Some Beijing snakes from 2020

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Scott Lupien
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Joined: June 15th, 2010, 4:15 am

Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Scott Lupien »

It's been a long time since I've posted here and I'm way over due! I moved to Beijing in 2004 and in 2008 started to figure out some local herping areas. For a few years I did quite well in a couple of spots, especially hiking the Great Wall. The Greater Beijing area has 17 known snake species (that's more than when I started in 2008, as some new ones were discovered since.) Until 2020 I'd found 7 of these and now I've got the urge to find the remainder. In early September we went to a really beautiful spot that I've been to a few times and it's always produced a few snakes -- Pytas dhumnades in particular. It's a very narrow canyon with steep, rocky cliffs on both sides and a clear stream that flows all year and has a lot of small fish, frogs and toads. We had no sooner hiked down to the creek when I spotted a large snake swimming across the creek! I dashed into the water (about a foot deep) and grabbed it as it got into the reeds on the far bank. This was a beautiful female Pytas dhumnades and finding her was a great way to start the hike!

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A little while later I spotted an identical snake loosely coiled in shallow water and I grabbed it just as it started to take off (this species is fast!)

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That day we only found these two females, though in the past I've found males at this same spot. Males are much larger than females. According to Zhao Ermi, males can reach a total length of 2.63 meters vs 2.23 meters for females. Also, the males in the local population are an olive-greenish color and the females are charcoal grey. But this species has a massive range, and colors vary a lot from one locale to another. The Beijing population is disjunct from all the others, which are further to the south. A very interesting and mysterious fact about the Beijing area is that quite a few species not found in northern China are found here -- but only in a small area, thus giving Beijing a much richer diversity of snakes than anywhere else in northern China. In fact, the main range of several species is a few hundred miles to the south. This is a large male that I found at this same location in 2008:

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The next snake was a great find for me, since the only other one I'd seen was a DOR back in 2008 on the road leading down to this spot. The snake was lying on a boulder above the creek and these photos are more or less en situ (same spot, but after I'd picked it up.) Sibynophis chinensis (another species with a disjunct population in Beijing, but primarily lives far to the south.)

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Temperatures in the canyon were dropping fast, so we turned around and hiked back without seeing any more snakes on the hike. Our goal was to try night driving on some mountain roads, which is something I only tried once and with no luck.

We drove for an hour or so until reaching the area where we wanted to try and did see a few DORs along the way, so we had our hopes up. When it got completely dark, we started down a windy mountain road that had very little traffic and about 10 minutes later I spotted a very small snake in the headlights and yelled "stop!", but it was too late. We came to a stop a few meters past the snake. I jumped out and ran back, to find that we'd run the snake over. Seeing black and orange bands, I took this snake for Lycodon rufozonatum, which is by far the most common snake in Beijing and the most commonly seen on the road (most of the DORs we'd seen in the afternoon were this species.) But when I got close I realized that this was a much rarer species, and one that was only recently described. In fact, the snake was recently discovered far to the south of Beijing and even more recently a few specimens were found in the area we were herping (very far from the main population). So the fact that we'd run this one over was a real heartbreak! This is Lycodon liuchengchaoi:

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The next snake was the more common Lycodon rufozonatum, but it had been recently run over:

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This evening we found four live vipers crossing the road, Gloydius brevicaudus. This is the most commonly seen snake when hiking the Great Wall and I've seen dozens of them so I didn't bother to take nice photos with my Nikon. I took a few crappy shots with my cell phone and later regretted not doing a better job:

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Here are a couple of shots taken along the Great Wall over ten years ago:

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When the road approached the town of Huairou, traffic increased and we stopped seeing snakes so we turned around and did the drive again. When we got to the top, we turned around and did the same stretch on more time. Right around where we'd seen our first snake, I spotted another small black and orange snake and this time we stopped without hitting it. To my delight, it was a live Lycodon liuchengchaoi! This was much larger than the first one, though still a small snake. I kept it until the morning to get some nice photos before releasing it back where we found it:

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This day brought my total to 9 snakes of the Beijing 17 (not counting DORs). I'm really looking forward to warmer temperatures in a few months so we can keep trying!

