Sani Lodge Pt.4 – The Reptiles

Posted on January 23, 2011 by Tim 4 Comments

One morning I was reading in my cabin. Workers were replacing the thatch roofing on the adjacent cabin so I had ignored the commotion as just usual work stuff. But I was distracted by what I thought was someone calling. I heard, esnay!, esnay! Then came knocking on my door. I was trying to translate what they were saying while opening the door. The worker repeated, esnay. He recognized my puzzled look and said, culebra. Ohhh, he was trying to say snake in English. I was trying to translate and English word that I thought was Spanish – duh. Just outside, on the grass, was a small snake that had been hiding in the roof thatching. I walked out and picked up a Leptophis ahaetulla – a parrot snake. These guys are pretty common and I’ve caught quite a few over the years. So I tried something different and shot this one natural light with minimal depth-of-field. Can’t have everything looking the same.

Leptophis ahaetulla shot with a shallow depth-of-field to isolate his eyes.

Trying to play the colors of the snake against the background while keeping everything soft, another different view of the parrot snake.

On another afternoon I was walking quite quickly back to camp. I had been getting skunked on the snakes and was a little frustrated – and now not paying attention. I was startled by a snake, that I startled, crawling on the trail in my direction. I noticed it after it reared up and whipped near backward to flee. It shot into the forest with me giving chase. It was a large snake and I immediately recognized it as a racer, genus Chironius. I lost it after dashing 15-20m into the forest when I got hung up on a bunch of thin vines. Damn it. But a couple nights later Javier was in the same area when he caught a sleeping Chironius up in a tree. Possibly the same animal. I believe this species is C. exoletus. Many of the species in this genus look alike so I need to dig up the papers that define them. The snake was over 7 feet long. It had been bagged when caught and the day before I shot it I decided to air out and clean the bag it was in. I took out the snake, which started to violently thrash about, spraying poop all over me and my cabin floor. It also made several lunges towards my face.  Racers are very edgy and very fast snakes. Not fun to work with. I decided to shoot him against a tree buttress to help contain the snake. It took a lot of effort to get the snake calmed and in a relatively natural pose. Once done I would slowly pull back from the snake while its huge eyes watched my every move. As soon as I turned to gently pick up my camera it would bolt. I had to drop the camera and start all over. It was 30 minutes before I took my first frame. I only managed a couple dozen so-so shots of the snake before I was worn out. He won – I let him crawl away from the shoot, which was the same area he was caught.

A rare and all to brief moment of calm before this whipsnake takes off.

Catch, calm, pose, and try again. These racers, or whipsnakes, Chironius exoletus, don’t like to sit still. And they don’t like photographers.

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  • Ross Perry says:

    Muscle strain and shake? What about pounding heart and hyperventilation when you’re eye tot eye with that guy!

  • Brian Roach says:

    A very interesting and enjoyable post, Tim, and some really fine photos!

  • WW says:

    I am really sorry to have to say it, but the “Bothriopsis taeniata” is actually a juvenile Bothrops atrox. Juveniles have a very different and more lichenous-looking pattern that adults, so it’s an easy mistake to make.

    • admin says:

      Wolfgang, I knew it was going to be an atrox. Admittedly I have more experience with B. asper than B. atrox and this is the youngest I’ve caught (I know juvies are not X patterned). I convinced myself it was a bothriopsis based on the speckled venter and the really upturned snout (not just pointed). That and I’ve seen many a Bothrops and no Bothriopsis. I guess I should say thanks for the ‘bad’ news.

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