I was invited to go live on TV for RTHK 31 All Being Well with Alyson Hau and Ben Cullen. The entire team and the production are so professional. There’s no script and I didn’t have much prepared in advance. That’s fun! They learned about animals. I learned how a live TV show is produced smoothly. My panther chameleon and Dominican mountain boa were doing a great job as well!
We have recently adopted and rehomed many pets that couldn’t make it to stay with their families due to the mass emigration from Hong Kong.
This chinchilla is from a repatriating expat. She was so sad and couldn’t hold her tears when I picked him up. I hope this video will make her feel better when she misses him.
I can’t wait to let this new boy meet my chinchilla girl. They’re about the same age. I heard he’s never had a girlfriend before 🙂 My girl has never had a boyfriend either.
Among all the popular pet small mammals like hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, meerkats, prairie dogs, mongooses, skunks, raccoons, jerboas, gerbils, hedgehogs, ferrets, and sugar gliders, Chinchillas are one of the most sought-after exotic pets, especially in Asia. But ironically the climate here is way too hot for these fluff balls originally from the Andes mountains. We have to keep our chinchillas in rooms with AC on 24/7 together with other “cool” animals such as axolotls, many salamanders, mandarin rat snakes, impressed tortoises, fire snails, etc
My Neighbor Totoro the 1988 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten made chinchillas known to many people. And, Minccino the Pokémon is a chinchilla. Did you know that?
Snails are everywhere. The brown ones in Hong Kong are the invasive African snails (Lissachatina fulica).
The Snail’s body is soft, unprotected, and vulnerable. But it maneuvers its way across thorns and thistles without harm. Meanwhile, many humans look powerful, fully armored, and invincible, yet become a crybaby when a little bug comes close.
But this black and orange one is in a different league. Not a snail you might have seen.
Meet the Fire Snail (Platymma tweediei). This is the real-life Magcargo, a fire/rock-type Pokémon.
It is a very rare species native to only a narrow range in Malaysia such as the Cameron Highlands. It is very nearly, if not already extinct in the wild, sadly, because of deforestation and pollution.
Ironically, it is not a listed endangered species. Probably IUCN and CITES don’t even have enough research for this species.
Luckily we still have some in captivity to safeguard this species against complete extinction. Seems like they already can’t survive in their natural habitats. Sad. We need to do something.
That’s exactly why I want to show you all these rare creatures. Unlike you, many people never even have a chance to learn their existence before they are completely gone. Let’s help save all these creatures. Protect our environment. Share this if you care.
The Formosa kukri snake is also known as Taiwan kukri snake or beautiful kukri snake.
In spite of its name, the natural range of this species is not limited to Taiwan but also Vietnam, Japan (Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama), China including Hong Kong, and Hainan.
It is a small snake growing to usually 60 – 70 cm and rarely over 90 cm.
It is one of the 81 species of kukri snakes.
Kukri snakes are ovivores (egg-eaters) from Asia. They were named after the kukri knife, which is similar in shape to their curved, broad, flattened, enlarged rear teeth. With that said, they are not venomous and usually not aggressive. They got such strong teeth because of their ovivorous (egg-eating) diet. The teeth only help these small snakes cut open eggshells for easier digestion.
I said this was my childhood dream lizard. And, I also said blue is the rarest color in animals. But no, this lizard didn’t hold a special place in my heart only by its looks. Eye candies ain’t my thing (tho funny to say that in the gram). It’s special to me because we have something in common deep down, and we are both misjudged by the looks.
Good-looking ones have no personality. And what? Ugly ones have good personalities(?) Could be right most of the time. But generalization and stereotypical thoughts are harmful to the one in a zillion. This lizard proves to me that good-looking ones can have even greater personalities.
Blue is the rarest color in animals. You might already know that. But why?
Unlike other colors, Blue in reptiles is NOT a pigment, but a trick to human eyes. It’s produced by having other wavelengths of light canceled but only blue being bounced through reflective cells called iridophores on the skin of only a few species on earth.
