Tag Archives: thailand

Chiang Mai’s herps from top to bottom

When you pay attention to the herps in an area, you might notice that elevation plays a big role in what you find.  While some herps can live just about anywhere, there are species in the hills that you will never find in the lowlands, and species in the lowlands that you will never find in the hills.  Even minor differences in elevation can make a big difference.  For example, there are snakes that you will only find below 1200 meters elevation, and snakes you will only find above 1200 meters elevation.  Little differences in the temperature, air, plant growth, rain patterns, rock formations, etc. all determine which species will live at which elevations.

To demonstrate, let’s take a tour of the herp life from the lowlands of Chiang Mai up to the top of Doi Suthep.  I’ve gotten to herp the area during two stretches, once 5-6 times in the span of two months in October/November and once 5-6 times over three weeks in March.   Those travels up and down the mountain, along with some information I’ve learned from herpers local to the area, have given me a pretty good idea of what can be found and where.

You’ll notice that a LOT of the snakes in the photos I will be sharing are dead.  Cataloging dead snakes on the road is an effective way to determine where different species of snakes live (and die).  Many species of snake are tough to find, and even an experienced herper might only see half the species of snakes in his area in a given year.   Certain species are only active during brief periods before/after rains, during certain temperature ranges in certain seasons, or other very specific conditions.  And even if you are out during the perfect conditions, you still might not get lucky.  But there are thousands of cars passing through that area….and if one of those thousands of cars hits a snake crossing the road during its perfect activity time, that dead snake will be there for you to find at any point the next day.   Sjon Hauser, who helped with many of these IDs, refers to the investigation of dead snakes as “forensic herpetology”.  So apologies for the many dead snake photos, but it’s an important part of the cataloging of species.

So let’s begin.


The flatlands of the city (300m)

Chiang Mai proper is a flat city situated at 300 meters elevation (about 1000 feet).   As far as elevation goes, that’s not high enough to exclude anything other than the species that like to hug the coastlines.  There are plenty of rice paddies, marshes, canals, fish ponds, etc. that attract a lot of semi-aquatic species, especially those that prefer still/stagnant water which is tough to get on a mountain slope.

Chiang Mai floor1

  1. Chinese Edible Frog
  2. Asian Painted Frog
  3. Round-tongued Floating Frog
  4. Chinese Edible Frog/Bullfrog
  1. Asian Grass Frog
  2. Inornate Froglet
  3. Four-lined Treefrog
  4. Common Indian Toad
  1. Yellow-striped Caecilian
  2. Ornate Narrowmouth Frog

Thus, you end up with a lot of the “marshy” species.  Asian Painted Frogs, Round-tongued Floating Frogs, Chinese Edible Frogs, and the odd Chinese Edible Frog/American Bullfrog hybrid are all marsh-and-pond-loving frog species which I’ve only seen in the lowlands.  Inornate Froglets, Ornate Narrowmouth Frogs, Darkside Narrowmouth Frogs, Asian Grass Frogs, Four-lined Treefrogs, and Common Indian Toads are a bit more versatile and can be found higher up, but they definitely love these lowlands too.   And the awesome Yellow-striped Caecilian can be found in large quantities anywhere around the city with enough moisture.

Chiang Mai floor

  1. IndoChinese Forest Lizard
  2. Flat-tailed House Gecko
  3. Oriental Garden Lizard
  4. Bowring’s Supple Skink
  1. Stump-toed Gecko
  2. Golden Tree Snake
  3. Spiny-tailed House Gecko
  1. Siamese Leaf-toed Gecko
  2. Yellow-spotted Keelback
  3. Banded Kukri Snake
  4. Checkered Keelback
  1. Sunbeam Snake
  2. Tokay Gecko
  3. Unknown snake
  4. Yellow-bellied Water Snake

There are a lot of snakes that love those marshy lowlands.  Sunbeam Snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes, Checkered Keelbacks, Yellow-spotted Keelbacks, and Red-tailed Pipe Snakes are all semi-aquatic species which will almost always be found near these lower water bodies.  Buff-striped Keelbacks and Red-necked Keelbacks prefer to hunt their frog prey around open marshy/grassy areas and those also are found down low.  Banded Kukri Snakes can be seen all over the mountain, but they are also common in these wetlands.

Other snakes can be seen in the terrestrial city habitats.  I’ve only seen Golden Tree Snakes around human habitats in the lowlands, but I don’t know if that’s because they prefer low elevation, because they prefer human-disturbed habitats, or if I just haven’t been lucky to see them on the mountain yet.  Long-nosed Whip Snakes, Indo-Chinese Rat Snakes, Common Wolf Snakes, Laotian Wolf Snakes, Monocled Cobras, and the Blue Krait are a few other species which can tolerate these city habitats in the right places.  I’ve also seen one Green Keelback and one Assam Mountain Snake down in the lowlands, both species which are more common when you get up the hill.  I know one person on the city outskirts who has seen a couple Indo-Chinese Sand Snakes, a neat open-habitat specialist that is unlikely to be seen in the most forested regions on Doi Suthep itself.

The lizards of the lowlands are primarily those which get along well in human habitation.  Bowring’s Supple Skinks and Siamese Leaf-toed Geckos can be found underneath cover.  Oriental Garden Lizards and Indo-Chinese Forest Lizards run around ornamental vegetation.  And Flat-tailed House Geckos, Spiny-tailed House Geckos, Stump-toed Geckos, and Tokay Geckos are found running on the outside of buildings at night.

There may be turtles down here – Southeast Asian Box Turtles and Malayan Snail-eating Turtles especially – but I have not seen them myself yet.


The lower hills (300m-600m)

If you ride your bike towards Doi Suthep, about the time you reach the zoo the road begins to turn noticeably upwards.   These lower hills aren’t as steep as the upper reaches though, and aren’t too much cooler than the flatlands of the city.  The slope and forestation still creates different habitats than the city holds, though, so the species noticeably change.

lowest levels (2)

  1. Ornate Narrowmouth Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Asian Grass Frog
  4. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Darkside Narrowmouth Frog
  4. Common Indian Toad
  1. Inornate Froglet
  2. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?

