Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sightings at Sungei Tengah

Field frog

I'd spent the evening at the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) Wildlife Rescue Centre, and as I walked out towards Old Choa Chu Kang Road to take the bus, I stumbled upon a few examples of local amphibians and reptiles along Lorong Pasu and Sungei Tengah Road.

Striped kukri snake

The first encounter was also the most exciting one for me. This was my first ever sighting of a striped kukri snake (Oligodon octolineatus)! At first, I didn't know if I was looking at a live snake or a remarkably intact roadkill; it wasn't moving at all, not even when I walked up to it to take photos. Not until I put my iPhone close to the head and saw the head flinch did I realise that the snake was still very much alive.

Striped kukri snake

Although it was already quite late at night, there were still quite a few vehicles, so I decided to chase the snake off the road before it became genuine roadkill. I nudged it with my shoe, and it immediately went into defensive position, coiling up and raising its head, seemingly ready to strike. I certainly didn't want to grab it, especially because as I wrote in an earlier post, kukri snakes aren't dangerously venomous, but have long and sharp teeth that can make a bloody mess of your fingers.

Striped kukri snake
Such beautiful colours.

It was quite dark, and I couldn't tell if it did make good on the threat display by actually striking; I was wearing jeans and heavy-duty outdoor shoes so I didn't feel a thing. In any case, I was more worried about preventing it from getting run over by a passing vehicle. 2 cars had already driven past us while I was taking photos. And to make matters worse, this section of road wasn't brightly lit, and I was wearing a black t-shirt.

Headlights in the distance told me that a truck was approaching, and if the kukri snake didn't budge, it would almost certainly get flattened. So I nudged it with my shoe even even more insistently, and it finally got the cue and bolted, thankfully in the right direction. I kept up the pressure and escorted it as the snake slithered across the road and vanished into the grass. I was so thrilled by the encounter, although on hindsight I now regret not pausing to take more photos, especially when it was in threat posture. Hopefully the snake remembered the message and kept off the road.

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Further down, I saw another snake on the road. This time though, it was a striped keelback (Xenochrophis vittatus), and one that was very much two-dimensional. Sigh.

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My only brush with a striped keelback so far was in Tampines earlier this year; I was cycling when one suddenly slithered across the pavement. Fortunately I hit the brakes promptly, but it moved too quickly for me to even think about taking out my own camera at that time.

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I found a second roadkill: a common Asian toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus).

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And here's another roadkilled frog, still fresh enough to be picked over by ants. It's very hard to determine the species based on these mangled remains, although it was probably quite a large frog in life. Was it a native field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis) or crab-eating frog (Fejervarya cancrivora)? Or was it another example of the invasive American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)?

Field frog
Finally, a live frog! I think this is a field frog.

Field frog
Just like the kukri snake, this frog wasn't skittish at all. In most cases, field frogs have a tendency to stay still for a while as long as you keep your distance, allowing you to take all the photographs you want, only to make sudden and explosive leaps when you get this close.

Field frog
I'm actually wondering if it was sickly for some reason, and it's not just because it looks a little thin. Despite my prodding and nudging, it didn't even react to me, save for some weak kicking when I grabbed it with one hand. Usually, a frog would react to being caught with violent kicking and struggling. But no, it was just the slightest hint of protest.

Field frog
I took more photos before I released it into the grass near a drain overgrown with weeds. I'm not sure if there was something wrong with this frog, but I'm hoping that it stayed off the road.

Field frog

All these encounters in less than half an hour! It does make me wonder about the potential toll that vehicles can have on small animals, especially along these more rural roads. I may have gained some fresh material for Monday Morgue, but I actually get greater pleasure from the knowledge that I was able to prevent 2 animals from meeting a premature and bloody end, at least for that short period of time.

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