More adventures in China – new snakes, new local customs…
More miscellaneous locations
(Dalongtan, Muyu, Bantong)
Sorry for the delay, my internet access has been fairly sparse recently, and I have been backed up on my writing (ever since meeting Vanessa and Emma, I’ve been doing more hanging out than I have writing in my journal on a boring day).
So last I left off I believe I had just returned from Qianjiaping, and on the 6th the Stanford family, Xue, and Dr. Li all left Muyu. The day was fairly slow, most of my day was spent airing out my sleeping bag and all my clothes that were still damp from the day before. A quick mail check and finishing up the Qianjiaping report, which never got sent out.
Today Linsen said we could go to Guanmenshan, the station where the first Rhabdophis nuchalis was found. Vanessa tagged along as well. We took a taxi but were planning on walking back. The location reminded me a lot of Jiuchong, primarily because of the beautiful streams and for some reason I felt like the area screamed Elaphe carinata.
Alas, despite all my “feelings” no snakes were turned up. We found a Sphenomorphus basking on a rock that I was able to photograph, and then we heard countless Rana chinensis calling from the riverbed down below.
After a few hours we headed back down to the main road and started our hike into Muyu. As we entered town Vanessa bought some sort of fried dough – Hi Yin had brought me this same dish one morning and I thought it was excellent – the name is something that sounds similar to “Jim Bean,” I think it is jian bien or something. There is another name for it, which is what Vanessa recorded. It is dough, with sesame seeds, onions, and other spices embedded in the dough, and then it is fried right in front of you. It kind of reminded me of pizza dough (minus the cheese and minus the sauce… hmmm, maybe that’s not so much like pizza afterall).
Later that evening, Vanessa, Emma and I sat down for a bit of poker. I could tell Vanessa was fairly new to the game, primarily because she was cleaning house and taking all of me and Emma’s money, around 20 Yuan (so a bit more than $2), but it sure does feel like a lot at the time. While we were playing the game, one of Vanessa’s students called her and told her that there was a dance going on at the upper part of town and wanted to know if we wanted to come. We had nothing better to do so we said we’d come. She was waiting by the gate to let us in, they had locked the gate about 30 minutes prior. As we tried squeezing through, so many other people tried fitting in as well, I couldn’t believe it. After we made it through, Vanessa and her friend literally had to put all their weight against the gate to shut it and prevent more people from coming in. It seemed kind of cruel, but rules were already being broken by letting us in I could tell.
None of us had any idea about what we had in stored for us. The dance was amazing. It was the traditional dance of the people from Shennongjia, performed by locals. The dance team, of about 50 people has won national awards for their performances. Themes ranged from rain-related dances, snow, hunting animals, marrying, and celebration. It was really spectacular, I wished I would have brought my camera but I had no idea that is what we were going to see.
Today Linsen and I headed up to Dalongtan to spend a few days up there. I finally got to set out my tin that I’ve had since coming to Muyu. I also set out the PVC pipe for any anurans that might want to visit. We walked to where we had seen that first Protobothrops, but didn’t find a thing.
Our next stop was to walk to Xiaolongtan (the place with the mini-zoo). I told Linsen about the dead snakes I had seen there awhile back. Apparently they were not found in Shennongjia. We looked around Xialongtan for awhile and didn’t find a thing. Linsen said in many years he has only seen one snake there.
Once we got back to the station, I was doing some work on the computer and one of the officers was looking over my shoulder. So, as usual, I showed him the pics of the snakes of Hubei to see if any rang a bell. When I got to the Pseudoxenodon and Protobothrops he immediately started talking. He said he had seen both species two days before, on the 6th, one in the south garden, and the other in the north garden.
As the sun started to set, I started walking around the encampment. I was actually very surprised, but I basically headed to a patch of woods immediately and found a Pseudoxenodon fleeing among the pine needles. This one was a bit prettier than the one from Qianjiaping, it was more black and white, whereas the Qianjiaping one was more red and brown. I took him back to the station to get some pictures. Of course the snake drew a crowd.
I noticed a rather strange observation that night after dinner. It was around 7:30pm and I thought it was fairly cold. I took a temperature and it was 64º! I had considered walking the road earlier in the day. The elevation at Dalongtan is around 2100 – 2300 meters. I am guessing there are very few nocturnal species and everything is either diurnal or crepuscular.
Well the Dalongtan stay was fairly short. Rain was threatening in the clouds overhead so we decided to go ahead and head back. I had gotten five new data sets, so I was fairly happy (one of which was a new species for me and for the reserve – Scincella modesta – a species of skink that looks almost identical to the common ground skink, Scincella lateralis, back home).