In various more “flat” areas you can still find puddle-frogs which can breed almost anywhere that will hold rainwater.  I’ve seen Ornate Narrowmouth Frogs, Darkside Narrowmouth Frogs, Inornate Froglets, Asian Grass Frogs, and Common Indian Toads here.  However, you also begin to see the “stream frogs” of the mountain, inhabiting rocky, nice-flowing streams that you just don’t see down low.  Thus, these lowest slopes of the mountain are the first places you’ll see Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, and Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs.
lowest levels

  1. Oriental Whip Snake
  2. Copperhead Trinket Snake
  3. Green Trinket Snake
  4. IndoChinese Forest Lizard
  1. Oriental Rat Snake
  2. Streamside Skink
  3. Siamese Leaf-toed Gecko
  4. Many-spotted Cat Snake
  1. Malayan Pit Viper
  2. White-spotted Slug Snake
  3. Banded Kukri Snake
  1. Thai Cat Snake
  2. Striped Litter Skink

As far as snakes go, there are plenty of snakes here which would happily be found in lowland environments, but might be easier to find here simply because of the wilder habitat.  I’ve seen Oriental Whip Snakes, Banded Kukri Snakes, Oriental Rat Snakes, and Copperhead Trinket Snakes here, certainly species you can find in the city as well.  But I’ve also found White-spotted Slug Snakes, Keeled Slug Snakes, Many-spotted Cat Snakes, Thai Cat Snakes, Green Trinket Snakes, and Malayan Pit Vipers – species which rarely wander into the city limits.  The issue is not so much that the minor elevation difference is keeping them above 300m, but simply that the mountain is the only place where the best forested habitats for them still exist.

I’ve only seen a few common species of lizards here, mainly those which prefer somewhat more forested areas than the city provides – Streamside Skinks, Indian Forest Skinks, Striped Litter Skinks, Siamese Leaf-toed Geckos, and Indo-Chinese Forest Lizards.


The steep middle section (600m-900m)

When you get above 600m (about 2000 feet) is when you first get high enough to begin excluding a few species based on elevation and not simply flatness.  Also, most of the areas I’ve herped at these elevations on Doi Suthep are quite steep, which changes the nature of the stream, soil, and vegetation.  So sometimes it’s hard to tell what is being affected by elevation and what (more likely) is simply being affected by other changes in habitat.

waterfall up to 900 meters or so

  1. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. unidentified Limnonectus
  1. unidentified Limnonectus
  2. Inthanon Stream Toad
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. Marbled Sucker Frog
  1. Green Cascade Frog
  2. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Limborg’s Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Big-headed Frog?

At these elevations most of the pond-breeding frogs are no longer around, though I did see a Four-lined Treefrog up this high once.  Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs, and Big-headed Frogs are all found here.  A couple species that like the really high-torrent waters, like the Marbled Sucker Frog and the rare Inthanon Stream Toad, are first found in these steep reaches.

waterfall up to 900 meters or so1

  1. Forest Crested Lizard
  2. Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko
  1. Khasi Hills Keelback
  1. Indian Forest Skink?
  2. Berdmore’s Water Skink
  3. Speckled Forest Skink

I haven’t been as fortunate at finding snakes at this elevation, though both Green Keelbacks and the rarely-seen Khasi Hills Keelbacks can be found alongside the streams.  I’ve also seen Banded Kukri Snakes and Oriental Whip Snakes on the road.   A couple lizards appear to like these steep streams just like the frogs do – specifically Berdmore’s Water Skinks and the Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos.   The unique Big-headed Turtle used to be found in the mountain streams here, though it has not been seen in some time and may now be extinct on Doi Suthep.  In the forest, these are the elevations where the Indian Forest Skink, Forest Crested Lizard, Common Sun Skink, and Speckled Forest Skink appear in good numbers.  Those species can be found at lower elevations in other areas, but perhaps don’t find the appropriate habitat as often lower down on Doi Suthep.


Towards the upper reaches (900m to 1200m)

If you’re making your way on your bike, this is when you’re probably getting a bit tired and really starting to feel the elevation.  This is also where some of the forest can get a bit moister and denser, and the species get interesting as a result.

upper waterfalls to 1200 meters

  1. Unidentified Limnonectus
  2. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Dwarf Bush Frog
  2. Unidentified Limnonectus
  1. Limborg’s Frog

These high elevations (over 3000 feet) are where you first begin to see one of Doi Suthep’s more famous species – the Crocodile Newt.  Thailand’s only salamander, the Crocodile Newt is only found on the higher elevations of northern Thailand’s highest mountains.  Another unique amphibian up here is the Doi Suthep Caecilian, found in only one valley.  I’ve seen a number of the typical frog species around here – Dwarf Bush Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Common Indian Toads, Dark-sided Frogs, etc.

upper waterfalls to 1200 meters1

  1. Assam Mountain Snake
  2. Thai Water Skink
  3. Doi Suthep Gecko
  4. Reeve’s Smooth Skink?
  1. Black-spotted Smooth Skink?
  2. Doria’s Smooth Skink
  3. Common Sun Skink
  4. Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon
  1. Green Keelback
  2. Burmese False Bloodsucker

For some reason I haven’t seen many dead snakes on this section of road (possibly because I’ve traversed it less often and there is less car traffic up here), but I have seen Green Keelbacks and Assam Mountain Snakes on the trails.  The lizard life becomes really fascinating at these elevations – this is where I first see Rough-bellied Mountain Dragons and Burmese False Bloodsuckers in the forest.  There’s also a wide range of mountain-loving Scinella skink species here – I’ve found Reeve’s Smooth Skinks, Doria’s Smooth Skinks and possibly Black-spotted Smooth Skinks here.  Common Sun Skinks and Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos continue to be found up here, but at about the 800m elevation mark the water skink species changes, with only Thai Water Skinks being found up this high while the Berdmore’s Water Skinks are restricted to the lower elevations.   I’ve also seen a dead Tokay Gecko at this height.


The mountaintop (1200m-1676m)

Doi Suthep is rather small as mountains go, peaking out at 1676 meters (5,500 feet), though they don’t come much bigger in Thailand.  Thus, there are a few high-elevation species which are only found on the very tippy-top of the mountain.

I’ve been up to the top of the mountain twice, both times in poor conditions for herping, so I’ve seen very little up here.  I’m aware that the famous Crocodile Newts can be found here, and I’ve seen a dead Common Indian Toad, but that’s it for amphibians (though more could possibly be revealed with better work).

top reaches above 1200 meters

  1. Collared Black-headed Snake
  2. Reeve’s Smooth Skink?
  1. Hampton’s Slug Snake
  1. Mountain Pit Viper
  2. Black-spotted Slug Snake
  3. Assam Mountain Snake

It’s the snakes that are interesting.  Near the highest reaches of the road I’ve found dead Black-spotted Slug Snakes, Hampton’s Slug Snakes, Collared Black-headed Snakes, and Mountain Pit Vipers – all species which you will find only in these high elevations above 1000-1200 meters.  I’ve also seen Assam Mountain Snakes and Reeve’s Smooth Skinks up here, and the interesting McClelland’s Coral Snakes are found at these upper elevations.  Like I said, my limited time up at these elevations means that more could likely be found with additional searches.


