Herping (verb): the act of searching for herps (i.e., reptiles or amphibians).
I was never much of a herper as a kid, so my attempts this year have been laughable at best, even though Madagascar is an amazing place for herping. Over 90% of its frog, lizard, and snake species are found nowhere else in the world! Despite this, my only interactions with Madagascar’s herps have been accidental, such as a Brookesia seen on the trail…
A chameleon found in someone’s garden…
Or a leaf-tailed gecko spotted one misty morning…
Unfortunately, there was a problem. The coolest Malagasy herps (including the Boophis) only come out after dark. And I’m afraid of going out into the forest at night.
Don’t get me wrong. I can do nocturnal lemur surveys, but only because those are conducted in groups. My personal herp searches were to be done alone. Even with my handy-dandy headlamp, I found myself unable to step out into the forest beyond the camp’s stream. Sometimes it was due to illness. Sometimes it was due to rain. But, more than half of the time, it was due to plain old cowardice.
There’s nothing in the Madagascar rainforest to be afraid of. The fosa, the largest native predator, is about the size of a small dog. I could kick it if it tried to attack me. But I just couldn’t make myself cross the stream.
What about the giant fosa? My imagination whispered to me. Yeah, it’s extinct, but what if it’s not? It’s like a weasel. You know how vicious weasels are. What if you see the Thing running around out there?!
Luckily, the rainforest provided (personal reminder: sacrifice a chicken soon). One night, while waiting for dinner, I stepped outside of the building and found a snake at my feet.
It was a sizeable Malagasy tree boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis). I was ecstatic. The field crew, not so much. The cook screamed and a guide climbed out of a window to avoid going past the snake.
After some coaxing, I got the snake onto a stick and took him down to the field below camp, where I spent the rest of the night snapping pics.
He was an absolute sweetheart, quite docile. He didn’t try to bite once.
I left him under a rock to protect him from the rain. The next morning, I was sure I would never see him again. And he had left his little shelter…
But he only left to return right back to the big building where everyone else was sleeping. We found him curled up in the eaves.
Malagasy tree boas are usually arboreal during the day, only coming to the ground at night to hunt. I think this guy was attracted to the mice that hung out around the dining area. So when he became active that night, I once again took him out of camp. This time, he stayed in the forest, because we never did see him again.
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