Philippine Spiny Stream Skink

One day late in my stay in Tanay I took a rare excursion off the trail and went looking for wildlife in one of the deepest, wildest areas, down near the stream where vegetation was relatively thick and the debris of the forest settled around the ground.

Hunting in that area I came across one of the neatest reptiles I’ve ever seen – the Philippines Spiny Stream Skink!

The Philippines Spiny Stream Skink is part of a unique group of lizards called “stream skinks” which like to spend time in water as well as land. But the Spiny Stream Skink is doubly unique due to the hard spiky scales that line its body as a defense against predators.

Tropidophorus grayi philippines spiny stream skink rizal tanay waterside skink

I let the lizard go and continued searching the forest, and just a few minutes later came across a second one. Look at those spikes! If you were a small animal searching for a lizard meal you wouldn’t want to mess with those. 🙂

Tropidophorus grayi philippines spiny stream skink rizal tanay waterside skink

It just goes to show what amazing creatures you can find in the forest when you really look.

Where do Philippine Spiny Stream Skinks live?

Philippine Spiny Steam Skinks are found near well-forested rivers and streams, preferring cooler habitats in the hills. They typically hide under the debris of the forest floor.

What do they eat?

They eat insects, worms, snails, slugs, and sometimes small fish or frogs.

Are they dangerous?

Not dangerous at all.

Are they in danger?

The Philippine Spiny Stream Skink seems to be a fairly common species, though it is rarely seen. Sometimes they are caught for the pet trade. They also could be threatened by the cutting of forests or disturbance of waterways in their areas.

What is their scientific name and classification?

The Philippine Spiny Stream Skink is referred to scientifically asTropidophorus grayi. It is a member of the skink family, a group of lizards that have smooth skin, long strong bodies, and are usually found on the ground. Of course, the spiny skink is one of the very few skinks that lacks the smooth skin.

Some people enjoy keeping stream skinks as pets because of their incredible appearance. Others are most excited by the joy of observing them in their natural habitat. There might be a place for both experiences. Which do you prefer?

Barred Coral Snake

Barred Coral Snake in the Philippines (© Rafe Brown)

One of the wonderful staff at Sakahang Lilok shared that she occasionally saw a coral snake while she worked in the farm’s vegetable garden. I had shown her pictures of the snakes in the area and she confirmed that what she saw was a Barred Coral Snake.

Barred Coral Snake found in Santa Ana (Zookeys 266 / CC BY)

Though it rarely bites, the Barred Coral Snake is a venomous species and one needs to exert caution when around them. I came to Lilok back in 2017 to give a talk on snakes and how we can coexist with them on the farm, as well as what to do in the unlikely event that someone gets bit by a venomous snake. This staff member took in all of that and I can trust that she will do the right thing when she sees such snakes.

The coral snake doesn’t want to bother people but in fact is a snake eater. It probably comes to the garden to look for Brahminy Blind Snakes or other little snakes that poke around the soil.

Barred Coral Snakes are quite beautiful. They have some variety but if you see a snake with black and white bands, there’s a good chance this is what you’re seeing. Remember, no one should touch any snake unless they have experience with the species and can confidently identify exactly what it is.

A few Barred Coral Snakes in the Philippines

Where do they live?

Barred Coral Snakes are found in moist forests in lowlands and low hills, sometimes venturing into nearby agriculture to hunt.

What do they eat?

The Barred Coral Snake feeds on smaller snakes, especially little burrowing snakes like worm snakes and blind snakes.

Are they dangerous?

The Barred Coral Snake has a dangerous bite and you should always maintain a safe distance. It does not like to bite people and will almost never bite unless it is grabbed or seriously provoked. Snakebites occur when someone accidentally steps on a snake, tries to grab a snake, or tries to kill a snake. So the best way to avoid snakebite is to be careful where you step and to leave snakes alone when you see them!

Like other coral snakes, the venom of the Barred Coral Snake has neurotoxic effects. That means it affects the nervous system, including important functions like the signals that control your lungs. If anyone is bit by a coral snake you should keep them calm and rush them to a hospital immediately, preferably one with a respirator. Most home remedies for snakebite are not effective or can even do harm.

Are they in danger?

The Barred Coral Snake is a rarely seen species – it was difficult to find photos for this account! We don’t know if we rarely see them because they actually are rare or if they just hide very well. They have a wide distribution so they are probably okay so long as the forest they need remains.

What is their scientific name and classification?

The Barred Coral Snake is scientifically known as Hemibungarus calligaster. They are a member of the elapid family, which are a group of slender snakes with hollow fangs in the front of their mouth for delivering venom to their prey.

Here’s a video of a Barred Coral Snake moving along the ground at Miyamit Falls. What would you do if you saw a coral snake? What would be the safest choice?

