Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

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Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » October 22nd, 2011, 12:08 am

With 3 weeks to kill between the end of our time in Thailand and return flights to the UK my wife and I decided to head down to Penang in Malaysia.


Near to our temporary apartment in Batu Ferrenghi was a jungle path that had been very productive on previous visits and it was here once again that we concentrated our efforts. We were keen to see how much it had changed, so much can happen in three years.
Our path was known to us as the Waterworks walk due to the fact that the land is owned by the Penang water company. The narrow, gated access road is used as an exercise track by a handful of locals as it winds its way up through the forest to a cluster of old pump houses. From there it continues on level ground for about three miles before descending onto the road to the west of Batu Ferrenghi.

A section of the path is bordered on one side by a giant metal pipe which gurgles and belches as the enclosed water swills inside. Every few hundred yards pressure valves hiss into life without warning, usually taking us by complete surprise. Along the opposite side of the path a three foot high concrete aqueduct carries fresh water piped directly from numerous jungle streams. The water is crystal clear and chilled to perfection. Since our last visit the water company, for some unknown reason, had painted the aqueduct wall white. This meant that anything climbing on or running over the wall stood out like a sore thumb. The chances of spotting things such as stick insects, beetles and lizards became much easier. Apart from that, the path remained virtually unchanged. Thankfully the towering forest trees masked any noise or views of an encroaching new development spreading inland from the coast. Once through the iron gates it was entry into another world where Hill Mynas and Asian Fairy Bluebirds compete for attention with startling butterflies on their apparently random flight paths. By the time we had walked twenty paces along the track an eager anticipation had enveloped us both, twenty paces further and we were already drenched in sweat.

Early morning sunshine filters through the trees.
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Along the track, a common hazard - falling trees.
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A viewpoint through the trees. Looking towards Telok Bahang and the Straits of Melaka.
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Stick insect on the wall.
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Praying Mantis.
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Long horned beetle.
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Many-lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata).
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Pitcher plants (Nepenthes) along the side of the track.
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Commonest snakes along the path are the Oriental Whip Snake - (Ahaetulla prasina). These slender snakes were frequently found in the low bushes at the side of the track. One afternoon following a heavy shower three snakes were seen along a hundred yard stretch of path.

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Greener and larger specimen.
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Close up of those alien eyes.
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Another snake which tried to conceal itself along the white wall was a lovely little Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis). At first I thought it was one of the common Elegant Bronzebacks (Dendrelaphis formosos).
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However the head and eye shape gave an indication of something else.
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As I approached for a better shot an amazing flash of blue gave away the true ID.

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Blue Bronzeback -(Dendrelaphis cyanochloris). Possibly the most amazing transformation found in any serpent.
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The rarest of Malaysia’s flying snakes is also found here. The Twin-barred Flying Snake (Chrysopelea pelias) can be seen if luck is on your side. Stunningly marked with black and white bars on a post box red body these specialist tree snakes are considered rare elsewhere in the country. This one was actually on the ground crossing the path.

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On one of our previous visits was the only occasion I have seen a Chrysopelea ‘fly’. A shape falling from a tree adjacent to the track caught my attention and I was able to watch the final couple of seconds of the descent of a Twin-barred Flyer. The body was held in a twisting ‘S’ shape which appeared to have very little in the way of forwards gliding motion and more of a plummet. It landed with a thud on top of some metal pipework and remained there for a few seconds before slipping over the side and dropping into the undergrowth. When I later stood where the snake had landed to check the trajectory back to the nearest branches, it was clear that it had actually managed to glide for about six yards. There was nothing to suggest a reason for the sudden urge to throw itself from the branches.


Where the water invariably seeps through small cracks in the aqueduct wall is an opportunity to find amphibians.

Hill Forest Frog - (Taylorana (Hylarana) hascheanus)
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Cricket Frog-( Hylarana nicobariensis).
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...and a not so giant, Giant River toad - (Phrynoidis aspera).
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An adult.
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As expected, ants and spiders are ever present in the jungle.

