Bestiary of the future - reptiles and amphibians
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In this page descriptions of various animals and plants not included to basic chapters are gathered. The wanishing of the description from this part means that you just must search for new chapter in English version of "The incredible world tour to Neocene". Forum

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Reptiles

 
Ink turtle (Sepiochelys atramentophora)
Order: Turtles (Testudiniformes)
Family: Turtles (Emydidae)

Habitat: rivers and lakes of Central Africa.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Conservative and not too numerous group of turtles had suffered the big damage as a result of human activity. Their largest species dwelt in islands had died out the first. After them some endemic continental species which habitats were destroyed by people had died out. The most mass species of sea and freshwater turtles had suffered because of overhunt and unlimited egg gathering. In human epoch areas of the majority of turtles had strongly reduced. Approach of the ice age became one more impact to the variety of this order and besides appreciably reduced the areas suitable for life of these reptiles.
In Neocene the warm climate had permitted to realize chance of a survival to not numerous survived representatives of turtles. In various places of Earth there were species adapted to extreme conditions of inhabiting, or on the contrary, prospering and dominant in favorable conditions. In some habitats turtles even have turned to main predators of the ecosystem. But the majority of turtles remained rather small animals, especially at the continents.
Presence of predators in the ecosystem stimulates the development of various protective adaptations. In rivers of Central Africa the place of crocodiles extinct till Holocene is occupied by the huge representative of Squamata order – huge crocodile monitor lizard. This reptile hunts with the help of sight and sense of smell, and force of its jaws permits this reptile to eat any animal from ones living in rivers. One of turtles living in the neighbourhood of this monster had developed the way to avoid the danger coming from the giant.
It is the aquatic turtle of rather usual appearance – it has flat carapace of rounded outlines, webby paws and large head on mobile and strong neck. Usually it slowly swims near the bottom, searching for forage: freshwater crabs, snails and carrion. When the crocodile monitor lizard or predatory fish starts to chase it, this turtle tries to rescue by flight. But, if the distance between the turtle and its persecutor became critical, the reptile exposes “the second line of defense”: it emits a cloud of black liquid from cloaca and receives some seconds to hide. Hence the name of this reptile – it is ink turtle.
Ink turtle belongs to rather large species: carapace length of adult individual is up to 60 cm at weight over 30 kg. The carapace of ink turtle is colored olive with small black speckles. At old individuals it becomes covered by algal layer, and even by aquatic moss. It serves as additional masking of the reptile.
Skin on legs, neck and head is brownish with set of light spots. On head of animal spots merge to longitudinal strips, and the throat looks much more lighter, rather than skin. Paws of the reptile have palamas between toes – ink turtle swims very well, accelerating momentum under water up to 30 kms per hour. On forepaws of males increased claws grow: they are very long (up to 5 cm), strong and sharp. With their help males fight in courtship season. Claws also help the male to be kept on the carapace of the female till the pairing.
The main weapon of ink turtle is the liquid of black color emitting out in case of danger. In walls of cloacal bladders at this species numerous ink glands accumulating pastelike black dye had appeared. When the turtle is in danger, it squeezes out their secret to cloacal bladders where it mixs up with their contents and is emitting in water as black liquid with unpleasant smell. Ink of this turtle is a little bit similar by action to cephalopods ink: it has poorly narcotic property, and may paralyse olfactory nerves of predator. It has an action at reptiles in some minutes, but sense of smell of fish may be paralysed till half an hour and more. Even the most young ink turtles having length of carapace about 5 centimeters are able to emit ink.
Breeding at ink turtles lasts the year round. Courtship displays of these reptiles are rather primitive: males try to banish each other from the female. The strongest male, having got rid from contenders, starts to swim near the female, trying to bite slightly its paw or neck. When the female shows the submission, stopping attempts to departure, male couples to it and right after this act abandons the female.
Eggs form in organism of the female till 25 – 30 days. For egg laying the reptile leaves in wood, digs out the small hole in ground and lays simultaneously up to 8 – 11 eggs. Having dug the nest, it is not interested in destiny of posterity any more. The incubating lasts about 40 days. For one year the female can make up to three clutches.

Algal turtle (Thalassotestudo algophaga)
Order: Turtles (Testudines)
Family: Tortoises (Testudinidae)

Habitat: Tanganyika passage, coastal thickets of seaweed. Young growth lives in estuaries of the rivers.

Picture by Tim Morris, the improvement by Alexander Smyslov

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov - the initial image

Before man began attack to nature, at sea meadows overgrown with seaweed and sea grasses, large herbivorous water mammals – sirens (Sirenia) – grazed. Unlimited hunting has resulted to that dugong and manatees became very rare, and Steller’s sea cow dwelt in Pacific Ocean had been exterminated at all. Ecological crisis of the end of Holocene had resulted in extinction of the rests of sea herbivorous animals. When balance in ecosystems of Earth was restored, seaweed and sea flowering plants began to occupy much more extensive territories, than in Holocene – they have taken place of productive communities earlier belonging to coral reeves. In early Neocene at algal “pastures” only numerous shoals of omnivorous fishes fed. But later new eaters, reptiles, huge algal turtles, had added to them.
They are not descendants of sea turtles, existed millions years and suffered from the human in Holocene, but completely independent group of reptiles. They had descended from one of species of herbivorous tortoises, and the combination of unpretentiousness and diet has permitted them to gain sea meadows. Certainly, many species of water turtles had gone through ecological crisis, but they are predators and can not pass to vegetarian diet completely.
Algal turtle is rather large species of reptiles: the length of its carapace reaches 1 meter. As at all turtles living in water, the carapace of algal turtle has the streamline oval form. Head at this species is very big, with strong cutting jaws. In case of need this turtle can defend itself from any predator by bites. Head does not retract under carapace, therefore additional protection was developed on it: it is covered with special convex osseous scute. The top part of carapace at algal turtle is colored light brown, but this colouring can be invisible because of layer of the special microscopic algae settling on carapace. When turtle creeps out on coast, algae cells form mucous membranes protecting from drying in the sun, and due to what survive. Therefore carapaces of turtles, as a rule, have more or less appreciable greenish shade. The plastron of turtle is colored yellowish-white. Skin on neck and basis of legs is grey-green, on head and legs gray-brown. Males are larger than females, their plastron in bend, as at all turtles; around of eye of the adult male the ring of large thick scales of yellow color develops – it is a distinctive attribute of the sexual matured male. Besides at males on forepaws the thick claws grow, necessary for female keeping at pairing.
Column-like legs of tortoises have turned at algal turtle to flat oar-like flippers. This reptile perfectly swims and can dive for a long time, feeding with underwater vegetation. But on land flipper-like paws are almost useless: the turtle moves on sand hardly, dragging body like a seal. However it does not create problems for turtle: this species of reptiles inhabits eastern coast of Tanganyika passage belonging to Eastern - African subcontinent (Zinj Land) where large predators are not found. And against small and medium-sized predators both in water and on land the algal turtle is reliably protected with carapace.
The most important danger, with which the descendant of ground animals faces passing to life in sea, is the danger of dehydration: concentration of salts in sea water is more, than in blood of animals. The organism of ground turtles is adapted to economical expenditure of internal stocks of water that had permitted to ancestors of algal turtle to occupy sea. For more effective life in sea water at turtle in eye-sockets large salt glands were developed. When turtle gets out on land, it can seem, that it “weeps”. Actually it is the work of salt gland, removing surplus of salts from blood. The brine flows down on each side of heads of the turtle having a rest on coast. From time to time the reptile rubs head against forepaws, cleaning off crust of salt.
On the coast turtles are basking after nourishing dinner, having stretched flippers in sides. The gathering of turtles from afar is a little similar to rookery of seals, but almost full silence here reigns: turtles do not utter loud sounds. Knock of carapaces when any turtle pushes another one, crawling on sand, or hissing when two turtle males sort out their relationships in breeding season, is only heard sometimes. Turtles live in gathering in common and at the same time separately: each of them perceives neighbours only as an annoying obstacle at the way to meal or the sand heated up by sun. They are united only with presence of meal – thickets of sea grasses and seaweed waving in shallow waters.
In water awkwardness of turtles vanishes: alternately moving by paws, they dive to the bottom and bite sprouts of sea grasses. Each turtle is constantly accompanied with school of small fishes: so it is much safer to them, besides turtle muddles sand, facilitating search of tiny invertebrates. Some small fishes scrap seaweed overgrown back of the reptile, others tear rags of skin exfoliating at shed. The turtle has nobody to be afraid of: monstrous sharks, capable to bite through half-and-half its carapace are not found here. Only before storm turtles creep out to the coast and even go deep into coastal wood: waves easily can carry away any algal turtle to the sea or (that it is even worse) simply break against rock.
At young algal turtles salt gland is not advanced yet. However, it is not so vital for them: in youth they do not live in sea water. Algal turtle, as against sea turtles of Holocene, does not bury eggs at the sea coast. Fertilized females leave coast, swim up rivers deep into woods of Zinj Land. Turtles from islands near continental coast should cross a passage for this purpose. In forest turtles crawl out searching for soft ground, suitable for the nest arranging.
Having found the likely place, turtle digs out by hinder legs small hole where lays about 30 rounded white eggs. After that it fills nest up with wood dust, some times crawls across it, and then comes back to the river. Weakened after egg laying turtles are floating in current, having a rest. At this time they eat of nothing.
If the laying will not be dug out by inhabitants of wood, after 3 - 4 months young turtles will hatch out. They at once search for water, with the help of sense of smell precisely determining concentration of water vapor in air. Having found the river, young turtles live in it the first year of life, gradually passing down from wood streams to the basic channel and further to river mouth. Later, when salt glands will develop, young turtles will leave in the sea. Sexual maturity at them will come at the age of 10 years, and common life expectancy can reach 150 years and even more.

Spike-headed tortoise (Cephalotestudo strobilocervix)
Order: Turtles (Testudines)
Family: Tortoises (Testudinidae)

Habitat: Galapagos Islands, bush and forest.
In human epoch Galapagos Islands were rather well-known due to huge tortoises. Sluggish reptiles had become original “visiting card” of islands, and even other name of Galapagos Islands is “Tortoise Islands”. The destiny of these reptiles in historical epoch had balanced at the edge of nonexistence: in the beginning because of extermination of tortoises by people, and then because of their competition with introduced mammals. But tortoises managed to survive successfully due to the world surrounded them. Galapagos Islands differ in driest climate though are located in the ocean. At these islands there are no rivers, and there are no constant water sources. In such conditions in combination with hot climate few mammal could exist normally. Therefore an ice age when the amount of deposits had even more reduced, introduced animals had started to die out, and tortoises, on the contrary, began to master rather actively becoming empty territories from which they were superseded earlier by introduced and feral mammals.
Spike-headed tortoise is one of few descendants of representatives of native fauna of islands. This is a large creature which has kept characteristic shape of the tortoise: the carapace length reaches two meters at one meter height and width about one and half meters. Outlines of carapace are rounded, above the neck the edge of carapace is bent upwards, forming characteristic “collar”. Carapace colouring is light grey with darker middle of scutes. Legs of this tortoise are similar to elephant’s ones; they have large hoof-like claws and thick corneous scutes. Weight of adult reptile reaches 500 kg and more; males are approximately 20 % heavier than females.
This tortoise eats leaves and branches, and can reach them due to a long neck. It is able to eat plants up to height of one and half meters above the ground. But the neck creates a vital issue for this tortoise: it can not retract under the carapace completely, and predators appeared at islands together with people, could easily attack these reptiles. Therefore till the process of evolution at tortoises the interesting protective adaptation giving to them fantastical appearance was developed. At young tortoises on back edge of head and on neck some ring lines of corneous spikes protecting head from bite of predator are located. At adult tortoises bases of thorns gradually expand in continuous rings of corneous scutes, and sharp tips of spikes gradually erase. But the adult tortoise is able to protect itself actively: it bites, and its jaws are very strong: they easily bite off pieces of lignificated trunks of local huge cactuses. Young tortoises, protecting themselves from attack, brandish a head (neck at this species is very flexible), trying to strike a blow to predator.
Spike-headed tortoises avoid open places, but in woods and bushes they thread out the true circuit of wide tracks. These creatures are not inclined to communication with congeners: they meet together only at rich in forage sites, but even in this case each tortoise keeps separately, not paying attention to congeners.
These reptiles eat various vegetation including plants inedible for other herbivores: they willingly eat leaves and branches of poisonous plants of spurges family, and also prickly sprouts of cactuses making a basis of flora of Galapagos Islands in Neocene.
The courtship season at these reptiles lasts practically the year round: presence of the female ready to pairing stimulates activity of males. Courtship ritual at these tortoises does not differ in special complexity: males push each other away from the chosen female, hiss and strike each other by heads, trying to hit in unprotected place between neck and forward legs. The male had won in duel shows itself to the female: he walks around of her on extended legs, from time to time striking on edge of her carapace. The female at this time retracts head and legs under carapace, showing submission to him.
Till the year female lays eggs up to three times. In clutch it may be about 20 eggs a little bit smaller than goose egg by size. Female lays them in secluded place in bush, and does not come back any more to the nest. Incubating lasts about two months. Young tortoises at once leave nest and hide from enemies in thickets of cactuses. They grow slowly, and reach the maturity only at 30-th year of life at carapace length of about one meter. Up to this time many of them perish from enemies – rodents and birds. But all the same the population of tortoises of this species at Galapagos Isles is numerous. Life expectancy at this species is extraordinary long; it also may make over 200 years.

Collarbill tortoise (Ramphotestudo dorsognatha)
Order Turtles (Chelonia)
Family Tortoises (Testudinidae)

Habitat: tropical forests of Zinj Land.

Picture by Mex

Turtles are rather conservative group of reptiles: having evolved at Earth in Triassic period, they actually did not change the anatomy features, differing mainly by the habit of life. Protective tactics of these animals remained practically identical from the moment of occurrence of these reptiles – at any age they entirely relied on passive protection with the help of carapace.
Passive protection is not the best one – not receiving due repulse, predator finds an opportunity to force a reptile by ruse to jut out from under the carapace, and to kill it. Therefore various species of turtles used active defense for protection: some of them became fast swimmers, and others began to bite. But the most original way of active defense was developed by tortoises living in tropical forests of Zinj Land. On the top part of the carapace above a head at them the narrow strong wedge-shaped outgrowth of edge scutes, sticking up forward, is developed. This outgrowth resembles a horn of the rhinoceros beetle or a beak of some bird species. For this feature this tortoise is named the collarbill tortoise.
Collarbill tortoise is the medium-sized reptile: length of carapace of adult individual is about 30 cm, but usually it is much smaller. Its shape is typical for turtles, but there are some essential differences. The head of this reptile is very big and consequently it can not be retracted under the carapace completely. But this feature does not prevent, and on the contrary, helps this tortoise to defend. On the head of this tortoise the thick corneous scute with several jags sticking upwards above nostrils and eyes was developed. Head and the outgrowth at forward edge of carapace form the kind of “pincers”, like at males of Hercules beetle (Dynastes): having pressed head to this outgrowth, the tortoise “bites” predator, clamping its paw or tail, as if any alive trap. Strong cervical muscles attaching to the top edge of carapace help this tortoise to compress “jaws”. Force of the “bite” is so great, that even the adult tortoise can hang on aggressor and do it till some minutes.
Despite of such protection, this tortoise nevertheless prefers to hide from predators. It lives in underbrush, and leaves to feed in hottest time of day when the activity mammal is reduced. This reptile eats mainly plants and mushrooms, and especially willingly regales itself with fruit dropped from trees. Moreover the collarbill tortoise eats eggs of birds nesting on the ground, and snails.
The carapace of the collarbill tortoise is colored contrastly: it is light yellow with dark spots in the centre of each scute. Young tortoises have no such protective adaptation; they are colored almost black color; also they are timid and hide from enemies in bushes. “Beak” starts to grow at them at the approach of sexual maturity – it happens approximately to the tenth year of life. In same time on edges of scutes light corneous cover appears, and the tortoise becomes spotty.
The basic destination of this “beak” is to be the weapon in tournament fights of males. In courtship season they become even more aggressive, than usually are: reptiles creep in forest, trying to “bite” by outgrowths any moving object suitable in the size. It happens they hook by head and crush lizards and smaller tortoises of other species, and even try to attack birds. Having met each other, males try to hook by head and to overturn the contender. Thus they puff throat and hiss – it is a unique sound which they can utter. Having met the female, male begins displays: it creeps around the female, pushing her by “beak”. During the display male taps with a head on “beak” at the carapace from below. The female has lesser “beak”, and she does not render resistance to the displaying male.
Pairing occurs quickly, and male abandons the female. From six to seven weeks after pairing female lays 6 – 8 eggs in simple nest as a small hole, dug out by hinder legs in wood ground. Having laid eggs, she crawls across the nest some times, and then masks it additionally. For this purpose the tortoise digs out some small shallow holes (“false nests”) near the true nest, fills them up with the ground, simulating the dug nest, and does not care of clutch any more. The incubating lasts about three months; young tortoises at once leave nest and hide in bushes.
At the western coast of Zinj Land the close species lives: it is “fanged” tortoise (Ramphotestudo odontophora). At this tortoise above the head deflexed edges of scutes stick up, forming something like toothed jaw. Its head is wide and angular, and above eyes strong sharp spikes serving for “biting” grow. This tortoise also differs in increased aggression.

Mole tortoise (Subterraneotestudo talpina)
Order Turtles (Chelonia)
Family Tortoises (Testudinidae)

Habitat: islands (“oases”) of Mediterranean swamps.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Live creatures select various strategies of survival at change of environment conditions. They can move in searches of suitable to life conditions or to change habit of life, adapting to new environment. Such choice had been chosen by Mediterranean tortoise (Testudo graeca) when conditions of life in the Mediterranean had started to change. The sea without the connection with ocean because of formation of the Gibraltar isthmus gradually had dried up, having transformed district favorable for life earlier to rigorous desert with extreme conditions of environment. Rather favorable conditions had kept only at tops of mountains sticking up among salt desert - at former islands of the Mediterranean. Tortoises dwelt there, had been compelled to adapt to such conditions. And the part of population of Mediterranean tortoise had acted easy and more artfully: they simply began to avoid influence of extreme factors, having disappeared under the ground and having turned to the special kind of digging tortoises.
It is too difficult to believe that this descendant of Mediterranean tortoise is the close relative of huge Antheos tortoise playing the same role at these small islands, that large ground herbivorous mammal at continents. The mole tortoise almost constantly lives under the ground, occasionally creeping out on a surface to get warm in beams of the morning and evening sun. In the afternoon this reptile digs holes and disappears in them from the sun drying up heat.
Armour of mole tortoise is extended and rather high; its length is no more than 30 cm. Scutes of carapace are smooth: it reduces resistance at movement in holes. Main digging instruments of this creature is head with strong beak, and thick sharp claws on forepaws. Eyes of this turtle are very small, and sight sense is bad. During digging the ground the reptile blinks thick eyelids at all. The firmest and dry ground easily yields to pressure of this creature: by beak the tortoise loosens ground, and wide forepaws rakes it back. The back edge of carapace is movably jointed with other carapace, and can fall down with the help of contraction of special muscles. This adaptation, on the one hand, protects tortoise from attacks behind, and on the other hand, helps to rake away and push the dug out ground from hole. Hinder legs of mole tortoise are armed with strong claws and become reliable support during ground digging.
This reptile eats mainly at the surface of the ground, leaving holes at night. It eats greenery of treelike salttrees and other plants meeting in “oases” of the Mediterranean, adding to leaves ripe fruits and small invertebrates. At night these tortoises also can ravage ground nests of birds and eat carrion. In the afternoon this reptile does not go hungry too: it undermines roots of plants and eats them. Also it eats tubers and bulbs of grassy plants.
During the rigorous Mediterranean spring when rains from Atlantic and Northern Sea overcome mountain ridges, at mole tortoises the courtship season begins. At night, when fog falls on the ground, these tortoises leave holes. Between males there are duels accompanying with knock of carapaces and hissing of excited “grooms”. The male tries to impress the female, accompanying the courtship with impacts of claws of forward legs on her carapace. Pairing occurs at night on the ground surface. The second wave of breeding takes place in an autumn but then pairing occurs not so roughly. After pairing the female lays in deep hole eggs in amount no more than 5 – 6 ones. For egg laying the female chooses a hole in bottom layers of ground, digs out a small hole in its bottom, lays eggs and buries them. After that female crawls out and does not care any more of posterity. Such process repeats twice per year. At this tortoise the interesting feature had developed: oosperms can develop with high degree of probability further, and from such kind of eggs the normal posterity hatches. The sex of posterity is determined by an ambient temperature, therefore parthenogenetic populations at this tortoise do not appear. But in different “oases” there are the subspecies distinguished in size and coloring of carapace.
The incubating of eggs lasts about two months. Young tortoises are completely independent. In winter when the temperature is cooler, the posterity of autumn laying can remain in nest till the next spring. Young animals live in tunnels dug by adult tortoises, and eat the same food, as adult individuals. They become sexual mature at ten years' age and can live over hundred years.

Cutting-beaked tortoise (Agrionemys teratognathus)
Order: Tortoises (Testudines)
Family: Tortoises (Testudinidae)

Habitat: semidesert in Persian Ridge region.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

Human era had caused great damage to the representatives of turtle group – the largest representatives of these reptiles died out or became a rarity in the historical epoch. But in fact the negative influence began much earlier: in Pliocene and Pleistocene the diversity of large tortoises decreased at the species level at the background of development and proliferation of ground-dwelling hominids: first australopithecines, and then humans.
At the end of the historic epoch tortoises in the wild had been present exclusively as small and medium-sized forms, and the larger species remained in a small number almost exclusively in captivity and in conditions of strict protection. After the end of human epoch and the ice age the tortoises started the return to their lost positions - among them many large species appeared, and they evolved independently in various places of the Earth.
In the semi-deserts appeared in Persian Ridge area the large species of tortoises appeared – it is a descendant of Horsfield’s tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii). Its peculiar feature is very large head, which does not fit under carapace and has its own protective corneous shield. A significant part of the head is made of huge jaws with sharp edges, hence the name of this tortoise.
This is a fairly large species of terrestrial reptiles: the length of an adult one’s carapace reaches 70-80 cm and it weighs of up to 60-70 kg. Females are larger than males, but males have larger head, and the schield on it is covered with lots of bumps on edges and is used as a weapon.
Cutting-beaked tortoises have a certain food specialization, allowing them to avoid competition to closely related species and to use a very accessible source of food. These reptiles feed on large hard grasses and on branches of shrubs. Due to the low sensitivity to alkaloids they easily eat large bulbs of stony onion (Petroallium petrops). The opened jaws of cutting-beaked tortoise really look like garden shears – the cutting edge of lower jaw is curved up and it looks heavier than the upper one. Edges of horny beak are self-sharpening and do not get blunt when the tortoise eats hard food. Sometimes these reptiles eat food of animal origin: small vertebrates and carrion. To replenish the calcium stock in its body cutting-beaked tortoise gnaws dry bones. If there is water nearby, these tortoises drink it willingly and often.
To protect themselves from overheating these reptiles have very light colour of shells: scutes are grey with darker centre. The reptile’s dry and wrinkled skin is greyish-white. Besides these tortoises live in places where the ground vegetation – tall herbaceous plants and shrubs – is present.
The life of these reptiles is exposed to the seasonal rhythm. These animals spend the winter hibernating in burrows they dig with paws and beak. In early spring these tortoises emerge from wintering shelters and in 10-12 days they are already ready to breeding. During the mating time males are very active – they quickly pursue each other and bite the legs and edges of the carapace. At the high number of tortoises on their “display grounds” the continuous sounds of striking shells (the males encourage females to copulation with their shell strikes) and the hoarse rumbling of males are heard. In May, at the beginning of the dry season, the females lay 2-5 eggs 5 cm long in underground nest, making three nests in a short time. In October the tortoise eggs hatch and the hatchlings stay under ground for wintering, leaving for the surface only at the next year spring. Although they grow up a bit during the winter due to the remnants of egg yolk, their shells are still soft and therefore they are very vulnerable. At the age of 25 years young reptiles reach the average adult size and maturity. Their life expectancy is great: some individuals live up to 125 years.

The idea of the existence of this species of reptiles is proposed by Nick, the forum member.
Translated by Bhut

Elasmosaurine hydromedusa (Herpetomedusa elasmosauroides)
Order: Turtles (Testudines)
Family: Snake-necked turtles (Chelidae)
Habitat: rivers of tropical zone of South America.

Picture by Carlos Pizcueta (Electreel)

Sometimes successful types of anatomy met in any group of animals, can be successfully shown in another one, though in another form. This situation had taken place at Neocenic water turtles of South America: among them one absolutely unusually looking creature had appeared more similar to plesiosaurs for a long time missed from face of Earth. Turtles are rather conservative by their anatomy group of reptiles, but features of their structure have permitted developing of such original design.
The inhabitant of great rivers of South America, the elasmosaurine hydromedusa, is externally very similar to any dwarfish plesiosaurus: the neck length one and half time surpasses length of carapace. It precisely repeats principle of constitution of this sea reptile: long flexible neck permits to seize dexterously the most agile catch under water, and the massive body serves as reliable point of support, allowing making throw. In cervical of this turtle the number of vertebrae is increased (up to 30 vertebrae), and joints between them are improved; due to it neck has got significant flexibility and mobility. But such structure has the return side: head of this turtle can not retract under carapace. But this reptile lives far from coast, in thickness of water, and large predators of South-American rivers, able to harm it, prefer coastal habitats.
Elasmosaurine hydromedusa is adapted to pelagic habit of life: it is tireless swimmer seldom getting out on riverbank. Extremities of this turtle are oar-like, wide and long, and lengthened fingers form similarity of flippers. At males on forepaw two long thick claws are advanced, and on hips of hinder legs there are long corneous heels. The reptile moves basically due to simultaneous flaps of forepaws, hinder legs during swimming serve as rudders. To improve this animal covered with carapace, keeping in water easily and do not sink, under carapace thick layer of fat serving as float is accumulated. Additional buoyancy to turtle is given with the porous bones impregnated with fat, and voluminous lungs. Horn plates of carapace at this turtle in youth are as thick and strong, as at other turtles of comparable size, but at the adult reptile they are appreciably thinner, than at other turtles. Length of carapace is about 1.7 m, weight of adult animal is up to 250 kgs. Tail at this turtle is short, serving basically for storage of fat stock.
Scutes of carapace of the elasmosaurine hydromedusa are smooth and skintight to each other. On medial scutes of carapace at turtles there are small vertical keels, at males a little more sticking up, than at females.
The top part of carapace at the elasmosaurine hydromedusa is colored light brown with darker spots in the centre of each scute. Abdominal shell (plastron) is white with contrast black spots. Neck and extremities at the adult turtle are colored gray-blue with dim white longitudinal strips, at young individuals – dark-brown with grey-green strips. At males an iris of the eye is red, at females it is pale yellow.
Head of the elasmosaurine hydromedusa is wide with strong jaws. Males are more “large-headed”, than females. Edges of jaws are sharp, cutting, and tips of jaws are bent like beak. This turtle eats fishes and other water animals. Young turtles of this species search for water insects, river shrimps and crabs. They live in coastal zone (it is the reason of their darker colouring in comparison with adult reptiles) and do not compete to larger representatives of the species. Growing up, they start to hunt fish in thickness of water and to develop deep-water sites of the river. Adult turtles live far from coast and eat mainly fishes. They also can catch water birds (seizing them from below from under water) and eat corpses of sunken animals. The elasmosaurine hydromedusa almost does not creep to land, only sometimes it has a rest, having clung by paw to trees floating in river or fallen in water.
These turtles are solitary animals meeting together only in pairing season. Because in river it is difficult to mark any conditional borders between sites, turtles simply try to avoid company of each other. Sometimes some turtles surround one large shoal of fishes, but during hunting they operate not together, differing, for example, from dolphins or pelicans.
Hunting turtle tries to catch up planned fish and to push it to water surface. It makes sharp lunges by head, biting fish. Sharp jaws of turtle can literally shear across smaller catch, and to larger animal it puts deep wounds and catches prey weakened from loss of blood. If the preyed fish is too great, turtle simply bites off from it pieces and swallows them. Usually it eats catch while it keeps on water, and does not dive for sunken one. The full turtle has a rest and is basked at the sun, floating on surface of water and occasionally flapping flippers to keep on current.
The pairing season is time when turtles pay attention to the neighbours though any time. Elasmosaurine hydromedusas breed the most part of year, making a break only in dry season. In northern part of area seasonal prevalence in breeding of this turtle is not present. The female ready to pairing emits in water musk liquid, involving males by smelling trace. Sometimes the chain of several males follows such female showing the keenest interest to it. At turtles constant pairs do not form, and female basically is indifferent, what male will be father of its youngs. Males moving by breeding instinct, push away each other from the female, and try to hook by claws for edge of its carapace.
Males never leave water, except for cases when the river or lake where they live, become shallow and dries up. And females annually should make hard way to land to lay eggs. They hardly move overland, dragging massive body forward by flippers, and pushing by back ones. On land the elasmosaurine hydromedusa is very sluggish and clumsy.
However, the female occupied with the nest making, is not defenceless, similarly to sea turtles of Holocene epoch: powerful jaws and long neck allow it to keep nest ravaging lovers at respectful distance. If any predator especially desiring to eggs (for example, the otterodent, large local river rodent) will approach too close, turtle warns of the intention to protect, opening wide mouth and loudly hissing. If threats of the reptile are not taken seriously, it can seize by sharp attack the uninvited visitor and then it is possible to get rid of its stranglehold, perhaps, only having torn off turtle’s head or having left in its jaws a fair piece of own skin. And due to flexibility of the neck turtle can keep all-round defense, simultaneously digging nest for the posterity.
In one clutch it can be up to 20 - 25 eggs. Their incubating lasts more than three months, in colder southern areas delaying up to five months. Young turtles with length of carapace about 5 cm live in shallow wood streams, eating small fishes and shrimps. Dark colouring helps them to mask at the bottom among fallen leaves. For improvement of masking at young turtles on sides of neck and legs skinny scalloped outgrowths develop. Young turtles catch prey by sharp throw of head, not leaving shelter.
At growing up reptiles behavior and shape change: colouring brightens, and young turtle starts to catch fishes, chasing them in thickness of water more often, and, at last, at the age of six years completely turns to pelagic predator. The ten years' turtle becomes able to breed, and the age limit of this species can pass for 130 - 150 years.

Atlantic bat turtle (Pteromedusa vespertilionina)
Order Tortoises (Testudinata)
Family False scuteless turtles (Neoathecae)

Habitat: tropical latitudes of Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Pacific coast of Central America.
In Neocene reptiles have made one more resolute attempt to win a sea inhabitancy. Warming of climate in Neocene epoch, and also the mass extinction of cetaceans, pinnipeds and many other sea inhabitants had permitted them to develop pelagic habit of life. In tropical latitudes of Pacific Ocean the huge sharkodile, one of last species of crocodiles reigns. Except for it, various turtles live in sea. They are not descendants of sea turtles of Holocene epoch. Some species of sea turtles of Neocene descend even from tortoises. The algal turtle from Tanganyika Passage separating Africa and Zinj Land is those, for example. But this reptile does not leave far from the coast. But other turtles have developed true pelagic habit of life. They meet at open ocean far from coast, and need the ground only for egg laying.
Water literally boils under impacts of mighty flippers, when one of such turtles emerges to the ocean surface to make some breaths. It represents an impressive show: the body is up to five – six meters in length at width over two meters. And the span of huge forward flippers even exceeds the general length of the reptile. They are very similar to wings of huge bat, hence the name of the turtle – the bat turtle. Some loud breaths follow, and the giant plunges in water again. Having emerged to the surface and having recovered breath properly, this turtle may not emerge till two hours. It even sleeps hanging in thickness of water, and only slightly moving by flippers.
The body of the bat turtle keeps the flattened streamline form characteristic for turtles, but has no main feature of turtles – firm armour. Instead of corneous scutes it is covered with thick rough skin, as at the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys) extinct to Neocene. But bat turtles are not lineal descendants of these animals – they descend from one species of freshwater turtles of South America. The heavy armour is not necessary for this reptile - it prevents to swim, and speed protects it from enemies, but not only it. The principal organ of movement of this turtle is the pair of long forward extremities similar to wings. Flapping them up and down, the turtle can swim accelerating for a long time the speed more than 30 kms per hour, and at the short distance it even may accelerate up to 60 kms per hour. Shoulder and forearm at this reptile are rather short, but hand and fingers are very long: they amount more than half of length of forward extremity. Bones of fingers are wide and flattened, connected by elastic skin membrane, and the short thumb is not connected by membrane and has some mobility. With its help the male keeps the female at pairing, and the female clings to ground creeping out to the land for egg laying. The back edge of forward extremity is joined to side of turtle with the help of rag of mobile and extensible skin. This feature makes the bat turtle very similar to gigantic bat swimming under water. Back extremities of the reptile are modified to short and wide flippers serving for turns and maintenance of balance. Their length hardly probable makes third of length of forward flippers.
The body of this reptile is colored softly dark grey color with small amount of dim dark spots on back. The bottom part of body at these turtles is light grey. Such colouring helps the animal to mask in thickness of water. But masking and speed not always can help to escape from predators, especially to young turtles. Therefore this species has one more weapon very effective against underwater predators, from large squids to the sharkodile. Already at early age at young turtles in cloacal bladders glands secreting very poisonous paralytic substance develop. It represents transparent yellowish liquid; escaping from predator, the turtle emits it out in water. When the predator swims through the cloud of such substance, receptors in its mouth and olfactory bodies appear paralyzed till some hours. Besides these turtles are able to protect themselves actively, biting the enemy by strong jaws. The adult turtle of this species having reached the maximal size does not have enemies.
At bat turtle there is wide flattened head with short, narrow and high beak. They eat various food which may be found in sea. Atlantic bat turtle differs in bias to vegetarianism. It often meets by big groups at algal fields near New Azora Island, and near thickets of sea salad in Caribbean Sea. Young turtles of this species keep near to coast and eat macroalgae growing at the bottom, and adult individuals pass to pelagic life. Only females once a year come back to land to lay eggs.
Pairing at these turtles takes place at open ocean. It is preceded by primitive courtship displays. At this time males chase the female and push each other away from her by body. During courtship displays the skin on head of the male becomes bright: along the side of head through an eye black strip stretches, and the throat turns bright blue color. The iris of the eye at the male is white, and it is clearly distinguished on the background of head. The winner male tries to keep the female, seizing her by beak for edge of the carapace. When he succeeds to do it, he creeps on the female and couples with it. Pairing lasts till some hours.
After the pairing in organism of the female eggs ripen within approximately 5 months. They are too small for the multiton giant, but all the same they have the impressive size: length is up to 20 cm at the width about 10 cm. The clutch of this reptile may number up to 100 – 120 eggs. All turtles of this species breed in the same place – in South America, at the land area between Amazon and Hyppolite rivers. They swim up-stream in these rivers to tens kilometers far from the coast, and lay eggs at sandy riverbanks. The nest of this turtle is a hole about one and half meters deep. The female digs eggs in sand and leaves them to the mercy of fate.
If 3 months of incubating pass successfully, young little turtle with the length of carapace about 15 cm hatches from egg. The hatching of young turtles passes almost simultaneously, but each young turtle should independently dig the way through the thickness of sand for itself. Such work lasts up to three or four hours. Usually it starts in the afternoon when the sun warms up sand well, and is finished up to the night. Young turtles appear in water simultaneously, form schools and swim downstream to the sea. The mass downstream migration of young bat turtles takes place at night within approximately one week, but separate singles swim downstream till about next two weeks. The considerable part of them becomes prey of fishes and other inhabitants of the river whereas schools of young turtles suffer less damage from predators.
Young bat turtles grow rather quickly: till the first years of life they increase 2 – 3 cm in length; farther up to 60-years age they grow up to 5 cm per one year. At this time they reach maturity, but further their growth is slowed down. But they reach the really the monstrous size due to the large life expectancy: the bat turtle may live over 250 years.
Other species of this group live in oceans:

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Pacific bat turtle (Pteromedusa velonectes) differs from the Atlantic congener in smaller size: the length of the adult reptile exceeds 5 meters seldom, and usually exceeds 4 meters only a little. At this reptile colouring of body is gray-blue without dark spots. Sometimes the reptile gets an appreciable greenish shade because of symbiotic green algae settling on its skin. Forward flippers of this turtle are narrower, and back ones are more lengthened, rather than at the Atlantic species. This turtle swims faster, than the Atlantic species. It also differs in greater aggression, and frequently attacks the enemy: some sharkodiles have deep scars on a body, and sometimes the tip of the flipper at them appears bitten off – these are traces of counterattacks of turtles of this species. Pacific bat turtle eats mainly pelagic invertebrates – jellyfishes and gardenersalpas. It breeds at Hawaii, swims upstream in rivers and lays eggs in soft forest ground.
Dwarf bat turtle (Micropteromedusa australis) lives in the Southern hemisphere. This species, on contrary to the relatives, do not keep away from coast. It lives along the coast of Meganesia and New Zealand, and the separate population inhabits Eyre Gulf, not having contact to ocean populations of this species at all. The length of body of dwarf bat turtle does not exceed two meters. It also differs in more advanced claws on forward flippers and massive head, and its beak is not cutting, but crushing. This reptile is zoophagous – it eats molluscs, crabs and dead fishes. Populations of open ocean breed at small islands near the coast of New Zealand; for this purpose individuals from the coast of Meganesia gather to schools and cross Tasman Sea. The population from Eyre Gulf breeds at northern coast of Tasmania. For the breeding females of this population had to cross sandy shallows in the mouth of gulf till the inflow.

