Giant Salamander Hunting: Day 1 part 2

Usa ShrineUsa Shrine

At Usa Shrine there were literally thousands of froglets (mostly F.limnocharis) . Interestingly in the drainage ditches where many of the froglets could be found, there was an usually large number of spider webs.  I’m guessing the spiders positioned their webs to take advantage of the abundance of frog meat. As I walked along the canal, I saw a couple of spooked froglets jump and get stuck at the periphery of the webs, but free themselves before the resident spider could reach them.  Out of (somewhat mordbid) curiosity, I was half-tempted to  toss a froglet in the center of one of the webs, but my conscience got the better of me.

Takydromus tachydromoidesTakydromus tachydromoides

After the froglets (and tourists), the most commonly encountered vertebrate at the shrine seemed to be Takydromus tachydromoides AKA the long-tailed grass lizard/カナヘビ(kanahebi). I have seen these critters in abundance throughout Japan, but at Usa shrine they were more easily approached than anywhere I’ve ever been.  Being accustomed to humans doesn’t really explain this, because T.tachydromoides I’ve found in more heavily populated areas seem just about as flighty as the ones I find in the middle of nowhere (which is pretty darn close to Usa).

Takydromus tachydromoides

Around the shrine there were signs warning of Mamushi, the pit-viper otherwise known as Gloydius blomhoffii.  I searched around stagnant bodies of water in the  shrine to no avail (I’ll have more on fun with Mamushis in a later post).

Stagnant water and tons o’ frogs=Prime Mamushi habitat

Kamakuras versus Megalon

Takydromus everywhereTakydromus everywhere

Takydromus tachydromoides

Giant Salamander Hunting: Day 1 part 1


Last year, I had a week off from work in the middle of August, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Japanese Giant Salamander breeding season. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I talked a friend into accompanying me on a trip to search for Andrias japonicus in Oita prefecture, the only region of Kyushu known to harbor these awesome caudates.  I’d seen live specimens of A.japonicus, A.davidianus (Chinese Giant Salamander) and Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (the awesomely named Hellbender) in museums and zoos, but I was determined to observe a giant salamander in-situ.

Our plan was to take a train as close as we could get to the area where the salamanders are known to occur, walk the rest of the way (about 20 miles) to the site and camp out until we found the critters.

the route walked from Usa Station to our intended destination.


Usa Shrine:

An hour into our walk, we came to Usa shrine. With ponds and plenty of vegetation, there was herping to be done.


Glandirana rugosaGlandirana rugosa.  Common names: Wrinkled-Frog , ツチガエル (tsuchigaeru)


Fejervarya limnocharisFejervarya limnocharis. Common names: Alpine Cricket Frog/ ヌマがエル(numagaeru)



Snake wranglin’ in Yakuin

In between posting my monthly-ish dragon nonsense and the occasional dinosaur news item, I’ve decided do regular posts related to my herping activity in Japan.

Elaphe climacophora, japanese rat snake
Last September I got a call from a panicked apartment manager in Fukuoka, who asked me to remove a “giant snake” from his building.  Before contacting me, he called the police, who came and, upon catching a glimpse of the snake, told him to call the zoo and left (‘cuz that’s pretty much how the Fukuoka PD rolls). Well the zoo was closed, so one of my friends told the manager about a “snake-man” she knows.

I arrived half expecting to find a big Elaphe quadrivirgata (a japanese “rat snake”), the only species I had yet encountered in the middle of the city, or an escaped pet Python. The search for the snake started with me wading into the building’s trash cage (hence the blue rubber gloves) and concluded with me dissecting a couch in a vacant room.  Inside the eviscerated sofa, I found a near-chihuahua-sized rat* and this beautiful Elaphe climacophora (another japanese rat snake). Though certainly not a giant, this specimen does represent the (arguably) largest species that one can find on any of Japan’s main islands. E.climacophora is reputed to be somewhat nippy, but other than giving a threat display followed by a half-hearted strike, once caught, this fellow was pretty mellow.
After posing for more than a couple of cellphone photos (the hunt attracted a large gathering of tenants) I released my new friend in a wooded park on the edge of the city.

Elaphe climacophora, japanese rat snake

No more couch-rats* for you, buddy!

