The Unexpected Ular | by Bryony Slaymaker

“Ular!!” I shrieked, making our driver, Iman, slam on the breaks and skid several meters along the gravel track.

Fresh from six weeks of fieldwork in the remote Indonesian rainforest, the word was now pretty familiar. I’d heard it shouted around the camp when the herpetologist hauled in a four-foot python, when a terrified local nearly trod on a rat snake and when the students pulled a tiny Calamaria snake out of the pit traps. I’d even whispered it like an enchantment as a golden mock viper slid between my fingers, it’s smooth, supple flesh gliding across my hands.

In the densely forested areas from Sulawesi to Java snakes come in a myriad of forms. From tiny, harmless blind snake to brilliantly green pit viper to the near-mythical man-eating python. The vast majority pose no threat to humans but they are not well liked and even our experienced local forest guides were frightened of them.

“Ular?” repeated Iman, both doubtful and apprehensive.

“Ular.” I said firmly, already doubting my own conviction. We’d been driving so fast, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d seen, my eyes had made sense of it before my brain could unpickle the reptilian image blurring past.

“Ok …” he said, kicking the car into reverse with one eyebrow raised.

My husband Matthew and I were enjoying three days with a private driver and guide, exploring the wilder corners of East Java. After a hectic field season of hammocks, washing in the rivers and eating nothing but rice we were revelling in the ease and luxury of being driven around and sleeping in bug-free beds.

Breakfast had been fruit, pastries and hot, sweet coffee savoured slowly on the observation tower as the world woke up around us. The morning mist lingered low across the plains, the tree-dotted landscape of Alas Purwo National Park strangely reminiscent of English parkland in the cool of the dawn. Banteng ambled heavily through the long grass, Wooly-necked Storks busied themselves around the water and the mournful cry from the Green Peafowl haunted the forest edge.

Our peaceful morning had quickly become a busy day, we’d trekked through the forest in search of wildlife, spotting broadbills, barbets and bulbuls. We got lucky when a family of pyradactyle-like Great Slaty Woodpeckers had clattered overhead. Now, heading back to the hotel, we were all contentedly exhausted.

“More far…?” said Iman, still sounding unconvinced as the car crept back.

“More… more… there!” I flung open the car door to a sharp intake of breath from both guide and driver, but Matthew was right behind me. “It’s a… it’s got…” We both stared, trying to make sense of the twisted image. Two fists worth of reptilian flesh suspended at eye level.

The sleek black and flame body of a Paradise Flying Snake knotted around the bright, rough bulk of a Tokay Gecko. The geckos eyes bulged with constriction, its padded feet bent out awkwardly as if frozen in it’s final twitch. The snake embracing the gecko, perfectly still, patiently waiting out the last heartbeat of its unfortunate meal.

The Paradise Flying Snake is an incredible animal. As well as constricting their prey they are also thought to have a mild venom. They can hunt from above, combining dexterity and the ability to glide, chasing down their prey in the branches of their forest habitats. Using their ribs to stretch and flatten their bodies they catch updrafts, undulating through the air and can glide up to 100 metres at a time. Unusually, they also have a prehensile tail, an adaptation for climbing and clinging. The full weight of both snake and gecko was hanging firmly by the tail to a clutch of leaves.

“How in hell is that going to eat that?” said Matthew with horrified fascination. Bonning and Iman had cautiously emerged from the vehicle and, relieved to see it wasn’t a 10-foot python, had their phones out, taking pictures.

“It will dislocate it’s jaw.” said Bonning, our expert guide “Just like the pythons. And he won’t be hungry again for a long time.”

We stared a little longer, transfixed by natures brutal beauty, then, feeling a mild pang of regret for the gecko, got back in the car and left the snake to his dinner.

Perhaps “Ular” have earned their fearsome reputation; some may constrict, flood viens with deadly venom or spit blinding acid. They may be stepped on in swamps, found under log piles, sneak into toilet bowls or drop from trees. These amazing predators have evolved to fill niches high and low, wet and dry, adapting to eat everything from ants to antelope. But watching this snake clinging to it well earned meal, even apprehensive Iman agreed that any animal capable of catching and killing prey twice its weight deserves our admiration.

About the Entry

Bryony Slaymaker

I’m a wildlife conservationist from the UK where I’ve spent most of my career working as a ranger, but I’m currently working on projects worldwide (New Zealand at the moment) alongside my husband, who is an Ornithologist. We love writing about the amazing animals we encounter and we’re very lucky that our work takes us to some wild and remote locations.

  • Site name | Where in the Wild
  • Site URLhttps://whereinthewild.co.uk
  • Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WhereintheWild/
  • Instagram | @where.in.the.wild
  • Why should someone visit your site? Where in the Wild is all about adventures that are kinder to people and planet. We love to share our amazing animal encounters, impassioned stories of conservation and photographs of stunning wild places. Matthew is an Ornithologist. In his spare time, he is a birder and when not doing these things he is likely thinking about birds and the study and/or conservation there-of. Bryony likes birds too, but not quite as much as Matthew. Having spent the last few years working in the British conservation sector she had lots of opportunities to enjoy some incredible wildlife and fantastic habitats around the UK. Between us we’ve visited over 50 countries and worked or volunteered for over 20 nature conservation organisations (so far!). We’re not experts but we are passionate about what we do and we’re learning every day.
  • Entry TitleThe Unexpected Ular
  • Entry Number | 58

You can read our bloggers’ full profiles on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Vote for your Winner!

Did you enjoy the story? If you’d like this entry to win the Wildlife Blogger of the Year Reader’s Choice Award (and get over £1,000 in prizes!) please use the following form and enter the number 58 as your chosen blog entry. Winners will be announced on December 31st 2018!

Please note: The competition is limited to one vote per person. We carefully check every vote for duplicate emails and votes.

E-mail.*
First Name*
Number of your chosen blog entry?