People who go looking for frogs and snakes (to admire and photograph) are called herpers.
While some balk at going anywhere near these slimy and slippery animals, others find them to be amazingly beautiful natural wonders. They are also good bio-indicators that show that an area is still relatively healthy, from an ecological point of view.
If you see such people, poking about wet streams and undergrowth at night while wearing headlamps, do not be alarmed – these are passionate herpers looking for their beloved amphibians and reptiles. And the hobby is of course called, herping.
So how does someone get into this?
“Herping can be done during the day or night. But it’s usually done at night because this is when all the nocturnal critters (frogs and snakes in this case) come out,” advises Dr Vincent Teo Eng Wah, who goes looking for frogs and reptiles often.
Helpful Herping Tips
Some other tips from him are:
1. Dress appropriately. This includes long pants and rubber boots to avoid being bitten by snakes and long socks to avoid leeches and other creepy crawlies getting into your pants.
2. Bring a headlamp and spare torch, just in case one of your light sources fails (don’t forget spare batteries for your torch).
3. Don’t touch or handle venomous or poisonous animals. If you intend to handle them, bring a hook or tong.
4. A poncho/raincoat or small umbrella is useful especially during the rainy season.
5. Drinking water and snacks are advisable.
6. If you are going to touch an animal (for scientific reasons, research or photography), make sure your hands are free of chemicals (or wear gloves). Always return the animals to the location where you found them. Don’t remove the frogs or snakes from their beloved homes.
When trying to locate animals at night, Teo suggests positioning your torchlight between your eyes, so that you are likely to see some reflected “eye shine” from nocturnal animals.
“Frogs are easier to find because they tend to have dull white eye shines, while those bright white eye shines are probably spiders and other critters. Those with blue, red, or orange eye shines are probably mammals,” he explains.
One would hope that snakes have clear or colourful eye shines to warn us of their presence but their eyes rarely induce any eye shine in the dark.
So how do you find them at night?
Teo says that for arboreal snakes (in trees), look for a white belly or movement on trees or bushes. As for terrestrial snakes (on the ground), look for movement, colour and shapes that are different from the surroundings.
In terms of hands-on experience, upgrade your herping skills by tagging along as a volunteer in scientific expeditions, at zoos or with nature societies, advises Teo.
Read a lot. Whether it be books on frogs, snakes, herpetology or scientific journals, being well read is a good way to update yourself with new knowledge. Watching documentaries on National Geographic and Animal Planet helps too.
“When learning about new species of herpetofauna, try to understand the habitats and behaviours too. Both theoretical and hands-on knowledge will come in handy in finding and also handling them,” he explains.
Malaysia is fortunate to have many expert herpers who know a lot about frogs (and snakes) like Dr Lim Boon Liat, Prof Dr Indraneil Das and Prof Dr Norhayati Ahmad.
“There are many experienced local and international herpers with a lot of field experience and tips to share,” adds Teo.
“Be humble and consult senior herpers or scientists for advise.”