In spite of looking extravagantly beautiful to the point that many might mistake it for being ostentatiously flashy, it has zero intention of flexing. Matter of fact, it’s been trying so hard to stay away from the crowd – A reclusive, hermetic and secluded lifestyle, however, of natural-born ornate appearance.
Monitor lizards are generally powerful, fearless in front of humans and widespread throughout SE Asia. But just not this unusual one.
The Blue Tree Monitor (Varanus macraei), or the blue-spotted tree monitor, is a fragile, timid, and uncommon species that can only be found in Batanta, a small island in Irian Jaya of Indonesia. Its natural range is among the smallest of all monitors. This species had been hiding successfully for over 66 million years. The species was known to science for a mere 19 years and not too much is known still today.
It was my childhood dream lizard to die for. Now having this literally in hand, this is the Blue Monday I love 💙
The Green cascade frog, also known as Chloronate huia frog or Copper-cheeked frog, is a species of true frog (family Ranidae). As a matter of fact, many frog-like amphibians in Hong Kong are not true frogs.
Being quite large in size, bright green all over the back, and can make bigger jumps than most other local frogs, this is a frog you don’t easily misidentify when you come across one. I often find them in the same habitats with the very common Whipping frogs, Banded bullfrogs, Black-spined toads, and Hong Kong newts.
This species is also found in other parts of China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and possibly Bangladesh and Nepal.
This 4-inch noodle I found in my backyard is a fully-grown blind snake — one of the smallest snakes in the world.
Eyesight is never an important sense of snakes. But most snakes do see and have exposed, visible eyeballs. However, as the name suggests, blind snakes are completely blind. The eyes can’t form images, but can still register light intensity, and are barely discernible as tiny dots under head translucent scales. In some blind snakes, you even can’t see the dots, like this one in my picture.
Pretty common but you don’t often see them because they are totally fossorial animals living underground. That’s why being blind won’t bother them at all.
There are 3 blind snakes in Hong Kong:
Brahminy blind snake or locally called Common blind snake (Indotyphlops braminus) is native to most of Asia and Africa. It has been introduced to Australia and throughout most of the Americas. 鉤盲蛇
White-headed blind snake (Indotyphlops albiceps) is a less common species of blind snake. 白頭鈎盲蛇
Hong Kong blind snake or Lazell’s blind snake (Indotyphlops lazelli) is a little-known species endemic to Hong Kong, first described in 2004. 香港盲蛇
Many Kiwis, Hawaiians, and Europeans who recently moved to Asia like to tell me how wonderful Asia is and how much they love living in Asia. But there is this one specific nightmare that is bothering them – snakes.
I say it’s fair enough to have snakes here. As the largest continent on earth and being warm and bushy, why would you not think there would be snakes in here? Not trying to scare you but I can easily name some venomous snakes in Asia – King cobra and many other cobras, kraits, coral snakes, sea snakes, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper – all deadly. If you believe bright-colored snakes are more dangerous then I have to tell you, no. Most of the deadly snakes I mentioned are in dull colors from brown, gray to black. Ironically, the bright-colored venomous snakes in Asia are usually not deadly, such as the Asian pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus. Here are a few I have encountered:
Most of the species are bright green like this:
An unusual one can be blue like this:
There are also a few exceptional dark ones like this:
The Komodo dragon is not the only animal in Komodo Island that makes me visit over and over again. This snake has always been the second sought-after species in my previous trips to Komodo Island.
The Sunda Island pitviper (a.k.a. Lesser Sunda Island pit viper, White-lipped island pit viper, or Blue insularis viper) is native to Komodo and some nearby Indonesian islands such as Bali, Flores, Lombok, Padar, Rinca, eastern Java, Adonara, Alor, Romang, Roti, Sumba, Sumbawa, Wetar, and also Timor of East Timor.
