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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Civets (or sometimes called civet cats, though they are not cats) are small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical forests of Asia and Africa.
Kopi luwak (also called civet coffee, caphe cut chon, fox-dung coffee, kape alamid) is a coffee that is prepared using coffee cherries that have been eaten and partly digested by the Asian palm civet.
In Hong Kong, there are officially 3 native civets – The Small Indian civet (Viverricula indica taivana), the Masked palm civet (Paguma larvata taivana), and the Large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha). The first two are still common but the last one has not been discovered since the 1970s, hence is considered extirpated.
Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) is also called Asian common toad, black-spectacled toad, or just Asian toad. It is probably the most common amphibian in Hong Kong.
It is also widely distributed throughout Asia from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, southern China, Taiwan, and Macau to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Anambas and Natuna Islands.
It has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world as an invasive species such Bali in 1958, Sulawesi in 1974, then subsequently to Ambon, Lombok, Sumba, Sumbawa, Timor and Indonesian New Guinea, Australia in 2000, and Madagascar in 2011.
Many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus), or Multi-banded krait, is much smaller than its cousin Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus) but is surprisingly deadlier – the most venomous krait in the world!
Distribution In Hong Kong, it’s widely distributed in New Territories and on some islands. Outside Hong Kong, it’s found in much of central and southern China and Southeast Asia.
Habitat These kraits dwell in a diversity of habitats including shrublands, forests, agricultural areas, mangroves, and marshes. They prefer humid lowlands. I often found them inside catchwaters. Uncommon in drier grasslands and woodlands.
Behavior Just like other kraits, it is strictly nocturnal. The ones I found during the day were all very timid and didn’t try to bite. But at night they will become highly alert.
Diet Kraits are ophiophagous, preying primarily upon other snakes (including venomous and harmless snakes) and can be cannibalistic, feeding on their own kind. I have also seen few of them eating small rodents, frogs and lizards.
Reproduction Oviparous. 4-8 eggs per clutch.
Venom Bites can be deadly to humans. The venom is highly toxic with LD50 values of 0.09 – 0.108 mg/kg. Clinical effects include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dizziness. Severe envenomation can lead to respiratory failure and death may occur due to suffocation. I have been super careful when catching the one in my photo together with every single one I caught by hand. They are smaller, more wiggly, more slippery, and harder to get a hold of.
This kind of black-and-yellow rarely bites, but if it does it’s gonna kill.
The Banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus) is a large, venomous snake growing to anywhere from 100 up to 210 cm (3’3″ to 6’11”). It is larger but less venomous than its cousin, the Many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus). But who cares? Bites are still toxic enough to kill humans!
Distribution In Hong Kong, it’s distributed in some particular parts of the New Territories, Hong Kong Island, and Lantau. Outside Hong Kong, it’s widely distributed from India to southern China, and from Malay Peninsula to Indonesia.
Habitat It prefers living in lowlands with much vegetation and water like shrublands, cultivated fields, and marshes. Uncommon in drier grasslands and woodlands.
Behavior Just like other kraits, it is strictly nocturnal. The ones I found during the day were all very timid and didn’t try to bite. But at night they will become highly alert.
Diet Kraits are ophiophagous, preying primarily upon other snakes (including venomous and harmless snakes) and can be cannibalistic, feeding on their own kind. Banded kraits in Hong Kong mainly feed on rat snakes (Ptyas sp). I have also seen few of them eating frogs and lizards.
Reproduction Oviparous. 6-14 eggs per clutch.
Venom The Banded krait rarely attack. But when it does defensively its bites can be deadly to humans. The venom mainly contains neurotoxins with LD50 values of 2.4 – 3.6 mg/kg. Clinical effects include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and dizziness. Severe envenomation can lead to respiratory failure and death may occur due to suffocation.
This mammal has a lot in common with the porcupine. It is also nocturnal, slow-moving, and with high protection of the body made out of keratin. But unlike the porcupine, this one is rare.
Extremely rare, critically endangered, and the number 1 most trafficked mammal in the world.
Did you know that we have pangolins in Hong Kong? Pangolins specialize in eating ants and termites with their long sticky tongue. They are the only mammals with scales all over their body. They were thought to be related to armadillos, anteaters, and sloths in the past. But new studies suggest that they are unique mammals not related to anything that looks alike.
There are 8 species of pangolins in the world. They are found in Asia and Africa – 3 species are endangered. Another 3 species are critically endangered, including our native one – The Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla).
They used to be a lot more common back in the days. We could find them from time to time. But now you have to be very experienced plus super lucky to just find one, thanks to deforestation and poaching for their meat and scales to be used in traditional medicines. What for? Hysterical crying in children and women thought to be possessed by devils. What do you say?
If you will go on a night hike this is possibly the easiest animal to spot.
