Thu 3 May 2007
Wed 11 Oct 2006
The Tiger Keelback or Japanese Water Snake (yamakagashi) is such a beautiful snake, with red and black spots along its body, but it is also venomous. Apparently there are not too many cases of people being killed because the snake is relatively quiet and tries to escape rather than attack. This snake does not have the usual front “fangs” we associate with venomous snakes, but instead has venomous molars (i.e. at the back of the mouth). It also has venom glands located on its neck from which, as an anti-predator mechanism, it sprays poison into its attacker’s eyes. I didn’t know this piece of information until after I researched about the snake, but I didn’t notice anything spray out when I picked it up. I will be more careful next time!!
It took quite a while to catch this snake. I saw one sliding through the grass at the side of a small ditch, but it escaped before I got near to it. Then I spotted another and tried to grab it, missing it by inches. I’m not quite sure how many snakes there were at this location, but there seemed to be quite a few because I made four separate attempts in different places before I finally caught one. It was either several snakes or the same one that popped up in different places along a 50m stretch of the ditch!
This species of snake eats frogs and toads.
Reptilia: Colubridae: Rhabdophis tigrinus
Tiger Keelback or Japanese Water Snake = yamakagashi
Wed 16 Aug 2006
We spotted this five-lined skink (nihontokage) when we were at Sugao-no-taki Waterfalls near Kitakyushu. Young five-lined skinks, like this one, have blue tails and five lines down their bodies. They lose these when they become adult.
Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae (skinks)
Eumeces latiscutatus (nihontokage) = Japanese Five-lined Skink
Mon 17 Jul 2006
We often see geckos (yamori) on our windows and doors at night – waiting to snap up any insects that are attracted to the light. They also sometimes come into the house, which makes us happy because everyone agrees that they are very cute. This one was on the front door and, unusually, was extremely cooperative about having its photo taken!
Gekkonidae: Gekko japonicus: Nihon yamori
Sun 28 May 2006
This beautiful ratsnake was just coming down a concrete embankment when I saw it. I’m not sure, but it seemed like it had just shed it’s skin because it was so bright and soft. I held it for quite a while and it calmed down enough to sit quite still while I took photos. Then, when I brought the camera too close, it attacked the lens. I switched the camera to video mode to capture one of these strikes (VIDEO HERE). The snake was also “rattling” it’s tail. Obviously trying to appear more dangerous than it really was!
Reptilia: Ophidia: Colubridae: Elaphe quadrivirgata
Japanese four-lined ratsnake = shimahebi
Sun 21 May 2006
As I was walking past a farmer’s house, I saw this crow snake (karasu-hebi) lying in the grass at the side of the driveway. At first I thought it was probably dead because it wasn’t moving and the farmer was talking to some other people nearby, so I assumed they’d killed it. Anyway, I took a photo of the snake in the grass and it suddenly shot off, so I rushed onto the driveway and grabbed its tail. Then I carried it out into the lane and took a few photos. The people in the farm were watching me with looks of horror on their faces. I called out that it was a non-venomous karasu-hebi, but the farmer shouted that it was venomous! Obviously they have a false impression of these harmless snakes – and they presumably kill the ones they see. What a pity they wouldn’t come near me while I was holding the snake. I wanted to show them what a beautiful creature it was. I was afraid that they would kill it if I released it near the house, so I carried it up the road and released it into the forest.
Reptilia: Ophidia: Colubridae: Elaphe quadrivirgata
Japanese four-lined ratsnake = Crow snake (black): shimahebi = karasuhebi (black form)
Thu 4 May 2006
I managed to catch this Japanese Ratsnake (aodaisho) when I was hiking up the main path on Mount Kuju (Oita Prefecture), from the hot spring at Bogatsuru to the volcano summit. I just caught its tail before it escaped into the vegetation at the side of the path. Then I held it down with a stick while I manouevered my hand to just behind its head. A few other people walked past me while I was taking photos and some of them stopped to look or take pictures themselves. The woman who took the photo of me standing holding the snake was with her 10-year-old daughter, who was brave enough to touch the snake (but only for a second)! It’s non-venomous so don’t worry!
This specimen was 120cm long (from the ground to my chest) but they can grow to a length of 200cm. They are quite common and live throughout Japan. Their diet consists mainly of frogs, rodents, birds and birds’ eggs.
Reptilia: Squamata: Colubridae (namihebi):
Elaphe climacophora = Japanese Ratsnake (aodaisho)
Sun 30 Apr 2006
It was really warm and sunny today (around 25 degrees Centigrade) which brought out the reptiles. The kids caught ten lizards in the garden! And, while walking along a stream not far from the house, I spotted my first snake of the year: an 80cm-long shimahebi (Elaphe quadrivirgata). Unfortunately, it gave me the slip so I didn’t manage to get any decent pictures (just the one below of its body)…
Wed 28 Sep 2005
On my way to work this morning I took the black ratsnake that I’d caught yesterday and released it back into the field. I wanted to get a photo of me holding it, so that you’d be able to see how big it was, and luckily someone else stopped in the parking area next to the field. He was a bit surprised to see a foreigner standing there holding a snake (!) but readily agreed to take a photo. Then I put the snake down and watched as he slithered into the undergrowth. What a wonderful sight! There were plenty of frogs croaking away so I’m sure that he will find lots to eat and grow even bigger. I hope I get to see him again in a few weeks.
Tue 27 Sep 2005
I went out looking for snakes this morning, armed with a cloth sack and gloves (because I’m a wimp!) and actually managed to catch a black ratsnake or “crow snake” (karasuhebi) in a field about 500m from the house. This is the same species as the four-lined ratsnake (shimahebi), but is almost completely black. This specimen was about one meter long, so probably not a fully grown adult (they grow to almost 2m apparently), but still got my heart beating rapidly when I caught it. I put it into the cloth sack and took it home to show the kids. We’ll keep it in a terrarium overnight and then I will release it in the same spot tomorrow morning.
This snake’s defense behavior is a bit like a rattlesnake: it curls up with its tail vibrating (making an audible noise despite the absence of a rattle) and then it strikes with its mouth open, for all the world like a venemous snake. I had to persuade myself that it wasn’t venomous before I could grab it!! Then, when I did have a hold of the snake, it used its second line of defense which is to spray urine/feces (at least I think that’s what it was). Anyway, what a beautiful creature, just perfectly adapted to its environment, sneaking around the edges of fields catching frogs and mice.