Although mostly turquoise or blue, some snakes of this species can be bright green or bright yellow. Interestingly, some blue individuals are born green and turn into blue in a year or two. No doubt, this species has the most outstanding colors of all 50 species of Asian pit vipers (Trimeresurus) while 90% of the species in the genus are green such as the Bamboo pit viper. A few species are very dark to almost black such as the Mangrove pit viper.
Ouroboros (or uroboros) — an ancient symbol depicting a reptile eating its own tail. It symbolizes fertility in some religions. The tail is a phallic symbol (an erect penis). The mouth is a yonic (vagina) or womb-like symbol.
In real life, it happens.
Although not common, I have seen snakes eating themselves. Scientifically, autocannibalism (self-cannibalism) in snakes is not normal. Well so, snakes get disoriented when overheated, and their metabolism goes into overdrive. It makes the snakes feel so hungry to the point that they will try to eat the first moving thing they see, and that’s usually their own tail. When the feeding mechanism starts, snakes will have their focus fully on consuming the prey. The feeling of pain will be overridden. Many snakes will keep going even if they’re bit, mauled, and even beheaded.
You can see why ancient Egyptians chose snakes to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Taking close-up photos of venomous snakes is always my kind of adrenaline booster. This one was even more exciting with me knowing the fact that there’s no antivenin specifically made for this snake. Bites are treated with polyvalent antivenin in SE Asian hospitals.
The Mangrove pit viper (a.k.a. Mangrove viper, Shore pit viper, or Purple-spotted pit viper) is a small venomous snake growing to 66-90 centimeters (26-35 in). It is native to Singapore, West Malaysia, Sumatra and Java of Indonesia, Thailand, India, Burma, and Bangladesh.
You don’t always have to be the brightest one to stand out from the crowd. Take a look at this dark horse.
It may look black to the untrained eye. But if you look carefully it is a very dark purple hue, hence its Latin name purpureomaculatus. You may think that with such a dark color this must be a subtle snake trying to look just like most other snakes. But it is in fact so special being the darkest species in its genus (Asian pit vipers – Trimeresurus).
Being dark is rare, while all its cousins are bright.
Although few exceptional ones can be bright yellow or bright blue such as the Komodo Island pit viper, over 90% of species in this genus are bright green, including the Bamboo pit viper which is the most common species in the genus and was also described by British zoologist John Edward Gray. Even though it is more well-known than other Asian pit vipers nowadays, back then it was first known to science a good decade after the much more subtle-looking Mangrove pit viper was. The dark color didn’t help much from being discovered. This is the fifth species to be described (1832) in the entire genus of 50 species of Asian pit vipers.
There used to be 2 subspecies – this one (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus purpureomaculatus) and another one that is endemic to the Andaman Islands of India (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus andersoni) which is now separated and classified as a full species named Andaman pit viper (Trimeresurus andersonii) a.k.a. Nicobar mangrove pit viper or Anderson’s pitviper.
The Wolf Snake is native to a large range of South Asia and Southeast Asia. Individuals of the same species from different locations appear to be very different. Patterns can be variable from patches, collars to bands. Coloration also varies from black, brownish, grayish, olive, to yellowish, pearl white and iridescent. It’s a result of divergent evolution.
It’s similar to how pet snakes got all the non-normal patterns and colors (morphs) generations after generations.
Yes, this is one of the rare succulents “trending” recently especially in Asia. Keeping them in pots at home is a really good hobby. Finding wild ones in their natural habits is just on another level.
Even photos of wild ones are not as easy to find as most other objects.
Here is one of the wild elephant’s foot plants I came across in Isalo, Madagascar.
It looks like Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius to me (but I have not studied botany so please correct me if I’m wrong)
All my field trips were fauna-focused hence I didn’t have much time to spend on the plants in Madagascar. (The animals kept me busy all the time) But I was just amazed by this unique plant I almost walked past by.
Also, the animals I studied rely largely on their unique habitats in Madagascar. Gotta have an idea about these interesting plants.