The only porcupine species in Hong Kong is the Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura). I found these spiky fellows in Kowloon Peak. It has become obviously more common in the Mid-levels along Blacks Link, Bowen Road, and the Victoria Peak, also in mountains in the New Territories.
Porcupines are not hedgehogs.
No, not Sonic! Hedgehogs are not rodents and there are no native hedgehogs in Hong Kong. Hedgehogs have short quills all over their back. Porcupines are large rodents covered with long quills all over the rear part of the body. The quills are hard and sharp. But they are actually hairs – some modified hairs coated with a lot of keratin.
You may have heard of porcupines shooting spines at predators. Umm.. very exciting! Unfortunately, it’s not true. They cannot shoot quills. But we don’t have to worry about them not protecting themselves well. When there are predators they will raise up their long sharp quills and run backwards towards the predators. When the quills are touched, they can be released and stuck in the predator’s body. Ouch!
What if they are so unlucky to meet many predators the same night. Will they lose all the quills and become a guinea pig? No, they can regrow new quills. Remember what I mentioned? Quills are hairs.
Flying right outside my house comes these cheeky birds. They don’t only rob nests they also chow up snakes like sucking up noodles. Saw that. Nope. Didn’t “save” the snakes.
Red-billed blue magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha) is a member of the crow family. Not the most popular bird in Hong Kong but its Taiwanese cousin, Formosan blue magpie (Urocissa caerulea), is the national bird in Taiwan.
It is a resident bird in Hong Kong. Pretty common and widespread, especially in Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island.
These are some of them having fun right outside my house at the peak these days. So I was just taking these snapshots while having coffee outside. So I was just taking these snapshots while having coffee outside.
Identifying this bird is easy. Its tail is longer than any other birds you can find in Hong Kong. The species is also found in Western Himalayas, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and China. Typical habitats are mountains and forests.
They feed on seeds and fruits. I have also seen them hunting small animals from invertebrates, frogs, lizards to snakes! They rob nests, too.
Urocissa erythroryncha (Boddaert, 1783) Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves Order: Passeriformes Family: Corvidae Genus: Urocissa Species: U. erythroryncha
Did you know that sea turtles would come to Hong Kong?
There are 7 species of sea turtles in the world, and surprisingly all of them have been spotted in Hong Kong waters. How amazing!
Our most frequent visitor is the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Young turtles are carnivores, preying on crabs, shrimps, jellyfish, and squid. Adults are herbivores, feeding on seaweed.
It is an endangered species, but can be found in all tropical oceans around the world including Hong Kong. They even came ashore! Sham Wan in Lamma Island has a small population known to nest on a regular basis. Only 2 records of nesting outside Lamma Island: Once in Big Wave Bay Beach, Shek O in 2000. Another time in another big wave bay, Tai Long Wan Beach, Sai Kung in 2006.
Oh! Those mama turtles must be surfers. They love big waves!
The Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata), or better known as Golden coin turtle in Chinese, used to be very common when I was a kid which I refuse to provide the number of years ago. However, now it has become critically endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching.
This species is now very rare but widely distributed in a few localities in Hong Kong and southern China. I have only found a few of them in mountain streams throughout the years.
Unlike most turtles, this is a nocturnal species. It hides very well during the day. It can grow up to 20 cm. As a carnivore, it feeds on insects, fish, frogs, crabs, and snails.
The plastron (bottom shell) is what makes this turtle special. There is a hinge in the middle, to allow complete closure of the shell. That’s why they are called box turtles. But the plastron is also the reason why they got killed by humans to make a Chinese medicine called “turtle jelly”.
This is a Flatid planthopper (Lawana imitata), or commonly known as White moth bugs, I found in Sha Tau Kok, northern Fanling, New Territories. It can also be found in China and Vietnam.
They live in trees. Adults are active from May to October. I think they look so elegant and beautiful, but farmers just hate them because they drink plant juices from stems to leaves to fruits. This species is considered a pest of citrus, tea, mango, guava, grape, lychee, and cashew.
One of the most common spiders in Hong Kong, the Giant golden orb-weaver (Nephila pilipes) can be found in primary and secondary forests almost anywhere in Hong Kong.
This species has a wide distribution throughout Asia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and also Papua New Guinea, and Australia.
They may look creepy to you, but don’t worry when you find them next time. They are generally not aggressive and basically harmless to humans. They just eat bugs. But they do get big.
This is the largest spider in Hong Kong. Well, I mean just the ladies. Sexual dimorphism is obvious in this species. A good example of female gigantism and male dwarfism. Females can grow up to 20 cm, while males can be 10 times smaller. So next time when you’re on a hike, finding a big and small spider together. They may not be mother and son but a loving couple.
One of the most common lizards in Hong Kong is Calotes versicolor. It has many common names: Changeable lizard, Crested tree lizard, Oriental garden lizard, Eastern garden lizard, and even Bloodsucker.
