Encounter with a picky eater – Carolina Anole

On a lazy weekend afternoon, a rustling in a tree adjacent to my balcony piqued my curiosity. The leaves were aflutter, but I could not spot the stimulus that was setting off that reaction. The leaves kept moving and since I don’t believe in ghosts (despite what I write), I kept a close watch to understand what was causing the disturbance. And it turned out to be a green reptile (which I thought initially might be a gecko) that turned out to be a Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis). 

The male Carolina Anole, with dewlap extended
The male Carolina Anole, with dewlap extended

Its color was incredibly similar to those of the leaves, and the only thing that gave it away was the extension of the red dewlap under its chin. This behavior in the male Carolina Anole serves to attract females or warn other males to back off, but I noticed neither.

A little later, a fly came and sat right in front of the Anole. I licked my lips and readied my camera, hoping for a moment of predation. But the Anole just sat there poker-faced. The fly buzzed off after a while.

A fly? Wont do!
A fly? Won’t do!

Soon, I realized what the Anole was after. There, on the twig above the lizard, was a caterpillar of the same colour as the leaves and the Anole itself. This had arrested the Anole’s attention, and in an instant its jaws snapped shut around the lower half of the caterpillar’s body.


But if the Anole thought it had an easy meal, it was in for a mistake. The caterpillar clung onto the leaf, not letting go. Then ensued a tug-of-war between the two, one clinging onto dear life and the other persisting in its endeavour to earn its meal the hard way.


The Anole changed positions and hung on to the caterpillar with its teeth, adroitly using its own weight in its attempt to wrest the caterpillar free of its perch. The die-hard prey, by the way, still stuck fast to its leaf.

Darn you @##$#. Leggo!
Darn you @##$#. Leggo!

Not one to give up, the Carolina Anole stepped up its tugging efforts, until finally, finally the caterpillar’s resolve (or its back?) snapped. It was promptly swallowed . The Carolina Anole seemed a little embarrassed at the whole show in which a tiny caterpillar had tested its final reserves of strength.

And finally after an epic battle, the inch long caterpillar is vanquished.
And finally after an epic battle, the inch long caterpillar is vanquished.

Watching this encounter between lizard and insect left with something to chew on regarding the eating habits of the Carolina Anole: That it doesn’t eat junk food, and that it loves its greens.

A picky eater indeed!


Kashmir Rock Agama | Australian Water Dragon | Elliot’s Forest Lizard | Sinai Agama

Posted from Cary, North Carolina, United States.

Encounter – The Australian Water Dragon

A handsome Australian Water Dragon at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland

Australia’s splendid biodiversity includes, apart from its marsupials, monotremes and splendid birdlife, a treasure of herpetofauna. Walking in the bush, or even in cleared countryside, you can spot water monitors, goannas, skinks and lizards. At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, I came across a large lizard that had grown so confiding and tolerant of humans that it would barely budge unless physically moved out of the way. In a completely wild state, though, these reptiles are known to be a lot less insouciant with their lives. Understandably, for birds of prey and opportunistic snakes, or the odd predatory human, would love to knock them off for a good meal.

A handsome Australian Water Dragon at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland
A handsome Australian Water Dragon at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland

The Australian Water Dragon (Intellagama leseurii) is an agamid lizard found across most of the eastern part of Australia. As its name suggests, it favours water and may be seen swimming in ponds or streams that are not polluted with effluents. The Australian Water Dragon was earlier classified under the genus Physignathus, which includes other species of water dragon found in southeast Asia. In 2012, taxonomists agreed that it should be moved to its own genus, Intellagama, which includes two subspecies — the Eastern Water Dragon (I l lesseuri) and the Gippsland Water Dragon (I l howittii). The subspecies pictured here is the Eastern Water Dragon, recognisable by the dark stripe that runs from behind the eye to the animal’s ear.

Though reasonably common, the Australian Water Dragon is protected by law. Therefore, capturing or keeping them in confinement as pets demands some seriously discouraging paperwork. And that’s always a good thing, isn’t it?