Only after I climbed up this mountain I could be eligible to comment on that mountain behind me.
Isalo is in the southwestern corner of the Province of Fianarantsoa, in the Ihorombe region. It is 720 km away from Madagascar’s capital city (Antananarivo). Not super far but due to road conditions it took me 3 full days to only get there. It’s for sure worth it.
Being completely different from the rest of Madagascar, Isalo is arid and hot, filled with deep canyons, sandstone domes, and flat-topped mountains.
Not as many animals here comparing to the rest of Madagascar. Mostly lemurs, desert lizards, boas, scorpions, and birds. Landscape and plants are uniquely amazing though. Over 70% of plants are endemic. This is exactly where the Elephant’s foot plants in my photos were.
There are around 1,800 wild monkeys in Hong Kong, in 30 social troops. None of them are native to Hong Kong. They were all introduced. There are 2 species – the Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta), Long-tailed Macaque or crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis), and their hybrids. Stable populations reside in country parks such as Kam Shan (Monkey Hill), Lion Rock, and Shing Mun.
Those who are into herpetology or herpetoculture will easily name the horned lizards (Phrynosoma sp) which are commonly known as horned toads, even though they are some North American lizards, not toads.
Some may think of the much more well-known horned frogs from South America (Ceratophrys sp). Not toads either.
Only very few people know about this one to be genuinely called horned toads.
But don’t be too serious. Common names of animals are rarely preciously accurate. That is why scientific names are to matter.
The Short-legged horned toad (Megophrys (Xenophrys) brachykolos) is also known as Peak spadefoot toad because it was first discovered in the Victoria Peak (locally known as The Peak), Hong Kong.
Its subtleness comes from its discreteness – It is a tiny little toad growing to less than 40-48 mm that burrows a lot and it is far from common. They are not easy to find at all!
Not to be confused with the common toad you can easily find, this species is pretty rare – Out of all 23 amphibian species of Hong Kong, there are only 3 endangered species – Hong Kong cascade frog (Amolops hongkongensis) 香港湍蛙, the most well-known Romer’s tree frog (Liuixalus romeri) 盧文氏樹蛙, and this toad.
Previously thought to be a subspecies of the Little horned toad (Megophrys minor). But molecular genetic evidence now supports its full species status. The 2 species are obviously different. The Little horned toad is absent in Hong Kong but much more common in southern China and Southeast Asia.
Not an endemic species – Other than Hong Kong, it can also be found in southern China and Vietnam. But it is hardly known outside Hong Kong. To be fair, it is even not known to most people in Hong Kong.
Megophrys brachykolos (Inger and Romer, 1961) Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Amphibia Order: Anura Family: Megophryidae Genus: Megophrys Species: brachykolos
The Painted chorus frog (Microhyla butleri) has many other common names such as Butler’s narrow-mouthed toad, Butler’s pigmy frog, Butler’s rice frog, Butler’s ricefrog, noisy frog, or Tubercled pygmy frog.
Believe it or not? Aliens are everywhere in Hong Kong. There must be some around you. Of course, I am talking about alien species – the plants or animals introduced outside their original distributions. From mile-a-minute weed, water hyacinth, to house cockroaches, red fire ants, apple snails, to tilapia, and the vertebrates I mention below. Like it or not, we have many non-native species living here in Hong Kong, while some are thriving.
Are aliens invasive?
Ones that are not native to here can be called alien species, introduced species, or exotic species. Ones that have developed a stable wild population and are causing harm to the local ecosystem are called invasive species. Introduced snakes and huge monitor lizards may sound scary to most people. But in fact, cats could do much more harm. Studies found each feral cat kills an average of 576 native birds, reptiles, and mammals per year.
Even those that are not causing significant harm to nature but to human health, other valued resources, or the economy are called invasive species.
How did they end up here?