You should know that there are many other species on Doi Suthep which I have not found myself yet.  These include Smith’s Litter Frog, Lesser Stream Horned Frog, Burmese Horned Frog, Mud Slender Frog, Twin-spotted Tree Frog, Large-warted Tree Frog, Doria’s Treefrog, Butler’s Narrowmouth Frog, Yunnan Dwarf Gecko, Common Flying Gecko, Blanford’s Flying Dragon, Orange-winged Flying Dragon, Banded Slender Skink, Bengal Monitor, Slender Worm Snake, Collared Reed Snake, Triangle Black-headed Snake, Common Bronzeback, Hill Wolf Snake, Indian Banded Wolf Snake, Red Mountain Racer, Red-tailed Racer, Big-eyed Mountain Keelback, Chinese Keelback, Mock Viper, White-lipped Pit Viper and dozens of other species.  Each of those species have their own habitat requirements and their own little niches on the mountain within which they can be found.

I hope that tour gives you a bit of the sense of the kinds of things you can notice with a lot of systematic herping in the same area.  It also might give you an appreciation for the need to preserve every little habitat.

  • If the lowlands get completely developed or poisoned with pesticides and fertilizers, we’ll have trouble seeing Asian Painted Frogs, Round-tongued Floating Frogs, Chinese Edible Frogs,  Sunbeam Snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes, and Red-tailed Pipe Snakes.
  • If we lose the lowest-elevation forests, we might lose White-spotted Slug Snakes, Keeled Slug Snakes, Many-spotted Cat Snakes, Thai Cat Snakes, Green Trinket Snakes, and Malayan Pit Vipers.
  • If something harms the habitat of those steep streams in the mid-elevations, then Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs, Big-headed Frogs, Marbled Sucker Frogs, Inthanon Stream Toads, Khasi Hills Keelbacks, Berdmore’s Water Skinks and Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos might disappear.
  • If we encroach too much on the mid-elevation forests, we might not see Dwarf Bush Frogs, Doi Suthep Caecilians, Forest Crested Lizards, Rough-bellied Mountain Dragons, Burmese False Bloodsuckers, Specked Forest Skinks, Reeve’s Smooth Skinks, Doria’s Smooth Skinks, or Black-spotted Smooth Skinks anymore.
  • Those few water bodies up above 800m are the only habitat where the Crocodile Newts and the Thai Water Skinks are holding on, and without that habitat, they may become extinct from Doi Suthep just like the Big-headed Turtle apparently has.
  • Finally, it is only by preserving the forests at the very top, above 1200m, that we’ll preserve Black-spotted Slug Snakes, Hampton’s Slug Snakes, Collared Black-headed Snakes, Mountain Pit Vipers, and McClelland’s Coral Snakes.

Every habitat is important.  Doi Suthep has an incredible array of habitats and an incredible array of herps to fill them, and I hope this treasure can be preserved for generations to come.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , ,

A night on Doi Suthep

The mountain looms over the city, dominating my thoughts. In this hot, dry March it is a place of elevation and humidity, streams and undergrowth, magic ingredients that lead to herps when the lowlands are 100 degrees and baked to a crisp.

But even if herps were everywhere, I would still look to the mountain. The mountain is wild, and I need to go into the wild.

I began pedaling towards the mountain in the early afternoon. There are other options for getting there, but the bicycle gives me the feeling of relative freedom of movement, and it places me here. 11 kilometers to get to the mountain, another 7km of panting to climb the first part of it. I’m out of practice and know that as far as today goes, this is as much as my legs want to handle. I’m only up to 2,000 feet elevation, but the habitat has started to feel good.

In the early afternoon the joyful noise of Thais and foreigners playing in the waterfall reaches my ears. I load up my water bottles and hit the trail. Fifty paces later, the tell-tale black-on-green banding of a Green Keelback hits my eye. A juvenile. In disbelief I watch the snake with the noise of tourists coming around the corner. In this over-trafficked place, snakes are out? My t-shirt proclaims a simple slogan, “Life is Good”. Today looks like it will be a good day.

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus juvenile

I pass bikini-ed tourists playing in the waterfall’s spray.

It cannot go unnoticed that just a week earlier, in my first hike of this trip, I had rushed down to this spot in a failed attempt to render assistance to a man who died falling from the heights above this same waterfall. I wonder if the tourists in front of me know. All of them are staying low, where it is safe. I head up.

I pass the heights of the upper waterfall without looking and head up into the jungle. Now begins a three kilometer stretch that I have taken a dozen times in the last 3 years. In those dozen trips, I have never once seen another soul on this particular trail.

Tonight will be the first time that I do the return trip in the dark.

At these lower elevations bamboo and trees intermingle and there are breaks in the canopy. The lizards enjoy these breaks, and both skinks and agamids are present in numbers.

Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma juvenile

I follow the stream up, the canopy takes over, a hint of coolness enters the air. Just past the waterfall, the enormous white feather of a Silver Pheasant lays across the trail. My legs are still tired from the bike and the route is steep enough that I am climbing more than hiking. New waterfalls appear at regular intervals.

As I navigate a log to make a stream crossing, a second juvenile Green Keelback moves away and disappears into the rocks. I don’t get a picture, though I have been so blessed with Green Keelbacks (4 sightings now in the last 3 hikes) that it doesn’t bother me in the least. This keelback is only 3 meters from where I had seen my lifer Khasi Hills Keelback crossing the stream last week, a rarely seen species that I felt fortunate to have found in the midst of hot season.

Khasi Hills Keelback amphiesma khasiense

The last major waterfall of the route comes and goes, and I give it only a cursory search for snakes. Usually I would spend time here inspecting the area for stream frogs. But today is special, and their time is yet to come.

The rest of the climb is nondescript. I try a trail I’ve never done before, see some pretty plants, cross a few streams, but the early snake success isn’t replicated. Most notable is a cave/rock complex near the top of my hike, with Buddhist shrines of all sorts and 15m trees with 20m root systems clinging to the sides of the cliff.

I flip a few rocks, and am surprised by a large adult water skink under one of them.

Thai Water Skink Tropidophorus thai

Thai Stream Skink Tropidophorus thai

This incredible semi-aquatic species is usually found in waterfall spray zones, taking on the ecological role of an American torrent salamander, though they are occasionally found away from the water. Earlier in the week I had seen juveniles of a closely-related species in remarkable (but difficult to photograph) hidden spray zones.

Berdmore’s Water Skink Tropidophorus berdmore

A birder hoping for sightings in the coming twilight is the first person I’ve spoken to in 2.5 hours. I throw out, “Evening”. He doesn’t reply. He’ll be the last person I speak to tonight. I reach the road. It’s almost 6pm, and I am still a shade under 4,000 feet high, but this is as far as I go today. The coolness at this height, in the midst of hot season, surprises me. Aren’t there nocturnal snakes at this elevation? It feels that it will quickly become too cold. I sit down for a spell, drink a little water, let the sun drop. Then I head down the road.

