Sabah Highlands, East Malaysia (Borneo)
March 3 - 5, 2018
Around Kuching Mulu National Park Sabah Lowlands Sabah Highlands Danum Valley
After leaving the lowland forest camp, Kurt and I traveled upward until we reached a high-enough elevation that much of the lowland herpetofauna would be swapped out by evolution for highland herpetofauna. The forest still looked like forest, with lots of trees and twisting lianas. In general the canopy was more open in the highlands though.


The Trilobite Beetles here were significantly more colorful than the drab lowland ones. Score a point for the highlands!

Trilobite Beetle (Platerodrilus sp.) Maybe *this* one is Platerodrilus paradoxus? Where are the coleopterologists when you need them?

The weird katydids came in bright red. Another point!

Weird katydid in the tribe Agraeciini, according to a knowledgeable source

Even the tree snails were crazy bright. Another point! (To be fair, this would be basically invisible if it were on a leaf instead of a corroded metal railing. But the highlands still want the point.)

I am told that this is Dyakia chlorosoma and when it comes to snails I just believe what I am told

Uh oh, this emerging cicada is a little less beautiful than the one from the lowlands. Score a point for the lowlands!

Emerging cicada

We got glimpses of a few tarantulas in the highlands, hiding in their little tarantula holes as they are wont to do. But then we found this one just sitting out on a leaf in plain sight. It doesn't seem very wise to me, but I guess the tarantula has gotten this big and fat making its own decisions, so it probably doesn't care what I think. I didn't see any tarantulas in the lowlands, so this is another point for the highlands.

Phlogiellus cf. pelidnus, probably an adult female. It sounds like I know my tarantulas, but really I'm just repeating what a tarantula expert told me.

The highland phasmids were neither more nor less weird than the lowland phasmids, since all phasmids are inherently weird and wonderful.


On our first night in the highlands, a steady rain delayed our hike, but after waiting for about an hour we could wait no longer. Everything was cold and wet and I was worried that we wouldn't see much. Fortunately some of the more interesting local frogs like it cold and wet, and we saw many of them. The most common species was this cute little cousin of our old friend Megophrys nasuta. We saw at least a dozen of these Megophrys baluensis in a couple of hours. These were formerly considered not good enough to share Megophrys with the "real" horned frogs, and were relegated to Xenophrys. But they have since graduated!

Kinabalu Horned Frog (Megophrys baluensis)

Mixed in with all the little horned frogs were a couple of individuals of a much larger species, Megophrys kobayashii. Nobody would ever dare tell these strapping frogs that they didn't belong to Megophrys!

Montane Horned Frog (Megophrys kobayashii)

Two species of Leptobrachium share the slopes. They have different elevation preferences, but their altitudinal ranges do overlap a little. And they look identical, so you can only be sure which one you have seen if it is below the low limit of the higher species, or it is above the high limit of the lower species, or you hear it calling. We didn't hear (or at least recognize that we heard) any of them calling, but this one was definitely below the low limit of the higher species, thus making it the low species. Got that?

Montane Large-eyed Litter Frog (Leptobrachium montanum)

This guy looks basically the same as the Slender Litter Frog from the lowlands, but up here it is a different species.

Kinabalu Slender Litter Frog (Leptolalax/Leptobrachella arayai)

The highlands also have their own species of Torrent Frog.

Montane Torrent Frog (Meristogenys kinabaluensis)

And their own species of Sticky Frog.

Kinabalu Sticky Frog (Kalophrynus baluensis)

And their own species of Slender Toad.

Kinabalu Slender Toad (Ansonia hanitschi)

And their own species of Rock Skipper, which ranges from basically green to basically brown.

Green-spotted Rock Skipper (Staurois tuberilinguis)

What the highlands do not seem to have is their own species of frogs in the Limnonectes "kuhlii" complex. I'm sure that eventually the highland ones will be reclassified into one or more distinct highland-only species, but for now they are still lumped together with all the other related frogs that nobody has yet taken the time to differentiate.

Kuhl's Creek Frog (Limnonectes "kuhlii")

A number of small arboreal frogs festoon the highland foliage.

Cloud Bush Frog (Philautus nephophilus)

Golden-legged Bush Frog (Philautus aurantium gunungensis)

Mossy Treefrog (Philautus macroscelis). This one is the best of the small highland foliage-festooning frogs.

We saw a few of this somewhat larger arboreal species, all in the same slightly-embarrassed posture. I assume it just feels awkward being in the same genus as the magnificent Wallace's Flying Frog.

Sharp-nosed Treefrog (Rhacophorus angulirostris)

The various widespread human-commensal gecko species don't seem to care if they're at sea level or on the highest mountain in southeast Asia. We saw at least three such species in the highlands.

Common House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)

Asian Flat-tailed Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)

Common Four-clawed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata)

The highlands have two of their own Cyrtodactylus gecko species, a smaller one with more spots on its head, and a larger one with fewer spots on its head. I'm confident that this is the smaller one:

Kinabalu Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus baluensis)

And I'm reasonably confident that this is the larger one:

Hikida's Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus matsuii)

The highlands also have two of their own Shrub Lizards a.k.a. Eyebrow Lizards (I told you not to ask back when I first mentioned this group of lizards, remember?). We saw only a couple of plain green individuals, which must be Phoxophrys cephalum because the competition, Phoxophrys borneensis, is mostly brown.

Mocquard's Eyebrow Lizard (Phoxophrys cephalum)

The genus Calamaria contains over 60 species, many of which look very similar. Fortunately, only one of them lives in the highlands and also looks more or less like this:

Schmidt's Reed Snake (Calamaria schmidti)

The Sabah highlands even have their very own green arboreal viper, or at least did until a recent taxonomic change that synonymized this species with the common mainland species Trimeresurus fucatus. T. fucatus is now classified T. sabahi fucatus, but at least the Sabah highlands get to keep their very own subspecies.

Sabah Pit Viper (Trimeresurus sabahi sabahi)

This time I have definitely saved the best for last. The best snake of the highlands, and proud cover snake of A Field Guide to the Snakes of Borneo, is Trimeresurus malcolmi. Kurt managed to find one of these beauties on our first night in the highlands. That was the night that started so cold and wet that I was worried we wouldn't see much. This was the best herp of the entire Borneo trip.

Smith's Mountain Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malcolmi)

Later that evening, when it was probably less wet but definitely more cold, Kurt found a second one. Two in one night! This second one was definitely angrier than the first one, perhaps because it didn't enjoy being cold.

Smith's Mountain Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malcolmi)

Next: Danum Valley