This huge Heteropoda was photographed on the inner wall of the aqueduct, sitting just above the water line.
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A smaller green spider found among the leaf litter,
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Large Asian Water Monitors (Varanus salvator) sit out in the sun along stream edges, dropping noisily into the undergrowth when disturbed. This was one of the biggest found...
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...but not as big as this monster seen dozing on the river in Bangkok!
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It was the practice of using a stick and raking about in the piles of dead leaves at the trackside that brought us the most exciting find of our Asian trip. Coiled on the edge of the path I uncovered a small, blunt headed snake, about 16 inches in length. Its brown body fading towards white on the belly was crossed with narrow, black, jagged bands. Where the bands crossed the vertebral line they intersected an orange stripe which faded and narrowed as it neared to the tail tip. As the snake uncoiled the head finally came into view. The orange colouring continued over the top of the head and as far as the snout. Most surprising of all were its eyes which were red. The snake showed no aggression towards us as we carefully moved around it to take photographs. Without being able to make a proper identification the little snake was treated with caution. When we had finished I carefully moved the snake clear of the path to and placed it in a shady spot.

As found, coiled under the leaf litter.
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On later referral to the available field guides it was discovered that this snake was in fact a member of the Asthenodipsas family of Slug Snakes. However the colouring was at odds with the descriptions given of Asthenodipsas found in the area. Further enquiries revealed these unusual intermediate markings were very rarely seen. For the time being it has been classified as a Smooth Slug Snake (Asthenodipsas laevis) whilst my photographs have been forwarded to a herpetologist at ‘Universiti Sains Malaysia’ in Penang who is conducting research into this group of snakes.


Other places visited in Penang included the island's National Park at Telok Bahang. We trekked to Kerachut beach, a nesting site for Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and the Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea).

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There were signs the turtles had been active recently with several excavations in the sand.
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An information hut at the beach had several hatchling turtles splashing about in a few inches of water in a large tank. We were told they were soon to be released.

On the way back along the track we came across a Horned Tree Lizard - (Acanthosaura armata), sitting low down on a tree stump alongside the sandy path.
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Also the Tropical Spice garden on the north coast proved to be an interesting place to visit. Not least because of the amazing Black Lilly (Tacca integrifolia). If ever a flower was ideal for a funeral.
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Although I seem to have unwittingly turned this lilly into a cartoon rabbit.
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The ponds in the garden were alive with frogs.
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All of them Green Paddy Frogs (Hylarana (Rana) erythraea).
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Also plenty of frog food.Image

Eventually when the time came to move on I felt secure in the knowledge that Penang has not changed significantly since 2008. It remains one of my favourite places anywhere in the world. Great culture, superb scenery, plenty of wildlife and wild spaces and still the best food in Malaysia!

Predictable sunset shot to nearly end with...
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A final word about a rather surreal encounter experienced during our time in Thailand. Living in a rural area we frequently took the truck out for a drive around the little used country lanes. On one such trip, less than 5 miles from the house, we came across an area fenced off with a guard at a big double gate. Beyond the fence could be seen animal cages.

Not sure if we were allowed in I drove slowly through the gates keeping a watchful eye on the security guard, as he failed to act we carried on inside and parked up. There was an office block with two ladies sitting inside chatting, they smiled as we passed by. Eventually it was discovered this was a wildlife centre run by the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation. It specialises in caring for bears that have been confiscated from illegal pet shops and markets. It is also home for some of the animals that have been seized from the disgusting bear farms where the Chinese lust for ursine bile is met.

Some of the holding cages at the centre were not ideal, however for many of the Asian Black Bears and Sun Bears conditions would certainly have been a step in the right direction. The number of bears at the facility was staggering. For many spacious paddocks had been fenced off and large groups wandered around, free to interact with their own kind.

We visited a total of five times during our stay. On the last visit we found ourselves (as usual) the only visitors. A member of staff who had previously nodded in passing waved us over, we couldn't quite see what she was doing until she held out a babies bottle for Sue to grab.

The centre forbids photography anywhere in the grounds, on this occasion we were given the nod. I'll just shut up and post the pictures...


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After milk, time to play...
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All we could understand was that this cub was called "Airport", it was where he had been seized.
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Thanks for viewing. Rags.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Knightkrawler5 » October 22nd, 2011, 12:27 am

The Blue Bronzeback is beautiful

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Dr. Dark » October 22nd, 2011, 5:03 am

Awesome post! The snakes were spectacular!