The idea about the existence of this group of animals was stated by Tim Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Leaf-looking gecko (Phyllogekko platysomus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Geckoes (Gekkonidae)

Habitat: woods of Equatorial Africa.
If large animals can expect to own force and size in case of danger, tiny creatures had to resort more often to tricks to not get to somebody for dinner. One of prevalent dodges in animal kingdom is masking. Managing to pretend to what you are not (and mainly - does not causing appetite in predator), it is possible to receive quite good chance to survive. Various insects frequently act so, simulating branches, knots, leaves of various degrees of freshness. In Neocene epoch in tropical woods of Africa another kind of imitator had appeared: it is small forest lizard, the gecko simulating tree leaf.
Leaf-looking gecko lives on trees, inhabiting branches in forest canopy at height of several tens meters above the ground. It is rather large for the gecko though its body length including tail does not exceed 20 cm, and tail accounts about one third of general length. The body of this lizard is strongly flattened in dorsoventral direction, simulating leaves of tree. On edges of body and tail the wide skinny border grows, forming scalloped outgrowths: it helps animal to look rather convincingly, simulating insect-eating leaves. Besides outgrowths on edges of body help to reduce up to a minimum treacherous shadow can come to naught masking of the reptile. Head of leaf-looking gecko is flat, eyes are strongly spread and look in sides. Above eyes triangular skinny outgrowths stick up in sides, masking them at sight from above.
The body shape is harmoniously supplemented with colouring. The body of leaf-looking gecko is colored from above bright green. Along back thin light strip passes simulating middle nerve of leaf, and on each side there are short cross strips. At edges of lateral outgrowths of body there are some brown irregular-shaped spots: it is the imitation of damaged leaves. Even eyes of this lizard are perfectly masked: the iris of the eye is colored green, and vertical pupil may be voluntary narrowed up to the thinnest crack, imperceptible at passing to the hidden lizard. When this gecko sits on branch or on leaf, having turned up paws under body, it cannot be founded while it’ll move.
But the belly of leaf-looking gecko is colored deliberately contrast: at males it is black with red spots and dubs, and at females it is one-color black one. Such distinction helps to individuals of different sexes to distinguish each other.
To live on the tree, it is not enough to have only cryptic colouring. Paws of many geckoes, even largest ones, are well advanced and also are very tenacious due to set of microscopic fibers taking place on their bottom side. The leaf-looking gecko is not exception here: its wide flat fingers are adapted to keeping even on smooth surface of leaves.
Main food of this species of geckoes is insects. Large cockroaches and small termites – all of them are devoured with identical pleasure. The leaf-looking gecko supplements insect diet with small snails and ripe fruits with soft pulp, even little bit begun to rot.
By their nature leaf-looking geckoes are solitary animals. They occupy the certain territory somewhere in crone of tree, and zealously preserve it against neighbours. Each lizard declares its rights to territory by the loud cries similar simultaneously to bark of tiny doggy and voice of the newborn crocodile. If any gecko will come to the territory occupied by another one, owner of territory at first tries to banish it, having started to shout more loudly and more often. If the newcomer does not go away, the owner leaves shelter and creeps towards to the unbidden visitor. Both opponents start to show themselves, having risen on legs and from time to time sharply nodding heads. But such demonstration does not proceed long: the newcomer either leaves in good time or fight begins. Both lizards bite each other, drag each other by legs or lateral outgrowths of body. Usually in this case both opponents get numerous scratches from sharp teeth of the neighbour.
Only time when such selfish creatures willingly suffer presence of strangers (but not everyone!) at their territory is breeding time. In courtship season males of leaf-looking gecko show bright belly, involving females. For this purpose they hang on branch headfirst, gripping it only by back paws. Thus they utter the special cry similar to chirp of bird. The female has entered to territory of the male, should show two signals: belonging to fair sex and humility. Coming nearer to the male, she turns a head by bottom jaw to his side. It allows to see color of throat of the female, having no bright spots, and simultaneously tames aggression of the male as very weak spot is shown to him.
Pairing lasts some minutes, and then female leaves territory of the male and twice zealously starts to protect her own one: in her organism ripening of eggs begins. About three weeks after pairing the female lays in tree-trunk hollow or behind peeled off tree bark two or three eggs. For one year the female can make up to three - five such clutches.
First minutes shell of freshly layed egg is soft and sticky, but in air it quickly hardens, and egg appears firmly pasted to substratum. About two months later tiny (about 4 cm long) copy of the parent hatches from it. Young leaf-looking geckoes have smooth outgrowths on sides of body and uniform green colouring without brown spots. At their growing up jags at edges of body appear, and in colouring in the beginning the pattern of leaf nerves and then dark stains simulating decay will be shown. At the age of 18 - 20 months young lizards can breed.
The leaf-looking gecko keeps mainly on branches of trees. And the closely related species, lichen gecko (Ph. lichenodermatus), lives on wood trunks and large branches. It is similar to leaf-looking gecko, differing from it in larger size (up to 30 cm) and some features of appearance. On surface of its body numerous warts and knobs imitating lichens on tree bark are located. Colouring of this species is well matched with habitat: it is the combination of grey and brown colors with greenish spots. Skinny edging of body at it is smoother.
The lichen gecko, just as leaf-looking one, eats insects have sat on bark. Generally the diet of lichen gecko includes butterflies and capricorn beetles; it catches them creeping closely and sharply rushing at prey. As many butterflies, spending daytime on tree bark, have cryptic colouring, this gecko finds them with the help of very keen sense of smell.

Flower gecko (Anthogekko scandens)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family Geckoes (Gekkonidae)

Habitat: Northern Australia, rainforest canopy.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Lizards pass to vegetative food very seldom. The majority of their species eats insects or small vertebrates. One of reasons of this phenomenon is considered to be easier digestion of food of animal origin in comparison with vegetative food. But in tropics where climate is constantly warm, there is a significant amount of herbivorous reptiles. During evolution vegetarian species appeared in various families. And even among especially carnivorous lizards there are the species eating sweet and high-calorific fruits of plants. In Neocenic woods of Northern Australia one species of geckoes have completely changed its habits, having turned from predator to vegetarian. But the food which it uses differs in refinement: it is flower nectar.
The Australian flower gecko spends all life in forest canopy at dizzy height. Here, in empire of wood crones and epiphytic plants it finds enough flowers rich in nectar.
This lizard grows only to 15 cm length, and about half of it thin tail accounts. Flower gecko is dexterous acrobat: its legs are rather long, and on fingers characteristic for these lizards combs, permitting clambering on even smooth surface of leaves, are advanced. This gecko moves slowly, but in case of danger it can make very fast throws and even jumps up to meter long.
The skin of this lizard is colored green with bright red legs and spot on nape; stomach and throat are white. Large eyes have straw-colored iris with narrow vertical pupil.
The head of flower gecko is narrow, and tongue can extend rather far. Practically constantly these geckoes walk over the territory, searching for flowers of plants. Because stocks of this food are rather small, lizard constantly inspects territory, zealously preserving it from competitors. Each lizard declares rights to territory, uttering loud sharp sounds similar to peal of hammer against anvil.
On the tip of tongue of flower gecko fibers forming hairy brush, convenient for nectar gathering, grow. In addition to nectar plenty of pollen gets in stomach of gecko. Pollen of many species of plants is not digested, but pollen of some plants serves as additional food source for lizard. Also flower gecko willingly regales itself with fruits begun to rot.
The breeding period of this species stretches practically for the all year: at any time in wood there are young lizards of this species. The female lays only 2 - 3 eggs, but egg layings can repeat up to four times once a year. For breeding female chooses deep tree-trunk hollows or cracks under peeled out bark where eggs are inaccessible to casual predators. In breeding season males willingly admit females to their territories, but after pairing banish them.
The young growth hatches from eggs after 10 - 11 weeks. Young geckoes differ from adults in brighter colouring: at them head, paws and tail are red, and only on back there are some green spots. They spend the most part of time on flowers of trees and epiphytes, disappearing at approaching of adult neighbours. At their growing up more and more green spots merging in a continuous background appear on their bodies.

Mouse-eating gecko (Macrogekko myophagus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family Geckoes (Gekkonidae)

Place of an inhabiting: temperate forests of New Zealand, wood litter.

Picture by Carlos Pizcueta

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

In human epoch fauna of New Zealand had undergone radical changes: in this “lost world” inhabitants unknown earlier, mammals, had appeared. Among them there were both herbivores and predatory species. Newcomers had started to destroy local animals, and to the end of human era only separate species had remained from endemic fauna.
But influence of alien species to fauna of New Zealand was not only negative. Some species of local animals had developed new kinds of food being absent at islands before human colonization. Murine rodents and even small predators belonging to weasel family became the basic prey of one surprising creature.
In deciduous woods of New Zealand ground is covered with thick layer of fallen foliage. In it numerous insects crawl, and small rodents hunt them. They obviously feel like in safety, but this impression is deceptive Attentive eye of predator hidden literally right at mammal’s very nose observes of carefree rodent. One careless movement – and rodent is seized. For a share of second leaves laying before it turn to head and paws of large-headed lizard. Reptile catches small mammals by wide mouth and compresses by jaws. Quiet crunch is heard, and little body of small mammal lifelessly hangs, and the hopeless peep breaks. Lizard slightly inclines head sideways, catches prey more conveniently, and starts to swallow it, inclining head alternately to both sides. Eventually only tail, sticking up from mouth of lizard, remains from unlucky rodent.
When the job is done, lizard creeps out of shelter: the successful hunter has received dinner which will be sufficient to it to nearest few days. Now main task is to find good shelter where nobody will disturb this lizard.
The large lizard is the mouse-eating gecko - one of representatives of endemic New Zealand fauna, the descendant of native species of these islands. When small predatory mammal had appeared at islands due to human will, the majority of New Zealand reptiles had been exterminated by them. But some gecko lizards had survived, and one of their species has turned to predator.
It is a reptile up to 70 cm long; this one is true giant among geckoes, usually do not exceeding 20 cm in length. It is remarkable, that before human colonization of these islands in New Zealand very large species of geckoes was found. At the mouse-eating gecko there are large head with strong jaws, rather short paws and short tail.
This lizard hides in leaf litter, trapping small mammal, birds and reptiles, and catching them by fast throw. This species avoids competition with predatory mammals due to habit of life: it is active in the afternoon while predatory animals go to hunting at night. For improvement of masking the skin of mouse-eating gecko is covered with lines of warty outgrowths, and flat pointed outgrowths stick up above eyes. The skin is colored brown with yellow “nerves” and dark spots. Even eyes of reptile are masked: the iris of the eye is colored beige with twisting vertical brown strips. The pupil of reptile looks like vertical crack. Having slightly dug in rotten leaves, lizard becomes imperceptible for possible prey.
At wood geckoes tail serves as the balance weight during tree-climbing. The mouse-eating gecko spends most part of time at the ground, therefore the tail at it had became much shorter, than at wood relatives. In tail stock of fat is accumulating permitting to wait cool winter days. Though in habitats of mouse-eating gecko snow never falls, in winter it becomes appreciably colder and appetite of reptile reduces. Mouse-eating gecko spends winter in hibernation, hiding in deep tree-trunk hollow or in crack between stones. Lizard keeps some activity even in the most cool winter time, slowly creeping in the refuge. At the end of winter when sun heats up stones and trunks of trees, the lizard creeps out to get warm not for a long time.
When short cool winter comes to an end, mouse-eating geckoes leave shelters and start to feed again. During first weeks after hibernation they look poorly: tail is very thin, and skin on body here and there is wrinkled. But gradually they are eaten off: at first they catch insects, and then small animals. Eggs of birds are special delicacy, and geckoes willingly climb for them on bushes and trees.
When lizards restore forces after wintering, tournament fights of males begin. The male at this species is larger and more large-headed than the female. In courtship season its eyes change color: the iris of the eye becomes bright red. This color is supplemented with light pink mucous membrane of mouth.
Gecko males share forest to set of sites. The owner of site creeps on tree trunk or stone, and declares rights to territory by cries. The voice of the mouse-eating gecko resembles yelping of small dog. Having noticed the female, the male starts to cry even more often and louder.
In clutch there are 2 - 3 eggs by size like chicken ones, with dense skinny shell. Shell of freshly layed egg is sticky. The female lays them usually in tree-trunk hollow or in crack between large stones. Here, in conditions of more stable microclimate, the incubating passes more successfully. The female protects place of clutch, and drives neighbours off from it, puffing throat and hissing.
The incubating lasts about two months. When young lizards hatch from eggs, female leaves post and any time continues usual life. For a season she can make only two layings, but survival rate of posterity due to protection of a laying is rather high.
Young mouse-eating geckoes eat insects. Later they pass to feed by rodents, and in the beginning ravage their nests and eat newborn cubs. At the age of three years they become able to breed.

Butterfly gecko (Papiliostellio quasivolans)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Geckoes (Gekkonidae)

Habitat: Indonesia (Jakarta Coast), crones of trees of tropical rainforest.
Sites of land open to ocean winds near equator are a place where a plenty of pre-glacial forms of life had kept. In Neocene some of them have died out, not having sustained a competition to newcomers from more cool areas, but as a whole variety and originality of life in these places remained up to the mark. Reptiles are presented especially richly in equatorial area. In Neocene they have started to occupy new ecological niches, turning to surprising creatures.
One of such Neocenic reptile species had evolved on the long site of land earlier representing the Big Sunda isles which in Neocene had merged to common belt of land - Jakarta Coast. In conditions of winds constantly blowing from ocean this creature had adapted to gliding flight. It is the small lizard – gecko about 20 cm long including tail. It would look quite usual lizard, marking among many neighbours only with bright red eyes. But at once feature for which this lizard is named "butterfly gecko" is evident: on each side of the body scales of this lizard are extended and have turned in feather-like outgrowths with fibrous back edges. Such feature already had appeared during evolution process at the Triassic reptile Longisquama dwelt in the Central Asia. But at it such scales had grew along back in two parallel lines. But if about their applicability at the fossil reptile long disputes had taken place their role at the butterfly gecko does not cause doubts: with their help it can make long gliding jumps from tree to tree. The length of "feathers" reaches 10 cm, they are slightly bent back. Especially long "feathers" grow on sides at once near forepaws. To hips they gradually become little, on the tail basement they are very small, but on the tip of tail they form the small blade, suitable for jump driving. Small muscles are connected to the basis of every "feather". Therefore the butterfly gecko can lift and lower them and also change their inclination during a jump. All fingers of the butterfly gecko are wide, tenacious, with hooked claws.
The top side of body of the butterfly gecko is painted not strikingly: it is green with brown spots and grey points. By color and the texture the skin on back of the lizard successfully imitates bark and lichen. But in breeding season the reptile changes: from below "feathers" are colored much more brightly, red-colored with white tips, and they are actively used in courtship games. The male shows them to the female, having lifted upwards and having opened, as if the peacock tail. Thus it marks time on stretched legs, trying to keep to the female by side. The throat of the male gets at this moment white color with black longitudinal strip.
This lizard is a predator eating insects and snails, cracking their shells. It can catch flying insects like flies and butterflies.
This species breeds, laying eggs. In clutch there are only 2 rather large eggs hiding by female in tree-trunk hollow. For one year egg laying can repeat up to 10 times. Zygotes are kept in female organism for a long time and quickly turn to eggs, therefore after one pairing the female can lay fertilized eggs 5 – 6 times.
The incubation lasts about 2 months. Just hatched geckoes are about 5 cm long. They have no “feathers”, but their growth begins almost at once, and at the age of 2 month reptile already completely becomes “fully fledged” and can make long jumps. At the age of half year gecko becomes completely mature, and its life expectancy in wildlife is about 5 - 6 years.

Duckweed basilisk (Nanobasiliscus lemnodromus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Casquehead lizards (Corytophanidae)

Habitat: South America, slowly flowing rivers, swamps and lakes.
At the boundary of Holocene and Neocene the area of tropical woods had been reduced everywhere at Earth. Only in Indonesia, Equatorial Africa and South America small sites of rainforests had kept. Only few inhabitants of this type of ecosystems had managed to survive up to Neocene. Some inhabitants of rainforest had died out because of chasing from the part of people; others had not managed to keep viable populations at isolated sites of solid earlier area. But the small part of inhabitants of tropical wood had kept up to Neocene and evolved actively. Among them there were mainly medium-sized animals not demanding a plenty of food and able to endure short-term deterioration of inhabiting conditions. Reptiles having such abilities, had received in Neocene the right of the further evolution. Among them fantastical and original lifeforms have appeared.
One of surprising reptiles lives in rainforest reservoirs. It is tiny lizard with brightly yellow corneous crest on head. It can be seen more often on leaves of water lilies where this reptile is heated, having stretched paws in sides. Length of this creature is about 20 cm including long tail making more of half of the general length.
While the lizard is quiet, it differs from other neighbours with nothing. Only its rear paws are approximately twice larger than front ones, and toe tips are edged with thin bristle-like outgrowths of scales. When above surface of leaves the fly flies by, the lizard reacts instantly: it jumps up, and rushes for the fly. When the insect turns off to water, the reptile does not lag behind: slaping by paws on surface of water, tiny lizard jumps, snaps fly right in air, and runs back to leaves right on water surface. Lizards of basilisk genus (Basiliscus) dwelt in historical time in South America had this skill. This reptile has inherited and has developed this unique skill, having specialized to life on water surface. It weighs so little, that can easily run on thickets of duckweed (Lemna) spread on surface of water. Hence the name of this lizard – the duckweed basilisk.
To be simply very small – it is obviously insufficiently to have ability to run on water surface. In body of duckweed basilisk also qualitative changes have taken place: its bones are strongly pneumatized, air bags penetrate them, as at birds. The constitution of this reptile is very fragile – at it there are thin paws and long thin tail. The adult reptile weighs no more than 20 grammes.
The skin of the lizard is colored bright green which shade can vary depending on condition and mood of the lizard. Stomach of the reptile is white. The skinny crest on head of the lizard is colored lemon yellow shade. It is an attribute using which lizards distinguish congeners.
Duckweed basilisk can not only run but also swim, though it makes it reluctantly. In water the lizard easily can fall prey to various predators – fishes and turtles. Besides duckweed basilisk is too tiny to swim quickly enough and to escape from underwater predators. And one more danger is that this tiny lizard can easily cool down in water and becomes inactive. Therefore duckweed basilisk escapes in water only when there is no another way to hide from predator (for example when the reptile is attacked from air by bird of prey or bat). The main way of rescue from enemies at this reptile is fast run.
Duckweed basilisk eats almost exclusively insects living on surface of water. It eats water scaters and catches larvae of mosquitoes in leaf axils of floating plants. Occasionally duckweed basilisk eats small snails (more often it is made by females shortly before to egg laying), fry and tadpoles living at the surface of water. In dexterous jumps duckweed basilisk catches damselflies and the flies hovering above water.
Duckweed basilisk is a tiny creature which is quickly heated up and quickly loses heat. At night when it becomes colder, reptile gets into axils of leaves and falls into catalepsy. At night the duckweed basilisk is very sluggish and easily can fall prey to various predators, therefore it tries to hide more reliably. In the morning lizard gets out on leaves of plants and is heated in first beams of sun.
It is unprofitable to be too heavy to animal having such habit of life, therefore at females of duckweed basilisk one ovary is reduced, and eggs develop and are laid by two – three ones. The courtship season at duckweed basilisk lasts a year round. The male of this species is smaller than female, and it also differs with more advanced red coloured gular pouch. It arranges displays for females, climbing on stalks and peduncles of aquatic plants sticking up above the surface of reservoir. Involving females, male stirrs head up, puffing ular pouch. When two males meet, they begin bloodless and transient tournament. Males show gular pouches to each other, are shaken on peduncles, and in near fight try to push each other out in water. At this moment they become striped.
The female ready to pairing shows the submission to the male, having light green colouring. After pairing it undertakes risky travel on coast, and lays eggs among moss thickets on tree trunks at height up to five meters. Cycles of breeding repeat each two weeks.
Young reptiles hatch approximately after three weeks. Young lizards go down from tree trunks and search for reservoirs where they will spend, probably, all life. They easily settle on floating plants.
Life expectancy of duckweed basilisk makes no more than 4 – 5 years. But the female starts to lay eggs at the age of five months.

The idea of existing of this animal was stated by Rafael Silva do Nascimento, Brazil.

Gliding Anolis (Pteroanolis volans)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Anoles (Polychrotidae)

Habitat: south and southeast of North America.
Sometimes evolution makes experiments, which may not come to mind. It had produced not one, but three groups of actively flying vertebrate animals – pterosaurs, birds and bats – and a number of species, which can passively glide down, and even snakes are among them. In Neocene this situation remained unchanged. Active flight is an exceptional property of bats and birds only, and numerous species from other groups of vertebrates in different places of the Earth glide from tree to another. Gliding anole from south and southeastern part of North America is one of them.
Compared to its ancestor, a certain kind of the anole lizard (genus Anolis) of Holocene epoch, this lizard has barely changed in size: its length it up to 16 centimeters, except for tail. This reptile is not green, but reddish-brown in color, because it leads mostly crepuscular lifestyle, spending the days in shelter on tree trunk, in tree hollow, or among dense branches, and at night and dusk it awakens and begins hunting for various insects and other invertebrates.
Gliding anole has rather large eyes and it sees pretty well at dusk, when it is searching in the trees for food and females and makes gliding jumps. Like in the case of unrelated flying dragon (Draco volans) of Holocene epoch, its “wings” are located on sides; they represent flaps of skin of yellowish-white color stretched on framework made of gristle rods: during the day, if a gliding anole is startled by a predator, it opens these skin flaps harshly. The sudden appearance of bright colors may startle the predator and give the anole few extra moments to run or glide away. White spots on wings are also used by these anoles to signal to each other in twilight.
In late winter or early spring the gliding anoles’ breeding season begins. Males begin calling the females by uttering cries sounding like squealing and barking of tiny dog. When females fly closer, males court them, inflating their throat sacs and making courtship dance. The throat sac of the male reddens up in breeding season, and the reptile displays itself by flashing the gliding membrane and bending its head on the back; at this moment throat sac is clearly visible on their background and is seen by a female staying nearby.
In late spring the females bury their clutches numbering from 1-2 to 10 eggs in leaf litter or into any other substrate, and do not care for them anymore. A month and a half later the young lizards hatch from the eggs. They do not different in colour from adults, but their “wings” have the same coloration as the body. The sexual maturity comes at the age of one year.
The maximum life span of gliding anole is 18-20 years, but the most part of these reptiles dies much earlier.

This species of reptiles is discovered by Bhut, the forum member.
Translated by Bhut.

Salt-loving skinkfish (Ichthyoscincus halophilus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Skinks (Scincidae)
Habitat: Mediterranean salt swamps.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

When in early Neocene Mediterranean sea has completely dried up, rich fauna of fishes and other water animals inhabited it earlier had left to non-existence. After changes of climate water by means of plentiful rains gradually began to come back to extensive salt desert of Mediterranean, having formed extensive shallow reservoirs and bogs. But in these places no one fish may be found: the salinity of water is too great for them, and Mediterranean is not connected to any sea of World ocean. Nevertheless, at the bottom of Mediterranean reservoirs live creatures teem: larvae of different species of flies, and also small crustaceans, steady against the high contents of salts in water. But if the local birds, flightless crested flamingoes eat crustaceans, larvae of flies living at the bottom of reservoirs, feel like in relative safety from them. And nevertheless they have enemy.
In greenish because of seaweed and muddy water long white creatures slide, wriggling. They are similar to fishes, but they are not fishes: from time to time they emerge to surface of water, putting out muzzle tip, and breathe with characteristic puffing. But they also are not amphibians: any newts or salamanders will not endure so salt water. When one such creature creeps out on stone, it becomes evident, that it is the reptile: its body is covered with dense granular scales. It is the lizard – the skinkfish.
Desert inhabitants, skinks have developed adaptations for survival in conditions of shortage of water. They prosper in most droughty places of planet. And in bogs of Mediterranean these features were useful to them, having permitted to master new habitat, atypical for lizards – supersalt reservoirs.
The length of body of skinkfish is about 60 cm; from which tail amounts about 2/3 (males are longer, than females, but their body is more graceful). Body of animal is cylindrical; tail is flattened from sides and edged from above and from below by wide skinny plica, permitting to swim. Head of the reptile is pointed in front, covered with thick horn scales. Eyes of skinkfish are protected by eyelids grown together – at this reptile it is unblinking “snake” sight. Nostrils of skinkfish are shifted upwards and protected by skinny valves which are closed when lizard dives. Paws of reptile are similar to mole’s ones – they are short and thick, with long claws. Hinder legs are little bit longer than forepaws. Because the reptile spends significant part of life in water, belts of extremities are poorly joint to backbone that gives the skinkfish some advantages.
The body of reptile is covered with dense corneous cover shedding similarly to snake skin – it exfoliates from edges of mouth, and gets off by entire piece. During shedding skinkfish rubs body against stones and twists to rings, rubbing different parts of body against each other. Colouring of skin of skinkfish is grayish-white without spots and strips.
In physiology of this reptile there is one feature directly connected to habitat: very large kidneys stretched practically along all body from shoulders up to pelvis, partly coming even in tail due to elastic connection of pelvis and backbone. These kidneys effectively eliminate from blood salt, plentifully treating to animal with food.
Skinkfish feeds with few species of insects had mastered life in Mediterranean swamps: larvae of flies and water beetles. Fodder areas of skinkfishes stretch in shallow waters, where under the bright sunlight microscopic algae expand on stones plentifully. The basic catch of skinkfish, larvae of blood-sucking flies, scraping this seaweed by mouths, keeps there. Usually skinkfish cautiously creeps to catch, drifting in thickness of water. It is not afraid, that it will be noticed – larvae of flies are completely blind. But they sensitively react to slightest movements of water; therefore any careless movement of lizard will frighten them off. Having swum up closely enough, skinkfish makes sharp movement sideways, creating whirlpool. Current of water tears larvae off from stone, and lizard picks them up by mouth. But even if larvae have felt approaching of the enemy and have hided between pebbles at the bottom, skinkfish will not stay hungry: it simply will dig out bottom by powerful sharp-clawed forepaws and tip of muzzle, and will seize larvae.
When the lizard seizes larvae, it faces with main difficulty for all creatures living in this place: in its organism salt can get. And here the interesting mechanism of protection was developed at the reptile. In soft palate skinkfish has plica tightly closing gullet. It interferes to casual swallowing of salt water. In mouth of lizard there is submaxillar throat pouch for catch, therefore skinkfish may not emerge to surface too frequently - having filled this bag with catch up to the full, lizard creeps out on stones and outside of water eats caught larvae. But under water lizard all the same should open mouth and to prevent getting of salt in blood through mucous membranes of mouth, they are protected from brine by slime rich in protein with addition of fats making this slime water-repellent.
From time to time skinkfishes creep out to coast to have a rest and swallow caught larvae. Usually each lizard has stone chosen for this purpose, but outside of water they quietly tolerate company of each other, and at times at one convenient stone up to ten lizards gather. They do not try to take away each other’s catch, because, swallowing caught larvae, lizard may not open mouth at all. Only having crept out on land, it accurately contracts throat, squeezing out water from mouth. Sitting on stone, skinkfish from time to time raises head, squeezes out from throat pouch by effort of its ring muscles caught larvae one by one, and swallows them.
On land skinkfish moves hardly: it pushes body by movements of tail, because hinder legs of reptile are rather weak, and pelvis is attached to backbone by flexible and extensible ligaments. Such feature of anatomy permits to skinkfish, however, to avoid some difficulties which wait for reptiles in this salty world. Skinkfishes do not lay eggs – they are live-bearing reptiles. Pairing of skinkfishes takes place on land: it excludes salt getting in organism of female through oviducts. Before pairing males arrange courtship demonstrations: they lift heads upwards, inflate throat pouches and shake them. Thus skin on throat of the lizard becomes bright red because of extended blood vessels. When the female comes nearer to chosen male, showing by lowered head the submission, he twists around of her body, and the fast pairing occurs.
Pregnancy of the female lasts about three months, and then she gives rise to unique young on land. Young skinkfish is practically a copy of the adult reptile; its length makes approximately half of body length of mother. To bear and to give rise easily to such large posterity extensible connection of pelvis and backbone helps to the female. Birth of youngs occurs 2 times per one year: during pairing there is a fertilization of several ovocytes from which only one develops, and other thus are “inhibited”. After birth of first young the second ovocyte starts to develop.
After birth of second cub other zygotes do not collapse: they survive through the most adverse season, but their destiny is not determined yet. If the female will not receive visual signals from other males, at “spare” fertilized ovocytes there is a chance to develop to high-grade youngs. In such way the population can restore, basically, from few fertilized females. Presence of other males causes changes of hormonal level of the female, and “spare” zygotes collapse. But at the same time new ovocytes ripen, ready to fertilization.

Wedgehead (Herpethotalpa caeca)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Skinks (Scincidae)

Habitat: Meganesia, tropical forests
Tropical forest is a community of plants growing on sand and clay in literal sense. The soil layer in tropical forest is much thinner, rather than in deciduous forests of temperate latitudes, therefore roots of tropical trees penetrate into it not so deep. The underground fauna of tropical forests is also poorer, than it is possible to expect for so productive community. Nevertheless, various insects and their larvae, snails, spiders and worms are found in wood litter of tropical rainforest. These animals represent a source of food for larger underground inhabitants, and also for not numerous ground animals digging wood litter in searches of food. One species of reptiles, which almost never comes in sight, lives in wood litter of tropical rainforests of Meganesia. It is wedgehead, large underground skink – the total length of adult reptile of this species reaches 40 cm.
Appearance of wedgehead demonstrates its fitness to totally underground way of life. The body of this animal has wedge-like shape ideally suitable for digging in thickness of friable wood ground. Wedgehead does not build constant tunnels like moles and other digging mammals do. It simply moves in thickness of the ground near to the surface, and the tunnel falls off behind it. On the ground surface the trace of creeping wedgehead is visible as a faltering not deep flute on surface of ground. The behaviour of this reptile is very primitive – wedgeheads are solitary animals and behave aggressively to their congeners, and courtship before pairing has very formal character.
Forepaws of this reptile are reduced. On body surface only two strong short claws from each side of body have remained from them, and in thickness of muscles reduced in great degree limb bones lay. Hinder legs are advanced much better. They are short, but well appreciable outside, with mobile joints, short feet and strong claws.
The armored head of reptile is using for ground drilling. It has wedge-like outlines; the lower jaw is shifted a little back and above it the strong snout overhangs. Wedgehead pushes by hind legs, making its way, and moves ground apart by head. Instead of scales on head of animal the continuous corneous cover constantly renewing on forward part of head is developed. Eyes of animal lack of eyelids and are slightly reduced. They are covered with continuous transparent corneous pellicle. During the moult this cover is remewing in common with other parts of skin, as if at snakes. Sight sense shows attributes of degeneration: reptile is short-sighted and also does not discern colors. Colouring of reptile is dim enough – it is lead-coloured with darker cross strips, which number and width varies in great degree at different individuals. There are animals, which back and head are covered with 20 – 25 thin and clearly distinct strips, and there are animals on which back no more than ten pale strips are stretched.
Tail of wedgehead is short and almost immoveable. It serves as a place for stock of fat and as a support at ground drilling. Its muscles are very strong, and on the bottom surface large plates are advanced; their back edge is extended like strong spike. Supporting by such tail against the ground, reptile moves forward.
On the ground surface wedgehead feels like very uncomfortably and tries to be dug as soon as possible. It moves with the help of pushes of hind legs and tail, trying to find an eminence in order to drill in it by head and to be dug in the ground. In case of predator attack this reptile prefers active defense: wedgehead dug out from the ground coils by sharp movements, striking the enemy impacts by body, and also bites it. Having seized in body of the enemy, reptile hangs with death grip and continues making sharp movements, shaking and sticking teeth deeper in wounds.
Wedgehead eats any ground animals it can overcome – worms, spiders, grubs, fly larvae, small snakes and lizards. Because of secretive way of life it becomes anybody’s prey very seldom.
It is a viviparous reptile – once a year female gives birth up to three large youngs, capable to dig tunnels and to lead independent life at once. At the third year of life they begin able to breed. Many young reptiles perish because of cannibalism of adult individuals. Life expectancy of wedgehead reaches 20 years and more.

