My adventure with spiders started ten years ago when, for the first time, I bought Brachypelma vagans (Ausserer, 1875) as my first; shortly after that I became fascinated with arboreal species – primarily Asian ones – and slowly started togrow my collection. After a few years I decided to travel to Borneo in the hope of finding Phormingochilus everetti(Pocock, 1895). On 2nd April 2015, together with Emil Piorun, I find myself sitting in a plane waiting for it to depart for Borneo. We had just three weeks to find a spider, which had been hidden in our dreams and thoughts. It seemed to take a lot of time to find the right place to search, but our dreams could at last come true. In spite of several hours of tiring journey, the flight went well in a friendly atmosphere. We flew from London Heathrow to Do
ha, Qatar and then had an express changefor our next flight to Kuala Lumpur, where we had a few hours to explore the airport.
In about two hours, the Airbus landed at Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. It is worth emphasizing how much I was fascinated by the place, maybe because I couldn’t fit inside the seat because of my size. On such an occasion, I wanted to get to my hotel in a rush and then begin the marvellous trek on the island. Unfortunately, my hold luggage had been lost and no one knew where it was. While I was terribly angry, this was not the end of our bad luck. In my backpack, I had everything, from our spider-catching equipment to my clothes and toothpaste. After reporting everything at the airport, we went to a nearby hotel for the night, which cost us around RM50 each (about £10). In fact, it cost more than we expected. It was one of the most expensive hotelswe stayed at on the island, but it seemed that nothing could spoil the wellbeing and sense of good ad
ventures. However, with the new experiences, I could not sleep, and I spent the night turning from one side to the other. At 4 o’clock in the morning I was already on my feet after only three hours of sleep, probably because I was so excited about the whole trip and the knowledge that everything hung in the balance because of the luggage, which could not be found.
In the morning, one of the ladies working at the hotel told me that my luggage had been found and would be provided by the airport employees within an hour. This caused me enormous relief. At 11 o’clock my luggage was delivered to the hotel, and then we went to the nearest railway station, where we bought a ticket to Beaufort. Again, it costed an absolute fortune: RM3.50 (around 55p) for two hours of travel, over the course of which we could observe tiny villages; everything seemed so different, simple but very enjoyable.
In the afternoon we arrived at Beaufort. We have overcome other problems such us sleeping and food by quickly finding the hotel. We then went to a nearby forest to admire the surrounding animal life. The first day passed with us taking pictures, and for the next few days we hunted for butterflies; at night we travelled around the city and forest, in the hope of finding interesti
ng bugs, such as cicadas, that could be easily heard from a long distance. After four days we moved to a town called Tenom; over a five-hour train ride and about 60km we hada chance to admire the surrounding mountains and the Padas River and its amazing coffee colour.
After about 30km we had to change to a train specially adapted to mountains, because the previous one had a problem. We managed to travel just one hundred meters in two hours because the wheels were slipping on the rails. Just before sunset we arrived in Tenom, where we found one of the cheaper hotels (RM50 for two people) with air conditioning and fans. Later that night we went to get something to eat and then headed out for a night hunt on the tracks. One of the most amazing things to beobserved was a local transportation device – a board with 8 bearings used as wheels with sticks, around two metres long, to push it up. This device made a huge impression on both of us, because the local population used it on
a daily basis to move from one village to another. In Tenom we could observe many interesting butterflies and beetles in nice scenery. On the third day in Tenom we wanted to learn something new, and so we decided to do something incredible. After swift negotiation, we had the chance to raft on the Padas River. It should be noted that how much rafting could be done on the river depended on the rainy season. The fact is that the river can be a treacherous for those who do not know this place well. People warned us against being too brave. I certainly thought that I could swim very well, but I soon realized that I co
uld not compete with nature. It was worth it! Despite a little moderation and common sense, however, I had drunk a little water from the river, which I could certainly feel two days later…
The next day, early in the morning, we caught a bus to Keningau in order to get to Kota Kinabalu airportand then to catch a plane to a secret place. After a seven-hour journey by plane, bus and boat we got to this magical place. The first thing drawing our attention was seeing the huge trees! Some of them even reached 70 metres high. We felt so small in the proximity of these giants. After finding that the tent was broken, our first night was spent in the jungle, which was a real challenge for laymen like us. I was amazed by the sheer quantity of bugs, including tarantulas, that we were able to see! They were hidden high up in trees, including adult females with their slings.
