Mozambique Diary: The Lizard Quest

Sitting on the dusty floor of a makeshift laboratory tent Harith Farooq carefully folded a piece of fine, steel mesh into a foot-long cylinder, then weaved in a stretch of a thick wire along its edge. Finally, he carefully attached a neck of an empty water bottle to one of the ends and looked at…

Mozambique Diary: Is this tortoise broken?

Some time ago I was driving in Gorongosa when I noticed a large tortoise laying in the middle of the road, stuck upside down in the mud. The animal was alive but had what appeared to be a large wound in the posterior part of its cracked carapace. There were fresh tracks of a civet…

Insect-mimicking snakes?

New Guinea has quite a few venomous, really dangerous snakes. Death adders (Acanthophis), taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), or Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus) are elapid snakes that have caused many human fatalities on the island. But the one thing that New Guinea does not have is coral snakes. The only venomous snake that looks like one is…

Pygmies of Mt. Gorongosa

“You should not be there at night,” said Tonga, “it is not recommended.” Since doing things that are not recommended is what I like to do, I dully noted my assistant’s objection, waved him goodbye, and began a hike towards the top of Mt. Gorongosa. I was in Mozambique, a member of a group of…

Beanie babies with teeth

The island of Madagascar, an ancient chunk of the Indian subcontinent that somehow ended up very close to Africa’s eastern shores, has always been a magnet for biologists. And not surprisingly so: the place is bursting with ancient and endemic lineages, and in some groups of organisms 100% of their species can be found nowhere…

The holotype that walked away

In the final post on the amazing fauna of the Galapagos Islands, I thought I would present another animal that somehow failed to impressed Charles Darwin when he visited the archipelago in 1835. Upon seeing the majestic, peaceful land iguanas (Conolophus), he remarked that they were “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of…