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Snakes in the Market

In one of my first visits to Lumpani Park I came upon a juvenile Puff-faced Water Snake. Upon viewing and photographing the snake, an American tourist nearby got anxious and stated, “I ask only that you do not harm the snake.” Further inquiry found that he had bought the snake at a Bangkok market and “humanely” released it into the Lumpani Park lakes. My friend quizzed the guy and found that he had no idea whether the snake was a native species or whether it was venomous. We did our best to explain to him why releasing the snake had been a bad idea.

puff-faced water snake Homalopsis buccata

Releasing a captive animal into the wild, even a native one, is not good for the local ecosystems. Non-native species, such as the red-eared sliders in the ponds, the Norway rats in the streets, and the English house sparrows in the trees, may prey on, outcompete, or spread disease among local species. And even native species that have spent time in captivity are highly at risk for transmitting disease into the wild populations. If you purchase a captive animal and can no longer care for it, please find a responsible person to take over care for the animal rather than releasing it into the wild.

Sadly, the water snake we found is only one of thousands of snakes that get processed through Bangkok’s markets. Most of that trade is illegal. The vast majority of those snakes either die within the marketing process, die soon after they are sold, or are released into an unfamiliar habitat in the wild. Please only purchase snakes if you are extremely familiar with how large they will get and how to take care of them, and only buy them from licensed, legal snake breeders. If someone is selling the animals on the street of out of a market, it’s best to assume the worst and move on.

Here are a few images of snakes and other animals in markets in Bangkok:

Juvenile Reticulated Python Python reticulatus

Water Snakes for sale in Vietnamese market

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(note – the cage full of water snakes was a photo from Vietnam, courtesy of Alex Krohn. All of the other photos were taken by me in Bangkok.)

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (Red Cross Snake Farm)

Early in my time in Bangkok I had a friend tell me that there was a great snake farm in Bangkok that I should check out. Apparently there’s a “bad” one that is just a tourist trap where snakes are basically abused, then a good one run by the Red Cross where snakes are cared for well and used for venom research. The good one is the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute – I got to visit it and it was fantastic.

As you can see, there were many different species of snakes represented. Though there are a few exotics mixed in, the focus is on the species native to Bangkok, and nearly all of the common non-venomous species local to Bangkok are displayed. In addition, the snake farm had many of the vipers, cobras, and kraits native to the rest of Thailand.

Feeding time was neat – here frogs and frog legs are the default snake food.

In the morning they had a milking demonstration. Venomous snakes are milked to extract venom, which is then used in the production of antivenom which is given to snakebite victims in order to counteract the snake bite’s effect. After a short video on the history of the snake farm, a speaker talked about the venom program and what the antivenom is used for, then three employees milked one monacled cobra each.

There was a small, decent museum on snakes attached as well. Again, all the information was accurate and appreciated. I took a photo of their display of the results of snakebite. This is why you should not pick up venomous species – notice how many of the bites are on the hand, especially the right hand? It is very likely that the people who got bit on the hand were trying to pick up or kill a venomous snake. And the bites that are not on the right hand are on the foot – watch where you step when you’re in snake country!

Remember – if you are bit by a venomous snake, the most important thing to do is to stay calm, try to identify the snake (take a picture if possible), and have someone take you to the hospital immediately. The antivenom produced by the Red Cross Snake Farm is very effective, but the sooner you get it the better.

In the afternoon there was a snake-handling show but I wasn’t able to attend. Overall I was very happy with the quality of exhibit space and information at the snake farm – it was the most competent display of animals I had seen in Asia. I would recommend the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute to anyone who wants to learn more about our local snake species and the work being done to save lives.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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An Ode to Monitors

My first herping adventure post was a monitor wandering through Lumpani Park. These giants are so ubiquitous in Bangkok that I thought it was about time I made another post. Honestly, once you know how to look, it’s amazing how many you’ll see!

Water Monitors can be seen at the temples and monuments:

When you visit the parks, you’ll see them just lounging alongside the canals:

Or even swimming in them!

Water Monitor Varanus salvator swimming

Sometimes they move through the water slowly, hunting for food:

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

Though they’re huge, mostly they only eat crabs, snails, frogs, and other such small creatures…or trash and dead fish when they can find it!

Water Monitor Varanus salvator eating fish

Water Monitor Varanus salvator head shot

They have a certain interesting appearance when they’re walking over land:

And they can make beautiful waterfall decorations

From time to time, they’ll even be hanging out up in the trees

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

You might catch them making baby water monitors

Young monitors, by the way, are very very small (these are only ~35cm long!)

Water Monitor Varanus salvator juvenile

Water Monitor Varanus salvator juvenile

But old monitors can be very, very big! (this one was over 230cm long! And fat!)

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

To get a better idea of the size of these beasts, here are some attempted scaled shots that friends of mine posed for:

water monitor in Bangkok

water monitor in bangkok, thailand

That’s all I have for today. Don’t let the monitors walk on by without noticing these fantastic Bangkok residents…

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Bangkok Stories and Herps in Unlikely Places

Though you may not believe it from reading my blog, I didn’t come to Bangkok to herp. I came to the city to connect with people, to explore the subtleties of culture, and to find ways to work in an NGO-type job that served people in need. Herping was just a hobby that I did in my free time. But when you’re in a city that’s as teeming with life as Bangkok, you can’t really make hard lines between finding wildlife and discovering culture.