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by mikemike » October 22nd, 2011, 6:38 am

Great post! Thanks for all the awesome pics! You've posted some species we rarely (if ever) see on FHF!

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by monklet » October 22nd, 2011, 8:07 am

Fantastic stuff! Does the Blue Bronzeback change color? ...if so, how does it do that?

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by justinm » October 22nd, 2011, 10:47 am

This was great stuff, I have gone through it twice now, so felt compelled to thank you. The slug snake was super super cool.

RobK

Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by RobK » October 22nd, 2011, 3:16 pm

Dig the herp photos, especially the eyes on those Whips. Gotta say though, that bear stole the show. Crazy looking claws and teeth, I imagine the dog would end up on the losing end of a serious battle.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by TNWJackson » October 22nd, 2011, 9:38 pm

Great post. I particularly enjoyed the cyanochloris and the inverts.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by vincemartino » October 23rd, 2011, 7:33 pm

Holy cow.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by DavidG » October 24th, 2011, 1:38 am

Awesome post! The blue bronzeback is in my opnion a LOT rare than the twin-barred tree snake. Twin-barred tree snakes are jsut active on late mornings, and can occasionally be found sunning on fallen trees here in Singapore.

My dream would be to see a sun bear in the wild, i've found the footprints, now just the bear :D! Thanks for those pictures, amazing little critter. So unfortunate that they are caught for pet trade :cry: !

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » October 24th, 2011, 4:31 am

Thanks for the comments.



monklet
Fantastic stuff! Does the Blue Bronzeback change color? ...if so, how does it do that?
Hi Monklet. The sudden appearance of the stunning blue colour is a result of the snake inflating its anterior body in defence. This expands the skin between it's scales (called the interstitial skin) which is bright blue and this colour suddenly becomes more evident.Some of the other Dendrelaphis also use this colour flash but it is most vivid in Dendrelaphis cyanochloris.




justinm
This was great stuff, I have gone through it twice now, so felt compelled to thank you. The slug snake was super super cool.
The Slug Snake was amazing. I'm hoping it turns out to be a new species. That would really be the icing on the cake.




RobK
Dig the herp photos, especially the eyes on those Whips. Gotta say though, that bear stole the show. Crazy looking claws and teeth, I imagine the dog would end up on the losing end of a serious battle.
I think the dog had probably been around bear cubs frequently and just seemed to enjoy playing with them. It gave as good as it got when it came to nipping and holding on. Although the bears had huge claws, even at that young age, they didn't really use them when roughing each other up. The bear cubs were just compacted muscle and seriously strong in the jaw department. We watched them climbing up a wire fence, sometimes using their teeth to hold their body weight.




TNWJackson
Great post. I particularly enjoyed the cyanochloris and the inverts.

Thank you. I will try and post some more Thai and Malaysian inverts on the invert forum when I get a chance.




DavidG
Awesome post! The blue bronzeback is in my opnion a LOT rare than the twin-barred tree snake. Twin-barred tree snakes are jsut active on late mornings, and can occasionally be found sunning on fallen trees here in Singapore.

My dream would be to see a sun bear in the wild, i've found the footprints, now just the bear ! Thanks for those pictures, amazing little critter. So unfortunate that they are caught for pet trade !

Hi David, interesting point about the rarity of the Blue Bronzeback. I think they have probably been overlooked for sometime. I often saw Bronzebacks that I took to be Dendrelaphis formosus, now I'm wondering if
I may have got them wrong.

I'm with you, a Sun Bear in the wild would be a fantastic find. Possibly only bettered by the chance to watch Seladang.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by moloch » October 24th, 2011, 9:51 pm

Excellent photos. That long-horn was really amazing.

Great to see some very interesting snakes here. The Blue Bronzeback and Flying Snake were excellent finds. I would have been concerned about the little slug eater as well. It does look a little like some of the Asian Corals.

