Monday, July 29, 2013

Sarawak: Dragonflies and Mangosteens

January 2012 found us back in Sarawak, with Ryan safely returned to his parents as they waited for the arrival of his new brother Royce (to show how far behind this blog is, a third brother, Ryder, has now joined the family!).

Isai Raja (a relative of Eileen's, and a very nice fellow) may be retired, with a lovely home in Kuching, but I suspect he is still a farm boy at heart.  He certainly takes a great deal of pride in his fruit orchard south of the city, and was as eager to show it off to us as we were to see it. On New Year's Day, Eileen and I joined him for an outing - here are Isai and Eileen admiring a jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) and its enormous, misshapen fruits.

I don't mind jackfruit, but it's not a great favourite of mine.  Isai introduced me, though, to one of its cousins that I quite liked: terap or marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus), here carried by Isai's assistant.  

A much more localised tree than jackfruit, which is now almost ubiquitous in tropical orchards, terap is native to Borneo and the nearby Philippine islands of Palawan and Mindanao.  It has been described as having "a sweet custard-like flavour, each bit of fruit concealing a seed about the size of an olive pit".  I would concur.

Fruit isn't the only thing the orchard produces. Ponds stocked with fish are a common sight in rural Malaysia, and Isai's property was no exception.

Catfish are particularly popular here.  This is one of the so-called walking catfish (Clarias sp.).  There are native species in Borneo, but this is more likely the commonly-grown Clarias batrachus, a native of Java that has become a serious invasive in many parts of the world including North America (it gets its common name from its ability to travel surprisingly long distances on land as it journeys from pond to pond).

Orthetrum sabina
Orthetrum sabina
Where there are ponds, especially ponds whose owners haven't cleared the emergent vegetation around their edges, there are likely to be dragonflies.  Orthetrum sabina was common around Isai's ponds (as it seems to be almost everywhere in Malaysia in open country with standing water).

Orthetrum sabina
Orthetrum sabina
Here are a pair "in wheel", the peculiarly complicated mating posture of dragonflies and damselflies.  For a thorough and engaging article about the unique courtship of odonates, and the evolutionary reasons for it, read this 2006 article from National Geographic.

Ictinogomphus decoratus
Orthetrum sabina is a handsome creature, but one I had seen and photographed many times before (as weary readers of this blog may be well aware).  More exciting for me were two species I was encountering for the first time.  Meet Ictinogomphus decoratus, a large and striking insect and the most obvious of Malaysia's Gomphidae, a family of dragonflies with fully separated eyes and, usually, swollen clubs at the end of their abdomens.

Nannophya pygmaea
Nannophya pygmaea
On a grassy slope above the ponds an insect I found an insect that I took, at first, for some sort of wasp or fly.  It turned out to be a female Nannophya pygmaea (males are mostly bright red). At 15mm in length, pygmaea is certainly the tiniest dragonfly in Malaysia, and it is often listed as the smallest in the world. I was delighted to find it.

For comparison, this really is a fly, and a fairly spectacular one at that.

Also quite spectacular, in a quiet way, was this dainty spray of white orchids (can anybody out there identify them?) [Sean L did: Dendrobium crumenatum.  Thanks!]

Our tour over, we relaxed in the shade for a picnic mean of Isai's fruits...

…including the well-chewed remains of a terap, and a batch of mangosteens - my own favourites.

Finally, a brief stop in a small town on the way home….

Where a pair of Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica) guarded their nest under the wooden overhang.


  1. That is a lovely spray of Dendrobium crumenatum. I have seen a Clarias sp. sold at a Giant hypermarket that leaped from its enclosure and walked from there to the fruit section using an almost snakelike wriggle.

  2. They're remarkably hardy beasts, all right. Thanks for the ID!