REPTILES IN CHINA
Chinese alligator Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) are the largest geckos in China. Their body length can reach 30 centimeters. They live in cracks of mountain rocks, trees, and outside of houses or even indoors. They feed on small birds, insects and small gecko. They can be found in souther Chinese provinces such as Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hong Kong and Fujian. Gecko tails easily break off bu can grow back. The scales on their back are like small grains with larger scales arranged in in longitude rows. The scales on their belly are larger and are hexagon -shaped. Their four limbs and claws are strong and flat, and the skin under the limbs are wrinkled, which are beneficial for their climbing on smooth objects. They can change their colors to match their environment. Tokay geckos become sexually mature at age 3-4 and produce one of two eggs from June to July. Their eggs are white and round and the hatch from 92 to 120 days. Geckos have been killed for Chinese medicine. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]
Oriental water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus curier) are large-sized lizards. Their head can reach 20 centimeters and their tail length can reach 40 centimeters. They reside in trees and bushes in low-altitude humid river valleys in tropical areas and often crawl on bamboo during the summer. They catch insects and young fish etc. They can be found in tropical areas in South Yunnan, Guangdong and Guangxi. They are listed as rare protected animals in Yunnan. In the middle of their back, there is a row of “horsehair” scales, which start from the neck and end in the middle of their tail, which rise up when the they are threatened or surprised. For this reason they are sometimes called "horsehair snake". The color of their body can change to match their surrounding environment, and have been "chameleon" although are not real chameleons. Oriental water dragon are good at swimming. They lay eggs. Since they have a beautiful body color and strange shape, people often catch them out of curiosity. But since they resides in tropical areas, it's very hard for them to survive if they are removed from their original habitat. For this reason their numbers have been greatly reduced.
Water monitors (Varanus salvator) are large lizards. Adult water monitor can have a body length of 2.5 meters; They live in places near mountain streams in tropical and sub-tropical areas and can adapt to all kinds of environment. Their food can change based on their habitat. They can catch fish in water and can also climb on trees to seek food and eat frogs, snakes, birds, eggs of all kinds of birds, mice, insects and other small creatures. They can be found in South Yunnan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan as well as in South and Southeast Asia. They are a protected animal.
Water monitors heads resemble those of snakes. Their purple-colored tongue is forked, thin and long, and goes in and out all the time. Their tongue is similar to that of a snakes and has sensory organs on it. Their neck is thick and their head can move freely. When they fight they use their flat tail as weapon.s They lay 15-30 eggs in dens near riverbanks or hollows of trees close to water. Under natural condition, their hatching period can be as long as a year. Because of hunting and disruptions of their habitat water monitors have suffered great losses.
Chinese alligators are the smallest crocodilians. They average around two meters (six or seven feet) in length, about half their American counterparts. They are known in China as "tu long," or earth dragon, and may have inspired the dragon myth. The species, also known as the Yangtze alligator, is endemic to eastern China and has traditionally been found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and were once found throughout the lakes and rivers in the lower Yangtze basin but now are only found in small areas in Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces about a hundred miles west of Shanghai. [Source: Carol Kaesuk Yoon, New York Times, August 21, 2001]
Chinese alligators live in a colder climate than other crocodilians and are the only crocodilians that hibernate. They usually hibernate in the winter in complex networks of burrows on the banks of their ponds. Chinese alligators are regarded as relatively mild mannered and non-threatening. They prefer living in lowland wetlands but because of development have so few places these days to live they have begun moving to forests and the slopes of hills, which are not suitable for burrowing. Adults can survive in these places buts eggs and young alligators often die if the weather gets too cold.
Why Are There Alligators in the U.S. and China, but Nowhere Else?
Alligators can be found in just two areas of the world: the southeast United States and China. One person posted on Reddit: “It strikes me as odd that an animal that's been around for hundreds of millions of years would now be limited to just two areas, and that those two areas just happen to be basically on opposite sides of the globe.
One person answered: Fossil alligators in North America predate those in Asia, so as far as we can tell, the genus originated there and dispersed to Asia. The thing is, we don't know exactly how they did that. Neither species can tolerate salt water for very long, so it wasn't an oceanic dispersal. It could have been via Eurasia, but it's typically assumed to be via the Bering Strait.
