Saturday, February 16, 2013

Collecting in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Sulawesi is a huge Indonesian island, as big as Britain, between Borneo and Moluccas. The South of the island near Makassar is very much developed and thus not so interesting for collecting.
But after 12 hours of difficult roads destroyed by monsoon, you reach a paradisiac region in the center of Sulawesi : Tana Toraja.
In this mountainous area, there are still some pristine forests and Toraja people (a Christian tribe) are very welcoming.
Near villages you can find some wonderful lep like Papilio and Graphium. You can also find many wonderful Limenitinae and some Satyridae.
 Papilio gigon gigon, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
Papilio gigon gigon, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
Ypthima sp., Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
It is really a pleasant treck to go from villages to villages and find these beautiful Sulawesian common but splendid leps.
Let's add that Tana Toraja is a wonderful place for tourism, many villages exhibit wonderful traditional houses and graves. Toraja people will be happy to show you their treasures, you will feel a little bit like Indiana Jones in some of these places.
Toraja's traditional graves and statues.

But the best spot in Tana Toraja is called "Batutumonga". It's a mountainous village that you can reach by car on a small road with spectacular view.
View on the ricefield from Batutumonga
Batutumonga is about 1800m. high, there you can find many interesting insects including the huge and wonderful Pieridae : Delias rosenbergi chrysoleuca. You can also find many rare Satyridae species.
My most memorable encounter happened during the night. While walking in a small path to digest a delicious Indonesian dinner ("nasi goreng"), I heard a big noise near a stone-wall. With my pocket-lamp, I found a huge three-horn beatle about 12 cm long. It was a male of the wonderful Chalcosoma atlas, he was totally knocked-out after this crash.
 Chalcosoma atlas, 12cm, Batutumonga, 1800m. , Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
 Chalcosma atlas, 12cm, Batutumonga, 1800m. , Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
The morning after, in a sunny day, I found many Delias rosenbergi chrysoleuca in the same path. Batutumonga the place to be in Tana Toraja ! On this website you can see the checklist of Delias species from Sulawesi :

If you go to Sulawesi, it's better to have a good entomological guide that will make you discover those good spots. I can advice you my personnal guide.

You can find Dynastidae for sale here :

Friday, February 8, 2013

Insect winter collecting ? Go for Carabidae !

In Europe and North Africa, winter is a long sad period for insect collectors. No butterflies, no bees, no cetonidae, the world has lost its beauty, its magics.

We all spend time spreading our last summer treasures, arranging our collection, studying books ... but we miss the thrill of insect collecting. So we dream of exotic collecting trips, of colourful butterflies while it is rainy and cold outside.

But even in those depressing times, there are some fantastic bugs to be found even near big cities like Paris and London : Carabidae (Ground beetles) !

Here are the tips to find them :
- go to a beautiful forest where dead trees are not removed (those "natural" forests are harder and harder to find... ), can be a small wood too.
- bring a small axe tool that we call "piochon" in French. The perfect Carabidae tool is like those : : it must be very solid but not too heavy

Then simply go to the forest and break dead tree barks with your axe. Also try under mosses.
--> you will find plenty of wonderful Carabidae some as beautiful as jewels.

Some examples I found near Paris this winter :
Carabus auronitens, light copper form, Rambouillet, January 2013

Carabus auronitens, green form, Rambouillet, January 2013

Carabus problematicus, Rambouillet, January 2013

Carabidae are very interesting to collect. As they have no wings, they cannot move on large distance. With fragmentation of forests due to human activities, evolution has created hundreds of wonderful local forms. It means that each forest has some local forms, below are variations from Carabus auronitens in NW France for example. Some forms are extremely rare and worth a lot on the insect market.

Picture found on Google, if someone know the author, I would be happy to quote him. 

Thanks to Carabidae, our long winter is not a nightmare anymore !
And you, do you collect Ground Beetles ?

You can find Carabidae for sale here :

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tips for collecting trip in tropical areas

Collecting trips in New Guinea mountains, French Guiana jungle or African savanas are dreams of all insect collectors.

Nowadays with planes, english-speaker guides, vaccines and anti-malarial pills, it is far safer to go there than during Meek & Wallace's times.
Still, some advices must be given for all of us who want to see live Ornithoptera and Delias.

The author in West Papua, August 2009

1. Legislations
If Papuans don't cut insect collector's head anymore, Indonesian authorities can send you to jail for killing one common Eurema (while those authorities have destroyed the whole Borneo...).
So be sure to check if a collecting and an export permit is needed where you plan to go.
This website is very well done to check this :
If you need to apply for a permit, find an association or a museum that can help you and apply at least one year in advance. It's boring but you will feel far better with all official papers.

2. Equipment
. The net : once in a jungle, you will discover that Morpho, Agrias and Delias do not fly at the same level than our paleartic leps... they prefer flying at 4 or 5 meters high, so yes bring a very long net !
The good tip is to bring 3 or 4 nets, 2 for you in case you break one, 2 for your local guides that will be happy to help you.

. The shoes : you need good trecking shoes to avoid dangerous fall + plastic sandals to cross streams. Some collectors use plastic boots, it's heavy but is efficient to avoid leeches.

. The GPS : very useful for your data. Because sometimes you are in a place that nobody knows and every local you meet will give you a different locality name...

. The medecines : don't forget all your medecines... once in the jungle in the middle of nowhere, you won't find a pharmacist easily.

3. Guides
Entomological local guides is the key to make successful collecting trips. They will avoid you many problems with local army/police/village chiefs and will bring you directly to good collecting spots. Without them you will spend your 2 weeks in Sulawesi trying to find a virgin patch of forest.
I can advice you some guides for many destinations if you need.

4. Behaviour
Always be polite with locals even if they don't understand what you do. If they refuse you to collect in their land, even if you have an official permit, don't do it.
Your Indonesian LIPI permits has no value for an Irian Jaya village chief, you also need an authorisation from him... that's why a local guide is very useful.
Always try to learn few words of local language, it helps a lot.
Do not collect in crowdy area, many people will come to bother you.
This said, you will see that people in those countries are really nicer with insect collectors than Europeans or Americans.

5. Chance
Terrible roads, dangerous slippy paths, leeches and snakes, hostile villagers, collecting in tropical areas can be dangerous... but that's also why you wanna go there !
Larsen's book about the Hazard of Butterfly Collecting is very funny about this subject.

And of course for those who cannot travel to the tropics, you can still find some rare insects on Collector's Secret :

Here are my main advice ! Please share yours !