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12/11/11 Herp Fri–er, I mean Sunday

Herp Friday is a weekly post highlighting all things scaley. So don’t miss it!

In the past, I’ve mentioned–quite profusely, really–that I’ll be field herping as I travel, and I’ve even dropped a few scientific names of the ones I really wish to find, but I realize the herper community is still rather small, and I’m probably leaving everyone else in the dust as to what I hope to gain from my exploration, and also what field herping really is in the first place. So here’s a brief explanation of what field herping is and a look at the species I hope to find out more about.

An Introduction

Field herping; it’s an alien term to most, but it’s much like bird watching. It can be a hobby for some, or a career for the truly adventurous. Field herping, when done right, is a humane and environmentally conscious way of observing, documenting, and for some, capturing reptiles in a scientific mindset. It can bring out a kid-like sense of discovery if you try it out in your backyard, and can open up your mind to the world if you have the ambition to search beyond your borders.

The Species Goals

I may have mentioned once or thrice a couple of the species that positively set me a-tingle, ones I can’t wait to observe in their natural habitat. Though I plan on documenting everything I come across, there are certain ones that stand out that help to shape my route, especially down into the bowels of the Pacific Islands. The highlights include ones such as…

Xenodermus javanicus

So ugly it's cute? Or perhaps a face only a mother could love...

Despite it’s looks, (well, to me it’s absolutely adorable, but I wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to snakes) this snake is such an oddity, it has no choice but to be put at the top of my list. From it’s elusive, rarely documented nature, right down to the strange ridges that line its body for an as yet unknown purpose, this snake is the White Whale to my Moby Dick (except without the absolute need to kill it). I can’t wait (I’ve said that a lot, haven’t I?) to count its scales, examine its teeth, spot it for the first time, touch its tiny, beaded scales, and other such things that undoubtedly require a license. That makes me a complete and utter snake nerd, but this is the stuff I breathe!

Proteus anguinus

Known adorably as dragon larvae in Slavic legends

If I had no other reason to visit the stunningly gorgeous Škocjan Caves of Slovenia, this would be enough to convince me (and indeed, it’s what first caught my attention to the place). Aside from its likeness to the ageless image of a Chinese dragon, olms have such unique attributes that could easily raise it to the status of a mythical beast. Packed into that long, slender body is the ability to sense electric fields, magnetic fields, an incredibly keen sense of smell, the robust digestive system that allows it to live for ten years without food if necessary, and the the longevity to hang onto life well into its fifties; all unbefitting of a creature permanently stuck in the salamander equivalent of teenage years. Need I say more?

Zootoca vivapara

This unassuming creature is fascinating in its own right.

The Vivaporous lizard is common throughout Eurasia, and it’s such a tiny thing that it usually escapes notice. So why would I be so interested in it? Because it’s everywhere! When an animal is so widespread, sprinkled throughout its genes are a million and one subspecies, specimens with attributes that set it apart from the rest of its race. What I look forward to doing with this lizard is documenting its changes the further east I go. I’ll be missing plenty of them as I’ll be sticking to coastlines, and they typically like the higher climes like Germany (and I would have loved to see their beautiful melanistic localities, but oh well), but it’s enough for me to find the ones I can as I go.

Morelia viridis

Just about the most photogenic of any species, this is a popular snake for collectors

Commonly confused with the Emerald Tree Boas of South America, these gorgeous pythons from Papua New Guinea take the friggin’ cake. So beautiful are these temperamental creatures that they’re threatened in their natural habitat by over-collection from the pet trade. Though thousands of people breed them across the world, GTPs are struggling to maintain their niche in their homeland as their numbers in the wild continuously dwindle. If I only had one reason to spot one, it would be to see it in its own environment, unhindered by humans.

Varanus komodoensis

Yes, I find even this to be beautiful.

A magnificent beast befitting its title, I had to modify my itinerary to include Komodo Island, just to see one. Until now, nothing on my list of highlights has been particularly dangerous (though, to be fair, a good sized green tree python could leave a mark if I got too close), though I do plan on seeing my fair share of vipers, venomous lizards, and wildly dangerous habitats. Not only do I quiver in my boots to see one, I would go nuts with excitement if I could see them hunt (granted, so long as it’s not me).

Now, these guys really only scratch the surface, but they represent a wide range of species I look forward to studying, and a few of them have turned into a bit of a science project of sorts. So wish me luck in my endeavors! I keep telling everyone that if I’m going to die on my travels, it’ll be from a snake bite, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Due to user error, technical difficulties, personal crisis, and a damn faulty internet connection, this Herp Friday that was meant to be posted on the 2nd of this month got understandably postponed. Details to follow in the next post.

Herp Traveler

My name is Colleen Hayward, traveling the world, one reptile at a time.

This is me deciding to go on a crazy adventure, and I hope you’ll join me. Whether it’s to laugh at, cry for, or commiserate with me in my trials, or to give very much encouraged advice, I welcome it all.

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