Wednesday, August 14, 2013


This was my first Herpetofauna trip and what an experience it was.

It was a triple treat!!
Firstly it was a trip with Nature India,
Secondly the location was Amboli a biodiversity hotspot and
Last but not the least to guide and teach us we had Mr. Varad Giri.

We caught the Mahalaxmi express from CST to Kolhapur and then from there in a mini bus reached Whistling woods resort owned by a very passionate and dedicated naturalist Mr. Hemant Ogale who is also a co-author for one of the new species of coral snake.

All the participants, except Vijay who had come directly from bangalore, were on the train. So we had a nice time on the bus getting introduced to each other and discussing on different topics from ladakh, to birds, to leopards and of course herpatofauna.

Mr. Varad joined us at the breakfast point in Kolhapur.
After starting from Kolhapur our first stop was at an open land where Adesh spotted a lot of ground orchids called Sheput Habeaamri (Habenaria longicorniculata).

Flower which has a very long spurFlower is like an inverted funnelFruit of habenaria with dried flowers

Plateau filled with Habenaria flowers

Also there we saw Abhali and Durangi shevra.
AbhaliDurangi Shevra

The trip was beautifully planned with sessions from Mr. Varad Giri on topics of amphibians and reptiles followed by trails where we could get enough opportunity to see the details of their features and habits heard in the session live on field.

Mr. Varad Giri is not only an exceptional researcher but also a wonderful teacher.
His style of presenting a very less known and generally seen as not so beautiful world of amphibians and reptiles was exceptional.
He could explain all the details in very simple words so that even a lay man would not have any difficulty understanding.

Out of the 3 types of Amphibians (i.e. those animals which complete their lifecycle in 2 stages mainly the earlier part in water and later part on land) we were not likely to encounter the Caudatas (amphibians with tail and limbs) like newts and Salamander because in India we have only one species which is seen in the Himalayas.

The first one we encountered were the Anuras (Amphibians without tail) like frogs and toads.
These we started seeing just outside our hotel where we had gone for a short trail just after arriving from Kolhapur and before going for lunch.

We could observe the difference between a toad and a frog like
 - the presence of a layer of skin above the tympanum in case of frogs
 - the slimy skin of a frog against the rough skin of a toad
 - the strong hind legs of a frog which enable them to jump as comapred to toad which just enables them to hop

We saw some special species of frogs and tadpoles seen in western ghats.

Like the Indirana frog tadpoles are not acquatic and have suckers below the mouth to stick and suck the food from the surface of the rock on which it grows.
Limbless tadpole Tadpole on the rock
Froglet of Indirana

The frog itself we saw at the same location on 27th night trail
Indirana Sp. Frog
On 27th night trail we also saw a male and female of Indirana Sp.

Male of Indirana Sp.Female of Indirana which is bigger than male

Varad showed us some eggs laid only in a small puddle of water formed on rock surface. These were of an Amboli toad and the tadpoles also grow in this water .
Eggs of Amboli Toad in small water puddle

We saw an amboli toad at this place just outside the hotel as well as on the plateau at parikshit point.
Amboli Toad on a rock on plateau

We could see a lot of water on the open plateau with lot of tadpoles but they were all of common toad.
We saw a common toad in the park on the 26th night trail.
Common ToadCommon Toad

Varad also explained about the different types of toes of the frogs and toads which helps to identify whether the frog is ground dwelling or arboreal.

The Arboreal frogs like this Malabar Gliding frog has completely dialated finger tips.
Also its webbing is full allowing it to climb up the trees.
Malabar Gliding frog clinging to tree twig
Note the dilated finger tips allowing it to climb trees
It also has fully webbed feet a true character of tree frogs.

We were also lucky to see the nest of the malabar gliding frog on a tree at a height of around 7-8feet from ground when we had gone on a night trail the first day 26th July.
Nest of a Malabar Gliding Frog

Some ground frogs also have dilated finger tips but these ones are generally for climbing on rocks as can be seen in the Indirana and Nyctibatrachus (wrinkled frog)

Wrinkled frog also has webbed feet because it breed on bushes above very fast flowing streams and after breeding falls into the stream and swims back to the same bush. It is observed to display a territorial behavior.
Its eggs are laid in a clutch on the leafs of bushes or tree trunks.

We were able to see their eggs laid in a clutch on our second day morning trail (27th July).
Eggs of wrinkled frog laid of a leafEggs laid on bark with tadpole seen inside

And we could see the frog itself for a very short duration on the second night trail (27th July)
Wrinkled Frog

 A way to identify narrow mouthed frog (ramenella sp) is that the jaw line of these frogs starts just below the eye as seen in pic below taken on the 26th night trail.

Narrow mouthed frog (Ramanella sp.)

Then we encountered the least known of the amphibians the Apodas (amphibians without limbs) also called Gymnophionas (amphibians which are naked serpantile) commonly called as Caecilians.
Before this trip I never knew that such kind of amphibians existed and that too so close to home.

At first glance at a caecilian either one will misunderstand it to be a snake or an earthworm.
But if you see their movement it becomes clear as Caecilians move like snakes while earthworms move forward by expanding and contracting also if seen carefully a headlike structure is clearly visible with eyes, nostril and tentaceles which immediately disqualifies it to be an earthworm.
Secondly it has annular grooves with the absence of scales on the outer part of the body and a very slimy skin, which disqualifies it to be a snake.

We were very lucky after a lot of searching by Varad to see a very a long caecilian of the species Gegeneophis Danielli.

Gegeneophis Danielli with head clearly visible

One of the first feature to look at while identifying Caecilians is the spacing between annular rings and where the secondary annullis start from on the body.
Example in this Gegeneophis the annulli are widely spaced with the secondary annulli starting from 1/3rd of the body.

