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:
This first one was a strikingly colored male, but I later would see many somewhat drab females
On that first trip it took only a few minutes to find my first snake.
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.
Several times on the mountain I ran into a small skink species that I never found at lower elevations:
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.
On that hike we got to a waterfall
And found this pretty little frog hanging out below it.
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:
Very close was a common Thai species, though this one was especially obese:
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.
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
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
Large spider found under cover
And finally, a few beautiful butterflies