There are 3 major ways exotic species could possibly go into our natural environment:
Released or escaped pets
Released or escaped food animals
Coming along in shipping containers
Most environmentalists would tell you most of the invasive species are escaped or released pets. I don’t know why they say that without any numbers. It may be easy to link them together when you see all these exotic species in the wild and you see the same species in the pet trade. But, hold on a second, scientists and experts shouldn’t make assumptions.
The exotic pet trade really is to blame?
Not to say that there are no escaped or released pets, there sure are, but the number should be way smaller than those from either of the other ways.
I’m not a fan of linking animals and money together. Actually this is the very last thing I want to talk about. But in regard to this matter, it is really about money, directly. So, there’s a price for every exotic pet in the trade. For some reason when exotic pet owners can’t help but have to get rid of their pets, they could sell them for money instead of releasing them for nothing. There are very few species with a greater supply than demand, usually the low-priced ones such as Red-eared sliders. The majority of exotic pets are easy to sell. They are exotic pets because they are exotic. If they are everywhere, no one wants them. Then they will be eliminated and not be imported to the market anymore. This is how the exotic pet trade works.
If I had to elaborate I would come up with a question on my mind, “Is the feral cat doing less harm to our local species than all the exotic pets combined if let’s say somehow they all went into the wild?” I don’t know. I would be more optimistic if the answer was yes. If cats have been pets for such a long time and not much awareness of it was raised then having exotic pets doesn’t sound like such a huge issue as the environmentalists and organizations claimed to be.
On the other hand, I see a much larger number of exotic animals from the food markets and imported goods going into the wild.
Escaped or transported by accident
There have been a number of times that live animals from food markets escaped by accident and went to the wild. Years ago there were hundreds of smuggled adult monitor lizards being abandoned in broken wood crated while the smugglers running away from the customs and police. That’s only one of the many similar incidents.
Small animals can be hitchhikers! Geckos, skinks, other small lizards, insects, and arachnids can come together with imported wood, plants, furniture, fruits, vegetables, cars, and many other imported items. They hide very well inside and easily join in the shipment.
Released on purpose – the worst “good deed”
There is also this “mercy release” practice – a ritual that religious organizations free animals bought mainly from food markets. The animals set free are mostly non-native, wild-caught species of all kinds: Whatever live seafood they can buy, insects, bullfrogs, toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, birds, and mammals, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of them at a time, every week! They even listed all the lives they set free and how much they spent on them on the news with a happy face. One single random believer can easily spend 500k HKD every month buying off anything alive from the markets for releasing in the wild.
But the thing is, they have been flushing freshwater animals down the sea, pouring seafood in drinking water reservoirs, setting land tortoises free in the water, etc. How amazingly wrong! Oh no, hold on, it’s actually better than that if they were released in more suitable habitats and could live, thrive, and possibly harm our local species. Umm. I’m speechless. This is the very few times in life I have to say I’d rather those animals not make it..
The Asian water dragon has a long history of living here. I first found them in the wild in the early 80s. My uncles spotted them back in the 60s.
Whether if the Asian water monitor is a native or introduced species is not confirmed. But many believe it is an introduced species. Some cousins of this species have also been spotted in the wild such as the yellow-headed or Philippine water monitor (Varanus cumingi).
Over 10-12 species of freshwater turtles can be found in the wild in Hong Kong. Only 5 species are native. All the rest are introduced such as:
Animal migration happens in birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans all around the world, naturally. Whether it is natural catastrophes or man-made disasters, it is not something new. Non-native species occupying a local environment and stealing resources from local species sounds familiar, huh? Homo sapiens has been doing this for 3 million years. Natural selection itself can evolve, too, into a modern form.
Never getting a PR ID card (permanent residency) in spite of residing in here for decades.
Expats who live in here and have their kids and grandkids bred, born and raised in here are called locals. But when it comes to wild animals it’s not how it works.
An alien species, it is among the oldest introduced lizards of Hong Kong. I personally first found them in the wild in the early 1980s. But they should have a much longer history living here. My uncles showed me photos of them they took during some hikes back in the 1960s.
