Archives for posts with tag: Japan
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.


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!

BOOYA! Andrias japonicus: The Japanese Giant Salamander

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.

*about 35% as sweet as an epic otter-skin tunic

Very few things can make me manage a smile at 6AM. Giant Salamander is hunting one such thing.

We got up at about 5:30AM and immediately resumed searching for Giant Salamanders. The river was noticeably lower and a bit more clear than it was the previous day.  Apparently it had been swollen from the torrential storm that hit the area a few days prior. We searched downstream of the site for about 3 hours before returning to the tent to eat a breakfast consisting of anpan, oranges, dried-meat, green-tea and coca-cola.

On the forest floor near the tent, we found Cynops pyrrhogaster Japanese Fire-Newt/イモーリ(Imoori). As a child, I had seen these many times in pet-stores and in Innai we had seen a few splattered on the road, but seeing a live one in-situ brought me the amount of joy roughly equivalent to consuming a bucket of KFC.

Cynops pyrrhogaster: About $5.00 a pop in pet-stores but awesome nonetheless.

We returned to the river by 9:00AM and resumed the search. Continuing upstream, we came across a huge Bufo japonicus Japanese Toad/ヒキがエル(Hikigaeru) sitting on a boulder in a zen-like manner. This was easily the largest B.japonicus I’d ever seen firsthand.

Bufo japonicus, the Japanese toad

Bufo japonicus

While I was climbing up a small waterfall, a boulder dislodged and rolled backwards carrying me with it. In that instant, I wondered whether I was about to be pinned under water or have my head cracked open on a rock. The answer was neither. When it stopped, it was on top of my legs, but I had been spared of having any crushed bones thanks to a gap in the rocks. I heard my partner yell “Oh my God! I’ll never get that off you!” I sat up and, with  panic-induced andrenaline-fueled idiot-strength, pushed the thing off of myself. My already-injured foot had taken the worst of it; it was bleeding a bit and it was obviously going to have some major bruising, but I could still walk on it.

About 5pm, we walked (limped in my case) back to Innai. Our first purpose was to find a bus stop and check the bus schedule because, planning ahead, it was pretty clear I  wouldn’t be able to make the approx. 30km walk back to the train station in Usa in a timely manner. The second purpose was to get more junk food from the liquor store.  However, after locating the bus stop, we found that that there would be no buses running in Innai for the next several days because they don’t operate when the local schools are closed. But on the bright side, we bought some bologna at the liquor store; bologna always makes traumatic near-crippling events better.

This is pretty much what 90% of my day consisted of.

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.


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)



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.