Friday, January 27, 2012

Did you know that Northern Territory, Australia has lots of Reptiles

The northern area is known for its' the real Bush. It has a population of less than 200'000 people, more than 90% of the people who live in government areas. This government areas cover only 5% of the Northern Territory, yielding more than 1.2 million square kilometers, almost deserted. This area is nearly five times as large as Great Britain! As you can imagine, it's an incredibly large and varied landscape! There are about 300 species of reptiles and 50 species of amphibians in the Northern Territory. Slightly more diverse you can, say the British species count only six reptiles and amphibians 6!

I spent the whole year of 2005 traveling around Australia. I went to every state and every major city, drove the longest straight road in the world twice, and toured the entire perimeter of this beautiful country. But the Northern Territory was in my books, by far the most amazing place I've ever been. I have three months in Darwin and a few weeks traveling around the NT, goes as far south as Alice Springs and Ayers Rock (Uluru in Aboriginal terms). I knew that was the place for me, since only a few days after I drove by, saw my first wild black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) crosses the road. What a shock! This was the first snake I had seen in Australia, and I had traveled thousands of miles. I almost run over, but suddenly swung misses by an inch! I turned around and went back, move away from the road for 50-meter oncoming road train plowed right through us all! It was a beautiful, 2 meters women in perfect condition. It was such a different animal in the wild, after seeing many of them in friends' collections, not like the wonderful feeling of seeing her in the bush and lending her a helping hand about the road. This was certainly true for me! I knew a lot more where they came from and I will certainly find!

During my time in the Northern Territory, I have three months to work on 'Crocodylus Park. A crocodile research and education center is about 8,000 saltwater crocodiles and a variety of crocodile skins and animal houses. This was certainly an experience of a lifetime. Not only to work with such a large number of large crocodiles, but also to a group of brilliant Ozzie to meet you! Me and my girlfriend was living with Eirlys an Australian couple, Cade & Holly. Cade knew the area and had worked in the park for a few years. He told me about a place where he goes on a regular occasion. He said to me: "We run after the sun goes down, about 45 minutes outside the city and just cruise for snakes." Well, it just sounded too easy for me, but I would certainly try!

Only a few days later, Cade arranged some of his comrades to join us in "herping" one evening. We were in convoy, Cade and three others in his car, closely followed by Maddy car with me in the back and a few people! 45 minutes later and we arrive at Fogg Dam. This place was not what I expected, it was not that great. We started driving very slowly on this road, which soon became quite narrow, with a fall of 2 meters on each side in dense, wet swamp. This was the dry season. In the wet season the road is not even visible, fully immersed in water. Only a few seconds after running through our first catch of the night comes, a yellow-bellied Water Python (Liasis mackloti)! It was closely followed by another, then another, then another. Within half an hour we had picked 14 pythons water away from the road, even to record 2 or 3 at once! Of course, if released directly back into the swamps. I definitely had second thoughts about this place, it was fantastic!

Following our successful water python Round-up, we took the time to sit by the road and see what we could spot. Came from our large torches, shining in the marsh on either side of the road. At least 20 crocodiles eyes sparkled back to us. Most were freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus john toni), but few eyes were bigger and further apart, it was the larger, saltwater or "estuaries" crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). I had seen it on TV many times, but it was totally different look this course. I must admit, even working with crocodiles all day, knowing that we were surrounded by hundreds of them were probably a scary thought! The night was topped by a discovery, I was desperate after a Northern Death Adder (Acanthophis pondweed)! An absolutely beautiful one too, so far in the way that we almost done to another piece of 'road-kill. "It was a successful evening camouflaged!

I later discovered, "Fogg Dam" has the largest concentration of predators in the world! Water pythons on their own, represent the highest density of predatory species in a concentrated area. Their prey is the dark rat, said to be in number 15,000 per square kilometer. These numbers of raptors, it is easy to understand their success.

Darwin is a small capital, with little more than 100,000 people, more than half the population in the Northern Territory. You only have one hour drive from the center to Litchfield National Park, a 1,500 square kilometer oasis of Northern Territory habitat, including one of the most famous termite mound glasses in the world, a series of beautiful waterfalls, rock formations to reach and forested areas. A few hours in the east, the greater Kakadu National Park, covering almost 20,000 square kilometers of land, almost as big as Ireland! This is one of the most famous national parks in the world, and certainly should be. Home to thousands of species of flora and fauna.

It was nice to get out to Litchfield National Park on the weekend, just a short drive away. I have a few times during my stay in the NT. It has an abundance of wildlife during the day but at night it really comes to life! Litchfield is famous for its magnetic termite mounds, so called because they are all north - south. The structures are approximately 3metres long and built to the narrowest edge facing the intense sun in the midday heat. With so many termites are so many predators. Many types of hams and other small lizards are common here. The Northern Territory is home to about 100 species of skink, many are dependent on small insects such as termites. With so many small lizards, reptiles, many of which feed on these lizards, including Legless Lizard Burton's (Lialis burtonis). This is one of the larger species of legless lizard, and the unusual, snake-like property of the option on the jaw hinge to provide an easy passage for their main food possible. These are very common in Litchfield and I was fortunate enough to see a lot. The only thing that varied in color.

Orange-naped snakes (Furina ornata) is abundant in the Northern Territory, although they are not nearly as often as other species. I was fortunate enough to have this guy crawling on the road a night spot. My guide for the night Maddy, one of Cade's comrades. He was herping in the years around the area and was familiar with the different types of reptiles you can find on various evenings, at certain times of the year. He thought I must be a good luck charm, because it was the first Orange naped snake he had ever caught here!

I've worked with hundreds of species of snake in the past few years, but I really wanted a taste for 'killer' stuff to get. The Northern Territory was definitely the place to do it and at that moment I had stumbled upon a dead snake in the wild. It was not enough. The Coastal Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) was a rare sight, and although I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one, the chance never came. I was more fortunate, however, Brown Snakes! I have 2 Western Brown snakes (Naja Pseudo nuchalis) Saw a few miles apart in Litchfield National Park. Unfortunately, my first and only sight of a wild King Brown (Pseudo Naja australis), was a young victim of a car tire. It had just happened, we had passed the same place but half hour earlier, but still on his way back through the snake had thought dead.

A number of reptile and insect species are found in and around the Darwin area. During his stay in Karama, we had several visitors to our backyard. Green Tree Snakes (Dendralaphis punctulatus), Two upholstered Dragons (Diporiphora bilineata), Striped Tree Dragons (Amphibolorus temporalis), the Australian House Gecko's (Gehyra australis), Asian House Geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus), Garden ham (Carlia gracilis and Carlia Munda ) and Mertens' Water Monitor (Varanus mertensi). Huntsman and Redback spiders are common in homes and gardens.

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