Asian Painted Frog

asian painted frog Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog la union tony gerard philippines
Asian Painted Frogs in La Union (© Tony Gerard)

I walked down to the stream near Lilok Farm and began turning over rocks to see what might be under them. Under one I was surprised to find an Asian Painted Frog (also known as the “Banded Bullfrog” or “Chubby Frog”), a species from Thailand and other countries in southeast Asia.

asian painted frog Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog lilok farm tanay rizal philippines near manila
Asian Painted Frog found near Lilok Farm

A few days later I was looking around the same spot and found another one. This one had much brighter coloration.

asian painted frog Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog lilok farm tanay rizal philippines near manila
Another Asian Painted Frog found near Lilok Farm

What a funky frog! With its fat body, tiny head, long toes, and bright stripes, you’d have trouble finding a more unusual-looking amphibian in our area.

Unfortunately, the Asian Painted Frog is not from our area. The first Asian Painted Frogs in the Philippines were spotted in 2003. It is unknown how they got here – perhaps they came from someone releasing their unwanted pet frogs into the wild. Or maybe they stowed away on a ship’s cargo, or were included in an import of exotic plants. However they got here, they have reproduced and spread rapidly, now found in 16 provinces on 6 different islands.

Asian Painted Frog asian painted frog calling Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog nueva vizcaya tony gerard
Asian Painted Frog calling in Nueva Vizcaya (© Tony Gerard)

You might hear an Asian Painted Frog calling before you see one. They make an immense roar with their huge throat sac, something like a bull bellowing. Sometimes they call from the water and sometimes from land or even a hole in a tree, but they must be calling a lot as fast as they are reproducing.

It is unknown whether they are causing any damage to native wildlife. They primarily eat ants, so they might be a threat to native ant species. They are a close relative to the Filipino frog call the Painted Narrowmouth Toad, and may compete with them for food and space.

Asian Painted Frog asian painted frog collected Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog bambang tony gerard
Asian Painted Frogs collected for market in Bambang (© Tony Gerard)

Some people may find a use for the frogs. They are sometimes collected for market (though don’t eat the skins, which carry an unpleasant white poisonous substance). They also make interesting pets.

A few Asian Painted Frogs from their native habitat in Thailand

Where do Asian Painted Frogs live?

They were normally found in marshes and water bodies on forest edges but have adapted well to human presence, now thriving in parks, gardens, and agricultural landscapes.

What do they eat?

The Asian Painted Frog feeds primarily on ants, eating 200 or more in a single night.

Are they dangerous?

When you disturb an Asian Painted Frog a sticky white substance emits from their skin. This substance is somewhat poisonous. While unlikely to do you any harm, you should definitely wash your hands afterwards and before you eat.

Are they in danger?

Asian Painted Frogs are a recently introduced species that does not belong in the Philippines. They may be putting other animals in danger like the ants they eat or the native frogs they compete with, but this is unknown.

In their native habitat in southeast Asia they are plentiful.

What is their scientific name and classification?

The scientific name for the Asian Painted Frog is Kaloula pulchra. It is a member of the Microhylid family, a group of small frogs with typically stocky bodies and narrow mouths (they are commonly known as Narrowmouth Frogs). Many species in the family have loud calls despite their small size.

Asian Painted Frog asian painted frog Kaloula pulchra banded bullfrog chubby frog bangkok thailand traffic
An Asian Painted Frog sits on a tree near street traffic in Bangkok

Have you ever seen an animal that didn’t belong where you found it? What was it? How do you think it got there?

The Little Geckos in Houses (butiki)

Geckos photographed at the Rizal ReCreation Center. Clockwise from top left they are a Flat-tailed House Gecko, Mourning Gecko, Common House Gecko, and Four-clawed Gecko
Four different geckos photographed at the Rizal ReCreation Center. Clockwise from top left are Flat-tailed House Gecko, Mourning Gecko, Common House Gecko, and Four-clawed Gecko

If you leave a light on and watch the moths, pretty soon some geckos, or “butiki”, will end up creeping up near the light to snatch some of the moths flying around it. These gobbling geckos help control insects in the farm.

Geckos are great friends with which to share our homes and forests. Despite some silly rumors, geckos are completely harmless to people – they’re only dangerous to those insect guests that we sometimes wish would stay outside! In our area we have many different kinds of geckos. I’m going to focus on the four small ones, the little butiki, that you’ll see on the walls of buildings in Lilok and other homes. (I already talked about the big one, the tuko, in an earlier post.)

Four-clawed Gecko

Four-clawed Gecko - Gehyra mutilata stump-toed gecko philippines
Four-clawed Gecko in Batangas (© Tony Gerard)

The Four-clawed Gecko, also known as the Stump-toed Gecko, is the most common gecko at Lilok Farm. You can see them running around the dining hall, sometimes on the walls and sometimes on the ground.

Some Four-clawed Geckos at Lilok Farm

Four-clawed Geckos are sometimes light and sometimes dark, sometimes they have dark spots and sometimes not, but you can recognize them by the little line of white dots that goes through the eye, the thick tail, and the stubby toes, the 5th one of which has no claw. They have very soft skin, so they can be injured if you try to grab them.