Secondary annulii starting from 1/3rd of the body

But this is not the only feature which will help in identifying a genus because Indotyphlus also has similar annulli but its eye-nostril-tentacle position is different.
In Indotyphlus it is on the line connecting the eye and the nostril.
In Gegeneophis it is below eye and nostril line and below the eye.

Tentacles of danelii

The habitat where we found this caecilian was under the leaf litter on the forest floor.

The next one that we spotted was in a completely different habitat.
It was on the top of a plateau below a rock.

It was a beautiful yellow stripped Ichtyophis Davidii.
It has very closely spaced annulii with tentacle below the line connecting eye and nostril and in between the two.

Ichtyophis Davidii with yellow stripe and closely spaced annulii

The trail leading to Parikshit point is a wonderful walk and a bit of climb through a wonderful thick rain forest.
The trail completely covered with leaf litter, tree barks covered with moss and lichen, many orchids and dead trees being converted to soil by the termites which we consider as pests.

Trail on the way to parikshit point. It was foggy almost all the time
Fungus growth on rotten tree

Orchid on a moss laden twig
Thick roots of an orchid
On the way to parikshit point we spotted a variety of species from reptiles family.
Varad explained about 2 main family of reptiles the snakes and lizards.

An interesting anecdote that I would like to mention here is that there is a snake found in Amboli which is named after Varad for his contribution to collecting information on this snake and other reptiles and amphibians. It is Giri's bronzedback or Dendralaphis girii.

Snakes are limbless reptiles with scales on the outer body.
But even without limbs they are able to move effortlessly because of the scales.
Some of the snakes move by expanding and contracting their body called constriction like the pythons and the boas. Their scale sizes are uniform all over the body.

While the snakes which move on the ground or trees have their scales on the under part elongated as seen below in the malabar pit viper.
Pits, nostril and eye of a malabar pit viper
Scales of a Malabar Pit Viper

 Vipers are one of the venomous snakes.

While discussing about venoms got a very interesting piece of information about the difference between venom and poison.
An substance which is harmful when eaten or drunk is poison while for venom to be harmful it has to be injected into the blood. If venom is drank it is not harmful unless it comes in contact with some open internal wound.

We saw atleast 3 individuals of malabar pit vipers and all of them were of different size and color.

This one seen on 27th day trail on a tree at a height of 6feet above ground was a long one with light green coloration.
Complete snake with the lower scale seen as elongated

This one was seen on the 26th night trail. It had consumed some prey and was laying still for both the days we passed that road.
Viper with stomach full. It laid this way for both the days we saw it

This one was a small one just sitting on the brick wall of our hotel but with a very dark coloration.
This small malabar pit viper but with very dark coloration

Coming back to vipers on the last day just outside the hotel we also got to see a bamboo pit viper which was another magnificent reptile.
Bamboo Pit Viper
Eye and tounge of bamboo pit viper
Peculiar head shape of Bamboo Pit Viper
A very common snake seen was the green vine snake and it is known to feed on other snakes too.
Scale patterns on green vine snake
Horizontal eye pupil of a green vine snake

On the parikshit point trail in the forest below a rock we found this wonderful beddome's keelback

Beddome's Keelback

The other family of reptiles that we learnt and saw were the lizards.
Out of these we mainly saw the calotes and the geckos.

Calotes are dorsoventrally flattened  and have overlapping scales.
The main species that we see are the forest calotes and the garden lizard.

Garden Lizard (Calotes Versicolor)

Geckos on the other hand have granular scales. Their lamella are well developed to be able to climb walls and trees.

We saw an interesting gecko the dwarf gecko on 2 occasions.
Once while on the parikshit point trail and the other time in the park inside the tiger sculptures mouth.

Its eye balls are round as compared to others whose eyeballs are vertically slit and also they lay eggs in a community with each gecko laying 2 eggs and we were luck to see it with its eggs.
Geckos have granular scales as seen in this Dwarf gecko

Circular Pupil a speciality of dwarf gecko2 eggs laid by the dwarf gecko who do communal laying of egg

We also saw the prashadi's gecko just inside our hotel premise. It has a different color when juvenile and a different one when it gains adult hood. It is one of the species of genus house geckos or Hemidactylus.
Pretty huge Prashadi's Gecko

Granules on the skin of gecko
Well developed lamella on the feet of Prashadi's gecko

Another genus of lizards that we saw was the monitor lizard.
They have very huge claws to cling to rocks and a flat tail to be able to swim which they mainly do during their juvenile stage. This was observed in a ruins of a fort on the last day morning trail.
Flat tail of a Monitor Lizard
Large claws of monitor LizardScales and mouth of a Monitor Lizard

Some other types of animals that we saw during these trips were the centipedes, millepedes, scorpions and wolf spider.
This centepede when touched coils itself up and it feels like a hard shell

Wolf Spider
Another centepede with red legs
A Skink which has overlapping scales which are very shiny
Orange Crab with one big claw

One interesting event was to witness a centipede with eggs on the plateau below a rock.
Centepede with eggs

We also encountered 2 caterpillars of golden emperor moth and another a very bright orange colored but don't know of which moth or butterfly.
Emperor Moth caterpillarUnknown caterpillar

Along with all these interesting sightings were the wonderful lunches and dinners with solkadhi.

We also had some interesting discussions on conservation of western ghats especially places like amboli which are a biodiversity hotspots.

Pics are taken with Nikon D200 and Tamron 70-300 1:2 Macro and Nikon 18-55 and Panasonic FZ28


Unknown said...

This is most deadly and wild blog I have seen...Its amazing...

BirdsEyeView said...

Enchanting world of living beings ! Thank you Alok Bhave, for the blog and pictures to support.