Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 6 (Intermission of Non-Herps)

Ok, so the title is a bit of a misnomer. This post isn't really about the herps, but rather about the other animals I encounter while herping. Looking for snakes and lizards and the like includes a lot of walking through macrohabitats (deserts, forests, mountains, etc.) and pausing to examine microhabitats (a shady crevice, a fallen tree, or the shallow water at river's edge). So, naturally, herps are not the only species I stumble upon in my quest for reptiles and amphibians. Here is a sample of the other things I get to see as I explore Jordan...
Flipping objects over inevitably reveals arachnids and insects of every shape and size. Itching to photograph anything, I got a quick shot with this spider.
Definitely the scariest arachnid I've see is the camel spider. This one was huge! (It would have filled the palm of my hand.) I had to agitate it with a stick to make it stand still, but it certainly wasn't pleased, and it even made hissing sounds.
Large, black millipedes are common in the hills around Amman.
There is no animal here. It's a fox den I found after I walked over a hill and saw a red fox running away from me. I figured it must have emerged from here, and I wouldn't be surprised if it had offspring deep within.
I glimpsed something large move into the water when I overturned a rock at a stream's edge. After some investigating, I came out with a big freshwater crab.
A nearly stepped on a large bird that was lying motionless on the ground, hoping to be undetected. I didn't see it until it took off (literally, right at my feet, scaring me to death) flying low to the ground, then running awkwardly with one wing outstretched as if it were injured. It was a fine demonstration indeed, but I knew the game. Turning my attention away from the mother, I assumed its young were nearby. Sure enough, about 6-8 tiny hatchlings scattered with their panicked chirping. I singled out one and easily bent down and picked it up. It looks like it would be something like a quail or partridge. Then, I put it back in the orignial location and walked off, knowing the mother would surely return to count how many had been lost to the "predator."
Scorpions are also often encountered in the dry habitats. There are 13 species of scorpions in Jordan (of which I've found several), but only one is deadly to humans. It's called the "death stalker" and is light brown in color. The black one above was the biggest scorpion I've seen in Jordan, reaching 2-3 inches in lenghth.
Sometimes we'll see bats in caves or old buildings in the desert.

I usually find rodents, too, but here I've only found one large rat that quickly dove into a hole. Also, not pictured, I sometimes see hedgehogs dead on the roads, but I still haven't found a live one. I always keep those in the back of my mind while herping, and I hope to one day uncover a live one to hold and photograph. My mission lies with the reptiles and amphibians of the area, of course, but sometimes its enjoyable and refreshing to see the other forms of life which inhabit this country.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Well I moved out of Tucson, and I am now living in Alburquerque, New Mexico. So this will be my last post on the Tucson herps. I know it has been awhile since I have posted. I apologize, I havent had internet until today. So this will be a short post about the last few things I caught while still in the A.Z. I went hiking in a state park in the tucson area and didnt find much, other than the common things. I did find this Regal Horned Lizard. Horned lizards are always a welcome find. It was good sized adult. Same lizard.
Road cruising was not my friend in Tucson. I dont know what it was but I did not have hardly any luck road cruising. I guess I just didnt really find any good roads to cruise, and its not as much fun looking by your self. I actually found a really nice Lyre Snake dead on the road which was a bummer. It was a beautiful specimen, it had a greenish tone to it. Where as the one that we caught in So Cal was your typical browns and tans. I also found a couple of DOR mojaves, western diamond backs, and gopher snakes. The only live snake I did find was this Western Diamond back, which was nice to finally find a live one. I have seen 3 or 4 dead ones so finding this one alive helped me to check it off my list, as well as save the little guy. He was around 3 ft long. I went a realeased him in the state park at a later date.
He is a close up. Wish I had a better camera.
Here it is before I released him.
And one more that I think is a pretty cool picture, to bad its in a cage in my house before I let him go. But still a good shot, atleast I think so. Well that is it for Tucson herping for this year, hopefully I can find some cool stuff here in Albuquerque. I will keep ya updated.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 5 (The Fertile Desert)

In Jordan, most of the desert regions are vast, hot, treeless expanses. There is a place, though, called Dana Nature Preserve where cliffs rise up off the desert floor. In the winter/spring season clouds rise rapidly to pass over the cliffs, and they dump more moisture than is typical of surrounding desert regions. Unlike the wadis, the moisture comes seasonally and provides enough water for agriculture and other vegetation to grow in the area; whereas wadis, as described in the previous post, are simply fertile due to a flowing stream or river most, if not all, of the year. This post is dedicated specifically to this unique, fertile desert area, and later posts will reflect reptile life found in the more extreme desert habitats.
It is said that the oldest village in Jordan (and if I remember correctly, the oldest in the Middle East) lies next to this reserve. Here, I spent the night with my colleagues in tents on the roof of a booked hotel. We arrived at dusk, and with not much time to herp before dark, I set out to see what I could find before retiring for the evening.
A small Juniper skink, or Snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus ruepellii).
Other than a fan-footed gecko on the wall of a nearby building, I only ran into a few of these guys scurrying through the brush and leaf litter. They were surprisingly fast, and they would hold their limbs to the side and slither rapidly through underbrush like a snake.

