Archives for category: reptiles
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.

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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

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.

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.

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

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

Susanoo, the Summer-storm god, always had a rivalry with his sister, Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Furthermore, he was always the black sheep of the pantheon of Japanese gods because he would often do things that they considered offensive/disruptive. Things such as: eating more than one French-fry at a time (Oh my!), walking and eating at the same time (So rude!), studying in a public library (Doesn’t he know libraries should only be used for reading?!), wearing a short-sleeve shirt when the weather is below 70 degrees (Oh, that crazy barbarian!), and, carrying soap into the bath tub (*GASP!*).

After offending his sister one too many times, he was ordered to leave heaven. At this time he went to say goodbye to Amaterasu and apologize. She decided that if he really was sorry, he could stick around. To demonstrate this, she asked him to submit to a contest in which they each would birth things of divine creation from an object belonging to the other. Amaterasu went first and, from Susanoo’s sword birthed three goddesses, a jumbo-size bag of gummy bears and a slinky.  Susanoo went next and, infusing Amaterasu’s necklace with his divine power, generated five gods, a ninja-turtle, and a case of Play-doh. It was decided among the pantheon that the items birthed from an object belonged to the owner of that object and that Susanoo was the winner of the contest since the item belonging to him generated three (hot) females. Susanoo was pleased for this reason and Amaterasu was thrilled with the Play-doh and both were happy for a while. In time, however, Susanoo grew increasingly discontent because slinkies suck but Play-doh rules.  When Amaterasu’s favorite maid-servant polished off the last few gummy-bears, Susanoo snapped. He punched a hole clean through the gummy-bear rustling hussy and then flayed a pony and threw the bloody remains at Amaterasu’s divine loom. Needless to say, he was given a holy time-out and ejected from paradise.

A little later, Susanoo found himself wandering around Izumo province. Here he came across a home where he saw an elderly couple who were bawling in the front yard. When Susanoo queried them as to why they were crying, they explained that they originally had eight daughters, but beginning almost eight years ago the Yamata no Orochi, an insanely gigantic and powerful dragon, began coming to their home annually to consume one of their daughters as a tribute. Now the time was approaching for the Orochi to take their last daughter. Susanoo was puzzled.

“You’ve got a whole frigg’n year between each visit. Why not run away?”

Sobbing, the old man shook his head. “The Orochi.. it took the girls’ shoes.”

“What in the hell is wrong wi… Hey! there’s a pair right over there.”

“No. no. That’s no good. Those are my old shoes. If I let my daughter wear those, she might feel bad.”

Susanoo was about to question them about the matter further, but the throbbing vein in his forehead told him that if this kept up, he was going to be flaying another pony. Then, looking into the distance beyond Susanoo, the old man blurted out, “Oh no! The Orochi! It knows of your trying to tempt us into defiance! Now it comes to destroy us all!”

Susanoo looked over his shoulder. “OH! MY! GAWD! That’s gotta be fattest damned dragon I’ve ever seen!!” About a kilomter away the Orochi could be seen. It had eight heads and eight tails on a bloated, quivering body that covered eight hills. Its eight heads were glaring in their direction and it began scooching towards them with murderous intent. Or at least it seemed to; it was making so little progress at that distance it really impossible to tell. The old man and woman began wailing louder.

“I mean really-  why don’t you folks just walk away? Just walk away.”

“No. The Orochi has said if we flee, it will chase us to the ends of the earth.”

Now Susanoo was so pissed-off that he had to kill something, and that fat maiden-eating bastard was the most deserving party in the vicinity. Susanoo instructed the old couple to prepare a giant vat of sake and build an eight partitioned yatai. Initially the old couple protested that there was no time, but a few choice words and a violent motion of the fist was enough to set them to work.

For three days and nights they kept working and the Orochi kept scooching. Finally, the old couple finished Susanoo’s project and the Orochi was still at least a  few hours away.  Somewhat pleased, Susanoo told them to bring their daughter out of the house.  He knew the sooner he got the girl away from these geniuses the better off she would be.   He would’ve told her to flee away from the dragon, but if she was anything like her parents that might be a bit much to leave to her so,  for her safety during the battle, Susanoo used his divine powers to transform her into a comb which he placed in his ‘fro (He was seriously tempted to transform her into a sweet otter-skin tunic to wear into this battle, but it might be a stretch for even his divine powers to create something of such epicness; and if successful he might not want to turn her back).

