Again we woke up about 5:30am. My injured foot was really painful. I wasn’t sure if the tenderness was from it being crushed or from a developing infection but this had to be the last day of the hunt. However, I managed to convince my partner to allow me to continue searching for a few more hours before packing up and trying to get back to civilization.
When we got to the river, the water had receded further and was much more clear. Apparently the storm from the first day of the trip had impeded our search to a greater extent than we had realized.
We decided to go back upstream, noodling for the cryptic critters. I really felt miserable but I still had to smile a bit when we came across the toad we’d met the day before, in a still zen-like manner, sitting on the same in rock in the same position we last saw it in.
By 8:45 I became a bit nauseous and felt like I had a fever. It was definitely time to quit and try to find some medical treatment. Very reluctantly I began heading back to the tent.
At 9:24am, when we were about 1 minute from the camp site, right at the point we would be exiting the river, I saw it as my partner walked right past it. It wasn’t under a rock nor was it in a shadowy pool. It looked like a flabby brown infant as it was crawling right out in the open and straight towards me! I momentarily thought I was hallucinating. Finally, Andrias japonicus!
After directing my partner’s attention to it and some unintelligible happy yelling on her part, we sat and observed it for the next half hour as we basked in its cryptobranchid-ey awesomeness until it got swept out of sight by the current. I’d wanted to see one of these critters in-situ ever since I was 10 years old. The locals’ previous discouragement and repeatedly telling us it couldn’t be done made this find all the more sweet.*
Time for a post-giant-salamander-finding nap, then it's time to seek proper medical treatment.
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.
Elephants 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.
The 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.
A 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.
While 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.
Statue 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.
A 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).