The last half hour of daylight is uneventful. No snakes come to take in the road’s heat. I move off onto a trail and head a couple kilometers to a favorite spot where a tiny creek keeps the surrounding depression humid. In daylight hours the previous week, keelbacks, agamids, smooth skinks, and tiny frogs gathered here, including my first Pseudocaleotes.

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus

Mountain Horned Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

Burmese False Bloodsucker Pseudocalotes microlepis

Burmese False Bloodsucker Pseudocalotes microlepis

Taylor's Frog Taylorana limborgi

This time around night has fallen and I put on my head lamp. Being my first time on the mountain in the dark, the internal clock which exaggerates how little battery life my headlamp and backup flashlight have on them begins to tick away. But the trickle of a creek provides a distraction – for if I thought it was adequate for frogs in the daylight, it is hopping with them at night.

Invigorated by the frog life, I start down the mountain in the dark. My headlight plays on the ground, lighting up the eyes of large beetles hanging with unknown intentions on the edge of dead leaves. I am hoping for snakes while also cautious for the many species – kraits, corals, mountain pit vipers, Malayan pit vipers – which would be unwise to step on in the dark. Leaf litter is thick, and I give myself little chance of catching any arboreal snakes as I keep my headlight to the path.

Smooth skinks, not snakes, rustle in the litter. Three species of Scinella are officially recorded from the mountain, though I am not certain how well that has been verified. Right away I appear to find representatives of two different species, though I fail to remember the ID keys needed to distinguish the 3rd species from them.

I move from this slightly open route into the steeper, canopied hill forest. The trail narrows and its impact on the ground is light. Though it has been some time since I have seen a soul, this is where I feel like I drop from the world and am truly alone. In the light of my headlamp, every tree is beautiful, every vine special. The trail takes on a new intimacy as I only see the next few meters at any time. In the dark, under the canopy, I am surprised to find a smooth skink far from any openings. It is strikingly spotted, unique for the smooth skinks I have seen. Is this my third species?

The sounds of the highest waterfall begin to reach my ears. I cross the first small trickles of water, hoping they bring life, but nothing shows up. It takes time to make the descent, and in the dark every minute stretches out for me as if it were five. I clamber over roots and down rock faces, taking every precaution.

I reach the waterfall. And it is alive.

All the work that I’d done hunting stream frogs in the daylight feels meaningless and naïve as my eyes lay upon this sight. Sprinkled across the stream, on exposed rocks, in quiet pools, the reflecting eyes of frogs look at me from all around. Marbled Sucker Frogs sit in and above the torrent sprays. Taylor’s Stream Frogs float quietly in the shallows of the pools. Dark-sided Frogs call meekly from within submerged litter and underneath overhangs. I am blessed to be here, in this night.

marbled sucker frog Amolops marmoratus

marbled cascade frog Amolops marmoratus

Black-striped Frog Sylvirana nigrovittata

Marbled Sucker Frog Amolops marmoratus

I cross the stream on a log, climb some rocks, make my way up to gaze at the 30-meter heights of the main falls. I could already tell that frogs were sitting at the base. But I don’t expect the sight I get when I turn up my head lamp and play it across the falls themselves. Frog eyes sparkle like stars in the night. They are at the bottom, the top, the middle, everywhere in between. I try to count 20, 30, but lose count past there. Cascade frogs have always been a special and beautiful species to me, the kind of frog I might find once here, once there. Yet right now, those beautiful green Muppet-like creatures are everywhere, from 100 feet above my head to right in front of my face. In the night, photos cannot do justice to the sight before me. I play my headlamp across the frogs and take it in.

I force myself to turn around and carefully scoot down the rocks back to the bottom. As I pass a large rock, a large and gorgeous gecko scurries across. A lifer – both the first Cyrtodactylus I’ve ever seen in northern Thailand and the largest and prettiest one I’ve seen, anywhere.

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

That moment, the gecko, the frogs on the waterfall, I realized that it was a magical night.

As I worked my way down the stream, the magic continued. Every pool, every riffle, every waterfall was the same. There were frogs everywhere.

Marbled Cascade Frog Amolops marmoratus

Pegu Torrent Frog Amolops marmoratus

At the next waterfall I played my light around the dry cliffs and found a bird nest.

I swept my light from there to the top to catch an inexplicable sight. 25 feet above the water, on a perfectly dry spot on a perfectly dry cliff, an enormous Green Cascade Frog sat like Simba surveying all that was below him. The first one I’d ever seen! I couldn’t tell which excited me more – seeing a big and beautiful frog for the first time, or marveling at the inexplicable situation he had chosen to rest in.

Frogs, frogs, frogs continued as I went down. Before I knew it I was at the top of the main lower falls. In the dark, alone, I stood in the same spot where a crying Spanish-speaking women had rushed to me a week before and told me that her boyfriend had fallen off the cliff.

I stood there, thinking about the life that had been lost, thinking about his soul, praying to my God.

From the viewpoint at the top of the waterfall, a gap in the trees showed a thriving city below. I was reminded of my contact with civilization, both the regret and the safety that entailed. I took a photo.

Then I looked up, and saw the moon. Eclipsing. It had slipped my mind that tonight was the night of a lunar eclipse, but events had come to frame the moon right there in the middle of another gap in the trees, a bite taken out of it by our collective shadow. I watched as the shadow slowly passed off into the darkness of space.

After taking in the scene, I again explored the stream, and again was met by frogs everywhere. In this low-gradient bend right before the waterfall’s drop, a clownishly fat species sat in the water’s edges, the male version of several female frogs I had seen earlier.

I approached the frog, staying on safe and stable ground but concerning myself with how close to the waterfall’s edge I was straying. The frog took two, three hops, and jumped over the edge.

It’s a frog. It lives on top of the waterfall. It does this thing. I could not see where it landed, and it could well be just fine. But the parallel thumped on my mind and my conscious, and I was shook. I moved back away from the edge and thought again about a man I never met.

More of the frogs were in the stream behind me, along with others.

Another five minutes and I had reached the bottom of the major waterfall. I looked to the waterfall and almost expected him to be there. Lights appeared on the cliff face, different colors, some big and some small. I turned my head lamp away…and the lights remained. I turn off the light…and their light is still there.

A moment’s disquiet is calmed when I realize that there must be glowworms and fireflies on the cliff. It is an interesting array – I see colors of bio-luminescence that I’ve never seen before. At least three different species are plying their trade on the cliff. Down at the ground floor I find one variety.

Like all the waterfalls before, the abundance of frogs in this last pool was amazing.

Green Cascade Frog Odorrana chloronota

Limborg's Frog Limnonectes limborgi

chloronate huia frog rana chloronota

As I moved away from the falls my eyes caught a reptile pattern. At first I thought I had spied a wolf snake in the dark, but I was not disappointed to see that it was actually the tail of another Cyrtodactylus gecko.

