Working in a natural environment is a totally different experience than a typical office job. Besides having the privilege of savoring tasty herbal drinks and listening to the beautiful wildlife orchestra every day, we also stand a higher chance of observing and witnessing some of the greatest nature findings in the garden (think Nat Geo)!
Spread across 8 acres of the secondary forest, Tropical Spice Garden is a natural tropical habitat to more than 500 varieties of flora and fauna, ranging from native trees to sub-tropical plants, and creepy crawlies to mammals. Therefore when luck strikes, it is no surprise that you may encounter a Malayan water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) swimming in the water garden, a yellow-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) feeding on a praying mantis, or a colony of giant forest ants (Camponotus Gigas) making their way back to their nest.
One sunny afternoon when everyone is off for lunch, something happened in front of the garden’s pantry that grabbed everyone’s attention.
A live “Urban Jungle” show was happening in front of our eyes – an Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) was attempting to consume a green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)! Being the naturalists that we are, we started to observe and document the behavioral and physical changes of the two species. The initial thought was: “The slim, slender snake will have a hard time swallowing the bigger and stronger lizard. Surely it’ll eventually give up…” To our astonishment, instead of giving up, the snake took almost an hour to finish a large and surely satisfying meal.
During the first 20 minutes, the snake maintained a firm grip on the lizard’s neck, which was very much still alive and struggling to escape.
Within half an hour, the lizard’s head was already halfway in the snake’s mouth with its legs still twitching! Soon, some small black ants started to gather around both reptiles. Despite the distraction of the ants crawling over both reptiles, the snake continued its mammoth task of a meal. As time goes by we realized that the lizard wasn’t moving anymore, which we concluded that it might already be dead at that point.
At the 45 minute mark, there was a dramatic change in the situation. The snake started to utilise its powerful muscles – expanding its jaws to accommodate the size of the lizard, we noticed a pale banding on the throat becoming more apparent. This banding pattern is only noticeable when a whip snake is feeding or feeling threatened.
Lastly, when 95% of the lizard was swallowed, the whip snake looking quite proud of itself gradually moved away from the limelight of our keen observations.
The Oriental whip snake is one of the common tree snakes that can be found in secondary forests, residential and agricultural areas throughout Southeast Asia. It is mildly venomous towards its prey – insects and small vertebrates – which it actively seeks out as it glides from tree to tree.
A common sight in Tropical Spice Garden, the green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) also has a widespread distribution in primary and secondary tropical forests.