Brief Encounter with Oriental Ratsnake

With 50 species of snake, many of which are endemic, Taiwan has to be one of the best places to visit if you are a herpetologist or if you simply enjoy observing these fascinating, if sometimes dangerous, animals. They are plentiful here, especially during the warmer months, and also highly elusive. As such, your best chances of seeing one, sadly, is on a paved road or a freeway, flattened to death by speeding vehicles. That said, once in a while you might get lucky and spot one in the wild, although this is likely to be a very brief encounter,… Continue reading

Common House Gecko

The common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) is an unmistakable sight and sound throughout much of tropical Asia. Remarkably well adapted to human habitations where it easily climbs even the smoothest of surfaces, this nocturnal reptile hunts for insects that tend to congregate near light sources. It usually hides during the day. Its large and powerful eyes allow the animal to see any potential threat from a safe distance and move away in rapid if somewhat clumsy movement. The ability of a gecko’s feet to adhere to a variety of surfaces is well documented and the vocalisation it produces,… Continue reading

Snake in Aviary

High drama in the aviary for the past two days. On Monday evening, when I walked into the shed which is attached to the house and where a fenced-off area serves as a small aviary for our three parrots, I was welcomed by a large snake crawling on the ground, just a metre or so away from my feet! I rushed to get my snake tong, but by the time I returned to the shed I could only watch the snake’s tail rapidly disappearing in a corner of the aviary, in a narrow opening. The shed is supported by several… Continue reading

Kikuchi’s Habu or Mountain Pit Viper

Yesterday was my lucky day. Kikuchi’s habu or Taiwan mountain pit viper (Trimeresurus gracilis) is an endemic species of snake that is very rarely seen, mainly because it only lives in less populated altitudes of over 2,000 metres above sea level. It is a related but separate species from the much more common Chinese habu (which is allegedly responsible for more snake bites than any other snake on the island). Unlike its nocturnal name sake, Kikuchi’s habu, named after a Japanese researcher who studied the pit viper in the early 20th century, is diurnal and also much smaller,… Continue reading

Australia’s Eastern Water Dragon

Still about the smallest continent, Australia’s eastern water dragon (Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii), an endemic species, is truly a memorable sight. Reaching up to 90 centimetres, this large lizard from the Agamidae family is very shy when living in the wild, but readily accepts human presence in suburban parks and gardens. As the name suggests, the water dragon is a semi-aquatic animal that can be found near creeks, rivers and lakes, although it is also an excellent climber of trees. It is often observed basking on branches that hang over a body of water; that way it can easily… Continue reading

Swinhoe’s Japalura

It is always a pleasure to learn that a species of animal frequenting your backyard is a unique one, not found anywhere else in the world. Swinhoe’s japalura (Japalura swinhonis) is a species of lizard endemic to the island of Taiwan. And what a stunning animal it is! It’s mane scales give an impression that it wouldn’t be out of place in a jurassic park and although it is certainly no dinosaur, this particular species is reportedly the largest of all japaluras, reaching up to 28 centimetres. It can also adapt to the environment by changing its body… Continue reading

Chinese Cobra on Visit

It’s the second time this year a Chinese cobra (Naja atra) has paid us a visit. The first time it happened I was mighty excited — and terribly scared — because it was making its way towards the aviary where I keep a handful of parrots. Although this was no King cobra, it was still deadly and I was worried. Eventually the snake did enter the aviary, although I only became aware of the fact four days later when I spotted it again – right next to the small refrigerator where I keep bird food. So for… Continue reading