Darter chameleon (Belonoglossaurus aviphagus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Chameleons (Chameleontidae)

Habitat: rainforests at the east of Madagascar island.
Representatives of chameleon family live mainly in Africa though in human epoch their separate representatives lived in Asia, and even in Southern Europe. But these lizards have reached the remarkable variety at Madagascar, in conditions of island isolation. In ice age, when the areas of tropical rainforests had been reduced, the variety of chameleons had decreased, and many of their species had died out. In Neocene the remained species of chameleons had started to evolve actively, and among them the species occupying new ecological niches had appeared.
Among chameleons small and medium-sized animals prevail. And at Madagascar in human epoch the tiniest of all chameleons, representatives of genus Brookesia, lived. The size of the largest chameleon of human epoch did not exceed 60 cm. But, if it’d meet the largest chameleon of Neocene epoch, it should have the most pitiable consequences for it. The biggest chameleon of Neocene, darter chameleon, reaches the length of about one meter though tail makes half of it. And the menu of this reptile includes not insects, but small vertebrates: birds, mammals, tree frogs and lizards.
It is difficult for such giant to remain unnoticed on tree branch, but darter chameleon has inherited from the ancestors the skill of camouflage and has developed it up to refined perfection. Head and back of this lizard are covered with small knobs and outgrowths imitating a bark of tree. On head of adult reptile the corneous outgrowths imitating knots of tree stick: one is sticking out forward on the nose, and two ones directed upwards and in sides are located above eyes. At different individuals they have a little bit different shape, and even the different size. Masking is supplemented with scalloped outgrowths on legs, hiding in part a shadow cast by the hidden lizard.
Color of skin of this chameleon is changeable, and easily varies from light grey up to green or dark brown with very diverse patterns. In rest darter chameleon has a pattern of two colors: the top of body and head have soft green color, and the bottom part of sides, tail, stomach and paws are grey. “Horns” on head of lizard are also grey. Border between grey and green colors is sharp, but rough, with strong individual deviations. On the general background of the body small white and yellowish spots are scattered, imitating spots of lichens on bark.
Like the overwhelming majority of chameleons, this species lives in crones of trees, despite of its size. Paws and tail of darter chameleon are prehensile, fingers and toes on paws are opposed as two groups: two fingers (toes) against three ones, as at all lizards of this family. Usually this reptile arranges ambush on large branches, having nestled against the bark of tree, or having hidden among epiphytic plants. Darter chameleon leads diurnal way of life; at night it hides in hollows or among rich branches.
The main hunting weapon of all chameleons is their tongue capable to extend far forward. But at small species on tip of tongue the sucker is developed, with which help it is possible to keep small creature only. Darter chameleon catches more powerful prey and strikes it with its tongue. Tongue of this reptile may extend forward to half-meter distance. But it is only a half of affair to get prey by tongue. The main thing is to keep it, and tongue of darter chameleon is perfectly adapted for this purpose. The tip of its tongue has turned to spear instead of sucker: on it the corneous spike is developed; it kills prey or does not give it an opportunity to escape. If prey is only wounded and got away, but has not flied out and has not fallen down, chameleon may pursue it, finishing with some more “shots” of tongue. Inside the tongue the longitudinal beam of elastic fibres stretches, giving to it durability and serving for retraction of tongue with prey pinned on it.
Like many species of predators, this animal is territorial: each reptile actively protects the fodder site from competitors. Darter chameleon tries to frighten off contenders and small predators (for example, mammals), inflating air bags inside the body and rocking on all four paws. At these moments its skin gets crimson colouring with white spots on sides. The lizard accompanies threating display with loud hissing, blowing air out between densely compressed lips. But this threatening is mostly illusory: animal never uses the tongue for protection against large contender, being afraid to injure it. It only can bite the opponent by strong jaws. And the bite of darter chameleon is very strong.
In courtship season males turn especially intolerant to each other: they actively drive away each other from the female and combat, “butting” by horns. If fight becomes especially persistent, males can bite each other. The winner male starts to walk around the female, rocking on straightened legs. Its body gets crimson color with white cross strips and spots on head. As a sign of submission the female turns pale and nestles against the branch.
Darter chameleon is an egg-laying species. Female goes down on the ground only to lay eggs. In clutch of this species there are up to 10 eggs like small chicken eggs in size, covered with soft leathery shell. Embryos start development in female’s organism, and to the moment of egg laying they are approximately half developed. Sometimes female leaves eggs in deep hollow of tree trunk, digging them in dust. “Ripening” of eggs lasts three weeks more.
Young chameleons at hatching are up to 15 cm lond (half of their length thin tenacious tail makes). They eat insects, gradually including inth their diet larger animals – young frogs, nestlings of small birds and cubs of forest rodents. Young lizards reach the typical size of adult individual at the age of 6 – 7 years. But they reach sexual maturity earlier – females bring posterity for the first time at the age of 4 years, and continue to grow after becoming sexually mature.

Prickly agama (Echinagama spinosa)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family Agamas (Agamidae)

Habitat: steppes to the west from Fourseas.
Agamas are one of the most successful families of lizards. In Old World their representatives during Cenozoic superseded representatives of other groups, adapting to various conditions of inhabiting: from deserts up to tropical woods. High abilities to adaptation have permitted these reptiles to survive successfully during an ice age.
From eastern coast of Fourseas (Garagumy beach) up to bush wastelands of Mongolia steppes, overgrown by grasses, were stretched. Here there are not many rivers, and fauna is presented by mainly drought-resistant species. The interesting species of agamas – prickly, or hedgehog, agama – lives here.
When this lizard is quiet, it almost by nothing differs from other representatives of family. It is the lizard of approximately half meter long including tail and large head. On body and lateral faces of tail scales are lengthened, having turned to spikes. Scales on shoulders are especially long – up to 3 cm. By shape scales resemble three-edged blade: they are flattened, and on the external side longitudinal edge passes. These scales are colored dark-brown, being especially visible on background of grayish-yellow skin. They grow by longitudinal lines, forming on the top side of body of animal regular pattern. On stomach spikes are much less, and skin is colored lighter, being of almost white color. At the male throat is colored bright red and spike scales are white. At the female color of throat does not differ from color of stomach. The bright throat pouch is using by male in courtship demonstrations.
Prickly agama like its neighbours is afraid of birds and large mammals, and hides from them in shelter – cracks in stones and holes of rodents. But it is not afraid at all of snakes being enemies of many lizards of such size, because it is able to protect from them originally.
Having seen snake, lizard takes menacing pose: it rises on straightened legs as the toad, and puffs. It has some air bladders connected with lungs, and special valves allow to force in them air at an exhalation. As a result the reptile quickly inflates, and its visible size is increased more than twice. Covering its body lengthened scales stick out, turning to the terrible weapon. Puffed up, lizard keeps at predator’s movement. If the distance too decreases, it swings by tail in sides. From birds and mammals prickly agama uses one more way of protection: being strongly puffed up, it slightly “blows off”, and thus utters loud whistle through densely compressed jaws. If enemy does not recede, lizard beats it by prickly tail, or makes lunge, striking it by spikes of sides and shoulders.
Courtship games of prickly agama are similar by something to displaying at man-o-war birds from far Holocene. Males get on separately sticking up branches, and puff throat pouch, becoming appreciable from afar. Each male protects the territory from contenders.
During rain season (spring) the female makes 2 layings: in first one there are up to 10 - 12 eggs, in second one (2 – 3 weeks later) - no more than 10 eggs. The posterity hatches in second half of summer. They spend winter in holes of rodents, fencing off from restless neighbours by several ground “fuses”.
The young reptile reaches maturity at the age of two years.

Leaf-headed agama (Compressisaura angustissima)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Agamas (Agamidae)

Habitat: humid subtropical woods at southern and western coasts of Fourseas.
During an ice age the rests of heat-loving European flora and fauna appeared “compressed” at the narrow strip between cold glacial tundras stretching from the north, and dry salt deserts at the place of Mediterranean Sea dried up when strait of Gibraltar had closed for ever at movement of Africa to the north. There were only few “oases” where the rests of Holocene flora and fauna dragged out a miserable existence among new species appeared in glacial epoch.
In early Neocene the flora and fauna of Europe had gone through the rebirth: when glaciers had thawn and at Earth extensive shallow seas had appeared again, the climate became more humid and steady. The huge Fourseas lake isolated from the ocean, formed in early Neocene, softens the heated breath of Mediterranean hollow and supplies with moisture the mysterious world of subtropics of South-East of Europe. This world is isolated from tropics of Asia and Africa by mountains and salt desert, therefore it was occupied mainly by descendants of local fauna and flora. Representatives of heat-loving southern fauna are not very numerous in woods of Balkans and Caucasus: there are only separated species of small vertebrate animals, insects and few plants had reached here over mountains. In warm and damp woods at the southern and western coast of Fourseas reptiles are numerous. One of their representatives is the leaf-headed agama, the small tree-climbing lizard living on tree trunks.
Lizards represent easy catch for various predators. The majority of their species has no poison and is too small to protect itself actively. Therefore till the evolution process lizards either studied quickly to run, or developed various ways of masking for protection against predators. The leaf-headed agama shows one of such kinds of protection.
Body of this reptile is strongly compressed from sides and high: it hardly exceeds 2 cm in width at length of the reptile about half meter. The height of body of this lizard amounts about 10 cm; on its back the skinny crest with slightly cut up edge grows, on head there is also thin jagged comb. When the lizard freezes sitting vertically on bark of tree, it is similar to the exfoliating piece of bark. One more advantage of this skinny crest is an opportunity to be warmed faster: in the morning lizard creeps out on tree trunk and turns sideways under beams of rising sun.
The fantastical body shape is supplemented with cryptic colouring which varies over a wide range: from green with narrow white strips simulating leaf nerves up to light grey or brown with longitudinal lines imitating color of tree bark. At this reptile even eyes are disguised – the iris of the eye is colored yellow with tiny brown speckles. Such colouring is successfully combined with any variant of skin colouring.
Paws of the leaf-headed agama are thin and have tenacious sharp-clawed toes. To keep on tree trunk stronger, at back edge of forearms and on the internal side of shins spike-like scales develop. When the lizard sits on tree bark upwards a head, they are stuck in bark and the reptile keeps on trunk without the special efforts. The tail is long (it accounts more than half of general length of animal) and thin; its tip is extended. It serves as the balance weight when the leaf-headed agama jumps from branch to another. Also the attacked lizard can whip small enemies by tail. The basis of tail has some small skinny outgrowths continuing a crest on back at the top side.
The leaf-headed agama is the diurnal reptile. Usually it sits on tree trunk as precisely as possible imitating color of its bark. This lizard is a predator and eats insects and spiders, but can attack small wood frogs and ravage bird nests. Usually it expects while suitable catch will come nearer to it itself, catches it by short throw, quickly swallows and freezes again not to be noticed by larger predators. It spends night in shelters – cracks of tree trunk and in narrow cracks under scaled out bark. The hidden lizard supports by paws against bark and tree trunk, and tenaciously keeps by claws. Only few nocturnal predators are able to pull out the leaf-headed agama hidden this way.
Features of constitution impose restrictions to some vital processes of this lizard. In thin body of the female many eggs can not form at once, therefore the female of this species lays eggs in small portions - 2 – 3 ones at once. The egg of leaf-headed agama is very much extended and covered with limy shell. Till first minutes after laying the shell is soft and sticky, then on air it hardens quickly. This feature permits the reptile to lay eggs in well-protected shelters – on tree trunk under bark where this animal usually hides at night. The pasted egg keeps strongly on tree trunk and is inaccessible so to the majority of predators.
In connection with such breeding feature the courtship season at leaf-headed agamas is strongly dragged out: it takes place since late spring up to middle of an autumn. Courtship display of the male happens rough: having felt a smell of the female ready to pairing, it begans the display – the male rises on extended legs, puffs an extensible throat pouch of brightly-yellow color with black spots, frequently “nods” a head and expects for the appearing of the female. If the female is not shown for too long time, male starts to follow its tracks. When the male sees the female, his demonstrations become even more active: he starts to utter abrupt whistling sounds, blowing air from throat pouch through slightly opened lips. When near one female two males appear, between them fight is possible; in this situation contenders bite each other, beat by tails and try to push each other away from the female. But usually males avoid fight and simply try to make impression of the bellicosity against each other. They puff throat pouches, whistle and whip tails, trying to strike the contender.
The male had losed fight in any case has an opportunity to breed: till the peak of breeding season in forest females ready to pairing meet frequently. Readiness of the female for pairing happens about each 10 days, right after the next laying. For one season the female may lay more than 30 eggs: it is even more, rather than it happens at other lizards living in the neighbourhood.
The incubating of eggs lasts about 2 months, but last autumn layings develop much longer: their development is delayed for all winter. From such eggs young animals hatch approximately in middle of spring. Adult reptiles hibernate in deep tree-trunk hollows. Their aggression to each other is reduced in an autumn, and they gather for wintering by groups of some tens of animals. In winter animals are inactive, but approximately at the end of March when it becomes relatively warm, they one by one leave the common shelter and occupy territory suitable to life.

Rainbow agama (Variolepis iris)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Agamids (Agamidae)

Habitat: thickets of large-leaved plants on riverbanks, flooding areas of forest in continental part of Southeast Asia.
Restoration of tropical forest areas in Southeast Asia became the stimulus for intensive speciation among small species of forest reptiles. Snakes and lizards of various sizes and colours are typical inhabitants of Neocene forests. Some species of these animals have freakish shape and bright colouring. These creatures are ideally “dissolving” in their native inhabitancy, despite of brightness of colouring, and represent its organic continuation. Tree-living rainbow agama, the descendant of common butterfly lizard (Leiolepis belliana) of Holocene epoch, is those one.
It is a typical representative of family – medium-sized reptile: total body length including thin tail is about 50 cm, weight is about 300 g. This reptile swarms up trees very good, using strong hooked claws, and is the often visitor of tree crones. Its head is rather deep and rather narrow, with the dulled conic muzzle. Colouring has determined a name of this lizard: on its body and tail white and pink spots of various sizes and shape are scattered on emerald-green background. This colouring helps rainbow agama to mask among inflorescences of tropical trees: the lizard simply climbs on inflorescence and freezes among opened flowers. Trees of tropical forest as a whole blossom the year round, but the flowering period of of each separately revealing species of trees may be short. Therefore as far as trees are deflowering reptiles of this species are compelled to move to the next trees. Their flowers frequently differ in colouring, but the rainbow agama has ability to change color of skin. In rate and accuracy of these metamorphosises it considerably concedes to such masters of camouflage, as chameleons and cephalopods. Reptile needs about two hours to change the color of background and spots. The basic colouring can vary from bright green up to very dark, almost black. And pink spots if necessary can turn to crimson on any background. Also the size of spots varies a little.
The camouflage of reptile is supplemented by crest stretching along the back. It is made of irregular-shaped skin blades which improve imitation of plant and “break off” a contour of animal. The largest blades, up to 3 cm long, grow from nape up to shoulders of reptile. On tail skin blades get the shape of tiny denticles. They are a little bit darker than other parts of body – it is an adaptation for the best warming. In early morning rainbow agama turns body perpendicularly to sun rays and the crest is quickly warmed.
Rainbow agama has the expressed sexual dimorphism: male is larger than female, though weighs less than it, and has higher crest.
This reptile prefers for life a site including several trees of different species bound by lianas, usually not very far from water. Escaping from the enemy, rainbow agama can simply jump in water, having drawn in paws and having closed eyes. Swinging by tail in air during the falling from tree, it has time to turn headfirst, and enters into water almost without splash. Under water reptile turns paws in sides and slowly emerges, having holded breath.
Rainbow agama is omnivorous one. It eats fruits, flowers and large insects. It is most active in the morning and at the sunset, avoiding afternoon heat. Sometimes after rain it keeps activity almost till all daytime. In hot weather rainbow agama becomes languid. It prefers to hide in shadow of inflorescences of trees where it is more difficult for finding out to any casual predator, and eats vegetative food – flowers. It hunts for insects in the evening more often.
The breeding season begins at the end of spring and proceeds till about three months. At this time female succeeds to do up to two clutches. In courtship season lizards become much more aggressive to each other. Males actively struggle for females, displaying to each other might and physical shape. They hiss, widely opening mouths, whip tail and actively restrict the contender from branch or tree trunk, pushing it by side and delivering impacts of tail. If there are two opponents equal in force, they can establish relationships with the help of bites. During the courtship combat and courting for the female male of rainbow agama gets especially bright and saturated colors. Standing in front of the female, male actively “nods” the head slightly turned aside in order to show its crest.
Soon after pairing female lays 5 – 7 eggs in dust at the bottom of deep hollow. In 3 weeks young lizards hatch. They look absolutely not like adult individuals: they do not have crest, and colouring represents irregular cross strokes of grey color on green background. They become sexually mature at the age of 9 months, but get completely adult colouring approximately to the age of one and a half years. Life expectancy in nature usually is about 8 – 9 years, but separate individuals live up to 11 years.

The idea about existence of this species of reptiles was proposed by Nick, the forum member.

Orchidonia (Orchidonia stumpkei)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Agamids (Agamidae)

Habitat: tropical forests of India, Indochina.
Tropical areas represent a habitat of numerous reptiles. Here these creatures, not capable to support a high body temperature independently, find optimum conditions for life. And the riches of fauna and flora permit reptiles to evolve roughly, developing very freakish strategies of survival. Tropical forest canopy is a residence of various small reptiles like lizards and snakes.
The strange species of tree-climbing lizards belonging to diverse agamid family lives in forests of Southern and Southeast Asia. It is an orchidonia; this reptile developed an unusual way of hunting for insects. It is the lizard of gracile constitution, up to 25 – 30 cm long; about half of total lenght a long tail makes. Paws of this reptile are well advanced, long and thin, with tenacious fingers and toes armed with claws. The head of orchidonia moves on mobile neck and can turn to the angle of 180 degrees. Body is covered with smooth scales, and on tip of tail and on internal surface of paws numerous corneous bristles grow. They permit this reptile to be fixed firmly on smooth stalks of epiphytic plants among which reptile waits for prey.
The most remarkable feature in anatomy of this lizard is the presence of several leathery outgrowths around of head. On sides of head two symmetric outgrowths with rounded edges grow, on top of head there is one unpaired outgrowth with the pointed top, and on the lower jaw three medium-sized lanceolate outgrowths are developed. All of them stretch on thin elastic gristle cores which mobile bases are supplied with muscles. Due to it lizard can open all outgrowths at its own choosing, imitating the flower of orchid plant. Masking is supplemented with rounded cross outgrowth on nose.
But masking of reptile would be incomplete without exact imitation of color. Orchidonia has surpassed even chameleon in this skill. Color of its head varies from greyish-white up to crimson red, orange and citreous. This reptile is able to create patterns of spots and strips on head outgrowths, imitating colouring of petals of orchid, among which flowers it is hidden at present. This time its body gets green color. In case of danger orchidonia is hidden among roots of epiphytic plants or on bark. At this moment its body gets yellowish-brown color with speckles and strokes, imitating tree bark, and outgrowths lay along the body and turn rusty-brown with dark border, looking like withered leaf.
Skills of colouring change are connected to the diet of orchidonia, which includes various insects. Usually reptile traps them, having hidden in inflorescence of orchid. Thus tail of orchidonia is twisted around of flower-bearing stem and helps the reptile to keep on plant. The smell of flowers masks a certain imperfection of its masking, and reptile catches insects which may even settle right on its head in searches of food.
Sexual dimorphism at orchidonia is expressed only in body shape of male – it is a little bit larger, rather than female, but has more graceful constitution. The courtship season at this species lasts the year round, but males become especially active during the monsoonal rains. They combat for the female, showing each other stretched “petals” plicas. Thus they hiss and make attacks against each other, trying to bite “petal”. The torn places, however, regenerate quickly. During the courtship combat pattern on male’s “petals” is especially bright and contrast. Usually it represents spots and dark border on light background.
The female lays up to five small eggs in shelter under bark of tree or among dust in tree-trunk hollow. The egg laying repeats 3 – 4 times per one year. The incubation lasts up to about six weeks; eggs do not endure drying, because they absorb a significant part of water from environment through soft shell. Young lizards have no outgrowths on head and eat insects, finding them under bark and among moss thickets. At the age of 2 – 3 months at them “petals” begin to grow, and they pass to hunting on flowers of plants. One-year-old reptiles are already capable to breed.
Life expectancy makes no more than 6 years.

Stick agama (Bacillisaura tenuissima)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), Suborder: Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Agamas (Agamidae)

Habitats: savannas of Northern Africa (the plain to the north from Saharan Nile), high herbage.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Family Agamidae was one of the most progressive families of lizards during Holocene epoch. They successfully developed both forests and savannas, and also desert areas. The latter quality allowed these reptiles to endure successfully ice age when the considerable areas covered earlier with forests turned into deserts. During the period when the extreme climate of glacial epoch was replaced by mild and favorable climate of Neocene, agamids evolved actively and formed the new species adapted to dreat diversity of habitats.
In savannas of North Africa stretched at the place of Sahara, among thickets of high grasses, one of unusual species of this family lives – fragile and graceful stick agama. It is a small species of lizards – the length of its body including tail reaches only 20 cm. This agama has very thin body and rather long, pointed head with prominent eyes. Paws are rather long, prehensile and adapted for climbing. Tail is thin; it makes about a half of general length of this reptile.
Coloring of body of stick agama is cryptic: it represents thin brown longitudinal strips on yellowish background of body, like a color of dry grass. One dark strip stretches across an eye, masking it. During rain season, when the fresh grass grows, color of background changes from yellow to green, and this lizard keeps possibility to mask. Pupil of the eye is slit-like and horizontal (thus at the perched lizard the crack of eye pupil is placed vertically, improving the circular view). Eye iris is brown.
In habit of life stick agama resembles in some details the corresponding insect. It lives on plants in the same way, in everything hoping for the protective coloring and shape. This lizard keeps on stalks of graminoids. In rest it perches along the stalk and keeps the body in vertical position. In such position lizard can easily climb to the next stalks, and even makes jumps sideways, pushing at the same moment by front and hind leg of the same side of body. In case of danger it tries to mask, hides under leaves or nestles against stalks and stays motionless until the last minute. At the extreme necessity the reptile seeks safety in flight, but at the first possibility tries to hide again.
Stick agama eats only insects, catching them with a short rush when they creep up rather close. This lizard drinks, licking the dew accumulating on stalks of grasses in the morning. It can not drink for a long time, receiving enough amount of moisture from food. Being a predator, it protects a fodder site from relatives, pushing them by side out from territory borders. Males conflict only with males, and females with females. As a whole the territories of individuals of opposite genders can overlap completely.
Courtship season at stick agamas stretches to almost all year round, interrupting only before a drought which happens on northern border of their area. Males notify neighbors that the territory is occupied, uttering the characteristic sounds similar to crash of broken twig. When the female comes closer to the male, it determines her readiness for pairing by a smell. If the female shows submission (it takes up the position on stalk lower than male), the male starts courtship ritual. It opens throat bag on which bright red middle fold bcomes visible, and starts to shake the head up-down. He climbs down to the female and keeps side by side with her. After fast pairing animals leave each other.
In clutch there are only 2-3 rather large eggs of very elongated shape, but the egg laying can repeat every month almost all the year round, interrupting only for the period of severe drought. The female lays eggs in the middle of large bush of graminoids, in depth where they will be protected from casual damage. The incubation lasts till about a month. Young lizards don’t differ from adults in habit of life, only keeping on plants near bushes where it is easier to take cover from hot sun and it is possible to find small insects. At one-year-old age they become adults.
The cannibalism is not characteristic for these lizards.

Translated by Alexander Smyslov.

Pangolin lizard (Neocordylus armatura)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Girdle-tailed lizards (Cordylidae)

Habitat: Southern Africa, savannas of various types.
Human epoch is characterized by change of borders of natural zones. At this time there was a reduction of areas occupied with forests and grasslands, but areas of deserts extended. It took place because of irrational economic activity of people. In historical epoch the significant territories occupied earlier with productive natural communities, had turned to deserts and became unsuitable for human life and for agriculture. But in these places rather large number of animal species was kept. The greatest distribution of deserts was typical for Africa to the north of equator, and for Near East. In South Africa extensive territories also were occupied with deserts – Namib, Kalahari and Carroo. In these deserts rich fauna of reptiles evolved and was kept. One of Neocene species of South-African fauna is pangolin lizard.
Pangolin lizard is a small reptile of strong constitution, with very powerful and clawed forepaws. It is the descendant of Holocene girdle-tailed lizards (Cordylus) characteristic for South Africa.
This species has a little changed in comparison with the ancestor: the length of adult individual seldom exceeds 20 cm. This lizard has rounded head covered from above with strong corneous plate, flattened body covered with cross lines of large pointed scales (hence the name), and thick armored tail covered with scale rows overlapping each other, and similar to pine cone. This tail serves for reserving of fat stock, and in courtship season is used for displaying to females – they more willingly are coupled with successful and full males which tail is full of fat. Protecting itself from small predators, lizard beats them by tail, as if by buldgeon.
Living in small groups – 1 – 2 males (one of which is obvious subdominant) and 5 – 6 females – these yellowish-brown reptiles something resemble miniature anteater monitors from deserts of Meganesia. Peaks of activity of pangoline lizard fall to morning and first half of day when their forage – various small and medium-sized invertebrates – has not come to the senses yet after night catalepsy, and is easy for catching. Lizards are heated in beams of rising sun on stones or walls of termitaries, and then start search of food. Forage of these reptiles includes termites, ants and other insects and invertebrates. Due to strong jaws these lizards easily chew strong armours of beetles.
By way of life pangoline lizards divide in two groups – “tramps” and “homebodies”. “Homebodies” are lucky beggars managed to settle near large ant hill, or, even better, near termitary which is exposed periodically to their attacks: due to thick skin pangolin lizard can rather painlessly suffer relatively large number of stings of ants, termites, and others small, but poisonous insects. It breaks a surface of termitary by forepaws, and simply licks off running out insects.
“Tramps”, on the contrary, have no constant residence. Almost all of them are young males did not manage to secure a constant colony of fodder insects. Therefore all the time they are occupied with searches of their own colony, and are compelled to spend much more time for search of daily portion of food – any insects or arachnids, which they can eat. This is rather dangerous occupation, because, despite of hardness of skin and camouflage colouring, pangolin lizards are regularly eaten by various animals, from larger lizards, and up to large spiders and scorpions, attacking young reptiles. Besides they constantly should search for shelter to wait in shadow hotter second half of day, and to spend the night in safety.
At the middle of dry season pangolin lizards have a new care: the courtship season begins. Homebody males get on any eminences – for example, on tops of the “own” termitaries, and start to hiss loudly, puffing and showing bright throat having violet or yellow spots. Basically, this representation is intended not for females, but for tramp males of this species, which would like to expel the owner from its house after long fight. During the courtship tournament two males push each other by breast, creeping on top of termitary, ant hill, stone or other eminence. Two or three fights usually are enough to reveal the weakest one, which leaves a place of struggle, conceding to the winner territory and females, which are immediately fertilized.
This species of lizards is ovoviviparous. At the end of summer, in the beginning of rainseason, females give rise to 2 – 3 live youngs. Among females of pangolin lizards there are no “tramps”. If any female does not live in constant colony, it may be only very young female had left to search for new place for residence. Adult females also can be “tramps”, but only when the colony of insects in which they ate, was exhausted and lost, that happens, but too seldom. On the contrary, almost all males leave a place of their birth to the beginning of the next dry season, and do not come back to it even to the beginning of courtship season, preferring to win a place for life somewhere at the distance. In such way pangolin lizards succeed to avoid inbreeding.
Birth of young pangolin lizards is dated to the beginning of rainseason, because at this time at termites, ants and other social insects of South Africa courtship flights begin. In same time other insects, grasshoppers and locusts, burst. At this time in nature there is a greatest variety of food for young pangolin lizards, opportunities for growth of their colony are greatest, and aggression of adult individuals is reduced. But further, somewhere in second half of rainseason, all young males and some females leave a place of the birth, being banished by old male and sometimes by other females.

This species of reptiles was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Lizardboa (Sauroboa trachycephalus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Lateral fold lizards (Anguidae)

Habitat: humid subtropical forests at the coast of Fourseas – from the Balkan up to Caucasian Peninsula.
Ice age at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene had become serious test for European herpetofauna. Glaciers held down by continuous armour the most part of Europe had forced heat-loving reptiles to recede to the south, or had simply exterminated their populations. Therefore in early Neocene the herpetofauna of Europe had began to form practically from zero. Some widely settled European species had survived at the south of former area, and had returned to habitats of their forefathers in new quality. Among such species there was one representative of blindworm family, the glass-snake (Ophisaurus apodus). This species of snake-like lizards had successfully survived in agrarian landscapes of human epoch, and its descendants had taken a dominant position in herpetofauna of European subtropical forests.
The descendant of this large lizard had turned to true giant over 3 meters long. By its powerful constitution this reptile is similar to small boas and hence is named lizardboa. As against to true snakes which are strict predators, lizardboa is omnivorous one. This reptile feeds on various large insects and small vertebrate animals, and also willingly eats soft fruits fallen from trees. In appearance of lizardboa there is one more feature distinguishing it from snakes - at this lizard there are mobile eyelids, and it can blink. Also at lizardboa the cervical narrowing very characteristic for snakes is poorly expressed.
The skin of this reptile is covered with small scales forming a continuous cover. Colouring of lizardboa helps to mask in underbrush, waiting for prey approaching. The basic background of colouring is yellowish brown. On it a spots of brown color are scattered making three faltering longitudinal lines – along back and on each side. On tail spots merge to continuous strips with rough edges. The head of reptile is covered with set of small irregular-shaped spots.
Lizardboa leads passive enough habit of life. In day time it hides in wood litter or under bushes, waiting for approaching of small animals suitable for eating. Attacking them, this reptile strikes a blow by head which is covered with strong corneous armour; impact stuns prey, or at once kills it. Protecting against large predators, this lizard applies similar tactics: it rises on tail like cobra, loudly hisses, and if the enemy does not recede, strikes sharp and strong impacts by head.
At the end of the summer and in autumn lizardboa is actively fattened, gathering the stock of fat necessary for successful wintering. Per bumper-crop years the diet of this reptile may more, than half consist of berries and fruits. Before wintering reptile does not eat, exempting intestines from the rests of food.
Few large reptiles expand far to the north. Only the huge lizard gila-dragon (Helodermopsis monstrosus) lives in North America almost so far at the north. In conditions of seasonal climate reptiles face to the necessity to go through winter period adverse for life, running into more or less long hibernation. Shortly before an autumn cold snap lizardboas begin to search shelters for wintering. Lizardboa winters in burrows which digs itself, or occupies ready burrows of various mammals. Usually few animals can resist to this reptile if it has chosen their burrow for wintering; therefore lizardboa usually does not have problems with search of winter habitation. In areas where there are karstic caves with narrow entrances, these reptiles gather for wintering by tens. At this time lizardboas are inactive and rather tolerant to relatives.
In spring, when stabile warming comes, lizardboas leave shelter in which they had spent cold season, and start to feed actively. At this time they behave extremely aggressively, and the adult reptile can even eat young growth of own species. It is connected to vital necessity – after wintering the exhausted reptiles as soon as possible should restore the physical shape and start breeding.
The courtship season at these reptiles begins approximately one month after the end of hibernation. Males colour very brightly: their colouring becomes very contrast. In courtship dress male is almost black-and-white with slight yellowish shade on white areas of body. Males become very active. They creep in forest, expelling contenders from the territory, and mark borders with odorous liquid. If two males about identical in force meet, they arrange noisy combat, coiling bodies and biting each other. Having met the female, male tries to press her body to the ground and to turn on back in order to couple with her. If the female is not ready to breeding, she tries to turn to dense ball preventing male to unwrap her body. If the female is ready to pairing, the pair of reptiles coils and coupled during several hours. At this time male is very aggressive, and attacks even animals much larger than its own size.
Lizardboa belongs to egg-laying reptiles. During two months after pairing in organism of the female up to ten large eggs develop. During the pregnancy the female becomes cautious and keeps mainly at warm forest clearings where sometimes some individuals of this species gather at once. Such behaviour is connected with the fact that eggs of lizardboa pass the first stage of incubation in organism of the female. Then the female lays them, digging in forest litter. The further care of posterity is not characteristic for this species. The incubation proceeds till about one month, and young individuals about 30 cm hatch. They differ from adults in cross-striped colouring. The diet of young ones consists of insects and berries.
Lizardboa becomes completely developed at the age of 4 years, at length up to 170 cm. Life expectancy of this reptile makes more than 60 years.

