webs. The rain caused most of the subjects to look wet and more reflective.

  4. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis) - DSC_2658
  5. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis)

    The pond beside our cabin had A LOT of these frogs, also known as the white-lipped frog. My ID for frogs is very weak, would appreciate any correction if mistakes are spotted!

  6. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis) - DSC_2659
  7. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis)

    Dorsal view for reference

  8. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis) - DSC_2660_uv
  9. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis)

    Under ultraviolet light, their eyes would like up like possessed amphibians!

  10. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis) - DSC_2666_uv
  11. Copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis)

    View from the top, the fluorescence is apparently on the surface of the eye and not just a retinal reflection as thought.

  12. Huntsman spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_2671
  13. Huntsman spider (Pandercetes sp.)

    Found lots of huntsman spiders loitering on the tree trunks.

  14. Huntsman spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_2672
  15. Huntsman spider (Pandercetes sp.)

    Close up shot of the body.

  16. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae) - DSC_2673
  17. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae)

    Numerous leafhoppers too, this nymph had a little see-through look.

  18. Jumping spider (Salticidae) preying on Huntsman spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_2682
  19. Jumping spider (Salticidae) preying on Huntsman spider (Sparassidae)

    We spotted an awesome catch by a jumping spider, devouring a huntsman spider!

  20. Jumping spider (Salticidae) preying on Huntsman spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_2692
  21. Jumping spider (Salticidae) preying on Huntsman spider (Sparassidae)

    Settled down on a leaf, but continued its meal. Had the prey helplessly looking into the camera…

  22. Spiny orb web spider (Gasteracantha sp.) - DSC_2697
  23. Spiny orb web spider (Gasteracantha sp.)

    Probably a juvenile, but I’ve not seen any other adult Gasteracantha in the area, just a few Macracantha.

  24. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae) - DSC_2703
  25. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae)

    Some of the leafhoppers got a little bit more colour on them.

  26. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae) - DSC_2706
  27. Leafhopper nymph (Cicadellidae)

    The characteristic tibial spines.

  28. Leafhopper (Cicadellidae) - DSC_2713
  29. Leafhopper (Cicadellidae)

    Did I mention that they were becoming more and more colourful? This was tiny, about 2 to 3mm long.

  30. Leafhopper (Cicadellidae) - DSC_2717
  31. Leafhopper (Cicadellidae)

    Probably the most beautiful leafhopper on this trip!

  32. Harvestman (Opiliones) with Moth-like planthopper (Ricaniidae) - DSC_2736
  33. Harvestman (Opiliones) with Moth-like planthopper (Ricaniidae)

    Was trying to shoot this moth-like planthopper and a harvestman decided to walk by.

  34. Harvestman (Opiliones) - DSC_2738
  35. Harvestman (Opiliones)

    Close up of the intruder!

  36. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2741
  37. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    There were several large spiky stick insects, but due to the rain, their bodies were wet and very reflective.

  38. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2742
  39. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    Dorsal view shows how broad the abdomen can get – fat stick!

  40. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2743
  41. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    Close up on the eye would be much cuter!

  42. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2746
  43. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    More stick insects!

  44. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2748
  45. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    The small ones tend to hide under the leaves, so it is not always easy to find them.

  46. Darkling beetle? (Tenebrionidae?) - DSC_2756
  47. Darkling beetle? (Tenebrionidae?)

    Not sure of the ID to this beetle yet, but thought I’d take a quick shot anyway.

  48. Springtail (Salina sp.) - DSC_2760
  49. Springtail (Salina sp.)

    These tiny springtails can run really fast, but this was stationary.

  50. Frog (Anura) - DSC_2767
  51. Frog (Anura)

    A juvenile frog, not sure of ID.

  52. Frog (Anura) - DSC_2769
  53. Frog (Anura)

    Patterns not really distinct yet.

  54. Orb web spider (Gea sp.) - DSC_2773
  55. Orb web spider (Gea sp.)

    The Gea in Singapore were typically brown and white while this had a vibrant yellow pattern!

  56. Comb-footed spider (Theridiidae) - DSC_2776
  57. Comb-footed spider (Theridiidae)

    Not particularly good at identifying this group of spiders, and they really can keep running.