Regards,
David

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by mrichardson » October 25th, 2011, 4:47 am

Great post, almost felt I was on the jungle path myself.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » October 25th, 2011, 11:24 pm

moloch;
Great to see some very interesting snakes here. The Blue Bronzeback and Flying Snake were excellent finds. I would have been concerned about the little slug eater as well. It does look a little like some of the Asian Corals.
Thanks for the comments.
It was indeed the Banded Coral (Maticora intestinalis) that I had in mind when the Slug Snake turned up. We had found one dead previously on the path so they are certainly in the leaf litter.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » April 20th, 2012, 10:59 pm

:?

Without the technical know-how to post a link and include it in my latest S.E.Asia post - Here is what happened after we left Thailand.

For those of you who have read it before - sorry.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by moloch » April 23rd, 2012, 1:06 pm

Ray,
That was an excellent post. I am glad that it was bumped up again. Penang looks very interesting and well worth a trip. I've also read that it is a great place for "foodies". Sometime, I would love to visit the area.


Regards,
David

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » April 26th, 2012, 12:09 am

Wow, how did I miss this the first time around? Fantastic!

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by withalligators » April 26th, 2012, 10:55 am

Excellent. I'm fairly certain I have misidentified a cyanochloris for a formosos while in southern Thailand. I thought it really wasn't an elegant, but that was the closest it appearred in the little green book. I'm glad to finally figure out what it was. To this day it is perhaps the most beautiful snake I've ever seen.
Cheers,
Alex

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » April 26th, 2012, 3:40 pm

withalligators wrote:Excellent. I'm fairly certain I have misidentified a cyanochloris for a formosos while in southern Thailand. I thought it really wasn't an elegant, but that was the closest it appearred in the little green book. I'm glad to finally figure out what it was. To this day it is perhaps the most beautiful snake I've ever seen.
What about kopsteini? :-)

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by MaartenSFS » April 29th, 2012, 7:15 am

Sorry for the late reply, but this trip looks to have been epic. Love the Dendrelaphis cyanochloris and black lily. Nice work! You seem to find more snakes when you go.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » April 29th, 2012, 9:01 am

Thanks for the further comments.

withalligators;
To this day it is perhaps the most beautiful snake I've ever seen.
Cheers,
Hans Breuer (twoton);
What about kopsteini?
I would have to say the kopsteini Hans posted a while back was a real stunner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I would go with "withalligators" on this one. Blue just seems such an odd colour to see on a snake and Dendrelaphis cyanochloris has it in such an intensity that it puts it out in front for me. Dendrelaphis are great looking snakes anyway in my opinion. I only wish I could have taken better photos of this one. The sun reflecting off the whitewashed wall was playing havoc with my battered camera sensors.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Steve Atkins » April 29th, 2012, 9:03 am

I'm not sure how I missed this post for so long. Awesome shots, that blue bronze back is great!

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by snakemastermyke » April 13th, 2013, 1:06 am

That Ahaetulla prasina looks a little mycterizans from the top head pic... I could be dead wrong...
I was just noticing at first that the parietal in one pic, and the upper labial in another looked a little different.

Like I said I could be dead wrong... just been looking into the species trying to learn how to tell them all apart.
prasina and nasuta are easy... most the species aren't to bad, but the prasina subspecies... ugh! Their are local variants
that superficially look more different than those subs do!

Image

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by snakemastermyke » April 13th, 2013, 1:08 am

Oh and the eye size, the gap between the eyes seems small for prasina, and the eyes in general seem to big for prasina... the common name for mycterizans is the big eyed vine snake.

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Re: Flyers and Spiders and Bears...Oh My!! (S.E.Asia)

Post by Rags » April 14th, 2013, 11:58 am

The ID of the Ahaetulla's was a bit of a headache from the start. I ended up with Ahaetulla prasina as the most likely identities after consultation with someone in Malaysia who looked at the shots and agreed . However I am still open to persuasion.

The problem with this post is it shows two different snakes. The first one was this specimen...

Photographed 24.08
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Second Snake was greener...

Photographed 04.09
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There was another brown one on 04.09 as well...

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I didn't have the scalation key that you have included and relied on the overall appearance and eye size.

I would be interested to see what you think? Thanks for the interest.

By the way here's Whip Snake from a visit in 2007 The eye does look smaller than the previous specimens.

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Cheers, Rags

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