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?

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?

Emerald Tree Skink

Emerald Tree Skink in Mindanao, ZooKeys 624, (Rafe Brown / CC BY)

My wife and I were hiking through the jungle adjacent to Sakahang Lilok when our little baby Sophia decided to take a nap. To make her as comfortable as possible I found a shady spot with a good view of the massive trees above, and laid down for her to sleep.

looking for herps with my baby in rizal tanay phillippines

For the first 45 minutes, I didn’t see anything to note. With the pleasant sounds of the waterfall and birds around me, I slowly scanned the branches of the trees with my eyes. Sometimes I just rested and enjoyed being in nature. It was a really calm, pleasant way to sit in the forest.

Then I saw it. An Emerald Tree Skink, making its way around a branch about 20 meters above the ground, inspecting the airplants for bugs to eat.

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Marbled Water Monitor

Marbled Water Monitor Varanus marmoratus carmelo lopez tanay epic park rizal
Marbled Water Monitor spotted in Tanay Epic Park (© Carmelo Lopez)

A couple of years ago the director of Sakahang Lilok asked me to give a talk on snakes and farming. The night before the event I went looking around the farm for a snake to use in the demonstration. Next to the farm’s main building I lifted the cover to a rain collection drain, and instead of seeing a snake, I found a young water monitor!!!

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Green Crested Lizard

Green Crested Lizard - Bronchocela cristatella laguna philippines near manila
Male Green Crested Lizard on branch at night at the Rizal ReCreation Center

One of the neatest lizards at Lilok Farm is one of the most difficult to find. Way up in the treetops, crawling around branches with a body as green as the leaves, is the Green Crested Lizard.

The beautiful color of this lizard is what we call “camouflage”. Camouflage is any coloration that makes it more difficult for the animal to be seen – in this case, by blending into its forest environment.

These lizards are active during the day, but their home high in the trees and the well-camouflaged green body make them so difficult to find in the daytime. Instead, I tend to see them at night, when they come down a little lower to sleep and their bodies light up in the beam of the flashlight.

One neat thing about Green Crested Lizards is that despite their name, they’re not always green. When stressed or threatened, they will change color to a dark brown!

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