Magi Highway: City Mission

Map showing the Magi Highway (Rigo Road) showing Mt Diamond and City Mission.
click to enlarge map

The Magi Highway continues southeast from the Mt Diamond-Central City roundabout, past the Loloata Island Resort jetty turn-off, and over a rise from where a long straight section of road runs down to a small bridge and a creek. Most of the land on the right, from the top of the rise to a small market, belongs to the City Mission, a Christian charity set up to give a second chance to young men from Port Moresby who might otherwise be tempted to join criminal 'raskol' gangs. At the Mission they learn agricultural and business skills that will hopefully help them find meaningful employment.

City Mission is located on the left of the Magi Highway.

The team gave a presentation on snakes of PNG to the students at the City Mission, having heard that three snakes had been killed there the day previously. Following the presentation the students became very enthusiastic about the project and the author was frequently called out to City Mission for a snake that had been captured as they worked in the gardens. The tream was always guaranteed a friendly reception as we searched for snakes and other reptiles in the grounds and during the six weeks we made frequent visits to City Mission.

Contrasting moods of Varirata from the Magi Highway, northwest and southeast of City Mission.

The reptiles most in evidence, as usual, were skinks: Dusky skink (Emoia obscura), Eastern bicarinate four-fingered skink (Carlia bicarinata), Papuan litter skink (Carlia macfarlani), Slender forest skink (Sphenomorphus cf. fragilis), and Black-tailed forest skink (Glaphyromorphus nigricaudis). A Southern giant blue-tongued skink (Tiligua gigas evanescens) was also discovered by the boys but accidentally speared by one of them in fright - this skink is greatly feared and thought to be venomous in PNG. When the team arrived the blue-tongue's lung was protruding from its side like an air-bag, inflating hugely as it panicked. We took it away and the author was able to clean up the lung, push it back into the body cavity, super-glue the wound closed and tape it with elastoplast. At the time of leaving PNG several weeks later the skink was doing well and the dressing had been removed.

A small Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) was captured on a small papaya tree outside the Pastor's office and two diminutive agamids, the Two-lined dragon (Diporiphora bilineata) were captured with the skinks under dead palms fronds near the road fence.

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Dusky skink, Emoia obscura
Bicarinate skink, Carlia bicarinata (female above male)
Papuan litter skink, Carlia macfarlani
Slender forest skink, Sphenomorpus cf. fragilis
Black-tailed skink, Glaphyromorphus nigricaudis
Common house gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus
Two-lined dragon, Diporiphora bilineata


Injured Southern giant blue-tongue skink Tiliqua gigas evanescens (see text above)


Five snake species were recorded during our visits to City Mission: the Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), the world's only known parthenogenetic* snake species, the Eastern common keelback (Tropidonophis mairii mairii), a nonvenomous frog-eater, the Slatey-grey snake (Stegonotus cucullatus), a nocturnal reptile egg or lizard feeder, the Brown-headed snake (Furina tristis), a small, secretive, front-fanged venomous snake that feeds on small skinks, and the Black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata), a fast-moving, alert diurnal venomous predator of lizards. We obtained three specimens each of the keelback and the brown-headed snake. Encysted tapeworms were removed from under the whipsnake's skin. These wayward parasites are common in Papuan snakes, they were also found in Brown treesnakes (Boiga irregularis).

* Parthenogenetic species exist as female only populations, laying eggs containing clones of themselves. This makes them good colonisers but poor adapters as they demonstrate very little genetic diversity. There are numerous lizard species or populations, especially amongst Pacific-New Guinea geckos ie. Pelagic gecko (Nactus pelagicus), Indo-Pacific house gecko (Hemidactylus garnotti), Mutilated gecko (Gehyra mutilata), Mourning gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris), and Indo-Pacific tree gecko (Hemiphyllodactylus typus), but only one known snake, the Brahminy blindsnake or Flower-pot snake (R.braminus).

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Brahminy blindsnake, Ramphotyphlops braminus
Eastern common keelback, Tropidonophis mairii mairii
Slatey-grey snake, Stegonotus cucullatus
Brown-headed snake, Furina tristis
Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata
Encysted cestodes (tapeworms) removed from Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata

Wood scorpions (Liocheles sp.) and giant scolopendrid centipedes were also found under the garden debris and palm fronds.

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Wood scorpion, Liocheles sp.
Giant scolopendrid centipede, species unknown


On our final visit to City Mission was on the return journey from Kwikila. We had two large Brown treesnakes (Boiga irregularis) on board and decided to stop and show them to the students at the Mission as a thankyou for all their enthusiastic assistance. It is fair to say the two snakes caused quite a scene.

Mark shows the City Mission students two
Brown treesnakes
, Boiga irregularis