Around Port Moresby

Map of Port Moresby showing PMGH, Gateway, Jacksons & roads out of town.
click to enlarge map


Old Dakota at entrance to Jacksons Airport.

For the 2010 field trip to PNG, my 9th visit to the country, I was based at the Gateway Hotel, as were Roger Lowe and Steve Slater during their two week each visits. The Gateway was extremely handy, close to the airport (the old Dakota was right outside the gate), handy for Port Moresby General Hospital and the AVRU Serpentarium and within easy access of the Hiritano and Magi Highways. Heroping in the grounds produced one species, the Slender forest skink (Sphenomorphus cf. fragilis), found under pot-plants. I would also expect the Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) but did not find it there yet.


Slender forest skink, Sphenomorphus cf. fragilis.

The commonest snakes seem around Port Moresby city were DOR Carpet pythons (Morelia spilota harrisoni), although whether they were killed by traffic or killed elsewhere and thrown onto the road, would be impossible to determine without closer examination, which would risk joining the python by being run over. We counted at least a dozen DOR carpet pythons around the capital, and more beyond on the Hiritano Highway. The only DOR snake we stopped to collect was a recently killed Black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata), on the inside ofthe curve at Goanna Corner. Goannas Corner is a location on a wide bend where, driving out of town, Roger, Owen, Jasper and I pursued a large Papuan savanna or Argus monitor lizard (Varanus panoptes hornii). We failed to capture the lizard but drew a large crowd, several of whom offered to catch and sell the lizard to us. We declined and left.

The whipsnake was fresh enough to warrent removal of the venom glands for Owen. Whilst I was excising the glands I noticed a large lungworm (Nematoda: Strongylida) which exited the nares. I have found these parasites in whipsnakes before, ie. a specimen given to me alive in the Mekeo region of Central Province in the eaarly 1990s went into a fit and died. Immediately afterwards two large lungworms were captured as they exited the glottis. These parasites may be part of the reason for the apparent decline of whipsnakes in Central Province.

Lungworm exists nares of dead Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata.
Venom glands exposed in dead Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata.
Lungworm (Nematoda: Strongylida) from Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata.


Mark O'Shea taking a liver sample for DNA analysis.


All specimens were documented, photographed and identified with DNA samples being taken from voucher specimens (blood, tissue, scale-clips and/or liver). Voucher specimens will be deposited in the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, which is the center for Papuan Herpetofaunal Research.


We spent a great deal of time at the AVRU Serpentarium feeding death adders, milking the eight taipan, examining specimens, doing photography etc.


Snek Haus - main milking and taipan room.
Snek Haus - Mark O'Shea in death adder room.


Mark O'Shea & Jasper tubing Fat Albert.



One of the sadest duties was looking after the oldest taipan in residence, a 2.7m specimen called Fat Albert which had a pre-clocal tumour. This snake had been in the programme since 2004 and when it passed away it was mourned in PNG, Australia and Europe.





The healthy taipan were to be milked every three weeks which meant I got two sessions in during my visit. Roger also milked two taipan during the first session and Steve and Owen milked on each during the second session. I dealt with the rest including the newly captured, settled, fed and sloughed Dasiama specimen. All venom was pooled for the monovalent taipan antivenom production programme.

Milking taipan at the AVRU Serpentarium in Port Moresby.
Close-up of Dasiama taipan.
Owen and Jasper assist with milking.
Owen assists with milking.
Preparing to present milking vial to taipan.
There were eight taipans to milk at each session.
Venom from the eight taipans was pooled.


In the AVRU Serpentarium, Port Moresby.
Owen Paiva with his PCR machine. Jasper Gabugabu with a death adder.
Jasper with a taipan in a Probagger. Close-up of the shed fang of a Papuan taipan.
Heads or tails?
Abdomen of
Garden orb-weaver, Eriophora sp.
Face of Garden orb-weaver, Eriophora sp.
Jumping spider, Plexippus sp.


One of the taipan in the Serpentarium was actually captured outside the unit, there are taipans living wild on the hospital campus. Although nothing quite like that turned up during our stay we did catch and photograph some interesting spiders.

Whilst in Port Moresby I was asked to give a lecture at the Port Moresby Internaional School (POMIS). I last spoke there following my first ever visit to PNG in 1986 so it was a pleasure to return and speak there again almost a quarter of a century later. I spoke about how field science is fun and also gave the students an introduction to the snakes of Papua New Guinea. Steve and Owen assisted with a demonstation of the correct first aid procedures for snakebite in PNG and then introduced the students, staff and visitors to a couple of Southern white-lipped pythons (Leiopython hoserae).

Speaking at Port Moresby International School
Speaking at POMIS in 1986.
Being introduced again in 2010, 24 years later.
The audience are keen to learn.
The Papuan taipan, most dangerous snakes in PNG.
Owen and Steve demonstrate the Aussie pressure bandage first aid technique for snakebite. Steve charms the ladies with a white-lipped python.