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Changing your Color for Love

Most reptiles look the same no matter what time of year you find them. But right before rainy season, when the breeding season starts, some of the lizards display fantastic new colors.

The most brilliant of the breeding lizards is the Indo-Chinese Forest Lizard. Though most of the year they’re quite gray,

IndoChinese Forest 9-3-10 in Lumpani (2)

in spring both males and females develop fantastic blue heads, like this one in Chatuchak Park:

Male Blue Crested Lizard Calotes mystaceus in breeding coloration

Now you can see why they’re also called the “Blue Crested Lizard”. One individual in a small park in Silom was the bluest herp of any kind that I’ve ever seen. The breeding colors were in full display on this one:

IndoChinese Forest Lizard Calotes mystaceus breeding colors

Blue-crested Lizard Calotes mystaceus breeding colors

This is the very city habitat I found it in

Indo-Chinese Forest Lizards aren’t the only lizard to change color in breeding season to attract a mate. Their close relative, the Oriental Garden Lizard, changes as well. Though most of the year it is a drab brownish color:

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

During breeding season the males can become a deep red:

Changeable Lizard Calotes versicolor

Or even a brilliant red and yellow:

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

Male Oriental Garden Lizard in Phra Khanong showing breeding colors

If you’re paying attention, you’ll see when the lizards turn this year, and get to pick up on a beautiful sight.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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A little night walk in Bangkapi

After seven months in Bangkok I moved out near Bangkapi. I wouldn’t call Bangkapi a “natural” area, but I did my best to see what I could find. One night I got my flashlight and my camera and I took a walk.

Right next to my apartment building was an empty lot full of water puddles. In the puddles were dozens of Round-tongued Floating Frogs. This is the best spot I’ve found in Bangkok for them:

Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Round-tongued Floating Frog (Occidozyga martensii)

Also common in the puddles were the Green Paddy Frog

Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Green Paddy Frog  Hylarana erythraea

Near those puddles was a motorcycle parking lot, and this juvenile Red-tailed Pipe Snake was moving right through the dirt lot at night.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Cylindrophis ruffus

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Cylindrophis ruffus

The habitat it was found in:

Some Asian Grass Frogs were mating in a temporary puddle in full view of everyone on the street

Asian Grass Frog Fejervarya limnocharis

On the street were also Common Indian Toads

Common Indian Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus

and Asian Painted Frogs. I found this one by finding the source of some extremely loud calls. These frogs sound like a bull.

Asian Painted Frog Kaloula pulchra

I like this shot of a different one – it was in a tree on the main road with no obvious habitat nearby.

Asian Painted Frog Kaloula pulchra

Near a larger pond were these Darkside Narrowmouth Frogs. They were the first ones I’d found in Bangkok.

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog Microhyla heymonsi

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla heymonsi)

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog Microhyla heymonsi

I also saw a number of lizard species, such as this juvenile Tokay Gecko,

Tokay Gecko Gekko gecko

Spiny-tailed House Geckos crawling on trees at night,

 Spiny-tailed House Gecko Hemidactylus frenatus

 Spiny-tailed House Gecko Hemidactylus frenatus

and a sleeping Oriental Garden Lizard that I accidentally woke up.

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

Some of my neighbors told me that Bangkapi was a jungle before it got developed. It is sad that what must have been a beautiful natural area has been wiped out by malls and concrete and apartment buildings. But as my night with a flashlight showed, even developed areas can still hold strong wildlife diversity, as long as the pollution stays down and they still have a few little wild lots to call home.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Mudskippers in the Chao Phraya River

Before I start, thank you to all the people who have started following my blog recently! I hope you’ve been able to get out and see some herps yourself!

“Mudskippers” aren’t a reptile or an amphibian. They’re a family of fish – though amazingly, one that can breathe air and spend some of its time on land. Mudskippers are one of the neat sights that you can see on the mudflats of Bangkok’s rivers, along with fiddler crabs, several species of water birds, and (at night) several species of water snakes. As a little break from the herps, here are a few mudskippers I photographed on the Chao Phraya River one day.

First, some Goggle-eyed Gobies (Boleophthalmus boddarti).

Google-eyed Gobies Boleophthalmus boddarti

Google-eyed Goby Boleophthalmus boddarti

Google-eyed Goby Boleophthalmus boddarti

And then a few Giant Mudskippers (Periophthalmodon schlosseri).

