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Monday, January 11, 2010

The enchanted night walk /3 January 2010

FELINE-LIKE: The cat gecko with its coiled tail. — Photo by Jaynsen Patrick Sibat

 by Cheong Ah Kwan
MOONBEAMS led the way as we marched past the golf course alongside a trail of fire ants. My friend would laugh in my face again for mentioning fire ants, for he still thinks that I invented the fiery moniker!

In actual fact, their name gives an excellent description of the burning sensation inflicted on the unfortunate victim when bitten. With a torch, we were able to trace their purposeful journey to an earwig meal.
We left the buggy track, filed across a small bamboo bridge and disappeared into the jungle trail. It was dark and we had to switch on our torches as the canopy only allowed moonlight to filter through now and then. Almost immediately, a dwarf toad sitting on a large leaf by the gurgling stream came into sight. As its name implies, the dwarf toad is really tiny, no bigger than 15 millimetres long.
As we proceeded down the trail, our guides would stop every few metres or so to point out their interesting nocturnal sightings. Hence, the dark trail came alive with spiders, termites, beetles, cockroaches, stick insects, frogs and lizards. The long-legged centipede (Thereupoda sp) held our attention for a while. The predator, with its long intimidating legs, took on a military form and was on the prowl. The other insects on the same tree trunk seemed to sense the great danger that was lurking around.
Stick insects are difficult enough to spot in broad daylight and it was awesome how our guides could just pick them out at night. A variety of stick insects were seen. Some of them have textured bodies. One had a body that looked like it was encrusted with coral. Even in the darkness of night, some of the creatures we encountered were incredibly well-camouflaged. A case in point is the Bornean Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta), a rarely-seen frog that is endemic to Borneo.
The frog, which hides under logs and among leaf litter looking like a dead leaf, has pointed, triangular projections from the edge of the eyelids like horns. These ‘horns’, however, do not make them more conspicuous. On the contrary, they blend in rather nicely with the forest floor.
The frog is bigger than most frogs I have seen, yet it took me a while to locate it even when the torchlight was trained on it. Although it is active at night, it cannot move very fast and does not climb. Its slender legs, which are not in proportion to its stocky build, are not designed for jumping as it is not necessary to escape quickly from its enemies.
Admirers are probably a nuisance and our poor frog made several feeble attempts to escape from the unwelcome attention. It was futile, of course, for each time it was picked up to be photographed on a contrasting background. After countless shots, we finally returned our reluctant ‘horned’ model to its leaf litter. A deep duck- like quack bade us good night; or did I imagine that?

LEGGY: The long-legged centipede. — Photo by Anthony Wong
Not far away, on the branch of a small tree, was a white-lipped tree frog. This small frog has a bright green dorsal surface and a whitish ventral surface, with a distinctive white lip and large toe pads for climbing. Again, a keen eye will reveal many of these frogs along the trail.
No longer than the first joint of my little finger, the sticky frog protects itself by secreting a repulsive gluey substance when touched. I noticed our guides walked quickly past the sticky frog without pausing to further comment. Taking the cue, we followed quietly. A bit of excitement was generated among the photographers when we came upon our first lizard that night; a bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp). Lizards often leave their tails behind in their attempt to escape from   . The bent-toed gecko has a prominent striped tail that strangely blends in well with its surroundings. It would be a shame to lose that ambiguous tail. The lizard had to be handled carefully to prevent any tail loss. An incomplete specimen would neither give proper credit to the lizard nor its photographers.
Another lizard that set the cameras clicking was the entirely nocturnal cat gecko (Aeluroscalabotes felinus). The cat gecko is designed for an arboreal lifestyle with its retractile claws and a prehensile tail. The fat- looking tail is often coiled and is characteristic. Apparently, the lizard would curl up with its tail wrapped around itself when it sleeps, just like a cat.
It was time for us to curl up, too as we had to start off early for the bird race the following day. There was still a lot to see as we had only covered about one-fifth of the whole trail. The two hours spent had been nothing less than enchanting. My 12-year-old was bewitched and she can’t wait for MNS to organise the next night walk!

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