Friday, July 17, 2009

The Barred Wolf snake.

It has been a busy monsoon. Yes, accepted that the rains have been late this year around in the coastal areas of our state, but up here in the Ghats and beyond, the Rains Gods have blessed the land with a barrage of rain clouds, thanks to which a carpet of greens now surrounds my campsite and life forms seem to burst out of every nook and cranny! Leeches are at their very active best and accompanied by snails and centipedes have taken over the forest floor. Bush frogs and tree frogs, and a myriad form of insect life including cicadas, crickets and various sizes of beetles and bugs, all vying for territory and mates, rule the tree canopy while below the earths surface another world awakens from its slumber! These are my favorites…shieldtail snakes, burrowing frogs and of course caecilians, wonders of the amphibian world!
The monsoons are a herpetologists delight, and a time to work without rest, especially in the Western Ghats as these are times when reptiles and amphibians showcase themselves in their true sense…and can thus be documented and studied, observed and watched, for a period of 90 plus days, i.e. during the monsoons.
A bad back thanks to a 12 kilos backpack and an even worse cold has ensured that I am half my usual self on this particular night trail, but a break in the continuous deluge seems to get the better of my reasoning and we set out for a trail. Armed with a rubber waterproof bag holds a camera, a GPS and a notepad, I head out with Vaibhav to look for subjects for photo documentation as well study-this is the Mhadei region and documenting its diversity is more of a cause now.
Its been more than a decade, and after having trodden many paths and off beat trails, and lessons learnt include carrying out searches for reptiles, especially snakes in fringe forest areas, i.e. areas where the plantations end and forest habitats meet…as these are areas that time and again reveal hidden gems that sometimes have escaped our attention. We start searching near an abandoned cow shed, near a plantation and after just 20 minutes of rummaging into a interesting mixture of compost and hay, we stumble upon our first find…a Wolf snake. I carefully focus my torch to check out the species, with some rattling field identification methods in mind and voila… my subject rolls itself into a ball of black coils and tucks its head in between these coils! I almost scream in excitement while Vaibhav prepares to take readings. This is undoubtedly an addition to the list of snakes in this region…I say aloud…this is the Barred Wolf Snake (Lycodon striatus).
A slender bodied snake with a flattened head and a glossy black back inter spread with a series of white bars across its body, which diminishes towards the tail. This species has interesting faint yellow colored mid spots that resemble the shape of diamonds when observed from close and are a key to its field identification along with the characteristic white lip scales that this species possess!
Shy and nocturnal, this is of course a non venomous species of wolf snake with a very mild temperament and is known to hide its head under its own coils when provoked or disturbed, thereby turning itself into a peculiar ball of coils, unlike other wolf snakes which are known to have a rather furious temperament. Known to inhabit semi dry and fringe forest areas, the Barred Wolf snake has been reported in Goa earlier from the Mollem National Park by the then RFO Mr. Prakash Salelkar a few years ago along with many other reptilian wonders that he had brought to the notice of the Indian Herpetological Society then. Though known to be common in the country, there have been very few records of this species otherwise in this region and was for us an important step in the right direction to conserve and document Goa’s ophidian diversity.
And while the documentation of this species in the Chorla Ghats makes the number of wolf snake species found in this region to three, which includes the Common Wolf snake, the Travancore Wolf snake and the Barred Wolf snake, it is but important to understand that this diversity needs to be conserved at all costs. While the Chorla Ghats area in particular and the Mhadei Bio Region in general is being increasingly recognized by wildlife researchers as a hotspot for lesser known biodiversity, the documentation of this species has reconfirmed the need to extensively study and conserve this area for posterity!
With a hope to find the strength and time to document more species in this region and a silent prayer to Brahmini Maya, the local folk deity of snakes, we complete our data sheet and watch our subject melt into the leaf litter near a patch of grass. We have taken images and marked a GPS location, and are about to call it a night when Vaibhav whistles aloud again…another interesting find. But that is another story…for another day.

1 comment: said...

I have a query... I have rescued a wolf snake from Satara which looks almost similar to barred wolf snake. However it has high temperament & tends to bite frequently. I have even checked if it was injured (may be because of that it was showing aggression but its quite healthy). I have counted its ventral & subcaudals which shows more than the barred wolf snake (166-167). Now I wonder which species of wolf it can be. Any help on this will be much appreciated. Thanks Vishal :