Looking for toads in Peru

My work as a research assistant in the Peruvian cloud forest allowed me to experience herping (Looking for reptiles and amphibians) in a wet, forest location that I was previously unaccustomed to. When most people think of South America and the amazon, they immediately think of the extensive diversity of flora and fauna. Of course, […]

The island of wonderful snakes: Madagascar!

Madagascar is known for its diverse snake fauna (over 90 species) and the addition of new species locality data from a north-eastern rainforest show that this island has many extraordinary habitats harbouring incredible wildlife.

The snake biodiversity of the Ambodiriana forest in Madagascar has not been thoroughly explored, but some new observations help to highlight the high species diversity in the forest which could potentially contribute to the ongoing protection of that lowland rainforest site. The protected rainforest Ambodiriana is separated by Manompana river and includes a rich diversity of plant species, making it a great habitat for snakes to hide. The authors encountered species of 8 species that which were photographed in the field and identified (Fig. 1).

The snakes embody a great diversity in morphology and behaviour.

Compsophis laphystius is an arboreal nocturnal snake, known to prey on amphibians and their clutches.

Ithycyphus goudoti is known for its back fangs and mild envenomation when threatened. They are diurnal snakes that prey on different lizard species.

Ithycyphus perineti is one the largest lamprophid snakes in Madagascar, at 1.5m. An interesting thing this snake does is when it is disturbed it can flatten its head to mimic a cobra, open its mouth widely and hiss very loudly.

Langaha madagascariensis is the most conspicuous snake of Madagascar because the male and female both look different to one another.

Madagascarophis colubrinus is probably one of the most common snakes of Madagascar with one of the widest distribution ranges. It occurs in every kind of habitat ranging from rainforests to houses in cities.

Parastenophis betsileanus is a nocturnal and partly arboreal species with a distinct coloration, consisting of white cross-bands on a dark brown ground coloration.

Phisalixella artifasciata is a reddish-brown specimen, with a distinct black cross-band in the neck.

Pseudoxyrhopus tritaeniatus is a relatively large nocturnal and terrestrial snake with a unique coloration consisting of five separated black stripes on the back on a red ground coloration.


Figure 1. Photographs of snake species encountered at Ambodiriana. A. Parastenophis betsileanus; B. Phisalixella artifasciata; C. Compsophis laphystius; D. Ithycyphus goudoti; E. Madagascarophis colubrinus; F. Langaha madagascariensis; Pseudoxyrhopus tritaeniatus.

The researchers were fortunate enough to see the feeding behaviour of two of the snakes in the wild, which is often rare. Augustine Kaloloha, the first author of the study, found I. perineti with its head hanging down from a small tree above the ground, constricting a leaftail gecko. The gecko was still alive when the researcher encountered the snake but only a few minutes later the gecko was paralyzed and subsequently died (Fig. 2). This is the first observation of I. perineti preying on a leaftail gecko. The researchers also observed a specimen of P. betsileanus one of the nights within the rainforest preying on a leaf chameleon (Fig. 3).  P. betsileanus is also a terrestrial forager unlike other members of the genus. That is where it encountered the leaf chameleon amongst the leaf litter. These observations fill in a major distribution gap for I.perineti and P. betsileanus at Madagascar’s north-east coast.

2-minFigure 2. Photograph of I. perineti preying on a leaftail gecko

3-minFigure 3. Photograph of P. betsileanus preying on a leaf chameleon

Encounters of snakes are usually rare in Malagasy rainforests, except for the common species such as Madagascarophis colubrinus or Thamnosophis lateralis. With the presented observations, eight more serpent species are added to the previously published records on the herpetofauna of the Ambodiriana forest.

“Species inventories are a cornerstone for the justification and the management of conservation activities and can give crucial information on the condition of a protected area.”

Therefore, a high diversity of snakes in the forest is definitely a good indicator of the health of the forest.