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Jeff
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 5:01 am
Location: Louisiana

Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Jeff »

Scott
This is an interesting assortment of snakes that don't get much 'press' in the world snake literature. Beijing is at the same latitude as Philadelphia, hence the low species number. The Gloydius seem to be a real taxonomic puzzle - in the past eight years the number of species has increased from 12 to 21, and at least three occur in northeast China.
It must be a great handicap to find snakes in a vast, urbanised area. My friend Steve Karsen worked in Korea for a few years, and while poking about the woods discovered Asia's only plethodontid salamander, [/i]Karsenia coreensis[/i].
What eight species are you have you yet to see there?
Jeff

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Scott Lupien
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Scott Lupien »

Hi, Jeff! And thanks for the comments!

First of all, finding snakes in the city itself is very tough. I've been here 17 years and have only seen a few. Last year in October I found a fresh run over (still moving) neonate Rhabdophis tigrinus in my community, which is not inside the city per se, but still fairly developed (outside the 5th Ring Rd.) I've found several of this species in the suburbs and I know others who've found Lycodon rufozonatus within the inner city. The first year I moved here I saw a beauty ratsnake, Elaphe taeniura, in a tree in the very city center (near the Forbidden City.) I actually don't count that as one of my finds, so that species is one of the ones I still need to find (that's because I suspect it had escaped from one of the many restaurants around that area.) And speaking of the Gloydius species, you are right! There are now 3 species in the greater Beijing area, whereas there was only one a few years ago. I'm planning to find those other two this year, since I know where to go and they are easy to find (supposedly.) So since you asked, here's the list. First of all, these are the ones I've found so far:
Gloydius brevicaudus
Rhabdophis tigrinis
Elaphe dione
Elaphe davidi
Elaphe anomala
Pytas dhumnades
Sibynophis chinensis
Lycodon liuchengchaoi
Coluber spinalis


And the ones I've still got to find:
Lycodon rufozonatus (seen plenty of DORs and will definitely add this species soon, now that I've started night driving)
Lycodon rushtrati
Oocatochus rufodorsatus
Elaphe taeniura
(again, I could count this one, but choose not to)
Elaphe mandarina
Gloydius stejnegeri
Gloydius halys

Elaphe carinata

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Kevin Messenger
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Location: Nanjing, China
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Kevin Messenger »

damn. Can't wait to get back. Can't wait to road cruise this road with you!

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Scott Lupien
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Scott Lupien »

Yeah, we are really looking forward to that! Not just that road, but some others too. And that Pytas creek!

Jimi
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Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm

Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Jimi »

Thanks very much for the post, Scott. Very interesting, that creek sounds like a fun walk.

And Kevin - I also miss your China posts! I like the food stuff almost as much as the herp stuff, and find the culture and geography stuff maybe the best of all.

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Kevin Messenger
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Kevin Messenger »

Thanks! I intend to get back to posting very soon. Finishing up my first book, "The Asian Ratsnakes and Kin of Greater China" - so that writing, plus papers, has kept me busy. But I have soooo many more stories to post.

Jimi
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Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm

Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Jimi »

Well I sure look forward to them.

I also hope you blundered into lots of vipers while looking for ratsnakes. I really enjoyed your Shennongjia (or something like that???) series of posts that included e.g. Protobothrops jerdonii.

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Kevin Messenger
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Kevin Messenger »

oh yes. Many vipers, cobras, ratsnakes, food, scenery, etc etc. No new snake bites since the jerdonii bite of 2012! (well.... no new venomous bites)

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Scott Lupien
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Scott Lupien »

Thanks, Jimi!

Be sure to get a copy of Kevin's book -- which should finally be published this month. I can't wait to get my copy!

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Jeff
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Re: Some Beijing snakes from 2020

Post by Jeff »

Thanks Scott, for the detailed list. Hopefully you can add some new species to the local fauna.
Jeff

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