The next morning, we set out for the reserve. We only had a couple hours there, so I made a mad effort to catch as many herps as possible before needing to leave with the group back to Amman in the North.
Of course, starred agamas were present. I tried finding other agama species, but was unsuccessful.
Another Eurasian blind snake (Typhlops vermicularis), like those found around Amman, was discovered under a stone.
It seems to be a "vermicularis", although I know it isn't the only blind snake specie in Jordan. I hope to one day discover a different specie for comparison.
Although oddly uniform in color and patternless, this gecko found in a crevice is thought to also be a Sinai fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus guttatus). I welcome a second opinion.

So far from what I can gather, the only specie I had found new to me was the Juniper skink. I doubled my efforts, knowing that time here was precious, and in my desperation I ran across a few more interesting species.
A Lebanon lizard (Phoenicolacerta laevis) nervously watched me from beneath a bush.
I kept going, flipping over stones in hopes of unearthing something different. Finally, I discovered a Sinai dwarf racer (Eirenis coronelloides).
This little snake did not like being held and did not like holding still. He bit me several times on the hand, putting forth great effort to harm me, but without producing the slightest discomfort.

Then, I stumbled upon a lizard that I've seen in pet stores in the states, and I knew lived out here in Jordan, yet I had not found.
Happy to have found and caught a Schneider's skink(Eumeces schneideri) that tried to slink across the earth without being seen.
Some close-ups. A decent-sized specimen, but they grow to be even larger.
Such an attractive lizard, possessing strong jaws, a hefty build, and its tell-tale silver with orange and yellow coloration.
It just needed something to bite to release its aggression. I put it back down, and it let go and sped away. There were still so many species I wanted to encounter, but being in a group and bound by a schedule, I boarded the bus and left the reserve. More herping would have to wait until future opportunities could be found.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 4 (The Wadis)

The word "wadi" in Arabic means valley or canyon. Much of Jordan is a vast desert (except in the north where the land is more arable), but there are places in the desert where small rivers and streams flow through valleys, or wadis. The landscape here is much different, like hidden oases.
You can see the expansive desert on top the stretches for miles. A small river flows through the canyon, allowing palms, acacias, and flowering plants of all kinds to survive.
Slot canyons like this one are refreshing places to hike through, and they provide cover and habitat for many species of plants and animals. Although, I didn't find any new reptile species here (in spite of my intensive searching), I did get to sample Jordan's amphibians.
I am unsure as to whether there are three or four amphibian species in Jordan. Some sources tell me three, while others say four. I can't find a list of them, and information appears scarce, so I'm going to assume there are only three until it is positively confirmed otherwise. I have found all three species within the habitat described.
This is one of them, the Levantine frog (Rana bedriagae), and a large tadpole of this specie is pictured above. This specie can be heard calling within the wadis, and though this one is rather small, they can grow to be pretty large. Also, their colors are variable; some are light while others are dark green. They remind me of leopard frogs or bullfrogs in the states.
The second specie is called Savigny's treefrog (Hyla savignyi). I found some newly metamorphosed ones clinging to rocks just above the water's surface in shady pools and others perched on overhanging vegetation.
Large ones remained elusive, probably sheltering deep within crevices or hidden among dense vegetation.
The last of Jordan's amphibian species is the European green toad (Bufo viridis). This is the specie that I thought I saw as tadpoles in Egypt. It has a wide range, and tiny toadlets could be seen bouncing along the rocks near the rivers edge at around dusk. With all of the amphibians found and documented, I'll resume my searching for Jordan's vast array of reptiles.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 3 (The Hills Have Eyes...Snake Eyes)