The Asian water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) is originally native to China and mainland Southeast Asia. It is also known as the Chinese water dragon, Thai water dragon, and green water dragon.
The Asian water dragon is the only all-green lizard in Hong Kong (if the Green iguanas and Madagascar day geckos have not yet developed local populations), not to be confused with the Australian water dragon (Intellagama lesueurii, formerly Physignathus lesueurii) which’s colors vary from brown, olive, dark gray to light gray.
The rarest animal I’ve ever found was the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis). Only around 20 of them are in the wild. But that’s a subspecies of leopards. In terms of a full species, this is the rarest one in my experience.
Let me introduce the most endangered species I’ve ever found in the wild – the Ploughshare Tortoise of Madagascar.
It is also called Angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora).
Those big organizations will only tell you about the tigers, rhinos, marine mammals, etc. Probably it’s all about marketing which I have zero idea about.
Let me do something for this species which is TONS more endangered. Help me share this and spread the love before it goes extinct which could happen tomorrow or any day.
If you know of anyone on earth who’s ever seen one of these tortoises in the wild, definitely let me know!
Before you want to learn about Harvestmen (also called Daddy longlegs or Harvesters), let me explain a little about invertebrate classification – Fun fact: They are not spiders.
Because of having 8 legs, these bugs are not insects. However, it does not necessarily make them spiders. There are many other bugs with 8 legs.
They are all arachnids (class Arachnida), such as ticks, mites, spiders (order Araneae), scorpions (order Scorpiones), vinegaroons (order Thelyphonida), and together with the Harvestman (order Opiliones). There are over 10,000 described species of harvestmen in the world.
In my photo it is a Leiobunum sp of the harvestman family Sclerosomatidae with over 100 described species.
Lychee giant stink bug (Tessaratoma papillosa) is beautiful bug growing to 24 mm. Nymphs are especially colorful. But it is considered a pest by farmers as it feeds on lychee and longan trees by sucking the saps from its flowers, young fruits, and twigs.
They are called stink bugs because when threatened their defense mechanism is a foul-smelling, long-lasting excretion. Local people believe it is poisonous and can cause blindness when rubbing eyes after touching it.
Fun fact: Females always lay 14 eggs. Not 13 or 15.
The Sooty-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster) is a species of songbird in the Bulbul family. Other than Hong Kong, it is also found in most of south-eastern Asia. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.
The only native cat of Hong Kong – The Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)
Civet cats are not cats, and the South China tigers (Panthera tigris amoyensis) has been locally extinct long ago.
Leopard cats are as big as some larger domestic cats, with a body length of 40-60 cm, and weighing 2-3 kg. Do not be confused with the Bengal cat (Felis catus x Prionailurus bengalensis) in pet trade which is a hybrid that has been developed from wild leopard cats and domestic cats over 5 generations of cross-breeding. Bengal cats do not have the white patch behind the ear and the white streaks between the eyes and the nose of Leopard cats, like the ones in my photos.
Hong Kong whipping frog (Polypedates megacephalus), also called Spot-legged tree frog, is a species in the shrub frog family (Rhacophoridae). In Hong Kong, it is more commonly known as “Brown tree frog”. But this name is otherwise applied to a few other species of frogs such as Litoria ewingii and Litoria littlejohni of Australia in family Pelodryadidae, and Ecnomiohyla miliaria of Central America in the true tree frog family (Hylidae).
It is widely spread throughout Hong Kong including all major islands. This species is also native to central, southern and southwestern China (including Taiwan and Hainan) and Indo-China peninsula.
An ‘X’-shaped marking can be seen on some of the frogs’ back. Males grow to 5 – 6 cm. Females are bigger, can grow to up to 8 cm. The breeding season is from April to September. Females lay eggs in a white foam nest on tree trunks, bushes, or rocks near water. The nests separate tadpoles from water.