Common House Gecko

Common House Gecko Hemidactylus frenatus spiny-tailed house gecko laguna philippines near manila
Common House Gecko at the Rizal ReCreation Center

Common House Geckos, also known as Spiny-tailed House Geckos, are the most often seen gecko in Manila and other big cities. You can recognize a Common House Gecko by the round tail with little spines down the sides.

Geckos sometimes drop their tail when they get attacked. Their hope is that the enemy is distracted by the tail and will just eat that, while the lizard will live to see another day. Over time the tail will grow back. However, when the tail grows back it will be a different color than the original and won’t have any spines.

After a gecko loses its tail it can’t use that technique again to get away from predators, and it takes a lot of energy for it to grow it’s tail back over time. You should always avoid bothering lizards or grabbing them in any way that might cause them to lose their tail.

Flat-tailed House Gecko

flat-tailed house gecko Hemidactylus platyurus batangas tony gerard philippines
Flat-tailed House Gecko in Batangas (© Tony Gerard)

Flat-tailed House Geckos are a close relative of the Common House Gecko, but instead of a round tail with spines, they have a flat tail with little fringes on the side. I don’t see Flat-tailed House Geckos as often in the Philippines as I do the first two species, but they are definitely around and if you pay attention you will notice them too.

Mourning Gecko

Mourning Gecko in Singapore – notice the regrown tail ( © CheongWeei GanCC BY-NC)

I haven’t found Mourning Geckos in Lilok Farm, but they are at the Rizal Recreation Center and other places in the Philippines so they may be at Lilok Farm as well. You can identify a Mourning Gecko by the wavy pattern on its back and the slightly different shape of its head.

The unique thing about the Mourning Gecko is that they engage in parthenogenesis, meaning that the females lay eggs without needing any male! So all the Mourning Geckos you see are females, just like the Brahminy Blind Snakes we talked about in a previous post.

Where do these geckos live?

They are found in cities, parks, homes, and forests, any place with walls or trees that they can climb.

What do they eat?

They eat small insects and spiders.

Are they dangerous?

None of the little geckos you see in your home are dangerous.

Are they in danger?

All four of these species are widespread and common.

What is their scientific name and classification?

The scientific name of the Common House Gecko is Hemidactylus frenatus, the Flat-tailed House Gecko is Hemidactylus platyurus, the Four-clawed Gecko is Gehyra mutilata and the Mourning Gecko is Lepidodactylus lugubris. They are all members of the gecko family Gekkonidae. Geckos are well-known for their large eyes, soft skin, and the ability of many members to climb walls with their special toepads.

Examples of the little geckos – can you tell which is which?

  • Four-clawed Gecko: 3, 7, 12
  • Common House Gecko: 6, 8, 11
  • Flat-tailed House Gecko: 1, 5, 10
  • Mourning Gecko: 2, 4, 9

Which of these geckos have you seen in your home? What have you seen them eat? Have you ever seen one get eaten by something else?

Moths (gamu-gamo, mariposa)

emerald moth Agathia liloc tanay rizal philippines
Emerald Moth species found at Liloc Farm

Leave a light on outside and soon you’ll have moths, the butterflies of the night, fluttering all around it. “Gamu-gamo” as the little ones are called, “mariposa” for the big ones. Sometimes drab, sometimes beautiful, sometimes with the most interesting markings.

Besides being active at night (nocturnal), you can tell a moth from a butterfly because they have thick or hairy bodies and don’t hold their wings together and straight up like butterflies often do. There antennae are often different as well. But moths are a very large and diverse group so there are many exceptions.

owl moth Erebus nyctaculis liloc tanay rizal philippines
Owl Moth species (Erebus macrops) found at Lilok Farm

Just like butterflies, moths begin their lives as caterpillars (“higad” or “simutsang”). Caterpillars are a larval stage that is meant to do one thing: eat! They eat and and eat and eat until they grow large enough to have all the energy needed to form an adult moth.

Oleander Hawkmoth Daphnis nerii Paolo Co in Manila larvae
Oleander Hawkmoth caterpillar, or “higad” (© Paolo Co)

From early in its life the caterpillar begins forming the organs and structures it needs for life as a moth. If you dissected a caterpillar, you would find the beginnings of legs and wings inside of its own body. But when it is ready for the full transformation, it will find a place to hide, stop moving, and slowly harden into a pupa (tilas).

Oleander Hawkmoth Daphnis nerii pupae cocoon from pune Sindhu Ramchandran
Oleander Hawkmoth pupa, or “tilas” (Sindhu Ramchandran / CC BY-SA)

Inside that protective covering the pupa is transforming into an adult moth. In warm regions it might happen within a month, but in cold regions the moth will often wait all the way until the next year to emerge.

The adult moth that comes out of the pupa is so different from the larva that created it you might think they were different animals. Sometimes they keep some of their old traits though. Do you see any family resemblance between the Oleander Hawkmoth caterpillar above and the adult moth that it will become below?

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