Giant Mudskippers Periophthalmodon schlosseri

Giant Mudskippers Periophthalmodon schlosseri

Here are both species of mudskippers with a fiddler crab, the other most common resident of the mudflats:

mudskipper goby fiddler crab

A few other neat things on the river include terns:

terns

tern

tern

tern

and Kingfishers

kingfisher

One day there was a jellyfish explosion. I’ve never seen jellyfish on this river on any other day, but this day there were thousands of them!

jellyfish bangkok thailand Chao Phraya River

jellyfish chao praya river

jellyfish chao phaya river

Here are some tracks in the mud. They are almost prehistoric looking.

water monitor varanus salvator tracks

I’ve never gone out to Bangkok’s mudflats or mangrove groves at night, so I haven’t personally seen the Dog-faced Water Snakes, Mangrove Pit Vipers, and Crab-Eating Frogs that can live in this brackish water. But that would be a great project for anyone who has access to such a spot in the dark when the frogs and snakes come out! Bangkok’s brackish waters are quite an interesting ecosystem.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Herping at Home

You don’t always need to go out to find herps. Sometimes they meet you right at home.

Of course, everyone in Bangkok knows that geckos love to come indoors, where they eat the mosquitos, flies, baby cockroaches, and other pest that annoy us and spread disease. On my very first day in Bangkok, I found this Flat-tailed House Gecko sitting on a windowsill.

Flattail House Gecko Hemidactylus platyurus

Though the Flat-tailed House Geckos are the most common species to be found inside, the closely related Spiny-tailed House Geckos could occasionally be found in homes as well:

Spiny-tailed House Gecko Hemidactylus frenatus

And once I found this Stump-toed Gecko under a board right in front of our house:

Stub-toed Gecko Gehyra mutilata

A few months into my time in Bangkok, the Oriental Garden Lizard hatching season began. This tiny little juvenile showed up on one of the potted plants on our doorstep:

Oriental Garden Lizard

juvenile Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

And when the rains came, of course, the frogs started moving. Common Indian Toads were the most frequent visitors to our Oh Nut home. This one didn’t make it in the house, but was found in a neighbor’s fish pond.

IMG_9985

On occasion Asian Painted Frogs came right inside:

IMG_0450

I was worried the frogs might lose their way inside and fail to find their water puddles again, so I gently caught them and released them outside. The lizards were let be – they’re perfectly harmless and do a great job of making themselves at home. All of these frogs and lizards, of course, are great for the pests. I hope you have similar helpful visitors in your abode.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Persistence Pays Off With a Tree Snake

One day in October I was helping a friend pick up his kids from school near Silom. On the property of the school I saw some nice looking greenhouse habitat behind a building. Knowing that even small bits of habitat can hold herps in Bangkok, I went over to take a look.

IMG_7402

Just as I was approaching the plants, a small green snake scooted away from me as fast as it could go! From its speed I guessed that it wasn’t a Long-nosed Whip Snake like I had seen before, and it seemed unlikely to be a Pit Viper. That left Golden Tree Snake as the most likely identification, but I couldn’t be sure. (Look at the “Green Snakes” section of “Identifying Snakes” to see the choices I had available.)

When a snake finds a spot that it likes, it sometimes stays within a very small area, taking advantage of the warmth, cover, humidity, food items, or whatever else attracted it to that spot in the first place. So a few weeks later I was passing by the spot again and decided to check it out. I took advantage of the semi-public property and the friendliness of Thai security guards, and wandered back behind the building. After extensive searching, I found…nothing.

Not to be deterred, I came back again a month later in December. I carefully snuck up on the same spot where I had first seen the snake (I didn’t want it fleeing before I got a good look again). This time it was right there in the same place! It fled again, but tried to hide in the dirt of a massive flower pot. After a bit of digging, I had my first Golden Tree Snake (Chrysopelea ornata). Like the other snakes I had seen so far, it was a little juvenile:

IMG_7393

Golden Tree Snake Chrysopelea ornata in Thailand

Golden Tree Snake 12-14-10 in  Silom

This brings up the interesting point that the first snakes (other than blind snakes) that I found in Bangkok were all small juveniles. That is not just a coincidence. Snakes tend to have lots of offspring, and most of them don’t survive to adulthood. So at any point in time, especially after young snakes are born, there are probably more juveniles around than adults. Also, the juveniles are usually exploring, trying to find a territory for themselves, and so they can show up in new and unexpected places. Any adults that have survived long enough to get big probably have a very safe and hidden space picked out for themselves. Unfortunately, in a crowded place like Bangkok where many people kill any snake they see, this trend is even more true. The large adult snakes in this city are few and far between.

If you spot a snake once, be observant and persistent, and you might get to see it again.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Discovering a new species for Bangkok

On the very first day I went herping in Bangkok, I found an unusual-looking gecko:

Sri Lankan House Gecko (Hemidactylus parvimaculatus)

It didn’t look like a Spiny-tailed House Gecko or a Flat-tailed House Gecko or a Stump-toed Gecko or any of the other species that I knew lived in the city. I showed the picture to a friend who is an expert on Bangkok’s herps, and he guessed that it might be a Spotted House Gecko, a species that is usually only found down in southern Thailand. But we weren’t sure.