When threatened they can secrete a fluid that may be toxic or unpalatable to potential predators.
Every time I ask the boys, from young boys to teenagers to young men, “What’s your favorite snake?” I definitely hear King cobra more than any other snakes! Despite the fact that it doesn’t have the deadliest venom comparing to the Inland taipan, the King cobra still holds a special place in many boys’ hearts as “the most dangerous snake in the world”. It could even be prior to the hottest pop star or the coolest car because all those will become obsolete from time to time. But the realm of the King cobra just never gets dated.
Arguably the largest venomous snake
Some Gaboon vipers (even though obviously shorter) could be heavier than King cobras. So the King cobra is sometimes not considered the largest venomous snake (in weight), but it is undoubtedly the longest venomous snake in the world – commonly grow to over 10-12 feet, with the longest record over 19 feet. It is much longer than the second-longest venomous snake, the Black mamba, which generally won’t exceed 9 feet.
Do we call the females Queen cobras, like queen bees? No. We also don’t call the young Prince cobras or Princess cobras. King is an honor to refer to its top danger level and its snake-eating habit.
Oh, Hannah! Hey, all the Hannahs out there! Did you know that you share the name with the King cobra? Ophiophagus hannah in Greek means arboreal snake-eater. The name was given by Danish naturalist Theodore Edward Cantor in 1836.
As its name suggests, the Kings are ophiophagous. They specialized in eating snakes. In Hong Kong, I’ve seen them preying on young Burmese pythons, Oriental ratsnakes, deadly Banded kraits and Many-banded kraits. Having snakes as the staple diet doesn’t mean the Kings will never ever eat anything else. Not common at all, but I’ve also seen them eating Water monitor lizards. In captivity, some Kings can be converted into chowing down rodents or birds. To make that happen it will require some tricks to confuse the Kings which will make things pretty messy. I ain’t gonna describe it here..
What? King cobra is not a cobra?
Even such a popular snake has its little secret that most people don’t know. Sorry to be a killjoy. The King cobra is not a cobra. True cobras are smaller and they are all in the genus Naja such as the Chinese cobra.
Different realms, different Kings
These in my photos are the Kings I encountered in SE Asia unofficially known as “Malaysian king cobras”. The King cobras in Hong Kong, unofficially known as “Chinese king cobras”, have much darker coloration from tan to almost black with indistinct yellow bands all over the body. The yellow bands start off bright yellow when young and fade into a pale color close to the body color when old. They are the same species though. No subspecies have been distinguished within the species. That is always only one recognized King.
I would be in and around the Mid-levels almost every day when I’m in Hong Kong. You can easily find these beautiful white parrots in there. But did you know that they were rarer than the Black-faced spoonbills you always heard of?
In Hong Kong, they are commonly seen in Mid-levels, Central, Wan Chai, Tai Hang, and nearby in Hong Kong Island, particularly around Hong Kong Park.
However, this species is not that common back home. Its populations are dramatically declined in its natural range. Right, it is not a native species of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is second home to the introduced, critically endangered Yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea). This species is native to Indonesia. A total of fewer than 2,000 are left in the world. 200 of them live in Hong Kong.
The Yellow-crested cockatoo is originally from East Timor, Sulawesi and the Lesser Sundas of Indonesia. It has become an introduced species of Hong Kong for at least 80 years.
When did they first come to Hong Kong? This species has a long history of being pets. There are records of Yellow-crested cockatoos entering Hong Kong as pets as far back as in the 1850s.
How did they establish a wild population? The most believed story is that Hong Kong Governor Sir Mark Aitchison Young released the Government House’s entire bird collection, including a large number of this species, hours before surrendering Hong Kong to Japanese troops in December 1941.
There are now around 200 of them in Hong Kong – that is already more than 10% of its entire population in the world which keeps declining.
It is also known as the Lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo to differentiate from its larger and much more common Australian cousin, the Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita).
