In June 2012 Herpetologist from the Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center at the University of Texas at Arlington, the American Museum of Natural History and Zoo Atlanta set out to Oaxaca, Mexico for a three week herpetological collecting expedition. Upon arriving in Oaxaca we met our colleagues and friends from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). Upon arriving in Oaxaca we met with our Mexican colleagues from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) and began making plans for the first week of the trip. While Jonathan, Darrel and Joe went to get a rental vehicle I departed with a group of Mexican herpetologist for my first foray in collecting specimens in Oaxaca. The group consisted of myself, Walter Schmidt, Andrea Monzon, Israel Solorzano, and Luis Vazquez. A location approximately half an hour from the city caught the eye of the Mexicans as a good place to seek herpetological specimens. We drove for miles alongside altered and cleared habitat until we finally reached our destination. A small forested hillside next to the busy highway provided what appeared to be a dwindling yet promising patch of forest.
Shortly following our arrival to the city we visited a location just outside of Oaxaca. A small patch of oaks laden with Spanish moss, bryophytes and Tilandsia provided a stark contrast to the surrounding altered habitat.
Our primary goal just happened to be the Mixtec alligator lizard (Abronia mixteca) . fortunately we were accompanied by Abronia enthusiast Walter Schmidt.
It was an interesting experience to say the least when he found one in 10-15 minutes upon our arrival!
The only snake we encountered at this location was the common Mexican ground snake Conopsis acuta.
The two images above are of the spiny lizard Sceloporus grammicus
The following day we split into three groups and discussed itineraries for field collection sites. The group I was in headed south of Oaxaca city towards the town of Sola de Vega.
We set out to some locations that had been productive for collecting specimens decades earlier. This particular locale was rich in limestone karst
This specimen of the scorpion eating snake Stenorrhina freminvillei was found crossing the highway just south of Sola de Vega one afternoon. As its namesake suggest this snake consumes scorpions, spiders and insects.
With an abundance of bark scorpions (Centruroides sp.) it was clear how the scorpion eating snakes make a living in the area.
This Sierra Madre frog (Lithobates sierramadrensis) was photographed as it quietly sat in the bottom of a stream
Carefully searching for amphibians and reptiles often leads to inadvertent discoveries of interesting invertebrates such as this Gasteracantha sp.
If disturbed, these timid orb weaving spiders will often fall to the ground and remain motionless
Moisture levels in the local forest were sufficient enough for crabs to make terrestrial forays.
Large dynastid beetle larvae were common beneath rotting logs
The occasional presence of the adult dynastid beetle
Found inside a rotten oak log this lung less salamander belonging to the genus Pseudoeurycea may represent a newly discovered species.
With an ostentatious display in the sunlight this bright green male emerald swift (Sceloporus formosus) advertises his resplendent courtship coloration to the smaller yet also attractive female (left).
Unbeknownst to all but those fortunate enough to gaze upon the undersides of the emerald swift, a palette of stunning hues.
A closer inspection of the lizard's scale
Although attractive this female emerald swift bears a much drabber coloration than does her male counterpart.
Full body photograph of a male emerald swift (Sceloporus formosus). Notice how the bright green subtly suffuses into the turquoise blue tail.
Another denizen of rotting oak logs, the shiny peeping frog (Eleutherodactylus nitidius) makes its home in the dark moist environs where it is not only safe from dessication but in close proximity to a ready food supply of insects.
Fleet-footed anoles (Anolis sp.) were commonly encountered throughout a variety of habitats
Herpetologist and curator of herpetology at Zoo Atlanta, Joe Mendelson exemplifies focus while search leaf litter for specimens.
Attention to detail by Joe and the rest of the investigators led to the discovery of this toad (Incilius occidentalis)
and this Mexican pine woods snake Rhadinea (which was actually found by Oscar).
Just outside the town of Juquila we stopped to try an area that looked promising for collecting specimens.
The truck in the photograph is carrying large water tanks which are being filled from the roadside cascade with a long PVC pipe.
With attentive eyes the venerable herpetological hunter Oscar Olivares quickly discovered this handsome Oaxacan alligator lizard (Abronia oaxacae)
These lizards are well adapted for a life amid the branches where having a prehensile tail is very helpful.
Examining the moist leaf litter also allowed the discovery of another treasure. This lung less salamander of the genus Pseudoeurycea that may represent another new species!
With our enthusiasm ignited we left no log un-turned which turned up a rare colubrid snake (Tantilla sp).
Smiles abound after a very fun and productive collecting session!
Often our hotels are replete with their own herpetological diversity. However, it is often no more than the resident geckos such as this tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus).
One of the other groups collected this handsome specimen of Barisia planifrons.