  58. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2792
  59. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    One of the many beautiful tree frogs lazing by the pathways.

  60. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2789
  61. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    Really.. really.. sleepy…

  62. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2794
  63. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    Close up on another one!

  64. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2795
  65. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    A little bit more awake as it lifted its head to look at me.

  66. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2798
  67. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    I must’ve looked really boring…

  68. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus) - DSC_2800
  69. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

    This was deeper into the vegetation, blocked by lots of twigs but I managed to squeeze through to get some angles of it.

  70. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus) - DSC_2802
  71. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

    Notice the tiger-striped legs!

  72. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus) - DSC_2803
  73. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

    And the “file-ear”!

  74. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus) - DSC_2807
  75. File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

    Just chilling. Tree frogs have some of the cutest poses on branches.

  76. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2809
  77. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Interesting looking katydid, at least 2 to 3 inches long.

  78. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2810
  79. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    It was colourful!

  80. Fishing spider (Hygropoda sp.) - DSC_2816
  81. Fishing spider (Hygropoda sp.)

    We were near to the pond, these flexible-legged fishing spiders didn’t come as a surprise.

  82. Fishing spider (Hygropoda sp.) - DSC_2817
  83. Fishing spider (Hygropoda sp.)

    View of the eye arrangement.

  84. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2831
  85. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    Seen so many of these tree frogs that I had to put a flash behind to see if I could see their skeletal structure. Well.. barely. Just barely.

  86. Dwarf toad (Pelophryne sp.) - DSC_2832
  87. Dwarf toad (Pelophryne sp.)

    There were lots of toads on the grass as well. Not too sure of ID.

  88. Dwarf toad (Pelophryne sp.) - DSC_2837
  89. Dwarf toad (Pelophryne sp.)

    Just relaxing on some grass.

  90. Frog (Anura) - DSC_2839
  91. Frog (Anura)

    Another juvenile frog of unknown ID.

  92. Frog (Anura) - DSC_2840
  93. Frog (Anura)

    It had a nice spotty head!

  94. Orb web spider (Neoscona sp.) - DSC_2841
  95. Orb web spider (Neoscona sp.)

    Probably Neoscona melloteei but not confirmed.

  96. Broad-headed bug (Alydidae) - DSC_2848
  97. Broad-headed bug (Alydidae)

    These bugs are actually ant-mimics. Easily mistaken for an ant when viewed from a distance.

  98. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2858
  99. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    Since there were so many of them, I tried a closer view of their eyes.

  100. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) - DSC_2862
  101. Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

    And the face!

  102. Grasshopper (Caelifera) - DSC_2870
  103. Grasshopper (Caelifera)

    The striped eyes of this grasshopper was really intriguing!

  104. Daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcidae) - DSC_2871
  105. Daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcidae)

    Tiny little pholcid carrying her sac of eggs.

  106. Daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcidae) - DSC_2881
  107. Daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcidae)

    Lateral view!

  108. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2887
  109. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    More giant stick insects. I wanted to take wide angle shots but those would have been better looking in the day and when they were not so wet.

  110. Stick insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_2890
  111. Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

    Another one hanging out.

  112. Feather-legged spider (Uloboridae) - DSC_2899
  113. Feather-legged spider (Uloboridae)

    This fancy looking uloborid had a messy web under a leaf.

  114. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2904
  115. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Closer look at one of the katydids. Looked plain green until we took the close up shots.

  116. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2907
  117. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Lateral view.

  118. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_2916
  119. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    The Utivarachna that we have in Singapore were pinkish red, while this dons a hue of green and yellow. I waited VERY long before it decided to stay still for some record shots.

  120. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2924
  121. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Stunning katydid that flattens itself onto a leaf when threatened.

  122. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2928
  123. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    What do we see here? A mite sucking on the katydid!

  124. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.) - DSC_2938
  125. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.)

    Amber found several trilobite beetle larvae on some fallen logs.

  126. Tarantula (Theraphosidae) - DSC_2943
  127. Tarantula (Theraphosidae)

    We chased this tarantula around but it eventually disappeared into the leaf litter.

  128. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2945
  129. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Found another katydid that flattens itself, and placed my flash behind to “see through” it.