The hills in the Amman area remind me of the hills in southern California, particularly around Riverside county. The boulder-strewn, rocky hillsides cover the landscape, and coupled with short shrubs and bushes, the hills provide good cover for anything living in them. The weather also seems very comparable to that area of the states. As I walk through the hills, looking under bushes, overturning rocks, and peering under ledges, it's inevitable that I'll run across a snake or two.
I overturned one rock and saw (but only for a split second) a slender snake curled up. Before I could react, the quick serpent sped off through the low, prickly bushes and disappeared among some boulders. I was so disappointed with my herping skills for letting him get away, and I re-dedicated myself to practice quicker reflexes and smarter herping. I couple stones later I discovered his shed left behind, a depressing reminder of what just evaded me. The still-soft piece of skin was kind enough to hold still for a photo, revealing to me that my little friend was probably some specie of racer or whipsnake.
I walked down a small valley next to an agricultural area to look for more reptiles. A large dog on a nearby porch kept up his rhythmic barking like a metronome, while a couple bewildered faces gazed at me from their windows, wondering what this fully grown foreigner was doing walking slowly next to their farm turning over stones. I decided it was best not to make eye contact, but to just keep going as if I knew exactly what I was doing....which I did, I guess. Finally, another snake! Upon first glance, it would seem odd that an earthworm would be under a rock in a sandy desert area without any water. This, however, was no earthworm, but a very small snake.
A Eurasian blind snake (Typhlops vermicularis)
The vestigial eyes, appearance of scales around the head and body, and miniature pink tongue flicking in and out are all indicators of his reptilian origins.
Another slightly larger one was found further down the valley. Their internal organs, including their beating heart, can be seen through this specie's transparent underbelly.

I thought I had repeated my dreadful experience of letting a snake escape when I caught a glimpse of a pretty large snake slipping into a hole. Again, my heart sank until I looked into the hole and realized it was quite shallow, and the snake was comfortably curled up at the end.
Knowing that it couldn't go anywhere now, I took some time to assess the situation and my surroundings (should it try to dash back out), and I verifiend that it was not venomous. Actually, my identification went something like this: "Hmm...I really don't know the specie, but I know it isn't a viper, so who cares if I get bit." With an attitude of stubborn persistence, I reached my hand into the hole and pulled out the large, unhappy snake.
Needless to say, the irrate snake didn't hesitate to bite my hand. After researching, I discovered the specie is known as the Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), and it is mildly venomous. Effects of the venom include swelling and fever like symptoms. Lucky for me the fangs are located in the back of the mouth, and it was only able to latch on with his front teeth.
The Montpellier snake was a good 3 feet or more.
Here it is slipping down the nearest hole after being photographed.
Ouch! I don't blame it for being upset, and of course if I see another snake coiled in a hole, I'd do it all over again. More than a few snakes inhabit these hillsides, and my job is to herp them from the holes and crevices that they call home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 2 (The Vicinity)

I was now in Amman, and life quickly became busy with classes, homework, learning how to get around, making local friends (and trying to explain to them in Arabic why I like catching reptiles), and when time allows...herping! Many times, though, the herps can be found in and around town without going too far.
Once, I was in downtown Amman eating falafals with friends. We walked over to an area of old Roman ruins to sit down and finish our meal. Not long afterward the workers who maintain the area came over and we practiced our Arabic with them, while sitting under a fig tree and sipping some of their local lemon mint "tea". The conversation didn't get far before they were informed of my reptile fascination. One guy smiled and ran off to bring something back that he had found that morning. I was surprised and excited to see him return with a good-sized Greek tortoise that had made the ruins its home.
Adult Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca).

Then, later, I saw a curious skink popping its head in and out of a crack in an old Roman pillar. I'd put my face up to it and look in, and the skink would come right up to my nose. When I pulled my face away and tried to grab it with my hand, it would retreat back into the crevice. This was the best picture I could get of him. Again, you can click on the picture to enlarge it. I've tried to find out its specie name, but with no luck. It seems I can get information all day about the huge, or cool, or special species of the area, but a lot of the less impressive or smaller species get overlooked by websites and such...too bad.
The yellow fan-fingered gecko found in Aqaba turns out to be only one of three species of fan-fingered geckos that live in Jordan. Both of the other two make the Amman area its home, or at least their ranges seem to overlap here, and I've found both species sitting on the same boulder in late afternoon.
The Levantine fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus puiseuxi) is black with white polka dots covering its body. I remember the first time I saw this specie was when I was sixteen in the Golan Heights when I was on vacation with my family.
The Sinai fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus guttatus) is lighter in color and has grey-ish spots intermixed with orange-ish spots. I have also since seen this specie in areas further south of Amman, where I haven't seen the Levantine specie.

Herping close to home also allowed me to find my own little Greek tortoise, which I assume is a fairly common specie in this area (not like the rarity of the Desert tortoise in the states).
I love these little guys! I've since caught two more (one, however was a large adult), but I never tire of seeing a tortoise sheltering next to a rock or under a bush. Such a cool specie!
I love the look on this guy's face. It just looks so defeated and dejected...almost ashamed...ha! I put him back down and he waddled as fast as he could to the nearest bush. Herping is such an enjoyment--hiking around, enjoying nature, and sampling the native fauna. It's nice to know that sometimes you don't even have to be far from home to satisfy your needs.