There are a number of fossil species found farther north in North America, and even a couple from Europe (like Arambourgia and Hassiacosuchus, but these predate the first alligators in China by millions of years, and those Chinese fossils are in the same genus as the alligators found there and in the US today.
As for why they're not found more places, well, we have caimans farther south in the Americas, which are in the same family. Unlike alligators, they're not tolerant of freezing temperatures. Alligators are the only temperate crocodilians and the only who can withstand hard freezes. Their range ends basically where other crocodiles and caimans can survive, so it's thought that they're outcompeted.
Endangered Chinese Alligators
Mother and young
The Chinese alligator is the most endangered crocodilian in the world and may become the first crocodilian species to become extinct in the wild in historical times. In the old days there were hundreds of thousands of them, perhaps millions. Today only around 100 or 150 are left in the wild, far fewer than pandas. Thousands of them are being raised in alligator farms.
China listed the reptile as a first-class protected animal in 1972. The species is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They have been threatened by human activity and shrinking habitats. The national nature reserve of Chinese alligators was approved by the State Council in July 1986 to protect the Chinese alligator.
In 2001 researchers attempted to make an accurate count of the alligators by going around at night and looking for the reflective eyes of alligators with flashlights. They counted only 23. The last survivors live among villagers in rice paddies and ponds. One of the largest groups, with 11 members, lives in a pond near a video store.
Much of the alligators original habitat has been lost to rice cultivation and fish farming. Thirteen reserves have been set up for them but on these reserves you are more likely to find farmers, ducks and water buffalo than alligators. The farmers who live near the alligators are not thrilled about their presence and have little interest in protecting them. The alligators often eat their ducks and fish.
In 2019, the Global Times reported: More than 600 hectares of a nature reserve for Chinese alligators were found to have been exploited illegally as a development zone in a county in East China's Anhui Province. A statement released on May 11 by the Chinese Ministry of Environment and Ecology (MEE) said that the local government had ignored a request from the higher authorities to rectify the problem. The local forestry department has vowed to resolve the issue. The Chinese environmental watchdog uncovered the scandal during a national environmental inspection in late 2018.[Source: Shan Jie, Global Times, May 20, 2019]
Captive Chinese Alligators
Chinese alligator do quite well in captivity. More than 10,000 of them live at the Anhui Research Center for Chinese Alligator Reproduction near Xuancheng, China. Between 500 and 2,000 alligators are born there every year using artificial insemination. Many of these alligators are harvested for the meat, which is believed to make people live long and bring other health benefits. Alligator and meat is particularly popular in southern China.
Captive-bred alligators have been reintroduced do the wild in a couple of carefully selected sites. Three young adults were released into a dammed up area, where a well-established population of three to five alligators lives. The newcomers made themselves at home with relative ease, within months a female newcomer had reproduced. It was not clear whether the father was a newcomer or an established alligator.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is getting farmers to accept having alligators in their neighborhood. Scientists are trying get them to take pride in having the source of the dragon symbol in their backyard.
Crocodile Farms in China
In the mid-1990s, China's forestry department eliminated duties on the import of breeding crocodiles as way of develop a crocodile leather and meat industry to provide jobs for farmers losing their land. Over the past decade China has imported tens of thousands of crocodiles from Thailand, accompanied by Thai handlers, to get the industry going in southern China.
New alligator home
The crocodile industry in China has suffered a number of setbacks. The crocodiles from Thailand have had trouble adapting to the slightly cooler temperatures of southern China and often don't like the food that is served them. The biggest problem is that the males tend to overeat and become sluggish in the autumn and winter and have no interest in sex when the breeding season rolls around in the spring. Success in crocodile farming means having lots of breeding crocodiles producing new sources of meat and leather.
The cool temperatures at night make the crocodiles more likely to get sick and paying for antibiotics and other medicines and injecting them as they sit in pools is expensive and labor-intensive. The crocodiles also didn't like the ducks and fish from local ponds they have been given. They prefer more expensive chicken. To make matters worse the Thais who sold the Chinese the crocodiles slipped in a lot overaged males and females who were too old to reproduce.
