Taiwan is home to three species of coral snakes - Sinomicrurus sauteri
, S. hatori
, and S. macclellandi
, all of them endemic to the island. Like their American cousins, they're as beautiful as they're difficult to find: they're all small, nocturnal, rare snakes that spend most of their life beneath leaf litter, where they look for other small snakes to eat. While I've seen S. macclellandi
twice last year, I've never come across either of the other two. S. sauteri
is out of reach for me, since its range doesn't include the North of the island (and I don't travel much), so S. hatori
is my only game if I want to see striped coral snakes.
As I mentioned, they're nocturnal and fossorial, but through a massive stroke of luck I found one yesterday at 10:30 AM in a naked concrete ditch completely devoid of leaves, probably traveling due to insomnia. It was a tiny baby, just a couple of inches long, and as thin as No. 2 spaghetti. An animal this diminutive needed to be brought home and photographed with my macro rig: 100mm lens, three inches worth of extension tubes, macro slider, the works. This setup used to work quite well with my tiny carnivorous plants
, but as soon as I set up the snake on my wife's chopping board (no snake soup jokes, please), I found that the usual f/22 and ten seconds of exposure at room lighting weren't the way to go for live animals. Not that the beast wasn't cooperative, but it had a habit of moving its head just when I had finally focused, a highly frustrating act at these magnifications....as was working with an external, hand-held flash.
The whole operation was spiced up by the fact that this is an elapid. I used untreated (rough) wooden chopsticks to keep the beast in check, but sometimes it tried to get off the chopping board, and although I've been in East Asia for 22 years, catching wriggly little critters with chopsticks still presents quite a challenge. Luckily, I soon found out that the snake would never bite in defense, but rather use its pointy tail to sting its attacker. So I experimented with various handling techniques such as tailing and putting the snake on my palm, and eventually lost my fear. The locals say Chinese coral snakes (Sinomicrurus sp.)
) can't bite humans because their mouth is too small, but I wouldn't buy that for an adult two-footer. This one, however, had a head as tiny as a bug's, and I think it would have been physically unable to tag me. (<- this quote soon on famouslastwords.com!