Breathtaking Wildlife Macro Photography by Chien C. Lee

by Cristian I

The rainforest

His goal is to create images that offer people a chance to increase their knowledge of the natural world.

That’s why his work features the unique interactions of rainforest organisms.

His work also documents how these creatures adapt to changing conditions as their ecosystems change.

Lee explores the rainforests of Borneo to create his work.

He moved to the country from California in 1996.

Close-Up Images of What Others Miss

Lee says that one of the most unique things he’s seen in Borneo is the case fungus.

It creates enormous orange stinkhorns that use insects to help their spores disperse to the environment.

When you are near them, Lee says their scent is “putrid” and “rotting.”

It attracts flies and insects that carry away the slime.


He also says that some of the most vicious predators in nature are the ones that people don’t always see.

The damselfly is an example he likes to use.

One of his images shows a damselfly feeding on a pygmy grasshopper.

Lee notes that the prey was captured in mid-air.

Damselflies photography
Damselflies photography

You’ll also see images of creatures that seem to defy description.

One of his favorite animals is the Pinocchio Frog.

There is a small appendage on the creature’s nose that can stand straight or hang flaccid.

Pinocchio Frogs Photo
Pinocchio Frogs Photo

Small Creatures Produce Bold Colors

Another stunning image from Lee is of a colored raspy cricket.

This insect is found in eastern Madagascar.

What is unique about them is their ability to produce silk from their mouth.

The crickets use the silk to fasten leaves together to create a shelter for themselves during the day.

Then they emerge at night to hunt spiders and other insects.

Colored Raspy Cricket
Colored Raspy Cricket

You’ll find larger animals in his photography at times too.

Lee offers a stunning image of a Sabah Pit Viper.

Its distinctive red eyes stand in contrast to its glossy green skin to create the idea of danger taking a rest.

There are some fantastic images that you can find in Lee’s portfolio, including a Malaysian Giant Katydid.

You can follow Chien C. Lee and his work by connecting with him on his website or on Instagram.