Finally, the Orochi dragged its bloated self to their location, ready to engage in typical draconic ass-kickery.  Slow though it was, it existed to kick-ass and chew bubblegum, but it never even knew what bubblegum is.  Susanoo walked straight over to the Orochi and invited it for a drink.  The Orochi narrowed its 16 blazing eyes at Susanoo. It truly wanted nothing more than to butcher him, but not even a draconic demi-god wants to go through the hassle of living in Japan with the stigma that is the reputation of being one who turns down a “nomikai” (drink meeting). The Orochi irritatedly scooched its way over to the yatai and began drinking.  It didn’t even like sake but it couldn’t refuse Susanoo’s hospitality as it gulped down round after round of the stuff.  Finally, the Orochi ralphed all over the place and passed out.

Susanoo, after cleaning up, drew his sword and hacked the Orochi to death. When he slit open the Orochi’s belly he found the equivalent of about fifty bucks in loose change. In one the tails he found a divine sword, the Kusanagi-No-Tsurugi. Upon presenting Amaterasu with this, and a $50 gift certificate for Bed Bath & Beyond that he bought using the loose change, she forgave Susanoo once again and he was restored to his former place in the heavens.

I’m finally getting around to doing my first dinosaur related post here. This is a round-up of what I think is probably the most interesting dinosaur related news to come out in the past few weeks and indeed the past few weeks have been quite productive on that front.

First up is a very cool specimen of Microraptor. Though whether or not the four wings of Microraptor gui made it an effective flyer is still a matter debate, this fossil seems to indicate it could around well enough to pick off adult birds (and swallow them whole). I’ll definitely be illustrating this.  The abstract can be found at:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/11/17/1117727108.short

The next interesting find consists of the most massive osteoderms known to science. The owner of this integumentary awesomeness was the sauropod, Rapetosaurus krausei. Oddly enough, these osteoderms were hollow with the biggest having a volume of about 9.6 liters (My theory is that it had a chewy nougat and caramel center). The paper’s abstract can be viewed at:
http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v2/n11/full/ncomms1578.html

This next  one’s interesting because it demonstrates Alamosaurus sanjuanensis got freak’n huge; it turns out that previous material indicating A.sanjuanensis was about 72 ft. long and 39 tons came from an immature critter. It also gives us a bit more insight the weirdness of dinosaur ontogeny. This time around the paper was published in an open access journal (yay!), so the pdf is freely available at:

http://www.app.pan.pl/archive/published/app56/app20100105.pdf

And a new genus/species of ceratopsian, Spinops sternbergorum, was described this month.  It may be a new taxon, but the material was excavated almost a century ago.  Anyway, its a really interesting centrosaurine that looks as if it could be an intermediate form between Styracosaurus and Centrosaurus. The pdf of this paper is also freely available (Lord bless Acta Palaeontologica Polonica!) at:
http://www.app.pan.pl/archive/published/app56/app20100121.pdf

The dwarf king Hreidmar had three sons; Fafnir, who was an accomplished warrior; Regin a supremely skilled metal smith; and Otr, who could turn himself into an otter. One day while Otr was frolicking by a river in his otter form,  he was spotted by the mischief god Loki  and some of his buddies.

“Hey y’all look at this!” shouted Loki as he chucked a stone at the “otter.” His aim was dead-on, killing Otr on the spot. Loki then decided to commemorate his own awesomeness by skinning the otter and fashioning it into an epic otter-skin tunic. A little later, Loki got to thinking if anyone could appreciate the epicness of an otter-skin tunic, it’d be the dwarf king. So Loki and his crew paid a visit to the Hreidmar’s home.  The king and his remaining sons immediately recognized the pelt and were overcome with grief and rage (though they did have to admit it was indeed a sweet tunic), so they bum-rushed Loki and his friends, taking them captive.  Next the enraged dwarves tried to exact reparation by refusing to release Loki’s friends until he fulfilled their demand to return the skin of their deceased family member(and it had to be stuffed with gold too).  Loki quickly acquiesced, went out and quickly returned with the otter-skin now filled with gold and a magic ring that could produce more gold.

Of course the gold and the ring carried multiple curses that would bring death (Loki was already pissed-off at the dwarves for bum-rushing him and taking his friends hostage, but separating the mischief god from his fine otter-skin tunic was the worst mistake anyone could make). The curse of the gold brought out the greed in the dwarves’ hearts and they started fighting over the gold like bums going after a bologne  sandwich. Being the best fighter, Fafnir came out on top, killing his father and sending his brother, Regin, packing. Fafnir subsquently carried the gold to a cave in a nearby forest, and as a result of one of the treasure’s curses, slowly transformed into an enormous dragon, far too large to enjoy the awesomeness of the otter-skin tunic.
Over the following years Regin’s anger towards his brother never subsided nor did his lust for the gold (and the otter-skin tunic). During this time Regin acquired a foster son, Sigurd (AKA Sigfried).  Since Sigurd’s natural father was known to have been a proficient ass-kicker (he’d once killed a she-wolf by biting its freak’n tongue off!), Regin deduced it may prove productive to send a now adult Sigurd to take out Fafnir. Regin proceeded to tempt Sigurd with tales of the horde of gold protected by a vile dragon. Regin then told Sigurd this gold could be his and he’d provide him with a sword for the task if only Sigurd would agree to give him the dragon’s heart in return. Sigurd recalcitrantly refused at first,  but at the mention of a sweet otter-skin tunic, he put up no further resistance.

