Article and photos by Peter Janzen, Ph.D.
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The author found this male Ceratophora stoddartii in the Central Mountains.
The Ceylon green pit viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) is a widespread, endemic species in both the wet and dry zones.
A male Calotes calotes displays coloration intended to attract females.
Herping Near Humans
A snake often found in garden areas is the common Daudin’s bronze-backed snake (Dendrelaphis tristis). Four species of Dendrelaphis are distributed in Sri Lanka. While visiting at a friend’s place in Gampaha, I spotted a Daudin’s bronze-back preying upon a Sri Lankan bullfrog (Kaloula taprobanica). The snake was very nervous and tried to escape with its prey. After some photos, I let it depart.
When travelling across Sri Lanka, don’t miss places near human settlements. You can find herps there, too. Herps such as the Indian cobra (Naja naja), the Bengal monitor (Varanus benghalensis) and the much larger common water monitor (Varanus salvator) have been spotted close to populated areas. The Bengal monitor is potential food for the local people, but the common water monitor is considered by the locals to be poisonous. Remaining parts of mangrove forest exist north of Negombo, where water monitors are common. In the past, large water monitors visited market places, getting food from the people. Today, unregulated traffic makes roads too dangerous for water monitors to frequent the area and most have left the cities.
The Central Hills
Nuwara Eliya, found in the central hills, is one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest cities. It attracts many wealthy vacationers, including a large number of English colonists. It often rains in the central hills and the temperature doesn’t often reach less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The nights are cool to cold.
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A common water monitor (Varanus salvator) fights with an Oriental rat snake (Ptyas mucosus).
The largest agamid lizard of Sri Lanka is Lyriocephalus scutatus. This colorful species can be found in rain forests.
Otocryptis wiegmanni is easy to find at the Sinharaja Heritage Site. You can often see them close to the footpath.
While visiting Nuwara Eliya’s golf course and racetrack, pay special attention to the hedges surrounding them. There you can see black-throated bloodsuckers (Calotes nigrilabris), the only endemic Calotes species found next to human settlements. Although the common green forest lizard (C. calotes) and the common garden lizard (C. versicolor) are also found near populated areas, they are not endemic.
If you’re lucky, you can find the rhinoceros-horned lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii). The male of this enigmatic species has a prominent horn, which is much smaller in females. Both sexes can lose this horn, and the function of it is still unclear. I found 10 specimens in an isolated part of a hedge: one male, several females and a few younger lizards. The rhino-horned lizard doesn’t move quickly and is easy to overlook. You won’t find specimens in the sun. They require a shaded area. As captive specimens, they do not do well in habitats that are too warm.
Top 5 Areas to Explore
1. The most interesting place to go herping in Sri Lanka, and a real paradise, is the Sinharaja Forest, which can easily be reached by hiring a local driver with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Stay at Martin’s Place for a few days, and enter the forest with a guide during the daytime. You will see a large variety of herp species there.
2. In the hills of Nuwara Eliya there are lots of tea plantations and some remaining forests. From there, make a day trip out of Horton Plains National Park and the Hakgala Botanical Gardens.
3. In the city of Kandy, visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and also the Udawattakele Reserve located above the temple. Ask the driver to take you to Trinity College and travel farther up the hill, where you will find the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. For a real adventure, visit the Gonnaruwa Forest near the botanical gardens. It is a remaining forest, but the most interesting places can be challenging to find. Make a daytrip from Kandy to the Knuckles Mountain Range, where you will find many endemic herp species.
4. Herp lovers should visit Kitulgala, a smaller city at the Kelani Ganga river. This river is where the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed. Stay at the Kitulgala Rest House for a few days, cross the river by boat (they will over-charge you) and explore the forest. A small stream runs quickly through the forest. Both sides of it are interesting, with unique fauna and flora, so keep your eyes open.
5. The dry zone was a bit dangerous due to past political upheaval, but you can go to the area surrounding the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve. Although you are not permitted to enter, the area does have a cultural center, where you can walk around and search for the new Otocryptis species recently discovered.
Places to Avoid
Because of the violence between cultural groups, avoid Colombo and the eastern and northern parts of Sri Lanka. In 2007, several attacks occurred at Yala Park. Instead of these areas, visit the central, western and southwestern parts of the island. Ask to visit cultural areas such as Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, but don’t go by bus. Attacks against buses have taken place during the last two years. Avoid military facilities and police stations, and do not visit Sri Lanka during an election. Not every attack was against tourists in the past, but it is best to be safe.
Beware of Leeches
The Sinharaja Forest contains a seemingly endless number of leeches, which lurk in the leaf-litter and on trees.
I would recommend a trip to Sri Lanka to any avid herper. The country is rich in flora and fauna, so be sure to bring your camera. As long as you follow the tips in this article, observe the local laws and listen to your guides, you should have an enjoyable herping adventure that will provide lasting memories. Happy herping. Previous Page>>
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