The White-Crowned Hornbill

When in Southern Thailand I repeatedly saw a spectacular bird: the white-crowned hornbill. I was, however, never able to take a photo of this bird, as it was rather shy and never came near me… I could only take some photos in the zoological garden of Phuket, which my wife, my youngest son and I visited in July 2008.

The white-crowned hornbill got its scientific name –Berenicornis comatus-from Thomas Stamford Raffles, who described and named the species in 1822. Raffles was a British statesman and is known as the founder of Singapore. He was very interested in the fauna of South East Asia and described and named 13 mammals and more than 30 birds as new species. (After his return to England he founded the London Zoo and the Zoological Society of London).

The white-crowned hornbill breeds in Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. It is regarded as an endangered species, and the ongoing fragmentation of the forest may lead to isolation and genetic impoverishment…

The bird is mainly black and white and shows a distinct fuzzy white crown. Hornbills are the only birds which have the axis and atlas (the first vertebrae) fused together, and so –supported by large neck muscles- can better carry the enormous bill.

The white-crowned hornbills are omnivorous, they eat fruit as well as small animals (lizards, small mammals, insects). The female lays two eggs in a hole in a tree. During incubation this hole will be sealed by mud and/or fruit pulp. Through a remaining small slit the female and later the chicks are fed by the male. When the chicks grow big and cannot stay any longer in the small hole with their mother, she breaks the wall and comes out.

Hornbills can be found only in the Old World Tropics (South East Asia and Africa), they do not occur in the New World. In Thai the white-crowned hornbill is called นกเงือกหัวหงอก (pronounced as “nguag huangawk”). เงือก is a general term for hornbills, หัว means “head”, and หงอก means the silver-grey color of hair, so นกเงือกหัวหงอก can be translated as “the hornbill bird with the silver-haired head”.


In the city of Trang, near my sister-in-law’s house, I saw an interesting butterfly: Kallima inachus. This is a very famous insect, and I had been looking for it for many years. In English it is called “Orange Oakleaf”, sometimes “Indian Oakleaf”. It is said to be distributed throughout East Asia, from India to Japan, and it is described as common.

This species is very beautiful, its fore wings are black and violescent blue with an oblique orange band, while the hind wings are dark blue. The ground-colour of the underside is rusty and yellowish brown.

When the wings are closed over the body the butterfly seems transformed: it strongly resembles a dry leaf. This is a perfect example for strong mimetic resemblance: the tips of the hind wings seem to be the leaf stalk, a dark line between the tips of the fore and hind wings give the impression of a mid rib, while other lines running obliquely upwards imitate the veins of a leaf. When perching on the brown bark of a tree, it cannot be traced by its enemies.

This species was first described in 1847 by Jean Baptiste Boisduval who was an outstanding entomologist of his time. He was mainly interested in beetles, butterflies, and moths. The word “Kallima” is of Greek origin and means “beautiful”, while in Greek mythology “Inachus” is the name of a king of Argos.


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