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Presenting the telling of the tales home for the stories of Isa Betancourt and Rumaan Malhotra's trek in the land of the orangutans.

Merlin the chameleon goes when the wind blows

 

Merlin holds on tight to a Hibiscus plant (Hibiscus sp.).

 

Merlin the Veiled Chameleon joined me outside to enjoy the beautiful summer day.

 

When he is outside, Merlin moves very differently than when he is in his indoor enclosure. In unfamiliar territory, Merlin is cautious and does his best to camouflage with his surroundings through both his coloration and movements. 

 

When I take Merlin outside, his coloration is usually a mix of green and brown. I think the sunlight presence, absence, and strength impacts the darkness of Merlin's coloration. 

 

Most of Merlin's outdoor time is spent staying very still upon a plant's branch. If Merlin chooses to move, he moves when there is a breeze that shakes and bends the branches and leaves of the plant. This diffuses attention that might otherwise be drawn straight to him. So clever! To top it off, Merlin rocks his body forward and backward while advancing forward to further disguise his presence. What great behavioral camouflage! 

Merlin will slowly spin himself to be on the opposite side of of a branch when he sees me peering over at him!

Merlin will slowly spin himself to be on the opposite side of of a branch when he sees me peering over at him!

 

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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!

Exploring Jakarta: Learning The Currency Value


After maybe a full day and a half spent without leaving the hotel, we decided to venture out of the bubble. We wanted to try other food and we sought an additional outlet adapter for our electronics. We grabbed our indonesian travel phrases book, hopped into a taxi, and off to the mall we went.

Here came the currency learning cost. We arrived. I gave the taxi driver the indonesian rupiah payment. He said something in Indonesian. I got flustered since I didn't understand what he said and thought maybe I didn't give him enough. I was about to give him another bill when we realized that I had probably given him enough. We hopped out of the car and reviewed the situation.

We realized that I had just paid about $15 for a taxi ride that cost $1.50! Rumaan gave me a hard time about it. I was shocked that the cab rides were so inexpensive compared to cab rides in Philadelphia, where the equivalent ride would have probably cost $20. I had given the best gratuity I had ever given in my life 900% in a location where taxi drivers are not even usually tipped!

The Currency of Indonesia: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
About 13000 IDR = $1 USD

A cool piece of artwork with scattered indonesian words by Ramadhani Kurniawan.
Title: Menata Kata Kota.
2013 Galvanized wire, car paint hand clear coating. 21cm x 130cm x 8cm
[Menata means organized, Kata means word, Kota means city]

Whirls of lights as we spun off to the mall.

The Currency of Indonesia: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) About 13000 IDR = $1 USD

The Currency of Indonesia: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
About 13000 IDR = $1 USD

Rumaan pong indonesia jakarta mall

Before our day was over, I was able to give Rumaan a hard time right back.
We met up with fellow volunteer, Andrea and Andrea's friend at a market style eatery in one of the malls. From the selection, Rumaan choose two beers for himself and I to have with dinner. One was a domestic beer from Bali and the other was from Germany. We had a great time meeting Andrea and her friend and chatting over dinner.

At checkout we had a surprise. The beer that Rumaan had thought was 15,000 rupiah actually costed 150,000 rupiah. What he had thought was about $1.50 was actually about $15.00 !! This was the opposite situation of what happened with the taxi and I. We had a good laugh over this.

There was no way we'd forget the exchange rate after this day of mishaps!

A foreign land

Our flight landed at 1am in Jakarta. It sounds like a terrible time to land but arriving from the USA, which is located nearly on the opposite side of the planet, we were more tired from traveling than from sleepiness.

An airport shuttle picked us up. For whatever reason, traffic was terrible!
Just stepping outside the airport, we were already learning a lot about this new culture. Motorcycles are way more common in Indonesia than in the USA and even if there are 4 drawn lanes on the highway, nothing stops motorists from creating 5.
 

At 3am we finally got to our room where we were welcomed by tasty and colorful treats.

At 3am we finally got to our room where we were welcomed by tasty and colorful treats.

A view of Jakarta, Indonesia.

A view of Jakarta, Indonesia.

Lovely and relaxing pool area of the Four Seasons

One of my first meals in Indonesia

One of my first meals in Indonesia

Ready to dig in. I went for a little bit of everything! I want to try it all.

Ready to dig in. I went for a little bit of everything! I want to try it all.

During our time in Jakarta, we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was a very comforting place to stay and helped balance the initial discomfort of navigating in a foreign country. It also provided an intense contrast with our future room and board arrangements at Camp Tuanan.

In the morning, I checked out the view and snapped a quick selfie to send to my family to let them know I made it successfully to Jakarta.

In the morning, I checked out the view and snapped a quick selfie to send to my family to let them know I made it successfully to Jakarta.

From the hotel room, we could see a field with livestock. Very peculiar for the center area of a major city!

One morning we woke to music playing. There was a run happening and a music group was set up to entertain runners.

The Four Seasons offered a delicious breakfast buffet every morning which offered a huge variety of foods.

Rumaan enjoys his brunch.

Rumaan enjoys his brunch.