THE WILD REPTILES
(Dr. Girish Chandra)
CHELONIA (The tortoises and turtles)
Four-toed tortoise – Testudo horsfieldi – Found in Baluchistan.
The Leatherback – Dermochelys coriacea – Shell is soft and leathery. Largest among the sea turtle, weighing about 500 kg and up to 3 m in length. Found in Nicobar beach.
Hawksbill turtle – Eretmochelys imbricata – It is named because of its hawk-like beak. Carapace is dark brown, with yellow patches and ventral side is yellow. Found in Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar islands and occasionally on the mainland coast of India.
Green turtle – Chelonia mydas – This is the largest hard-shelled turtle that yields green coloured fat and hence its name. Commonly reach one meter in length and weighs 150 kg. Shell varies in colour from black to grey, green or brown with irregular patterns. It feeds on sea grass and sea weeds and hunted for meat. They are found in the Gulf of Mannar, Pak bay and Gulf of Kutch and occasionally also in Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands.
Loggerhead turtle – Caretta caretta – The get their name from very large head. In size and shape it is similar to the green turtle but has reddish-brown shell. They have been reported from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Olive Ridley turtle – Lepidochelys olivacea – Found in the coastal waters of Orissa, Mexico and Costa Rica but 30-40% of world’s population nests in Orissa in Bhitarkanika National Park.
River terrapin – Batagur baska
CROCODILIA (Crocodiles, alligators and gavialis)
The crocodiles belong to the family Crocodylidae, while alligators and caimans are placed in family Alligatoridae. The crocodile has a very long, narrow, V-shaped snout, while the alligator’s snout is wider and U-shaped. Crocodile’s upper and lower jaws are nearly the same width, so the teeth are exposed all along the jaw line in an interlocking pattern, even when the mouth is closed. They also have a large 4th tooth on the lower jaw that fits in the depressions in the upper jaw just behind the nostrils. An alligator, on the other hand, has a wider upper jaw, so when its mouth is closed the teeth in the lower jaw fit into sockets of the upper jaw. Only the teeth of the upper jaw are exposed along the lower jaw line. Crocodiles have a lighter olive brown colour, while alligators appear blackish.
Gavialis has been derived from the Hindi word ghariyal that refers to the ghara (Hindi for “pot”), which is a swelling around the nostrils of mature males. The species name, gangeticus means “of the River Ganges”, where it inhabits. The species is found in India, Myanmar (possibly extirpated), Nepal, Pakistan (close to being extirpated). They are found within the river systems of the Brahmaputra (Bhutan & India), the Indus (Pakistan), the Ganges (India & Nepal), and the Mahanadi (India), with small populations in the Kaladan and the Irrawaddy in Burma. Characteristic features include, elongated, narrow snout, similar only to the closely related False gharial, (Tomistoma schlegelii).
LACERTILIA (The Lizards)
Ghorpad – Varanus bengalensis –
Giant water monitor – Varanus salvator – Andaman, 5 ft long.
Monitor lizard – Varanus flavescens
Spotted forest gecko – Cyrtodactylus collegallensis –
Green gecko – Phelsuma andamanense
Tucktoo gecko – Gecko verrauxi – large sized. Andamans.
Dwarf gecko – Cnemaspis kandiana – Andmans, hides in rocks.
Skinks – Mabuya tytleri – Andamans.
Lygosoma maculates – Andamans.
Sphenodon or hatteria is the last survivor of the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia, which evolved in the early Mesozoic era, about 200 million years ago, but is now survived by only two species, which are found on the islands off the New Zealand coast and in Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellington, New Zealand. Since 1895, the country of New Zealand awarded the tuatara strict legal protection.
The geographic range of tuatara are 32 offshore islands which are generally cliff-bound, frequently exposed to strong winds and which support a natural, often stunted, salt and wind tolerant vegetation. Most islands are also home to several species of sea birds, whose nutrient-rich guano helps support the island’s ecosystem. Tuataras usually inhabit the breeding burrows of small petrels. They feed on small insects.
OPHIDIA (The Snakes)
King cobra – ( Ophiophagus hannah – India, Andaman
The king cobra is also one of the most courageous, poisonous and aggressive snakes. Their hood is relatively less inflatable than that of the Indian Cobra. The body is blackish brown with lighter bands running throughout its entire length. King cobra has a voracious appetite and their staple diet is snakes but they also eat lizards and rats. Mating has been observed in March, with copulation lasting for about an hour. The eggs are laid 5-6 weeks after mating. A maximum of 51 eggs have been recorded. King cobras can reach 18 feet (5.5 meters) in length, making them the longest of all venomous snakes. When confronted, they can raise up to one-third of their bodies straight off the ground and still move forward to attack. They will also flare out their iconic hoods and emit a bone-chilling hiss that sounds almost like a growling dog. Their venom is not the most potent among venomous snakes, but the amount of neurotoxin they can deliver in a single bite is up to 7 ml that is enough to kill 20 people or an elephant.
Common cobra – Naja naj, India
One of the most poisonous snakes found in India, the cobra has the most distinctive features as its hood. There are three races mainly the Indian Spectacled Cobra (Naja naja naja), the mono-ocellate cobra (Naja naja kaouthia) and the black cobra. Cobra feed principally on rats, frogs and toads, but can also take in lizards and snakes and also earthworm, ants, cockroaches and eggs.
Krait – Bangarus andamanense – Andamans, India
It is easily identified by its triangular body cross-section and the marked vertebral ridge consisting of enlarged hexagonal vertebral shields along the middle of the dorsal side. The head is not distinct from neck. The eye is black. It has arrow-head like yellow markings on its black head and has yellow lips, lore, chin and throat.
Tree snake – Chrysopelea paradisi, India
This beautiful and harmless black snake has narrow pale greenish-yellow cross bars. It prefers trees but also frequently spotted in the grass and on low bushes. It feeds largely on geckos and other lizards. The 6-12 eggs are laid in May, while hatchlings have been recorded in June. They prefer to live on large trees and appear to glide for some distance.