This Reptile and Amphibian Awareness Day we want to let you know a bit more about some of the species we have here in Fota Wildlife Park, including the newest species in the Tropical House, the Thorny devil stick insect.
Thorny devil stick insect (Eurycantha calcarata)
The thorny devil stick insect is found in New Guinea, new Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. Their typical habitat is forested areas warm humid rainforest where they are found in foliage and ground litter. The light brown to black colouring of the thorny devil stick insect resembles bark or rotten wood.
These stick insects are nocturnal feeders, and they move around at night to feed on a wide variety of plants they tend to group together during the day and hide under bark or in tree hollows.
Borneo tree eared frog (Polypedates otilophus)
Also known as the File eared frog, this large tree frog inhabits lowland rainforest up to elevations of around 400 metres. It is most found grouped around suitable breeding ponds clinging to nearby vegetation a few meters from the ground.
Leaping their way through Borneo ‘s dense rainforest vegetation, these frogs are the forests’ barometers. Abundant and easy to observe their sensitivity to ecological and climate changes makes them excellent indicators for assessing forest conditions. Possible reasons for amphibian decline include general habitat alteration because of deforestation and logging related activities.
Mountain Chicken Frog (Leptodactylus fallax)
Do you know where the Mountain Chicken Frog gets it’s name?
One of the world’s largest living frog species, they get their unusual name from the fact that its meat is supposed to taste like chicken. These critically endangered terrestrial frog is now found only on the islands of Dominica and Montserrat but was once found on many Caribbean islands.
They are sadly also one of the world’s most threatened frog species, hunting, volcanic eruptions, and fungal disease have dramatically reduced this species population size.
Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus)
The Jamaican (or ‘Yellow’) Boa (Epicrates subflavus) is endemic to Jamaica and is the island’s largest native terrestrial predator. It occurs in a variety of forest and woodland habitats, including humid, tropical and mountainous forest, dry limestone scrub-forest, moist woodland, swampland and mangroves.
Residing within tropical rainforest, plantations, and wetlands, Jamaican Boas will bask in the early morning to increase its body temperature and will spend most of the day hidden away in dense vegetation within limestone forests, rock crevices, caves, and trees. Though they are good swimmers, they prefer to be on dry land or in trees. Their natural prey includes introduced rodents and native bats and birds. It is a constrictor and immobilizes or kills its prey by squeezing it in its powerful coils and then, like most snakes, swallows it whole.
They have a unique behaviour, this nocturnal boa is known to hang by its tail from the roofs of caves waiting for bats to fly by, at which point it will grab a bat from the air to eat.
The Jamaican boa mates between February and April. Females choose a mate by scent, selecting males which produce the most attractive pheromones. The young, which may number between 5 and 44 individuals, are born live, each measuring around 50 centimetres in length.
The combined threats of persecution, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species have had a disastrous effect on the Jamaican boa’s population. The colonization of the island by Europeans led to the introduction of predators such as cats, pigs and dogs, which not only compete for food with the boa, but also prey upon it directly and has caused its population to decline rapidly in recent years. Along with predation, erroneous local beliefs that the snake is dangerous, as well as negative religious associations, have also led to widespread persecution.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) considers the Jamaican boa to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Currently, in the region of 150 zoological collections are involved in an EEP programmes (European Breeding Programme) for this species.
Did you know? Boa constrictors have small, hooked teeth that they use to grab and hold prey. If their teeth fall out or become damaged, they can regrow them. Boa constrictors do not have fangs, but their jaws can stretch incredibly wide, allowing them to swallow large prey, according to National Geographic.
Dumeril’s Boa (Acrantophis dumerili)
The Dumeril’s boa (Acrantophis dumerili) is a non-venomous boa species found in coastal areas in Madagascar Island. Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean to the east of the African continent and is one of the world’s biggest islands.
Some reports of the species also being found in Reunion Island located east of Madagascar are probably erroneous.
It belongs to the family of snakes named “Boidae”, which contains the world’s largest snake species, including pythons, boas, and anacondas. Like other boas and pythons, Dumeril’s Boas can lay virtually motionless for long periods of time waiting for unwary prey. Like all snakes, it is carnivorous and kills its prey by constriction. In the wild, they feed on small wild animals such as rodents, birds, and lizards and are also known to sometimes prey on other snakes.
Unlike pythons such as the Burmese python (Python bivittatus), the Dumeril’s boa is an ovoviviparous species, meaning that rather than laying eggs, they give birth to live young.
The Duméril’s Boa is classified by the IUCN as Least Concern.
Habitat: They are found in both intact and disturbed forest and thorn bush at lower elevations and in savannas on the central highlands of Madagascar. The Dumeril’s boa can also be found in human modified and disturbed habitats such as eucalyptus forests and villages.
Wild Notes: Like all snakes they don’t need to feed as frequently as mammals, usually only eating once a week and during the cooler winter months may not eat at all.
Did you know? The Dumeril’s boa species specific name, dumerili, was given in honour of French herpetologist André Duméril.
In the mid-nineties the Dumeril’s Boa was classified as a vulnerable species, but, it has since been reclassified as Least Concern species on the IUCN Red List (2011).
They are also listed on CITES Appendix I, meaning that international trade is prohibited for commercial use, with some non-commercial exceptions like specimens for scientific research.
Even so, the Duméril’s Boa is still collected for the international pet trade, although in much lower numbers than in the past. Its skin is also used for the leather trade and as food by Chinese communities.
Although it faces no significant threats, it is affected by deforestation and human persecution. But this is a very adaptable species and is still widespread throughout the south and southwest of Madagascar.
The species current population trend is considered stable, and they are also found in most of the protected areas within its range. In their native habitats, these snakes are often killed on sight, by people since they are perceived as bringing bad luck and a potential predator for domestic chickens.