Tag Archives: nativewildlife

Common Indian Monitor (Varanus bengalensis)

Monitor lizards include some of the largest of their kind on Earth with 70 or more species spread around the globe. In India, we have the common Indian monitor or Bengal monitor, yellow monitor, water monitor and Thar desert monitor.

DISTRIBUTION: Common Indian or Bengal Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) can be encountered across the Indian sub-continent and thrive in lower elevations, be it moist forests or semi-arid deserts.

As the most widely distributed of varanid lizards, their global range extends to west and south-east Asia; from the riverine valleys of Iran to Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma and Indonesia. The clouded monitor is considered a sub-species of the common Indian monitor.

HABITAT: They dig soil to create burrows that are used as shelters along rock crevices and buildings. Common Indian monitors are not territorial and are constantly exploring new range in response to food availability and the seasons.

BIOLOGY: Monitors wear a dark studded, leathery hide stretched from snout to tail, around 100 cms is the average length of a Bengal monitor. They constantly flick a forked tongue, much like their serpent relatives, employed as a sensory organ rather than to swallow food. They store fat as reserves especially in their powerful tail that can grow up to 100 cms, a good source in times of prey scarcity.

Sub-adults are comparatively more colourful with cross bars across their throat, neck and belly; colouration has been observed to vary across the range.

Monitors are fantastic swimmers, reptiles with the highest standard metabolic rate, capable of submerging themselves for a whopping 17 minutes.

One of Into the Wild’s camera traps caught a common Indian monitor cooling off in a rock pool set in his natural habitat in Magadi. Click the forward arrow really fast to watch a stop motion of this rare footage:

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Read more about these active lizards:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/monitor-lizards-found-to-breathe-birds/

BEHAVIOR: Being diurnal, they sleep during the night and begin their day with a good bask at around 6a.m. These shy lizards avoid humans to every possible extent and are known to be solitary by nature. Though certain varanids are known to possess a small amount of venom, the Bengal monitor makes no claims to such toxicity; even when caught, they rarely bite.

BREEDING: Their breeding season is between June and September with male combat emerging as early as April.

FEEDING: A regular meal for a common Indian monitor could mean eggs, arthopods, snails, ants, beetles, grubs, among invertebrates. They are also known to feast on vertebrates such as fish, frogs, lizards and snakes but rarely. Even rarer is their scavenging of dead carcass.

Monitor lizards in India are significant beyond their natural history. Legend has it that Tanaji Malusare, one of Shivaji’s commanders, used Yeshwanthi (his monitor lizard) and rope to scale a rock face and launch an attack on his enemy, winning the Battle of Sinhagad in 1670.

Read more about how illegal trade of monitor lizard meat has entered the urban market here: http://wp.me/p5P9Ju-L

Yellow Bellied Green Cat Snake

Yellow bellied green cat snake (Boiga flaviviridis) is a new species of cat snake ‘described from the dry forests of eastern Peninsular India’. Discovered only recently, its particularly beautiful yellowish-green dorsal shimmer over which unpatterned black bands gently run ends in a short tail.

Even for skilled herpers, the yellow bellied cant snake is a rare sighting. It is only recently that the first live specimens are being recorded. On our nights out herping, the Into the Wild team has encountered seven in and around Krishnagiri, Tumkur and Savandurga. Some as long and large as this one:

01.B.fs
Yellow bellied green cat snake, Tumkur range

Considering these recent findings and recordings, a question that arises to the mind is -why now? Have made a gross underestimation about the extent to which the world of reptiles has evolved? Are all fauna – known and unknown – finally being driven out of the safety of their forests by human centered development?

The answer is a combination of all of the above, among reasons; but how Boiga Flaviviridus has slipped being noticed for so many years certainly remains a small mystery and the assumption that our studies of the natural world have been exhaustive can no longer be made.

Human centered development is unbalancing our natural environment today more than ever before. We must consciously understand the seriousness of this situation and consider this as a wake up call towards action comprehending the interaction between humans and ecology in the process of urbanisation and set in motion the conscious shift towards urban ecology.

To inform yourself of the basic details on the yellow bellied green cat snake:

http://www.indiansnakes.org/content/yellow-green-cat-snake

Featured image: Sandeep GA

Red sand boa (Eryx Johnii)

As a native of the sub-continent, the red sand boa can be found across the country except on the islands and the states beyond north Bengal. This meek snake is also endemic to Iran and Pakistan.

HABITAT: It flourishes in semi-desert plains, rocky scrub plains and dry foothills. Preferring loose sand or crumbling soil, the red sand boa is a burrower that lives most of its life underground.

While herping, one can encounter the red sand boa in gardens, agricultural areas, desolate and abandoned areas of land that has sandy soil, cracked earth, mounds, rat holes, brick and rock piles.

BIOLOGY: This nocturnal snake is fesurial(a burrower). Everything from it’s cylindrical body shape, blunt and truncated head + tail and tough, shovel shaped face are all adaptations to a life of burrowing. Yet another adaptation are its small eyes as the snake is active at night and in soil, not requiring excellent eyesight in order to survive.

The red sand boa’s colour is uniform and darker in adults. Their colouring ranges from reddish brown to reddish black, chocolate brown and just plain brown. Juveniles have a banded pattern that is more prominent.

BEHAVIOR: The snake uses its blunt appearance to its advantage. When threatened, it coils and raises its tail as if it were the head, to confuse the predator.

DIET: The red sand boa consumes a variety of mammals, some feeding exclusively on other snakes. They are known to use the method of constriction implying that they paralyze their prey by tightly coiling their body around it and effectively strangling or suffocating it to death.