Scaly bird-snatcher (Paraophisaurus aviphagus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Lateral fold lizards (Anguidae)

Habitat: southeast of North America.
During the time of human existence many large species of animals had undergone to significant anthropogenous pressure. Among reptiles crocodiles, sea turtles and large tortoises, and also large lizards and snakes had suffered from human activity. The last ones, however, had less suffered, rather than crocodiles, but despite of it, many large snakes nevertheless had not sustained anthropogenous influence like hunting and destruction of habitats, and had died out. But at the same time much more smaller reptiles lived in the world – tortoises and freshwater turtles, snakes and lizards. Among lizards there were many limbless species of several families, and blind worms in particular. Being lizards in their nature, these reptiles had lost limbs and began to move similarly to snakes. They had quite succeeded in struggle for existence – in subtropical forests of the Balkan large omnivorous lizardboa (Sauroboa trachycephalus) had appeared and at the other side of Atlantic Ocean, in equally humid forests of North America, its distant relative lives; it is scaly bird-snatcher, which descends from one of American species of Ophisaurus genus.
It is rather large reptile, similar a little to snake. Separate individuals may grow up to 2 meters in length, but usually scaly bird-snatchers do not exceed 120 – 150 cm in length. The body of these reptiles is covered with continuous layer of thick skintight scales with a characteristic longitudinal plica of extensible skin along each side. The basic background of colouring is chartreuse, sometimes with rough spots of lighter shade. Such colouring allows reptile to hide among vegetation. Juveniles of scaly bird-snatcher are colored darker, with prevalence of grayish-green color. Colouring helps scaly bird-snatcher not only to avoid enemies, but also to trap prey: as against lizardboa, scaly bird-snatcher is exclusively predator. By the way of life scaly bird-snatcher also differs from its European analogue – this reptile in adult condition leads arboreal way of life and hunts birds, trapping them in ambush or snatching in nests, at height more than 10 meters above the ground. For improvement of coupling with substrate on the bottom part of body of animal scales end with the sharp edges directed back. The basic prey of this reptile includes birds of various sizes. Usually this reptile hunts small birds, but sometimes birds of pigeon-sized species become its prey. In addition to birds scaly bird-snatcher attacks arboreal rodents and bats. Front teeth of this reptile are peaked; also palatal teeth, well advanced in forward part of mouth, help to keep prey.
Courtship games of these reptiles begin simultaneously with rainseason. At this time males start to behave aggressively – they pursue each other and try to expel the contender from rendered habitable territory, delivering each other bites in tail and sides. A characteristic element of courtship tournaments is fight by heads when opponents are “boxing”, striking each other strong impacts by firm snout. In courtship season males darken, and throat and forward part of stomach turn white. Females are more phlegmatic and are tolerant to each other. The female ready to pairing involves males to itself with specific smell, and is coupled to the winner of courtship tournament. In summer – since June till August – scaly bird-snatcher females move down from trees and lay eggs – from 16 up to 34 small eggs of lengthened shape in a clutch – in heaps of rotten foliage or among windfallen trees. After two months of incubation young animals hatch. As well as at other lizards, they conduct completely independent life at once. In one hour after coming into the world they creep away in sides in searches of food – basically of other reptiles, small amphibians and invertebrates. But they quickly grow and already to the next spring pass to arboreal way of life and start to hunt almost exclusively birds.
The arboreal way of life of this lizard is caused by abundance of ground and semi-aquatic snakes in its habitats. Many snakes are able to kill and to eat even the adult scaly bird-snatcher. At the same time, various small birds forming a basis of diet of this species, also live on trees, far from ground enemies. In conditions of tropics and subtropics these reptiles get advantage in struggle for existence to predatory mammals, which endothermy does not give an appreciable prize in struggle for existence in hot climate. Scaly bird-snatcher is able not only to trap birds on branches but also to get into hollows for nestlings and eggs.
The young animal reaches sexual maturity at the second year of life. The maximal life expectancy of scaly bird-snatcher is about 15 – 18 years.

This species of reptiles was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Tree-climbing goanna (Varanus arboreus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Monitor lizards (Varanidae)

Habitat: Meganesia, tropical rainforests at the north of the continent, trees crones.
Goannas, the Australian representatives of monitor lizard family, represent one of the most successful experiments of evolution in durability. One representative of this kind, the huge lizard Megalania, had been one of the main predators of Australia in Pliocene epoch, before the arrival of people and placental predators to the island continent. But now both people and megalanias had disappeared from the face of the Earth for a long time, and the new large representative of goannas, awful dragon monitor, inspiring horror in animals of Neocene Australia. But dragon monitor, as well as Megalania before it, looks mostly like the exception to the rules in Cenozoic when at tops of food pyramids not reptiles or dinosaurs, but birds and mammals stand. Other representatives of monitor lizard family confirm it.
Tree-climbing goanna is a reptile about one meter long and weighting up to 12 kg. It is covered with green scale with black cross strips, being similar by colouring a little to South American iguanas of human epoch; sexually mature males have a white or yellow throat bag which they inflate in courtship season, at the end of Meganesian summer. As against dragon monitor, tree-climbing goannas are not the main predators of the ecosystem – jungle in the north Meganesia; large warm-blooded creatures like predatory descendants of cassowary and larger species of marsupial civets do not miss an opportunity to attack even such large lizard, especially in early morning or at night, when large reptiles are less active. Young tree-climbing goannas, yelding in size to adult representatives of this species, are vulnerable even for small owls. Their only protections are speed of movement and skill of hiding in the narrowest shelters.
Moreover young individuals have one more protective adaptation. During the evolutional development at tree-climbing goannas hypodermic glands are appeared, which open as pores on each side of the body and secret on their scales special fat greasing. It makes young goannas, first, very slippery, and second, unpleasant in taste for the majority of predators. But at these reptiles cannibalism is the usual phenomenon, and these secretions almost do not help from adult cannibal individual. Young individuals are colored a little differently, than adults – in their colouring there is more black color, rather than green and they can hide among epiphytes, keeping immovability and merging to shadows of their leaves on bark.
At adults tree-climbing goannas (especially at males reaching sometimes more than one meter in length) this greasing is secreted in much smaller quantity, and they protect themselves (and also attack) putting to enemies bites and painful impacts by tail. As well as at some monitor lizards of Holocene, in mouth of tree-climbing goanna bacteria live; they make bites of these lizards poisonous and dangerous to health. Secretions also have one more function – they interfere with development of bacteria. Therefore, having received a wound from teeth of predator or the congener, reptile secrets intensively this greasing and puts it by paws on wounded sites of skin.
Tree-climbing goannas eat mainly animals of small and medium size – arboreal marsupials, small birds, sometimes their own congeners and other reptiles; smaller and younger individuals eat also invertebrates – snails and insects. Large animals, less quick on trees (goannas climb with the help of claws, instead of “sticky” pads like geckos have) sometimes move down on the ground and hunt there; these lizards do not disdain carrion, searching it by means of keen sense of smell.
In the beginning or in the middle of Meganesian autumn females of tree-climbing goannas lay in hollows of trees clutches of 10 – 15 eggs and close them with foliage of the same trees. For this purpose the reptile creeps on thin branches, and tears leaves risking to fall down. Having gathered some leaves in mouth, female returns to nest and put it there.
After the clutch is made and covered with foliage and green twigs from extraneous eyes, female abandons it and does not care of it anymore. About a half of the total number of young goannas simply does not live up to sexual maturity, despite of the protective adaptations. Young goannas, however, behave tolerantly to each other, and young ones from one clutch keep together for rather long time, and it compensates a little the death rate at early age. Adult tree-climbing goannas also behave rather tolerantly to each other because of the better availability of prey in crones of tropical forest. If from two to four males face with each other near the same female in courtship period, they establish relations without combat, displaying to each other the size of the gular sac: the owner of largest one wins.
Tree-climbing goannas live up to 80 – 90 years, but usually much less, because a plenty of various predators hunts them.

This species of reptiles was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Hook-snouted goanna (Varanus protorhynchus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Monitor lizards (Varanidae)

Habitat: Meganesia, tropical rainforests at the north of the continent.
At the genetic level the closest relatives of tree-climbing goannas are hook-snouted goannas living at the same area, but having completely different ecology. These ones are larger, one-coloured dark green (up to black) reptiles (old males sometimes reach more than three meters in length) living not on trees, but in thickets along valleys of wide streams and forest rivers where in forest canopy gleams appear and the plentiful underbrush develops on the ground. Their males do not have advanced gular sac, but along their backbone darker crest of corneous plaques stretches.
Though hook-snouted goannas live near water, they do not behave like their African relatives resembling crocodiles in their way of life. On the contrary, hook-snouted goannas prefer to watch for the prey at the riverbanks and seize it on land, or snatch out from water, standing on land. At these lizards the semblance of collective behaviour is advanced: large male gathers a harem of 5 – 6 females, and reptiles are capable to attack large animal in common. Hunting and eating prey together, these lizards can defend the prey even at predatory cassowaries, large predators of Meganesian jungle.
These lizards are named because of the shape of snout: their maxillae are deflexed and their shape resembles fish-hook a little. In common with powerful jaw muscles and sharp teeth it permits hook-snouted goannas to peel meat from the prey completely, up to bones, or to break and to eat these bones in common with meat. As a rule, these reptiles eat the parts of prey body containing small bones, right with bones – hands, feet, tails and a part of thoracic cage with ribs. If prey has rather small head (kangaroo, for example), due to mobile jaws and flexible ligaments between them lizard can swallow also a head of prey together with skin, wool and teeth. Reptile will digest also such dinner successfully, and not digested teeth and wool of prey will leave with dung.
As well as at their tree-climbing relatives, the courtship period at hook-snouted goannas begins at the end of Meganesian summer. But it takes place roughly and aggressively, being accompanied by roar of dominant males warning thus possible opponents and notify unfamiliar and lonely females on the force and readiness for breeding. Sometimes between males combats take place; at these moments males rear on hind legs and try to tumble down each other on back and to press against the ground. Defeated male hastily leaves territory of the winner; it doesn’t matter, whether it belonged to him earlier or not. The winner expels losed male, pursuing him and biting its sides or tail.
Though females live together, each of them digs clutch in the ground separately, carefully hiding the nest from congeners; in clutch of this species there are 10 – 12 eggs. Like tree-climbing goannas, they do not care of the clutch and also leave the posterity to the mercy of fate. The majority of more-less serious predators prefers to leave the territory of hook-snouted goannas – these lizards are dangerous opponents. And this circumstance saves many young individuals. But the advantage of it is reduced to zero by active cannibalism of adult individuals. Young individuals have not won yet the harem or have not adjoined to already existing one are especially dangerous to young ones. And juveniles fall prey of adult reptiles.
As well as at tree-climbing goanna, life expectancy of hook-snouted goanna may reach 90 years. If the reptile of this species had not died up to achievement of one-and-a-half-meter length, it has all chances to reach age limit.

This species of reptiles was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Ant-monitor (Myrmivaranus flagellicaudis)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Monitor lizards (Varanidae)
Habitat: savannas of Meganesia.

Picture by Timothy Donald Morris

Initial sketch by Arseny Zolotnikov

Long and thin tongue of reptiles of order Squamata, is constantly put outside to gather information about the environment and to carry it to Jacobson’s organ at the palate. It is frequently able to penetrate into various cracks and apertures. Therefore would be quite possible to it to get in the future any more function, which was earlier not met at present group of animals.
In human epoch monitor lizards (Varanidae) were considered as the most progressive family of lizards. One of variety centers of this family is Australia. In Neocene one of survived representatives of monitor lizards family from savannas and semi-deserts of this continent, using an abundance of various species of social insects, had passed from predating habit of life to feeding by this specific catch. Before this species Australian echidna (Tachyglossus) and less specialized banded anteater, or numbat (Myrmecobius) had such diet. This reptile became, thus, their ecological analogue, taken place of these animals in savannas of Neocene Meganesia.
Reaching more than 2 meters in length, the Meganesian ant-monitor is rather sluggish and slow, and rather peaceful in comparison with its relatives. It has powerful enough claws, both on front and on hind legs, with which breaks the ground and nests of colonial insects. Long and thin tongue, doubled at the end and covered with sticky saliva, allows to catch insects and to draw them in mouth. Saliva also involves by taste and smell some ants, which get on tongue when lizard pushes it in their nest. Teeth of this reptile are considerably reduced; they are small and sharp, located only in forward part of jaws.
Thick scaly skin protects body from stings which are put to monitor lizard by insects, furiously protecting ravaging nests. Head of this monitor lizard is covered from above with almost continuous corneous armour. On back of ant-monitor there are sticking up enlarged scutes also used as passive protection. They form cross belts on all back of the reptile, representing reliable protection against medium-sized predators.
In case of danger the ant-monitor protects itself by impacts of tail, on which end some rows of pointed scales were developed, and also by big powerful claws, making aggressive lunges aside the enemy.
Colouring of body is soft: from yellowish-grey to dark brown tones (there are individual deviations in color), lighter yellowish strip through lateral part of neck and shoulders serves for recognition of neighbours. For strengthening of contrast with colouring of body it is shaded from above and from below with darker strips. Color of this strip directly depends on physical condition of animal. At meeting two reptiles of this species turn heads aside, showing this strip and estimating thus physical opportunities of each other.
The basic food of ant-monitor is social insects. This monitor lizard feeds with them as in nests (destroying them with strong claws), as on their tracks or in thickets. Perhaps, only soldier ants devouring all alive on their way, represent the certain danger for it, but their more peaceful neighbours frequently become its food. In searches of insects ant-monitor is able to rise of hinder legs, and base by forepaws against trees trunks, surveying bushes and branches in searches of insect nests. But because of massive armour this reptile does not differ in abilities of tree-climber. Also this reptile can feed on ground, digging out underground nests of insects, or eating underground larvae of beetles and cicadas.
Ant-monitors are single animals, but in areas of dense settlements of social insects they keep by groups of 3 – 5 individuals. Usually these reptiles constantly wander in savanna, not being late for a long time in any place.
Males at this species are larger than females. Ant-monitor lays eggs (up to 20 ones) to unusual incubator: into termitarium. After all clutch is laid, female leaves it, and termites repair the damaged wall of nest. Eggs appear in very favorable conditions, and besides, they get a smell of termitarium. Therefore practically nothing threatens to clutch and young ant-monitors, and the first time they grow in environment of own food. The adult female, contrary to habits of majority of lizards, does not leave nest at all. It marks termitarium becoming an incubator for its clutch, and also remarkable objects in its vicinities with musk liquid from glands opening on hips, and keeps beside. It will drive off adult neighbours from nest during all term of incubating, but approximately when the young growth hatches from eggs, it leaves a post. The first ant-monitor, destroying termitarium in searches of food, involuntarily releases young growth from imprisonment.
Young ant-monitors have brighter and contrast colouring, than adults. Primary color of their body is yellow, on it brown cross strips pass. Stomach is white; along neck and on shoulder brown strip passes. Later colouring changes: strips on body disappear, and strip at shoulder becomes brighter: on it light stains appear, merging at the adult reptile to continuous strip.
Young ant-monitors are still too weak to break open nests of termites independently. Therefore they keep near to adult reptiles, and feed after them at cracked termitariums. They will reach the size of adult animal approximately to 6 - to 7 years, though they’ll become able to breed already at 3-rd - 4-th year of life.

This species was discovered by Arseny Zolotnikov

Crocodile monitor lizard (Pseudosuchus varanoides)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Water monitors (Aquavaranidae)

Habitat: rivers of Southern and Eastern Africa, south of Zinj Land.

Picture by Sauron from FurNation

After the ice age number of crocodiles, last representatives of prospering in far past Archosauria subclass, had sharply reduced and they have died out practically at all area. But in warm and damp climate of Neocene when many finny rivers and lakes have appeared, the place of large fish-eating predators did not remain empty: it was occupied with representatives of large monitor lizards. Once in Cretaceous period monitor lizards have already achieved short-term success, having evolved to predatory mososaurs – true horror of seas. In Neocene the opportunity to make the second attempt has appeared at them, and they again have taken advantage of it, becoming ancestors of separate family of water monitors, including predators similar to crocodiles of last geological epoch. They are settled in rainy tropic areas of Old World: in Africa, at East-African subcontinent, south of Arabia, Hindustan, in South-Eastern Asia and Indonesia. In Nile which in Neocene had changed the channel and flows across former Sahara desert as in prehistoric times, representatives of water monitors are not found: there they are replaced by other predatory river reptile, huge crocoturtle (Archotrionyx vorax), the representative of soft-shelled turtles.
At the coast of Tanganyika passage separating the East-African subcontinent from Africa, the crocodile monitor lizard, one of widespread species of this family, lives. It is the huge water reptile (its length is up to 5 - 6 meters), externally similar to crocodile with longer neck and without characteristic skin osseous plates. The skull of crocodile monitor lizard is more than half meter long. It is rather wide and flat. Eyes of reptile are shifted in top part of head and stick up above it a little. Haw has a role of “underwater glasses”, permitting monitor lizard to see normally under water. Nostrils of crocodile monitor lizard open at the end of muzzle that allows the reptile to breathe, only minimally displaying itself for catch. Edges of nostrils can close automatically at diving. Under water this monitor lizard finds possible catch with the help of sight and strongly advanced chemical feeling: the reptile from time to time analyzes water by tongue like snake.
Paws of crocodile monitor lizard are well advanced, animal easily moves on the ground. On toes claws, with which help monitor lizard tears apart large catch, are advanced. Palamas between toes of reptile are not present. The main swimming organ at the crocodile monitor lizard is long tail (its length is about half of general length of reptile). On tail the skinny edge is advanced, stretching up to middle of back. The skin of this monitor lizard is colored greenish-grey with pattern of longitudinal lines of darkly-green spots. Stomach, chest and throat are covered with soft yellowish-white skin.
Crocodile monitor lizard is active predator and scavenger. Its basic forage includes fishes, but the reptile equally willingly eats ground animals, for any reasons got in water, and during river floods searches corpses of sunk animals. Teeth of this reptile, as against to crocodile’s ones, resemble more teeth of shark: they are leaf-shaped with sharp saw-toothed edges. Attacking large animal, reptile puts to it deep cut wounds by teeth.
These reptiles are rather tolerant to each other, and frequently it is possible to see, as they gather on riverbank by small even-aged groups. The most part of day adult crocodile monitor lizards bask at the sun. If they become hot, huge lizards slip in water, wet skin and creep out to riverbank again, or hide in shadow of trees, or wallow in dirt. But such picture can be observed only when reptiles are full. Hungry crocodile monitor lizard is dangerous creature. It arranges ambush on shallow, near to favorite watering places of ground animals. Usually this reptile lays at the bottom, occasionally putting out from water tip of muzzle to breathe. Through river bottom monitor lizard feels steps of animals going to watering place. When the catch is located, monitor lizard cautiously creeps up in bottom as close as it is possible to animals drinking water, and makes sharp throw, trying to seize the chosen prey to the muzzle. If the attack is successful, reptile jerkily fells catch and drags it in water to drown. Thus it strongly grips it by jaws, not giving to prey any chance to escape.
Young crocodile monitor lizards eat at first insects, and then pass to more essential catch: frogs, small fishes, birds and animals had fallen in water.
Crocodile monitor lizard eats exterminated catch alone when it is not so large. But if carcass is too large, it should hasten: the successful hunter is immediately surrounded by hungry neighbours, and everyone strives to bite off from another's catch richer piece. Sometimes near catch serious fight springs up. But teeth are not used, in other case after each such conflict the population promptly would decrease. Monitor lizards fight, pushing away opponents by all body, striking impacts by head and scratching by claws. Teeth are used only for demonstration of force: driving away neighbours from lawful catch, crocodile monitor lizard widely opens mouth, showing lines of sharp teeth, but does not try to bite the contender.
Being adapted to life in water, the crocodile monitor lizard confidently feels on land. It easily walks, and can even run to small distances. Sometimes it hunts on land, hiding near track of large animals. Here excellent masking colouring helps reptile. It attacks nothing suspecting prey when it walks beside. Sharply having turned around, monitor lizard strikes blow of tail on legs of prey, and then, having turned to it by head and rushes on animal trying to rise, seizing its neck or thorax. Even if the prey will escape, it is practically doomed: teeth of crocodile monitor lizard put to prey such wounds, that it quickly perishes from loss of blood. And the reptile easily finds wounded prey by blood trace. As against water turtles, the crocodile monitor lizard easily can swallow catch outside of water, and teeth with which it is possible to bite off suitable piece easily, favorably distinguish it from crocodiles. Crocodile is compelled to snap for its any sticking outside part and to turned around axis to dismember large catch. And such trick succeeds only in water.
The crocodile monitor lizard is very enduring, and it can even stay short time in sea water. Sometimes on “rafts” of floating trees these reptiles can be carried away far to the ocean, receiving an opportunity of settle at islands. They had crossed this way Tanganyika passage and have occupied the East-African subcontinent, and also had settled in Southern Arabia. At the East-African subcontinent (Zinj Land) this species had formed the separate dwarf form (Pseudosuchus varanoides carcinivorus) up to 3 meters long. The dwarf crocodile monitor lizard eats mainly fishes and freshwater crabs.
The breeding season at these reptiles stretches almost for all year, except for dry season at edges of natural habitat. Usually the male (on the average it is about meter longer than the female) begins caring: it chases female ready to pairing, seizing by paws for the basis of her tail (usually males of lizards keep females by teeth, but teeth of crocodile monitor lizard can put painful wounds). If the female is not ready to accept caring of the male, it can shake him from herself, having swept by the ground or having swam through driftwood.
If some males try to care to one female, there can be severe fights between them: contenders push each other away from the female, strike impacts by head and scratch by claws. If the competition becomes especially sharp, teeth are used and then fight may terminate in heavy traumas. In colonies of crocodile monitor lizards it is quite often possible to see animals with bitten off toes, injured skin and knocked out eyes, crippled during courtship tournaments.
Caring for the female, male pays to her signs of attention: it rubs against her head and throat. On riverbank male lays near to female, driving away from her probable competitors and when the female leaves in water, follows her. Pairing of reptiles takes place in water and repeats some times. After pairing male some time stays near to the female.
Pregnancy at crocodile monitor lizard lasts about three weeks. When the female feels, that there comes time to lay eggs, she leaves riverbank and searches for secluded place in forest. In moisturized and friable wood ground she digs out by hinder leg hole about half meter depth, and lays in it about two tens eggs by size like goose ones. When all eggs are laid, female digs nest in and by bottom jaw rakes up atop leaves and branches of it. The care of posterity at this species of reptiles comes to an end at this moment, and female leaves nest.
The incubating lasts about two months. The length of just hatched young retile is only about 25 cm. By colouring it differs from adults: its skin is emerald-green with faltering cross strips of black color. Fin plica on tail is well advanced, and the young growth is able to swim and dive since the first day of life. But the first day of life is the hardest for the future river tyrant.
Young monitor lizards should fulfill very hard task: to dig independently the exit to the surface, and then to find way to water. It succeeds not to all ones: if the place for nest is chosen unsuccessfully, the overflow after rain river may simply inundate nest. A part of clutches may be founded and dug out by predatory animals, they destroy part of young monitors. In the river both predatory fishes and adult neighbours hunt young crocodile monitor lizards. Therefore the just hatched young monitor lizards searches shelter from cannibal neighbours in thickets of marsh plants where adult crocodile monitor lizard is not able to creep through. In total only posterity from one third of laid eggs survive up to monthly age. But at two-year-old age they reach one-and-a-half-meter length, and many of former enemies easily can turn to catch. And the eight-year reptile being about four meters long has practically no enemies. At the same age crocodile monitor lizards can breed. Life expectancy of this reptile can reach 70 years.

Pike monitor lizard (Varanesox velonatans)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Water monitors (Aquavaranidae)
Habitat: islands of Indonesia, South-Eastern Asia.

Picture by Roman Val

Initial picture by Arseny Zolotnikov

Change of climatic conditions and natural accidents accompanying them were reflected at the reproduction of plankton by the most pernicious way. Biological efficiency of seas had sharply decreased, that had caused extinction of most part of coastal fish-eating organisms. But ecosystems of rivers not so strongly depend on sea plankton, and only separate species of animals had suffered here. General efficiency of rivers had practically not decreased.
It had permitted to some species of terrestrial animals to make attempt to pass to aquatic habit of life. In Indonesia conditions had especially favored to it. At the ice age the ocean level was lowered, and islands had merged to some common areas of land that had allowed to ground animal to settle widely. Among successful migrants there were various reptiles, including monitor lizards. When glaciers have thawed, the common land appeared divided to set of islands. Due to plentiful rains at islands the set of rivers had appeared. One of optimum ways of adaptation to this change of inhabitancy was the passing to life in water.
Coast estuaries are rich in life – here larvae of fishes growing up in brackish water and small shrimps meet, amphibians and insects live in freshwater sites of flowing rivers, and also there are different species of waterfowl. Medium-sized lizards of monitor lizards family had started development of this promising inhabitancy, having evolved to essentially new form – pike monitor lizard. This almost completely aquatic lizard most advantageously lives in shallow warm gulfs. Its close relative is African crocodile monitor lizard (Pseudosuchus varanoides). It differs in larger sizes being less adapted to aquatic habit of life.
The pike monitor lizard, on the contrary, spends significant part of time in water. It has streamline body shape, but has kept many features of common terrestrial reptiles. Main movement organ at this lizard is the tail; it is short and compressed from sides with oblong fin at the end. Extremities are rather small, flatten like crocodile paws, having claws at fingers and toes. Hinder legs are larger than front ones. At the land pike monitor lizard moves clumsily and reluctantly; it does not creep far from reservoir.
Pike monitor lizard reaches one and half meters long, but more often it is smaller. The skin is covered with smooth, small, densely fitted scales colored dark green with cryptic vertical stripes of grayish-yellow color.
Eyes and nostrils are shifted to the top part of muzzle that permits to look over vicinities, only slightly having put out muzzle from water. Head of the reptile is rather large: approximately the fifth part of the general length of animal. Neck is almost not expressed.
This reptile swims by means of tail and paws. Certainly, in quickness this monitor lizard concedes to fishes, however it successfully hunts them from an ambush. Usually the reptile hides among water plants, or driftwood. Thoroughly having recovered breath and having inhaled air in lungs, it can stop breathe during approximately quarter of hour. Thus its blood circulation is switched in such manner that blood supplies first of all brain and heart. Muscles exist due to internal stocks of chemically fixed oxygen.
Less often this monitor lizard attacks amphibians and nestlings of waterfowl, and also eats carrion.
It swallows small catch entirely, taking it to swallow from head. This reptile can bring large fishes or dead animal which cannot be swallowed at once, for convenience to shallow water, and then tears it apart by teeth and claws of forepaws.
In the morning, or after meal, pike monitor lizard quite often creeps out of water to get warm on driftwood or to sandy spit in river channel, keeping up for environmental conditions. On land this reptile behaves very cautiously. Any sharp sound or suspicious movement it regards as danger, rushing in water and hide deeply in thickets of underwater plants. Being caught, this monitor lizard is able to defend itself actively, biting by mouth full of rather large needle-like sharp teeth.
Courtship season at this species takes place rather roughly, that is especially remarkable for such cautious animal. Pairing is preceded with tournaments in the water, accompanying with jumps and fountains of splashes. At this time males chase and bite each other by mouth, trying slightly subsurface the contender, showing the superiority. Loosed one stops resistance, having pressed paws to sides, and when the competitor male lets it off, immediately retires.
Appreciating the origin, for egg laying this reptile comes out to land. Pike monitor lizard is egg-laying reptile. In clutch it happens up to ten eggs by size like small chicken ones. Females of this species dig eggs by back paws in coastal ground above line of inflow. For breeding these monitor lizards gather at small islands inaccessible to the majority of ground predators.
Nevertheless, the specific habit of life has already an effect for features of breeding of these reptiles. Term of incubating of laid eggs at pike monitor lizard is less, than at overland reptiles of the similar size. It is connected with the feature of its development: development of embryo begins still long before egg laying, in organism of mother. Pregnant females become inactive, and spend more time in well warmed up gulfs. At this time they eat much less, and frequently meet in groups up to ten reptiles and more.
Young pike monitor lizards, distinguishing from adults by brighter spotty colouring, live in thickets of plants in shallow water, catching insects, larvae of fishes and small frogs. They keep up-stream to avoid the possible attack of adult reptiles of this species. Right after hatching the young growth aspires to get in rivers, instinctively moving against current. The greatest mortality among young animals is observed at this particular time: fishes and adult pike monitor lizards attack young ones. Due to smaller weight young pike monitor lizards move overland, passing through watersheds and settling in other rivers easily. Adult reptiles are usually adhered to places of inhabiting though among them there are some “tramps” overcoming even rather narrow sea passages between islands.
It is possible, that in more long-term future descendants of this monitor lizard may at all lose connection with land and pass to life in high sea, taken place of dolphins and large predatory fishes in tropical seas of Earth.

This species was discovered by Arseny Zolotnikov

Underground crown-tailed snake (Coronocauda caeca)
Order Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Srepentes)
Family Blind snakes (Typhlopidae)

Habitat: Hawaiian Islands, rainforests.
Hawaiian Islands are the land of volcanic origin separated from continents by extensive water spaces. By virtue of reliable isolation on islands some groups of animals typical for continents were abscent. So, at these islands there were no ground tetrapods (except for birds): Pacific Ocean appeared practically insuperable to them. But till the human colonisation of islands the situation had sharply changed: similarly to many other islands, Hawaii became a shelter for set of animals from various continents imported intentionally or casually. Their presence had completely changed a direction of evolution of local flora and fauna, and many species had completely disappeared. But nevertheless as a result in Neocene at Hawaii the balanced but absolutely another ecosystem had generated, rather than it could develop by natural way.
In the ground of Hawaiian rainforests the set of burrows forming extended circuits is dug. They were dug out by local digging rodents, Hawaiian false mole rats, similar to large-headed moles. In tunnels they are protected from ground predators, but they never disappear from other creature also leading underground habit of life. Pinkish body of this creature almost silently slides in tunnels of rodents, and sharp sense of smell prompts this predator where it may search for holes in which young rodents hide.
Tireless hunter for rodents, living at Hawaii, belongs to the primitivest snakes on Earth – blind snakes. But by size this creature surpasses any of its continental relatives – its length reaches one meter at thickness about 6 cm. Flattened head of this snake is covered with thick corneous armour, and tail, on the contrary, is obtuse. The tip of tail is topped with flat corneous “incrustation” with small denticles at the edges, directed sideways and back. This formation looks similarly to crown, and for that snake is named crown-tailed snake.
Present species of reptiles is the descendant of bramin’s blind snake (Typhlops braminus) or “pottery snake” – small blind snake about 10 – 12 cm long, casually introduced to Hawaii with indoor plants. At the islands this small creature had received a fine food source as insects, including introduced ones. Its descendant has reached length of one meter – millions years of evolution practically out of competition had an effect. Large descendants of bramin’s blind snake passed to feeding with small vertebrates including their own congeners. Gradually they began to include in diet rodents digging in ground – descendants of mice introduced to Hawaii. Underground crown-tailed snake became the largest digging creature at islands.
Sight had not any significant role in life of ancestors of this creature, therefore eyes of crown-tailed snake had completely disappeared, and even their seen traces did not remain. Head of this reptile is covered with integral corneous shell, becoming the fine instrument hole burrowing in wood ground. In behavior of blind snake living under ground, colouring of body also does not matter, therefore covers of body of this reptile became semi-translucent, pinkish-yellow. Skin is covered with thin scales forming integral smooth cover. On the tip of tail of snake the corneous scute with denticles sticking back on edges, similar to crown, grows. This formation was developed as a support at movement under ground – snake supporst by denticles against walls of hole. Usually crown-tailed snake lives in holes of rodents, but easily burrows own holes in friable wood ground. On ground surface this snake becomes absolutely helpless: crown-tailed snake tries to find a point of support for tail to push and to burrow in the ground again. Its muscles are very strong; therefore snake literally “dives” into the ground and quickly digs in.
Crown-tailed snake has kept predating habits characteristic for all snakes. It eats small rodents, Hawaiian false mole rats, chasing them in their own holes. Keen chemical feeling helps crown-tailed snake to search for rodents by smell. Teeth of this snake are sharp and recurved. Having grasped the catch, snake keeps it in teeth while catch bleeds to death, and then swallows it. It equally easily swallows catch both from head, and from tail.
Similarly to the majority of snakes the crown-tailed snake is oviparous species. Once per half-year female lays up to five lengthened eggs covered with thin pergamen-like shell. Males of this species may be met rather seldom. They are longer than females, but differ in narrower head. Male finds female ready to pairing by the special smell. For pairing snakes bury deeply in ground, and arrange under tree roots the special hole ending by spherical chamber. In this chamber male and female twist as if a knot, and spend some hours in such position while pairing lasts. But as a rule, these snakes have parthenogenetic breeding without participation of males. Stimulating the increase of hormonal level, females simulate pairing, gathering by some individuals in the certain similarity of “marriage holes”. Such behaviour promotes development of ovocites, and approximately after two weeks females lay eggs. Female hides eggs in hole, digging it and stamping ground by pushes of head.
Approximately in ten weeks from eggs young snakes hatch. They at once leave parental holes and dig own burrows: adult snakes frequently eat their own posterity.
Young snakes become able to breeding at the age of about one year. First clutches are parthenogenetic; completely advanced individuals pair with males and lay normal eggs.

Forest worm-tailed python (Vermicaudophis venator)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Boas (Boidae)

Habitat: Equatorial Africa, tropical forests, wood litter.
In Neocene tropical rainforests had restored in areas occupied earlier. But they differ from forests known to people. The part of species of plants and animals had died out irrevocably, and the part of new forest species represents descendants of rather recent immigrants succeeded to settle in newly forming ecosystems.
Tropical rainforest represents a fine habitat for reptiles. From forest canopy up to soil layer under tree roots – it is possible to find reptiles in any level of forest. The part of them is herbivores, a significant amount of small species represents insectivores, and large species are predators and hunt vertebrate animals. Among predatory reptiles snakes dominate, and pythons belong to the largest snakes of Tropical Africa.
Many specialized species of these snakes live in tropical forests. Some of them live in crones of trees, others lodge near water. And in wood litter representatives of original genus of worm-tailed pythons live; these ones are hunters for ground animals from chicken up to dog in size. The most widespread species of this genus is forest worm-tailed python, a reptile about 4 meters long.
Worm-tailed pythons differ from other snakes in several very characteristic attributes of anatomy. Body of these snakes is wide and slightly flattened, as at adders of genus Bitis known in human epoch. Neck is feebly marked, and head is flattened. Eyes and nostrils are shifted to the top part of head. It is connected to inactive way of life of these snakes – worm-tailed pythons spend a significant part of time having dug in wood litter. The body of snake has camouflage color with the soft pattern, helping to hide from prey. At forest worm-tailed python the pattern on back represents yellowish-brown irregular-shaped spots on dark brown background. These spots are located on body in pairs and have slightly oblong form and wavy outlines. In the middle of each spot there is a slanting stroke of dark brown color, and edges of these spots are shaded with chocolate-brown strokes. When snake lays in wood litter, having slightly dug in it and having bent its body, this pattern on its back ideally merges with environmental background. On head of reptile there is a leaf-shaped pattern of yellowish-brown color. Stomach of worm-tailed python is light yellow or white.
Compared to body tail of these reptiles is sharply narrowed and thin. Its tip is long, whip-like and very mobile. Its colouring sharply differs from colouring of other parts of body – it is light pink with thin cross lines. Tail has such colouring at last 20 – 30 cm of its length. This is an important hunting adaptation of the snake.
Forest worm-tailed python is dug in wood litter by lateral movements of body and freezes immoveably, having bent body so, that tail is near to head. This snake can keep immovability during many hours, waiting for approaching of prey. At occurrence of ground birds or mammals of suitable size hidden snake starts to move with a tip of tail, imitating movement of worms and other small animals in wood litter. Usually large herbivores or carnivores do not pay attention to this bait, but birds and insectivorous animals or rodents frequently fall prey of reptile. Worm-tailed python kills the prey by bites or strangles it, having compressed in rings of body.
At these snakes the sexual dimorphism is clearly expressed: at male tail is longer, rather than at female and also male is smaller – his general length is 20 % less, than at female.
Worm-tailed pythons breed at any time of year. Male finds the female by smell and is coupled with her, twisting her with body rings. Pairing may last till about some days. At this time snakes are aggressive and bite the animal disturbed them, but the food behaviour at reptiles is suppressed this time. Pregnancy of the female lasts till about three months. It lays up to two tens of small eggs and protects them, having twisted around of clutch. Additionally female warms clutch with movements of body. The incubation lasts till about one month: at the moment of egg laying embryos in them are already advanced enough. Young snakes eat small rodents and insects. They live in bushes and in tree crones, not competing to adult individuals.
In Equatorial Africa Some species of worm-tailed pythons live:
Simple-tailed python (Vermicaudophis simplicicaudis) is the most primitive species of the genus. On its tail there are no areas differing in colouring from other parts of body. This reptile up to 2 meters long lives in tree crones, but often moves down on the ground. The body has cylindrical form typical for the majority of snakes, and also is rather thin. This species allures prey simply with movements of tail. Colouring of simple-tailed python is grey with a pattern of faltering black strokes stretched along the back and sides; on sides strokes merge to lines of dark spots. Small birds, frogs and lizards become prey of this species more often. The female arranges nest in tree hollow.
Lizard-tailed python (Vermicaudophis saurocaudis) specializes on feeding on ground mammals. Length of this reptile is up to four meters. Its colouring represents a line of large grey spots along the back on reddish-brown background. Tail of this reptile very precisely imitulates head and body of lizard. It is bright green, and its tip is expanded, forming leaf-like structure. On lateral faces of bait tail there is a pair of oculate spots of yellow color with black stroke in the centre: they imitate eyes of reptile. Various omnivorous mammals and birds become prey of this species.
Aquatic worm-tailed python (Vermicaudophis congensis) differs from other species of genus in a way of life. It is semi-aquatic reptile about 2 meters long which lives in boggy areas and in the shallow rivers of Congo basin, and eats fishes and frogs. Like other representatives of genus, this python allures prey by tail. The body of this species has bluish-grey color with two parallel chains of large black strokes along the back. The tip of tail is covered with large scales of black color which form cross lines, imitating the segmented body of crustacean. This python arranges ambush in thickets of aquatic plants, holding head near surface of water; the tail of reptile lays on the bottom, among the vegetative parts. For breeding female leaves water and siuts nest in reeds, frequently in nests of water birds. The incubation of eggs passes mainly in body of the female and it protects clutch no more than two weeks. Young individuals at once start to live and hunt in water. The tip of tail at them is bright red: it is an imitation of benthic larvae of some mosquitoes. As snake grows, the tail changes color to yellowish, and further darkens, turnting color, characteristic for adult individuals.

