Phuket Island is well-known for its touristic elements. Five-star resorts, backpacker hostels, and sandy beaches probably spring to mind when the name is mentioned. However, not far from the seedy bustle of Patong lies large expanses of tropical rainforest with both remarkable diversity and density of herpetofauna. Having seen the vast majority of extant snakes in that part of Southern Thailand, our team rarely visit on our own accord. However, a string of guests in the area provided the perfect opportunity to explore the island properly.
We arrived in Phuket the 11th and got straight to jungle hiking in the late afternoon. Daytime hikes are typically hot and sweaty without much to show, but the weather was kind to us on this occasion and we had an unexpected myriad of snake sightings.
Firstly, David caught a dark-brown mock viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus).
Shortly after, I flipped a tarpaulin on the edge of a rubber plantation and uncovered a stunning Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus). Flipping is rarely a successful survey tactic in Thailand, so this was a real surprise.
Lastly, while walking out of the forest to get dinner, I spotted a tiny juvenile Wagler’s pit-viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) on the tip of a sapling. Three snakes on a relatively short afternoon walk was a sensational start to the trip.
After dinner, we changed location to spend the night hiking a forest stream through mature rainforest. The first snake sighting was the first oriental vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina) of the trip, a small brown juvenile. Further upstream, I spotted the second Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus) of the day while it was hunting on the floor in some dense vegetation.
I called David over, and en-route he spotted a male Phuket pit-viper (Trimeresurus phuketensis) – an awesome double catch.
We found a further 3 Phuket pit-vipers (Trimeresurus phuketensis) that night, two adult females and 1 juvenile, but all were left undisturbed. The most interesting find was certainly this common ground snake (Gongylosoma scriptum). The word ‘common’ in the name is misleading, as this species is rare. Only the second I’d seen in my many years of visiting Thailand. We also turned up a juvenile Cyrtodactylus oldhami in the adjacent area.
On the way back down the stream we saw a few snakes which we missed before, juvenile white-bellied rat snake (Ptyas fusca) which was going into shed and a speckle-headed vine snake (Ahaetulla fasciolata), as well as a couple Ahaetulla prasina.
Just before we left the forest, I spotted a large Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus) – our third of the night. This individual was left undisturbed.
The following day, we met up with Ilan from Singapore and got back out to one of our favourite forest reserves for the late afternoon. David had come down sick after the first day and was unable to join for the rest of the tour, but fortunately my good friend Keith was available to help. The walk was less productive than the previous day, as expected, but we managed to turn up a brown-morph speckle-headed vine snake (Ahaetulla fasciolata), as well as a few Phuket rock geckos (Cnemaspis phuketensis).
Afterwards, we dined on some delicious pizza and revisited the same forest stream from the previous night. Before we even reached the forest, we spotted a Kuhl’s gliding gecko (Gekko kuhli) high up a tree and caught a beautiful black-barred keelback (Rhabdophis nigrocinctus).
Upon reaching the forest, I checked to see if the huge Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus) which we left undisturbed the previous night was still around, and sure enough it was hunting around the exact same old termite mound - incredibly lucky. We also saw a juvenile female Wagler’s pit-viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) high up in a sapling which we left in-situ.
It took us a while to find our next snake, but several came in quick succession. Firstly, Keith spotted a speckle-headed vine snake (Ahaetulla fasciolata) resting, followed quickly by Ilan finding a beautiful black-barred keelback (Rhabdophis nigrocinctus).
Next, we found a male Phuket pit-viper (Trimeresurus phuketensis). Then we noticed that crawling around right next to it was the first keeled slug snake (Pareas carinatus) of the trip.
A little further up the same trail, I spotted a huge blunt-headed slug snake (Aplopeltura boa) and 2 juvenile Phuket pit-vipers (Trimeresurus phuketensis). One of the large Phuket pit-viper (Trimeresurus phuketensis) females from the previous night was still in ambush.
As usual, the walk down the trail turned up new snakes, including a large black-barred keelback (Rhabdophis nigrocinctus), a white-banded wolf snake (Lycodon subcinctus), and a giant Ahaetulla prasina.
On the third day of our Phuket expedition, Ilan and I set out during the dayime to scout out potential sites for the endemic Phuket stream toad (Ansonia phuketensis) at a different area of Phuket to where we spent the previous days. While exploring streams in the hills, we encountered 3 oriental vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina) and more Phuket rock geckos (Cnemaspis phuketensis).
We began the evening at an area of secondary forest which I hadn’t been to before, with the aim of finding some different species to the previous nights. This worked out well, with our first two finds being a striped bronzeback (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus) (too high up to catch), a large reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus), and a small mock viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus).
Amonst the usual handful of Ahaetulla prasina, Keith spotted our number 1 snake target of the night, a large green cat snake (Boiga cyanea).
In the area adjacent to the Boiga cyanea, we found an adult Phuket horned dragon (Acanthosaura phuketensis) and an Oldham’s bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus oldhami).
The final 2 noteworthy snakes of the night were both Wagler’s pit-vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri), our first and only adult female of the trip and a tiny juvenile. We left both in-situ as T. wagleri were low on our priority list.
After finding Boiga cyanea, the priority for the remainder of the night was Ansonia phuketensis, and so we drained the remainder of our energy hiking high up the hill to visit a site Ilan and I had earmarked as being perfect for Ansonia earlier in the day. Sure enough, only seconds after we arrived at our site, I slid down a rock into some leaf litter and Ilan spotted a small toad hopping away from my feet. After this, we were fully satisfied and wrapped up for the night.
On the final day in Phuket, I met with Mark who had come from Malaysia to target Phuket pit-vipers (Trimeresurus phuketensis) and other species he can’t see in his local area.
Our daytime hike at the usual reserve was hot, sweaty, and unproductive – back to the norm for daytime hiking. However, nightfall came to save our day as usual.
We began the evening waterfall walk with a Phuket horned dragon (Acanthosaura phuketensis), and quickly followed that with a small adult reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus).
Not long after, we found a white-spotted cat snake (Boiga drapiezii), the first official confirmation of this species from Phuket.
We saw the same juvenile female Wagler’s pit-viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) and giant Ahaetulla prasina which were there 2 nights ago, and I lost a sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor) down a hole. Further upstream, I found 2 new male Phuket pit-viper (Trimeresurus phuketensis) individuals which the day’s rain had brought out.
Through the rest of our night’s hiking, we found 2 black-barred keelbacks (Rhabdophis nigrocinctus) and 2 keeled slug snakes (Pareas carinatus) before wrapping up at midnight.
Thus, that concluded our time in Phuket. Not only was every night extremely productive with new species encountered each time, but we ended up finding more rare and significant snakes than expected. Moreover, there is still so much of the island to be explored with so many more species to find.
Complete Species List of the trip:
*Note: Species may appear in this list but not the above report if individuals were not photographed or observations were fleeting.