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

Metinaro mangrove swamp, Dili District

Map of Metinaro showing mangrove swamps.

Mouse-over for Google satellite map and click for enlarged topographic map.

Some months ago Laca, sent Hinrich and me a photograph of a snake he had captured in the mangrove swamps at Metinaro, while helping his own students with a herp project. I immediately recognised it as a Little filesnake (Acrochordus granulatus), one of only three species of filesnakes in the genus Acrochordus, the sole genus of the family Acrochordidae, a unique family of marine and freshwater snakes. The species was recorded for Timor in the 19th Century but had not been recorded during our survey. When we arrive in Timor-Leste we usually break the students in gently with a local field trip up the Comoro River near Dili. This time we decided our initial field outing in Timor-Leste on Phase VI would be to the Metinaro mangrove swamp.

Timorese herpers at Metinaro, incl. Luis
(left with GPS) and Laca (2nd from right)
Laca with Little Filesnake, Acrochordus granulatus
Little Filesnake, Acrochordus granulatus,
, Dili District, Timor-Leste
Little Filesnake, Acrochordus granulatus,
Weipa, Queensland, Australia
Top righ and left, bottom left photos: Luis Lemos

Metinaro is located about about one hour east of Dili. The coastal road goes through some very scenio habitats.

The coastal road east of Dili, enroute Metinaro and ultimately Baucau and Lautém, but not this trip!


We drove to Metinaro and spread out across the mangrove swamp, squelching through glutinous mud and clambering over tangled roots and debris. But behind a thin line of trees it seemed much of the swamp near the shore had been destroyed as broken mangrove branches and roots were everywhere.


The edge of the Metinaro mangrove swamp

I explained how the generally nocturnal homalopsid mangrove and mud snakes often used Mud lobster (Thalassina anomala) burrows as retreats during the day. This is where we found the Crab-eating mangrove snakes (Fordonia leucobalia) in Papua New Guinea.

Dense twisted mangroves and sticky mud The incoming tide
Scott tramping through the swamp Mud lobster burrow, down which crab-eating mangrove snakes spend the day


Common house gecko,
Hemidactylus frenatus
Fiddler crabs, Uca sp.

Despite 14 people searching extensively we were only finding occasional Common house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) and fiddler crabs (Uca spp.). The team was almost finished and were washing off mud when Caitlin, still in the swamp, called "Mark, Snake!". She had found a snake and by the time we reached her Laca had dug it out of the mud lobster burrow. This was a nice find, a Crab-eating mangrove snake, aka White-bellied mangrove snake, not only our first specimen from Timor but also a first country record for the species, a good way to initiate the fieldwork on Phase VI. This is an interesting rear-fanged mildly venomous species that feeds on mud lobsters and newly-moulted crabs, crushing and breaking the prey's legs off before it is swallowed.

Crab-eating mangrove snake,
Fordonia leucobalia