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 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 7:15 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
My uncle is a retired German physician with a huge appetite for the natural world, and since he visited us in Borneo last year for the first time, he's been completely hooked on the tropical wonders of the region. Last week he completed his second visit and renewed his vow to henceforth spend "one-twelfth of every year on Borneo". Which is good, because he's not only a very companionable, funny, and generous fellow, but he also seems to bring lots of herping luck. My snake sightings this year had been abysmal before his arrival, but as soon as we began hiking and roadcruising together, I started finding snakes left and right again. Sometimes even the very same species we had found together during his visit in 2013: Last March we also roadcruised a nice Red-tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum), even quite close to the location where we found the one on display here.

What makes Uncle J. even more lovable is his knowledge of the medical arts, because last year's racer encounter ended with him using my small viper hook to pry (gently - he was a surgeon, after all) most of the snake's dentures out of my lower arm. G. oxycephalum, you see, is not only one of the most handsome snakes in Borneo, it is also one of the fastest and most spirited ones, and any physical contest with this species has the potential to conclude with a large number of small, but vigorously bleeding holes peppered across one's anatomy.

I had learned my lesson, and when this time around another one of these green beauties appeared before us on a deserted mountain road in the wild border area south of Kuching, the first thing I grabbed was not my snake hook, but my trusty welding glove. This meeting would not lead to wasting an entire evening scrubbing dried blood off my camera with a toothbrush. This time I would do it right and avoid any harm to man and snake alike. And, I'm happy to report, I succeeded. Well, sort of. After picking the beast up from the road, I tried, as is customary, to stick it in a snake bag for transport to a more photogenic location. But the snake was so strong that removing his coils from my arm while keeping the animal unharmed bordered on the impossible, and in the end I just left him wrapped around my rapidly paling limb and had Uncle J. take over the wheel while I hoped the air condition in the car would relax the snake into releasing his grip so I could bag it. (It did. Eventually. After almost half an hour.)

We looked for picturesque trees along the road on which to drape the snake for photos, but the trees were either not suitably grown for the purpose (no horizontal limbs) or stood too close together (escape risk). Eventually we gave up the idea of the snake-on-a-tree scenario, because the Red-tailed Racer is an arboreal creature. At a length north of five feet, this specimen probably climbed faster than a spider monkey, and we weren't kitted out for long-distance shots of things hiding in the canopy twenty feet above us. Instead, we found a nicely bulldozed patch of desert in the forest, congratulated ourselves that the red clay would nicely compliment the animal's emerald coat (a lame excuse for giving up on the tree idea way too soon), and let the snake out of the bag.

First it just sat there, neck puffed up to look even more formidable, a rather successful strategy, judging from my companions' reactions. Then it either got bored or just changed tactics, and took off like a green lightning for the riverbank beyond the edge of the clear space. I managed to pursue, catch and return the snake to the center of the arena, but as it repeatedly executed the manoeuver with great swiftness and tenacity, I was blind from the sweat in my eyes after fifteen minutes (by now, the equatorial noon felt like the inside of a flamethrower, there was no shade, and I weigh three hundred pounds, not all of which is muscle), and the idea of forfeiting all artistic pretension and instead shooting the snake in a decidedly pedestrian, but well-controlled position hugely gained in appeal by the second. I knew that the animal, being a tree dweller, would stay on the hook as long as I held it far enough from the ground, so my deep-fried brain opted for the cheap and dirty solution. (Take-home message here, kids: very few fat people shoot truly great photographs, so lay off the Dew and the pork rinds when you're roadcruising!)

As predicted, the snake did stay on the hook, and after a while even Lisa, my wife (usually more attracted to slow and gentle snakes, preferably much shorter than herself) worked up the guts to hold the hook so I could take a few photos. Gradually, the atmosphere became one of love, peace, and marveling at nature's wonders. Finally, all that mushy touchy-feely crap became unbearable for this fierce eater of cats and strangler of rats, for as soon as Lisa handed me back tool and snake, he lost interest in his peaceful position at the end of the hook and decided it was time to explore the immediate surroundings. At five feet above the ground, the only way to go was along the hook, and soon the snake commenced its sightseeing tour up my arm, around my shoulders, and finally, down my rump back onto the ground. I have learned over the years that as long as you stay perfectly still, snakes will usually not see you as an enemy, but merely as some kind of soft, warm tree with two limbs to travel on towards safer pastures. And that's the way it usually plays out. But ever since a run-in a few years ago with a very large and very mental Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynodon) who started tearing into my flesh the second it touched my (perfectly still!) arm, I've had my doubts about this rule, and this is the reason why my face does not show its usual cool-cat demeanor in the photos. (Weird factoid: I remember being particularly worried that the snake would maul my ear. No idea why. I should probably see a shrink about that).

Back on the ground, the snake was pretty exhausted and gave me ample opportunity for a few macro shots from prone position. Afterwards I transported Mr. Greensleeves to the bamboo grove on the riverbank, where he wasted no breath on goodbyes before disappearing into the leaf litter at a respectable clip.

Here are the pictures, in chronological order.

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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #75: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 7:19 am 
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Joined: July 8th, 2010, 10:14 am
Posts: 771
Location: Eastern Washington
That is a sexy green! Thanks for the herp porn :)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 8:42 am 
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 10:19 am
Posts: 350
Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
Cheers for a longer post again, Hans. Always a joy to read. A beautiful snake too.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 11:39 am 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 1:38 pm
Posts: 967
Fantastic find, seems like you made the most of it and had a great encounter and the snake didnt even get to maul you. Nice post.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 4:13 pm 
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Joined: June 9th, 2010, 9:57 pm
Posts: 467
Location: Ohio, then Arizona, now South Australia
Beautiful snake and, as always, I love your writing style/humor. Bwahahahhaaaa, your facial expressions while the snake is using you for a tree are priceless!!! :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 4:36 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thank you, guys! Yes, in hindsight it's always funnier than when it happened :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 4th, 2014, 10:51 pm 
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Joined: June 16th, 2010, 12:26 pm
Posts: 561
That was a gorgeous snake, Hans. Still awaiting your shots of the the green and yellow "holy grail" snake. I hope that one turns up for you before too long!

Regards,
David


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 5th, 2014, 12:09 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 7:50 am
Posts: 1069
Location: Huntington Beach, CA
Awesome snake Hans. You prompted me to post my first ever "green" snake. An Oriental Whip found last month. While common, it was an awesome sight for a guy not accustomed to finding green snakes.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #76: Mean Green Ratsnake Machine
PostPosted: April 5th, 2014, 10:13 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
"Green is good!" (Gordon Gecko)


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