Photographs taken by Florian Bernier (A), Ségolène Beaucent and Marc Fayolle (B, F), Chantal Misandeau (C, E, G), and David Ringler (D). Header Image: Mark Scherz


Red city bus tour

My red city bus tour of Johannesburg was definitely a memorable one. I had always wanted to do it but never got around to it until my boyfriend’s family decided to take us all on the tour. I was really quite excited to see a different aspect of Jo’burg city. Over the years, much of Jo’burg city has changed and many people have forgotten how the city was back in the day. The red city bus tour gives a rejuvenated outlook on the city. For someone who has only lived in Johannesburg since 2004, I really didn’t know about the history of Jo’burg as much as I would have liked to. This was really my opportunity to learn about how the city came to be.

With various different departure points on the tour, we decided to take the closest one to us which was Gold reef city. It was a bright and sunny day in February and the lovely, red bus was awaiting our departure. Immediately we chose to sit at the top with the open roof so we could see everything clearly. Our Route (roughly) was to go from Gold Reef City to roam the city with various stops in between (Apartheid Museum, Mining District Walk, Newtown, Origins Centre at Wits, Braamfontein, Constitution Hill, Gautrain Park Station, Gandhi Square, Carlton Centre, James Hall Transport Museum) and then get back to Gold Reef City.

Driving about the streets of Jo’burg with earphones, trying to listen to the tour guide was quite something. Our first stop was at the Sci-bono centre in New Town. It is really just a facility to get young children and teens excited about science. As a scientist, I myself enjoyed many of the entertaining gadgets of physics and chemistry. They had so many different interactive stations to explore. They even had an indoor soccer shooting game. After some crazy science fun we walked across the road to the SAB miller brewery. Unfortunately we did not go on the tour but we had a delightful lunch there. While enjoying our meal, a storm was brewing in the distance and as we started finishing up our meals, it started pouring. We had to catch the bus across the road so that we wouldn’t miss the rest of our tour. Yes we all got soaked in the rain trying to get across the road. When the bus arrived, we had to obviously sit at the bottom. From there on the tour was relaxing.

It was good to hear about the history of what the city was like before apartheid and how it has grown since then. I learnt some interesting things, like Soweto actually stands for South Western Townships. On of the highlights for me was being at the top of the tallest building in Africa. The Carlton Centre at 223m overlooks the whole of Jo’burg. From all directions (east, west, north and south), the view was absolutely breath-taking. It truly was wonderful. After some drinks at the Cafe at the top of the centre, we made our way back to the bus. A bit more of the tour was left with other interesting facts and before I knew it, we were back at Gold Reef City. It was an amazing tour and I gained an appreciation that I had not had before. I look forward to doing many more red city bus tours in cities across the world. It gives you a new insight into the history of the city and the experience of travel and fulfillment that comes with it.

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Bungee off the Soweto Towers

I have always been an adrenalin junkie so imagine my excitement when the opportunity presented itself to do a 100m bungee jump! The Orlando towers in Soweto (Johannesburg) was previously a coal fired power station and has recently become a new hotspot for adventure. In addition to the bungee, they also have activities such as abseiling, power swing and an internal swing within the tower. My sister decided she wanted to do this bungee for her 21st and so I was only too keen to join her.

IMG_5337As we went up in a metal elevator to the top of the towers, my heart was beating fast, as it always will in any such situation. My sister went first and the jump looked amazing. Standing at the top I could still feel my heart racing with excitement. As I was getting buckled in I kept thinking that this was the moment I would let go of any worry I had. IMG_5332Eventually the time came to jump and as I looked straight ahead I was just ready to jump. Before I knew it I was falling closer to the ground with only a chain holding me up. It felt like I was floating and feeling the air around me like never before. As I reached the bottom, I swung back up and I felt so joyous and happy. IMG_5342IMG_5344When I eventually got my feet to the ground, it almost felt as though I couldn’t stand and all I wanted was to feel like I could fly. It truly was one of the best experiences of my life and I look forward to doing many more jumps like this. That feeling of adrenalin gushing in your body it amazing. I would recommend this particular jump to anyone looking for a good starting point IF you are a fearless champ. Others can start off small and progress from there. It really makes you feel as though you have absolutely no worry in the world.