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

That would be my last herp of the night. I hiked the last stretch back to the bicycle uneventfully. Reaching the bike (still there!), finding my key in my bag’s pocket (still there!), I sighed relief at being out of the “lonely zone” of the mountain. It was difficult to adjust my headlamp to work with my helmet, then I was on my way, nearly silently floating down the mountain road as fast as I wanted to go. The road was smooth, and snakes were not out. Soon I reached the main road, my headlamp lighting up the incredibly bright and frequent road reflectors. Not for the first time, I was struck by the beauty of pinpoints of light sprinkled through the darkness.

Just as I turned onto the main road, I heard a crashing in the forest besides me. Deer! I parallel their movements with my bike. I have never seen deer on Doi Suthep before. I still have never seen deer on Doi Suthep. They move unseen through the trees, I coast, and silently we go alongside each other in the night, their forms made out in my imagination. I felt an intimacy with them, moving together there in the dark. The sounds stopped, and I float the rest of the way down the mountain, again alone in the night.

An hour later I was home, happy to see my wife. I am safe and in one piece.

In two hours it will be Easter.

He is risen.

Life is good, says the tee-shirt.

There is more to life than herping…but herping too is life. I enjoy the night I have been given, the nature that still exists around me, and am happy for what I have.


Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , ,

Chiang Mai City Herping

During the weeks I spent in Chiang Mai, I made sure to do a good bit of city herping. Though Chiang Mai isn’t nearly as built up as Bangkok, the assemblage of reptiles and amphibians that can be found in the area is quite similar. Whether an area looks like good wildlife habitat or not, there’s a good chance there will be some herps there if you look close enough.

The guesthouse we stayed at had the typical lizard and frog diversity. Both of the common agamid species and the most common skink species were around:

Indo-Chinese Forest Lizard (Calotes mystaceus)

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)

Bowring’s Supple Skink (Lygosoma bowringi)

Streamside Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus)

I flipped this gecko just before flipping an Asian Giant Honeybee nest.

Stump-toed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata)

Various common species of frogs could be found under objects during the day:

Common Indian Toad and toadlet (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

Inornate Froglets (Micryletta inornata)

Asian Grass Frog (Fejervarya limnocharis)

At one point a gardener cutting grass knocked on my room to tell me he’d found a snake (I’d gotten a reputation by this point). I found that it was actually a caecilian hiding in the long grass! Quite an unexpected find for the daytime. The caecilian had been partially injured by what he was cutting grass with, but the injury was very superficial and I had hope that it would make it.

Yellow-striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)

Some treats were the occasional snakes that passed through the property. I caught an Assam Mountain Snake – unfortunately when I didn’t have my camera around! I had other people report to me that they saw what I think were a Sunbeam Snake (I later found one that had died naturally) and some species of kukri snake. The property owner had seen two pythons (a 9-footer and a 14-footer) in his ten years there. But the only snake species I got pictures of were the Golden Tree Snakes, of which I saw several.

Golden Tree Snakes (Chrysopelea ornata)

Golden Tree Snake Chrysopelea ornata

Here’s a few arthropods from the area:

Asian Giant Honeybee


Jumping Spider


insane web – picture doesn’t do justice to its complexity

Large scorpion


At night the geckos came out.

Siamese Leaf-toed Geckos (Dixonius siamensis)

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko)

Spiny-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)

Flat-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)

There were also a few more frog species at night, especially around the fish ponds.

Four-lined Treefrog (Polypedates leucomystax)

Inornate Froglet (Micryletta inornata) – first one I’ve ever seen without flipping

Asian Painted Frog (Kaloula pulchra)

Chinese Edible Frog (Hoplobatrachus rugulosus)

Ornate Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla fissipes)

The best spot for amphibians was a small temporary marsh just across the street from the guesthouse. During the tail end of the rainy season there were several species of frogs breeding in it.

Four-lined Treefrog and froglet (Polypedates leucomystax)

Asian Painted Froglets (Kaloula pulchra)

Round-tongued Floating Frog (Occidozyga martensii)

Quite surprisingly, here I spotted a hybrid between a Chinese Edible Frog and an American Bullfrog. Hybrids like this are a result of the frog farming industry, and may be a threat to local wildlife.

One night I flipped two boards on the edge of a marsh. The second one had a gorgeous caecilian under it! I’d seen over twenty DOR caecilians in northern Thailand by this point, but it is always exciting to find a live one. It was a beautiful specimen too.

Yellow-striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)

At night I would take bike rides into the countryside in order to look for snakes. Unfortunately, despite a lot of time staring at maps and Google Earth looking for good habitat, I could never find a live snake. I think there was just too much traffic. I saw dead-on-the-road Sunbeam Snakes, Rainbow Water Snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes, and Yellow-spotted Keelbacks. But the only live things I saw were frogs, arthropods, and 0.5 seconds of a caecilian.

Why only 0.5 seconds? I was riding my bike down a road and let a car pass me. As it passed me, I took advantage of its headlights to see…a caecilian crossing the road. I internally screamed “NOOOOOO!!!” as the car nailed it. The caecilian was still alive when I got up to it, but died seconds later. Of the 30+ caecilians I’ve seen, 2 were alive and intact, 2 were injured and may have died later, this one died, and the other 30 or so were already dead on the road.

Yellow-striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)

Here are a few invertebrates seen on my night rides:

Siamese Rhinoceros Beetle (Xylotropias gideon)

lots of big Huntsman Spiders, but I think this is the largest one I saw

A common sight on rainy nights

One of the last things I did during my time in Chiang Mai was dig out a huge mulch pile of lawn waste. Some of the guesthouse workers had seen a large snake (probably a big rat snake) disappear into the pile. We didn’t find the rat snake – instead, all we found were a few small frogs, some invertebrates, and this caecilian:

A nice way to end my time in Chiang Mai!


Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , , , ,

Doi Suthep

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Last year I made a trip back to Thailand for a conference in Pattaya. Not really wanting to leave the conference center in a city like Pattaya, I was glad to see that the conference center had a decent garden and a nice large pond, which was the epicenter for some herp activity. I was happy with what I saw – it just goes to show that even a little plot of land in the middle of the city can have some thriving wildlife. Here are a few of the herps I saw:

Common Indian Toad

Asian Grass Frog

Chinese Edible Frog

Tokay Gecko

Siamese Leaf-toed Gecko

Red-eared Slider

Chinese Softshell Turtle

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , , , ,

Bicycling in Pha Yao

Soon after the end of rainy season I got to take a trip to visit some friends in Pha Yao. Pha Yao is a nondescript little town on a lakeside in rural northern Thailand. I had a great time with my friends there…but as always, found a little time to look for reptiles and amphibians in the area.