Crocpark Guangzhou is the world's largest crocodile farm with 60,000 to 70,000 animals. In 1997 and 1998, taking advantage of low prices caused by the Asian financial crisis, it bought 40,000 crocodiles for as little as 75 cents a piece. The crocodiles, ranging in size from a few centimeters to six feet, filled the holds of five 747 cargo jets. The park loses money because it can't get the crocodiles to breed. To make money it has opened its doors to tourists who pay $1.25 for a bamboo pole with two chicken torsos attached to them to feed to the crocodiles.
100 Chinese Alligator Escape Farm During Flood
There are also Chinese alligator farms. Chinese Alligator Propagation Research Center (in Xuancheng 150 kilometers south of Nanjing and 150 kilometers west of Hangzhou) is an alligator farm with about 10,000 captive Chinese alligators. In 2016, nearly 100 Chinese alligators escaped their pens at another alligator farm in Wuhu after flooding along the Yangtze River allowed them to swim over their enclosure fences, Anhui Business News reported A few days afterwards only eight of the escaped animals had been recaptured.
Chen Binglin wrote in the South China Morning Post: An elderly farmer in the town of Huaqiao said he opened his door on Wednesday morning and saw an alligator lying on his doorstep. Other villagers reported they had encountered the predators regularly in recent days, sometimes mistaking the animals for rotten logs floating on the surface of the water. [Source: Chen Binglin, South China Morning Post, July 7, 2016]
“Over a large area of flooded farmland, the deep noises made by the alligators could constantly be heard and sounded “like pigs”, according to the report. The animals all belonged to one alligator farm. The farm owner said he had received flood warnings and had carried out countermeasures such as strengthening the fences, but the flood pushed the water level to more than half a meter above the fences. The farm is not the largest in Anhui. Another alligator farm in the city of Xuancheng keeps more than 10,000 alligators, and the local authorities are taking emergency measures to reinforce the fences. So far, only one animal has escaped.
The Chinese alligator, also known as the Yangtze alligator, is a native species that can grow to more than two meters in length and there are historical records of them attacking humans. In recent decades, the number of alligators has declined sharply due to pollution and over hunting, with very few reports of sightings in the wild. The farm animals were artificially bred for tourism, meat, leather and use in Chinese traditional medicines.
The Wuhu government said Chinese alligators are usually timid and should not attack people unless frightened or provoked. A task force including government animal experts is on hand to recapture the escaped animals. The government warned that anyone who spread rumours to cause public panic would be arrested and punished severely. According to farmers taking part in the recapture mission, the animals are not easy to catch as they are constantly on high alert and, when animal experts approached them with nets, tend to submerge and escaped in the muddy water.
Snakes and Snake Stunts in China
Indian pythons (Python molurus birittatus kuhl) are the largest snakes in China, reaching lengths of over seven meters. They live in forests of the tropical and sub-tropical areas, or evergreen broad-leaved forests and bushes near streams or brooks. They can be found in tropical areas in West and South Yunnan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Guizhou and Hainan. They have traditionally been killed as threats, pests and for food. They are now regarded as endangered in China.
In an attempt to break a "Guinness Book of World Records" record that no longer exists, two 23-year-old Chinese girls spent 12 days in a room with 888 snakes (8 is a lucky number) in 1995. The stunt was sponsored by the Flying Dragon Amusement Park and Snake Center, and the two girls were chosen because they passed tests which included sleeping with, swimming with, and kissing snakes. Among the snakes were 666 cobras. During their 12 days with the snakes in the 320-square-foot enclosure, the girls jumped rope with long snakes, swallowed and regurgitated small ones and laid under dozens of heavy boas. Their main problem, the girls said, was keeping the 666 cobras from attacking the 222 non-poisonous snakes. "The cobras always wanted to fight with the non-poisonous ones, and sometimes they would try to bite us," one of the girls said. One 150 snakes died from cobra attacks and around 800 snakes had to be replaced over the 12 day period. One of the women survived two cobra bites. In one case her knee swelled up like a grapefruit after being bitten in her sleep. In both cases the girl was able to treat herself with anti-venom and continue the stunt.