Common throughout Hong Kong including all major islands, it is also widely distributed in Asia. These lizards can grow up to 40 centimeters. They are sun-loving lizards, can often be found basking in the middle of the day.
They are not chameleons but there are similarities. They can move each of their eyes in different directions similar to what chameleons do.
As the name suggests, they can change color. Males can change to bright red in the throat, the entire head, or parts of the body during the breeding season. In spite of the fact that they can turn red, they are not venomous. Still, bites are what you often get when you catch them.
We have many native frogs, but only 1 tailed amphibian (salamander or newt).
The Hong Kong Newt, or Hong Kong Warty Newt (Paramesotriton hongkongensis) – I have usually found them in clean mountain streams in Lantau, Hong Kong Island, and the eastern and northern parts of New Territories.
It was once believed to be an endemic species of Hong Kong, but later also found in Guangdong Province in China. Some scientists consider it a subspecies of the Chinese warty newt (Paramesotriton chinensis) but many disagree.
They can grow to up to 15 cm (5.9″) and are very slow-moving carnivores so they mainly prey on earthworms and tadpoles. When hungry they even eat the eggs of their own kind!
Basically nocturnal but they also come out in the daytime in a large group during the breeding season. I have seen over 100 of them crawling on land at a time!
Paramesotriton hongkongensis (Myers and Leviton, 1962) Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Amphibia Order: Urodela Family: Salamandridae Genus: Paramesotriton Species: P. hongkongensis
Where in HK? New Territories, Hong Kong Island, Lantau, etc
Size: 15 cm Distribution: Hong Kong, Guangdong Province. Habitat: Unpolluted mountain streams Diet: Carnivore Behavior: Nocturnal Conservation status: Near Threatened
Where in HK? Very rare – reservoirs, rivers, Mai Po marshes
Size: 1.5 – 3.2 m / 4’11 – 10’6″ Distribution: Southern Asia Habitat: Semi-aquatic Diet: Carnivore Behavior: Diurnal Conservation status: Least Concern
The Asian water monitor or Common water monitor (Varanus salvator) is the largest lizard in Hong Kong and the world’s second-largest lizard (in weight) after the Komodo dragon. Water monitors can grow to anywhere from 1.5 m (4’11”) to 3.21 m (10’6″) as the largest specimen ever recorded.
Outside Hong Kong, it is widely distributed in southern Asia including the Chinese Guangxi and Hainan provinces. The species was first described in 1768. But it’s not until 1961 the species was first officially recorded in Hong Kong (northern New Territories). Since then few sightings have been reported from time to time. But they were mostly believed to be released or escaped from imports. Many think that those are from the pet market. But I think the food market would be the most possible main source.
They are still rare in Hong Kong but I have been spotting more of them in recent years. Whether natives or imports, it is kind of proven that they have already (re)established a small population in Hong Kong and become our permanent residents.
The largest owl inhabits the smallest concrete jungle in Hong Kong. How intriguing!
Birdwatching normally takes place during the day, except for owls. There are 9 species of owls you can possibly spot in Hong Kong. The most common species is the Collared scops owl (Otus lettia) which is a small one usually no bigger than 25 cm. The other 8 species are way harder to find, just like this.
I was so lucky to have found this huge Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo Bubo) in Yuen Long, New Territories. It is locally rare but widely distributed throughout Hong Kong. It can also be found in Central Asia and Russia, all the way to Europe.
It is the World’s largest owl growing to 75 cm (2’6″) tall, with a wingspan of 188 cm (6’2″). Bubo bubo is not just big but lives long too. It can live over 25 years while some other owls have a lifespan of fewer than 4 years.
Where in HK? Very common – low hilly areas, grasslands, cultivated fields
Size: 50 – 90 cm / 1’8″ – 2’11” Distribution: Southern Asia Habitat: Arboreal Diet: Carnivore Behavior: Nocturnal Conservation status: Least Concern
The Bamboo pit viper or White-lipped pit viper (or occasionally called Green pit viper, Bamboo snake, or Bamboo viper) is the most common venomous snake species in Hong Kong and is responsible for over 90% of the reported snake bites. It can be found in forests, mountains, wetlands, and many different habitats. This species can also be found in Southern China, Indonesia, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam.
A small to medium-sized snake growing to 50 cm (1’8″), up to 90 cm (2’11”). Females get bigger than males. Only males have white ventrolateral stripes.
This is a nocturnal species. Even in total darkness, they can catch their prey by using the heat-sensing pits below their eyes which most snakes don’t have. That’s why they’re called pit vipers.
Bites are painful and can cause swelling. The venom is a hemotoxin that attacks red blood cells and causes tissue damage. It may not be deadly to most healthy humans (few fatalities recorded though) but is strong enough to kill or paralyze their prey such as frogs, lizards, and small mammals.