Just a week or two later, I was searching again close to my home and I found more of the unusual geckos:

Sri Lankan House Gecko Hemidactylus parvimaculatus adult

Now I was sure – they were NOT spotted house geckos. I went to the Field Herp Forum, an internet site where people post their herping finds, and asked them what it might be. Several herpers thought it might be related to a Brooke’s Gecko, a species-group that is found over much of Africa and Asia, but not in Thailand. I looked at the pictures and realized they were on the right track. So I contacted Michael Cota at the Bangkok Museum of Natural History. He agreed that I had a new find for the city, and asked me to collect some samples. These girls were the lucky two:

Sri Lankan House Gecko Hemidactylus parvimaculatus adults and type specimens for description from Bangkok

Mr. Cota examined the lizards in the laboratory and determined that they were Sri Lankan House Geckos (Hemidactylus parvimaculatus), a species usually found on the island of Sri Lanka. They likely had gotten here accidentally by hiding in shipping containers of goods sent from Sri Lanka to Bangkok. By this time I’d found a couple dozen of the geckos near Oh Nut Soi 2, in Lumpani Park, and close to Sukhumwit Road Soi 60 – look on a map, and you can see the Khlong Toei docks are right in the middle of those three locations. In fact, I later found them close to Khlong Toei itself (as well as a couple new nearby locations), making it very likely that the docks were the original location and they spread out from there. I have yet to find these geckos anywhere more than 10 kilometers from the docks, despite extensive searching.

With the information we had, Mr. Cota and I were able to publish a scientific finding in the Herp Review journal, reporting the first ever discovery of Sri Lankan House Geckos in Thailand. The citation name is Cota, M. & J. Hakim. Hemidactylus parvimaculatus (Sri Lankan House Gecko). Geographical Distribution. Herpetological Review 42(2): 241.

Over time I realized that I nearly always found the geckos under pieces of concrete, usually on bare dirt. With five native species of geckos taking up most of the other space, it’s the only habitat niche that the Sri Lankan House Geckos have been able to make for themselves in Bangkok. It’s also a habitat niche that no one other than me was looking in – which is why no one else had found them, even though they’d probably been in Bangkok for a number of years. This shows how herping in even the most mundane of locales can lead to an exciting new discovery. Always keep your eyes open and photograph anything new that you see – and with a little luck, you might make your own notable discovery.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Geckos, Lizards

 

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Lady Luck Brings Me a Python

When I came to Bangkok, my biggest herping goal was to find a Reticulated Python. My friends had a python come into their room in the slum, so I knew it was possible! Getting to see the world’s longest snake “in the wild” was something I really wanted to make happen.

From the first day I moved into our place near Oh Nut, I knew I should take a look at a nearby canal:

Canal in Bangkok with pythons

I had a slim hope that the water-loving reticulated pythons might travel up the canal occasionally. So one day I roped my wife and two friends into taking a walk over there. Really, finding a python on a walk along a canal is extremely unlikely, so I shouldn’t have had any expectations. But less than two minutes after we got there my wife exclaimed, “Look Jon! There’s a really cool snake in the tree!” And sure enough…our first python.

Juvenile reticulated python (Python reticulatus) in tree in Bangkok

Juvenile reticulated python (Python reticulatus) in tree in Bangkok

I gently took him down from the tree branch to give everyone a closer look. It was only about a meter long, a real youngster. The snake was a bit ornery (and one of my friends was a bit afraid of snakes), so I did my best demonstration of how to hold a snake appropriately without the snake being hurt or me getting bit. It worked out okay.

Reticulated Python  10-25-2010 Phra Khanong

Juvenile Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) in Bangkok, Thailand

I’ve found much larger pythons since then, and seen them in more natural settings, but I don’t know if I’ll ever top the excitement (and luck!) of finding that first one. May you have good luck in your own herp searches.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2013 in Herping adventures

 

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My First Snake in Bangkok

Technically, the first snakes I found in Bangkok were Brahminy Blind Snakes and White-headed Blind Snakes in Lumpani Park. But the first wild snake I found that didn’t look like a worm was on an October afternoon just off of Ramkhamhaeng 2.

I was walking along the road after church, looking through pockets of habitat I had spotted from the bus on the way there. I had already seen several sun skinks, monitors, and garden lizards (as well as an eel!) when I turned down this little trail next to a canal:

I hadn’t gone 10 feet when I spotted a slender form in the grass. A snake! By the shape of its head I could tell that it clearly was not a venomous species. As I bent down to pick it up, it stayed frozen, relying on its camouflage to avoid detection. I gently lifted it off the ground and had my first Long-nosed Whip Snake in hand. It was a young one, no thicker than a pencil.

