Bonus Felid: Wallace and the Bornean Bay Cat

February 24, 2013 • 9:37 am

by Greg Mayer

As part of our observations of the Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary, we have an extra felid this weekend, the Bornean Bay Cat (Catopuma [or Pardofelis] badia). It’s one the world’s rarest species of cat (see the IUCN Red List), endemic to the island of Borneo, and known (as of 2007) from only 15 localities and 10 specimens (some of the localities are sight records or photos), mostly in the center and north of the island.

Illustration of Felis badia from Gray's original description (1874).
Illustration of Felis badia from Gray’s original description (1874).

Jerry has noted them here at WEIT before (here and here). Wallace’s connection to the species is that he collected the holotype specimen in Sarawak, and sent it to the British Museum in 1856, where it was received by J.E. Gray (who was also a scientific acquaintance of Darwin). Gray hoped to study further specimens before describing it, but having received none, he finally described it in 1874 (from the wonderful Wallace Online).

To my knowledge, Wallace made only one published statement about the Bay Cat. In the second edition of Island Life (1892), he analyzed the mammalian fauna of Borneo and concluded that its fauna must have been derived by a land connection:

Nearly a hundred and forty species of mammalia have been discovered in Borneo, and of these more than three-fourths are identical with those of the surrounding countries, and more than one half with those of the continent. Among these are two lemurs, nine civets, five cats, five deer, the tapir, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and many squirrels, an assemblage which could certainly only have reached the country by land.

He goes on to list Felis badia among the relatively few mammal species peculiar to Borneo. He infers, however, that these endemic forms do not indicate a long separation of Borneo from the Asian mainland:

These peculiar forms do not, however, imply that the separation of the island from the continent is of very ancient date, for the country is so vast and so much of the once connecting land is covered with water, that the amount of speciality is hardly, if at all, greater than occurs in many continental areas of equal extent and remoteness. This will be more evident if we consider that Borneo is as large as the Indo-Chinese Peninsula, or as the Indian Peninsula south of Bombay, and if either of these countries were separated from the continent by the submergence of the whole area north of them as far as the Himalayas, they would be found to contain quite as many peculiar genera and species as Borneo actually does now.

Wallace’s zoogeographical conclusions regarding Borneo have been abundantly confirmed by subsequent discoveries, most especially in geology. It is now known that the lowering of sea level by the sequestration of water in glaciers during the most recent glaciation amounted to a worldwide lowering of about 120 m in sea level, an amount quite sufficient to drain the broad yet shallow Sunda Shelf, thus firmly uniting Borneo to the Asian mainland. According to the exquisite paleogeographic reconstructions of Harold Voris of the Field Museum and colleagues, the rising postglacial waters did not sever Borneo’s connection to the main till between 10,550 and 10,210 years ago.

The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).
The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago; Borneo has just barely detached from the Malayo-Sumatran peninsula (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).

JAC addendum: I’ve embedded a video (nb: cheesy music) below; it has photos of the cat and some very rare video footage:


Azlan, M.J. and J. Sanderson. 2007. Geographic distribution and conservation status of the bay cat Catopuma badia, a Bornean endemic. Oryx 41:394-397. (pdf)

Gray, J.E. 1874. Description of a new Species of Cat (Felis badia) from Borneo. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1874:322-323. (pdf)

Kitchener, A.C, S. Yasuma, M. Andau, and P. Quillen. 2004. Three bay cats (Catopuma badia) from Borneo Mammalian Biology  69:349-353.  (pdf)

Sathiamurthy, E. and Voris, H. K. 2006. Maps of Holocene sea level transgression and submerged lakes on the Sunda Shelf. The Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University. Supplement 2:1-43.(pdf)

Wallace, A. R. 1892. Island Life. Second and revised edition. London: Macmillan and Co. (text and pdf)


June 30, 2011 • 5:31 am

by Greg Mayer

As an Everton supporter, I am loath to praise anything Mancunian, but Andrew Johnson, a Manchester zoology graduate, has a marvelous website on the Amphibians of Borneo, which was brought to my attention by Matthew (yet another praiseworthy Mancunian).

Ansonia leptopus (Bufonidae) by Andrew Johnson

The site contains excellent photographs of many species of Bornean frogs. What struck me most is the resemblance of many of the depicted species to Central American frogs, especially the Costa Rican ones with which I am most familiar. Our toad friend above reminds me of the gracile-limbed Central American toads of the genus Atelopus. (Superb photos of the various Costa Rican frogs mentioned can be found in Jay Savage’s magisterial The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica [see references] and at Costa Rican Frogs, a site I just discovered.). The following one is a more typical-looking toad, resembling various Central American Bufo.

Duttaphrynus melanostictus (Bufonidae) by Andrew Johnson

The following species resembles the Central American toad Bufo haematiticus in its cryptic forest-floor dress, but is in fact not a true toad, but a member of a different family.

Kalophrynus baluensis (Microhylidae) by Andrew Johnson

The resemblances between the Bornean and Central American frogs is a mixture of convergence (in this case, adaptation to the varied niches of tropical rain forest) and common ancestry (in some cases, a toad is a toad is a toad). Convergence is indicated when similar species are in different families, but it’s also possible within families. Both American Atelopus and Bornean Ansonia are members of the family Bufonidae (true toads), but their gracile form may have evolved independently from more squat ancestors (that’s why phylogenetic studies are so important for elucidating evolutionary phenomena– we need to know who’s related to who, and what the likely ancestral conditions were).

Here are several other of my favorites. The first resembles Central American Leptodactylus, especially pentadactylus.

Limnonectes ingeri (Dicroglossidae) by Andrew Johnson

Our friend above is named in honor of my esteemed colleague Robert Inger of the Field Museum, the dean of Bornean amphibian studies (see references below). The following species, in the same genus, Limnonectes, resembles various Central American Eleutherodactylus, a very species-rich genus with more than 40 Costa Rican species.

Limnonectes laticeps (Dicroglossidae) by Andrew Johnson

We’ll finish with some treefrogs, none of which are in the “true” treefrog family, Hylidae (which has many genera and species in Central America), but rather the Old World Rhacophoridae. The first resembles some of the the Central American Smilisca.

Rhacophorus cyanopunctatus (Rhacophoridae) by Andrew Johnson

The next resembles various Hyla.

Rhacophorus dulitensis (Rhacophoridae) by Andrew Johnson

And finally, a flying (actually gliding) frog; note the large webs. Some Costa Rican hylid treefrogs of the genus Agalychnis are capable of gliding, too.

Rhacophorus nigropalmatus (Rhacophoridae) by Andrew Johnson

A more academic site devoted to Bornean frogs, also beautifully illustrated and with a great range of useful information, is Frogs of Borneo, by Alexander Haas and Indraneil Das. The American Museum of Natural History is currently hosting a traveling exhibition entitled Frogs: a Chorus of Colors, featuring live (not preserved) frogs, which I saw when it was at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and is worth seeing if you’re in the New York area.


Behler, J. and D. Behler. 2005. Frogs: A Chorus of Colors. Sterling Publishing, New York. (book to accompany the exhibition)

Inger, R.F. 1966. The systematics and zoogeography of the amphibia of Borneo. Fieldiana Zoology 52:1-402. (downloadable as pdf)

Inger, R.F. and R.B. Stuebing. 2005. A Field Guide to the Frogs of Borneo. 2nd ed. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. (available here)

Inger, R.F.  and F.L. Tan. 1996. Checklist of the frogs of Borneo. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 44(2): 551-574. (pdf)

Savage, J.M. 2002. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica | A Herpetofauna between Two Continents, between Two Seas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.