The huge lake that dwarfs the city had some interesting Chinese Edible Frogs.

Chinese Edible Frog Hoplobatrachus rugulosus

My friends’ home had some nice treats. Several Tokay Geckos called unseen from the ceilings, and these frogs and lizards were right there in their yard.

Speckled Forest Skink

Bronze Grass Skink Eutropis macularia

Stump-toed Gecko

Stub-toed Gecko Gehyra mutilata

White-lipped Tree Frog

Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax

At this time of year, Pha Yao was cold enough that snake activity was reduced to daytime and dusk. I borrowed my friends’ bicycle and pedaled over to a series of ponds where my friend had often seen snakes while on evening walks. The area wasn’t gorgeous, but the fish ponds had a bit of charm.


Right off the bat I saw several species of frogs:

Common Indian Toad


Green Paddy Frog

Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Asian Grass Frog

And just before the sun set I saw my first snake!

Yellow-bellied Water Snake

Yellow-bellied Water Snake Enhydris plumbea

Rice Paddy Snake Enhydris plumbea

Head shot of Yellow-bellied Water Snake

Soon there was another…and another.

Yellow-bellied Water 11-25-10 in Payao Province, 2nd specimen

Yellow-bellied Water 11-25-10 in Payao Province, 3rd specimen

Yellow-bellied Water 11-25-10 in Payao Province

This was my first look at this species, and they were interesting in how they reared up in striking position, and then flipped around and tried to flee wildly. They gave the impression of a snake that wasn’t quite fully comfortable on land. In fact, most Asian Water Snakes will spend 90+% of their time in the water. The Yellow-bellied Water Snake is a bit of an exception to that rule, hunting on land much more often than the other species, but it still is only going to be found in close proximity to water.

The last find of the night, less than an hour after the sun had set, was another lifer for me…a Checkered Keelback.

Checkered Keelback

Checkered Keelback Xenochrophis piscator

The next night I came back to the same area, and just before dusk I found a closely-related Yellow-spotted Keelback catching the last rays of sunlight just outside of some brush.

Yellow-spotted Keelback

Yellow-spotted Keelback 11-26-10 in Payao Province (3)

During the day I rode around on the bicycle a little bit, and found a number of road-killed snakes that had been killed by passing vehicles. Many snakes are killed by cars as they try to cross roads to get from one bit of habitat to the next, or as they sun on roads to gain warmth. Sadly, some drivers even veer to kill the snakes, despite the fact that the snakes pose no danger to them at all. I found dead yellow-bellied water snakes, oriental rat snakes, long-nosed whip snakes, checkered keelbacks, and yellow-bellied keelbacks all on Pha Yao’s roads.

But one dead snake looked a bit odd to me. I picked it up and realized…it wasn’t a snake! In fact, it was a caecilian, a kind of legless amphibian. The combination of the cars and the sun had flattened it against the road.

dead Yellow-striped Caecilian

Soon I found more and more of them on the road. It was interesting to see how much they looked like snakes…can you tell which of these is a caecilian and which is a yellow-bellied water snake?

Yellow-striped Caecilians Ichthyophis kohtaoensis

Unfortunately, I was not able to find any live caecilians that year.

A couple years later I went back to the same place at about the same time of year, and once again had some success. In the same marshy area where I had visited before, I found another couple of yellow-bellied water snakes.

I also saw this unusual Green Paddy Frog, which appeared to have some sort of lip deformity but had still managed to grow to adulthood.


In the hills, I found a neat scorpion.


And then, finally, a live caecilian! Sadly, you can see several wounds on the caecilian’s body, possibly from being attacked by a house cat or hit by a bicycle. I am not sure whether the caecilian would be able to survive or not.

Yellow-striped Caecilian

Yellow-striped Caecilian Ichthyophis kohtaoensis

The next day I went biking around at night. I turned a corner in a rural residential area…and saw a beautiful snake crossing the road. An adult Long-nosed Whip Snake! It truly was a sight, a full meter and a half long but barely thicker than a pencil.

Green Vine Snake Ahaetulla nasuta

Green Vine Snake Ahaetulla nasuta head front

Long-nosed Whip Snake Ahaetulla nasuta head

After carefully taking it off the road, I placed it in a nearby sapling and snapped another photo:

Long-nosed Whip Snake Ahaetulla nasuta

The whip snake was a wonderful way to cap off my time in this little city.


Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , ,

Ram 2 Night Walks

One new place I was able to search during the rainy season was a marshy area off of Ram 2 where a Thai friend of mine was house-sitting. She invited us to stay with her for a week. I had herped the area in the daytime already and found the Long-nosed Whip Snake that I mentioned in an earlier story, as well as a number of other reptiles and amphibians. It looked like a perfect spot to look for water snakes in night searches, but I had never been able to get there after dark, so I was excited about staying a few nights.

I had the time to go walking the roads and ditches near the home on a couple times. In the first couple hours after dusk, I mostly saw frogs:

Four-lined Treefrogs

Four-lined Treefrog

Four-lined Treefrog

Egg mass

Four-lined Treefrog egg mass

Green Paddy Frogs

Green Paddy Frog

Green Paddy Frog

Common Indian Toad

Common Indian Toad

Asian Grass Frog

Asian Grass Frog

Round-tongued Floating Frog

Round-tongued Floating Frog

The local park had a pond that was loaded with Malayan Snail-eating Turtles of all ages.

Malayan Snail-eating Turtles

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

It wasn’t until my third walk of the night (about 10:30pm) that I scored my first snake. But it as a great one – a live Sunbeam Snake! This is an odd species that I’d been looking for for months and was excited to finally find alive:

Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

They’re not related to any other group of snakes – they have an entire family just to themselves. I’m not sure why their scales have such an iridescent quality, but it was cool to look at. The unusual head was also neat. Despite lunging around quite a bit and sometimes twitching suddenly, it never once opened its mouth or tried to bite.

The next night I saw only frogs in my early looks again, but struck a snake almost immediately when I went out at 10pm.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

I spent more time flipping over objects this night, and was rewarded with a couple more snakes:

Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy Blind Snake

Another Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

The large species of centipede was also common here – these guys can easily reach a foot long. This one is eating a snail.

Stag Beetle

Later I made one more trip to the Ram 2 area. The only snake I saw that night was a Yellow-spotted Keelback. The first time I saw it, it disappeared into the marsh before I could get a picture. I’d never seen an adult Yellow-spotted Keelback in Bangkok before, and I really wanted to record it. So I waited an hour, then came back. As I slowly tramped through the long grass on the edge of the marsh, I spotted it again! This time I was able to grab it and place it on the sidewalk for pictures.

