A Wondrous Insect Feast at Trus Madi.

By Alan OwYong.

Hillside Montane forest of the Trus Madi Range

The Trus Madi Conservation Area at the Crocker Range in Sabah is well known among insect and moth lovers as the place to go and see the hundreds of insects of the tropical montane hill forests. The Trus Madi Entomology Camp, better known as the Borneo Girl Jungle Camp was set up in the conservation area primarily to study the insect life there.

The Enotomolgy Camp at Trus Madi

Insect screens with special lights to attract the insects were erected at the both sides of a ridge near the camp. On most nights, these screens were swamped with insects, mainly moths of all shapes and sizes, cicadas, beetles, cricket and wasps. April I was told is the peak month.

Insects screen at both sides of the ridge
David Tseu and Theresa Ng shooting moths with their hand phones at one of the screens.

Every morning the resident Pig-tailed Macaque will make its way to the ridge and pick out the biggest and juiciest cicadas that are still on the screen. It will tear away the wings before biting off its head and then the body. These fruit eating monkeys would not pass off a chance of tasty snack that is rich in proteins as well. We saw some squirrels around but did not see them taking any of the insects.

Robin, the Pig-tailed Macaque looking for the juiciest cicada for breakfast every morning
Tearing off the wings before eating
A big fat Cicada the favourite snack of the Pig-tailed Macaque

During the night, another opportunistic raider was on standby. The Barred Eagle-Owl waits patiently at the near-by tree for some of the larger moths and cicadas to fly by before swooping down to pick it up. These insects will supplement their usual diet of rodents and squirrels.

The Barred Eagle Owl taking off to catch the larger flying moths.
Like this Hawk Moth
Another favorite is this Attacus staudingeri , less brown and larger than the Attacus atlas.

When dawn breaks, the rest of the insectivorous birds would gather at the trees on both side of the ridge to start their day with easy pickings. The Ashy Drongos and the White-throated Fantails will sally out for the smaller flying moths. Flocks of the endemic Chestnut-crested Yuhinas will flush out the rest of the insects for a quick meal.  While the Black-bellied Malkohas and the Red-bearded Bee-eaters wait for the larger ones. Even the small tailorbirds were able to pick and choose their food from the buffet in front of them. 

Black-bellied Malkoha looking for Katydids and crickets for breakfast
The Bornean race of Ashy Drongo with its moth
Red Bearded Bee-eater will take other insects if there are no bees around.

This feasting must be a ritual for these birds every morning. Free and easy food in the cool montane air. For the bird watchers and photographers, it is an opportunity not to be missed.

With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu ( Nature guide).

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