Atargatis (Atargatis platicauda)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Aquatic natricids (Aquanatricidae)

Habitat: southern part of Fourseas.
Fourseas, huge brackish lake in South-Eastern Europe, had appeared in Neocene literally from non-existence. When climate began more humid, water had filled hollows at the place of Black, Azov, Caspian and Aral seas, having formed common midland reservoir. Sea animals could not occupy it: Mediterranean Sea nearest to Fourseas had dried up, and because of increase of amount of rains in its hollow the set of bitterly-salt swamps had appeared. Certainly, in such conditions any sea animal could not survive physically. Therefore Fourseas was occupied with rests of former fauna of Caspian and Black seas – fishes and invertebrates had survived in salt lakes which existence was supported during ice age by rivers of Eastern Europe.
The ichthyofauna of Fourseas is made basically by gobies and some other species of fishes. But except for them in huge reservoir the set of various species of vertebrates lives. In the sea-like lake there are even water snakes: it is atargatis named after ancient Phoenician sea goddess.
By appearance atargatis resembles sea snakes dwelt in tropical seas in Holocene. But those sea snakes lived on Earth in human epoch were poisonous representatives of order belonging to separate family of sea snakes (Hydrophiidae), and atargatis is the specialized descendant of colubrid snakes, having been classified, of course, in independent family because of big differences in anatomy and habit of life.
Atargatis is rather large snake: the length of its body is up to 3 meters; the basic swimming organ, tail flatted from sides, accounts about half from them. Up to tail body is cylindrical, slightly flattened at the stomach. The skin is covered with homogeneous small scales, adjoining “end-to-end” and forming smooth surface. Scale has “marble” grey pattern of irregular-shaped spots on blue background, perfectly masking reptile in thickness of water. One detail spoils this masking a little: on tail of snake there is oculate red spot with white border – one from each side. This element of colouring plays double role: during courtship season male (which is are longer and more harmonious than female is) shows these spots to the female, and in case of danger spots, simulating eyes, distract attention of predators from the true head.
Head of atargatis is flattened; at sight from above forward part of head is rounded. In mouth of snake there is plenty of recurved teeth. This snake eats fishes, killing them biting through head by teeth (poisonous glands at atargatis are not present). The basic catch is fishes up to 30 cm long, usually small and medium-sized gobies with cylindrical body. Also this snake willingly eats crayfishes and large scuds. Due to rather thin forward part of body atargatis can catch fishes and crayfishes even in holes. Usually this snake slowly swims above thickets of water plants, from time to time putting out tongue. Due to chemoreceptors atargatis catches chemical substances indicating presence of fishes or crustaceans. Having caught presence of possible catch by smell, snake starts to try water by tongue, shaking head in sides more often: it like scans water, catching direction to source of smell. When the snake “detects” catch, it bends tail S-shapely and makes throw by forward part of body, overtaking prey. The lateral surface of tail serves to snake as support at throws to catch.
Atargatis kills prey not by poison, but by bite of long teeth. Snake tries to seize fish by head and at once to bite through its skull, and seizes crayfishes by armour from above (to avoid their pincers) and some time “chews” by jaws to shatter its shell. Scuds having weak legs do not cause the big harm to snake: at atargatis there is armored head. Snake swallows catch entirely: fishes are swallowing from head (to avoid wounds by spikes), crayfishes and scuds, on the contrary, from the part of abdomen.
Due to slow metabolism atargatis can hold breath at the whole hour, and even prefers to sleep under water, having hided in thickets of plants in shallow water.
This species of snakes had completely severed life on land, having reconstructed breeding process. Even some species of sea snakes of Holocene epoch were compelled to creep out on land to lay eggs. Atargatis had escaped of this difficulty: it is ovoviviparous species.
The female ready to pairing emits in water odorous substance from cloacae glands. Having felt it, males start to search and chase the female. During courtship ritual male twists around of female, bites it by edge of mouth to the basis of tail, pushes by head to surface of water. If near female at once some males gather, they start to struggle with each other, twisting by bodies and trying as it is possible to squeeze contender stronger. Only trembling of tips of their tails indicates the huge effort to which there is a struggle. Usually weaker contender, surrendering, starts to pull head in sides, trying to free. In this case hard embraces are immediately unclenched, defeated male swims away, and the winner starts to care at the female.
After long pregnancy (about half-year) the female gives rise to 2 – 3 rather large youngs (up to 60 cm long). At the birthing moment each young reptile is covered with thin membrane, and it immediately breaks it off by several sharp movements. Having released from egg membrane, young snake emerges to surface of water and makes the first breath. From the moment of birth it is completely independent. First weeks youngs eat small fishes and large plankton crustaceans. Sexual maturity at young snakes comes at the age of three years, and life expectancy can reach 30 – 40 years and more.

Blind cavesnake (Cavernerpeton caecus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)

Habitat: caves in mountains of Central Africa.
Usually in caves rather small animals live: insects, spiders and other invertebrates. More progressive animals, as a rule, do not belong to number of permanent inhabitants of caves. Only in cave reservoirs there are fishes and amphibians. But in Neocene mountains of Central Africa became the native place to one of most unusual cave animals.
Food resources in caves of equatorial area differ in abundance in comparison with those in temperate latitudes. The abundance of sunlight in equatorial latitudes favors to growth of mosses and algae in caves even at significant distance from an entrance. And such animals as bats and birds, settling in caves, become a constant and reliable source of organic substances. Therefore tropical caves have more various and numerous population.
In caves of mountains of Central Africa there is the original ecosystem including different insects: beetles, cockroaches and larvae of different butterflies. Some of them eat dung of bats, others gnaw seeds and sprouts of plants which have got in cave in stomachs of bats. There are scavengers eating dead small mammals, or tiny predators.
But all of them do not occupy top of feeding pyramid of caves: other predator lives here. Between stones the long body of this rather large creature (its length is about 1 meter) slides. It is covered with smooth shining scale, and moves practically silently.
When the animal creeps out from stones to open place, it can be seen better. It is a snake of ivory color with pale pattern like chain of yellowish spots on back, with white stomach. The snake lifts head and then one feature of its appearance at once is evident: it is blind. Eyes of this snake are latent under skin, and scutes, closing eyes, differ from others practically with nothing. The blind cavesnake – it is the name of this reptile.
The cavesnake never leaves underground world. Here it finds everything necessary for life. The climate in cave is constant, here dangers of overheat or overcooling are absent. Due to narrow body this snake easily squeezes even in “bottle-neck”, therefore it in due course had widely settled in caves of Central Africa.
Sight at snakes has already undergone a partial degeneration when they passed to partly underground habit of life during evolution. At the blind cavesnake this process has gone even further, and there are only eye rudiments under skin at this species. But instead of sight at this snake other feelings, senses of smell and touch, are developed, permitting to receive the adequate information about the world around.
Nostrils of blind cavesnake are well advanced and very large.
Because blind cavesnake is a predator, it lives only in caves where there are colonies of bats. Cavesnake eats basically insects inhabiting such caves, but also willingly eats fallen down cubs and weakened adult individuals of bats. As against to many snakes, blind cavesnake eats carrion as willingly, as fresh catch: food resources of caves are rather poor, and it is more favorable to use them maximally full. Teeth of this reptile are numerous, but short, thin and recurved.
Snakes are known for the ability to feel vibrations of ground, determining in such way approaching of large animals or possible catch. Blind cavesnake has unusually keenly advanced ability to feel vibration of objects. Due to it this reptile it can feel the cockroach or cricket running on stone. During hunting the snake constantly puts bottom jaw to stones or ground, determining presence of moving catch. Snake makes solving throw completely blindly, having found catch by speed and direction of movement. After throw the reptile promptly rolls up to spiral, trying to “overflow” by loops of body environmental space, and then compresses to dense knot. The sense of this tactics is, that even if the insect at last moment will change movement direction, one of rings of snake will necessarily cover and will press it down.
Cavesnake can not digest chitin of insects, therefore it from time to time spits out the rigid armors of prey pressed to dense lump.
Despite of relative food abundance, each separate cave can support only limited population of predators which stand at the top of feeding pyramid. But here there is other problem: the population of snakes containing too little number of breeding females, easily can degenerate. Therefore blind cavesnake during process of evolution has got one more property: it became the hermaphrodite from diecious animal. Sexual glands at this species had changed: one of them became masculine, and another feminine one. Snake ready to pairing emits small amount of odorous liquid, leaving appreciably smelling trace. By the same traces left by other snakes, it finds partners for pairing.
During pairing two snakes mutually fertilize each other. Pregnancy lasts about 4 months. Blind cavesnake concerns to ovoviviparous species: each snake once a year lays 5 - 7 large eggs covered with thin filmy shell, in which there is already completely advanced posterity. Young snakes about 20 cm long hatch from eggs practically at once. At them there is more contrast colouring, and eyes appear under skin like dark spots. They can distinguish light and darkness, and vaguely distinguish contours of subjects. After the first shed they start to eat small insects, obviously preferring larvae of beetles and butterflies with soft covers.
Young snakes can leave cave, and at night crawl out in searches of new places of inhabiting. Thus they expand an area of species, and interfere with inbreeding which leads to degeneration. Traveling snakes spend hot time of day in holes of rodents or under stones. These snakes are guided, analyzing streams of air, and finding wind carrying specific smells of caves. They grow slowly: sexual maturity comes only at 6 - 7-years age at length of body up to 70 cm. But duration of their life frequently exceeds 30 years.

Chameleon snake (Mutabilophis mutabilis)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)

Habitat: Japan Islands, humid tropical forests of south-east of islands, forest canopy.
Snakes have very original evolutional history. In the beginning of formation of this group of reptiles its early representatives passed to partly underground habit of life; therefore their eyes had started to reduce partly. Further the direction of evolution had changed: they had become active predators at the ground surface again, and even had developed the world of forest crones. But eyes earlier started to reduce had not restored to the full. At snakes cones in eye retina are absent, and though some snakes have sharp sight, all their species are not able to distinguish colors. Because of it snakes had lost many features of behavior connected to the color signal system usual for lizards. And one more feature of lizards had remained inaccessible to snakes of Holocene epoch – they had not mastered the skill of color change for masking in environmental district. At lizards of various species such ability was developed up to refinement – in human epoch the word “chameleon” in some languages became the nominal one, emphasizing variability of subject of conversation.
The world varies unpredictably, and the direction of evolution of any group of live creatures can vary sharply. In this case attributes which gave advantage earlier, may turn to serious difficulty. But occasionally evolution finds original decisions for the similar problems formed at ancestors of evolving group in connection with their further evolutionary history. In Neocene at Earth one species of snakes able to change colouring partly – the chameleon snake – had appeared. This reptile lives in Japan Islands, preferring warm rainforests.
Japanese chameleon snake has kept habitual shape of snakes. It is rather massive reptile about 2 meters long with flattened body. It spends practically all life in tree crones where it eats birds, wood mammals, amphibians and even large insects. The chameleon snake prefers to swarm up thick branches and trees trunks, and is also sluggish reptile.
At this reptile there is large head with expressed cervical interception. Chameleon snake is not poisonous, but its teeth are numerous, sharp and slightly bent.
Slow moving does not prevent this snake to hunt successfully because it is compensated by the most remarkable feature of chameleon snake – the ability of color change. The mechanism of this phenomenon permits to bypass such lack, as absence of color sight. Abdominal scutes of this snake are connected to numerous receptors, and allow the reptile to define features of surface on which it creeps. According to these sensations color of skin of the snake varies. Sight of all snakes is bad, therefore chameleon snake is not able to estimate precisely color of objects among which it moves. The mechanism of color change at chameleon snake is very approximate; it is based at the estimation of contrast of environmental district and character of tactile sensations. At chameleon snake there are few variants of colouring, connected with certain tactile sensations, and this reptile can change color only in these rigidly determined limits. On rough bark snake gets brownish color with longitudinal wavy strips. Among smooth leaves the chameleon snake becomes spotty – on green background black spots appear. At night colouring of the reptile darkens, and at the bright sun it turns lighter.
Scales on the top side of body of this reptile are small and transparent. On skin chromatophores are placed, due to which contraction and expansion this reptile can change color. The stomach of this snake does not change color – it is white; on throat and neck there are black spots.
The chameleon snake lives in wood crones, only occasionally creeping down to the ground. Usually snakes living on trees are thin and mobile. But this species is massive reptile not able to chase catch for a long time. This snake can make only short throws for catch, therefore it prefers to expect while catch will approach to it itself closely. The chameleon snake suits ambush on branches, using its ability to change color. Usually it nestles against the bark or hides among moss and foliage. The reptile kills catch with the help of teeth, not strangling it like boas or other snakes.
In courtship season males actively search for females, defining their presence by smell. The male ready to pairing changes color: it becomes black with white stomach and separate white spots on body. The male shows to the female the throat, lifting head upwards at the right angle to body. If two males meet near the female, they try to push each other away from it, striking the contender impacts by lateral face of head. Fights of males in courtship season resemble the competition of heavyweight wrestlers – it is more force struggle, rather than effective demonstrations. Sometimes one of males may simply “bind” the contender by rings of body to the branch and show to the female readiness for pairing, physically keeping the contender. Recognizing defeat in courtship duel, the contender strongly turns pale, becoming almost completely white. Then won male lets the contender off.
The female turns pale only a little, admitting the male to pairing. Pairing occurs in tree-trunk hollow and may last some hours in succession.
The chameleon snake belongs to oviparous reptiles. The female is compelled to creep down to the ground to lay eggs. It cautiously creeps down the trunk, clinging by scutes tor roughnesses of bark. On the ground the female finds a secluded place (frequently right among roots of tree on which it lives), and lays to simple small hole in the ground some tens of eggs. Having dug eggs, snake comes back to the tree crone and does not care any more of posterity.
The incubating of eggs lasts about 55 – 60 days. Length of just hatched chameleon snake is about 20 cm. At young snakes ability to change color is less advanced. They are green with brown irregular-shaped dabs and live in bush and among young trees. Later, having had reached the length about half meter, young chameleon snake gets ability to change color and moves to the tree crone.

Hopping tree snake (Trachygasterophis saltatus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)

Habitat: Japan, rainforests.
Japan islands are the volcanic ridge in the place where the bottom of Pacific Ocean “dives” under the continental plate. Pacific Ocean renders enormous influence to the climate of this region. In Neocene, when the climate of islands became warmer and more humid, southern islands of archipelago had become covered by rich rainforest. This forest is rich in various lifeforms, among which extermely specialized ones frequently live.
The canopy of Japan rainforests is strongly close and bound by lianas: it is an adaptation for survival in conditions of often hurricanes blowing from Pacific Ocean. It represents very favorable inhabitancy for species of tree-climbing animals. Some of them never go down to the ground.
Among inhabitants of forest canopy there is a lot of climbing mammal and reptiles. And one of the most interesting snakes of the world lives in rainforests of Japan – it is the hopping tree snake. It is the reptile up to three meters long with very thin body and long tenacious tail (its length amounts more than half of general length of the reptile).
The hopping tree snake has cryptic colouring: top of its body is green, bottom is brown, and lines of short slanting strokes of black color pass on sides.
This reptile eats mainly small birds, showing the big dexterity in hunting. It seizes them hurriedly, at throw clinging for branch only by tail. In some cases it rushes on birds, completely coming off from branches and catching prey in flight. Having caught prey in air, the reptile falls back in branches, and manages to seize branch by tail in falling. In dexterity of movement in branches it does not concede to monkeys.
Eyes of this snake are rather large and also shifted to the forward part of head. They provide practically three-dimensional sight that is very important at an estimation of distance to catch or next branch. In retina there is lack of cones (it is usual attribute of all snakes), but by density of rods the retina of this snake is comparable to retina of nocturnal mammals. Pupil is chinky, longitudinal, with small expansions on edges. It results to that in eye of hopping tree snake two areas of the best perception are present: one of them is formed by first line of pupil and helps to consider catch and to estimate the distance, and the second one, perceiving images transmitted from back edge of pupil, provides the snake good lateral sight. Having slightly turned head, snake can look objects behind its head.
The tail of hopping tree snake is very strong and tenacious, it is easily bent in any side, and vertebrae can even turn a little about the axis. On the bottom side of tail corneous scutes have small spike-like outgrowths on edges assisting to fix in throw. Scutes on the bottom side of tail also can rise with the help of special muscles, improving durability of branch capture.
To lead such way of life, it is not enough only to have tenacious tail. Wood mammal and lizards, jumping from branch to branch, amortize inevitable pushes by paws, and their internals do not feel impacts. At the hopping tree snake paws are not present, and it must accept impact against the branch by all body. To not injure internals this reptile had got additional protection. Abdominal scutes at this species of snakes are firm and elastic; at impact against the branch they spring, protecting internals of snake from traumas. The snake weighs a little; therefore corneous scutes protect its interiors well.
Ribs of hopping tree snake also had changed a little: they cover internals from sides, and their tips are connected by extensible sheaf, also amortizing at impact. Such additional protection has imposed the certain restrictions to the diet of hopping tree snake. Usually snakes eat rather large catch which can be larger than diameter of their body. When the usual snake swallows catch, its internals and muscles stretch strongly. The hopping tree snake does not presume to itself such diet because of ligaments between ribs and strong abdominal scutes. It eats only small birds, and even attacks large insects: it eats butterflies and big caterpillars. But the thin body and ability to jumps allow this reptile to eat nestlings of small birds nesting in narrow tree-trunk hollows or attaching nests to tips of thin twigs. Food specialization of this reptile is rather strict; therefore hopping tree snakes are territorial very much. Each reptile marks borders of hunting site by secretions of glands located near cloaca, and does not tolerate strangers at its territory.
hopping tree snake is very much specialized to tree climbing. It spends all life in forest canopy, never creeping down to the ground. This reptile prefers to live in old woods with rich canopy interwined with lianas. This specialization considerably limits opportunities of its settling; therefore the distribution of this species is limited only to sites of rainforest at the south-east of Japan Islands.
Pairing of these reptiles occurs unusually: male and female weave together, hanging on tails under tree branch. Frequently pairing takes place at height up to 30 – 40 meters on branch shaken in wind, but it does not frighten reptiles: in such place they are perfectly protected from the majority of predators. Only predatory birds can attack them at this moment. They are main enemies of hopping tree snake.
The female in which ovaries eggs are forming, becomes less mobile and more cautious. It prefers to hunt on branches and does not make risky jumps for catch. Fertility of hopping tree snake is small, and does not exceed 5 lengthened eggs in one clutch, but the egg laying may repeat each month. This reptile lays eggs in tree-trunk hollows, burying them in dust at the bottom of hollow. Frequently the female makes some clutches in same tree-trunk hollow, and at the bottom of such hollow there are simultaneously egg shells, eggs at various stages of incubating, and young snakes.
Young snakes hatch after 6 – 7 weeks of egg laying. Young snakes are colored green with white stomach. They become sexual matured at three-year age.

Lancing snake (Hastatoserpenta sylvatica)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)

Habitat: Eastern Madagascar, a rain tropical wood.
Tropical regions of Earth differ in surprising variety of reptiles, among which there are numerous snakes. Till the ice age at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene many species of these reptiles had died out, as the area of rainforests had strongly reduced. But in Neocene changes of climate had resulted in expansion of the area of tropical forests, and as the consequence to the increasing of number and variety of snakes. Some of them had got new features of behavior which had not been present earlier.
In rainforests of Eastern Madagascar there is one interesting species of forest snakes. It is usual medium-sized reptile – its length is no more one and half meters, and its body is thin. This snake has brownish-grey color, masking it on the background of wood bark. Its body is covered with irregular mesh pattern imitating wood bark, and on head from above there is a yellowish-white spot. This reptile lives in tropical woods of Madagascar, equally well feeling like on trees and in wood litter.
This snake is really surprising. The descendant of Madagascar leaf-nosed snake (Langaha madagascariensis), the lancing snake differs in interesting way of food getting. The matter is that the nose of this snake, both at males and at females, terminates by long narrowed edge. This outgrowth is approximately equal the other part of head of the snake; it is very durable, and also is sharp: it is formed by lengthened and partly grown together bones of skull covered with dense ridge scales. Hence this snake has received the name “lancing snake”. This reptile differs in inactive way of life, and usually expects catch, having hidden on branch. Thus colouring of its body merges with texture of bark, and head precisely simulates the broken bough with light wood. As soon as it notices any potential prey (large wood frog, bird or rodent), it makes flash-like strike by head, piercing prey by nasal outgrowth, as if by dagger. Having struck prey, snake at once pulls out the killing instrument from the wound. “Dagger-like” impact lasts only a split second. If the prey was not killed at once and had managed to escape, it dies later from loss of blood and damage of internals. The snake simply finds it by smell and swallows entirely, as well as it is characteristic for all snakes. It may happen that catch will remain pined on snake’s nose, especially when it is small creature. In this case lancing snake removes prey from nose, having griped it in rings of body. One more interesting feature of the lancing snake is the structure of its tongue: on its tip there is the fleshy pillow, serving to clear eyes and head of blood.
At the attack of large animal lancing snake can use rostrum as means of protection: it puts painful wounds to nose and eyes of aggressor. The similar way of protection is developed at snake of other species living in savannas of North Africa – egg drillsnake (Ovisugerpeton ovisugus). But it strikes impacts to the enemy not by rostrum, but by strong teeth sticking forward.
It is the oviparous snake breeding at any time of year. Eggs in amount of 10 – 15 ones are layed in ground, and the female does not care of clutch protection. Strong rostrum helps to young snakes to punch skinny egg shell, but it is too short to be used as the hunting weapon. Small lancing snakes first time catch insects and tiny vertebrates, biting them by teeth. But at them the spike develops rather quickly, helping to hunt the same way, as it is done by the adult reptiles.
The closely related species of snakes lives in rivers of Eastern Madagascar: the river lancing snake, or the harpoon snake (Potamohasta ichthyophaga). It is similar to the wood relative, but differs a little in colouring and the body shape. Top of body at this snake is silver-grey and stomach is milky-white. Body of this reptile in back part is rather wide and massive, and head and forward third of body are thin. It eats fish (preferring small fishes with long and not deep body) and water frogs, killing catch the same way as its forest “cousine”. Thus the wide body serves as a support for snake at the rush. Harpoon snake often hides among driftwood and water plants, and even is dug by tail in river bottom. Being externally similar to sea snakes of Holocene, this reptile is not as specialized, as they were: it can creep on land, easily crosses marshy sites of wood, and besides lays eggs in ground.

These species of reptiles are discovered by Simon, the forum member.

Dwarf vinegar snake (Acetophis foetidissimus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)

Habitat: Japan Islands, humid forests at the southeast of archipelago.
Snakes are youngest groups of reptiles existing in a Neocene. Having evolved in cretaceous period, they had kept rather monotonous and recognizeable shape, and differ only by some features of anatomy. In human epoch basically large or local species of snakes had died out – mainly because of destruction of habitats, and partly because of hunting. But smaller snakes frequently adapted to life in the neighbourhood with people and found rich prey as rodents and small birds, and in tropics more lizards and large insects besides of them.
One small insectivorous snake of Neocene lives in tropical forests at the southeast of Japan Islands. It is dwarf vinegar snake, the only representative of genus endemic for Japan Islands, harmless reptile which spends the most part of time, creeping in forest litter and searching for prey. It feeds exclusively on insects (preferring soft-bodied cockroaches and grubs) and slugs. Body length of dwarf vinegar snake is about 40 cm. It has rounded head, cylindrical body and very short tail.
Appearance of this snake is very bright and well-remembered. It imitates very precisely tiger millipede – a kind of poisonous millipeds living in the same place. Colouring of body of this snake is orange with black cross strips. The tip of muzzle of snake is black (it is an imitation of head of millipede), and eye is masked by black vertical strip. Edges of belly plates are white with black border – they imitate legs of millipede. Usually dwarf vinegar snake tries to hide in depth of leaf litter in order to avoid meeting with possible predators. The disturbed snake imitates a way of protection of milliped – it rolls in spiral and hides head among coils of body. Also it imitates smell of protecting milliped, emitting from cloaca an odorous liquid having vinegar smell and unpleasant bitter taste. But, as against to tiger millipede, this species is absolutely poisonless. The only active protection of which this snake is capable is a bite of pointed teeth. It may be enough to support warning colouring which it has.
Due to warm climate these snakes are active the year round. Dwarf vinegar snake searches for food from midday till evening, and in the rest of the time it prefers to stay in shelter, having turned to spiral like a protective pose of milliped.
Seasonal prevalence in breeding at this species is not expressed. Male differs from female in a little bit longer tail and thinner body (it weighs less, rather than female at equal body length). Male searches for the female ready to pairing with the help of smell sence. Pairing takes place at night in shelter, where the female is usually hidden.
Dwarf vinegar snake is ovoviviparous and differs in very low fertility – in ovoduct of the female no more than two eggs in thin leathery pellicle are incubating simultaneously. Their development lasts till about 4 months. The female bears posterity two times within one year. Young snakes leave egg covers right at birth. The length of young snake makes almost half of length of the parent. Young snakes of this species frequently search for carrion or dung of large mammals, and eat larvae of flies developing in such substratum. They reach length of adult individuals in three years, and one more year later become able to breeding.

Skunk snake (Foetinatrix jaculator)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrid snakes (Colubridae)

Habitat: Europe, subtropical areas at the coast of Fourseas – the Balkan, Caucasus, Crimea.
Grass snake (Natrix natrix) in human epoch was one of the most widespread species of snakes of Eurasia. This reptile successfully lived in human-changed landscapes and by the end of human era had the great number and wide area – a pledge to successful survival and evolution. Descendants ужа mastered new habitats and developed various tactics of a survival. One of grass-snake descendants, living in subtropics of Europe, has the original adaptation, permitting it to protect itself against the enemies. This reptile is named skunk snake, and its name indicates the protective tactics of this species.
Skunk snake is ordinary enough species of reptiles – it is a snake up to 150 cm long, conducting ground way of life. It lives in forests and bushes and eats small vertebrate animals – frogs and rodents. But, being disturbed, it uses spectacularly looking demonstration before to use the protective weapon. The bottom part of body of skunk snakes from cloacal area up to tip of tail has very appreciable colouring – it is cross-striped black-and-white one. Protecting itself, snake rears back part of the body and directs cloaca to the enemy, simultaneously turning tail the bottom part aside the enemy. This is a kind of warning: tail, black-and-white from lower side, is clearly visible even to a predator lack of color sight. Cloaca of skunk snake forms a large sac in which unpleasantly smelling oily liquid is gathered. This sac has ring muscles, and at their contraction it splashes out a jet of liquid to the enemy. Liquid has very proof smell which is felt within several days.
The top side of body of skunk snake is colored ochre-red with dark chain-like pattern along the back; right behind eyes there is citreous cross band.
In areas of seasonal climate skunk snake runs into the hibernation lasting up to about two months. In southern part of area this species keeps activity the year round.
Pairing begins in spring, right after the ending of hibernation. In southern areas pairing is dated for the beginning of spring rains. In courtship season males behave aggressively relatively to each other; they pursue and bite competitors. Pursuing the female, male creeps side by side to her, cautiously bites her body and forces to stop, twisting around of her body. Female ready to pairing lets a small amount of odorous secret, and males find herby smell.
After pairing female lays up to 20 lengthened eggs in abandoned hole of any rodent, fills up an entrance with ground and does not care of posterity any more. The incubation lasts till about 3 months. Young snakes hatch in the middle of summer. They eat frogs and keep near water, finding there food and protection. In case of danger young skunk snakes can dive and hide at the bottom among silt and driftwood. They produce very small amount of odorous secret and are not able to splash it to the enemy. In colouring of young snakes yellow cross stripe behind eyes is absent – it appears after the second year of life. Young skunk snake grows intensively during first four years of life, and for the third year can take part in breeding. Life expectancy of this reptile reaches 50 years.

Green cobra (Naja crudus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), Suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Elapids (Elapidae)

Habitat: underbrush of jungles of Southeastern Asia and Hindustan.
Unlike some other snakes, cobras and other elaphid snakes kept a significant variety of species after the epoch of anthropogenic pressure of Holocene and the climatic cataclysms of the beginning of Neocene. The restoration of forest localities in Neocene promoted the evolution of forest-dwelling forms of this group. Green cobra is a descendant of one of Asian cobras of Holocene, one of new species of venomous snakes evolved only in Neocene.
This is relatively small reptile that reaches 1.5 m length on the average. Its body is thin and flattened, but since this snake does not climb on trees, hunts medium-sized prey, kills it by venom and leads solitary and hidden way of life, strongly developed musculature is not required for these snakes.
Green cobra is covered in sclaes of dark green color with brighter colored belly; sometimes individuals with brighter pigmentation appear. This coloration contrasts wildly with the head of ochre-red and the figure on hood of the black and white “glasses”, which makes this snake noticeable during the daytime.
Like other elapid snakes, green cobra hunts at night, and during daytime it sleeps in fallen foliage, in burrow of other animals or in hollows of fallen trees. If other animals disturb it or attempt to attack, this snake hisses first – after raising its head and showing-off its hood – and then bites. Venom of green cobra is neurotoxic, but also has cytotoxic side-effects. Small rodents and birds die from its bite after few minutes, but larger animals can survive.
The prey of this species includes small mammals and birds, more rarely reptiles and frogs, which have a considerably greater resistance to green cobra’s venom. Sometimes green cobra eats larvae of large beetles and other soft-bodied insects.
Green cobra does not have clearly determined mating season, and at any time of the year (but usually during the rain season) it is possible to meet females of this species that guard their clutches buried in fallen foliage. The clutch of green cobra usually numbers 10 to 15 eggs; the hatchlings’ appearance resembles that of the adult snakes in the miniature: the length of newly-hatched snakes is approximately 20 cm.
The greater number of young cobras perish before they will reach at least half-meter in length. The first food of young snakes is insects and small frogs.
The average life expectancy of green cobra is about 40 years.

This species of reptiles is discovered by Bhut, the forum member.
Translated by Bhut.

Illuyiankas (Illuiyankas phoeniceana)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Adders (Viperidae)

Habitat: Near East, from eastern edge of Mediterranean hollow up to Persian Ridge.
After closing of strait of Gibraltar and drying of Mediterranean Sea the climate of Near East began considerably more rigorous, rather than in human epoch. Mountains do not pass clouds from Fourseas to these places, and the extensive territory to the east from the Mediterranean hollow represents dry desert. It is the world where mammals are not too diverse, but birds and reptiles prosper. Among the last ones there are huge forms.
One of the largest species of poisonous snakes of the world lives at Near East. It is illuyiankas – huge snake, the descendant of Field’s horned viper (Pseudocerastes fieldi) lived in these places in Holocene. The shape of illuyiankas causes memoirs on ancient myths told in early historical epoch and subsequently forgotten and missed for ever in common with mankind. By its size illuyiankas resembles boa most of all: thick body of reptile reaches the length of 8 meters. Colouring of top part of body is light grey with indistinct marble pattern on sides; stomach is white. Along the backbone of reptile white or light yellow ledges are located, forming something like dragon’s serrated crest on back. Flattened head is divided from body by obviously expressed neck narrowing. At this reptile species sexual dimorphism is expressed: on back part of male’s head a line of lengthened scales resembling short mane is developed. Besides male is longer and more aggressive, rather than female, and is colored a little bit brighter. Female is approximately one meter shorter, rather than male, but is heavier and stronger.
Illuyiankas is the top predator in desert ecosystems. Diet of this reptile includes harelopes, rodents and small carnivores – any animals weighting up to 20 kg. Thus illuyiankas can steal up to prey absolutely imperceptibly, despite of the size. In spring this reptile is active in day time, and in summer leaves to hunt at night. In hot weather this reptile prefers to hide in shadow of stones and crevices in rocks. At this time it is slow active.
Attacking prey, illuyiankas seizes it by teeth and simultaneously tries to turn the caught animal in rings of body or to press it against the ground by its own weight. During the bite illuyiankas “chews” prey, making short pulsing movements by jaws. Thus poison from glands is squeezed out into the body of prey. Poison of illuyiankas influences blood of prey, starting the mechanism of blood coagulation. Within several minutes in blood system of animal bitten by illuyiankas blood clots, closing the vital blood vessels are formed, and prey perishes.
Short winter serves as stimulus for the subsequent courtship behaviour. In winter illuyiankas is hidden in natural caves and wide holes of mammals. Young individuals dig their own holes. The courtship season begins at the end of winter when the temperature of air becomes high enough to keep the activity of reptile. Males gather on well warmed up stones and arrange courtship displays - having risen forward part of body, they shake heads. That one of them which lifts head higher than others and keeps in such position for longer time is winner. Force struggle in such tournaments is reduced to pushing the contender by head and forward part of body forcing it to fall on the ground. The winner receives an opportunity to pair with the female. Pairing lasts till some hours and at this time male twists around the body of the female.
This species of reptiles is ovoviviparous. After pairing within two months eggs develop in the organism of female which lays in spring from 8 up to 40 large eggs in leathery shell depending on her size and general condition. The laying takes place in shelter – more often in cave near to the entrance where stones well get warm in the sun. In four weeks young snakes 50 – 60 cm long leave eggs. They grow rather quickly, reaching the length of 5 m at three-year age. From that moment they reach sexual maturity.
Illuyiankas is remarkable in its considerable longevity: the maximal life expectancy is about 100 years.