Yellow-spotted Keelback

Yellow-spotted Keelback

Unfortunately, while I was carrying it back it bit me. Really, really hard. Yellow-spotted Keelbacks are some of the nastiest-biting snakes out there, and this was no exception. I didn’t want to hurt the snake’s teeth, so he managed to get in a little extra twist before I carefully pried his mouth off. I obviously wasn’t going to wash the blood off in the marsh water, so by the time I had walked to a clean water source, my arm was looking pretty bad:


The appearance is far worse than the actuality – the bite really didn’t hurt that much, and the wound was small, it just bled a bit. Still, it was by far the worst snakebite I’ve ever had (I’ve been very careful never to get bitten by a venomous species). What a way to end the night!


Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , ,

Khao Yai National Park Part Three: The River Trail

We wanted to hitchhike across the park to a highly recommended trail near a river. Our plan was to hitchhike to the trailhead, hike through to the waterfall at the opposite end, then hitchhike back to our place before dark. That, um, didn’t work out as planned.

We got picked up by a truck early, but it only took us halfway then dropped us off on the road, so we had to start walking. The sky was clear, the forest was beautiful, and we were enjoying our walk. After a kilometer or so I noticed movement high in the trees. I looked up and saw…gibbons!!! A whole family group (1 male and 4 females/young) swinging around in the trees! We both love these guys, they’re one of my wife’s very favorite zoo animals, and it was just amazing to get to see them in the wild, moving through real trees and being…natural. We couldn’t believe our luck that no one had picked us up for this stretch of the trip. We were able to watch them for some time, and it was one of my all-time mammal watching highlights.

White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar)

A few minutes later, I walked to the side of the road to look at a little creek, and was surprised by an explosion of red. Three beautiful multi-colored birds started flying around me. They had green and blue, but were most striking for their bright red that seemed to cover the underside of their bodies and wings. They kept flying and perching, flying and perching, but didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture. This was the best I managed:

Red-headed trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus)

A bit later we got picked up again and that truck took us to our trailhead. Again, we couldn’t believe our luck that the little stretch of road we walked gave us two awesome sights!

The river trail was quite beautiful. It was a different-looking forest than the one we had explored earlier.

Between the muddy trail, our break for lunch, and our careful inspection of the trees (looking for flying dragons and other agamas), logs (looking for water dragons and vipers), and river (looking for crocodiles and otters), we made very slow progress. Unfortunately, even though we took 3 hours to go 2 kilometers, all we saw in those first two kilometers were some streamside skinks and sapgreen stream frogs, and I was getting discouraged. This was the good reptile trail?

And then, just like that, I spotted it. One of the crocs! It was sunning on a massive log stretched out across the water.

Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)

Siamese Crocodiles are in a perilous state in the wild. There are only a handful known in Thailand, and only a few hundred left in the wild worldwide. Most of the crocodiles you see in the parks are hybrids bred for their skins, not the pure native Siamese Crocodiles. The two individuals at Khao Yai were not seen until recent years, and thus were most likely introduced hybrids. In fact, Siamese Crocodiles had never been known to be native to this park.

In order to get a decent picture I moved close to the water. I was thinking “So where is the other one?” and images of it bursting out of the water towards me flashed into my head. I tried to hug behind a tree on the water’s edge to keep from offering a direct line to the water as I snapped my pictures, when suddenly a large object on that tree came to life. A massive water dragon! I only got a quick picture as it shambled away, but it stopped further out for some good pics. It was easily 40” long with a big body. I didn’t even know water dragons could get so big. What a spot!

Indo-Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

After getting our fill of crocodile and water dragon photos, we moved down the trail, and soon found two more water dragons.

A little later the trail split. A cable bridge stretched across the river, with red arrows pointing towards it. I knew the road and parking lot would be on our side of the river, but we figured that the bridge and arrow must indicate something important, so we decided to cross. The steel cables were pretty spooky for me to have my wife cross – they swung a lot and she could barely stretch herself enough to reach at the end. I kept staring at the fast current and imagining the huge waterfall that was only a little ways downstream. However, she was loving it, and actually called that crossing one of the highlights of her trip.

Unfortunately, the trail on the other side was less appealing. It headed steeply uphill and was muddy, an unpleasant combination. Leeches swarmed in great numbers. At one point we had to leave the trail and fight through vegetation to get around a pond that had formed across it. We saw several frogs, but the only real notable find was this turtle on the trail:

Asian Leaf Turtle Cyclemys dentata

After a kilometer of that we gave up and turned around to cross back. Later we wished we had that 1.5 hours of our lives back…

When we got back to the trail, the parking lot was only a little bit ahead. And there we found…no one. It was empty. It fact, the gate was locked. We were at the end of the road, 14 kilometers from our dorm, dusk was coming, and the day’s sunny skies were being replaced by ominous storm clouds. Suddenly we were regretting the day’s careful pace. We made a beeline down the road with the hopes of intersecting a vehicle as soon as possible.

Well, not quite as quick as possible. First I flipped a couple promising rocks, and found an adult collared reed snake.

Collared Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata)

Then we made our way down the road. Unfortunately, the rains hit a few minutes after we started walking and darkness came down only half an hour later. We kept going through the dark storm with only a flashlight beam ahead of us. We did see a number of frogs crossing (sapgreen stream frogs, darkside narrowmouth frogs, cricket frogs, and a northern treefrog), and I was amused to see a crab run across the road in the rain! I began to think about the worst possible places to run into an elephant.

Three kilometers and 45 minutes got us to the first camp and the first signs of people, but no cars were on the road. Another two kilometers of pouring rain got us to the next camp, but still no one moving. Finally, a couple kilometers later, a spotlight truck came past us and let us jump on! That was a welcome sight, and a nice end to a very exciting day. Gibbons, trogans, crocodiles and water dragons…what more could you really ask for?

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , ,

Khao Yai National Park: Getting out on the roads and trails

The first night a couple of Americans convinced us to take the spotlighting tour to fill out their group. Each night the park takes groups of 6-10 visitors out in a truck for an hour to spotlight mammals. I’d heard mixed reviews, but figured it might be a chance to road-cruise something and for just 50 baht it was worth checking out.

As we walked over, a civet ran across the service road right in front of us! Civets are a Asian/African carnivore somewhere between a cat and a weasel. This one was spooked and got up a tree before I could get my camera out, leading to this artistically unclear photo.

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)

On the next night I got several better looks at them (saw 7 total). One was eating banana peels out of a trash can:

I had concerns about the spotlight tour, but was encouraged when the light-man spotted three different civets from a good distance early on. Besides that we mostly saw sambar deer (~50) and barking deer (~10). Forty-five minutes in I saw a bright green line on the road. It looked too bright to be real, but the light man yelled “stop!” to the driver and I jumped out the back of the truck. Viper!