The reserve vehicle picked us up around 10:30am and we started our way back to Muyu. Not terribly long after leaving, and entering a closed canopy portion of the road I see a long, green snake in the other lane. I yelled snake about five times before switching to “she.” The vehicle came to a halt and I started running. It was a large Protobothrops, and much thicker than any of the others I had seen. I was guessing it was either a gravid female, or a male that had recently eaten. All my gear was tightly packed in the SUV and the only thing I had access to was my camera bag (which had bags inside it). Linsen found a stick and I quickly pinned and bagged the snake.
As we continued along, I saw another snake in the road, a DOR, and before I could even say anything, our driver was slamming on the brakes. I was very happy with this. Walking back up the road to the snake, which was belly up, I couldn’t place the species, even when I was on top of it. I flipped the animal over and could not believe my eyes. I was looking at a recently hit Azemiops feae (Fea’s Viper) – THE snake in China I wanted to find. The animal was gorgeous, blackish purple dorsum, bright orange bands, some going entirely across the body, others alternating up to the spine. The head was kind of crushed, but the color was a mix of white and orange. The Chinese name for the snake is “white head snake.” I never really understood why. I suppose if all they saw were museum specimens, then that would make sense, since all the specimens lose their color and they do have a white head, but a live animal has more orange than white. The snake was killed earlier that morning, within 3 or 4 hours. It was fairly messed up but we still collected it as a specimen. We decided to look around the area for a little bit. The reserve vehicle went on and would drop of gear off later. We didn’t find any evidence of any other snakes in the area and nothing about the habitat stood out, but this was because we were looking on the wrong side of the road.
When we got back to the road I looked at the roadkill spot again. The side of the road we were examining was the side that had the two-foot deep drainage system. The other side of the road was completely flush with the ground. So the snake came from this direction (or I should say, it is very likely it came from this direction). The habitat on the sloping hill on this side of the road was none other than another rock fortress. There was no way to dissect this habitat, just photograph it. The only way to find a snake in the pile would be to see one sunning itself or on the move, as the unfortunate fellow was. We decided to look around the lower side of the road and to take a trail back to Muyu. The trail was very nice for an urban setting. Eventually the trail ended and we had to walk the rest of the way along the road. At first this didn’t seem too interesting, but we saw a fair amount of life, or at least signs of life. The first new species was Eumeces elegans, a species of skink very similar to Eumeces capito with a slight difference in color and the lines are more distinct.
The next find was a very old DOR Elaphe porphyracea. I am still unclear on the subspecies. I do not know if I illuminated everyone on this problem or not. Earlier, Vanessa had found a baby Elaphe porphyracea. The snake is stunningly beautiful – bright yellow with black bands and two faint dorsal stripes running the length of the body. Prior to coming to China I was looking up every bit of information I could on every possible species. When I came to Elaphe porphyracea (common name = Bamboo ratsnake), the information listed two subspecies in my region; Elaphe p. vaillanti which lives in Anhui (the province bordering Hubei to the east), and Hunan (the province bordering Hubei to the south); and Elaphe p. pulchra which lives in Sichuan (the province that borders Hubei to the west), and Shaanxi (the province that borders Hubei to the northwest). One of the museum papers had mentioned the scientific name Elaphe p. nigrofasciata, which obviously means “black banded.”
This name would fit the baby, but I do not know if there is any sort of ontogenetic change in this species or not. It would seem like there is; there is one juvenile preserved that looks identical to the juvenile Vanessa found, but all of the bands in the adults were not solid black and were somewhat transparent to the underlying pattern. However, when I confronted friends on my predicament, I received several sites with pictures and a bit of information. I could not get a definite answer looking at pictures alone and the tiny bit of information provided said the subspecies was only known by the type specimen and that the origin of the type specimen was unknown – quite helpful. Anyhow, I can do further research on the subspecies when I get back to the states.
Back to the “road trip”: every now and then I would hear the skittering noise of a skink on the rocks on the shoulder. Sometimes the animal was able to escape before I could even get a glimpse, but many times I was able to get a good two or three seconds. The next species of skink was Eumeces chinensis a skink that looks like a bland colored broadhead skink with orange lateral flecking.
In the drive and subsequent walk back to Muyu, we had seen three species of snakes and two new species of skinks.
I am backed up on reports, so that is about it for the next round of miscellaneous trips. At least this one was a bit shorter.
Previously in this series:
Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!