Unafraid, an Australian Water Dragon peeps from behind a hedge
Unafraid, an Australian Water Dragon peeps from behind a hedge

By no means a small lizard, an adult male Australian Water Dragon can attain a length of about 3 feet, including its substantial tail. They are larger than the females, which usually grow up to 2 feet and have smaller heads than the males. Well adapted to water, these lizards are known to leap in for safety when disturbed and stay submerged for up to an hour.

An Australian Water Dragon suns itself near Brisbane
An Australian Water Dragon suns itself near Brisbane

The Australian Water Dragon is known to be an omnivore — besides insects, it also eats vegetable matter including algae and fruit. As is the case with some individuals of the human race, they are known to prefer an increasingly vegetarian diet as they age. Before you pull out your vegan propaganda kit, it might help to reason that younger lizards need more animal protein to fuel and sustain their growth spurts.

These lizards are also highly arboreal, nimbly shinnying up trees when threatened or while foraging in search of insects. Winter in the southern hemisphere sees the water dragons become less active. Breeding season is typically in the spring, and often sees males battling each other for dominance. Gravid females dig hollows in soft river sand to lay their eggs.

The Australian Water Dragons I met ignored me as I approached very close. Their confidence perhaps stems from exposure to humans, as well as their strong claws and an unenviable reputation for delivering a powerful bite. Having been bitten by lizards before, I knew what that meant. So I kept my wits about me and stayed on the good side of the dragon.

Meet these other interesting lizards

Elliot’s Forest Lizard | Sinai Agama | Kashmir Rock Agama

Posted from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Encounter – The Sinai Agama

A male Sinai Agama in Sur, Sultanate of Oman
A male Sinai Agama in Sur, Sultanate of Oman
A male Sinai Agama in Sur, Sultanate of Oman

The Sultanate of Oman is a beautiful country in the Arabian peninsula with a great diversity of habitats, but it is not exactly known for its wealth of charismatic large wildlife. Besides the handsome Arabian Oryx, the nation’s mascot, there are few animals that readily jump to mind at the mention of its name. Among carnivores, but for the rare Arabian leopard, the scarcely seen caracal and still-persecuted wolf, there’s little swish and swagger at the top of the food chain. The wildlife lurks out of sight, and underfoot. That’s right, it’s the small, seemingly insignificant creatures that offer epiphanic encounters. For the most part they remain hidden away, but a chance tryst can be a revelation.

So it was with this diminutive reptile, the Sinai Agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus), which I encountered in Sur, eastern Oman.

About two hours before sunset on a hot summer evening in August, I was clambering up to the top of a hillock near Al Ayjah watchtower for a better view of the spectacular Khor Al Batah Suspension Bridge, when I spied a little lizard, about six inches long, darting into the potpourri of the desert floor. It was dull brown and speckled, maybe banded. Probably a female or a juvenile. I lost it in the busy visual field of the ground, which was littered with rubble, pebbles, corpses of twigs and grasses, and sundry desiccated vegetation. I took a step forward and the lizard moved again. There were, in fact, three individuals. Two of them, dull brown females or juveniles, vanished out of sight. The third lizard stayed put, cocked its head and peered up at me in the solemn, inquiring, mildly confrontational way that agamid lizards often do. This was a male. He appeared dull, slaty grey but as I watched he changed hue to a deep detergent-blue. Nodding his head and bristling the spiky scales at the crest of his head, his wise eyes fixed on me, he was quite an apparition.

The Sinai Agama is a widely distributed lizard, recorded from most of the Arabian peninsula as well as northern Africa. It is diurnal, and known to be active during the hotter parts of the day. It feeds on insects, chiefly ants, and can be seen foraging actively. The full splendour of the male’s bright colouration can be observed in the breeding season, when ready-to-procreate individuals stake claim to rocks and other vantages to bask and nod their heads to attract females. The nod is also a threat display to challenging males and intruders.

Sinai Agamas are fairly common and not known to be threatened in any part of their range. They form an important prey base of raptors, snakes and desert-dwelling carnivores such as foxes.

Up close with the Sinai Agama
Up close with the Sinai Agama

As the lizard posed for my picture, his blue blush intensified. Though not as spectacular as in chameleons, the changing of colours in agamid lizards can be dramatic.

