gondwana reptile productions by rob valentic photogallery including a selection of australian snakes lizards and frogs                                                                                    
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| Reptiles and Frogs from Phuket, Thailand |
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Thailand herp trip 2012

Reptiles and Frogs from Khao Phra Thaew National Park, Phuket, Southwestern Thailand.

                           


Phuket Pitviper Trimeresurus (Popeia) phuketensis.
Phuket Pitviper Trimeresurus (Popeia) phuketensis. 


Phuket Pitviper Trimeresurus (Popeia) phuketensis.
Phuket Pitviper Trimeresurus (Popeia) phuketensis.
 

This beautiful viper was the first snake I found on my month long trip to Thailand and what a find it was!  Very recently described (Sumontha et al., 2011), the Phuket Pitviper is also one of two reptiles currently known to be endemic to Phuket Island.  In early March 2012, a good mate (another Australian reptile nut) and myself were invited to attend several night hikes spotlighting all things herpetological along a restricted trail in Khao Phra Thaew National Park.  Our guide,  Suwit Punnadee, is one of the authors of the aforementioned taxonomic paper.  Suwit works for the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project based at Bang Pae and runs a wildlife rescue service out of Paklok as well.  He is a regular ecological census surveyor of Khao Phra Thaew National Park and has a vast knowledge of its incredible biota.  Go to www.khaophrathaew.org and check out this amazing diversity!

We had just commenced our hike at twilight on an overcast night with threatening storms looming in.  Several fronts delivered a deluge of rain later that night.  It was not quite dark when I spotted a loose coil of this juvenile female viper.  She was draped along a thin horizontal vine stretching across and partly contacting the trunk of a large, buttressed tree roughly 2 meters above ground level.  I recall that the contrasting white and red color of the ventrolateral stripe was both striking and highly conspicuous from my viewpoint.  I was pretty excited to find her to say the least and I struggled for a good while after grabbing her to compose myself enough to take a few shots.  I placed her on a lower shrub nearby that I could work around with ease.  I raised the issue of scientific accuracy of the pending shots after placing the viper on this shrub and Suwit informed me that it was a  species often used by the Phuket Pitviper.  Returning her to the vine, we pressed on, but not for very long…..
Reference
Sumontha M., Kunya K., Pauwels., O. S. G., Nitikul A., Punnadee., S (2011). Trimerusurus (Popeia) phuketensis, A New Pitviper (Squamata: Viperidae) From Phuket Island, Southwestern Thailand. Russian Journal of Herpetology. 18 (3):185-194.


Cross-bearing Tree Lizard Acanthosaura cf. crucigera.
Cross-bearing Tree Lizard Acanthosaura cf. crucigera.


Cross-bearing Tree Lizard Acanthosaura cf. crucigera.
Cross-bearing Tree Lizard Acanthosaura cf. crucigera.

We found several of these spectacular lizards in our nocturnal wanderings through Khao Phra Thaew.  They were all fast asleep and draped along the delicate foliar extremities of small trees along the trail.  The rustling of these finer branches by a nocturnal predator attempting to reach them would be most obvious to the sleeping lizard and we noted that even the slightest movement of a branch would elicit a hasty leap into the dense undergrowth, where the dragons would remain in crypsis.  Returning in the morning after marking their locations with ribbons the previous night,  we were able to locate some of them in their respective home trees and take a few shots of these miniature dinosaurs. These two adult female specimens measured around 25cm in total length.


Speckle-headed Whip Snake Ahaetulla fasciolata.
Speckle-headed Whip Snake Ahaetulla fasciolata.

This magnificent, 35cm long juvenile Speckle-headed Whip Snake was spotted active at mid-morning in sunny weather. The snake was cruising slowly in a staccato motion, with its head and neck raised off the substrate, along a pebble-lined stream-bank deep in the rainforest.  It appeared to be foraging for small skinks and frogs along a grounded log at that time.  I was already in the act of filming a snake (see below) and all I had to do was simply reach over my tripod and place this new snake on the log I was already set up on and take a few more shots.  This snake was both so cute and alien-like that we all didn’t really mind the many feeble bites it rained upon us while we took turns at taking pics.  The best bite landed solidly just below Kelly’s (my missus) left eye and we all roared with laughter after that one!


Oriental Whip Snake Ahaetulla prasina.
Oriental Whip Snake Ahaetulla prasina.


Oriental Whip Snake Ahaetulla prasina.
Oriental Whip Snake Ahaetulla prasina.

