5 Mysterious Mythologized Reptiles of Fiji

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Hawksbill-Turtle.5 Mysterious Mythologized Reptiles of Fiji

What is a reptile? Reptiles are cold-blooded animals (body temperature varies with the environment) with vertebrates (backbones); they have dry skin covered either with scales or plates; they breathe using lungs; and most species lay eggs on land to breed.  When you are on your travels across the pristine islands of Fiji, you are more than likely going to come across several of these living dinosaurs, ranging from small geckos crawling along the ceiling in your bure to the majestic Hawksbill Turtle gliding across the coastal reef system, with the Iguana displaying its raw beauty as it stands proudly on…

Turtles of Fiji


YouTube Video: Hawksbill Turtle at the Arches in Fiji

Details: Life span of a Sea turtle


SpeciesLatinFoundSizeLifespanDietEnvironment
Hawksbill TurtleEretmochelys imbricataRelatively common24 – 45 Inches30 – 50 YearsCarnivore – Eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfishCoastlines where the sponges they like to feed and sandy nesting sites.
Table: Turtles of Fiji – Carnivore, or meat-eater, is an animal or plant whose food and energy requirements derive from animal tissues whether through hunting or scavenging.

Hatchlings

Hatchlings, upon departing their nests and venturing into the ocean, swim across the reef until they reach deep open water, where they are aided by ocean currents, drifting for the initial few years of their lives. They are seldom observed until their carapace (shell) grows to a length of 35-40 cm, at which point they begin transitioning to shallower waters within the reef to establish their residence and forage for food.

Adult

Once mature, adult male and female turtles migrate from their feeding grounds to nesting beaches, where mating occurs in shallow waters.

Nesting

After mating, the males return to the feeding grounds, while the females remain near the nesting beaches. Approximately a month later, the female turtles emerge from the sea and ascend onto the beach to lay her eggs, a process typically occurring between the months of November and February in Fiji. She covers the eggs with sand and then returns to the water. Following a period of about two weeks, she may return to lay another clutch of eggs, with an average of 100-200 eggs per clutch. The eggs undergo incubation in the sand for seven to twelve weeks before hatching.

Fun Facts 1: The temperature of the sand, around the eggs, determines the sex of the hatchlings. While warm sand produces mostly females, cool sand temperatures produce mainly male hatchlings. Females lay more than one clutch in a season and they usually come back to the same beach to lay. Turtles lay eggs every 2-3 years.

Anatomy of a Sea turtle


Anatomy of a Hawksbill Sea turtle (Reptiles)
Anatomy of a Hawksbill Sea turtle | Image: Supplied
LetterDescription
ASkull – Made up of fused bones, functions to protect the brain and sensory structures
BEye
CBeak – Modification of the jaw used for scraping, crushing, tearing, or biting
DMouth – Toothless, although, green turtles have a serrated beak
EClaw – Used for holding onto the female during mating
FFront Flipper – Functions both as a wing (lift) and propeller (thrust)
GPlastron – The ventral, or lower side, of the shell.  Joined to the carapace by cartilage
HRear Flippers – Function as a rudder for steering and nest digging
ICloaca – Located beneath the tail
JScute – Single Keratinous scales overlaying the bony carapace.  The number and arrangement of the scutes help to identify one species of sea turtle from another.
KCarapace – Dorsal, or upper side of the shell.  In all but the leatherback, the backbone and ribs of the turtle are fused to form the carapace.
Table: Hawksbill Sea turtle Anatomy Chart Definitions

Sea Turtle Identification Chart


Sea Turtle Identification Diagram
Sea Turtle Identification Diagram| Image: Seaturtle.org