Squirrels are everywhere in the world, with the exception of Antarctica. These rodents can even be found in the Arctic Circle. But did you know that, like Australia, there were no squirrels in Hong Kong originally? They were introduced.
There are 200 species in the squirrel family (Sciuridae) – Chipmunks, marmots, groundhogs, flying squirrels, prairie dogs, just to name a few. But there is only this species that was introduced to Hong Kong – The Pallas’s squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus) a.k.a. Red-bellied tree squirrel.
This species has a wide distribution throughout most of southeastern Asia from India, Bhutan, Myanmar, to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, and southern and eastern China, including Hainan, but just not Hong Kong.
It is the only species of squirrel found in Hong Kong. But there are at least 2 subspecies found in here. They are quite clearly apart from each other – C. e. thai is found on the Hong Kong Island such as Pokfulam and Tai Tam. C. e. styani is found in the New Territories such as Tai Po Kau, Shing Mun and Tai Lam.
The Pallas’s squirrel is also known as the Red-bellied tree squirrel. But do not be confused with the Red-bellied squirrel (Rubrisciurus rubriventer) which is another species of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Gentle giant – the Burmese python is the largest native species in Hong Kong (in length) which I feel more comfortable catching than many smaller snakes. Not saying they won’t bite though.
Size does matter, but length or girth? Wild pythons in Hong Kong used to be much larger back in the 50s. The record-holder was 5.74 m (18’10”). Nowadays the ones found rarely exceed 3-4 m. But length is not what makes the Burmese python a true giant. Weight is. The heaviest record is 182.8 kg (403 lb). A few species could grow longer (such as the Reticulated python) but probably only one single species can grow heavier – the Green anaconda.
The Big 5
The Burmese python is the largest snake in Hong Kong and the second-largest (in weight) in the world after the Green anaconda. Together with the Reticulated python (the longest snake in the world), African rock python, and Indian python, they make the big 5 of snakes. But the size ranking of these giant snakes should not be considered definitive. There is considerable variation in the maximum reported size of these species, and most measurements are not truly verifiable.
The 5 largest snakes in the world (not listed in order):
Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
Burmese python (Python bivittatus)
Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)
African rock python (Python sebae)
Indian python (Python molurus)
Has Burma separated from India a decade ago? What?
Surprisingly, such an iconic snake did not get to become a full species until 2009. Before that, the Burmese python was considered just a subspecies of the Indian python (Python molurus). Asian rock python was the name for both on the species level.
It swallows more than just swallows
When keeping backyard poultry was still allowed in Hong Kong back in the day, before 2006, chicken was the python’s favorite item on the menu. After 2006, its diet has been back to natural which consists of birds, rodents, feral cats, dogs, monkeys, barking deers, calves, goats, and wild boars.
Overgrown in the West; Protected in the East
Despite the fact that the Burmese python has become a very “successful” invasive species on the other side of the globe in the Florida Everglades, it is locally protected in Hong Kong. As apex predators of Hong Kong, these giant snakes contribute to ecosystem services by controlling the overpopulation of rodents, boars, and especially feral cats which kill a large number of local species every night.
Due to their large mass and the amount of self-confidence, when we encounter them chances are they can be moving very slowly. Roadkills happen often. I have had them crossing the road slowly (or barely moving) right in front of my car when driving in suburbs or rural areas. I had to block the road with my car until they finished crossing. Even had to move those not willing to move to the roadside.
They travel by day, too
Mainly nocturnal, but they are often found hanging out during the day in the warmer days in Hong Kong. They travel a lot – have a large home range. It is recorded that there’s a radio-tracked adult female which covered an area of more than 12 hectares within 24 hours on Lantau Island.
Not only in Burma
In Hong Kong, it is widely distributed including all major islands. Outside Hong Kong, in spite of the name, the distribution of the Burmese pyhton is not limited to Myanmar but throughout southern and Southeast Asia, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and southern China in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, and Yunnan.