• Abi Gwynn

Circle of Life

They say the tropical rainforest is the most diverse and dynamic ecosystem on the planet. I certainly am feeling that here in Sabangau and you don’t have to look far to see the circle of life in action.

Humans aren’t the only species to call our camp home. Camp has been colonised by moths, spiders, butterflies, geckos, frogs, skinks and snakes too. All of these animals (humans included!) thrive here for one main reason; food! Any half decent GCSE biology student could pick out a simple food chain from this list. For example, the moths are eaten by the geckos, the geckos are eaten by the snakes. Never did I think I would see such a simple food chain at it’s most graphic!

I was sitting at the workspace area with Will (another Exeter student here) when he jumps up saying something along the lines of “Oh my God!” (I'll leave that to your imagination). I spin around and see a snake dangling from the rafters with a gecko locked in its mouth. It was the most beautiful snake I’d ever seen, with a brightly-coloured, kind of Aztec-patterned head. Except I couldn’t fully appreciate its beauty when it was trying to squeeze the life out of a gecko! The snake spent quite a while trying to reposition the gecko so it could eat it head first, however right at the last moment, the gecko squirms again making the snake coil it back up to truly make sure it was dead. I tried to convince myself that the gecko’s squirm was just muscle spasms but I’m not sure how true that is… We saw the whole thing, right until the snake slithered off with a gecko-sized bump in its belly.

I’m sure most of you reading this will be feeling pretty sorry for the gecko, but a couple of nights after, it was the geckos’ turn to play predator. Our dining area is a bit of a haven for geckos at night due to the bright lights which attract the moths. Apart from having to position yourself carefully to avoid gecko poo falling into your food, they’re good entertainment for dinner. One night, a huge moth comes flying in and approaches the ‘gecko wall’. We watched it, and said “Oh that one’s safe, there’s no way a gecko could take on that” when one of them strikes and engulfs the moth’s whole head in its mouth! The funny thing was, the head was all the gecko could manage so was stuck standing there with a moth three times its size trying to fly away. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera! We sat watching for another 15 minutes, the gecko did not give up but also didn’t really know what to do with it! Eventually, we gave up and left them to it. Who knows what happened to the moth…and the gecko for that matter!

Another unsuspecting victim of the geckos...

Since seeing these incidents, we’ve worked out that one particular area in camp where we like to play cards is a bit of a snake hunting ground. Whilst minding our own business playing Monopoly Deal, suddenly Will jumps up like a flash, flinging something across the room which spurs everyone else to run. Once my eyes had time to adjust I saw that it was a tiny brown snake; a vine snake; no thicker than a shoelace (we compared…an accurate scientific measurement right there). I actually felt quite sorry for it after my initial shock as it lay there completely dazed then moved off, quickly getting out of our way. All eyes were on the ceiling after that, checking for any more rogue snake-falls. As it happens I saw another heading towards a gecko and next thing I know, I see it launch for the gecko! But it misses and this time, holds fast on the rafters. But we concluded the reason for it raining snakes was because they try to snatch a gecko, miss, and lose their hold. Since they aren’t dangerous to humans, it’s pretty funny. But it doesn’t stop us from taking a regular glance to the ceiling to check…

Not for the faint-hearted, but it's life!

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