Below are a few of the recent sightings our forest team have seen around the area during various surveys.
Whip Spider (Phrynicodamon scullyi). Use its elongated front legs not for walking but as feelers. These arachnids usually move sideways using their sensory legs to feel for prey that is then caught with the large raptorial pedipalps.
Flap-Necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis). With its huge distribution, relative abundance and willingness to utilize urban areas this chameleon is under no conservational threat.
Malachite Kingfisher. Spotted resting on a low branch during a night walk through the forest.
Yellow-Headed Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus luteopicturatus). Endemic to South-Eastern Kenya and Eastern Tanzania this brightly colored gecko is able to rapidly undergo a color change turning completely black when angered or threatened.
Archispirostreptus gigas, the giant African millipede, is the largest millipede species in the world. The largest individual ever found was 38.5 centimeters, according to the Guinness World book of records. The biggest millipede we ever found was just over 34 centimeters, but since they live for about 7-10 years, we are sure our millipedes will grow up and beat the world record. Eventually…
A quite large, African giant millipede in Shimoni forest
Among the additions to GVI’s surveys are our Indicator plot studies. Indicator plots enable an intensive study to be made of a 50m x 50m sample of the forest habitat. Several surveys will be carried out within the plot to gauge levels of disturbance, biodiversity, and vegetation makeup. So far, two such surveys have been carried out: firstly, two butterfly traps were installed, and secondly, an active search was done, in which surveyors were encouraged to be as proactive as possible in finding species (in contrast to a passive search where animals are looked for without disturbing anything).
The net traps, suspended from the branches of trees and baited with fermented bananas, had attracted one butterfly in each, both large and very attractive. Before taking them out it was important to check that nothing likely to bite or sting had also entered the trap. It is daunting at first to grab hold of a butterfly but these animals are large and robust and once you have your hand around them it is relatively easy to manoeuvre them so that you are lightly grasping the thorax with the other hand, enabling a photograph to be taken of both upper and under sides to aid identification. Consulting the butterfly guide later, one species appeared to be a striking female mocker (Papilio dardanus polytrophus), and an equally striking Charaxes brutus.
Looking around at the start of the 15 minute active search, it appeared that the plot was devoid of life, but once the leaf litter was disturbed, stones and logs rolled over and stems and leaves examined, animals became evident – between three of us we found a sharp-nosed ridged frog, a tiny toad and even one foot-long snake.
It’s been a couple of months now since GVI expanded its research program by digging a two-bucket pitfall trap in Shimoni East forest – an experiment of sorts, and an attempt to start looking more closely at some species that have at times been overlooked in the past: frogs, lizards, and potentially some smaller snakes.
Two months on, it’s safe to say the experiment’s been a success. The Shimoni East pitfalls have been regularly catching frogs, toads, and one very special White-Toothed Shrew – a species not previously known to live in the area. So with that in mind, we decided to try it again. We picked Shimoni West forest (the larger forest patch to the west of Shimoni, where GVI is just starting to conduct research) as our next target, and went for a bit more of an ambitious approach…
The Shimoni West pitfalls didn’t come easily – it took two solid days of digging through pretty impossible-looking coral rag just to get the holes in place – but the result was definitely worthwhile. With 4 buckets (all of them deeper than those in Shimoni East) and a total of 30 metres of drift fence, it was hoped that we would start catching both a great quantity of creatures and a wider range of species (including, hopefully, some larger frog and reptile species that might be able to escape from the shallower Shimoni East traps).
It’s perhaps still too soon to tell how successful we will be, but we’re off to a promising start. We opened the traps up yesterday, just after we finished putting up the fence, and checked them out this morning. The result was 5 frogs in healthy condition – best of all, only two of them were the same species.
Frog species found in one of the pitfall traps
We’re now in the process of identifying them all from our photos – if we succeed in that, it’s pretty likely we’ll be adding to our species catalogue once again. Not bad for the first day’s haul – watch this space for more updates as the project continues!
Without any effort we spot insects we haven’t seen before every day. Beetles, butterflies, wasp, dragonflies, ants etc. There must be a lot of interesting endemic species out there to discover, each having its own intricate reproductive behavior, feeding habits and habitat. Apart from lepidoptera (butterflies), entomology field-guides of East-Africa are few and far between, so we might have to wait on those discoveries, for now at least.