Over the two nights we spent head-torching along the trails of Khao Phra Thaew with our guide Suwit, he managed to spot four of these Oriental Whip Snakes. All were asleep and loosely draped  along the tops of the outermost  branches of small trees at heights ranging from 1.5 to 3.2 meters  above ground level.   The lighter ventrals were noted to be highly reflective upon illumination. This ventral flaring was conspicuous particularly when viewed from directly below. Even the slightest tremor along the delicate branches that the snakes rested upon would trigger an immediate leap into the undergrowth. I even managed a one handed, mid-air catch when one of the snakes spotted at the greatest height leapt off its perch upon such a disturbance.

These snakes varied from predominately light green, tan or grayish dorsally and ranged from 40cm to 1.2 meters in length. The horizontally oval eyes and the pupils they house are quite striking. I asked Suwit if he knew any of these individuals and he relayed that he did indeed. These particular resting sites were habitually used by the same snakes. We managed to head back out at dawn one morning after marking the locations of these Whip Snakes and located one ( a tan snake, see image above) that had not yet woken and vacated its resting site. It was a privilege to get a few shots of this species in natural light.


Green Crested Lizard Bronchocela cristatella.
Green Crested Lizard Bronchocela cristatella.


Green Crested Lizard Bronchocela cristatella.
Green Crested Lizard Bronchocela cristatella.

I was blown away by the utterly elongated, Lotus Bird (Irediparra gallinacea)-like digits gracing each limb on this adult female Green Crested Lizard. Coming in at a close second however, I was similarly unprepared for the ridiculously long tail. Both are remarkable adaptations for an arboreal existence. This spectacular lizard was spotted by my mate near the front gate leading to the Bang Pae picnic grounds. She was fast asleep on an outer branch of a large tree lining the roadway late one night. She blended superbly amongst the cluster of green leaves adorning this branch and was at a height of roughly 1.7 meters above ground level.

It was a top find and I am very grateful that my buddy not only decided to head torch that particular tree, but that he also had the skills to see what was in it.


Green Cat Snake Boiga cyanea.
Green Cat Snake Boiga cyanea.

Suwit spotted this beautiful 1 meter long snake in the act of descending a tree in a semi-cleared residential garden on the edge of the rainforest near the Bang Pae park entrance. It was loosely coiled around the main trunk of a small tree about 1.5 meters from the ground. Upon illumination by our head torches the snake attempted to retreat upwards, but was briefly interrupted for a few photographs before resuming the climb. Green Cat Snakes are most commonly encountered along forest edges in this area (Suwit Punnadee pers.comm.).


Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma emma.
Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma emma.

A sub-adult male dragon filmed in situ at the semi-cleared picnic grounds on the boundary of Khao Phra Thaew National Park. Forest Crested Dragons were commonly sighted during the daytime, either perched on upright tree trunks or foliage within these grounds.  We also found a few sleeping on foliage at night. This one measured around 30cm total length. I also saw several Forest Crested Dragons on coastal hills clad in secondary rainforest near the Merlin Beach resort at Patong.


Phuket round-eyed Gecko Cnemaspis phuketensis..
Phuket round-eyed Gecko Cnemaspis phuketensis.
.
This gecko is one of two endemic reptile species currently recorded from Phuket Island (Das and Leong, 2004). This little species was commonly sighted during the day on large vertical tree trunks in shaded sites along riparian gullies in the rainforest.  All were located within a meter of the ground and were well camouflaged on the mottled, lichen encrusted trunks. Instead of fleeing they were reliant upon this camouflage, using crypsis in order to avoid detection.  All were adults and uniform in size.  This one measured about 10cm long.

Reference
Das I. and Leong T.M. (2004) “A new species of Cnemaspis (Sauria: Geckonidae) from southern Thailand.” Curr. Herpetol., 23 (2):63-71.


Southern Banded-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus.
Southern Banded-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus.

A large and boldly marked Gecko that got busted in the act of climbing along the base of a massive, buttressed tree-trunk right next to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center at Bang Pae.  There was an adult Phuket Round-eyed Gecko perched a little higher on this trunk  and this lizard would surely be on the menu of this powerful species. Watching Suwit closely whilst on our nocturnal wanderings, it was apparent that his local knowledge of the area and its inhabitants was highly tuned indeed. He really taught us all a lot without having to say much at all.  I saw him head over to this particular tree and followed closely.  I stole this gecko from right under his nose, though I must concede that it was just a matter of time before he would have claimed it.  After taking a few shots, Suwit relayed to us that this very tree was where he anticipated locating this species, but without being too confident, as they are infrequently encountered.  This Southern Banded-fingered Gecko measured about 25cm in total length.


Blandford’s Gliding Lizard Draco blanfordii.
Blandford’s Gliding Lizard Draco blanfordii.
  