Blue is not an unusual colour in lizards. Readers of this blog may have read my earlier post on the Kashmir Rock Agama – the breeding male of this species develops bright slaty-blue limbs. The Fan-throated Lizard (Sitana ponticeriana), which we Ogres have unfortunately not yet encountered, also has a bright blue throat flap.

Greedy as photographers can be, I inched another step forward for a closer shot. The Sinai Agama, showing no signs of being ruffled, simply slipped into a rock crevice and disappeared from my evening. As I clambered up the hillock for a sunset view of Al Batah lagoon, my fellow-travellers asked what had delayed me. I showed them the picture I had taken.

“How do you even find these creatures?” one friend asked.

I don’t. They reveal themselves to me.

A dash of cold blood is the coolest thing in the desert. #reptiles #lizards #Oman #wildlife

A photo posted by Bijoy Venugopal (@bijoyv) on


Encounter – The Kashmir Rock Agama

Encounter – Elliot’s Forest Lizard

Posted from Sur, Ash Sharqiyah North Governorate, Oman.

Miaow! Hiss! Download the October wallpaper

Wallpaper October 2012 - 1366 pixels

It’s Wildlife Weekend! Download this Beddome’s Cat Snake, our October calendar-wallpaper, for your desktop and iPad!

It’s Wildlife Weekend, and many of us have seen better days than the ones we have been spending in our office cubbyholes, toiling away to zero fruition. This time last year, we were at Dandeli, observing The Green Ogre Autumn Conclave. It was just after the monsoon and the birds, being contented, were relatively scarce and the ground was still trembling with amphibians. And that’s when we walked into a Wildlife Week demonstration of snake handling by a forest officer. Schoolchildren were huddled around one Mr Naik, who produced various snakes from his bags. Equally wide-eyed, we joined the crowd. The forester was kind enough to allow us to handle the snakes — a Green Vine Snake and a Beddome’s Cat Snake. In memory of that glorious triumph over several deep-seated fears, we offer you this month’s calendar wallpaper, only seven days late. 🙂

The Beddome’s Cat Snake (Boiga beddomei), seen here cradled in able hands against a bokeh of attentive schoolchildren, is a mildly venomous rear-fanged snake. Its large, bulging, cat-like eyes tell of its nocturnal habit. It is distributed in the Western Ghats from Maharashtra south to Kerala and Tamil Nadu and also occurs patchily in Odisha. It is also found in Sri Lanka.


Wallpaper October 2012 - 1366 pixels
Download Desktop Calendar Wallpaper October 2012 – 1366 pixels

[download file=”http://greenogreindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sep20121366.jpg” title=”For desktops 1366 pixels”]

Wallpaper October 2012 - 1600 pixels
Download Desktop Calendar Wallpaper October 2012 – 1600 pixels

[download file=”http://greenogreindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sep20121600.jpg” title=”For desktops 1600 pixels”]

Wallpaper October 2012 - 1920 pixels
Download Desktop Calendar Wallpaper October 2012 – 1920 pixels

[download file=”http://greenogreindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sep20121920.jpg” title=”For desktops 1920 pixels”]

Wallpaper October 2012 - For iPad
Download Desktop Calendar Wallpaper October 2012 – For iPad

[download file=”http://greenogreindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sep2012Ipad.jpg” title=”For iPad”]

Wallpapers photographed and created by Sandeep Somasekharan

Posted from Dandeli, Karnataka, India.

Would they kill the keelback?

Did that curious crowd know, or care, that the snake we were trying to see off to safety was a harmless albeit aggressive Checkered Keelback?

Here’s how to tell a Checkered Keelback from its venomous relatives: Round eyes, checkered scale pattern, keeled scales and the oblique stripes behind and beneath the eye

I didn’t really plan to make a habit of writing about snakes and the human folly of mistaken identity, but it appears that the subject seeks me out. Remember the young cobra I had written about some time ago? And the harmless rat snake that could easily have been mistaken for a venomous snake by the ignorant and the fearful?