“Although many small insects disguise themselves as ants to take advantage of their unpalatability, mimicry by another ant species is quite a rare occurrence. At a quick glance the two ants in this photo appear the same, especially while they are quickly scurrying down a stem, but closer inspection reveals that in fact there is a clever deception taking place. The ant at the bottom is Crematogaster inflata, an uncommon species from the rainforests of Borneo, which is distinctive in having a swollen orange metathorax. Its glands can exude a toxic sticky fluid as a defense and predators thus tend to avoid this species, heeding its bright warning coloration. At top is a relatively harmless Camponotus ant (actually an unnamed species) that mimics the Crematogaster in size, shape, and color – although its orange coloration is found on its abdomen rather than its thorax. Observations of this species are rare but curiously, these Camponotus mimics have only ever been observed in close proximity to colonies of Crematogaster inflata. The exact nature of their association and whether or not these mimics derive other advantages from their toxic models is still unknown.”
Widow Slender Toad
“It may not look fancy, but this is one of Borneo’s rarest amphibians. The critically endangered Widow Slender Toad (Ansonia vidua) is so named not only for its black color but also because, curiously, only females have ever been found. This frog is endemic to the wet and chilly summit of Sarawak’s highest mountain, a habitat that is almost continually drenched in fog. With no records from anywhere else on the planet, this species’ entire existence depends on the remaining integrity of this small area.”
Sphinx moth
“Although this sphinx moth (Callambulyx rubricosa) is perfectly camouflaged against green foliage when it is resting, any disturbance from an animal will prompt it to flash its brightly colored hind wings and suspicious-looking eyespots. This startle tactic is the insect’s only defense against predators and is a common coloration theme found in many moth species.”
Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko
“The incredible mimicry of the Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is perfectly tailored for its particular microhabitat in the rainforest. While many of Madagascar’s other leaf-tailed geckos conceal themselves on the vertical trunks of trees, this species maximizes its camouflage by hiding among dead foliage, sometimes even in plain sight.”
Sabah Pit Viper
“An endemic of Borneo, the Sabah Pit Viper (Popeia sabahi) is one of the prettiest of our venomous snakes, easily differentiated from other green vipers on the island by its distinctive red eye. It appears to favor the cooler montane forests – this specimen was resting coiled on the side of a mossy tree and had just been drenched by a passing rain shower. Photographed using only natural light.”
Rove Beetles Photo
“With over 60,000 currently recognized species (and perhaps double that still awaiting discovery), rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) are without a doubt the most diverse family of organisms on the planet. Most are relatively unnoticed because of their often diminutive size and secretive habits, but a few species such as this predatory one (Actinus sp.) are larger and more colorful. I followed this specimen as it scouted leaf surfaces looking for prey – it’s orange-tipped abdomen and metallic coloration are not unlike that of several species of stinging ants it shares its habitat with.”
Mantellid frog
“Originating from a single common ancestor about 60 million years ago, Madagascar’s Mantellid frogs have radiated into a wide diversity of forms. Some are adapted for streams, others for leaf litter, and still others, such as this calling Ankafana Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis luteus), for a life in the trees.”
Malaysian Giant Katydid
“Monsters do exist – at least in the Borneo rainforest. Another of the island’s amazing katydids, this is the Malaysian Giant Katydid (Arachnacris corporalis), one of the world’s largest insects (measuring 15cm in length without the wings open). Despite their alarming size they are rather gentle herbivores, that is unless you make the mistake of trying to grab one with your bare hands. Kicking with their powerful spiny hind legs they can inflict some serious pain, but at least they usually warn predators first by emitting very loud raspy clicks with their wings.”
Long-haired huntsman spider
“Even though he’s missing a few legs, this beautiful long-haired huntsman spider (Gnathopalystes sp.) seems to be getting by just fine. While spiders normally have remarkable regenerative powers – growing back missing limbs slowly with each successive shedding of their skin, this particular individual is an adult male (as told by his enlarged pedipalps, the front pair of appendages on either side of his head) and as such he is near the end of his life cycle. With no more future molts ahead of him, his only objective now is to find a mate before his time is up.”
Leaf Beetles
“Although often overlooked because of their diminutive size, leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae) come in an astounding diversity of shapes and colors, with an estimated 50k species worldwide. The exact number of species in Borneo is still a matter of conjecture as, even though these beetles have been intensively studied for the past 30 years, each successive research trip yields many new species. This is the luxuriantly hairy Trichochrysea hirta.”
Hammer-headed fruit fly
“A male hammer-headed fruit fly (Themara sp., family Tephritidae) showing off his exaggerated eye stalks. He will use these to seduce female flies that enter his territory, typically a small patch on a fallen log near the rainforest floor. Superficially resembling the true stalk-eyed flies (family Diopsidae), these are otherwise unrelated and represent a excellent example of convergent evolution.”
Giant leaf katydid
“A giant leaf katydid (Pseudophyllus hercules), one of the world’s largest, rests in the Borneo rainforest understory. Active only at night, they use their superb camouflage to remain undetected by predators during the day.”
“Borneo’s rainforests are home to more species of gliding animals than anywhere in the world. Why? Evidence seems to point at the role of the most dominant tree family: Dipterocarpaceae. With very infrequent fruitings and few lower branches, animals need a way to cover large distances in the forest more efficiently. The flying squirrels are a great example, and with 14 species Borneo is the world centre of their diversity. This is the largest, the Giant Red Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista).”
Cryptic Chameleon
“With a tongue longer than its body and saliva 400 times stickier than a human’s, a Cryptic Chameleon (Calumma crypticum) snags an unwary cricket with perfect accuracy. Madagascar is home to the greatest concentration of the world’s chameleon diversity, including both the largest and smallest species. They are such efficient hunters that they can grow with remarkable speed for a reptile, some reaching maturity and completing their life cycle in less than a year.”
Bush crickets
“With some of the most incredible leaf mimics on the planet, it’s hard not to fall in love with Borneo’s katydids (bush crickets of the family Tettigoniidae). Not only do their calls make up a large portion of the nocturnal chorus of the forest, but these insects are extremely diverse in Borneo and it’s no wonder that new species are being found every year. This is another shot of Eulophophyllum lobulatum, described in 2016 and still a poorly documented species.”
Bornean Flying Frog
“Rarest and arguably the most beautiful of Borneo’s gliding amphibians, this is the Bornean Flying Frog (Rhacophorus borneensis). This unusually large and dark morph was found in eastern Sabah, where the frogs had descended from the rainforest canopy to lay eggs in a small muddy pool.”



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