Blandford’s Gliding Lizard Draco blanfordii.
Blandford’s Gliding Lizard Draco blanfordii.

This is the first Draco that I ever held in my hands and I will never forget it! It was big at around 32cm total length and the patagium, when outstretched, was spectacular-both in form and color.  I spotted the lizard facing head-down and perched on the main trunk of a large Fiscus sp., about half-way along the Bang Pae waterfall trail running alongside the stream in dense, closed-canopy rainforest. It was twilight and overcast, so the light was very subdued and the Gliding Lizard was positioned about 1 meter above the ground.  What also blew me away was how similar to the Australasian Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii this Draco was!   The spindly body form, long and thin limbs, elongated neck, head shape, head scalation and the eyes. Incredible! 

Draco spp. are  strictly diurnal, but Draco blanfordii  does go down the tree before dark and are often found at night from about 1 to 2 meters above the ground on medium to large tree trunks (Michael Cota pers.comm.). At the same time on the following afternoon, I spotted an adult Smooth-backed Gliding Gecko Ptychozoon lionotum on the same tree in roughly the same position as this Gliding Lizard.  This gecko eluded me and my lens, however. A rainforest with snakes, dragons and geckoes….that glide…..with wings…. What a place!


Tockay Gecko Gekko gecko.
Tokay Gecko Gekko gecko.

The resultant pain and profuse bleeding that follow once you have been  on the receiving end of a Tokays vice-like grip was certainly a new experience for me. A vigorous body roll is immediately employed once the gecko has got you that ensures the sharp teeth do a very good shearing job.  Fear was not a state I would ever have conjured up to associate with gecko handling beforehand! As an Australian, you are highly restricted concerning access to wildlife from every other part of the globe by a shield of stifling bureaucracy, so unless one travels, you remain insulated from experiences like these.  Another  thing that really got me is the size of these Tokays. Imagine a large Eastern Blue-tongued Skink Tiliqua scincoides running with great speed and agility across smooth ceilings and walls and you should get the picture! The large, coarsely granular body scales and robust build are in marked contrast to the delicacy normally associated with other geckoes.  The large mouth is gaped whenever restrained, the body remains rigid and constantly poised  to roll vigorously and struggle to break free. When this eventuates, the gecko does not attempt to flee,  but rather to bite the perpetrator.

This adult Tokay Gecko was found propped in an alert, upright stance in the middle of the bitumen road not far from the Bang Pae park entrance in a semi-cleared area. The sun had only just set and there was still some residual light present at that time. Earlier that afternoon, a fresh DOR sub-adult Monocellate Cobra Naja kaouthia was examined nearby. This snake was dorsally chocolate brown with a broad, caramel-colored nuchal blotch and  measured about 85cm in total length.


Malayan Giant Frog Limnonectes blythii.
Malayan Giant Frog Limnonectes blythii.

Kelly found many Malayan Giant Frogs whilst head-torching along the trails through Khao Phra Thaew. They were invariably positioned in close proximity to streams.  She spotted the majority of these frogs stationed on damp piles of leaf-litter along the edges of trails.  Because of my propensity to focus on looking upwards in these rainforests, I asked her to concentrate on the ground to give us two bob each way on the herp and this punt paid off. Some of these frogs were very large and the species is a powerful jumper, leaping great distances and disappearing into the undergrowth in a single bound.  They were all positioned in alert and upright postures and appeared poised to ambush passing prey, including smaller frogs. They were reminiscent of the Australian Barred Frogs Mixophes spp. in many ways.  This one was a sub-adult Giant Frog and measured 9cm from snout-axilla.  


Malayan Banded Wolf Snake Lycodon subcinctus.

Malayan Banded Wolf Snake Lycodon subcinctus.

Suwit retained this beautiful snake for us to photograph. He phoned us one afternoon and said he had just returned from the Bang Pae picnic area. Apparently a family took offence when this wolf snake gate crashed their party, taking up one of the seats at the table they were all enjoying their lunch on! Suwit informed us that this Wolf Snake was a young  adult male and he measured about 1.2 meters in total length. After a few shots we returned him to the picnic table later that afternoon after the party had gone home.

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Kelly, my good Australian mate and Suwit  for their companionship and help in Khao Phra Thaew National park. I am also grateful to Suwit and Michael Cota (Assistant editor of the THNHM Journal and Research Associate at the Natural History Museum, National Science Museum, Thailand.) for their insightful comments and assistance in identifying many of the species on this page.   


All images are copyrighted and protected by copyright laws.  Copyright Rob Valentic, Gondwana Reptile Productions.