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Borneo’s bug life

Dwarfing any other animal family group in sheer number of species and population sizes, Borneo’s invertebrate species have successfully adapted to the island’s tropical rainforest habitats.

© WWF-Indonesia / Jane Spence
Millipede in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak Heart of Borneo
© WWF-Indonesia / Jane Spence
Just the arthropod fauna of Borneo’s lowland forests has been estimated at 3,000 species, with Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants), Coleoptera (beetles), flies (Diptera) and true bugs (Hemiptera) showing the most species and largest population sizes.

Borneo’s recyclers: ants, termites and millipedes

Ants are some of the most abundant and diverse animal groups in tropical ecosystems, and they function at many levels:
  • as predators and prey
  • as detritivores (organisms that recycle decomposing organic matter)
  • as mutualists (an interaction between two species where both derive benefit).
Ants also have a role as indicators of environmental change.

Borneo may have more than 1,000 species of ants, with representatives of about 30% of ant genera and about 7% of ant species globally.

Termites (order Isoptera) are found in massive numbers in tropical rainforests. In Borneo’s tropical rainforests, termites are one of the most abundant and ecologically important groups of insects. They play important roles in nutrient recycling, soil formation and quality, and as food for many predators. Their nests also provide food and shelter for many organisms.

One termite species is the processional termite Hospitalitermes, which is found across Southeast Asia. The species forages for lichens and other plants, primarily from tree trunks and the rainforest canopy.

Another group of Borneo invertebrates that play a critical role in recycling dead matter are millipedes (class Diplopoda). Species of this class of invertebrates, which is estimated to have existed on Earth for over 400 million years, have developed a close association with forest ecosystems by playing an important role in the decomposition of wood and leaf litter.

On average, 3 new species are discovered each month in the Heart of Borneo

Between 1995 and 2010 more than 600 species have been discovered - that is 3 species each and every month.


Ants living with the ‘enemy’

For most insects, being in the vicinity of carnivorous pitcher plants may be too close for comfort. But for some carpenter ants (genus Camponotus), nesting in the pitchers’ hollow tendrils has become an ideal way to feed on prey items caught by the plant.

Why doesn't the pitcher plant eat the carpenter ant too? The accumulation of excess prey in pitchers can lead to putrefaction of the contents, disrupting the pitcher's digestive system. When carpenter ants are present, this risk is significantly reduced. It seems that sometimes, being close to a carnivorous organism is the best way to stay alive.

© WWF / Simon Rawles
An ant trail, Long Pahangai, East Kalimantan
© WWF / Simon Rawles
Insect discoveries in the Heart of Borneo
  • A new Heteroptera species, a bamboo-dwelling, semi-aquatic bug, which exploits a unique ecological niche in the water-filled cavities of various bamboo species. The bug enters the cavities through small holes bored by insects or woodpeckers and mainly feeds on other insects trapped on the water surface.

  • Three new crab species from the genus Parathelphusa were described from 3 different sites in Borneo. This genus comprises 35 species, which are all found mainly in Sumatra, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

  • The world’s longest insect (Phobaeticus chani), found near Gunung Kinabalu Park, Sabah, in the Heart of Borneo measures 56.7cm, over half a metre in length. Despite its size, very little is known about its biology and ecology. It is believed to inhabit the high rainforest canopy making it especially elusive and difficult to study. Also known as ‘Chan’s megastick’ after the scientist that donated this particular specimen to the Natural History Museum in London, this species is the current title holder for world’s longest insect.
© Orang Asli
This enormous stick insect, found near Gunung Kinabalu Park, Sabah, in the Heart of Borneo measures 56.7cm or over half a metre in length. Despite its size, very little is known about its biology and ecology, although it was described in 2008. The Chan’s megastick (Phobaeticus chani) was selected as one of “The Top 10 New Species” described in 2008 by The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists.
© Orang Asli