The idea about existence of this species of reptiles was proposed by Nick, the forum member.

Siberian viper (Vipera boreasiatica)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Adders (Viperidae)

Habitat: taiga zone of Eurasia.
Siberian taiga zone was always an inconvenient place for life for cold-blooded animals, amphibians and reptiles, but, nevertheless, some of their representatives gradually settled farther to the north. Among the lizards the viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara) had been one of such species, and also common European adder (Vipera berus) among the snakes.
Millions of years passed since the time of Holocene. In general, the world climate had time to turn somewhat warm, which allowed the taiga zone to shift to higher latitudes. Forest-dwelling animals settled following forests, and lizards and snakes among them.
In appearance Siberian viper does not seem any special species: this is rather large snake, about one meter long, of massive constitution, covered with thick, one-coloured dark grey or even black scales. In the autumn, having accumulated the stock of hypodermic fat, this snake also grows fat and wide, and its body becomes flatter a little bit.
Head of Siberian viper is both wide and flat, and it is clearly separated from the body with the neck narrowing. Its eyes are also large, sight is sharp by standards of the snakes; therefore it is hard for a predator to sneak up upon this viper. Nevertheless, a main sense in this snake is the sense of smell; furthermore, it can feel ground tremors in case of any large animal approaching.
The food of Siberian viper includes various small mammals and birds, terrestrial or arboreal, and it attacks them from ambush (heaps of fallen conifer needles and branches, or grass thickets) and makes venomous bite. Long teeth and powerful venom kill bird or bat in a few minutes, and the smaller animals – for example, taiga lizards or young snakes of the same species, which have a low sensitivity to the venom of this snake – are swallowed alive, as a whole.
The viper itself must fear of owls and other predatory birds that attack this snake from the top, falling from the sky. Predatory animals, even berls and Siberian sabertooths, prefer to avoid encounters with this snake: the venom of Siberian viper is not fatal for animals of their size, but it causes rather long and unhealthy weakness in the body, which easily overgrows into disease often capable of killing even berl, especially when animal is young.
Besides the predatory birds and the intraspecific cannibalism, the main enemy of Siberian viper is the Siberian frost. Like taiga lizard, this viper resists it with the aid of thermo-insulating scales, layer of hypodermic fat and group wintering. Sometimes, however, these snakes spend winter alone as well. Nevertheless, in contrast to the lizards, vipers do not have a partially symbiotic connection with local shaaz ants, but vipers winter in any convenient place, including heaps of conifer needle on ground surface; however, larger size than lizards’ and the corresponding fat stock for wintering give this reptile a greater advantage in resistance to winter cold, which compensates the wintering on ground surface, where it is colder than under ground.
As in case of the taiga lizard, the breeding period at Siberian viper begins in spring, when these snakes creep out from their burrows and shed their skin. At this time females make odorous markers along their paths, and the smell attracts males. Mating resembles a fight: two snakes wind themselves like a ball and hiss in a drawling manner.
At the end of spring and in the beginning of summer the female viper gives birth to several living youngs (in case of large females their number is up to 20) less than half meter long. They differ from their parents only by size and begin independent life immediately.
The lifespan of Siberian viper is about 60-80 years, maximum of up to 100 years.

This species of reptiles is discovered by Bhut, the forum member.
Translated by Bhut.

Swamp rattler (Agkistrotalus giganteus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Crotalid snakes (Crotalidae)

Habitat: North America, marshlands of warm-temperate climate.
During the time of human existence many large species of animals had undergone to persecution for various reasons. Among them there were also large reptiles: crocodiles, turtles and snakes. In human epoch the area of crocodiles had been reduced in great degree because of extermination and destruction of habitats of these animals. The ice age at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene also had caused extinction of residual populations of these animals. As a result only few species of crocodiles and caymans had remained from four families of crocodiles, existed in the beginning of human era.
With the disappearance of the basic predators of fresh waters various species of other groups began making attempts to take a place of the top predators of ecosystems. Monitor lizards have succeeded in Old World in it, and even the separate family of water monitors (Aquavaranidae) had evolved. In North America monitor lizards were absent, and the place of the top predator of freshwater ecosystems the snake had occupied here. It is swamp rattler – the descendant of cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), semi-aquatic crotalid snake.
In comparison with the ancestor swamp rattler is very large reptile: old individuals may reach 2,5 meters in length (the sexual maturity comes at one and a half meter length), but in the rest the similarity caused by relationship is quite appreciable: it is a snake of dark colouring with characteristic white mucous membrane of mouth. Besides the size, this reptile has two more characteristic attributes.
Swamp rattler has slightly lengthened muzzle, and larger head, rather than snakes of comparable size. Accordingly, at this reptile large pointed teeth were developed. Jaw bones, as well as at all snakes, are connected by extensible ligaments that permits this reptile to open mouth widely. Such features of skull allow swamp rattler to catch and to eat even rather large prey, for example, small heron-sized waterfowl. Body of this snake is large and thick, therefore snake is very heavy for its length: the adult two-meter individual weighs about 20 kgs.
Though swamp rattler is only distant relative of rattlesnakes of Pleistocene and Holocene, parallel evolution had made its own rattle which makes quite heard sound which can serve as the warning for large animals casually appeared near it, though it is small in comparison with typical rattlesnakes, both from human epoch, and from Neocene. If the animal does not go away, snake can warn it otherwise: having bent forward part of body vertically, reptile opens mouth and displays white mucous membrane. Thus maxillary bones move in sides, increasing the seen size of mouth. If the animal does not leave or continues an attack, the snake counterattacks and delivers bite by poisonous teeth.
This snake prefers to settle in densely overgrown reservoirs with slow current, sites of reed and areas of open water.
Swamp rattler eats basically warm-blooded animals: mammals and birds living near water or in water. Young snakes eat murine rodents and chicks of waterfowl. Large adult snakes easily swallow swan-sized birds, and even herons. Snake swallows such long-legged and long-billed birds, snapping by shoulders and the basis of neck. At swallowing the neck of prey is bent back; beak and legs of bird stick out from its mouth for any time and at swallowing they will not wound a wall of digestive path.
As well as other crotalid snakes, swamp rattler gives rise to live youngs. In typical case one female brings about 8 – 10 young snakes up to 50 cm long. They grow quickly and reach sexual maturity already at the age of 3 – 5 years. In southern parts of area growth of this snake is faster. General life expectancy of swamp rattler may be 80 years and more. Active growth proceeds during the first third of life; further the snake grows much slower.
In the north of an area activity of this snake has a seasonal rhythm. In winter when the temperature of water falls down to +10°C, these snakes practically do not eat and spend the most part of time on land near shelters – trunks of trees with rotten out core or near holes. If there is a short-term cold snap and frosts, the reptile does not leave shelter and runs into not deep catalepsy. In the south of area activity of this snake is kept the year round.

This species of snakes was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Marshland aotearophis (Aotearophis paludicola)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: New Zealand snakes (Aotearophidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, coasts of freshwater reservoirs.
New Zealand, being separated from the continents many millions years ago, had unique fauna before human colonization. At the great variety of endemic birds there was a minute quantity of species of amphibians and mammals here. The specific variety of reptiles was also low – this class was represented at the islands only by lizards and tuataras. Crocodiles, tortoises and snakes had never lived in New Zealand. But in Neocene the situation has cardinally changed. Mammals and frogs introduced by people have occupied the archipelago, and during millions years of evolution they changed into new species. Also snakes had occupied New Zealand. However, as against many other species, these reptiles colonized this area independently, without the help of people and later after human extinction.
Neocene New Zealand snakes descend from sea kraits (Laticauda), the most primitive ones among sea snakes that had kept strong connection to land areas. Low specialization and absence of competitors have permitted them to settle at the islands lack of snakes earlier. Possible, the colonization of New Zealand by snakes had taken place after the end of the ice age bordering Holocene and Neocene. Three species of New Zealand snakes represent two genera of family Aotearophidae close to elapids. The name of these reptiles is formed as a sum of words “Ao-Tea-Roa” (Maori name of New Zealand) and “Ophis” (snake).
Evolution of these reptiles is directed to occurrence of land forms having a diet differing from each other. More primitive forms are closer connected to aquatic habitats and are ichthyo- and herpethophags to what their high degree of poisonness is connected. More advanced forms eat warm-blooded animals, and activity of their poison is much less: in bodies of mammals and birds having faster metabolism poison has faster effect. In anatomy of even the most specialized species ancestral features are traced – these are tail slightly compressed from sides and nostrils shifted to the top part of head.
All aotearophids are egg-laying reptiles. They lay a small number of eggs (usually less than ten ones) in heaps of vegetative dust or in wet ground. In the convenient and protected places collective clutches are possible. Parents do not care of posterity in any way. The first time newly hatched young snakes eat invertebrates, and then pass to hunt for small vertebrates. The young snakes of aquatic species eat fish fry and tadpoles.
Large birds and mammals are enemies of New Zealand snakes. Despite of presence of strong poison, aotearophids almost do not use it for self-defense. They had inherited peaceful behaviour of ancestors and in case of danger seek safety in flight, trying to hide in grass or in water.
Marshland aotearophis represents the transitive form between primitive and more advanced species of family. It is still attached to damp habitats, preferring to settle near water – in marshes and at the riverbanks. This snake swims perfectly, however it hunts almost always on land. Marshland aotearophis is specialized herpetophagus. Lizards and amphibians from among false salamanders, local group of neotenical tree frog larvae, become its prey more often. At this species cases of cannibalism are possible. Poison of this snake is still strong enough, as it hunts cold-blooded animals. The body length of marshland aotearophis reaches 1.5 meters. Colouring of this animal is darl grey; on body thin white cross strips stretch.
Two close species of New Zealand snakes display other stages of evolution of this group.
Forest aotearophis (Aotearophis sylvestris) is the most evolutionally advanced New Zealand snake. This reptile inhabits forests of New Zealand. It is almost not connected to water, but prefers wet places. Representatives of the present species swim not so good; also they are not capable to climb up trees. In anatomy of forest aotearophis only few ancestral features are kept: these are tail slightly compressed from sides and the nostrils located in the top part of head. The largest individuals reach the length of 2 meters; usual length is about 1.75 meters. This snake has olive color with which numerous thin rings of black color contrast. Food of forest aotearophis includes small mammals and birds. Poison of this snake is weakest of all New Zealand snakes, but is strong enough to kill fast small warm-blooded animal.
Aquatic aotearophis (Preaotearophis ichthyophagus) is the most primitive species of family. It keeps many features characteristic for sea snakes – for example, it is capable to absorb the oxygen dissolved in water by mucous membrane of mouth. However it already lacks salt-secreting glands characteristic for sea snakes. Representatives of the present species inhabit the rivers and lakes at the plains of both large islands of archipelago. Sometimes they may be met in sea near rivers mouths – these snakes frequently settle along the coast of islands, therefore islands are inhabited by only one species without subspecies. Aquatic aotearophises eat mainly fishes, occasionally hunting also larvae of amphibians and aquatic invertebrates. Egg laying takes place on land. This snake is about 1 meter long; its tail is strongly compressed from sides and serves as body of movement in water. Colouring of this reptile is contrast: the whole body is covered with alternating cross strips of silver-gray and dark brown colors.

These species of reptiles were discovered by Simon, the forum member.

Forest crocodile (Neoosteolaemus jagal)
Order: Crocodiles (Crocodylia)
Family: Crocodiles (Crocodylidae)

Habitat: Western Africa, rivers, lakes and swamps
In Holocene crocodiles, one of the most ancient group of reptiles on the Earth, had suffered very seriously from human activity. People exterminated them for the various reasons, from valuable leather and up to the reasons of people’s own safety. As a result the area of crocodiles had greatly reduced in historical epoch, and some species had almost died out. However, some species managed to survive, and they became the ancestors of new crocodiles of Neocene. Some of Neocene species (for example, the mighty sharkodile) have got the shape more suitable to their far ancestors of Jurassic period, rather than for descendants of Pleistocene reptiles, and began to lead almost completely aquatic way of life. But it happened so not always.
Despite of pressure on the part of people and their relation to other large predators, dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) never was exposed to real threat of extinction and had gone through transition period to Neocene without any problems, as against its distant relative, the Nile crocodile. However, that species had died out finally not from people’s hands, but from geographical cataclysms which have changed climate and channels of rivers of Northern Africa. Having survived on the background of the majority of its relatives, this species began to change actively and also tried to occupy the ecological niche become empty after extinction of Nile crocodile.
But descendants of dwarf crocodile had many competitors. At the north of Africa the same niche of large river predator freshwater soft-shelled turtles had started to occupy, having caused as a result of it crocoturtle (Archotrionyx vorax) which interrupted the settling of southern dwarf crocodile to the north. At the south the same niche was occupied by descendants of African monitor lizards, huge crocodile monitor lizards (Pseudosuchus varanoides), and also by sharks (Neocarcharinus flumineus) at the eastern coast, at the coast of Tanganyika passage. Aquatic descendants of dwarf crocodile had quickly died out, but more terrestrial form, the forest crocodile, has successfully occupied the centre of Africa: forest rivers, lakes and swamps of Western Africa and the western part of Central Africa. Here the area of this reptile is crossed with areas of crocodile monitor lizards, freshwater sharks and turtles inhabiting larger rivers in the least degree.
Forest crocodile is rather large reptile, about 2,5 m long, but older individuals may reach three-meter length. For protection against enemies its body is covered with black-and-yellow armour (young individuals have additional masking as lighter strips and spots on body) of bony plates which join to continuous armour on neck, back and along the tail. As well as at its ancestor, the muzzle of forest crocodile resembles more muzzles of caymans and alligators in shape: it is short and wide, almost square at sight from above, instead of extended, as at other crocodiles. It speaks features of its diet: as well as its ancestor, forest crocodile is omnivorous. If it does not succeed to catch any mammal or bird near water, it can successfully consume fishes, large crustaceans and even carrion. It does not disdain also younger congeners.
Other difference of forest crocodile from other crocodiles of Neocene it its way of life. Forest crocodile evolved to the direction of more terrestrial way of life, rather the reverse. When sharkodile is absolutely helpless and hardly moves on land, and saw-nosed crocodile searches for food strictly in water, forest crocodile is capable to hunt equally successfully both in water, and at the coast, especially during the rainseason, when the plants grow and blossom around, and herbivores are full and less cautious. Females of forest crocodile have one more remarkable feature of behaviour – for safety of eggs and newly hatched young crocs they dig holes where lay eggs, and also spend the day, as peak of activity of forest crocodile is in twilight and moonlight nights when it is easier to trap prey.
The courtship season of forest crocodile falls to the beginning of rainseason: at the end of spring or in the beginning of summer. Usually cold-blooded and phlegmatic, males of forest crocodile behave very actively at this time. They roar and whip tails on water, aspiring to involve a maximum number of females to themselves. Pairing passes quickly and resembles wrestling more: male actively follows the chosen female and, having caught her, seizes her body by paws and is kept on her up to the finishing of pairing. Soon after pairing females start to rake rotten plant material to their holes in order to hatch posterity in safety from other predators. To tell the truth, safety even in a hole is only relative one – not only crocodiles hunt in jungle at night. The female does not leave the post, aggressively protecting nest from any large animals carelessly coming nearer to it. She inflates sides and loudly bellows, opens mouth wide and makes attacks aside the aggressor, displaying readiness to protect the territory to the death. In clutch of this species there are 10 – 15 eggs. Female covers them with vegetative dust at the bottom of hole, and the heat producing at the rotting promotes the development of embryos. Young crocodiles quickly leave nest and the female almost does not care of them.
Life expectancy of forest crocodile is 50 – 60 years.

This species of animals was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Saw-nosed crocodile (Pristisuchus serratorostris)
Order: Crocodiles (Crocodilia)
Family: Saw-nosed crocodiles (Pristisuchidae)
Habitat: brackish sea gulfs, mouths of rivers of South-Eastern Asia, Indonesia, Australian-New Guinean continent (it is especially numerous in Arafura Lake).

In warmed up extensive shallow freshened coastal lagoons of coast of South-Eastern Asia life boils over. Here it is a lot of forage, algae, plankton; it ideal place for feeding and fatting. Besides water has the lowered salinity that reduces expenses of forces to osmotic regulation. Here numerous oceanic fishes come to food up. They frequently swim in big dense shoals, relying to the best passive protection by the large number. It is meaningful frequently, but not always. Suddenly narrow long shadow runs into such dense shoal. Narrow long flat “saber”, armed at edges by big sharp thorns, starts operate barbarously here and there, harming strongly incautious fishes. In shoal the panic begins. The density of the fish shoal plays not on a hand to its members; they rush, come across against each other, are thrown here and there and in larger number get under ruthless impact of terrible weapon. Eventually the shoal blurs in sides, leaving about ten twitching, bleeding profusely, and crippled fishes. Predator quietly begins meal.
It is the saw-nosed crocodile growing up to length up to 3 m. It is one of few species of crocodiles had survived up to this time. It is very much specialized one and it seems similar to gavial. But gavial had died out, not having left descendants: its number was decreased by people, and specialization did not promote a survival in epoch of mass extinction. The saw-nosed crocodile descends from any Asian species of crocodiles had survived in epoch of global cataclysms. Other species of crocodiles, the furious sharkodile, lives in tropics of Pacific Ocean. In the majority of tropical rivers the place of water predator was occupied by fishes (up to sharks!) and lizards. Therefore the saw-nosed crocodile lives any more not in rivers, but at the coast of sea lagoons where there are more fish frequently keeping in dense shoals.
It is perfectly adapted to feeding by fishes. At this reptile there are narrow graceful body, wide tail and extended narrow jaws. Long teeth at its long and sword-shaped top jaw grow originally: they are directed perpendicularly sideways. As a result the “saw” is formed like existing at Holocene saw-fishes one. It also operates by this saw in shoal of fishes, having rushed into its thicket and making sharp jerks by head here and there, horizontally and aslantly. The small part of teeth of usual shape and smaller by size, is visible in intervals between “saws jags” and serves for capture of catch. On the bottom jaw all teeth are small and “standard”. During hunting jaws are closed, and resistance of water is minimal. The body of this crocodile is not covered any more by heavy osseous armour as at its far ancestors, it is not necessary any more to this species to protect intensively, it is more necessary to have speed and maneuverability. This reptile is covered with strong elastic skin. Rudiments of armour are submitted partly by back and occipital scutes. The skin has greenish-grey color with fuzzy cross-striped pattern and lighter belly, masking it in a thickness of water have been lit up by solar patches of light in shallow water. Its paws are weaker, than at ancestors, and it never leaves far from water. But a lot of time it spends in water, but quite often it can be seen at the coast where it is basking at sunny place. Especially numerous groups of crocodiles of this species gather at sandy shallows in river estuaries.
Having got warm, crocodile starts to hunt, making the way to water along fenny marshy coast. Its paws are weak, and frequently the animal simply slides on dirt on stomach, pushing by them. It quickly and dexterously swims, using rather wide powerful tail. In the beginning, having noticed suitable fish shoal, it imperceptibly creeps to fishes, then as the knife, promptly runs into it and swings the weapon. Having sated, the reptile creeps out to the coast and has solar baths. The terrible blow of jaws armed with sharp teeth and a powerful tail waits predator dared to interrupt its rest. However large or pack predators occasionally nevertheless manage to win it, because paws of the crocodile are not such powerful, and skin is not so is strong as at crocodiles of Holocene.
It breeds like all crocodiles: the female lays eggs in nest dug on coast in silt and grass, and protects posterity. Young ones feed in shallow water in thickets, mainly with medium-sized fishes, and eat as usual crocodiles; they start to master the characteristic habit of hunting at the age of three years. In early age they can become chase of predators.
Adult individuals are territorial; they supervise sites at the coast do not supposing contenders. However this division is indistinct as at the seal rookery, and each time it is made anew in process of returning animals from fishing. Sorting out of relationships is usually strictly ritualized, and is limited to that contenders raise upwards the top jaw, looking who is larger.
During courtship fights males are not so ceremonious, and easily can put to each other an injury by “saws” armed with teeth, when swing them before the contender, and quite often impacts strikes.
The life duration may account about 70 years.

Land Caiman (Ziphocaiman terrestris)
Order: Crocodiles (Crocodylia)
Family: Alligators + Caimans (Alligatoridae)

Habitat: Tropical plains of central South America.

Picture by Tim Morris

Large, dangerous crocodiles suffered during the Holocene, persecuted and hunted by man. Few larger Crocodylians survived into the Neocene. Smaller types fared better, the African Dwarf Crocodile and Johnston's Freshwater crocodile prospered because of their less intimidating nature. In South America, smaller Caimans of the genus Paleosuchus evolved into new forms.
As the South American continent moved southwards, parts of caiman habitat became dryer and more open. Paleosuchus already had some predisposition towards land, excavating burrows, travelling over land on occasion, and being able to lift its head and neck above its body, unlike its cousins.
Neosuchus became more terrestrial in the Neocene, becoming the Land Caiman (Ziphocaiman terrestris). This caiman shows clear adaptations to a terrestrial lifestyle. Its snout is deeper and less flat, slightly resembling the face of a dog or theropod dinosaur, its head is held high. Its legs are longer and more muscular, and hold the animal in a more erect gait; its feet are more compact and less splayed, ending in conical claws for traction. It is able to move quickly by a gallop and fast walk. The middle rows of dorsal armor are very prominent and well developed, attaching very tightly to the back muscles. Its tail is less paddle-shaped, and more rounded in cross-section, like that of a large lizard, and it is held higher. Its teeth are serrated and curved like a theropod dinosaur, being Ziphodont.
The animal is colored a light caramel brown with darker banding, along the side the banding becomes mottled spots, and the belly is a beige-cream color. Its osteoderms lack the serrated crest seen in its ancestors.
The Land Caiman measures 3-3.5 meters long and weighs up to 80 kilograms. It preys predominately on small to medium sized animals such as large rodents, ground birds, lizards and snakes, Deermara and young of the Giant Paca are taken. It is like all crocodiles, an opportunist, scavenging and plundering eggs and nestlings. Each Land Caiman excavates at least one burrow, which is several meters long, it is most active in the afternoon, morning, and twilight, sheltering during the middle of the day.
The mating season for land caimans is during the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Usually they are aggressive at close quarters, being able to avoid each other actively by sight on the plains. In the breeding season, males will choose a patch of ground fairly close to their burrow, and will call in the afternoon with loud bellows. The male will mate with any females that arrive, and will repel any interloping males with biting and shoving. The female will bury the 15-20 eggs in a nest of rotting vegetation, which she usually places inside her burrow, blocking access to it by sitting at the entrance, actively defending against intruders. The young will remain with her mother around her burrow for up to a fortnight, after which they disperse into nearby undergrowth.
Lifespan of the Land Caiman can be from 60-70 years, older males usually accumulate scars and scrapes across their armor.
In the Subtropical Pampas to the south occurs a smaller relative, the Grass Caiman (Ziphocaiman varanoides). This Caiman reaches between 1.5 and 2 meters and weighs up to 35 kilograms, and is lighter in coloration than its relative.
It feeds mostly on small animals, particularly invertebrates, lizards, young birds and small rodents. The mating season is in late summer, and the female lays up to 20 eggs. Lifespan of this animal is between 40-55 years.

This reptile species is discovered by Timothy Donald Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Amphibians

Cave wormsalamander (Typhlodraco branchiatus)
Order: Tailed amphibians (Caudata)
Family: Salamanders (Salamandridae)

Habitat: caves of Balkan and Near East.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Caves represent the specific habitat. The cave environment substantially differs from surface of the ground. Here there is no light; therefore biological efficiency of caves is very low: plants practically do not grow here. Only bacteria can provide food needs of inhabitants of caves in any degree. The majority of food chains of cave ecosystems stretches to the ground surface. Bats, birds and insects deliver to caves organic substances from world around which animals, never seeing sunlight, eat. Also organic substances can get in caves at river floods.
But caves differ in stability of conditions of inhabiting: here daily and seasonal fluctuations of temperatures are practically not felt, and humidity of air is constant and close to 100 %. Not all live creatures can adapt for life in conditions of eternal darkness, but nevertheless caves are plentifully inhabited. Amphibians are largest inhabitants of these places in Europe.
In caves frequently there are reservoirs settled by various live creatures. Usually there are worms, small crustaceans and fishes in them. Their food includes rests of plants and the dead animals delivered by water. But above them the predator reigns, crowning feeding pyramid of caves.
In rivers flowing from Balkan caves, it is possible to find unusual animals. They swim like small fishes, but their body is covered with naked skin, and on each side of heads three pairs of soft feather-like pinkish gills stick up. But at them even a rest of legs is not present, and eyes are closed by transparent thin skin. Bodies of these creatures are delicate, and through skin on the belly interiors appear through. They obviously are larvae of any amphibians.
The river has taken out young growth to the surface, but their parents have remained in gloomy world of cave. Here, in outer darkness, they search for livelihood - other inhabitants of cave rivers. Naturally, these creatures are larger than larvae meeting at the surface. Their bodies are pale, and eyes completely are absent. Only two stains indicate their past site on head. Parents are as poorly similar to any adult amphibian, as their posterity.
The inhabitant of caves, the cave wormsalamander is neotenic larva of one of salamander species dwelt once at the ground surface. Escaping from climate cooling and drying in ice age, ancestors of these animals have receded in damp caves. Life in gloom has left traces at shape of these animals, having transformed them to underdeveloped, but nevertheless adult larvae.
The cave wormsalamander is legless worm-like animal about 40 cm long. About 40 % of length of animal tail accounts. At this amphibian there is delicate translucent skin of rosy-white color through which interiors appear through. But at animals living in caves where the sunlight gets, pigmentation of skin develops: small white spots on brown background. This animal spends all life in water, therefore at it there is mainly branchial breath with the help of three pairs of external feather-like gills. Because of them this animal resembles by something fantastic dragons (the name of animal means “blind dragon”), invented by people which had missed long time ago. But by properties it is rather far from frightening prototypes.
At the wormsalamander also underdeveloped lungs have remained, and the animal from time to time emerges to surface of water, swallowing a portion of air with silent smacking sound. Air in lungs serves this amphibian as certain analogue of swimming bladder, helping to remain swimming.
In darkness of cave sight is not necessary, therefore the wormsalamander is completely blind. But instead of sight at it other sensor organs are advanced. At the wormsalamander the lateral line, detecting vibrations of water, proceeding from swimming or creeping live creatures, is well advanced. Also it has bodies of electric feeling allowing more precisely to determine presence of live creatures. The tail is bordered from above and from below by fin plica.
The male is larger than the female; at him tail is longer, making up to half of general length of animal. Ritual of courtship is reduced to some necessary actions: male finds female by smell, catches her up and snaps by tail fin. Twisting around of body of female, male keeps her, and begins courtships. He swims around the female, rubbing by throat against her body, and from time to time pushing her by head. When courtship ritual reaches apogee, male emits spermatophores on stones.
Wormsalamander is a live-bearing amphibian; in oviducts of female within 3 months after fertilization only two larvae about 10 cm long develop. They are a little more advanced, than adult amphibian of this species: at them eyes covered with thin translucent skin are more advanced.
Larvae can distinguish light and darkness, and vaguely distinguish contours of subjects. They have very important role in life cycle of this species, settling from one cave to another through reservoirs at the ground surface. Usually it happens during rain season when underground rivers overflow with water and leave on surface.
Similarly to all representatives of amphibians, the cave wormsalamander is a predator. It eats any live creatures which can find in caves: fry, small crustaceans, and sometimes even its own posterity. Metabolism at this animal is very slow, and after plentiful meal the wormsalamander may desist from eat about one month.

Midwife salamander (Batrachodraco parentalis)
Order: Tailed amphibians (Caudata)
Family: Salamanders (Salamandridae)

Habitat: North America, the mixed forests of the Atlantic coast.
In Neocene variety of anuran amphibians almost does not differ from their variety in human epoch. Anurans are the largest and the most successful group of the classus. As against them, caudate amphibians look rather conservative group. They are still characteristic only for northern hemisphere, and penetrate far to the south only along mountain ridges. The majority of them has not developed any unusual adaptations, helping to survive in non-typical inhabitancy or to care of posterity. But among them the species had evolved, which had developed unusual for caudate amphibians way of care of posterity.
Usually caudate amphibians leave the fertilized eggs to the mercy of fate. Also among them there are the species taking places at various stages of transition to vivipary. Some species protect eggs, staying near to clutch during the incubation. But in Neocene at the territory of North America the separate species of salamanders has appeared, which displays the wonderful for caudate amphibians form of care of posterity – the parental individual bears eggs on itself. By analogy to midwife toad of human epoch this species is named as midwife salamander.
As against its European “double”, at American midwife salamander only the female cares of posterity. She has characteristic shape which is connected to features of care of posterity. This species has clearly expressed sexual dimorphism. The female of midwife salamander is an amphibian about 30 cm long, of rather heavy constitution, with strong paws and rather short tail. Its background color is dim reddish-brown color with small white spots on head and paws. On hands and feet spots become larger and merge to uniform color field. In this feature it differs from other species of salamanders only a little, but in its shape there is a remarkable feature – a line of skin outgrowths forming some kind of crest stretches from neck up to middle of tail. Because of it the animal resembles tiny dragon a little. It has wide shovel-like head and small eyes on its edges. Nose and edges of upper jaw of this species are covered with cornificated callouses, permitting to dig out wood litter in searches of beetles, their larvae and worms which this animal eats. Also this salamander willingly eats snails and slugs. The female of midwife salamander lives on the ground in thickets of plants, where air is constantly humid.
Male of this species is the creature of significantly smaller size and lighter constitution. The maximal length of male does not exceed 20 cm. It has greyish-brown colouring of body with short vertical strokes. On its back the crest also stretches, but it differs in great degree from crest of the female: it lasts from shoulders up to the basis of tail and has not numerous, but rather large blades. Blades of crest have dark brown colouring with orange-yellow edges. Their colouring very precisely imitates tinder funguses of some species. Male is able to climb on trees and frequently lives among thickets of moss at height up to 2 meters above the ground. In case of danger it simply turns body across tree trunk and hangs on bark. Blades on its back imitate fungi, and it succeeds to avoid dangers. It eats smaller insects which can be found among moss – cockroaches, earwigs and larvae of small beetles.
The reasons of occurrence of crest become especially obvious in courtship season – in spring. When days become warmer, males actively start to search for females. They turn brighter – edges of skin blades get bright red colouring (and the border becomes much wider), and on sides white spots appear, “flowing down” to the stomach. Courting the female, male creeps in front of her, displaying to her the crest and from time to time tiny shuddering by the whole body. If the female is ready to breeding, she admits male closer to herself, and soon he simply creeps on her back. The female creeps away th the thickets, and male finds on her side suitable place where leaves spermatophore on skin of the female. After that he quickly leaves her body. The female takes spermatophore by paw and places it to the cloaca. In ovoducts of the female the internal fertilization takes place.
In one week after fertilization female starts to lay eggs. At this time there are appreciable changes at its crest – the skin swells and becomes softer. The female rises on paws, holding one of hinder legs directly under cloaca. When egg leaves a cloaca, it at once drops in toes of animal, and female puts it to lateral face of one of blades of crest. The environment of egg is pasted to skin of the female, and the amphibian pastes the next egg to crest. Pasting eggs to forward and back parts of crest, the female is bent as a ring. Now within one month it will have to bear eggs on its own body.
Eggs are not simply pasted to skin – otherwise they will turn away, when the female gets into close shelter. Eggs are partly immersed in the top layer of skin as it takes place at frogs of genus Pipa. Eggs contain a plenty of nutrients, and the embryo can continue development successfully without additional nutrition from the part of parent organism. Slime of female forms a protective cover on surface of eggs, protecting them from drying. Blood vessels penetrate into skin of crest of the female and closely adjoin to egg environments. But blood of the female supplies posterity only with additional oxygen and water, but not with nutrients. Therefore in any case embryos develop only up to the stage of aquatic larva, because in egg there will be no nutrients for full metamorphosis of embryos. When they develop sufficiently, their secretions to the blood of the female stimulate her to go down in water and to let larvae out. Shortly before hatching yolk sac completely resolves and tiny thin-bodied larva is turned in ball inside the egg. When the female is in water, the top layer of her skin swells, and the protective cover of stiffened slime is dissolved. Feeling it, larvae leave egg environments and hide at the bottom among plants and silt. They feed on tiny worms and larvae of insects and breathe with the help of plumose external gills. The body of the larva of first year of life is completely transparent; it helps it to be hidden from enemies – at danger the larva simply rushes to the bottom and is dug in silt. At the second year of life at them paws grow and gills resolve completely. At the age of four years these amphibians are capable to breed.

Zme’eved, the forum member, has helped to specify features of biology of this species.

