is known in German as "Chinesische Perlnatter", or "Chinese Pearl Snake". Looking at a fully grown adult
, the etymology isn't immediately obvious. Within one year after birth, these snakes turn mostly black with dull, dark yellowish-grey stripes that become less and less visible with age, and many seven-footers tend to be completely black. But for the first few months of their life, these snakes are among the prettiest little things imaginable, and their body pattern explains the German name - the snake seems to be covered in a mosaic of lustrous little pearls.
In Taiwan, the diurnal "Big-Eyed Ratsnake", as the animal is prosaically known in English, is very common and due to its penchant for frogs found mostly along creeks, ponds and ditches in forested areas. Being common doesn't mean one actually gets to see it a lot, let alone catch it - this is reportedly the fastest snake in Asia, and due to its large eyes probably among the ones with the best reaction; a combination that makes it hard to observe and even harder to snatch. I go herping every day, so I've still managed to see and even bag quite a few of these elegant racer-like snakes this year, but the Big Prize still kept eluding me, namely one of those gorgeous hatchlings.
Last Monday, Naga the Snake God finally had mercy on me, and guided my eyes onto a foot-long, brilliantly colored neonate I almost tripped over in the narrow ditch I was walking in. Many animals, especially snakes, show typical behavioral traits even as youngsters, and so does Ptyas dhumnades
. Straight out of the egg, the hatchlings do their parents proud by acting like tiny evil lindwyrms that lustily bite the living crap out of anyone foolish enough to get too close. Getting too close is difficult, though, because these snakes are as fast as they're mean, and thanks to my array of physical handicaps (middle age, obesity, severe butter fingers), the little &^%$#@ escaped out of the ditch and into the dirt embankment, and no amount of digging short of triggering a landslide would turn the little &^%$#@ up again. Fuming and cussing, I continued my way through the ditch, had lunch at the terminal point, and walked back the same way, when - miracle of miracles!! - the little &^%$#@ reappeared at almost the same place in the ditch where I had spotted it the first time around. This time I managed to grab'n'bag the snake, although not without getting nailed a good dozen times. While the bites didn't pierce the skin, they did itch for about fifteen minutes. Guess Bryan Fry is onto something with his Ptyas
I took the snake home, placed it into one of my overnight guest tanks, but various things kept me from photographing it for the rest of the week. Usually I don't feed guest snakes, because most of them are too nervous/confused/angry to eat anyway, but I felt guilty about the little squirt. P. dhumnades
are notoriously difficult to keep, as they're immensely high-strung and will attack anything they see moving outside their tanks. To keep them from busting their noses (or even necks and skulls, as the case may be), you need to keep the tank covered with a dark cloth for months, and some individuals will still never calm down even after the initial break-in phase. This specimen was no exception, and after five days "undercover", there were no signs of forthcoming peace offers. But I needed to keep it a little longer until I had time for a proper photo session, so I decided to try and feed it. Last night I caught two small Mientien tree frogs (Chirixalus idiootocus
) and a little Indian rice frog (Rana/Feyervarya limnocharis
) and popped them into the snake tank. This morning I found two of the frogs gone, and a quick glance at the pair of bulges in the snake's body confirmed their whereabouts.
The big meal considerably pacified the reptile, and the subsequent photo shoot went without a hitch - only three escape attempts from the "studio", and maybe one or two half-assed attacks on the camera and my fingers, none of which caused any damage to lens or limb.....
PS: Why "Donald", you ask? The huge eyes that dominate the entire face, the irascible-looking supraocular scales, the silly snout....it's the serpentine reincarnation of Donald Duck, as Carl Barks used to portray him!
Love me some greasy German bratwurst!