Heading back from Bandipur last week after a tour organised by the Kumble Foundation (more on that in upcoming posts), we had not yet reached Mysore when a peculiar spectacle beside the highway compelled us to pull over. Two bikes were parked on the verge. The rider of one appeared to be staring hard at something his companion was holding. One chap perched on the pillion of the first bike cradled a live chicken in a cloth bag, its thirsty mouth ajar as it clucked comically in innocent contemplation (perhaps, of its gastronomic destiny). The first rider held in his hands what looked like a snake. By happy accident or design, he gripped it securely behind the head, and the snake did not appear to resist. In fact, it seemed so limp that Arun and I feared it was dead. 

We stepped out of the taxicab to look. Arun, adept at identification, pointed out immediately that the snake was a Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator), also known as the Asiatic Water Snake. It was olive green overall with checkered markings, which were not as pronounced as in some other individuals that I have seen. True enough, there was the diagnostic oblique black stripe/ band below the round eyes, and the scales on the snake’s back were rough. It was almost four feet long and amply muscular.

Questioning the riders, we learned that they had found it on the road in a stunned condition and picked it up to prevent it from being run over. Good move. But now, the folks had no clear idea what it was and what to do with it. I guess they must have assumed the snake was dead. I took it from him, still gripping it securely at the back of the neck.

Keelbacks can bite, and how. As a child I’d seen a cousin savaged as he foolhardily attempted to handle one swimming in a tank. The snake champed hard on his big toe, repeatedly reaffirming its grip even as he tried without joy to release it. He was left with an unsightly sore and ample insult as onlookers jeered his inopportune bravado. Naturalist Rahul Alvares has written about one snake that left a tooth behind in his bite wound!

Memory had not eluded me even as Arun gingerly reminded me of the keelback’s propensity for biting. I held the snake gently but firmly behind its thick muscular neck, which felt tough but offered little resistance to my grip. Some scales had been chafed near the right side of the head but there were no flesh wounds, no haemorrhage and no obvious tissue damage. That was a relief. But the snake was in trauma and needed to recuperate safely before it made off. Initially, I suspected it was gravid but given my inexperience, I assume it was only food in its stomach that I was feeling under its skin. Arun pointed out that a fully fed snake would usually disgorge its meal to lighten up before taking flight.

Placing the snake on the ground, I hoped it would shoot off into the bushes, but it stayed put flicking its tongue. Arun and I, as well as some of our fellow-travellers, exchanged worried glances. If the snake didn’t flee, it would become an easy target for humans zealous for a show of heroism. A crowd of passing motorists had collected by now and clearly, they anticipated action. I caught wind of conversation — one expert pronounced that it was a cobra I was holding. In despair, I appealed to the crowd to disperse and informed them that it was only a water snake. I bent down and picked up the snake again, half-hoping that it would turn and bite, as that would offer assurance of its ability to fend for itself. But the keelback was still sluggish.

Diinesh, Arati, Radha and others who were travelling with us suggested that we leave the snake in a quieter place away from the highway. Idiotic as it may appear, anyone picking up a 4-feet-long snake by the tail looks like a superhero to the gawking bystander and I found it hard to shake off the crowd trailing me. Happily, the snake in my hands was now starting to resist, whipping at me with its tail and veering its head around. When I placed it at the foot of a hedge beside some farmland, the snake began to crawl forward but still not at satisfactory speed. Were we within sight of a water body, we could have released the snake into it without fearing for its fate.

Much of the crowd had now dispersed but a few persistent men followed me to investigate this most questionable rescue operation, among them the swaggering stud whose better judgement informed him that the snake was a cobra. “Nagara haavu,” he pronounced in Kannada to those about him; they nodded agreement. I pleaded with them to leave the snake alone but they lingered. I was also concerned about holding up the rest of our group so we left the snake, which was now slithering away from the road with what I hoped was renewed determination. 

A pang of guilt gnawed at me for the rest of the journey. Sure, we had averted a roadkill, but would the snake evade that crowd before its idle curiosity turned to ignorant fear, and then possibly to murderous rage? 

I’d rather not know…

Text by Beej
Photos by a very focused Arun (who happily decapitated me in his zeal to photograph the snake)

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