Monsternewt (Siluroherpeton cryophilus)
Order: Tailed amphibians (Caudata)
Family: Swampers (Pseudoandriidae)

Habitat: Northern Europe up to Ural, Scandinavia.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

After human extinction till millions years the Earth had gradually cleared of various kinds of pollution left by this species. Polluting and poisonous substances had been gradually decomposed as a result of activity of bacteria and other organisms. Chemical elements making them had included natural geochemical cycles, and in Neocene epoch the planet had returned to protogenic cleanliness in ecosystems.
In human epoch the species sensitive to pollution of environment died out or receded from places where people conducted economic activities. Among them there were especially many species of fishes and amphibious. Human extinction had permitted to evolve to new species of these animals, exacting to cleanliness of inhabitancy.
The territory of Europe had strongly suffered from human activity, and a number of species of amphibians lived there became rarity. The glaciers came from the north, had almost completely destroyed marks of presence of people in this part of the world. When people had died out, amphibians had returned to themselves primordial habitats and evolved to strange and unusual species.
In head waters of rivers of Europe running into Arctic Ocean at the north, and into Fourseas at the south, the largest European species of amphibians, the monsternewt, is found. It is the close relative of Siberian glutton swamper (Pseudoandrias silurops) which is the largest species of amphibians in Neocene world.
Monsternewt considerably concedes in size and weight to glutton swamper, but is also a large amphibian. Body length of this amphibian is about one meter including tail. At monsternewt there are large head, wide body, deep tail with fin plica stretched up to middle of back, and strong paws without claws. This amphibian has soft dark brown skin with small darker spots, lighter bottom side of body. On stomach skin forms the set of longitudinal plicas taking part in skin breath. Also at this animal branchiate apertures are advanced and there are small external gills.
Monsternewt is inactive ambush predator and is not able to chase prey at long distance. This amphibian waits for prey, having hidden among water plants, or having slightly dug in silt. It has flat head with wide mouth and strong jaws. Teeth of this animal are tiny; they serve only for keeping of rather small prey – frogs, crayfishes, fish, mammals and small aquatic birds. Eyes at this amphibian are extremely small, located on edges of head near corners of mouth. Bodies of lateral line play the vital role in life of monsternewt – they form a dense system of sensitive channels on head of animal, and stretch as double line along each side. With their help animal can define the location of prey even in complete darkness. These animals well feel like in karstic caves.
Monsternewt lives in cold water containing a plenty of oxygen and because of it is intolerant to overheat of water. The greatest number of these amphibians lives in rivers and lakes at the north of Eurasia. The period of maximal activity of monsternewt falls to the time of high water. At this time amphibians settle to new habitats, especially if favorable habitats are overpopulated. In high water young individuals frequently meet in forest, and appear in traps – in small isolated ponds, whence they can not get out. This amphibian can not move overland – on air wet skin of animal dries up quickly, and monsternewt chokes.
In summer monsternewt is inactive and hides in deep cold whirlpools where underwater springs gush out. In winter this amphibian creeps on the bottom under ice and hunts on fishes wintering in underwater holes. Animals from cold river heads and karstic reservoirs keep activity even in the middle of summer. In winter at complete freezing of shallow-water reservoir monsternewt digs in silt and falls into catalepsy. When ice thaws, it continues habitual life.
In early spring monsternewts spawn. Spawning begins when rivers free from ice and the time of high water begins. At the male during the spawning time colouring becomes much brighter. It has bright orange-red color of stomach. Courtship dress of the male also includes high skin crest on back and rounded “horns” above eyes. During the spawning males “butt” for females, pushing away each other by heads. Also with the help of “horns” male pushes female to spawning place – to thickets of underwater vegetation. Clutch of monsternewt is rather large – it numbers over 10 thousand eggs strongly swelling in water and covering with the common slime cover. The incubation lasts till about one month. From eggs long-bodied legless larvae with well advanced plumose gills hatch. They lead predatory habit of life, and for them cannibalism is very characteristic. As against to adult monsternewts, larvae well enough exist at higher temperature. Till the summer they manage to grow up to 10 cm, and legs develop at them. Since the second year of life young animals gradually start to avoid the high temperature, and pass to autumnal, winter and spring activity.
The sexual maturity at monsternewt comes at fifth year of life. Life expectancy of this amphibian is not less than hundred years.

Poisonous acrobatrachus (Acrobatrachus toxicus)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Fire-bellied toads (Bombinatoridae)

Habitat: Europe, deciduous forests and bushes of various types.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Warming of the climate in Neocene has caused change of vegetation of the Earth and redistribution of landscapes. At this time the territory of Europe had considerably extended due to deviation of North Sea – instead of it the extensive territory covered with wetlands of various degree of salinity had appeared. The cold-loving vegetation is kept only in mountains, and in plains deciduous forests dominate. Warming has caused increase of variety of amphibians and reptiles in European forests. Evolving actively, they had developed new tactics and strategies of protection against enemies. New species of these animals in the majority weren’t descendants of heat-loving southern forms – the mountain ridge of the Alpes has risen across the way of their moving as an insuperable barrier. Therefore the majority of these animals represents the descendants of local forms managed to go through ice age.
In deciduous forests of Europe, to the north of the Alpes, in river valleys one representative of new amphibians of Europe lives; it is a tiny frog covered with spots of dark green and orange-red color. The length of its body does not exceed 3 – 4 cm. Appearance of this animal is characteristic for frogs, but forepaws are strong, and rear legs are rather short, with tenacious toes. This frog lives on trunks and branches of plants. Being disturbed, it seizes bark or branch by forepaws and is overturned upside down, displaying bright colouring of belly where red color prevails, and green is present as separate spots. This species is acrobatrachus, or the acrobat frog. Tiny frogs of this species are very poisonous, and their skin is supplied with a whole set of glands secreting poisonous slime. It is the descendant of fire-bellied toads (Bombina), at which bright colouring of belly was kept and along with enchancement of poisonous properties was distributed to the whole body. If the predator continues an attack, acrobatrachus inflates throat bag and utters grumbling sounds, warning about its inedibility.
Acrobatrachuses secret very strong poison, and one eaten frog is enough for bear-sized animal to feel the symptoms of poisoning. The smaller predators, having tried such frog carelessly, do not perish, but feel stomach ache within several days and can not hunt. Therefore acrobatrachuses have no need for fast movement. Usually these frogs creep slowly on branches and leaves of bushes and undersized trees of underbrush, hunting insects and spiders. These frogs have short muzzle and mobile prominent eyes, helping to estimate distance up to the object or the next branch. The swimming membrane on hind legs is reduced and does not reach the middle of toes. Paws of these frogs are mobile and strong; fingers automatically clench, having touched a substratum, and frog can easily hang on one paw. Tips of fingers and toes are covered from below with corneous callouses that allows an animal to be fixed reliably on branches and tree bark. Due to mobile limbs frog easily makes a daily toilet. In the morning it emits from glands a small amount of poisonous secret and smears it on body by paws. Only one paw takes part in it, but frog greases skin by hinder legs as dexterously, as by front ones. As a result the poisonous secret is distributed on the whole body as an even layer.
Acrobatrachuses lead the solitary way of life. Each individual protects the fodder site from contenders, uttering from time to time the squeaky sounds similar to bark of tiny dog. If two frogs of this species meet each other, between them the duel takes place, during which they inflate bodies and try to push the contender away by strongly inflated throat. If the contender does not recede, frogs struggle with each other, pushing each other by heads. In courtship season males bite each other, but these bites seldom result in serious injures. Usually fight between males begins at the presence of the female ready to breeding. The winner male creeps on the female and she carries him on her body to spawning place. At this time male drives contenders away from the female, uttering abrupt barking sounds and inflating throat.
Breeding of acrobatrachuses proceeds in the way traditional for frogs: adult individuals gather in stagnant reservoirs suitable to spawning and almost synchronously spawn a plenty of eggs. It is the most vulnerable stage of life cycle of frogs: eggs are not poisonous, and the plenty of them is devoured by fishes. Young tadpoles are also edible, but they start to accumulate poison gradually. Tadpoles just hatched from eggs are translucent with yellowish shade. They hide in thickets of plants, attaching to leaves with the help of sucker-like mouth. As they grow, their colouring turns spotty. The tadpoles accumulated enough of poisonous substances in skin cease to hide and in numerous schools feed on algal films on shoaliness. They are afraid only of insects – water bugs and grubs of water beetles simply pierce their skin and inject poison, dissolving their tissues. As tadpoles grow, in their colouring red and black spots appear, composing at young frog the characteristic pattern.
Poisonous acrobatrachus is the most usual species of the genus in Europe. It is settled across the whole southern part of Europe up to the Alpes, avoiding only dry deforested areas. This frog is especially numerous in areas of deciduous and river forests. Close species of these amphibians live in other places of Europe:

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Orange acrobatrachus (Acrobatrachus citrinus) lives at the Pyrenean Ridge, isolated from an area of other species. It is the large species reaching the length of 6 cm. The basic colouring of body is orange and varies from dark yellow up to orange-red. On the top part of body there is a pattern of large black irregular-shaped spots. Protecting itself from the enemy, frog is not only overturned upside down, but also changes colouring: black color fades, and background turns more sated. This frog eats large ground insects and worms, and keeps mainly in underbrush among grassy vegetation.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Dwarf acrobatrachus (Acrobatrachus pusillus) lives in southeast of Europe, inhabiting subtropical forests of the Balkan. It keeps in valleys where formed the numerous local forms connected to each other by transitive variants of colouring. The length of this frog does not exceed 3 cm. In typical case colouring represents a twisting pattern of spots of black and citreous colors. Among local forms there are some variants of colouring:
1) Almost entirely black with separate yellow spots of rounded shape.
2) Longitudinal-striped with a little bit irregular pattern, usually on sides.
3) Black with cross-striped paws and yellow irregular-shaped spots.
4) Yellow with black irregular-shaped spots of various sizes.
This species of amphibians eats mainly tiny flying insects and lives in tree crones. More often dwarf acrobatrachuses occupy hollow trees where rain water accumulates. In these places separate individuals even breed.

Giant Chirping Toad (Terrabufo gigantea)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Toads (Bufonidae)

Habitat: Meganesia, any vegetated area with sufficient seasonal water.
The invasion of Australia by man let to many dire consequences for both australian flora and aboriginal people. Many introduced animals decimated the indigenous fauna, including perhaps the most ravenous of all, the Cane Toad (Bufo marinus).
The Chirping giant toad is a descendant of this animal, and reaches considerable size, even greater than its ancestor. Snout to vent length is 35 centimeters, legs are shortened and heavily ossified, hopping is slow and ponderous, usually the animal moves by clambering. Shoulder glands posess toxin which is exuded when the animal is harassed by a predator. The mouth is enlarged (moreso than its ancestor), and the animal posesses large bony “fangs” with which it kills and manipulates food. Males posess thickened skulls used in courtship conflicts, there are bony ridges above the eyes. The dorsal surface of the animal is fortified by large corneous warts which meet at the edges, acting as rudimentary armor. The belly of this toad is relatively soft, and predators are sometimes able to flip the animal to rip out its belly. Color of upper side of the body is olive brown, speckled with dark brown, and creamy yellow on the underside.
Depending on the temperature and humidity, it may be active during the day or night. These toads are able to dig shallow burrows and scrapes from which they ambush their prey, such as mice, rats, lizards, small birds, frogs, and large insects. During favorably cool, damp, or shady hours they will wander in search of food, which they will hold down and kill with their jaws, and swallow whole. Smaller prey is taken and swallowed alive.
Males compete aggressively for females, using their thickened skulls to flip eachother onto their backs. Females are held and spawned with in shallow water with the help of the male’s front limbs. Breeding season is all year, where-ever sufficient water for spawning exists. Tadpoles mature quickly, and commonly fall prey to insects, fishes and snakes which are resistant to their toxin.
Lifespan up to 20 years.
Related, Lake Chirping Toad (Terrabufo lacustris), slightly smaller, coloring is dull grey with black spots. This toad spends most of its time in the marsh and swamp-forest on the southern fringes of Carpentaria and Arafura lakes, and is able to spawn in brackish water, poisonous tadpoles are commonly prey to specialised fish and snakes.
Forest Chirping Toad (Terrabufo media) found in forests of Northern Meganesia. Medium-sized form posessing bright warning colors advertising high toxicity, bright orange with black speckles on the dorsal side, and patterned white and yellow on the belly.

These species of amphibians were discovered by Timothy Donald Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

“Termite queen” (Batrachoregina hygrophila)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Narrow-mouthed toads (Microhylidae)

Habitat: South Africa, dry savanna.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Amphibians are the primal vertebrate land inhabitants. They had not completely left the water environment – water is vital for them in spawning season, and the majority of amphibians prefers to live in wet places. But despite of such vital requirements these animals had managed to adapt even to inhabiting in arid areas. Though Neocene differs from Holocene in more humid and warm climate, deserts and savannas cover a significant part of planet. One of such places is South Africa. Sometimes it is too hard to find water here, and termites, which are very moisture-loving insects, are compelled to dig deep vertical shafts, reaching up to aquiferous stratum. And various animals searching for moisture and safety willingly use their constructions. It is difficult to not cause aggression of furious termites from soldier caste, but nevertheless in buildings of termites the set of various animals lives. Basically there are insects among them, and occasionally millipeds and spiders are. But one of large “guests” of termites is the strange big-bellied frog about 8 centimeters long. It behaves rather confidently and feels like in the full safety, surrounded by insects equipped with protective weapon. In dry season this frog meets only in constructions of termites. For these features it has received the name “termite queen”.
The secret of loyal relation of termites to their “queen” is contained in chemical substances secreting with slime of “termite queen”. Skin secretion of this frog reduces aggression of termites. These insects perceive this frog almost like their relative: they lick secretions of skin of “termite queen”, and do not attack her, even when the frog eats several termites one by one.
“Termite queen” has short and thick, almost spherical body with rather short paws. This frog is not able to jump, and moves on the ground, walking like a toad. Skin of “termite queen” is smooth with strongly advanced skin glands producing secretions attractive to termites. Its colouring is dusky – grayish-brown with small dark spots at the top part of body; stomach is white. Head of this frog is short and wide; eyes are small, protected from stings of termites by transparent eyelid. “Termite queen” has bad developed sight sense – it spends the most part of life in complete darkness of galleries of termitary, and appears at the ground surface only at night during the rain season. But this animal orientates very well in termitary due to sense of smell and advanced touch sense.
This frog is adapted to digging habit of life. On its paws large corneous callouses develop on external edge of foot and forearm. It digs holes in the basis of termitary and frequently uses ready galleries of termites for movement. The similar way of life is led by desert mole toad (Cryptophrys cornicephalus), living in Meganesia; it is an example of the convergence, because the species from Meganesia belongs to another family.
“Termite queen” eats termites and other insects living in termitaries. It obviously prefers large insects – crickets and cockroaches, and also adult termites. But in each termitary only one or two adult frogs of this species live (and also some small not sexually mature individuals may exist near them), therefore damage put by such “queen” to the colony of termites is small. Even more so, it eats various symbiotes and parasites of colony of termites more often, than termites.
This frog spawns during short rain season. When it feels that the ground becomes wetter, it leaves termitary using galleries, and digs a tunnel to the ground surface. Having reached a surface, frog gets out of hole not at once – it makes it only when night comes. At this time tens of “termite queens” hasten to temporary reservoirs to spawn. Males get out on surface earlier, than females. They share coastal sites of reservoir to set of territories, and involve females with the help of call similar to long descending whistle. In day time males prefer to dig in ground on coast of reservoir, or hide in thickets of marsh plants. Females creep to the surface later. Within one night pairs form, frogs spawn and immediately leave a reservoir, coming back to the same places where they lived before. “Termite queen” is never mistaken, returning after spawning only to the same termitary. At the second night only separate females come to reservoirs, and third spawning night, as a rule, does not come.
In clutch of these frogs it is totaled up to 300 eggs stuck to one mucous ball. Tadpoles of these frogs in the beginning eat algae, and from 9 - 10-day’s age become predators and cannibals. Up to the metamorphosis (at the age of 45 – 50 days) no more than 10% of the general number of tadpoles survives. Young frogs dig in ground and search for galleries of termites along which they reach dwellings of these insects. The part of frogs perishes from stings of termites – not all species of these insects accept such “visitors” peacefully. But the frog managed to lodge at termites of suitable species can live about ten years.

Motley midgefrog (Miniranula multicolor)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: True frogs (Ranidae)

Habitat: Western Siberia, swamps and marshy forests.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Significant territories of Eurasia differ in rigorous continental climate, and this circumstance does not favour to settling of amphibians and reptiles there. Only few species of these animals had adapted to seasonal climate. Those species which could make it had developed various adaptations, permitting to resist to the most terrible enemy – to winter cold.
When swamps and lakes of Western Siberia release from ice cover, it is possible to see various aquatic animals in pieces of ice floating on surface of reservoirs. Some of them had got in ice casually and lost, and others normally endure such test and after will thaw, continue the habitual life. In ice captivity there are larvae of various insects, small crustaceans and their eggs, and also small long-bodied creatures similar to thin transparent fishes. They are tadpoles of local midgefrogs – animals prospering in Siberian climate. They are alive, though are frozen, and simply wait while warmth of sun will release them. But in ice there are only separate tadpoles had got there casually. The much greater number of tadpoles is hidden in layer of silt at the bottom of reservoir. When ice starts thawing, their multithousand shoals leave the refuges and gather at warmed up shoalinesses. Jaws of midgefrog tadpoles are scraping – with their help they gather algal scurf from the surface of plants and eat tiny sedentary animals. One of the main enemies of midgefrog tadpoles is giant bladderwort, carnivorous aquatic plant.
One of the most terrible inhabitants of Siberia are not predators, but numerous blood-sucking insects. Their larvae successfully survive in winter and from the beginning of summer there is their mass metamorphosis to adult mosquitoes and midges. These insects do not give rest to mammals and birds – they attack by whole flights during all night and the most part of day. But just at the moment of their metamorphosis tadpoles also turn to frogs, and adult individuals of midgefrogs appear provided with food of suitable size.
Adult midgefrogs are very tiny creatures. The length of normally advanced individual at all species of this genus does not exceed 20 – 25 millimeters (male is smaller, than female). They are reliably protected from predators by strong poison which contains in their slime. During the evolution at midgefrogs bright warning colouring had developed. Many species of this genus of frogs distinguishing in ecology and well distinct on features of colouring live in Siberia. All species of these amphibians are able to climb dexterously on branches of bushes and leaves of marsh grasses with the help of tenacious fingers and toes. At front paws the palm forms a kind of sucker.
The adult midgefrog grows not for long, but very actively. Its length after metamorphosis does not exceed 14 mm, but right till one month it reaches the size characteristic for adult individual. In the same time it becomes sexually mature and starts spawning. So high growth rate is explaining by one feature of its physiology: is an annual frog. Closer to an autumn adult midgefrogs quickly grow old. Besides when small two-winged insects vanish, these frogs lose an only source of forage and are quickly exhausted.
Motley midgefrog lives in wet places – under leaves of perennial grassy plants. This species is widely settled in swamps of Siberia and eats mosquitoes. This tiny frog has spotty colouring – in it orange and brownish-green colors, located by chaotic spots are combined. The size and amount of spots may strongly vary at different individuals.
Courtship games of motley midgefrog begin in the middle of summer. Males call females, perching on branches of bushes and high stalks of grasses. Voice of this frog is shrill squeak. Short sound signals follow one by one in some seconds during 2 – 3 minutes in succession, if the male is not disturbed by anybody. At the meeting of two males sound signals follow one by one, almost not interrupting. Eventually, weaker male stops “duel” by the first and leaves out.
Female in common with male moves to water and spawns near the coast up to hundred very small eggs. In them also there is a poisonous substance, and it is enough quantity of it to protect eggs from encroachments of small aquatic predators. But tadpoles of this species are lack of such protection, and can hope only for their own speed of movement and reaction. They gather to big shoals and keep in well warmed up places of reservoir.
Close species of midgefrogs live in Siberia:

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Little Red Riding Hood midgefrog (Miniranula crystallodermata) is one of tiniest species of the genus: the length of adult female is about 19 mm, male – up to 14 mm. At this frog skin is poor pigmented and so thin, that through it interiors are visible. Only on head of this frog there is a big red spot, hence it has received its nickname. It lives in shady places and eats exclusively midges and fungus gnats. Adult frogs frequently can be found on old mushrooms bored by insects. Voice of this species is lingering silent trill.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Leopard midgefrog (Miniranula leopardina) is one of most colourfully looking midgefrogs. Its length is about 25 mm. Background color of skin is ochre-yellow, on it small black an irregular-shaped spots are scattered. Limbs of this frog are rather short, and it seems more robust, than its relatives. It swarms up plants good, and meets on stalks and leaves at height of more than one meter above the ground. This frog can eat not only mosquitoes, but also larger insects – small moths.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Lemon midgefrog (Miniranula citrina) is unusually looking species of frogs. Skin of this frog is monotonous canary-yellow, and on throat there is bright yellow area. Eyes are rather large: this species leads nocturnal habit of life, and hides in foliage and holes of small animals in day time. At night these frogs become more active, jump on stalks of grasses and bush leaves. Voice of lemon midgefrog is abrupt “yelping” sounds.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Moonlight midgefrog (Miniranula selena) differs from other species by “varnish” blue colouring. Like previous species it is a nocturnal animal and has large eyes. It is tiny species of midgefrogs reaching the length of 18 – 19 mm. It lives mainly in thickets of marsh plants at riverbanks and lake coasts. The voice of this frog resembles cricket chirring.

Ice frog (Cryorana glaciophila)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: True frogs (Ranidae)

Habitat: bogs of Western Siberia.
In Neocene the climate of the Earth became warmer, but in northern hemisphere still there is a huge “refrigerator” – Eurasia, an extensive land area of the continental climate. Fourseas influences only the European part of continent, and beyond Ural the extensive landmass far from warm seas is stretched. Therefore for Eurasia the seasonal climate with the great annual amplitude of temperatures is still characteristic – from almost tropical heat in summer up to rigorous frosts in winter. In such conditions at the most part of continent only few species of amphibians and reptiles can exist – the winter cold is limiting factor of their settling.
In Neocene rivers of Western Siberia overflow, forming an extensive circiut of lakes and bogs. Here amphibians live, which have developed the various adaptations, permitting to survive in rigorous winter. The largest one among them, the gluttonous swamper, huge caudate amphibian, spends the winter, having dug deeply in silt. Near to it numerous species of amphibians live, looking less grotesquely. Dwarf midgefrogs do not winter at all in adult condition: they perish after the first night frosts, having had time to breed the posterity which winters under ice. But some amphibians are capable to endure rigorous Siberian winter many times during their life and had developed a way permitting to avoid harmful influence of cold. One of Neocene species of frogs is capable to survive, simply freezing in ice. It is an ice frog – one of characteristic inhabitants of bogs of Western Siberia.
Appearance of ice frog is quite ordinary for tailless amphibians. It is a frog about 10 cm long of dark green, almost black color, with white stomach and small yellow eyes. Hind legs at this species are long; between toes there is a wide elastic membrane; body and head are wide and flattened.
Ice frog almost constantly lives in water, and appears on land only then when the reservoir in which it lives dries up. Hind legs serve it almost only for swimming, and on land ice frog walks like a toad, supporting on foot and raising upwards toes with membrane in order to protect it against injuring. Only in case of danger it escapes from enemy, making jumps up to one meter long. But ice frog is too heavy to move this way to long distances. In not drying up reservoirs ice frog lives almost the whole its life. Young individuals of this species, recently gone through metamorphosises, leave water for a short time while their excretory system of “adult” type is forming.
Ice frog is a predator eating various prey. It eats larvae of insects, small crustaceans, fish fry and even tadpoles of its own species.
These frogs begin active life when ice floes still float on the surface of reservoirs. Ice frogs emerge on the surface of water, putting their backs to rays of spring sun, and quickly get warm due to dark colouring. When ice thaws completely and rivers overflow banks, at this species courtship games begin. Самцы involve females with loud rolling croaking, inflating throat. At this time they are brightly colored – the male’s back becomes emerald-green with bluish shade, and on forepaws dark “gloves” appear. Females (they are larger, rather than males), on the contrary, darken, and male formed a pair with the female, is clearly visible on the background of her body. These frogs spawn a plenty of eggs – up to 1000 ones from one female. Eggs quickly swell in water, but their development proceeds about 20 days because of low temperature of water. Tadpoles of this species are tiny and translucent till first days of life. Their food at first includes the tiniest fresh-water plankton, after which they pass to vegetarian diet. By the end of summer tadpoles reach the length of 25 – 30 mm and turn to young frogs. Up to the first frosts they live on land in thickets of marsh plants. When cold season begins, they move to water and do not leave it without emergency.
In winter ice frogs remain in reservoir even if it freezes through to the bottom. These amphibians are not afraid of frost as they are able to resist to it. In cold water in blood of frogs the glycerin accumulates in a plenty, interfering growth of ice crystals. When the reservoir freezes, and fishes are hidden in deep whirlpools, ice frogs keep activity though stop feeding. They float in thickness of water and “hand” on the bottom surface of ice. The body of frog becomes covered with a layer of viscous slime which interferes skin freezing. When the frog appears “trapped” by ice crystals, it turns into ball inside slime cocoon, having pressed paws densely to the body. At this time it closes eyes and eyeballs move down into the head, not going beyond the surface. The slime capsule interferes freezing of frog’s skin, but is freely pervious to cold. However, due to natural “antifreeze” frog does not freeze through. Ice continues grow thicker and ice frogs appear enclosed in it entirely. In such condition they spend winter while ray of spring sun will melt ice. At this moment dark colouring of frog helps it to get warm faster and simultaneously causes ice around of its body to thaw.
Due to winter “preservation” this frog grows old very slowly and has significant life expectancy – up to 40 – 45 years.

Baikal lungless frog (Apulmorana baikalensis)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: True frogs (Ranidae)

Habitat: Baikal lake, depths up to 100 meters.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Baikal lake is original in many respects. This lake is one of the most ancient on the Earth, and simultaneously the deepest one, over one kilometer deep. The lake is located in rift zone, and its coasts gradually move apart. It explains the significant term of existence of lake. The fauna of Baikal is very original, including the set of endemic species, and at the top of food pyramid there is one of few relic species of cetaceans – Baikal hardbeaked dolphin (Delphinapterops odontorostrum).
Among small species of the vertebrates inhabiting the lake, the frog about 10 cm long is one of the most original inhabitants. It differs externally only a little from the majority of typical frogs, except for the wrinkled skin freely fitting a body, and hair-like outgrowths appearing on body in courtship season. Such attributes are present also at other species of frogs, but the Baikal species differs from them, living in depth, constantly keeping in benthonic layer of water and having lungs reduced in great degree and lost respiratory function. It is Baikal lungless frog. Its ancestor is any kinds of numerous genus Rana, to which this species is very close. Most likely, it descends from the representative of group of pond frogs, which are more connected to water, rather than brown frogs.
Baikal lungless frog has typically frog-looking appearance, not showing any neotenical features connected to aquatic way of life. It is externally similar a little to African clawed frog (platanna, genus Xenopus), has small eyes directed upwards and flattened body. Back of this amphibian is glaucous, and belly is silvery. Due to camouflage colouring it easily hides from predators at the bottom, among Baikal sponges and bottom sediments. As it lives in a zone where the sunlight is strongly weakened by thickness of water, sight does not play in its life such great role, as at ground species. Eyes of this frog are poorly advanced and are directed upwards and in sides; it sees almost nothing right in front of itself. But at this species the lateral line, characteristic for tadpole stage, is kept during the whole life. Baikal lungless frog creeps at the bottom, occasionally rising above the bottom to some meters. In thickness of water it swims with the help of movements of hind legs, like other frogs.
This frog has strictly skin breathing. The Baikal water is cold and rich in oxygen, therefore it completely provides needs of animal for oxygen. Lungs of this species are reduced and filled with fat, but on stomach skin is wrinkled for increase of surface. In courtship season when frogs become more active and require more oxygen, at their back and rear legs the fringe of hair-like skin outgrowths appears.
These frogs live at the depths up to 100 m, eat invertebrates and fish fry, searching for them with the help of sense of smell and bodies of lateral line. This frog is capable to swallow fish of size almost equal to itself. For this species cannibalism is frequent – adult individuals eat tadpoles and small individuals recently had gone through metamorphosises. Frogs become prey of fishes, and large scuds can eat wintering individuals.
Baikal lungless frog winters in thickness of bottom sediments or in narrow cracks of rocks where the predatory fish can not penetrate. Frequently tens individuals of approximately equal size gather in convenient places for wintering. Wintering frogs can move down deeper – up to 150 and even up to 200 meter depth.
Breeding of Baikal lungless frogs begins in spring when the surface of lake turns free of ice. At this time the contents of oxygen in water is increased and it gets warm a little. Males search for females with the help of sense of smell. Having found out the female ready to spawning, male seizes her with forepaws and swims with her, driving others males away from her. These amphibians spawn eggs in colony of Baikal sponges where it is better aerated due to the currents of water created by sponges. The incubation lasts from two up to four weeks, depending on temperature of water. Young tadpoles also live among sponges where they eat tiny invertebrates and silt. Growing older, they leave bottom and form schools far from the coast. Tadpoles up to 6 – 8 cm long including tail live closer to surface, rather than adult frogs. They eat fish fry and small species of pelagic scuds. Their metamorphosis takes place at the second year of life, and even at the third year in cold years. Because Baikal lungless frog lives in cold water, it grows slowly, and its life expectancy reaches 50 years.

This species of amphibians was discovered by Anton, the forum member.

Mantid-mimic frog (Mimohyla mantidomima)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Tree Frogs (Hylidae)

Habitat: swamp regions of China.
Reservoirs in tropics (however, in any latitudes) are the true battlefield. Predators from infusorians up to insects, fishes and amphibians are plentifully represented here. Even plants in reservoirs may be predators often. Therefore ones unable to be a predator, or unable to resist stronger predator, develop fantastical and refined strategies of survival. Some animals hope for passive protection, growing armours and needles interfering attack of predator. Others prefer to seek safety in flight or to hide, and third ones hope for strong poison. But the most skillful tactics is to show a predator, that things seen by it are actually not what it expects. Imitators are among various animals and in the various habitats. But the indispensable condition of their occurrence is a presence in the same habitat of the creature which is able to protect itself and warns predators about it. The interesting insect lives in bogs of China – it is aquatic soothsayer. This creature is successfully protected from water bugs and predatory medium-sized fishes. Noticing a predator, aquatic soothsayer demonstrates strong trapping legs, showing readiness to self-defence. Having received a serious chipped wound, the predator recedes. At such protected creature completely unexpected simulator had appeared – it is one local tree frog named mantid-mimic frog. Due to dexterous imitation of aquatic soothsayer this amphibian can feel like protected from smaller water predators. It is very important for the frog, because its length is only about 7 – 8 cm.
The frog imitates not whole soothsayer – it too differs from this insect in body shape. But to frighten underwater predator it is enough to imitate the forward part of body of aquatic soothsayer shipped in water. At mantid-mimic frog there is thin body simulating a prothorax of insect. It is colored yellowish with thin faltering longitudinal strips. Hips and shins expanded as blades simulate the terrible weapon of insect – the forward pair of legs armed with spikes. Like trapping legs of soothsayer they are colored green from above, and grey from below. The basis of hips has two light spots (it is the imitation of insect eyes), and on back there is the turned triangle darker rather than other colouring. It takes off the head of insect. On expanded lobe-like hips and shins along the edge there is a pattern like slanting short strokes imitating thorns on trapping legs of soothsayer.
Forward paws of mantid-mimic frog are very thin and have tenacious fingers. When the amphibian floats at the surface of water, having grasped any floating plant, and its bottom part freely hangs down in water, the complete illusion of aquatic soothsayer trapping catch is created. The small fishes having the experience of this insect attack, try to keep aside the floating frog. To simulate the aquatic soothsayer even more precisely, mantid-mimic frog moves back paws, imitating movements of insect clearing. Toes with swimming membranes at this moment are compressed and do not break accuracy of imitation.
The mantid-mimic frog leaves water seldom, and prefers to live on the cover of floating plants. It eats small insects hovering above floating plants in searches of flowers, and catches them by long tongue.
This amphibian breeds similarly to the majority of frog species. The mantid-mimic frog does not have complex forms of building behaviour, as at some other species of amphibians. Pair of animals spawns eggs (up to 500 grains of roe in one laying) in thickets of cane or other coastal vegetation: here eggs are better protected from casual predators. Approximately after 5 – 8 days from eggs tadpoles hatch. They are a little bit similar to parents: their body is also narrow and slender. Tadpoles of mantid-mimic frog live among coastal vegetation, and eat smallest animals, scraping them from stalks of plants. They sit among stalks vertically, and do not like to swim to long distances. At danger tadpoles prefer to hide among plants, and freeze, nestling against stalks. For the best masking their colouring represents longitudinal dark green lines on brown background.
At the second month of life the length of tadpole surpasses the length of adult frog, and to the beginning of metamorphosis the tadpole of mantid-mimic frog is almost twice longer, rather than adult individual. About two thirds of its length muscled tail amounts. Till the metamorphosis tail is resorbing and simultaneously the body of tadpole gets the shape characteristic for adult amphibian of this species. On hinder legs characteristic lobe-like outgrowths appear, and head becomes wide and flat. Passed through metamorphosis young mantid-mimic frog is only a quarter shorter than adult individual. This is the original adaptation to imitation of aquatic soothsayer - the amphibian “slips” through the age when soothsayers are too small, and there is no sense to imitate them.
Life expectancy of mantid-mimic frog is about four years.

Butterfly tree frog (Papiliohyla membranata)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Tree frogs (Hylidae)

Habitat: rainforests of Southeast Asia, trees.
Tropical rainforest is very favorable place for life of various species of amphibians. Tailless amphibians – various species of frogs and toads – are the most typical representatives of this class in tropics. They differ from each other in size and diet, and also lead different ways of life, inhabiting tropical forest from wood litter up to crones of emergent trees. Some of them have camouflage colouring, and predator can find them out only after long searches. Other species, on the contrary, compete to tropical flowers and birds in brightness of colors. One representative of tree frog family, butterfly tree frog, belongs to the number of such species.
It is small and gracile climbing frog – the length of its body does not exceed 20 mm. It is able to make long gliding jumps in forest canopy. Due to light weight it effectively uses weak air streams for jumps. Butterfly tree frog is not unique in this skill: it shares habitats with glidefrog, the amphibian having very much advanced membrane between limbs. But this species differs from the glidefrog in features of anatomy: butterfly tree frog makes gliding jumps with the help of very advanced membranes between the lengthened fingers and toes of all paws. In this feature it is convergently similar to flying frogs of genus Rhacophorus belonging to family Rhacophoridae. Fingers and toes at this frog are of almost identical length.
The basic coloration of the top side of body of this tree frog is cryptic – brownish background with small black specks composing faltering longitudinal lines. But, displaying the colouring to relatives, this frog is changing. Elastic membranes between fingers and toes are brightly colored – they are citreous with red border at the external edge and small black specks on the whole surface. Stomach of amphibian is white. Females differ from males in dimmer color of membranes.
Displaying colouring of membranes, frog jumps from trees, straightening like fans fingers and toes of all extremities. Due to small size the butterfly tree frog can easily overcome distance of about ten meters in one jump. In flight pattern of paws is clearly visible; at this moment frog is similar a little to the butterfly – hence its name. One more way of displaying of bright spots is used at direct meeting of competing individuals: declaring the rights to the territory, the frog keeps on tree bark, having opened widely fingers and having straightened membranes between them.
Displaying of colouring of membranes between fingers and toes is one element of courtship behaviour. Having met each other, males by turns lift one of forepaws, showing each other colouring of membranes. Size and brightness of colouring of gliding membranes are determining factors at the establishment of domination relations.
Butterfly tree frog eats tiny insects and spiders.
This amphibian breeds, spawning large eggs in hollows of trees filled with rain water. In clutch it may be up to 30 eggs of reddish color, rich in carotene. Male protects nest against competitors, uttering the sounds similar to mouse squeak. In first days of life tadpoles scrape slightly rotten wood, digesting bacteria and fungi. At the age of 2 weeks they become predators and hunt mosquito larvae. If it is not enough food for them, they turn to cannibals. At monthly age they undergo metamorphosis and turn to little frogs about 8 – 9 mm long. They differ from adult individuals in poorly advanced membranes between fingers and toes and are not able to make gliding jumps.

