Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Nino Konis Santana National Park, Lautém District
A panorama of the Paitxau Mountains and Nino Konis Santana National Park nearing dusk
A closer view of the Paixtau Mountains nearing dusk.
Are those pterodactyls circling?
Map of Malahara, southern Lake Ira Lalaro, Paixtau Mountains
and Nino Konis Santana National Park.
Mouse-over for Google satellite map and click for enlarged topographic map.
The sign for Nino Konis Santana National Park, which includes the Mainina sinkhole.
We parked a little beyond the sign.
Several rivers feed into Lake Ira Lalaro but only one river exits the lake. The Irasequiro River flows east and vanishes down the Mainina sinkhole beneath the Paitxau Mountains.
Curiously, from here some of the river water runs south into the Timor Sea while the majority turns north underground to empty into the Sunda Sea near Com.
Our plan was to visit the Mainina sinkhole and herp in the limestone karst enroute but we were also keen to search for specimens in the surrounding limestone forest.
The drive from Malahara to the sinkhole proved to be relatively short, and although we negotiated mud-wallows in Low4 we were prevented from going much further by several large treefalls.
We made two trips to collect specimens in the forest near Malahara, one during the day and one during the night. Our daytime visit was coupled with a trek to the Mainina sinkhole.
During the daytime trip we searched fallen trunks and rocks and found numerous large scolopendrid centipedes, a couple of curious scutigerid centipedes, which evaded capture and hence photography, buthid scorpions (Lychas mucronatus), brightly striped platyhelminth flatworms, numerous very large earthworms, two small dark Bent-toed geckos (Cyrtodactylus sp.), and two striped Forest skinks (Sphenomorphus sp.), the latter on standing trees. It was an interesting haul and it boded well for a night search.
Tropical flatworm (Platyhelminthes)
Timor bark scorpion,Lychas mucronatus
We also picked up some less welcome hitch-hikers, leeches that left those members of the team wearings shorts with bloody legs. Leeches have three rotating jaws, making a Y-shaped incision. Because their saliva contains a local anaesthetic the bites are not felt. Once the victim begins to bleed the leech also adds an anticoagulent, and the bite will continue to bleed freely long after the sated leech has dropped off and hidden itself in the leaf-litter to digest its meal. Fortunately leech bites are harmless, although the bites can itch afterwards and can may become secondarily infected if scratched.
Hinrich's leg with hitch-hiker click image to view culprit
There were also some large plants in this curious place.
Vegetation in the Land of the Giants
We expected the night search to be even more productive than the daytime visit, but despite searching over a wide area, including an interesting the cliff-face, in what seemed like ideal habitat, the weather and certainly the rock seemed too cold for reptilian activity.
Apart from some large wolf spiders we found little and the only reptile was a Bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp.) captured on a tree by Laca. Driving back towards Malahara much later we also captured one of two Rice paddy frogs (Fejervaya sp.) seen on the road. We have had more successful nights.
Bent-toed gecko,Cyrtodactylus sp.
Rice-paddy frog, Fejervarya sp.
It was tiring work and we still faced a long drive back to Com Beach Resort.
A tired team at the end of a long evening
(back) Mark, Caitlin, Luis, David, Marissa, Naveen;
(front) Laca, Hinrich, Zito, Malahara guide