Natureman Talks Unusual Reptile Encounters
My rainforest trips are often dominated by the search for reptiles - usually of the venomous variety. There have been many times when I've encountered species that were simply unexpected and particularly unusual.
The Draco Lizard
Exploring the depths of the Sumatran rainforest, I was looking for the rare and endangered Sumatran Orangutan. A few hours into the trek, I was making my way up the side of a mountain. It seemed like a good health 'primary forest' (the trees had been there a long time, were well spaced and not much shrubbery at floor level). I suddenly spotted a small rusty red bird swoop from one tree trunk to another. Assuming it was a species of tropical tree creeper, I waited to see where it went next. Nothing! I took a step. A stick snapped under my feet, and knowing this would probably flush out the bird, I fixed my gaze back on the branch, and sure enough, I saw that rusty red flash shoot to another tree. This time I got a better look. I didn't see wings flapping; I just saw a flash of colour and where it landed.
I crept closer to the spot to see a tiny lizard hanging on the bark. I couldn't believe what I saw - it was a Draco lizard! Famous for its gliding ability, this small lizard is often found high up in the canopy. When threatened, it will launch itself into the air and then use its elongated ribs to push folds of skin from its flanks and form a large pair of gliding wings, allowing it to travel long distances and avoid predation.
Sadly, I couldn't photograph this unique species, but it will always be one of the most unusual reptiles I've ever encountered.
The powdered tree snake
When I lived in the Ugandan Rainforest for six months, I had a little round hut with concrete walls and a thatched roof (locally called a 'banda'). Being deep in the forest, you would occasionally get the wildlife entering. Once I went into the forest for the day, only to return to find 15 baboons come running out after stealing most of my food supplies. Giant rain spiders lived in the roof, and I could hear them walking around at night.
The worst and most annoying animal, however, was a tiny mouse.
Often I'd be sleeping comfortably only to be rudely awoken by the mouse doing some sort of mission-impossible climb around my mosquito net. I once went to get some money and found all the notes were gone! My big bag of nuts was empty, and I couldn't locate my passport!!
After a few days of searching for my mousy friend, I lifted my gas canister and small hob attached to it to discover a treasure trove of MY stuff - my passport, money; it was all there, seemingly transformed into the perfect mouse-nest. However, the mouse wasn't home. I took my stuff back and decided this was enough! I must catch this mouse and evict it from my hut and life.
The next day I was in the jungle and returned just as it was getting dark; I figured now was the time to hunt him out and release him from my banda. As I scanned with my torch along the edge of the room, I spotted a bright pink tail - there he was!
However, the pink tail kept going - longer and longer; it was a bright pink snake, maybe 3 feet long. I had no idea what species it was, so I put it into a bucket to adequately I.D it the next day. It was the seldom seen Powdered tree snake, often a canopy-dwelling species. This individual had been attracted to my banda by the mouse. I don't think it got the mouse as I couldn't see any bulge inside the snake, but the mouse never returned to my jungle hut!
The Blunt-headed tree snake
This time I was in Costa Rica and had been searching for snakes for at least two weeks and turned up nothing! It was pretty unusual for me, especially as Costa Rica is well known for being one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet! I had already seen vast numbers of animals- including puma, tapir, and monkey and bird species. I started to wonder if my snake hunting technique was off or if maybe all the snakes had gone on holiday themselves.
My luck changed one evening when there was a sudden, heavy downpour of rain. It was the change of fortune I had been waiting for! At the time, I had decided to take a shower and on my 50m walk to the shower block, I found four snakes! The 4th is the stunningly beautiful and elegant blunt-headed tree snake. This experience hammered home the importance of environmental conditions when tracking certain animals!
On my way back to my accommodation, I heard screams from another building. It seems the rains had brought out lots and lots of snakes; a tropical bird-eating snake had found its way into someone else's accommodation! Thankfully I was near enough to hear the screams and release the snake back into the forest - the tourist could now relax, knowing their room was snake free.
The Coral snake and the Amphisbaenian
I had spent a month at the tops of mountains in the Atlantic rainforest, Brazil. I saw many amazing species there, including many fer-de-lances (a highly venomous pit-viper). My time there was at an end, and it was time to take the 8-hour walk back to civilisation. I kept my eyes open as I tried to make the most of every second I got in a rainforest. It was a good thing too as I was in the last couple of hours of the walk when I saw a sudden flash of bright colours, a blur of red and yellow slipping through the leaf litter. I instantly knew what I was dealing with. It was a highly venomous Atlantic coral snake! I couldn't believe my luck! My first ever coral snake! After spending a few moments photographing the snake, I allowed it to disappear again into the dead leaves on the ground. I put my camera back. I got ready to continue the walk, but I hadn't even taken a step before I realised there was a second reptile in front of me, and this one truly blew my mind!
It was an Amphisbaenian. A rare and unique group of reptiles, often known as worm-lizards - they look a little like snakes, worms and lizards combined but are none of these. It was dead - almost certainly the prey of the coral snake before I had come across it and disturbed its meal. They are subterranean reptiles and are extremely rare to find, even a dead one. The one I found ended up getting preserved and put in a museum, and photos of it were published in a couple of books!