Doi Suthep

16 Dec

During one visit to Thailand, I got to spend several weeks in Chiang Mai at the tail end of the rainy season. Doi Suthep/Doi Pui National Park is on the edge of Chiang Mai within easy biking range, so I made four trips up the mountain to see what I could see. My big goal was to find the Crocodile Salamander, Thailand’s only salamander species. Unfortunately, I never could catch a rainstorm (I stayed 10+ km from the mountain and it’s impossible to guess when and where the rain will hit) and never found a breeding pool. Still, I saw some cool species up there.

Chiang Mai is at an elevation of about 1,000 feet, while Doi Pui peaks out at close to 5,500 feet. That meant some abrupt habitat differences in only a space of 10-20 kilometers. On my very first trip up the mountain, I saw an interesting lizard in the undergrowth:

I snagged it and saw that it was a cool species that doesn’t show up at the lower elevations:

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster)

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

Cuvier’s Spiny Lizard Acanthosaura lepidogaster head shot

This first one was a strikingly colored male, but I later would see many somewhat drab females

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

and juveniles.

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster juvenile

On that first trip it took only a few minutes to find my first snake.

Green Keelback (Rhabdophis nigrocinctus)

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus

At this time of year the forest could be quite misty and the undergrowth was often moist. Several small species of frogs could be found hopping around on the ground.

Dwarf Bush Frog (Philautus parvulus)

Dwarf Bush Frog Philautus parvulus

Dwarf Bush Frog Philautus parvulus

Dwarf Bush Frog Philautus parvulus

Limborg’s Frog (Limnonectes limborgi)

Limborg's Frog Limnonectus limborgi

Dwarf Bush Frog Philautus parvulus

Several times on the mountain I ran into a small skink species that I never found at lower elevations:

Reeve’s Smooth Skink (Scinella reeversi)

Reeves's Smooth Skink Scincella reevesii

Reeves's Ground Skink Scincella reevesii

Reeves's Smooth Skink Scincella reevesii

On my second trip up the mountain I explored a different trail. Again, it only took a few minutes before our first snake sighting. This was a really, really funny-looking snake, with a heavy body and a tiny narrowing head. I didn’t get the best pictures because it was moving through vegetation and I didn’t have a clue what it was. My wife didn’t want me to touch it if I couldn’t ID it, and even though it looked quite non-venomous, that was probably good advice. I looked it up afterwards and found it to be a quite harmless diurnal earthworm eater.

Assam Mountain Snake (Plagiopholis nuchalis)

Assam Mountain Snake Plagiopholis nuchalis

Assamese Mountain Snake Plagiopholis nuchalis head shot

On that hike we got to a waterfall

And found this pretty little frog hanging out below it.

Marbled Sucker Frog (Amolops marmoratus)

Marbled Sucker Frog Amolops marmoratus

Northern Cascade Frog Amolops marmoratus

At a much lower elevation, I found several frogs near the side of a stream. They were so well-camouflaged that I couldn’t spot them before they jumped into the water, but I got lucky and flipped one under a rock:

Taylor’s Stream Frog (Limnonectes taylori)

Taylor's Steam Frog Limnonectes taylori head shot

Taylor's Steam Frog Limnonectes taylori

Very close was a common Thai species, though this one was especially obese:

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

My third trip up I checked out an area where several park employees had told me the “salamanders” could be found. The spot was a beautiful waterfall:

I found that they were somewhat mistaken – what actually lived in the area was semi-aquatic skinks! They appeared to predominantly focus on the habitat niche around and under rocks in the splash zone of a waterfall, often fully underwater. Their population density was very high.

Berdmore’s Water Skinks (Tropidophorus berdmore)

Berdmore's Water Skink Tropidophorus berdmore

Berdmore's Water Skink Tropidophorus berdmore

Berdmore's Stream Skink Tropidophorus berdmore water

There were two poking out from the rocks here – I didn’t see the second one until I took the photo:

Some other tourists taking a look:

On a trail close to the waterfall I caught this terrestrial skink

Speckled Forest Skink (Eutropis macularia)

Speckled Forest Skink Eutropis macularia Chiang Mai

On my fourth and final trip I decided to try to summit the mountain on my bike. About halfway up I heard a noise to the side. I jumped out and spotted a large snake, but it disappeared into a rock wall before I could get an ID. Unfortunately, that was the herping highlight of the day. The summit was much cooler than I expected (and wore me out much more) and the only live reptile I found up there was a skink. I did see about half-a-dozen dead reptiles on the road, including an Assam Mountain Snake, a Yellow-spotted Keelback, a kukri snake, a Tokay Gecko, and a few I couldn’t identify.

hill tribe village from very high up:

Near the summit there are lots of conifers, which feels strange in Thailand

Finally, throwing them all at the end so you can skip down if you want, here are a few invertebrates from the mountain:

Big millipede gnawing on me

A large flatworm species crossing the trail out in the open

An awesome beetle my wife accidentally hit when it landed on her leg

A very large harvester


small scorpion

Large spider found under cover

And finally, a few beautiful butterflies


Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Herping adventures


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4 responses to “Doi Suthep

  1. Eric Wayne

    December 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Wow! Love the Acanthosauras. I had an Acanthosaura crucigera as a pet in L.A. It has several long sharp teeth, which I eventually discovered were useful for eating slugs. It liked earthworms.

    Water skinks!? I have to confess, it would have been a real struggle for me to not bring one of those home and set up an aquarium. Fortunately, the difficulty in doing so in Thailand would probably prevent it from happening. I also know better than to take creatures from the wild, but semi-aquatic lizards are something I’ve never had the pleasure of keeping before.

    • Asian Herp Blogs

      December 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      Yeah, the Acanthosauras was a beautiful specimen, and those water skinks were really cool. I like semi-aquatic lizards as well, but they’re way neater crawling up the walls of the splash zone of a huge jungle waterfall or making their way through a fast-flowing torrent. The idea of keeping them appeals to me too, but I’d never be able to recreate a habitat as amazing as the one I found them in.

      • Eric Wayne

        December 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm

        Yap. I’ve pretty much given up on keeping herps these days, though fire belly toads were wonderful pets and super easy, practically indestructible. So, I just have guppies in outdoor pots to help curtail the mosquito population, and as pets.

  2. zoomologyblog

    May 26, 2017 at 1:10 am

    So many cool critters! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


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