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.

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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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Reticulated Python (sawa)

Matthew Kwan Subic Bay reticulated python Malayopython reticulatus manila philippines
Reticulated Python found in Subic Bay (© Matthew Kwan)

The Reticulated Python is the world’s longest snake, sometimes reaching over seven meters in length (though usually half that size). They are a fascinating, beautiful animal, a wonderful sight for any wildlife enthusiast. But what do you do when a huge snake wants to steal your chickens?

I first became engaged with Sakahang Lilok due to an email I received from an old friend who helped to found the farm. It went like this:

On the Lilok Farm we have a good number of snakes in the forest. Well – mostly in the forest. Occasionally they venture out, mainly to find food. Which is fine in principle. But they like chickens. And the people don’t like them feasting on hens. Generally the people do not appreciate the snakes much and have a tendency to want to kill them, wherever possible. Also because they add protein to the food…

On the Lilok Farm the appreciation of snakes is slightly higher. We also got two guys who handle snakes well. But the chicken topic is also a matter of concern…

Some of us really do not want to see any snakes killed. But sometimes their presence can feel a bit overwhelming. The neighbours are not so impressed with our appreciation of snakes. They are scared. A Rocha recommended to inform the neighbours and anyone interested better about snakes. Introduce them to the mystery of them and their beauty. Perhaps you would be the person to do this.

The email was accompanied by the following picture of a Reticulated Python that had been caught as it attempted to sneak in and take some chickens:

reticulated python Malayopython reticulatus at night hunting chicken in lilok farm tanay rizal philippines
Reticulated Python caught at Lilok Farm

Humans have struggled to coexist with pythons for a long time. They have almost everything going against them – they are frightening, they eat our domestic animals, they make a decent dinner, they have beautiful skins, and they are snakes. In several places where I have done work – Thailand, Bangladesh, the Philippines – the conflict between pythons and people has been an issue.

I agreed to do a presentation at Sakahang Lilok at a time when I was going to be in the Manila area already for a conference. It ended up being a blast, with 15 participants from two farms and several partner organizations.

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Four-lined Treefrog

common treefrog Polypedates leucomystax tanay rizal philippines
A Four-lined Treefrog found near Lilok Farm

One local animal that might be great at snatching up those Longhorn Beetles is the Four-lined Treefrog. Also known as the Common Treefrog, this acrobatic resident spends nearly all of its time above the ground. Take a walk close enough to the water bodies that it likes to call home (I often find them near streams) and you’ll see them dotted among the trees.

A few of the Four-lined Treefrogs I’ve seen at Lilok and Laguna

With their big heads, awkward long legs, and bulbous toepads on the end of long toes, Four-lined Treefrogs look a bit clownish. And they have a call to match! Depending on the mood, they will sound like a “quack!” from a duck or some mechanic chuckling. So if you are walking through the forest at night, and you hear a frog laughing at you, you’ll know who it is.

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Brown Shrike (pakis-kis, tarat)

Brown Shrike in the Philippines (© Matt Brady)

The Brown Shrike, known as “pakis-kis” or “tarat” in Tagalog, is a cute little bird with a chattering call, often seen perched on branches or farm buildings. The subspecies of Brown Shrike found in the Philippines, lucionensis, has a grey head, though Brown Shrikes from other parts of Asia have brown heads.

Brown Shrike in Singapore (© Steven Cheong)

Unlike the much larger Red-crested Malkoha or the sharp-billed Spotted Wood Kingfisher, the Brown Shrike is a little, gentle bird and couldn’t possibly be a hunter. Right?

Wait, what’s that?

brown shrike Lanius cristatus eating frog
Brown Shrike eating frog (© Johnny Wee)

It’s eating a frog!!! Surely that’s not normal, right? Wait, what’s that one doing?

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