Thursday, July 16, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 9 (The Sandy South)

There is a place in southern Jordan called Wadi Rum that was made famous by the film "Lawrence of Arabia". Tall, time-worn cliffs hover over the windblown sand dunes and desert flats that stretch beneath them. It's the roaming ground of bedouins and camels, and only the toughest can survive here. I came to Wadi Rum with my study abroad group, and although I had less than 24 hours and had to deal with the unforgiving July sun, I still felt an insatiable desire to spend my time investigating the herps of this extreme habitat.
We arrived in mid-day and the temperature must have been 100 degrees F or higher. It wasn't easy trekking across the loose, hot sand with my backpack and water bottle, but it was a lot of fun to see what was out there. I figured not much would be in the open at this time, so I decided to check the shade and rock walls. Here, I found my first herp.
A dwark rock gecko (Pristurus rupestri) was enjoying a shady boulder pile as I walked by.
They don't seem like typical geckos. It's not a terrestrial specie and is usually seen scampering up a rock face, and yet it only has claws (no toepads). In addition, it has round pupils due to its diurnal habits. An odd little gecko, but I enjoyed observing them as I rested in the shade with my water bottle.
Here's a larger specimen of the same specie seeking shelter in crevice. I kept walking, hoping to see some more species but disappointed at the lack of life and movement--just little ticks crawling along the sand after me. If I changed direction, so would they. It was like some creepy scene from "The Mummy". Finally, in late afternoon (around 4pm) I began walking back to our camp since I had to be back for a scheduled program and dinner. My two colleagues I was with basically retraced their steps, staying in the shade, whereas I decided to walk out into the open across the sand. Just as I was thinking that everything was sheltering deep in holes, I saw a new specie.
An Arabian toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus) was eyeing me from the other side of a bush. Finally, something out and in view! I was extremely cautious not to let it escape, since this unusual-looking lizard was a specie I very much wanted to see up close. I approached, and it sped off like zebra-tailed lizards in the US do. I ran after it, and it stopped behind another bush. The lizard contemplated its next move, and it finally did exactly what I wanted it to do...dive into the sand. I just walked around the bush, thrust my hand under the surface, and pulled out this amazing desert dweller.
Its comical appearance reminds me of a little bulldog. I'm just lucky it didn't opt for a hole, instead.
I carried it to a barren, hard-pan area for a photoshoot. He was nice enough to show me his defense posture, resting on his elbows with mouth open and tail black and curled.

I desperately wanted to herp at night since I figured many things would be out then, but with neither transportation nor a decent light, my hope was dashed. I did patrol the dunes, though, for a little while at dusk, holding onto the possibility of seeing an early riser. Again, I got lucky.
While slowly walking along the dunes at the edge of an outcrop of rocks, I saw a sand gecko (Tropiocolotes nattereri) gazing at me from beneath a rock that was overhanging the sand. The capture would be simple I thought, and not wanting to injur the delicate lizard I was dainty and gentle. To my dismay, the little guy ran across my arm and under a large, immovable boulder. I was happy to see it, but mad to let it get away so easily. The picture above is the same specie, but not the same individual. (I don't think this Internet photo is copyrighted...ha.)

With the sun down, herping for me this time would have to wait until morning. I awoke at 5:30 and went back out. I could only access nearby areas (no transportation), so I was a little frustrated that I couldn't get out and find some great habitat. I really wanted to find a sandfish or the tracks of a horned viper from the night before that I could track, but there was no luck in that regard. Before having to head out on the bus that morning, I only encountered one more new lizard specie.
I saw a total of three Schmidt's fringe-toed lizards (Acanthodactylus schmidti) catching some early rays. These were actually fairly beefy lizards. This shot was taken from a distance, and you might have to click on the photo to really do it justice...and to see its tracks in the sand. In spite of my attempts to catch them, they were extremely fast, and to my chagrin they resorted to holes rather than sand. Trying to dig them out didn't prove successful, either.

Wadi Rum was beautiful, and I can really appreciate the animals that are able to survive there. One day I'll have to return in order to resume my herping and make a few more catches. Once again, back to the bus and back to Amman.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff
    I liked this post. Didnt catch a whole lot, but herping those dunes looks fun man. I would love to herp there, and find a horned Viper or something. Looks like fun. To bad you didnt have much time there, and you couldnt go out at night, but I still enjoyed the post. Nice work. Oh and that posturing Arabian Toad-headed Agama is priceless (field guide worthy)