Kelly and I went on a brief herping trip across to mainland peninsular Thailand into Krabi Province during our stay on Phuket Island. We concentrated our searches along the semi-cleared, undulating foothills at the base of Khao (meaning mountain) Phanom Bencha National Park, situated a short distance inland from Krabi town. The land was agricultural with predominately rubber tree plantations interspersed with remnant patches of rainforest with boulder-strewn, black granite outcrops studded along these lower slopes and lining the stream banks. These rainforest corridors were either riparian and therefore confined to the margins of streams or restricted to very steep slopes that had escaped clearing. The mountains rising above these lush valleys were dominated by towering peaks of exposed limestone with dense vegetation lining their broader slopes at lower elevations. In summing up, it was just magic, and the mere 2 nights we could afford to spare there due to obligations on Phuket were never gonna cut it for either of us!
Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma emma.
Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma emma.
These lizards were commonly sighted in daylight within riparian rainforest, either perched on the main trunks of larger trees or atop granite boulders. I took many photographs of a number of these lizards and might have got just the one with the mouth closed. Every one would readily bite and remain staunchly defensive if interfered with. The robust adult female specimen shown in the first shot measured 41 cm in total length, while the sub-adult male shown above was around half that length.
Banded Slender-toed Gecko Cyrtodactylus pulchellus.
Banded Slender-toed Gecko Cyrtodactylus pulchellus.
I found these two geckoes whilst head-torching a steep gully along the edge of a small creek. This gully was studded with substantial granite boulder-fields and was semi-cleared, with rubber plantations nearby. The first gecko was an adult specimen and was found perched on a large boulder along the stream bank. The second gecko (a sub-adult) was located some 1.5 meters above ground level on the bole of a large rainforest tree a little higher in elevation, but at a similar distance from the stream. These two lizards appeared to differ from one another to such an extent that I was initially leaning towards two different species of Cyrtodactylus here, living in sympatry but exploiting different niches. The smaller one was obviously brighter and had recently shed however, leading me to conclude that ‘twas mere wishful thinking on my behalf. They are both stunning geckoes, in any case.
Malayan Pitviper Calloselasma rhodostoma.
An impressive adult female viper that was loaned for a fee from the snake park at Kathu Heights on Phuket Island and taken into some agricultural land nearby for a few shots. I include her here because she was collected in Krabi Province several years back. The staff were very proud of the fact that she was still alive after that period of time and I was told that she readily ate rodents from the get go. It was apparently a record length of time for maintaining a Malayan Pit Viper at that snake park. Others they had sourced in the past had died quite quickly. Without any knowledge of parasitic burdens, associated stress and disease or how to address these issues even if they knew, the guys had been very lucky this time around. This gorgeous girl was in great condition and measured a little over a meter in total length.
Garden Fence Lizard Calotes versicolor.
The Garden Fence Lizard is probably the most commonly seen agamid in Thailand. They were ever-present, at pool-side gardens in the largest resorts, along busy roadside verges in the most densely settled areas, in wastelands and in vegetation lining the beaches-you name it! This adult male dragon was seen perched on a granite boulder at midday in the garden of a dwelling in agricultural land near the boundary of Phanom Bencha National Park. He measured about 35cm in total length. His blackening throat blotch indicates that the breeding season is imminent.
Black-spotted Gliding Lizard Draco maculatus.
I spotted two adult Spotted Gliding Lizards early one sunny morning. Both were located at roughly 6 meters above ground level on the main trunks of two tall trees in close proximity to one another and growing along the base of a semi-cleared slope. They appeared to be a pair and were observed interacting by simultaneously posturing to one another whenever eye contact was made. These two were just too high for me to get an adequate shot, so I crept over to these two trees at regular intervals on the preceeding morning, until finally I saw one basking about 1.2 meters above ground level on one of the trunks. I raced over and straddled the tree with a bear hug, effectively blocking off the dragon from a rapid ascent to safety. Confused, the lizard encircled my tenacious grip several times before running down to the ground where I managed to grasp it.
I was wrapped to just hold another Draco in my hands and this one measured about 22cm in total length. As the various species of Draco are difficult to identify, it is usually necessary to catch a given specimen and closely examine various characters before a positive assessment can be made (Cox et al., 1999), so the grab was made that little bit sweeter. I took a few photographs of the outstretched patagium in the hand and thankfully Suwit Punnadee was able to identify this lizard to species level upon examining these images. He informed me that this Spotted Gliding Lizard looked different from others that he was familiar with, in that normally the species has two or three black spots under each wing.
Olive Tree Skink Dasia olivacea.
This stunning, sub-adult Olive Tree Skink was observed while I was head-torching along a pathway following the embankment of a large pool on a slow-flowing stream. Fringing riparian vegetation including palms and other mesic tree species were confined to the margins of this water body, with the surrounding slopes semi-cleared and studded with granitic boulder fields. The skink was spotted moving slowly along the crown of a small shrub growing at the base of a tree trunk at about 70cm above ground level. It was not long after sunset but it was totally dark when found. I would class this as crepuscular activity.
