A fair fight

I’ve noticed that some film theorists have been pondering how the size discrepancy between Godzilla and Kong will be handled in the upcoming film from Legendary Studios, Godzilla vs. King Kong. As the kaiju films from Legendary try to adhere to the continuity of a timeline established by earlier films, then the battle will almost certainly takes place after the events of both Legendary Godzilla films and Kong: Skull Island. While it is established in Skull Island that Kong is not fully grown, many sci-fi nerds are hand-wringing at how unlikely it would be for Kong to have grown to a sufficient size to challenge Godzilla (I guess they have some insight into the growth rate of fictional monster-monkeys that the rest of us lack).

I’m going to speculate that, barring the movie taking place far in the future, that we’ll see a more even match-up from having a smaller Godzilla. I think there’s a good chance that Godzilla will die battling Ghidorah in the upcoming film, King of the Monsters, only to have its role of heroic guardian kaiju filled by a juvenile/subadult of the same species; sort like how the end of the heisei era Godzilla vs Destroyah played out.

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The Only Good Snake…

Today I was very amused to see a meme circulating among some herpetology pages on social media that was clearly inspired by a bumper sticker I designed some years ago. I created it when I was felt particularly frustrated about how many people cling to a hatred for snakes even when shown their ecological importance. Anyway it reads “YOU SAY, ‘the only good snake is a dead snake.’ I hear, ‘I lack a proper education in the life sciences.'” Click on the photo below to a site where they can be ordered.90_350x350_Front_Color-White

 

Suppon: my first up-close enounter

Suppon aka Pelodiscus sinensis
Pelodiscus sinensis submerged.

While doing some night herping near Fukuoka, Japan last year, I found this young Pelodiscus sinensis, Chinese Softshell or スッポン (Suppon), submerged near the shore of a large pond/small lake.  I’ve encountered these a few times before in the wild; however, this is the first time one permitted me to get within a few meters without bolting.  Actually, this one allowed me to get so close with the camera, I wondered if I was being set-up for a finger-nipping.

Giant Salamander Hunting: Day 2 part 2 “Snake Fight!”

melanistic Elaphe quadrivirgata
melanistic Elaphe quadrivirgata 20 seconds away from an ass-kicking

As we continued to walk from the village of Innai to the site, what happened next was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We spotted a melanistic 4-lined Japanese Rat Snake E.quadrivirgata /カラスヘビ(Karasuhebi) by a ditch that was apparently flooded by the storm from the previous day. Upon seeing us, the snake slid into the water.  After a few seconds, it emerged and approached us as we stood still. It seemed either unusually bold or very hungry (or both). As it investigated my shoe, a Tiger-keelback R.tigrinus/ ヤマカガシ(Yamakagashi) began moving towards us as well (I think it may have been chasing a frog). The E.quadrivirgata immediately turned and faced the Yamakagashi.

karasuhebi versus yamakagashi
Karasuhebi versus Yamakagashi

I will not describe what happened next in detail since an account of the event is currently in press in a herpetological journal, but I will say the encounter ended badly for the E.quadrivirgata.

bleeding Elaphe quadrivirgata
Elaphe quadrivirgata bleeding.
Yamakagashi: Pissed-off and victorious

We reached the site in the Amari Valley at 2:00pm. We set up the tent and finally proceeded to get down to the business of searching for Giant Salamanders (noodling, snorkeling and turning over rocks).

home away from home
home away from home

I’ve crawled over and around slippery stones in many rivers in my time, but I must say this one was particularly treacherous. It seemed the force required to shift about half of the damned boulders in the river was roughly the equivalent of my body weight. Within the first hour, I had a couple of near-misses before having one roll over my foot.  It seemed be a minor injury at the moment, so I ignored it; I would regret doing so later.

Welcome to Giant Salamander territory. Don't break your leg.

After about 5 hours of searching we decided to make the walk back to the liquor store in Innai to replenish our stock of junk food (and do some road-side herping in the process). On the way there and back, I had my first sighting of an Asian keelback snake Amphiesma vibakari/ ヒバカリ(Hibakari), which slipped away before I could photograph it, and after nightfall we found numerous Schlegel’s Tree-Frogs Rhacophurus schlegelii  hanging out on the road.

Rhacophorus schlegelii
Rhacophorus schlegelii froglet

Giant Salamander Hunting: Day 2 part 1

Hyla japonica frogletHyla japonica froglet

That morning we packed up our tent and resumed our trek at 6:30 am. Outside of Ajimu, we didn’t encounter many people in our walk, but whenever we did, we were always asked about what we were up to.  Upon mention of the Giant Salamanders, reactions ranged from friendly to borderline-hostile, but we were always told one of three things:
1) “You can’t get to the site from here by walking.”
2)” The Giant Salamanders might be there but you can’t find them; you should look for them in Honshu.”
3)” Go see the specimen in the local museum.”

A few hours later we took a short rest at an old temple by the road.

Elephant decoration at japanese templeElephants in old Japanese art: its kind of like finding a french fry in an order of chicken nuggets; not really expected but not really unwelcome.

 

Plestiodon japonicusThe temple was home to a Plestiodon japonicus Japanese Skink/日本のトカゲ(Nihon-no-Tokage).

 

An interesting feature of this area was 19th century bridges inspired by European designs.

 
Around noon we reached Innai, a village next to the site where the Giant Salamanders are said to be. The two biggest stores in Innai seemed to be a combination Post-Office/Cigarette-stand/Barbershop and a liquor store.

Tiger-keelback Rhabdophis tigrinus YamakagashiA Rhabdophis tigrinus Tiger-keelback Snake/ヤマカガシ(Yamakagashi). One of my favorite snake species. It might look like a mere garter-snake, but it’s a real bad-ass. Not only does it possess a hemolytic venom, it actually sequesters toxins from toads that it consumes, storing the poison in a nuchal gland behind its head for defensive purposes. After reaching Innai, we encountered these about once every hour.

Giant Salamander Hunting: Day 1 part 3

After searching for mamushi/G.blomhoffii for another hour (and unnerving inquisitive tourists), I relieved my herping partner from watching our packs while she went to explore the shrine for herself.

 

pavillion duckWhile I waited under a pavillion, my sole companion was this duck. Though, as far as ducks go, he was pretty awesome.

 

After leaving Usa shrine and resuming our trek, we got caught in one helluva thunderstorm. With the way the clouds were rotating before the storm, I thought we were going to be treated to a tornado in Japan.  It made me kind of homesick.

 

Eventually we made it to Ajimu, a tiny town that is very proud of their softshell turtles/スッポン(Suppon) Pelodiscus sinensis and their wine (As evidenced by the above statue depicting an alcoholic P.sinensis) . For the first night, we settled on setting up our tent in a campground here. The rain eventually let up and we decided to spend the rest of the evening exploring Ajimu and the surrounding area.

 

softshell turtle statue in AjimuStatue of P. sinensis. The sign to the right is an advertisement for a “Suppon Center” where you can feast on the flesh of Ajimu’s beloved mascot.

 

 

Scolopendra subspinipesA huge centipede Scolopendra subspinipes. Other than this guy, the only critters we managed to find that evening were froglets (mostly Hyla japonica and Fejervarya limnocharis).

 

sunset in Oita prefecturethe southwestern edge of Ajimu at sunset.