Duelling Dragons and other Herps at Treetop Walk

The HSS held its second guided walk at the MacRitchie Treetop Walk, this time with Serin as our lead guide! We started off at the Venus Drive carpark entrance before making our way into the forest and embarking on an enjoyable 7km hike. And even before we entered the forest proper, we met our first herp of the day: a Common Gliding Lizard (Draco sumatranus) perched on a tree trunk! It proved to be a good omen, as we would see many more of these throughout the rest of the walk.

Our next herp was found along the Venus Drive stream, basking atop the root ball of an uprooted tree; a large Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator). These big reptiles may look intimidating, but are harmless to humans and never attack unless provoked. In order to get a better angle to warm itself in the sunlight, it was hugging a small palm tree tightly.

Just a little upstream was the remnants of a large strangling fig that had been chopped down for safety reasons; and hiding in the crevices of the old trunk was a juvenile Many-lined Sun Skink! We also got a good look at the various native freshwater fish found in the stream such as the Pygmy Halfbeaks (Dermogenys collettei) and Common Snakehead (Channa striata).

As we continued up the trail, various weird and wonderful fungi caught our attention too. It was while examining a fungus growing on a tree trunk that one of our participants spotted our snake of the day, barely a couple of metres before his eyes: a White-bellied Rat Snake (Ptyas fusca)! This snake can grow up to 4 metres long, and feeds on rodents, frogs, lizards and other small animals.

Besides reptiles, there was plenty of other wildlife out and about. Several troops of macaques crossed
out paths as we headed towards the Treetop Walk, and we even spotted a trio of Lesser Dog-faced Fruit Bats (Cynopterus brachyotis) roosting on a tree! Birds such as the migratory Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpisiphone paradisi), Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus sumatranus) and White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus lecuogaster) were all spotted along the walk too.

Finally, after a long hike, we arrived at the Treetop Walk, where participants were treated to beautiful views of the forest canopy and the nearby reservoir. But they were also in for a special show, as two male Common Gliding Lizards (Draco sumatranus) vied for control of a tree trunk just next to the suspension bridge! Flashing their bright yellow dewlaps and chasing each other round the branches, they made for an arresting sight. Draco is Latin for dragon, and the aptly named Dragons were soon taking to the air, gliding between branches as they sought to assert their dominance without actually coming to blows.  They even performed boomerang manouevres that allowed them to quickly leap to spots lower down on the trunk!

The fun didn’t end at the Treetop Walk though; we continued to spot many herps along the way back! One of them was the Clouded Monitor (Varanus nebulosus), which unlike its bigger relative is largely restricted to forested areas. As the sun continued to rise, many of them were out and about, and we spotted several before the day was done.

Saving the best for last, we were very fortunate to spot the Yellow Striped Tree Skink (Lipinia vittigera) back at the Ranger Station! This tiny lizard is rarely seen in Singapore, making it a very special find indeed! It soon captivated everyone’s attention, and the sort of paparazzi normally reserved for rare birds soon surrounded the tree that it was perched on. It was very heartening to see a tiny herptile get so much attention, and after a brief phototaking session, we left it to its own devices in peace.

Animals such as the Yellow Striped Tree Skink are part of what makes the Central Catchment Forest worth preserving for future generations. Before we finished our walk, we educated participants about the proposed Cross Island Line, which could pass through the very rainforest that they had just walked through. We encouraged them to bring their friends to visit the forest and spread awareness of the consequences of building an MRT line through our nature reserves. Hopefully, we can protect the flora and fauna for future generations to enjoy.

We hope everyone enjoyed themselves, and despite what this signboard says, learned that snakes and other herptiles are not be feared, but to be loved!

Check out more photos from some of our participants!
[1] – Hock Chuan Ang shares some of his photos from the Herp Walk here

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