The Olive Tree Skink spends most of its time in the canopy, where it moves very deliberately (Cox et al., 1999). It remained the only specimen seen in our wanderings here and measured roughly 20cm in total length.
Tokay Gecko Gekko gecko.
Tokay Geckoes were regularly heard vocalizing both day and night in the region. The calls were usually emanating from dwellings during the daytime and then from the surrounding trees earlier at night, resuming once more from dwellings after midnight. I assume that many of these calls were from the same individuals. We were lucky enough to share our room with a big one and his bellowing calls would wake us both frequently. Neither of us had ever been woken by a calling gecko before. It was like one of those annoying alarm clocks that scream to life at any time except the one you’ve set. It was great!
A local man told us that these geckoes were scary to children. The Tokay is used as a trump card and played by parents to settle their kids into submission at bed-time in the villages throughout Krabi Province. “If you don’t be quiet and go to sleep, that Tokay will come down tonight and eat out your whole liver!”; or words to that effect, have been used for generations to calm rowdy kids here! This stocky gecko was found whilst head-torching a dense stand of bamboo in a rural area one night. He was located clinging on to a vertically-aligned shoot at a height of 1.8 meters above ground level and measured about 35cm in total length.
Puff-faced Water Snake Homalopsis buccata.
I was told by Vern Lovic, who runs www.thailandsnakes.com that the shallows along the western side of one particular pool (the same one mentioned in the Olive Tree Skink entry above) was a good spot for aquatic snake species when we met up with him on our first night in Krabi. Vern had also spotted an adult Mangrove Snake Boiga dendrophila melanota swimming across this very pool earlier that evening which had eluded him. We returned to this site the following night and I was ecstatic upon illuminating this female Puff-faced Water Snake with my head-torch. She was seen lying motionless and fully submerged amongst the drowned leaf-litter accumulated along the edge of these shallows. The still water and its westerly aspect meant that it received good exposure to the afternoon sun and the water would assumedly retain this residual warmth well after sundown. The deeper sections of this pool were overlain with an open lily pad cover, with dense aquatic vegetation growing up through the mosaic of gaps between these lilies wherever sunlight could penetrate. Visually, this pool was as close to water snake heaven as one could get and we were so glad that it delivered the goods during our very brief time here.
The Puff-faced Water Snake is a common, semi-aquatic species that inhabits the edges of freshwater rivers, ponds, canals and swamps up to 550 meters in elevation and preys upon small fish and frogs (Cox et al., 1999). This girl measured about 75cm in total length and was in poor overall condition. Her emaciated appearance and the presence of loose skin folds dorso-laterally in combination with a concave lower gut lead me to suspect that this was a mum who had given birth quite recently. Upon examining some of the shots I took of this snake, Vern relayed that she looked familiar and could well be the same individual that he encountered in that exact spot roughly a year earlier!
Common Wolf Snake Lycodon aulicus.
This adult Common Wolf Snake was found lying on the stone-cobbled pathway flanking the embankment of the same pool, right near the discovery site of the Olive Tree Skink (see above). He was found while head-torching just after it was completely dark and appeared to be basking, absorbing the residual warmth from the sun-drenched stones. Common Wolf Snakes are commonly found in this area, frequently inhabiting houses in semi-cleared agricultural land where they feed upon the resident geckoes (Vern Lovic pers.comm.). This wolf snake measured 72cm in total length and the species occurs throughout Southeast Asia.
Giant River Toad Phrynoides aspera.
This beauty is the third species of toad that I have had the pleasure of acquainting thus far. It was sighted propped on the tip of a fallen tree branch on the edge of a boulder-strewn stream at a height of about 1.6 meters above water-level. This stream was fast-flowing with numerous riffle zones. Dense riparian rainforest lined its margins. Being used to the sight of Asian Common Toads in Thailand by now, I was instantly struck by this toads bizarre behavior upon head-torching it. Asian Common Toads are pretty much terrestrial. I had never observed any toad perched up this high and behaving more like a tree frog. I knew right away that I had found a species new to me and Michael Cota confirmed that I had done just that when I emailed him this shot. I also described the circumstances of the find to Michael and he told me the following: “You saw something that is common, but unusual for toads - Phyrnoides aspera is often seen up trees, but not so high up as you would expect Rhacophorids (tree frogs). The females are sometimes very large, earning one of their common names as “Asiatic Giant Toad.” This toad was a sub-adult and measured 9cm from the snout tip-axilla.
Cox, M. J., Van Dijk, P.P., Nabhitabhata, J., Thirakhupt, K. (1999) A Photographic Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Ralph Curtis Publishing, Inc. Sanibel Island, Florida, USA :144pp.
I would like to thank my missus Kelly for her valued company and assistance in seeking out and photographing these subjects in often trying weather conditions at Phanom Bencha. Vern Lovic kindly found us accommodation during our stay on Peninsular Thailand and provided many helpful tips and great company to boot! Cheers Vern.
I am once again indebted to Suwit Punnadee of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, Ban Bangrong, Thalang, Phuket, Thailand and to Michael Cota (Assistant Editor of the THNHM Journal, 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.