Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Phase V

Com, Lautém District

Fieldwork is not all running around in the field searching for specimens. There are lots of other tasks to carry out if the research project is to be a success and knowledge is to be gained.

Timor-Leste is largely virgin territory, certainly from an herpetological point of view, even commomly encountered skinks and geckos may belong to undescribed species. In order to compile an inventory of the country's herpetofauna it is necessary to sample diverse habitats throughout the country, capture specimens, photograph them (including any sexual or ontogenetic [age-related] differences), document snout-to-vent lengths, tail lengths, scale counts, colouration, patterning, take DNA samples, and select a representative sample to act as voucher specimens for the Smithsonian Museum (the National Museum of the United States [Timor-Leste does not possess a natural history museum at this time]).

There is a great deal of lab-based work to be completed and that is what separates a serious herpetofaunal survey from a herp-hunting vacation.

This means that every so often you have to stop chasing specimens and process those you have captured, especially if you are planning to move on because specimens due to for release should be released where they were captured, and expeditiously.

David and Caitlin working in the field lab
at the Com Resort Hotel

The fieldwork results are combined annually into published report papers, the first of which, for 2009, was recently published in the journal ZooKeys [a free copy of the .pdf can be downloaded from here], the report for 2010 is in preparation, as is a report on the Oecusse exclave and several new species descriptions. Short papers on an introduced turtle and the crocodile situation have also been published.

The ultimate aim is to produce a field guide to the entire herpetofauna of Timor-Leste, Asia's newest country and the first new country of the 21st Century.

The final two day was spent at Com.

The morning after a truly unpleasant night of fever, fits of coughing that should have drawn blood, and certainly brought tears, Mark was not feeling much better, but having peaked at 101.5 his temperature was back under 100 at last and during the day it dropped back to almost normal due to the administrations of Naveen. This was the first phase to include a medic and he had been worth his weight. Marissa was now very much recovered and was out and about with the rest of the team but Mark spent most of the day in a darkened room either sleeping fitfully or listening to the activity outside.

Rentló arrived to deliver a new Troopie and then Hinrich acompanied them to collect the abandoned vehicle on the Com to Bauro road. They also scavenged that vehicle's spare tyre for Hinrich's Troopie as the spare tyre we put on for a pucture at Mainina sinkhole only a couple of days earlier, had failed during the night, leaving his vehicle with a flat tyre for a second time.

Rentló deliver a replacement Troopie... ...and collect the dead one.

Other expedition members busied themselves with admin tasks, catching up on their field notebooks, some specimen work and R&R around the Com Beach Resort.

Local children arrived with two living specimens, a juvenile Timor monitor lizard (Varanus timorensis) and an Island pitviper (Cryptelytrops insularis), both in empty plastic water bottles. Luis, from the Jets, took the boy who had captured the pitviper aside and explained to him the error of his ways and the serious consquences of an accident (we had seen photographs a day or so earlier of the results of a bite from this species, on a small boy from Laca's village, Raça and the photographs were not pretty!). Part of our mission is public awareness and education, and "stay well clear of venomous snakes" is part of that message.

Timor monitor lizard, Varanus timorensis
Island pitviper, Cryptelytrops insularis


As a wind-down at the end of a productive but tiring trip the team of biologists went beachcombing in the rock pools, searching for interesting crustaceans, molluscs and echinoderms at low tide.

The beach at Com Beach Resort,
at low-tide numerous interesting rock pools are uncovered