One day I hit up a wild-looking spot I’d recently found on Google Earth. It was only a kilometer from my place, but impossible to notice unless you’re looking from the sky. When I got there I found tons of herp habitat interspersed with impoverished squatters trying to build a life on whatever land they could find. (One third of Bangkok’s nine million people live in slums or squatter homes.) At one point I began to walk up a trail when I realized that it led to someone’s tiny trash-built hut. I was about to turn to leave, but just had to flip over the perfect-looking mat lying on the turnoff to the home. Sure enough, a beautiful Red-tailed Pipe Snake was under the mat.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Bangkok

Their defensive display is fascinating. It may be meant to mimic the venomous southeast Asian coral snakes or may simply be to distract attention away from the vulnerable head. Of course, this species is completely harmless and didn’t even try to bite me.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Bangkok

Red-tailed Pipe Snake tail Bangkok

On a different night I went walking down Oh Nut Road. A fascinating aspect of Bangkok’s culture are “spirit houses”, the miniature shrines that can be found on intersections and everywhere else throughout Bangkok. You really haven’t been in the city until you’ve sat on a vehicle cornering at high speed when the driver decides to take his hands off the steering and wai the spirit house in mid-turn!

So while I was walking down Oh Nut, I passed a familiar old spirit house laying at the base of a tree. On top of the table that the spirit house sat upon was the biggest Tokay Gecko I’d seen in my life! I was almost dumbfounded by the size – it looked like a Gila Monster. The thing had to be close to 35 centimeters long, but what was most impressive was the head size and body girth. The spirit house setting didn’t look like a normal place for a Tokay to be, but it may have been driven there by the rain.

Though I could have grabbed the gecko right there, I instead tried an in-situ pic, and the big guy lumbered up onto the tree while I was trying to snap the photo. By the time he stopped moving and I was able to focus the shot he was well up the tree:

Tokay Gecko

When I lived in Bangkok I spent a lot of time volunteering with an organization that helped girls who had lived through terrible situations. As any tourist knows, thousands of women are trafficked to Bangkok from rural Thailand and foreign countries to satisfy the huge demand in the sex trade. Many of these girls tell stories of the brothels that are horrifying beyond belief. Though technically illegal the tourism income alone from the sex industry makes up 3% of Thailand’s GDP, so it’s not going away anytime soon.

One morning I helped one of the women at the organization take two young girls to the dentist. One of them asked to use the restroom and the dentist said, “Well, we have a restroom but there’s a snake in there.” It looked like I could be more helpful than usual today! The dentist (and the girls we brought) were quite happy to have me remove it. When I went looking it turned out that the snake wasn’t in the bathroom anymore, but with the dentist’s help I found it in the adjacent outdoor patio. It was only a baby, but it was the first Copperhead Racer I’d seen in Bangkok.

Copperhead Racer Bangkok

Copperhead Racer Bangkok

Copperhead Racer

I slipped him into a grocery bag and released him the next day in a nearby overgrown lot. Though it was only a few meters away from the original office, snakes are extremely secretive, and chances are that neither the dentist nor her neighbors will ever know the snake is there.

Such are the treats of herping in urban Asia. It is a far cry from the pleasant illusion of untouched wilderness that I would usually prefer to spend time exploring. Yet it also breaks through the wall of separation that modern urban society has placed between itself and nature, and reminds me of the real lives that people are living here in a manner that national parks and tourist spots never could. Herping these concrete jungles has brought this particular herper experiences that never could have happened elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Keep Your Eyes Open

Often it pays to be on the lookout, even when you’re not explicitly looking for herps. One night I was waiting at the Lumpani bus stop, looking to catch a bus home after having just gotten back from a trip out of town. The bus took a little time coming, so I figured, “why not have a look at the canal while I’m here?”

What a fortuitous thought! Inside the canal were a number of Black Marsh Turtles foraging for food. I had never seen this species before – in fact, I had only just found out they existed 2 days earlier! The turtles must be nocturnal, as I had never seen them in many day trips to the park, but here they were in numbers at night. They seemed to be foraging for carrion and trash, and perhaps snails and crabs, on the edge of the canal. I caught some photos of their foraging:

Black Marsh Turtle

Black Marsh Turtle

And then snatched one of them and got a few pics of it up close. You can see why they are referred to as the “smiling” turtle.

Black Marsh Turtle

Black Marsh Turtle Siebenrockiella crassicollis head

Smiling Terrapin Siebenrockiella crassicollis head

In a place like Bangkok, where nature has still managed to hang on in so many parts of the city, it can pay to keep your eyes open no matter what else you happen to be doing at the time.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Seven Snake Day

Sometimes in Bangkok I could go weeks or even months between snake finds. When the herping was tough, I said “just wait for the rainy season”. The rainy season is when all sorts of snakes become active that otherwise stay safely underground. Though I ended up spending most of the rainy season out-of-town, I did have by best-ever Bangkok snake day during a wet June afternoon.

During the rainy season I spent some time “flipping”, checking under rocks and logs for snakes and other animals. In order to preserve the habitat I always carefully put the objects back in place afterwards. By flipping I found out that one park was a kukri snake hotspot. On this “best day”, I first found a Banded Kukri Snake:

banded kukri snake bangkok

The habitat I found it in:

A little later I found a Striped Kukri Snake:

striped kukri snake

striped kukri snake bangkok

striped kukri snake tail bangkok

Its rather mundane habitat:

As usual, I found many Brahminy Blind Snakes:

brahminy blind snake bangkok

And under a board next to a lake I found a beautiful young Red-tailed Pipe Snake:

red-tailed pipe snake bangkok

red-tailed pipe snake bangkok

Habitat shot

All in all I found 7 snakes of 4 different species in just a few hours! Though I had one other seven-snake day in Bangkok, and a few other days where I saw 3 species of snake in the same day, this was the only time that I managed 4 different species in the same spot, so for me it was a special day. I hope you can get even more fortunate in your own snake searches.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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.

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On occasion Asian Painted Frogs came right inside:

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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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