Bitten by the bug: Invertebrates of the Sabangau Forest


Our red langur intern, Chris Owen, has taken a closer look at some of the weird and wonderful inhabitants of the Sabangau Forest.

Here at OuTrop we run a range of conservation and research projects. We aim to conserve and restore this remarkable habitat of disturbed peat-swamp forest, and work to further our scientific knowledge on the behavioural ecology of the primates that call it home.

It is quite easy to get bogged down in the world of primatology. Sometimes it is good to take a step back to fully appreciate the beauty of the forest and all its inhabitants. OuTrop does this by carrying out research on the larger, loveable apes to the magnificent trees to the unusual caterpillars. But, sometimes all it takes is to go on a simple walk in the forest.

Caterpillar. Photo by Chris Owen/OuTrop

When you’re not chasing fury beasts (such as the red langurs, in my case) and frantically recording data, one’s eyes can really open just that little bit wider to take in the smaller details, which might have been missed before.

One such detail of the forest that always proves to be an inexhaustible source of “wow, I haven’t seen that before” is the invertebrates: insects and the like. Many people are not like me as they don’t have such a soft spot for bugs. Aside from their importance – the fact that they really do run the planet (in providing fundamental services to ecosystems that keep them running) – they really are beautiful too.

Leaf prey mantis. Photo by Chris Owen/OuTrop

Not convinced? Well this is something I would like to try to change. I took up a new hobby, a few weeks ago, of taking very detailed photographs of interesting and beautiful invertebrates. Initially, I wanted to start a more serious photographic survey of the insects of the Sabangau Forest, but working full time, six days a week for a year on such a project wouldn’t get you too far. Not exactly a task for a full-time red langur intern, here for only 6 months. So, what could be the next best thing? Perhaps to inspire and change minds, even if only slightly.

One of my favourite things to do in the forest is to just sit. All of us here have a lot of experience of just sitting in the forest. We do so when searching for primates. You walk for a while and then you sit and wait. When sitting, one begins to notice a world moving below their feet, and all around them. Highways of ants, chirping of crickets, singing of cicadas, dawdling of beetles, assassin bugs loading corpses of their victims on to their backs, feuds between arachnids and centipedes, and of course the rustle of leaves caused by who-knows-what!

Golden ant. Photo by Chris Owen/OuTrop

Back at home in Europe, little comes close to the sheer diversity what you will see in Sabangau, but you will see a lot in your back garden nonetheless. Not only that, you will find creatures just as fascinating and beautiful as you will here. What I want is to encourage people to get down on their hands and knees, and inspect the world of the micro! Take a look and see what you can find, because there is indeed a powerful world there full of beauty and intrigue.

Green prey mantis. Photo by Chris Owen/OuTrop.


To see more of Chris’ fascinating photos, check out OuTrop’s Flickr account here.