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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

Leafhopper

Jumping Spider

Caterpillars

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

Large scorpion

Butterflies

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!

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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

Dwarf Bush Frog Philautus parvulus

Limborg’s Frog (Limnonectes limborgi)

Limborg's Frog Limnonectus limborgi

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.

Northern Cascade 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

damselflies

small scorpion

Large spider found under cover

And finally, a few beautiful butterflies

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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Pattaya

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

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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.

IMG_7079

Right off the bat I saw several species of frogs:

Common Indian Toad

IMG_1066

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.

IMG_1090

In the hills, I found a neat scorpion.

IMG_1165

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.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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:

snakebite

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!

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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!

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.

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?

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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.

Sapgreen Stream Frogs (Hylarana 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

Cardamon Slender-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus intermedius)

Four-clawed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata) and Flat-tailed 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.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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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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Chatuchak at Night

The complex of parks at Chatuchak is a beautiful place to walk around at night, especially during the rainy season.   On a single night I’ve seen as many as 8-9 species of frogs there, plus a few snakes, monitors, and turtles.  You can find the frogs anywhere, though several of the species are most likely to be found near water. Just follow the calls! Here are a few of my finds, most of them from just a couple hours in a single night:

Ornate Narrowmouth Frog

Common Indian Toad
Common Indian Toad Bufo melanostictus

They can puff themselves up huge when threatened
Common Indian Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus

Round-tongued Floating Frog
Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Jumping to get away
Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Asian Grass Frog eating an earthworm
Asian Grass Frog Fejervarya limnocharis eating

Inornate Froglet
Inornate Froglet Micryletta inornata

Green Paddy Frog
Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Brown variation of the same species
Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Four-lined Treefrog
Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax

treefrog calling
Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax

Asian Painted Frog
Asian Painted Frog Kaloula pulchra

The fattest one of these I’ve ever seen
Asian Painted Frogs Kaloula pulchra

A few reptiles to break up the amphibian streak:

Malayan Snail-eating Turtles
Malayan Snail-eating Turtles Malayemys macrocephala

On the first night that I tried looking around the park, I’d been finding plenty of cool things when I suddenly realized that closing time was close and I had no idea how far I was from the entrance. I started jogging to try to find the way out as quickly as possible. About 4-5 minutes into that I suddenly saw a nice thick snake crossing the path!

Banded Kukri Snake

disappearing into hole

I’m sure that there’s lots more in this park that I haven’t found. Thanks for taking a look!

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

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