  130. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2946
  131. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    How it looked like normally.

  132. Katydid (Tettigoniidae) - DSC_2950
  133. Katydid (Tettigoniidae)

    Close up on the head!

  134. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_2962
  135. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    Eye arrangement of the Utivarachna.

  136. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_2967
  137. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    Lateral view, showing the invagination behind the ocular region.

  138. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_2970
  139. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    Since this one stood still for a while, I took pictures at every angle!

  140. Weevil (Curculionidae) - DSC_2974
  141. Weevil (Curculionidae)

    Scruffy looking weevil, but it had a deep red colour!

  142. Weevil (Curculionidae) - DSC_2975
  143. Weevil (Curculionidae)

    Dorsal view.

  144. Black armored cockroach (Catara rugosicollis) - DSC_2977
  145. Black armored cockroach (Catara rugosicollis)

    The ones in Singapore gave off an odd scent when they felt threatened. Luckily this one didn’t give off any scent.

  146. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.) - DSC_2981
  147. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.)

    More trilobite beetles! The tiny heads are so cute~

  148. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.) - DSC_2983
  149. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.)

    This was perched at the edge of a sawed log.

  150. Wall crab spider (Selenopidae) - DSC_2990
  151. Wall crab spider (Selenopidae) or huntsman spider (Sparassidae)

    Wasn’t sure if this tiny spider was a selenopid or sparassid.

  152. Wall crab spider (Selenopidae) - DSC_2995
  153. Wall crab spider (Selenopidae) or huntsman spider (Sparassidae)

    Check out the eye arrangement! There are also 2 red “horns” on each corner of the cephalothorax which could just be the lateral eyes.

  154. Ornate earless agama (Aphaniotis ornata) - DSC_3006
  155. Ornate earless agama (Aphaniotis ornata)

    As we were getting ready to rest… we spotted an odd looking lizard.

  156. Ornate earless agama (Aphaniotis ornata) - DSC_2999
  157. Ornate earless agama (Aphaniotis ornata)

    It had a small but weird appendage at the tip, as if it just told some lies. Obviously not looking happy there.

  158. Frog (Anura) - DSC_3008
  159. Frog (Anura)

    Small little cute frog staring at us while we back-tracked to our cabins.

  160. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.) - DSC_3010
  161. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.)

    There were several sightings of these metallic looking lynx spiders.

  162. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.) - DSC_3011
  163. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.)

    Larger than the Oxyopes that we usually see in Singapore.

  164. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.) - DSC_3015
  165. Lynx spider (Hamadruas sp.)

    It’s a boy!

  166. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.) - DSC_3018
  167. Trilobite beetle larva (Platerodrilus sp.)

    Amber saw yet another trilobite beetle larva. This one was much longer and thinner.

  168. Whip scorpion (Thelyphonida) - DSC_3021
  169. Whip scorpion (Thelyphonida)

    Also saw a vinegaroon, or whip scorpion. Didn’t disturb it, so we didn’t smell like vinegar. đŸ™‚

  170. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_3027
  171. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    Another Utivarachna! This had a deeper red tone.

  172. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.) - DSC_3031
  173. Ant-like sac spider (Utivarachna sp.)

    Probably a sub-male?

  174. Butterfly (Lepidoptera) - DSC_3033
  175. Butterfly (Lepidoptera)

    Large butterfly at rest, didn’t get to ID it yet.

  176. Butterfly (Lepidoptera) - DSC_3034
  177. Butterfly (Lepidoptera)

    Dorsal view.

We returned to our cabins at 1am, after a 4-hour casual walk. The showers were a little run-down and cold, but still refreshing after the wet night out.

The complete album for this day’s findings can be viewed on Flickr.

Remember to check out the other posts for this trip from the links below! If you are interested in the smaller wildlife of Borneo with the guide of an experienced macro photographer, check out the upcoming Borneo Bootcamp. It is not to be missed!

Tawau Hills 2015: [ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 ]




Hi my name is Nicky Bay. I am a macro photographer, instructor and book author, travelling the world to document the vast micro biodiversity that nature has to offer. Follow my updates and discover with me the incredible beauty and science behind our planet's micro creatures!

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