TIMOR-LESTE 2012

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

Macadade, Ataúro Island, Dili District


Once we were settled in at Barry's Place we took both troopies and the entire team up towards Mt Manucoco, stopping on a rocky, eucalypt-wooded promontory, a short way up the Macadade road, to search for reptiles.

The team disembarks from the troopies
on the Macadade road
The eucalypt-wooded promontary with Mt Manucoco in the background

 

We captured several Common house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus), two blindsnakes (Ramphotyphlops sp.) and Laca missed capturing a bronzeback (presumably Dendrelaphis inornatus timorensis).

There are two blindsnakes known from Timor, the tiny, parthenogenetic (all-female) colonising Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) and the larger indigenous Timor blindsnake (R. polygrammicus polygrammicus). The specimens we collected were either large specimens of the former or small specimens of the latter, something that could will not be determined without a microscopic scale count of those specimens vouchered. Since R. braminus is an introduced species associated with man it seems likely that the specimens found on the rocky promentary belong to the indigenous wild species, R. polygrammicus, itself a species complex with five subspecies across the Lesser Sundas and New Guinea.

Blindsnake,
Ramphotyphlops sp.
Common house gecko,
Hemidactylus frenatus
Bifurcated tail

One of the Common house geckos had a bifurcated tail, the result of an injury or partial caudal autotomy (tail loss - many small lizard voluntarily shed tails as a defense) where the original tail has survived and recovered, and a new tail has grown from the wound.

The rest of the drive to Anartutu Aldeia, Macadade Suco, was up a very steep and rocky road that took almost an hour and required High4 most of the way but was not bad enough for Low4. The village at the end of the road was one we had visited on both previous trips to Ataúro. We made contact with some of the guides we had hired before and arranged to return the next day to search for reptiles on the slopes of Mt Manucoco or Mt Canilatuto, the two main peaks on the island.

Map of Anartutu and environs
Mouse-over map for sat map and click for larger version of topo map

 

The troopies parked at Anartutu Talking to the guides at Anartutu

Our main target species on Mt Manucoco was a bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp.). We had collected a single specimen on our first visit to Ataúro in 2010

Manucoco bent-toed gecko,
Cyrtodactylus
sp.2
collected in 2010

This time our guides took us towards the other mountain, Mt Canilatuto. The trek was full of interesting surprises and there was much to discuss when we stopped for lunch in a garden shelter around midday.

You put the lime in the coconut! Manucoco trek: (l-r) back: Arlindo (guide), Sven, Stephanie, Glorid, Melissa, Caitlin, Hinrich, Aaren, Marcelo (guide); front: Zaqucu (guide), Zach, Zito, Scott, David, Laca, Justin, Mark

Although we were primarily searching for reptiles we took an interest in the many unusual invertebrates we encountered along the way, many of them, but not all, spiders.

Cicada
Fruit-piercing moth caterpillar
Eudocima phalonia
The eye of a stick insect
Pickelhaube harvestman, Gagrella sp.
[Sclerosomatidae]


Giant orb weaver (female)
Nephila sp.
Orb weaver
Argiope sp ?.
Giant orb weaver (tiny male)
Nephila sp.
Spiny orb weaver
Gasterocantha sp.

But we did not luck out on reptiles, we found Emerald tree skinks (Lamprolepis cf. smaragdina), Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), Stump-toed gecko (Gehyra sp.) and finally, after three trips to Ataúro, we confirmed the Sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata) when Laca captured a specimen. Hinrich also saw a specimen of bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp.) under dead bark in a rocky creek, the same species for which we have a single specimen from Phase II (2010), which we believe to be new to science, but it disappeared into the rocks.

Common house gecko
Hemidactylus frenatus
 
Stub-toed gecko
Gehyra sp.
notice the damage on the neck, a defensive tactic involving voluntary skin loss that gives
one species its name Gehyra mutulata, Mutilated gecko
Emerald tree skink
Lamprolepis cf. smaragdina
left: adult, right: juvenile

AND we had snakes, one live, one dead!

The first was a live snake. A shout from Laca brought everyone running. He had seen a snake in a tree and when he went up to grab it the snake leapt down into the bushes where it was pursued by a dozen people. Laca somehow managed to get to the front of the chase and made a grab just as I closed in, pinning the snake under his hands, whereupon it immediately bit him. I could see the chocolate brown coils protruding from under his arm, worryingly the same colour as a cobra, and grabbed the snake as Laca recoiled from his bite. A quick check of the head and I was relieved to inform Laca it was nonvenomous. We had captured a very dark specimen of the Lesser Sunda racer (Coelognathus subradiatus). The second snake was a Lesser Sunda Island pitviper (Trimeresurus insularis), a venomous species killed near a village house and hooked over a branch the day before, which meant it was relatively ant-free when we collected it as a voucher specimen.

Lesser Sunda racer
Coelognathus subradiatus

Satisfied with the day we made our way back to the vehicles where the students relaxed and Zito interviewed villagers about reptiles and amphibians in the area using our Species Identification Cards and asking them whether they had seen the frog/lizard/snake etc. (A) around the village; (B) somewhere else in Timor, or (C) never seen it before. This proved a very successful intelligence gathering exercise and we plan its use it much more widely on this and future expeditions.

David, Aaren and Gloria chill out
on the roof of my troopie
Zito showing Anartutu villagers our set of Timor herp cards and documenting their reactions
The title card of the Species Identification Card set

 

Having been so successful in everything except the capture of the montane bent-toed gecko had come for, we determined to make at least one more concerted effort to find the lizard in the week to come. However, the weather took a turn for the worse over the following days and although we could have driven up to Anartutu in the troopies we doubted the lizards would be active in the cloud-shrouded rainy mountains, so we concentrated our attention in the coastal region. Every day we hoped for finer weather, and every day we were disappointed.