Unfortunately, it’s hard to communicate to a park guide “in charge” that you know your way around venomous snakes, so while I tried to get good pics he was shining his spotlight straight at it and telling me over and over to be careful. I tried to encourage him to redirect the light so I could get pictures but he wouldn’t take my word for it. There are probably rules about leaving park guests alone in the dark with vipers. As a result, the bright light washed out the head in the pictures. It was still a beautiful snake.

Vogel’s Pit Viper (Viridovipera vogeli)

The tour ended shortly thereafter, but walking back to the dorm we ran into another viper on the service road! It was raining at this point and the viper got off the road quick, so these pictures are only slightly better.

On our first morning my wife and I woke up early and went on a hike. Our main target was gibbons in the forest, then otters (or anything else) from a tower hide set up above a grassland and lake. The rain did a number on the trail, and it was a muddy mess with several wet stream crossings. From time to time we heard gibbons calling in the distance, but the only mammals we saw were squirrels (possibly gray-bellied squirrels). Still, the forest was beautiful, with lush vegetation, awesome vine networks, and trees of epic size.

The first herp was this awesome microhylid my wife spotted. I’d never seen this bright red coloration:

Berdmore’s Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla berdmorei)

After a few hours of muddy hiking, we came across our first elephant sign. I really wanted to see some elephants, but it’s intimidating to imagine running into one in a place like this.

After a long hike though the forest, we broke into a different habitat:

With a new landscape came new herps. In fact, these grassland species were ones that I’d wanted to find in Bangkok, but had never managed to locate the right habitat for.

Three-striped grass frog (Hylarana macrodactyla)

Long-tailed grass lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus)

We also found this cute little skink in the area.

Streamside Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus)

Habitat shot

This was the first and only place that we saw people off of the road. Other than the hide (which was also accessible via an 1 km dirt road), we didn’t see anyone on a single one of the trails we went on. Rainy season Tuesdays have their benefits!

As we walked back to our dormitory I saw a promising stick on the ground. Underneath it I spotted a tiny patch of scales. That revealed a baby snake the size of a milk carton straw.

Collared Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata)

Back at camp my wife took a nap while I explored a new trail. First I found this turtle sitting on land:

Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis)

Then this turtle was in the distance basking on a log:

Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys dentata)

I gained a little elevation on the trail, and on one step heard a rustling in the underbrush. I thought it was a frog, but took a look and found a stocky lizard! One of my big herp goals was to see more interesting agamids, and this guy was a great start!

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

On our second morning we had an uneventful trip to the tower blind at first light. On the way back the day got clearer and warmer, and the skinks were out in numbers. I think we mostly saw two species of skinks over the course of the trip, both of which showed up in several habitats:

Common Sun Skinks (Mabuya multifasciata)

Streamside Skinks (Sphenomorphus maculatus)

The trails that are around the visitor center certainly produced a lot of interesting animals. But several of my friends had told me that if we wanted to see some really neat reptiles, there was a certain river trail that we absolutely had to try out. That’s what we did next.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , ,

Khao Yai National Park: Around the Dorms

Only a few hours outside of Bangkok is a national park that is simply wonderful for wildlife. To celebrate the end of our year in Thailand, in August my wife and I took a three-day trip to Khao Yai National Park. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and planned it with the help of several fellow herp enthusiasts. Conditions weren’t perfect and we ran into some problems, but the trip was awesome.

After taking a bus to Pak Chong, a songthaw to the entrance station, and hitchhiking to the visitor center on the back of pickup bed, we were in Khao Yai. My wife and I had planned to camp, but it rained much of the day and she didn’t want to spend the night soaked. Instead, we got a dorm for very cheap – no furnishings, but it kept us dry. Since it was a weekday and the rainy season, park accommodations were almost empty. That was good for wildlife visibility, and all these guys were seen right among the cabins and dorms.

Northern pig tailed macaques (Macaca leonina)

Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)

Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)

enormous Black Giant Squirrels (Ratufa bicolor)

One night I tested the theory that porcupines liked to hang around dorm trash. My wife and I were alone in our dorm complex, so I went to the back of the other dorm that had more people in it. At 9:45pm I peeked around the corner of their building, and sure enough:

Malayan Porcupines (Hystrix brachyura)

On the next night I decided to set up a simple trap so my wife could see the porcupines she had missed the night before. All it took was a piece of food trash surrounded by empty water bottles on a bench in front of our window. We went to sleep, and at midnight the rain had stopped and we were woken by crashing water bottles. The surprised porcupine scurried off immediately after I snapped these photos:

I was happy to see that though the mammals weren’t very afraid of humans, they also weren’t “pet-like” and didn’t approach us for food from our hands. If you got too close they moved away. There were signs insisting that the animals not be fed and some threatened fines. This was my first National Park experience in Thailand, and I was happy to see that the attitude towards wildlife was more respectful and natural than some of the tourist-centered animal attractions I’d been in Thailand.

Unfortunately, one hazard of the area is leeches. Lots, and lots, and lots of leeches.

I didn’t know anything about their behavior – how they move along the ground like inchworms, advance towards you when they feel you coming, reach up trying to grab you when you walk by. There are few things creepier than watching leeches close in from all directions the second you stop moving. On the plus side, you usually notice them before they bite, their bites don’t hurt much, they don’t itch much afterwards, and they don’t carry any diseases that I know of.

The frequent rain was great for frogs, and quite a few species could be found near the accommodations and the surrounding forest and ponds.

Dark-sided Frogs (Sylvirana nigrovittata) (seen in every habitat and with some variation)

Microhylids were common and diverse.

Berdmore’s Narrowmouth Frogs (Microhyla berdmorei)

Ornate Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla fissipes)

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla hemonsi)

Painted Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla pulchra)

There was also quite a mix of other species. All of these frogs were found around the dorm or in the ditches on the nearest road:

Northern Treefrog (Polypedates mutus)

Round-tongued Floating Frog (Occidozyga martensii)

Gyldenstolpe’s Frog Limnonectes gyldenstolpei

Asian Grass Frogs (Fejervarya limnocharis)

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

Our dorm at night produced an array of geckos:

Flying Gecko (Ptychozoon lionotum) – the first one was out in daylight

Intermediate Bow-fingered Gecko (Cyrtodactylus intermedius)

Stump-toed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata) and Flat-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)

How spectacular is it that you can see that array of mammals, frogs, and geckos without even leaving the area of the dorms! Of course, the fact that we came during the rainy season was a big plus – some animals tend to be much more active during the rainy season, and the fact that there were virtually no other visitors around meant that those animals were probably coming closer to the dorms than usual. Still, there were plenty of species that we were only going to find if we got out and started looking in the deeper forest. That’s what I’ll share next.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Herping adventures


Tags: , , , ,