*If I can find about another half-dozen of those I can use the pelts to make myself a pretty sweet tunic

Romain and Petey

One bright and sunny day around 625 AD, a large strange dragon appeared on the Seine River of France and, as one would expect of a large dragon, immediately engaged in draconic ass-kickery.  At first, it seemed primarily intent on amusing itself by capsizing boats and drowning/gulping down the occupants of said boats. However, once it had tipped every boat it came across, hapless onlookers were amazed as they watched it dip its snout into the river and began to suck up water at such a rate that its body ballooned to several times its original size until it looked like a massive scaled tick.  It then pointed its strange maw towards the nearest town (and the hapless onlookers) and let loose with a violent blast of water that rivaled the power of many a natural disaster.  Houses were flattened, nearby hapless onlookers were splattered, other people were washed away and crops were deluged. Thus began the Gargouille’s reign of terror.

After sometime, Romain, the archbishop of Rouen, had been approached to deal with the monster.  He said he had a plan but he needed an assistant. He had requested to be given a convict who was sentenced to death; he was given Petey.

Petey was a heftily built, apple-headed ginger, with a seemingly perpetual smile and vacant eyes. From the moment he laid eyes on this fellow, Romain knew he was clearly dealing with some species of idiot. When Romain questioned Petey as to his transgressions, they only response he could get was “I dunno.”  Romain had little doubt Petey was answering truthfully. Soon, the resolution of one mystery would lead to the manifestation of another;

The two almost immediately set out on foot, attempting to locate the dragon by following its path of destruction along the Seine River.  In this time, Romain rapidly came to understand why Petey was given the sentence of death but could not understand why the sentence had not been carried out much sooner; Petey was annoying, damned annoying, and flatulent too.  He had no concept of personal space and was entirely unable to keep his hands to himself.  It also didn’t help that he was a mouth breather that smelled like bologna and soured milk. Anything that came out of his mouth was, at best, mind-numbingly pointless or boastful and, at worst, crass or infuriating. Within a span of 20 minutes Romain was treated to a string of gems, such as: “Hey, look at those two dogs!”;” Just between you and me, I don’t trust them dark fellows.”; “That chick has big booobs.”; “I could sure go for some boiled taters ’bout now.”; “I like booobs.”; “My other shirt ‘s a sweet otter-skin tunic.”; “I’m the smartest person I know.”; “I like boiled taters.”; “I think value of a female is based solely on ‘er booobs.”; “Petey ‘s got the skillz.”; “Man, you’d totally look like an ugly chick if you ‘ad booobs.” Petey was indeed testing the patience of a saint.

Soon, they caught sight of the dragon paddling on the surface of the river. The two crouched behind a sandbar and continued to observe the hideous creature. Petey whispered, “It looks like a giant duck.”

“No more nonsense out of you!” hissed Romain.  This was probably the most innocuous statement Petey had made in the past hour, but something inside of Romain was about to give. The dragon then waddled to the opposite shore, quacked, and started dabbling in the mud.  Petey opened his mouth to say something, but Romain silenced him with a glare and a violent gesture unbecoming of a man who was to be a saint.

Romain, in a shushed tone, then proceeded to detail his plan in which Petey was to act as bait so that Romain could approach the beast and subdue it using his crucifix.  Petey interrupted, “Why not just use your fingers to make a cross?”


“You know, like this,” replied Petey through a gap-toothed grin, forming a cross with his fingers. This was quite innocent but that something inside Romain that was about to give finally gave and it gave big time.

Romain stood up, yanking Petey up by his potato-sack/tunic. “Are you serious?” hissed Romain narrowing his eyes, and then raising his voice, “No wonder you are where you are you!  No, you must be mocking me! That is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard! Are you freak’n serious?!”


“Geez, what is wrong with you?! I’m not sure if you said that out of audacity or your sheer lack of mental capacity! This is serious work here!! I can’t have you dropping the damned ball on this!!”


“I mean REALLY, what the F*** is wrong with you?! How DARE YOU try to tell ME how to do MY F***ING JOB?!!  YOU STUPID FAT F***!”  I AM ROMAIN! RO-F***ING-MAIN, ARCH-F***ING-BISHOP OF ROUEN!! AND DON’T YOU F***ING FORGET IT!!!


Petey’s bottom lip started to tremble. Romain’s tirade had managed to do more than hurt Petey’s feelings and make him shut-up (a miracle in and of itself); it seized the dragon’s attention. It fired a blast of water in their direction that struck with the force of a cannon. It didn’t hit them directly, but the nearby impact sent them both flying.

