The entrance to Deer Cave at Mulu National Park in Sarawak is surrounded by a grove of Caryota mitis palms  (local name “Tukas” ). Caryotas are known as “fish-tail” palms because the leaflets  look like a fish’s tail. The fruit ripen green in one “big bang” before the palm dies. Each fruit is approx. 2.5 cm width and is bat dispersed. Small Cynopterus  fruit bats often roost at the entrances to caves or use  rocky projections as feeding perches and hollows for roosting. Hence the abundance of Caryota mitis palms around the entrances to Mulu’s many caves.

Also abundant around the entrances to Mulu caves are at least 3 species of understorey figs that produce small orange red fruit when ripe. The photos in this article are of Ficus aurita  which can be recognized by the very prominent  “ear” or auricle at the base of the leaf and the smooth (non-hairy) stipule. The other two common species are Ficus subulata and Ficus chartaceae. These figs with small orange fruit are normally regarded as bird dispersed but it is likely that small fruit bats disperse them as well.

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Honor Phillipps at the entrance to Deer Cave, Mulu to show scale. On the left hand side of the photo is a Ficus aurita fig plant  and on the right hand side is a Caryota mitis palm. Both plants are probably the result of seed dispersal by bats which often roost or feed at the cave entrance  thereby “farming” their own fruit supply.

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