Into the remote Kimberley part 2.3 – the reptiles and a frog

The Kimberley adventure continues with this post on the one frog I photographed plus a few reptiles.

The frog was brought back by Mike Hammer from a remote fishing trip where one of the Traditional Owners showed them how to dig them up. They use them for grunter bait. It turns out it was a new species for me, the Small Toadlet (Uperoleia minima), a tiny escarpment species growing to only 2cm or so.

The small toadlet is tiny.

Turtles were relatively common. This next one is an odd one indeed. Known by the Kakadu name of Burrungandji, it is found only in Kakadu, the Kimberley and nowhere else (we know of). So the two populations are widely separated and may represent two species. We don’t yet know. However it has no stink gland (unlike other long neck turtles) and a long, flat head on an even longer neck. It lives above the escarpments, ambushing fish from under rocks. We found two of them in the shallows, only one could fit in the tank. The other was a giant, over 60cm long!

The Burrungandji (Chelodina burrungandji) is a hard turtle to photograph! They constantly shed white flakes of skin, quickly polluting the water!


Another turtle we found was this Northern Red Faced Turtle or Victoria River Turtle (Emydura victoriae). This specimen was lovely burnt orange. And yes, the white balance is just right…

He looks either evil or not very bright. You decide.

A lovely turtle.

The mystery turtle…

This mystery turtle is remarkable. But what it is is, for now a mystery. It matches the description for the Kuchling’s turtle, which coincidentally is only known from a tiny area around where we were working. The raised radiating ridges on each scute (scale on the shell) and presence of upturned edges on the shell separate it from the only other contender, the Northern long necked turtle (Chelodina oblongata [prev. rugosa])

However, recently due to lack of data, and the fact the type specimen came from a captive one overseas, Kuchling’s turtle was de-listed by many authors. So maybe this is a re-discovery? Who knows… yet. But Australian turtles are being re-classified because of some major stuff-ups and incorrect labeling of specimens. For example the name Oblong turtle was given to a species around Perth, but research found the specimen that was described came from the tropics… a long way from where the label said it did, so now the Northern long necked turtle has been changed from C. rugosa to C. oblongata, and the southern Oblong turtle (which did NOT match the specimen it was supposed to) has been re-named as well. Among this confusion, it is easy to see how a species can become de-listed. But maybe Kuchling’s turtle may yet be fully recognized. The DNA results may be a year away.

I found this one munching on a catfish in the shallows of Oomooloo Falls.

On white paper for easy ID of features, The suspected “Kuchling’s Long Necked Turtle” “Chelodina kuchlingi

Kuchling’s Turtle Chelodina kuchlingi in the water

There was a much bigger one scooting about in the deeper water but the vis was low and there were 26 crocodiles I could see so I didn’t bother.

The monitors were not seen much at all. Tracks were all over the sand and stone country, burrows were everywhere but we saw few. Around camp was a big old Yellow Spotted Monitor (Varanus panoptes) who posed wonderfully for a quick snap:

This guy isn’t happy. Varanus panoptes, the yellow spotted or floodplain monitor.

What an awesome lizard!

Finding this gorgeous Kimberley Rock Monitor was a funny little tale. At the top of Oomooloo Falls we were awaiting the chopper to come and collect us when Mike Hammer noticed a rock skink hurrying in and out of its shelter. He commented on this before finding a shady spot. I was talking to Glenn, the curator of fishes in the WA museum about rock monitors when I mentioned just how much I would love to see one. Meanwhile, Malcolm, a teacher visiting for the TeachLive program by Earthwatch called out that he had just seen the tail of a snake or lizard, and it had white rings around it. Mike called out that it was just the rock skink. I had a feeling it was something more, and knowing the only reptile with a ringed tail in the stone country is the Kimberley Rock Monitor, I raced over. He pointed out where it went, and there it was, sandwiched between two slabs of rock, just the thing they are good at doing. I managed to carefully extract him and took a bunch of photos. And the skink? Hanging out of the Monitor’s mouth! That totally made my day, and of course the Kuchling’s turtle we had.

Another view. Kimberley rock monitor (Varanus glauerti)

And yes, we did get one big snake. This is an Olive Python (Liasis olivaceus) at camp.

… The final night I was flown out with a Traditional Owner, Mark the Arachnologist (Spider man) and a community worker to a remote gorge to survey for the night. My mission was to collect tail tips from geckoes to get DNA from later, thus leaving the animal to re-grow it and survive. It’s dead easy to collect DNA from geckoes. Just gently hold the tail and they cast it off. No force required. It was cold and therefore difficult. We only got two species.

One of the most beautiful geckoes out there. Oedura gracilis, the Graceful Velvet Gecko

And the Kimberley Dtella, Geyhra koira

So that’s it for the reptiles and frog of the trip. The last post will be a wrap up of the odds and ends… stay tuned.

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