In 2016, a woman in China has released hundreds of snakes into the wild as part of a ritual which shows compassion to all creatures. The result was that villagers slaughtered hundreds of snakes fearing they would be bitten by venomous ones. "Originally we gave salvation to more than 200 snakes, but we estimate that now there are over 900!" said the woman, who calls herself "Cool Mandy" on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. According to the BBC: “The snakes were reportedly set free in a mountainous area in southwestern Sichuan province and quickly slithered their way to nearby a village. In the ensuing upheaval, its fearful residents caught and clubbed the vermin to death by the dozen, the Shanghaiist website reports. "Villagers said that they have had a few restless nights in the last week," it reports. "For instance, one anxious villager surnamed Lei couldn't help but circle around his house once every hour to make sure it was clear of snakes." [Source: BBC, June 10, 2016]
“The villagers' fears appear to be well-founded. The Chengdu Economic Daily, a local newspaper, reports that at least some of the serpents have been identified as venomous. Releasing captured wildlife is considered a righteous deed that brings good karma in China, says Yashan Zhao from BBC Chinese. The ritual is particularly popular among Buddhists, and normally involves purchasing fish, frogs, birds, turtles, etc. at local markets before releasing them into the wild. But "Cool Mandy's" stint earned her few karma points among Chinese bloggers. "I condemn this releaser, she should be punished, she has created a dangerous situation for the villagers" is a popular view, and one Weibo user wonders: "Why didn't she just release them in her own bedroom?"
Venomous Snakes in China
There are 35 venomous snake species on the land and in the seas of southern China, including keelbacks, kraits, cobras, sea snakes, sea kraits, coral snakes, vipers and pit vipers. Three cobra species can be found inhabit in South China: the Chinese cobra (Naja atra), monocoled cobra (Naja kouthia) and king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). The Chinese and monocle cobras are one meter to two meter in length and look so similar to each other that positive identification often requires an expert. Both species consume frogs, lizards, rodents and snakes. Five types of sea snake and two amphibious sea kraits live in waters off southern China. [Source: Ben Team, Mom.com]
Kraits are nocturnal hunters. The banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus) is one of the largest krait species and can reach two meters feet in length; the smaller many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus) averages about 1.7 meters. Krait venom is one of the strongest snake venoms. Two true vipers make their home southern China: Fea’s viper (Azemiops feae) and the Russell’s viper (Daboia russelli), one of the most bad-tempered and deadliest snakes known. Russell’s vipers eats large rodents and occasionally birds.
Most of of the venomous snakes living in southern China are pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus:. Mangshan pit viper (T. mangshanensis), The white-lipped pit viper (T. albolabris), Tibetan bamboo pit viper (T. tibetanus), Motuo pit viper (T. medoensis), Grumprecht’s green pit viper (T. grumprechti), Kham Plateau pit viper (T. xiangchengensis), Taiwan mountain pit viper (T. gracilis) and Yunnan bamboo pit viper (T. yunnanensis) have similar biology but inhabit slightly different niches.
The sharp-nosed pit viper (one hundred pace snake) reaches lengths of five feet. Found in southern Vietnam, Taiwan and China, it is the most toxic of the Asian pit vipers. A bite causes immediate swelling, tissue damage and internal bleeding and may be fatal. There is an antivenin. Snorkel-nosed vipers (Deinagkistrodon acutus) resemble copperheads. Mamushi (Gloydius blomhoffii) and Likian pit viper (G. monticola) are not common in southern China. The former is found in Japan. The green Stejneger’s bamboo pit viper (Viridovipera stejnegeri) is a striking-looking snake. Scientists working in China are still discovering new species; In 2011 scientists formally described the ruby-eyed pit viper (Protobothrops maolanensis), which lives in China along with the closely related Jerdon’s (P. jerdonii) and brown-spotted pit vipers (P. mucrosquamatus).
Image Sources: 1) Kostich; 2) Wild Alliance; 3) AAPA; 4) Tooter for Kids; 5, 6) China Alligator Fund; 7) Blogspot; 8, 9) China Science Academy; 10 Environmental News11) CNTO
Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2022