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Exploring the Montane Insects of Mount Kinabalu

Text & photos by Arthur Y.C. Chung, Sabah Forestry Department

The supremely imposing Mount Kinabalu (4,095 m) is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and Borneo. It is Sabah’s most iconic landmark, gazetted as a protected park in 1964 and declared as a World Heritage site in 2000. Mount Kinabalu is a beacon of biodiversity, with staggering plant diversity and incredibly rich in endemic species.

Bornean endemic Geometridae Moth, Garaeus altapicata

More than half Sabah’s 42 species of Rhododendrons occur on Mount Kinabalu, many of which are Bornean endemic.

The orchids of Kinabalu contain over 30% of the total orchid species in Borneo! The insect fauna is equally fascinating, with many Bornean endemic species. For example, over 50% of the moths from 2,500 m to the summit zone are endemic, and a third of the lower montane species are so far known only from Kinabalu. Highlighted in this article are some of the interesting and beautiful montane insects of the majestic Mount Kinabalu.

Mt Kinabalu from Mountain Valley Resort in Bundu Tuhan

Many beetles are found in upland dipterocarp and montane forests, with a rich beetle diversity between 1000 and 2000 m above sea level. Large and captivating beetles that are found here include the ferocious-looking Bornean endemic Three-horned Beetle, Chalcosoma moellenkampi and the ultraman-like Stag Beetle, Cyclommatus montanellus. Odontolabis castelnaudi is a Stage Beetle that is frequently sighted and it is often seen perching on the shrubs, feeding on plant sap.

Locally common Bornean endemic Three-horned Beetle, Chalcosoma moellenkampi

The Yellow-banded Cicada, Tacua speciosa, is known to be a montane species found in Mount Kinabalu, Crocker and Trusmadi ranges in Sabah. However, lately, it has been sighted in a few occasions in Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu (Claveria Chun & Japson Wong, pers. comm.). It is a unique ‘rubbery’ insect, predominantly black with a yellow (sometimes green) collar, a red stripe on the thorax and a turquoise-blue abdomen. The species name ‘speciosa’ comes from a Latin word which means beautiful or showy. Some say it is the most beautiful cicada in the world!

Yellow-banded Cicada, Tacua speciosa

The most unique, large butterfly in Mount Kinabalu is the Bornean endemic Kinabalu Birdwing, Troides andromache. It can be sighted in Mesilau, Bundu Tuhan and Kg. Kiau, fluttering around and foraging for nectar of various flowers. The caterpillars feed on the foliage of the Dutchman’s Pipe creeper, Aristolochia foveolata.

In Kinabalu area, there are also various species of day-flying moths of the genera Nyctemera and Tetragonus. The nocturnal montane winged-beauties or moths are amazing, with many of them attracted to the light in resorts within the Kinabalu area. Some have interesting and colourful wing patterns while others are cryptic in appearance to avoid being attacked by predators, especially during daytime. However, it is often difficult to appreciate their beauty unless they are captured through the lens, enlarged and showcase to the public, like what you see here!

Stag Beetle, Odontolabis castelnaudi
Bornean endemic Stag Beetle, Cyclommatus montanellus
Bornean endemic Kinabalu Birdwing, Troides andromache
Day-flying Moth, Nyctemera sp.
Day-flying Moth, Tetragonus lycaenoides (Callidulidae)
Geometridae Moth, Plutodes argentilauta
Saturniidae Moth, Lemaireia loepoides
Bornean endemic Tiger Moth, Barsine euprepia
Bornean endemic Tiger Moth, Aethalida borneana
Bornean endemic Tiger Moth, Adites hosei
Geometridae Moth, Milionia basalis
Crambidae Moth, Terastia egialealis
Bornean endemic Geometridae Moth, Garaeus altapicata
Bornean endemic Lymantriinae Moth, Calliteara pseudolairdae
Notodontidae Moth, Formofentonio orbifer
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