Long-nosed Whip Snake head looking straight on - note slenderness of head and body

Long-nosed Whip Snake Ahaetulla nasuta

Long-nosed Whip Snake Ahaetulla nasuta

I released him into a tree and watched the beautiful creature make its way up a branch.

Long-nosed Whip 10-9-10 in Ram 2 (5)

My “first” was a beauty, and there were many more to come…

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in Herping adventures

 

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Chasing Frogs in the Parks at Night

When you want to go herping in Bangkok, a good place to start is with the frogs. I first came to Thailand in the month of September, near the tail end of the rainy season, and it was a perfect time to find frogs calling. Just go outside at night with a flashlight, start walking around, and follow the frog calls.

Here is a Four-lined Tree Frog found by tracking its calls to a bush in a park in downtown Bangkok.

Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax


Here is a treefrog in the act of calling in a Bangkok park:

Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax


A classic in Bangkok is the fat and cute Asian Painted Frog:

Asian Painted Frog Kaloula pulchra


The Asian Grass Frog, also known as a “Cricket Frog” for its characteristic calls, can be heard almost everywhere. This one is calling from a marsh in Bangkapi.

Cricket Frog Fejervarya limnocharis calling


Common Indian Toads are indeed common in the parks. This one was crossing a road at Chatuchak late at night.

Common Indian Toad Bufo melanostictus


One of the hardest but most rewarding frog calls to track down is the Ornate Narrow-mouthed Frog. This tiny frog makes a loud, high-pitched noise that couldn’t possibly come from such a small creature. It likes to call from under a bit of cover, so the combination of its tiny size and secretive nature can make it difficult to find at night. But when you do find it, you will see how such a little frog can be so loud:

Ornate Chorus Frog Microhyla fissipes


A related species, usually found near more permanent bodies of water than its cousin, is the Darkside Narrow-mouthed Frog:

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog Microhyla heymonsi


One of my funniest herping stories came in this manner. I was chasing down a peeping frog when I felt the presence of a security guard behind me. I had been expecting this encounter, being as I was on a commercial construction site. These pools of water teeming with frogs were about to give way to the latest condominium complex, (a little interplay between Bangkok’s new material wealth and its ancient biological diversity). I answered the guard’s questioning look with a clear “doo gobp khrap” (Thai for “I watch a frog”) and showed him the pictures of frogs on my camera. He smiled, so I apologized politely with “Khawthot khrap” and a Thai wai and started to walk out towards the entrance. Before I could take two steps the guard stopped me and insisted I stay. I turned back to chase the little Round-tongued Floating Frog. Just when it was about to get through a fence, the guard stepped into the mud and directed it towards me! I caught the frog, but it wouldn’t stay still for the voucher pictures and I had trouble getting a clear shot. Noticing my difficulties, the guard squatted down, placed his hand over the frog, waited for me to get ready, and then took his hand off for the perfect picture!


Here is another one found calling nearby:

Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii calling


I hope you find the same helpful assistance in your own herping adventures!

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Herping adventures

 

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The Giant Lizards of Lumpani

I’m blogging some of my actual herping adventures in Bangkok, to add to the technical material on the site and perhaps inspire some people to enjoy Bangkok’s wildlife the same way I have. I’ll start with a little introduction to the giants that all Bangkok residents know well – the Water Monitor.

Just about everyone has seen water monitors somewhere in Bangkok, but they are most famously known from Bangkok’s central park, Lumpani Park. I don’t think that I’ve ever gone to Lumpani Park without seeing monitors there. But there was one day that was a little special.

I had been walking through the park, photographing the herps, when I saw this large monitor in one of the canals:

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

I just kept making my way down the canal, and soon realized that he was doing the same. I got to the end of the canal and the exercise equipment the same time that the monitor did, and was able to photograph it crawling out of the water.

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Soon it was weaving its way through the exercisers. At first it they seemed irrelevant, just more travelers on the day.

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

But soon the crowd got a little bigger, and became a mix of interested onlookers snapping photos and frightened folk trying to get out of the way as quick as possible.

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

The big water monitor, just trying to get where it was going, walked through all the traffic…

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

…made its way over to the next section of canal…

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

…and swam off into the sunset!

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) in Lumpani Park, Bangkok

Monitors generally focus on dead animals, snails, crabs, and other small creatures, and aren’t interested in going after people at all. That being said, they will use their tail, claws, or teeth if they are threatened, and it’s a good idea to leave them alone.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Herping adventures

 

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