In the morning, after a quick breakfast, we went deep into the forest to look for trees that looked promising, but unfortunately after a short while I felt terribly ill (yes, water from the Padas River!) I spent the day vomiting in the toilet, though remembering all the time the fun we had had in the river. At the same time – and without me – Emil was walking through the forest to locate molt of an unknown arboreal spider, this was the spider we were searching for at that time. It is hard to express what I felt when he showed me blue moult. I did not know what to say because it was something I hadn’t even dreamt about. This completely blue moult of the spider in the bottom of a big jar was quite something. We knew that we had to locate a living specimen; unfortunately, after a long search, we couldn’t find any spiders. The next night, on our daily walk, we managed to locate a promising mink tree, and several adult Phormingochilusfemales hidden inside it. We returned at night to see dozens of slings sitting outside,
waiting for the moths and many unknown insects to get close enough to catch them. It was an incredible sight! The female was completely blue underneath. Unfortunately, the female never left her hole (we tried to entice her out in every way). On the same tree I was able to locate the young female that we were able to photograph, who had a leg span of about 14cm.
The next day, after asking a few people in the village for help, we managed to locate another two individuals, one in a wooden sign and the other in a metal tube. Both individuals looked the same and they were both blue!
Phormingochilus everettiis closely related to Cyriopagopus Simon, 1887, but it can be differentiated by examining the dense femoral fingers and sooty black seatae of this species as a juvenile, which we believe sets it apart from all other arboreal Asian species. The species we saw is violet and blue, with a slightly lighter carapace and stunning red hairs all over its body – and, of course the signature tiger striping on its abdomen, a feature typical of Ornithoctoninae. By comparing its legs, setae and size we think it belongs to the genus Phormingochilus, perhaps being a blue variation of P. everetti?
After several fruitless days, we were searching for a new experiment. We took a long flight to Sandakan airport to get to Semporna for diving and decided to take a rest, staying at one of the ten best hotels in the world. The price for both of us was around £28, but it was a really beautiful hotel! Again, in the dark wood, it was something to admire. In Semporna we were able to observe sea turtles, moray eels and thousands of colourful fish. It’s worth mentioning that nearby Sipadan Island is one of the best places in the world for diving. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the PADI licence necessary to dive independently, and it’s very difficult to obtain the right permit to dive on Sipadan Island because only six permits are issued per company every day and the only way to get one is to book one’s dive months in advance.
Uncle Tan, a wildlife camp, was another place we spent a few nights. This was very interesting, but we do not recommend a visit in the dry season because all the animals are buried and we were only able to see Rosary crocodiles, snakes and lizards.We had rather wanted to see wild elephants and orangutans, but sleeping in cages makes one really feel the wildness of the place.
After staying at Uncle Tan, we went to Mount Kinabalu to gain the summit. Since our last visit, many things had changed, but it was still one full day’s climb 17km up the hill and 17km down from the top and that requires being really athletic. We had to let it go and instead spend the next five days at a nearby hotel, searching the woods for interesting creatures. We managed to locate a few theraphosid species living high in the trees, which looked completely different to the specieswe had already found. They had managed to adapt their lifestyle to these surroundings. At a height of 1700m above sea level, the mountain forests have a typical climate. Humidity reaches 90–100% and the temperature at night can drop to 16 or 17°C in the dry season. With only three days on the island we had to get to Kota Kinabalu in order to prepare for a return to the country.