Giant mossy tree frog (Bryodorsa titan)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Tree frogs (Hylidae)

Habitat: China, swamp forests.
Increase of climate humidity in Neocene has resulted in occurrence of marshlands at the territory of East Asia. Mountains serve as natural condensers of moisture – they interfere to penetration of rain clouds into central areas of Asia, supplying numerous rivers flowing down from their slopes to the east, aside Pacific Ocean. Swamp forests growing in basins of these rivers serve as a habitat of numerous moistureloving animals. Amphibians living in these forests are especially various. Among them there is especially remarkable very large tree frog developing the most interesting way of care of posterity – giant mossy tree frog.
This species is huge (about 25 cm long) frog of heavy constitution with strong paws and very tenacious fingers and toes. It skilfully swarms up trees and lives in swamp forests from the top part of tree trunks up to top of crone. This frog goes down to the ground extremely seldom, only in case of need. However, when the river burst the banks floods forests, giant mossy tree frog willingly goes down in water and swims rather long distances from one tree to another. Thus to have additional buoyancy it is simply inflated.
This amphibian is remarkable in heavy constitution and is not able to swarm up thin branches. Giant mossy tree frog keeps mainly on trunks and thick branches of trees, preferring thickets of epiphytes and thick stalks of lianas where it is easier to cling by fingers. Appearance of this frog is very characteristic: back is wide and flat, head is dulled with rather small eyes, and hind legs are short. Coloration of this amphibian is cryptic – brown with green irregular-shaped spots, shaded with strokes of black color on sides. The sexual dimorphism at this species is expressed in size first of all. Male is larger than female in size though it is approximately quarter lighter, rather than female. It is connected with special role of male of this species in breeding process. At males of giant mossy tree frog on back numerous fibres and outgrowths develop, which make back of this animal similar to thickets of moss or lichen. Undoubtedly, these outgrowths serve as additional bodies for air breath, but their main function is clearly appreciable during the spawning. In courtship season these outgrowths swell and extend a little. Males involving the female with calls gather somewhere in crone of tree. The female comes guided by male voices and begins to estimate development of these outgrowths on their backs, touching by throat the back of calling male. When the female stops, having put head on male’s back, it is a signal for him. He stops calling and gets on back of the female which carries him away for egg spawning.
During the spawning male still stays on female’s back, but keeps one of hind legs opposite to her cloaca. When the female spawns a portion of eggs, male picks them up and distributes on the back, pasting eggs to fibres and outgrowths. Almost at once he produces a portion of sperm liquid and greases eggs with it. After that the cycle repeats and as a result eggs are placed as the even layer on male’s back. In clutch it is totaled up to 200 eggs. The rate of fertilization of eggs is almost 100%. When the female finishes egg spawning, male leaves her and entirely devotes itself to care of posterity. He regularly moistens eggs with water, not allowing them to dry up. For this purpose male sits under drops of rain and crawls through thickets of epiphytic plants. If such humidifying is not enough, he puts on eggs by paws thin layer of slime which is slowing down the process of drying.
Male carries eggs on back within one week, but his care of posterity does not terminate after it. Usually the greatest death rate of posterity is observed at the moment of passing to independent life. At these amphibians such moment is delayed for some time. Male feeds tadpoles with skin secretions which are produced between fibres. Tadpoles have scraping mouthes and lengthened fish-like body. Yolk sac quickly resolves at them and they pass to feeding on skin secretions of male. They remain on his back up to developing of rear legs, growing up to 20 – 25 mm. When the period of bringing up of posterity comes to an end at the male, he goes down on the ground and hastens to any reservoir. Having got into water, male cautiously removes tadpoles from back by hind leg.
Tadpoles of giant mossy tree frog grow quickly, eating small sedentary invertebrates. They are colored grayish-green with bright yellow belly and keep near to bottom. At danger they are quickly dug in silt. At length of about 10 cm (the tail makes a little more than half of total length) tadpoles undergo metamorphosis and turn to young frogs. At this time young individuals suffer from cannibalism in greatest degree – adult tree frogs of this species frequently eat them alongside with frogs of other species. Young frogs eat tiny insects, but, as they grow, their diet changes – they begin to hunt large spiders and cockroaches. Adult amphibians hunt small vertebrates and frequently ravage bird nests.

New Zealand cave frog (Virilohyla spealea)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Tree frogs (Hylidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, caves of Northern Island.
In human epoch New Zealand had the most ancient flora and fauna of great level of endemism: at birds and reptiles the endemism reached an order level. It is connected to long-term isolation of islands – presumably, from the end of Mesozoic. But in human epoch isolation of island flora and fauna had been terminated. People had introduced to islands great number of species completely alien for islands – mainly ground mammals of various orders, and also fishes, birds and plants. Among island immigrants large Australian tree frogs of genus Litoria appeared. These intruders had got accustomed well at the islands and had given rise to various species of local tree frogs. Moreover, during the evolution of larval stage of tree frogs in water bodies of New Zealand the original endemic group of “tailed amphibians”, New Zealand false salamanders, had appeared. These amphibians proved to be very successful group, and had occupied habitats, characteristic for tailed amphibians in Northern hemisphere. Besides at the islands the species of amphibians is kept, throwing light on the origin of this endemic group.
Mountain areas of New Zealand are rich in caves. Cracks in the ground and narrow clefts in mountains lead to extensive underground cavities, the part of which is water-filled. The underground rivers, flowing from glaciers, may run into small underground lakes and penetrate to ground surface as springs. These reservoirs are populated with various creatures – insects, crustaceans and even representatives of false salamanders. And some creatures are only temporary visitors of caves.
In spring a plenty of small tree frogs gathers to cave entrances. These ones are creatures only about 5 centimeters long with characteristic appearance of tree frogs – large eyes, flattened head and sucking disks on fingers and toes. Colouring of these tree frogs is bright green with dim brownish strip from nape up to the back end of body. Atop of this strip the narrow precisely outlined stripe of white color lasts. Such colouring helps these creatures to hide from predators among foliage. This masking is broken only with large yellow eyes with brownish nerves and narrow vertical pupils. However, having closed eyes, this tree frog completely merges with surrounding foliage. It is New Zealand cave frog which frequently keeps near to caves and in damp gorges overgrown with tropical vegetation.
All these frogs are females. They lead way of life typical for these amphibians, swarm up trees and large-leaved bushes, eat insects and other invertebrates. In spring when rains become more plentiful and streams in mountains overflow banks and turn to rough rivers, at these amphibians courtship season begins. Females of New Zealand cave frog migrate to places where they had hatched from eggs a long time ago – to underground rivers flowing in caves. Bellies of these frogs are overfilled with eggs, which even are visible through thin belly skin of these animals.
In darkness of caves shrill voices of males do not meet these females. Having found water, females enter cold stream and wait while males will find them.
As against females, males of New Zealand cave frog never leave underground rivers. They are not able to leave water at the will at all. These creatures differ from females even in appearance: male of this species is about 8 cm long and looks like very big tadpole with the advanced back legs. The muscled tail with well advanced fin makes about half of its total length. Only the male’s head partly takes the shape characteristic for adult frog, but eyes remain small and underdeveloped. In sides of male’s mouth short triangular wattles with wide bases supplied with sensitive cells are advanced. Due to well advanced chemical feeling male easily finds the female ready to lay eggs in darkness of cave. In caves where the sunlight doesn’t penetrate, males have pinkish-white depigmentated skin, and in reservoirs where the sunlight gets from surface, their colouring becomes grey with brown speckles on sides. In such case eyes also develop at them.
Such sexual division has the great biological sense. Females introduce into the poor ecosystem of cave a significant amount of organic substance – eggs and their own bodies (not all of them succeed to get out and to return to the forest), and males do not vaste resources for migrations and metamorphosis. Living in cold water, they require a small amount of food.
Having met the female, male sticks to her back by mouth and clasps her by hind legs. The pair of animals swims in such position near the bottom, only from time to time emerging to the surface for air. Male, despite of its larval shape, has lung breath though it receives a significant part of necessary oxygen with the help of gills.
Animals lay eggs in natural deepenings at the bottom of reservoir, or dig a special hole for it. The size of clutch makes no more than one hundred of eggs, but usually totals no more than 75 ones. Having spawned eggs, female leaves the reservoir, and does not care of posterity any more. Male stays near clutch. Due to advanced lateral line he distinguishes approach of predators and rises in defence of clutch. It strikes to the attacker impacts by head and tries to push it aside from eggs by side and impacts of tail. Till the time of egg incubation (it makes about 2 months) male eats of nothing. When tiny long-bodied tadpoles hatch from eggs, male eats the rests of egg shells and abandons the rests of clutch. There are numerous animals dangerous to eggs: crustaceans, worms and even the hungry congeners – males not busy with care of posterity and tadpoles of advanced ages. Cannibalism in conditions of scarcity of resources represents the usual phenomenon for this species.
Tadpoles and tadpole-looking males of New Zealand cave frpg are omnivores. They willingly eat food of animal origin, scrape from stones layer of bacteria and protozoans, and also eat the vegetative parts getting into the reservoir. Large tadpoles and males also hunt small crustaceans.
This species is very close to primitive false salamanders keeping a significant number of tadpole features in adult condition. Obviously, this frog is a relict of early stage of evolution of New Zealand false salamanders.

The idea about existence of this species was proposed by Simon, the forum member.

Branchial tadpole (Branchiosuga nosferatu)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Neotenic frogs (Pseudocaudidae)

Habitat: tropical ponds and rivers of South America.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov
Colorization by Carlos Pizcueta

In fauna the phenomenon of neoteny is very much distributed: larval stage of individual development gets ability to breed, not starting to metamorphosis. Among vertebrate animals such phenomenon is shown by some tailed amphibians like mole salamanders (Ambystoma). Larvae of these amphibians are known as “axolotl”. Some other tailed amphibians, for example, Proteus and Siren, represent, in the main, becoming adult larva which had lost the adult stage. In human epoch among tailless amphibians such phenomenon was not known.
But in Neocene one of numerous species of South-American frogs had made that earlier was possible only to its tailed relatives: it had lost adult “frog” condition under rather unexpected circumstances. Tadpoles of this species able to normal breeding, live in rather unusual place: at gills of huge fishes boltergillers (Potamocetus balaenognathus), eating river plankton, and occasionally on gills of other big fishes. They are species of amphibians had mastered parasitic habit of life - being mature they eat exclusively blood of fishes.
These creatures completely passed to breeding at larval stage and had lost an adult stage of the frog. The parasitic way of life influenced upon anatomy of this animal. Body of branchial tadpole is flat and oblong; mouth has transformed to sucker. In mouth there are two corneous plates, with which tadpole bites through epithelium of gills of the host fish. The body of animal is about 5 - 6 cm long; it is covered with thin translucent skin of grayish color through which interiors and blood vessels appear through. Because the tadpole spends all adult life on fish, it does not have necessity to swim to anywhere. Therefore its tail is very short, accounting about quarter of general length of animal.
In spite of the fact that this creature is only the adult tadpole, at it hinder legs serving for keeping on gills of fish develop. At these paws only two toes develop, forming some kind of “pincers” clasping branchial arch of fish.
Sense organs at branchial tadpoles are advanced very poorly: eyes are appreciably reduced, and there were only few tens of sensitive cells of former lateral line. Organs of smell sense are well advanced only at young individuals, but not at adult males.
At these tadpoles males are smaller than females, and are more active than them: male can move in branchial cavity of fish, finding for females ready to breeding. The female is larger; her body is convex, and oral sucker is stronger. Once per some days pair makes a plenty of small eggs (up to 100 ones that is a big number for small animals). Eggs develop in thickness of water: they swell in water, and after two - three days from them very small larvae hatch.
The early-aged tadpole of this species lives in plankton and eats it, filtering through gills. It is tiny and practically completely transparent. Later, having reached length about 2 cm (tail accounts more than half of length), the tadpole settles on gills of the host fish. It is easy for making: the fish, properly, finds it itself together with other plankton. First time the young branchial tadpole does not harm the host fish: it only scrapes plankton accumulated on its gills. Adult animal passes to parasitism – it starts to bite through gill epithelium and to suck blood.
To lower an intraspecific competition in the limited vital space, at these parasitic creatures the original mechanism of regulation of population amount had developed. Adult individuals eat not only blood of fish. They also may be cannibals, killing significant part of young tadpoles settling on gills of fish. Thus the overpopulation of the host animal by parasites is prevented. Young tadpoles have real chance of survival only if at the infected fish there is a small population of adult tadpoles.

Toby frog (Vesicorana toxidermata)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family Spherical frogs (Sphaeroranidae)

Habitat: the wood rivers of South America.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

After ice age, marked with itself the border of Holocene and Neocene, climate became more humid, and woods had occupied again extensive territories in equatorial zone of Earth. In territory of South America the impassable selva again was spread. Current of rivers of Amazon region have a little changed after droughts of glacial epoch, but in Neocene the basin of Amazon and Hyppolite flowing in parallel to it has occupied approximately the same area, as an Amazon region in Holocene epoch.
The damp, periodically flooded rainforest, or igapo, is a fine place for life of various frogs and toads. Here it is possible to find various shelters and reservoirs for development of tadpoles, therefore the frog population of this place is especially numerous and various. At night woods of Amazon region are resounded by voices of various frogs. Among them the voice of one of local frogs, sharp abrupt whistle, is remarkable. The owner of so remarkable voice is frog about 10 cm long keeping among wide-leafed marsh grasses. By body shape it differs from the majority of frogs unless by larger and wide head, and small eyes are shifted to sides a little. It is colored rather brightly: back is black with small red spots on shoulders, hips and waist; belly has red spots on white background. This amphibian does not hide in presence of large animals, and it looks, they diligently avoid meetings with it. The name of this species is toby frog.
Two features unite this frog with its “double” among fishes. First, the skin of this frog contains strong poison. And second, the toby frog has developed an interesting way of the warning about its virulence. Skin on its belly is very elastic. In case of danger this frog quickly inflates as a sphere, swallowing air or water. Thus it rises on paws so, that bright colouring of stomach becomes especially distinct. Similarly the toby fish (Tetraodon) turns to sphere, being disturbed. At puffed frog on skin drops of poison involuntarily appear squeezed from skin glands on sides. Poison at it has unpleasant sharp smell, warning possible aggressors about danger.
However, in nature absolute protection does not happen. Some birds have adapted to eat toby frogs, avoiding their poisonous protection. They kill and tear apart frog by claws, and then simply peck meat, not touching poisonous skin. Here toby frog loses to fish “double” in armament: at fish there are even poisonous meat and interiors.
When threat of life will pass, frog simply weakens stomach sphincter and by contraction of abdominal muscles lets air or water outside through a mouth.
This species has staked on its own virulence, and during all life protect itself by chemical weapon – eggs and tadpoles of toby frog are also poisonous.
Eggs of this frog are colored red because of abundance of carotene – they develop in reservoirs with slow current, poor in oxygen, and carotene has in addition property to fix oxygen. At the same time red colouring warns water animals that eggs are poisonous. In clutch at this species there may be up to 200 grains of roe. Parents simply leave eggs to the mercy of fate: the survival rate of posterity at this species is rather great even without additional care. Tadpoles of the toby frog have bright colouring too: they are red with black speckles on sides. They have feather-like external gills necessary for life in water poor in oxygen. Besides at tadpoles lungs develop early. They eat filamentous algae and keep in shallow waters, where they have no competitors. These tadpoles are not afraid of coming nearer animals – they, as well as adult frogs, are poisonous. The stage of tadpole lasts about 2 months. Having reached length about 4 cm, the tadpole turns to young frog and goes to land. At the age of 7 – 8 months young frog can take part in spawning.

Stream suckermouth (Ancistrogyrinus lampetrifrons)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: mountain rivers of New Zealand.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

In historical epoch the fauna of New Zealand had suffered the large damage from the human activity connected to “enrichment” of it by various species of animals, unusual for natural ecosystems of islands. Among invaders there were various species of invertebrates and vertebrates, and also plants. In woods of islands various mammals, and in rivers fishes from various continents had appeared. There were large Australian tree frogs of genus Litoria among animals introduced to New Zealand.
Climatic changes at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene had determined the unusual direction of evolution of these creatures. At the cooling of climate these amphibians suffered the tightening of metamorphosis. This phenomenon had been well-known at newts of various species and other tailed amphibians dwelt in Northern hemisphere. In New Zealand some populations of descendants of introduced tree frogs had gradually turned to sexual matured tadpoles and had lost the ability to turn to adult frogs. Actually they had became tailed tailless amphibians, once again emphasizing the reserve of names given by people.
In mountain areas of New Zealand, in clean quickly flowing rivers there are many various species of such “overgrown tadpoles” occupying various ecological niches in reservoirs. One of usual species is the stream suckermouth, an amphibian about 40 cm long. Its body is lengthened; strong muscled tail makes approximately 2/3 of general length.
Head of this creature is poorly separated from the body; it also is wide and flat. Small eyes are placed at edges of head and are directed forward and sideways. Scraping mouth looking like sucker is placed at the bottom part of head. The specific name of the animal means “having the head of lamprey” because of the similarity in structure of mouth, and the mouth shape also had determined its everyday name. On top and bottom jaws of this amphibian strips of corneous denticles, bordering mouth in front and behind, are advanced. With their help stream suckermouth scrapes larvae of midges and other sedentary and inactive invertebrates from stones. In connection with such way of feeding branchial apertures are turned upwards. Lungs at this species are rather small – this animal receives oxygen using branchial and skin respiration.
Paws of stream suckermouth are short; hinder legs are only a little bit longer than front ones. The animal can rake by paws stones in searches of forage, and at danger it can quickly dig in ground. When stream suckermouth swims, paws are densely pressed to sides, and the tail is the main organ of movement.
Usual colouring of this animal is soft: the top part of body and sides is grey with small black spots on back and head. On sides there is less amount of spots, and the stomach is absolutely lack of them. The bottom half of body at females and males out of spawning season is colored similarly – it is milky-white. In spawning season stream suckermouthes change: the throat and chest of males turn orange-red, head blackens, and on sides black faltering vertical strips appear. Besides on tip of tail of males in spawning season the long string grows (similar to “ornaments” of some armored catfishes of family Loricariidae of Holocene epoch), and the general length of the male at this time may exceed half-meter. Upon termination of spawning season this string is resorbed.
The spawning season begins in spring (in Southern hemisphere it is the end of August – first half of September), when mountain snows thaw, and also rivers become deeper. Males occupy individual sites and protect them from congeners. At borders of sites there are skirmishes at which males show to each other bright stomach and try to drive the contender off by impacts of head to sides. When the female swims to the site of male, it begins courtship rituals and tries to keep the female, sticking by mouth to her side and keeping by paws for stones and driftwood. The center of the site of the male is the flat stone which surface is carefully cleared of algae and sedentary animals.
The inhabiting in quickly flowing streams causes the occurrence of the special reproductive behaviour at these amphibians. The male does not produce liquid sperm, and lays the spermatophore on the cleared stone. The female swims above the stone and takes it by mobile edges of cloaca. Thus, at stream suckermouthes the internal fertilisation takes place. It raises the probability of fertilisation – in quickly flowing water the liquid sperm may be simply washed off by current.
The female lays on the bottom side of stones a small amount of large eggs (about 60 – 70 ones about 1 cm in diameter) with sticky environment. Approximately in one month the tadpoles distinguished from adult animals by absence of legs and dark colouring hatch from them. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years. Life expectancy of this species may be about 15 – 18 years.

The idea about the existence of this group of animals was proposed by Timothy Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Batrachogymnotus (Batrachogymnotus rivularis)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: New Zealand (Northern Island), the flatland parts of rivers overgrown with aquatic plants.

Picture by Carlos Pizcueta

Having evolved in conditions of island isolation and at almost full absence of competitors, New Zealand false salamanders became the original analogues of tailed amphibians of Northern hemisphere. Among them species of various sizes appeared, similar to tailed amphibians in various degrees. The most progressive species had almost completely lost the similarity to tadpole, and the most primitive species, which inhabit the rivers of islands, keep completely larval shape. To such species batrachogymnotus living in subtropical climate of Northern Island belongs; it is a large species of New Zealand false salamanders. It never creeps to land and constantly lives in water among thickets of underwater plants.
This creature is a long-bodied species of eel-like shape, reaching the length of 80 – 90 cm, and sometimes up to 100 cm; males are larger than females, but are more graceful than fems are. Body and head are short, and tail makes more than 3/4 of general length of animal. It is muscled and rather deep, bordered with leathery fin plica. On the top part of body and tail fin is reduced in great degree and represents only low skin elevation. But the bottom part of tail fin is wide; the fin is stretched along the belly side of body up to cloacal aperture. Batrachogymnotus swims with the help of wavy movements of the bottom part of tail fin. It this feature it is very similar to South American gymnotid fishes and demonstrates, thus, a vivid example of convergence. Such manner of swimming is connected to features of habitat of animal: batrachogymnotus lives in dense thickets of plants where it is difficult to turn around. Like gymnotid fishes it can easily swim back to front, hiding among plants from predators or competitors.
Limbs of batrachogymnotus are rather short, forward paws are much shorter than rear ones. At 30 – 40% of representatives of population forward limbs may not develop at all. Hind legs lack membranes between toes and can be used at movement among plants. Hip joint in them is very mobile, and paw can be turned forward, grasping stalks and leaves of plants by toes.
Head of this amphibian is flat, with well advanced eyes located on its edges. Mouth of animal is wide, capable to be stretched vastly and swallow large prey. In corners of mouth long sensitive wattles grow, supplied with chemoreceptors.
Colouring easily permits batrachogymnotus to hide among plants and stones. The basic background of colouring is yellowish-brown, on it there are are randomly scattered spots of dark brown and black color, forming a marble pattern. Stomach is almost white with separate black specks.
Batrachogymnotus is an active ambush predator. It feeds on fishes and crustaceans, eats frogs and other small vertebrates, and also aquatic larvae of insects. At swallowing of large prey stomach and belly wall of animal can stretch greatly; animal easily swallows fishes in length up to third of own length of the hunter. For the significant part of time batrachogymnotuses hide in thickets of water plants and in driftwood. These animals behave aggressively to each other, and fight is fastened between them at their meeting. Usually animals mark borders of the territory, rubbing body against underwater objects.
Spawning at this amphibian takes place in spring. When it is raining in mountains, the rivers overflow banks and water is considerably enriched in oxygen. It is a stimulus for the beginning of courtship behaviour at these animals. Males turn brighter – their throat reddens, and on sides distinct dark vertical strips appear. Male’s skin turns lighter, and the back becomes almost white. The female gets black colouring with white stomach. Male courts the female, swimming around her and displaying striped colouring of sides. He “leads” the female to rich thickets of plants or to driftwood and trees fallen in water. Here both parents clear a site of bottom of dust with the help of lips, and then female spawns eggs directly on the ground. Among small-leaved plants adult individuals arrange a kind of nest, whirling among stalks and trampling them down. The female spawns large eggs – up to 100 – 150 pea-sized grains of roe. Male fertilizes clutch and at once banishes the female. He protects eggs, pasting them to his own stomach and fin. First minutes after spawning eggs gets glutinosity and male at once lay on them. Eggs stick to his skin and does not come unstuck even at sharp movements. Protecting eggs, male becomes very cautious; he hides in shelters and eats almost of nothing, except for small larvae casually coming almost right up to him. For batrachogymnotus the care of posterity of first weeks after hatching is very characteristic. Male carefully protects school of tadpoles, and they keep near to the parent. Tadpoles in first of all remember his smell, but later begin to react to his appearance and movements. Male drives predators away from them and digs bottom in searches of small invertebrates. The young ones leave male at length of 2 – 3 cm. Back legs start to grow at them at the age of about half-year, at length about 15 cm. At the age of 2 – 2.5 years young individuals become capable to breeding. Life expectancy of batrachogymnotus may reach 20 years.

The idea about existence of this group of animals was proposed bt Timothy Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

New Zealand cave neosalamander (Cavernogyrinus caecus)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: underground reservoirs of New Zealand.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

In Neocene at New Zealand the separate group of amphibians, New Zealand false salamanders, prospers. They are descendants of Australian tree frogs of genus Litoria introduced to islands, though all representatives of this group resemble externally any caudate amphibians of North Hemisphere. They had appeared as the result of climatic changes at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene. The cold climate had caused the delaying of metamorphosis and occurrence of group of neotenic amphibians keeping in adult stage the set of larval features. In early Neocene their active adaptive radiation began, and as the result of it, at the islands many species of these animals had appeared. They are adapted to various conditions of life, and one species, New Zealand cave neosalamander, had settled underground reservoirs.
Cave reservoirs represent the habitat distinguished by poverty of food resources. Therefore the majority of cave inhabitants is small creatures. Besides the basic sources of food for cave inhabitants are other animals, lower fungi and bacteria, and also carrion. It considerably reduces opportunities of settling of caves by live organisms.
The predator having low rate of metabolism is the creature prospering in such ecosystems. New Zealand cave neosalamander belongs just to such species. This is small animal about 20 cm long, with delicate translucent skin of “ivory” yellowish-white color. At this amphibian there is thin long body; tail makes about half of its general length. It is bordered with wide fin plica stretched on back almost up to the level of forepaws. Head at this species of amphibians is flat, rounded, with wide mouth. This amphibian breathes mainly by gills – lungs are very poorly developed.
Paws of New Zealand cave neosalamander are short and have three small toes. This amphibian gets out on land seldom, preferring to swim in cold water of underground rivers rich in oxygen. Eyes of this amphibian are completely reduced – on head of the animal only two dark spots instead of eyes are appreciable. At New Zealand neosalamander even rudiments of optic nerve did not remain, but there is a curious sense of “skin sight” – the animal reacts to light falling on skin and tries to hide from it in dark places. Such phenomenon was known at caudate amphibians of Holocene epoch. Two short conic wattles in corners of mouth help this blind animal in search of small invertebrates dug in ground. Along each side of New Zealand cave neosalamander the line of lateral line cells passes. Very sensitive organs of lateral line help the animal to define presence of moving objects in absolute darkness. Also for this amphibian keen sense of smell is characteristic. Nostrils are surrounded with two leaf-looking outgrowths which permit to define the direction to source of a smell.
Due to so advanced sense organs New Zealand cave neosalamander occupies high place in food pyramid of cave reservoirs. It eats crustaceans living nearby, and gathers insects fallen in water. The consuming of insects – plentiful and nutritious food – permits this species to reach rather large number: in large cave lakes populations total some thousand individuals of these amphibians. When in underground waters the dead animal from ground surface gets, New Zealand cave neosalamander can eat carrion, finding it by smell and tearing off small pieces of food by mouth.
Seasonal prevalence in spawning at this amphibian is not present. Females are ready to breeding depending on physical condition up to 2 – 3 times once a year. The female ready to spawning emits the odorous substance strongly involving males. Near one female up to ten males of various ages and sizes may gather. Gradually stronger males drive off weaker ones, and soon only one male starts to escort the female. Occasionally the applicant male keeps nearby to them, trying to wedge in courtship display.
These amphibians breed, spawning up to 250 small eggs in cracks between stones. During the egg spawning male is twisted around of female’s body and kept on her, holding her paw. Pair may keep “embraces” till some minutes, and then simultaneous spawning of sexual products in water follows.
Eggs develop for rather long time – about three weeks. For this time the part of them may be lost from predators, but eggs fallen in remote places, develop successfully. Small larvae of New Zealand cave neosalamander feed with bacterial film and fungi, scraping the food from stones. They keep solitarily and grow slowly: legs develop at them at the age of about eight months. Larvae are very cautious: their main enemies are crustaceans and adult congeners. Young New Zealand cave neosalamanders reach the sexual maturity only to 3-years age, but can easily live up to 30 – 35 years.

The idea about the existence of this group of animals is stated by Tim Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Neohanasaki (Neohanasaki aotearoae)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, slowly flowing rivers and big lakes of Southern Island.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

New Zealand false salamanders are the separate group of amphibians generated in conditions of island isolation. From early Neocene their active adaptive radiation began, and its result is the presence in New Zealand of several variations of these animals, which occupy various ecological niches, avoiding the competition with each other. The majority of New Zealand false salamanders is presented by small animals, but one species represents large amphibian up to one and half meters long. This species is named neohanasaki. “Hanasaki” is the Japanese name of giant salamander, the large amphibian inhabited Japan Islands in Holocene epoch. Neohanasaki is the largest species of “adult tadpoles” of New Zealand.
New Zealand neohanasaki is similar to the prototype from Eastern Asia. At this amphibian there is wide, flat and angular head, on which edges small eyes are located. In corners of the mouth two short wattles with wide bases grow. At neohanasaki, as at all representatives of New Zealand false salamanders, larval features are kept: wide branchial apertures supplied with skinny valve, and skinny fin bordering long tail. The tail makes more than half of general length of this animal.
Skin of neohanasaki is knobby, and on each side of the body small plicas stretch. When this amphibian moves, its skin waves, and it seems, as if the skin was intended for larger animal. But there is a deep biological sense in it – skin helps neohanasaki to breathe, especially in cold season. Neohanasaki moves in water, bending the body wavy and pushing from bottom by short paws. Colouring of neohanasaki is dark brown; throat and stomach are colored beige with small brown spots. When this animal lies motionlessly at the bottom among underwater plants, it may be mistaken for the piece of rotten tree trunk.
By its nature neohanasaki is inactive animal representing the ambuscader like European catfish. Usually it hides under driftwood or motionlessly lies among vegetation, expecting while the prey will approach to it itself to the distance of resultative throw. This species does not pay attention to small fishes and tadpoles, even when they twitch its skin. It hunts for large water animald – crustaceans (river crayfishes and crabs), large fishes, and also medium-sized tetrapods appeared in water. Its prey often may include related species of “adult tadpoles”.
In spawning season this animal turns very active and mobile. Male gets bright courtship dress: its stomach turns yellow with small black spots, and on tail fin the line of jags grows. Trying to impress the female, male turns to her by side and displays the splendid serrated crest on back. If the female is interested in the male, he continues demonstration. During the second part of courtship the male shows bright stomach to the female. It emerges to the surface of water, swims above the site, and splashes by tail, declaring about rights to this territory. From time to time the male pours the female with waves of water, displaying the force to her. This species spawns eggs in big bush of water plants: male and female creep in it together and simultaneously spawn sexual products.
The clutch of neohanasaki may number up to 500 – 600 eggs surrounded with mucous mass. The male displays the care of posterity: it protects territory up to larvae hatching, driving away or simply eating any animals representing danger to eggs. From time to time it slaps by tail on the water surface – it is not only the signal to applicants to keep farther, but also the way of enrichment of water with oxygen. When from eggs tadpoles hatch, male does not abandon them. First days of life tadpoles keep near its head, and male carefully protects them. The top layer of male’s skin at this time starts to swell and to exfoliate. Tadpoles eat it in the first days of life, and due to this feature their survival rate in critical period is very high. The grown up posterity leaves male and swim to the independent life full of dangers. The main danger for young neohanasaki is its congeners: at this species cannibalism is advanced. Therefore till first years of life the posterity keeps in shallow streams, where eats larvae of insects. Sexual maturity at neohanasaki comes at the age of about seven years at length up to 60 cm. Life expectancy reaches 90 years and more.

The idea about the existence of this group of animals is stated by Tim Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

Swamp terragyrinus (Terragyrinus paludiphilus)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: New Zealand false salamanders (Virilogyrinidae)

Habitat: New Zealand, cold Alpine swamps and marshy meadows.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Among Neocene inhabitants of New Zealand the family of “adult tadpoles”, the separate group of amphibians had lost the adult stage has the special rank. Various species of these amphibians had occupied on islands the ecological niches similar to those at tailed amphibians of northern hemisphere. One species of these amphibians is swamp terragyrinus. The majority of its relatives remained aquatic animals, but this species spends on land much more time, than they do. It is the inhabitant of swamps of Alpine zone overgrown with plants.
Swamp terragyrinus is very similar to large salamander. This is long-bodied animal at which the tail makes about 2/3 of general length. The length of this amphibian is about 20 cm.
At terragyrinus paws are well advanced, and this amphibious can freely move overland. It lives in damp places - in swamps and lakes near to edge of mountain glaciers where water and air are very cold. This amphibian lives among grass, and due to thin flexible body freely creeps among stalks, escaping from enemies.
Head at terragyrinus is narrow and has pointed muzzle. Branchial apertures are small; for protection of gills from drying they are closed by special valves of skin. Eyes at this amphibian are small.
Body of animal has grey color with dark “marble” pattern; stomach is white. In courtship season at males throat gets bright red color. Skin has very important role in gas exchange – terragyrinus has small sac-like lungs which can hardly provide even a half of requirement of animal in oxygen. When this amphibian dives, instead of lungs gills start to work. But the skin also provides animal with oxygen. Terragyrinus does not endure rise of temperature of water, because thus the contents of oxygen in it falls. In hottest days of summer these animals leave land and hide in cold bottom layers of water of mountain lakes. But terragyrinus keeps activity even at minus temperatures (up to - 2 °С).
Terragyrinuses eat insects and small snails crushing their shells with the help of special corneous plates on jaws.
The courtship season at these amphibians begins in spring when the rough thawing of snow and ice takes place in mountains. After short court ritual the female lays on coastal vegetation large slimy mucous clod of eggs (about 500 ones in clutch), covered with the common environment. All this time the male drives competitors away from the female. It behaves very aggressively, and attacks even fishes. When eggs swell, male penetrates into the clutch and ejaculates sperm liquid. After fertilization of eggs both parents leave clutch.
The incubation lasts till about three weeks. Young ones are similar to tadpoles of frogs and differ in translucent covers of body. Larvae of terragyrinus live among vegetation and eat microscopic algae and microscopic animals. At the age of two years they reach the size of adult animal and begin able to breed.
Terragyrinuses have the slow metabolism and grow slowly. But they differ in significant longevity – on the average, life expectancy of these animals makes 55 – 58 years.

The idea about existence of this group of animals is proposed by Tim Morris, Adelaide, Australia.

 

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