After finding the strength to pick himself up, Romain, with dread, became aware of three things almost simultaneously: 1. The dragon was on their side of the river bank and was waddling towards them at a furious pace; 2. Petey, not looking unlike a ginger beached whale, lay motionless between him and the dragon; and 3. the crucifix he’d been carrying was shattered. Romain thought for sure the dragon would pause to gobble down a meaty morsel like Petey before coming for him. He thought wrong; the dragon waddled right past Petey’s unmoving form and went straight for Romain (Even dragons can be turned off by the smell of bologna and old milk).

Romain pulled his robes up over his knees and broke into a sprint. He momentarily managed to gain some distance between himself and the creature, but began to tire.  The dragon would overtake him soon. It then occurred to Romain, panicked though he was, that anything with an ass that wide probably isn’t too good at turning at any rate of speed, so he suddenly did just that. The dragon attempted to follow suit and ended up rolling over a few times. Romain managed to put several yards between himself and the dragon by the time it got back up, shook itself off and, with a quack, resumed the pursuit. Within moments, it was gaining on Romain again. Again Romain made a sudden turn. This time the dragon only slowed down when it turned. However, this still gave Romain a bit more precious distance. As the dragon again drew closer to Romain, again he turned. And again. And again And again. And again. The dragon pursued Romain in an ever tightening ring, until Romain was simply running in a circle around the dragon while it turned in placed; a frantic, screaming white planet orbiting a lunging rubbery green sun.

After a couple of minutes of this, Romain’s physical reserves were almost spent. He wouldn’t last another 30 seconds. But he wouldn’t have to; Petey had regained consciousness and was valiantly barreling towards them.  Petey picked up and lobbed the biggest rock he could toss with one hand at the creature’s head. Unfortunately, due to the stone’s weight, it was much too heavy to throw with any degree of accuracy over a significant distance. It arced through the air and, on its way down, hit Romain directly in the groin. The archbishop doubled over clutching himself, vomited, then fell on his face. By the time Romain rolled onto his back the dragon was towering over him. The dragon raised a webbed foot. Romain threw his arms in front of his face and tried to scream but, still suffering from the blow to his family jewels, only managed a hoarse wheeze.  The foot came down on Romain. Lucky for him, his lower body was just pinned under the webbing. The dragon looked down at the pinned saint and cocked its head; Romain’s skull was about to be dabbled to a bloody pulp.  Petey ran up to them both and threw up a finger cross.  The dragon waddled back a couple of steps and stood motionless stunned in a divine daze.

Romain, wheezing, painfully looked up at Petey. Petey gave a proud crooked toothed grin and flashed Romain a thumbs up. Unfortunately, this also unformed the cross, breaking the dragon’s daze. The dragon immediately fired an ultra-concentrated jet of water in Petey’s direction.  The stream struck Petey’s outstretched arm, atomizing the lower half of his forearm in a bloody spray.  Petey tried to throw-up another finger-cross but that doesn’t quite work with only one hand. Romain, with a painful groan, pulled himself to his feet and made a finger-cross of his own, returning the dragon to a dazed state.

After instructing Petey to tie a tourniquet around the bloody stump that used to be his right forearm, Romain had him tie a rope around the dragon’s neck.  In its dazed state, they were able to lead the dragon into a nearby town and tied it down in front of a church. The townspeople poured out of their homes with axes and pitchforks and totally went Tarasque on the stunned dragon’s ass.  However, even their strongest blows were totally ineffective against its rubbery hide. Petey observed, “The axes are bouncing off it like water off a duck’s ba”*SMACK*”OW!”

Romain, still not in the mood for any more of Petey’s crap, had slapped his blubbery head.  As Romain turned away, this time Petey retaliated, throwing a right haymaker at Romain’s head. However, since he no longer had a right forearm to connect with, Petey ended up spinning around once and falling forward, bumping into Romain, who then stumbled forward, knocking a lantern from a villager’s hand, shattering it on the dragon.  The dragon’s (apparently highly flammable) rubbery hide ignited like a third-world disco, filling the sky with black smoke. By the time the dragon’s carcass finished burning, all that remained was the head and neck. Romain insisted that the dragon’s head be placed on the church to demonstrate the power of God (and to show what happens to stupid bastards that force him to exercise). In the end Romain got another miracle attributed to himself and Petey was set free; he could not have possibly been more pleased with his awesome new hook-hand.