TIMOR-LESTE 2012

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

Beloi swamp, Ataúro Island, Dili District

Hinrich drove to the swamp south of Beloi where we had previously sighted the Ataúro monitor lizard, a larger and more aquatic species than the Timor tree monitor (Varanus timorensis) of the main island.

Map of creeks and swamps south of Beloi
Mouse-over map for sat map and click for larger version of topo map

 

Beloi swamp
click to enlarge and spot Zach, Laca and David

They took the five traps that had been constructed from chicken wire with cable ties (zip-locks) and set two in the ground and three in the trees over the swamp.

Open water at the Beloi swamp One of the monitor lizard traps in situ
on a branch in the swamp

The trap setting team came back to camp triumphant because despite chasing a large monitor lizard which plunged into the swamps and vanished, Scott and Laca had managed to capture a juvenile - Laca climbed the tree, the team ringed the tree and when the lizard leapt Scott made the capture. The team also captured an Emerald tree skink (Lamprolepis cf. smaragdina).

Ataúro monitor lizard
Varanus sp.

The next day a team went out to check the monitor traps and came back with one of them demolished. Something had entered the trap, eaten the chicken piece and exited through the side, parting the chicken-wire mesh as if it wasn't there, a big monitor lizard maybe. In the late morning we checked the traps again and missed another monitor lizard, David and myself throwing ourselves headlong into the mud in a failed attempt to prevent its escape. Laca relocated one of the tree traps to where he had seen a monitor lying on a branch. The ground-level traps just caught land crabs.

Laca relocating and improving one of the tree traps Caitlin checking one of the ground-level traps

By the evening both remaining tree-located traps had been destroyed in the same fashion as the trap in the morning. We only had sufficient extra-strong mesh to make a single trap so we decided we would set one strong, hopefully monitor-proof trap the next day.

We decided to established a "Monitor Watch", stationing people out in the swamp to watch the trap and report on any monitor lizard interest, and most especially alert the rest of the team at base using walkie talkies if a monitor entered to trap, so that we could secure it before it broke out again. Shifts lasted two hours. We set the reinforced trap and built a hide area from where the trap could be observed.

The first shift consisted of David and Laca with Zach along to film the adventure. Both Laca and Zach decided to remain in the swamp for the duration of the exercise.

The new reinforced trap from the hide Zach in the camera hide from the water's edge
See you in two hours, guys.

The second shift comprising Aaren and Melissa, and the final shift was Stephanie and Scott. No monitors were seen and but we got a bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp. 6) in the neighbouring coconut grove and Laca caught a Leschenault's snake-eyed skink (Cryptoblepharus leschenault) between the swamp and the mountains of the hinterland. Everyone who participated in the monitor watch said they enjoyed the exercise and even the mosquitos were bearable.

Leschenault snake-eyed skink
Cryptoblepharus leschenault
Bent-toed gecko
Cyrtodactylus sp. 6

 

Scott drew my attention to an interesting species at the monitor watch location. As usual, the vegetation was alive with weaver ants scurrying back and forth, but they were not alone! Ever observant Scott had noticed that some of the ants were not actually ants. They were Australo-Papuan ant-mimic crab spiders (Amyciaea albomaculata) that could be distinguished from the ants by the presence of two rather than three body parts and eight rather than six legs. Since ants probably cannot count they were not aware of this subterfuge so the ant-mimic spiders waited patiently and ambushed any ants that strayed too close. These amazing spiders even possessed ant eye-spots on their abdomens, and adopted ant threat postures when approached, so Scott postulated that they may even secrete a substance to further convince the ants there was no danger. Isn't the natural world fascinating !

We wanted to spend some time getting super-macro close up images of these spiders and their prey, and whilst there we encountered a Hackled orb-weaving spider (Miagrammopes sp.), a curious stick-mimic spider that seemed to produce a bolus of silk that it could cast to the wind and then use to evade capture. At Barry's Place Scott had captured another weird Kerengga ant-like jumping spider, (Myrmarachne plataleoides) a jumping spider with huge chelicerae and an abdomen with a pinch-waist that gave the impression of two body segments.

There were many interesting 'mini-beasts' to observe and photograph in the swamp using my Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens and a macro flash unit for illumination. These photographs also took a great deal of patience as we stood in the swamp water, being devoured by other unseen swamp critters, in order to obtain the shots below.

Green weaver ants
Oecophylla smaragdina
sewing leaves together to form a nest
Green weaver ants
Oecophylla smaragdina
with scale insects
Australo-Papuan ant-mimic crab spider
Amyciaea albomaculata
[Thomisidae]
Australo-Papuan ant-mimic crab spider
Amyciaea albomaculata
with weaver ant prey
Kerengga ant-like jumper
Myrmarachne plataleoides
[Salticidae] male
Hackled orb-weaving spider
Miagrammopes sp.
[Uloboridae]

 

The next day I took a team out to the swamp to check the trap and to our surprise there was something inside it. As we approached the something started to get excited and hiss loudly at us - we had caught a monitor lizard (Varanus sp.), a large one and possibly the one that had been raiding and trashing our earlier traps. The team posed with the trapped lizard and then we returned triumphant to camp.

A large male monitor lizard in a monitor- proof trap The triumphant team: Zito, Zach, Scott, Justin, Caitlin, Aaren and Sven