Regin, being a few IQ points higher than Sigurd, advised him to dig a pit at a trail near the dragon’s lair and to stab the dragon as it walks past. As Sigurd was digging the pit he was approached by a weird old man who advised him to dig trenches to catch the dragon’s blood and to bathe in it. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed Sigurd followed the old man’s instructions exactly.  Heeding the advice of a random weird old man this time would prove fortuitous since this old man was actually Odin in disguise.

Sigurd hung out in the pit until Fafnir returned from doing whatever it is gold hording dragons do when they aren’t protecting their horde (probably eating people and relieving themselves). As Fafnir walked past, Sigurd ambushed him and sucker-stabbed him in the left shoulder. The subsequent battle with the severely wounded beast did not last long.  Fafnir knew Sigurd had come for the gold (and the otter-skin tunic), and warned him that the cursed gold would only bring death. Sigurd, in a moment of unusually deep thought, replied that most men spend their lives trying to gain a fortune anyway so he didn’t have any problems with that.  Death came as a release for Fafnir,  since he’d really been dead on the inside ever since growing to large to take advantage of the sheer awesome of the otter-skin tunic.  Per Odin’s earlier instructions, Sigurd then took a dip in the the dragon’s blood and was imdued with invulnerability except for a spot on his left shoulder where a leaf was stuck (he was not in the habit of bathing thoroughly). Regin then appeared and told Sigurd to cook the dragon’s heart and serve it to him.

Sigurd then built a fire to roast the dragon’s heart. As he was cooking the heart, Sigurd poked it with his finger and tasted it. This small taste of the dragon’s heart flooded his mind with unimaginable wisdom and knowledge.  Lucky for Sigurd this new knowledge included bird language. At this time a bird perched nearby told Sigurd he’d heard Regin talking to himself about how he’s planning to do in Sigurd so he could have the dragon’s heart, the gold, and the sweet otter-skin tunic all to himself.  So going on the word of a random woodland critter he’d met a few seconds before,  Sigurd resolved to kill the man who’d raised him. As Regin  approached to take the roasted dragon’s heart, Sigurd informed him he knew of his foul plan and raised his sword.
“How did you know?” a shocked Regin blurted out.
“A little bird told me,” Sigurd replied coldly just before lopping off the dwarf’s head.  Sigurd then ate  more of the dragon’s heart before deciding to save the remainder of it as a gift to offer his future wife. After all, how could any lady turn down a guy offering a partially eaten-dragon heart AND sporting an otter-skin tunic?  Sigurd then  entered the cave to claim the cursed treasure and, above all, the awesomeness that is the otter-skin tunic.

The basilisk is said to be the king of serpents, not for its stature, but for its crown as well as its ability to dole out death with a glance and its breath that is so toxic/caustic that can burn up all vegetation in the immediate area and can even destroy stone. The blood of the basilisk is bad news too; any poor bastard who is (un)lucky enough to be able to get close enough to stab it will be done in by its toxic blood running up the weapon and killing the holder (basilisk blood is the active ingredient in Chuck Norris’s deodorant).  The basilisk is said to be the result of a rooster incubating an egg from a snake. As one would expect of one being from such a mixed-up background, the basilisk has serious issues; when it runs out of people to kill, it kills animals; when it runs out of animals to kill, it kills plants and herbs; and, according to some, when a basilisk runs out of stuff to kill, it spends every waking hour nursing a crippling addiction to “Farmville.”
In spite of its ability and willingness to so readily bring death, due to its diminutive size, the basilisk does not have a great deal of physical strength. Additionally, there are two creatures that are able to kill a basilisk; weasels and chickens (of course). It is said that the odor of a weasel’s urine can kill a basilisk. So one solution to a basilisk infestation is to toss a live weasel into a basilisk’s burrow. The terrified weasel will piss all over itself, killing the basilisk in the process (though the weasel usually does not survive being in such a close proximity to the basilisk).  Chickens are the one creature on God’s green earth that basilisks actually fear, and rightly so. For chickens are immune to the gaze and toxins of the basilisk.  Additonally, though it is a chicken that may bring life to the basilisk, a chicken is the one critter that is best suited to take it away; the crow of a rooster is absolutely deadly to a basilisk at close range and a large bird may inflict a fatal flogging.

Remember, November is basilisk awareness month.