Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Dili, Dili District
Our final field day was completed but not our final day in Timor-Leste. The morning and early afternoon were taken up with final photography and preparation of specimens, personal packing and sorting and packing of field kit for storage in the shipping container at the Timor Lodge Hotel, pending Phase VII in June 2012.
The laboratory side of things produced a few interesting surprises. Several of the skinks from the Meleotegi were found to have parasite burdens and these were excised, photographed and preserved for later identification. The ectoparasites are usually ticks and several skinks (Carlia and Sphenomorphus) were found to be carrying them in places where they could not easily be dislodged by the lizard itself, such as in the axil of the arm. So common is this form of parasitic relationship that many lizards even possess armpits into which the ticks secrete themselves, thereby reducing the abrasion to the lizard's scales by continual rubbing against the parasite when running. Other ticks were less discerning, being found buried head-first under ventral scales and gorged with lizard blood.
The other parasites found were more interesting endoparasites. One four-fingered skink (Carlia) had a curious protrusion in its flank and when investigated this 'bump' was caused not by broken ribs but by two large and still living nematode roundworms, each longer than the lizard itself. Whether these worms had found themselves in the wrong host or whether they were relying on their host being devoured by some other species so that they might continue their parasitic lifestyle is uncertain, but either way the parasites ended up being fixed for the attention of a nematode parasitologist.
All these critters were interesting subjects to be recorded with the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens.
Ectoparasitic tick (Acari) on
Four-fingered skink Carlia sp.2
Ectoparasitic tick (Acari) on
Forest skink Sphenomorphus sp 3
And we also examined some more introduced Chinese pond turtles (Mauremys reevesii) being kept as pets in Dili. We have now recorded this species from several locations in Dili and Baucau.
Chiense pond turtle Mauremys reevesii
By stark contrast, the late afternoon of the 6th could not have been more removed from the world of tick removal and roundworm photography - we had been invited to the US Embassy to meet US Ambassador Judith Fergin. This would be the second time some of us had met with the Ambassador as she had invited us to the Embassy at the initiation of Phase IV in January 2011, and since then she had taken a considerable interest in the Victor Valley College Reptile and Amphibian Survey of Timor-Leste. Ambassador Fergin was keen to meet with us again and find our how the project had progressed*.
The students introduced themselves and recounted their favourite moments of the trip and then the Ambassador threw them a wobbly, asking what they missed most being away from home, many of them for the first time. All the team spoke well and gave excellent responses to questions or volunteered information about themselves, their aspirations and their participation in the project. Ambassador Fergin demonstrated her natural ability for breaking the ice and putting visitors at their ease.
The Ambassador then spoke about the aims and objectives of the US Embassy in Timor-Leste and about careers in the Service, should any of our students decide a desk in an air-conditioned office is preferrable to a sweaty mosquito net in the jungle. The Mission is Timor-Leste is a large one and viewed with great warmth by the Timorese who remembered President Clinton's stand against Indonesian aggression.
The hour flew past all to quickly and just before the Ambassador had to leave for another engagement there was time for a group photograph on the verandah at the back of the Ambassador's Residence (our previous photograph at been at the front of the building).
*There is a joke that the US Embassy uses this blog to keep track of its young nationals, should they have to come in and rescue them in a hurry. The joke continues that the writer of this blog, being the token limey on the project, will have to wait for the Australians and I guess whether or not help is received will depend on who last won The Ashes.
The team at the US Embassy
back step (l-r) Justin Rader, Zito Soares, Hinrich Kaiser;
front step (l-r) Gloria Morales, Melissa Carillo, Ambassador Fergin,
Aaren Marsh, David Taylor, Zach Brown;
floor (l-r) Mark O'Shea, Stephanie Hughes, Caitlin Sanchez,
Agivedo "Laca" Ribeiro, Scott Heacox, Sven Mecke.
photo: Jeffrey Borenstein US Embassy