Isa’s nature journal and musings.

A Truely Rare Encounter

I was walking down a transect while searching for orangutans in the swampy peat forests of Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, when I spotted this camouflaged insect on the bark of a tree. It was slightly lower than eye height. At first sight, I thought it was maybe an egg mass or pupa glued onto the tree.
Then, I noticed the eyes! 

That was back in April 2015. Only just recently did I begin to explore what species this peculiar creature might be. I posted the photos of it on social media for the #ChallengeOnNaturePhotography. Perhaps my peers and colleagues would be able to assist with this bornean mystery.

 A ventral photograph revealed a proboscis which marked it clearly as a member of the True Bug order, Hemiptera. Narrowing an insect down to a likely family is usually pretty easy for someone with entomological background. 
Not in this case....
My colleague who has a special interest in Hemiptera was just as stumped as me about what family this bug might belong to.

A couple friends who saw the #ChallengeOnNaturePhotography post on social media suggested it could be in the family Phloeidae. Phloeidae has an armored look as well but they are known to only exist in South America (True Bugs of the World (Hemiptera: Heteroptera) . To find them in on the other side of the world?! That would be a huge deal.

Ventral view of Serbana sp. 

This insect was  first described in 1906  by the entomologist,  William Lucas Distant  . 

This insect was first described in 1906 by the entomologist, William Lucas Distant . 

I thought back to an Insect Phylogeny class I had taken at Cornell and remembered a guest lecture by Hemiptera Expert Dr. Toby Schuh from AMNH. I was curious to hear his thoughts. Were we overlooking what this insect could be? Was it a unique new species?!
I shot Dr. Schuh an email. 
He responded suggesting that the bug is Serbana, a presumed sister group of Phloeidae. There are an extremely low number of museum specimens of Serbana in the world! He, a top expert, has yet to see a physical specimen.
This insect is indeed very rare.

After some scrounging around the internet and literature, and with the help of fellow Cornellian, Eric Robert Lucien Gordon, we are able to suspect that what we have here is Serbana borneensis.

The diagrams from the publication appear to match the images of the insect I photographed in Borneo!

I plan to reach out to the museums in Europe and perhaps to the curators of the LIPI entomology collection (Bogor, West Java, Indonesia) to see if they have specimens of this species. If so, I'll ask that they send photographs so I can compare their specimens with my find.

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The discovery of this little known bug in Central Kalimantan is an example of one of the many reasons I love taking pictures of bugs! While it would have been ideal to create a physical specimen collection of insects from those forests in Borneo, it was not possible to do so for a number of reasons. I am so thankful to have had my camera to create a digital collection of insects of the Mawas Reserve in Borneo Indonesia and I look forward to continuing to identify those insects to my best ability.

I hope to one day return to do more entomological work there!