A close up of the head
Despite the priority of locating herpetological specimens it is always important to stop and smell the roses or at least photograph the orchids!
The moist forest in San Jose del Pacifico resonated with the promise of biological wonders
This locality was a virtual wunder-world for mycological enthusiast
Cool climates and sufficient moisture allowed for lots of lush fern growth
Small frogs belonging to the genus Craugastor were found only after paying attention to details on the forest floor
Logging roads permitted us easy access into what would have been a challenging forest to enter.
Ferns and carnivorous plants maintain a tenuous perch along the road cut amid nutrient poor soils. The carnivorous plant shown here is likely Pinguicula moranensis.
This particular type of carnivorous plant traps insects with its sticky broad succulent leaves.
A beautiful female tree frog Plectrohyla ameibothalame was a delight to encounter while searching for amphibians on a wet cold night.
Steep slopes drenched in moisture laden clouds present a challenging yet possible collection site for intrepid herpetologists!
About 24 km southeast of San Pedro Pochutla and 10 km west of Puerto Angel is the seaside town of Mazunte. During the 1970s Mazunte was the location of a sea turtle slaughterhouse.
Most of the inhabitants earned a living working for the slaughterhouse until the 1980s when the number of nest plummeted from more than 900,000 to 100,000!
We were most fortunate to have met Martha Harfush who also showed us the largest known specimen of Rhinoclemmys pulcherima. Martha is a solid turtle-woman and an invaluable educator and conservationist.
The narrow bridged mud turtle (Claudius angustatus)
A leucistic green sea turtle (Chelodina mydas)
This sizable specimen of Taylor's slider (Trachemys taylori) was part of the center's collection.
as was this one
Just to give an idea of how large these turtles grow. Here is Martha holding an adult female.
Click here for video of sea turtles at the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga
Anxious males wait near the shore for an opportunity to mate with nesting females. Scratches and scars bear testimony to their moment of maritime mating.
The female lumbers onto the beach to find a suitable location for nesting.
This female had an old wound that may have been inflicted by a shark
Many of the nesting females had shells that experienced some trauma.
Damaged shells or not the sole purpose of their arrival was to lay their eggs.
Click here for video of The Escobillas arribada at night.
The location of this injury suggest that it may have been caused by a boat propeller.
During the course of nesting females will sometimes accidentally damage and unearth a previously laid clutch of eggs
Small death feigning beetles (Trox sp.) are a significant predator of eggs.
The remains of an egg that was predated by beetles.
While returning to Puerto Angel from Escobillas we encountered this blunt headed tree snake (Imantodes cenchoa)
Our elevation dropped as we got closer to the coast and soon the faunal abundance and composition was noticeably different.
The small tree frog (Dendropsophus robertmertensi) was abundant and males were vocalizing at night en force amid high grasses alongside Hwy 175 near Pochutla.
A color variation of Dendropsophus robertmertensi
Baudin's tree frog (Smilisca baudini) was also another common frog we encountered on the low elevation section of Highway 175.
This species is capable of changing its color as seen by the specimens shown above and below
The marine toad Rhinella marinus was also abundant on the lowland highway.
A boulder strewn creek with cool flowing water not only provided an ideal location for finding more specimens but also a way to cool off from the tropical heat.
The road to Santa Maria Xandani provided a very scenic drive through some wonderful tropical forest.
At night recently metamorphosed tree frogs were found perched atop leaves.
This metamorphosed glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni) was also found on top of a leaf.
The tail stump is almost absorbed.
Colorful tiger beetles were caught unaware as they also used the tops of leaves. However, unlike the frogs these beetles were probably asleep.
Caught off guard by the flash of our cameras, this brown vine snake (Oxybelis aeneus) opened its mouth and displayed the dark interior.
Butterflies of the family Nymphaliidae were seen resting during the night hike.
A female Sceloporus siniferus
Not unlike a semaphore flag of physical fitness, this dewlap of this male Oaxacan oak anole (Anolis quecorum) is used as a visual signal indicating territory and readiness to mate.
This secretive slug eater was found as it crawled through a forest at night. Slug eaters utilize a specialized morphology for securing and consuming their slimy prey. This specimen may represent a new species.
Abounding smiles were often noticed at mealtime! Oaxaca is a wonderful place for culinary adventure and satisfaction!
Grasshoppers are seasoned with peppers, garlic or just plain and represent one of the protein rich meals well suited for the budget minded traveler.
Black mole filled tamales!
Sweet desert tamales!
After a long wet cold night of collecting amphibians we were exhausted when we noticed an interesting highway sign that buoyed our spirits despite the physical discomforts!