Snakes of Fiji


Snakes in Fiji scaled
Snakes of Fiji | Image: Supplied
SnakesFoundVenomousSizeColourDietEnvironment
Banded Sea Krait -Laticauda colubrinaFijiVenomous – no substantive danger to humansFemales are 50 inches (128 cm) long, while males are 30 inches (75 cm) long.Black vertical stripes (bands) that streak their white bodiesSpecialized at hunting eelsSea kraits spend more time on land than in the sea.
Pacific Tree Boa – Candoia bibroniViti Levu Islands and Rotuma.Non-VenomousMedium body size with a maximum length of 4 feetA variety of colors that range from brown to red-brown. Some have a stripe pattern while others lack stripped skinFeeds on a variety of organisms that range from birds (with its ability to climb trees), mammals (rats, bats and moles). and certain reptiles such as lizards and frogsHumid environments to escape heat. It also lives along riverbanks.(Adapted for climbing trees)
Yellow bellied Sea Snake – Pelamis platurusFijiVenomous – no substantive danger to humansLength – 230mmDistinctive bicolor pattern with a yellow underbelly and brown backEats only small fishFully adapted to living their whole lives at sea
Fiji Burrowing Snake – Ogmodon vitianusExclusively found on Viti Levu – Wainikoroiluva Valley, Sigatoka Valley, Naitasiri and the Monasavu areaVenomous – has such small venom glands that it seems to be of no danger to humansAdult length seldom exceeds 16 inches (40 centimeters) – 30 (SVL)Brown fading to a lighter brown along the sides. The scales on the crown are large and may have dark edges. Young snakes may have dark bands.Earthworms and other small soft-bodied creatures
Table: Snakes of Fiji

Fun Fact 3: Banded Sea Kraits Banded sea kraits can spend an average of 15 to 30 minutes underwater before returning to the surface for air.  Now that is a true free dive…

Iguana of Fiji


Fiji Crested Iguana.
Crested Iguana | Image: Supplied
IguanaLatinFoundSizeColourEnvironmentDiet
Fiji Crested IguanaBrachylophus vitiensisEndemic – Monuriki island in the Mamanucas, Macuata island in Ra, Viti Levu and Yadua Taba in Bua, Vanua LevuHatchlings range from 83 mm to 223 mm in adults (SVL)Body is pale green (with some black speckles) and is overlain with narrow white stripes with black-edges running across the body.Restricted to dry forest areas.Diurnal and Herbivorous feeding on leaves, seeds and flowers of plants.
Gau Banded IguanaBrachylophus gauRestricted to Islands of GauMale Fiji banded iguanas are emerald green with broad, light-coloured bands. The females are solid green with occasional spotting.
Table: Iguana of Fiji

What is a Crested Iguana?

The crested iguana is a large arboreal lizard whose SVL ranges from 83 mm (hatchlings) to 223 mm (adults). The background colour of its body is pale green (with some black speckles) and is overlain with narrow white stripes with black edges running across the body. Male crested iguanas have large femoral pores making it easy to tell them apart from females. The crested iguana differs from the more widespread banded iguana (B. fasciatus) in being larger and having narrower white (black-edged) stripes. (Nature Fiji, 2008), and Fiji crested iguana or Fijian crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) is a critically endangered species of iguana native to some of the northwestern islands of the Fijian archipelago, where it is found in dry forest on Yaduataba (west of Vanua Levu), Yadua, Macuata, Yaquaga, Devuilau (Goat Island), Malolo, Monu, and Monuriki. (“Fiji crested iguana”, 2020)

Iguanas Anatomy


Iguanas Anatomy
Iguanas Anatomy | Image: Supplied
ANuchal CrestECaudal CrestILegMEye
BTympanum (Ear)FTailJToeNMouth
CJowlGThighKDewlapONostril
DDorsal CrestHClawLSubtympanic ShieldPEye Ridge
Table: Iguanas Anatomy

Endemic Geckos of Fiji


Fijian Geckos Halmahera Gecko Gehyra marginata scaled
Endemic Geckos of FijiLatin
Indo-pacific Tree GeckoHemiphyllodactylus typus
Pacific Slender toed GeckoNactus pelagicus
Mannsm GeckoLepidodactylus manni
Voracious Four clawed GeckoEndemic Geckos of Fiji
Giant Forest GeckoGehyra vorax
Table: Geckos – Most of the species are 3 to 15 cm (1.2 to 6 inches) long, including tail length (about half the total).

6 Characteristics of a Gecko

  1. Anatomy – Geckos are mostly small, soft-skinned with a short stout body, a large head, and typically well-developed limbs.
  2. Diet – Most geckos are nocturnal, which means they are active at night and consume insects, fruits, and flower nectar.
  3. Voice – Most geckos make noises from a feeble click or chirp to a shrill cackle or bark.
  4. Adhesive Pads – Most geckos have feet modified for climbing. The pads of their long toes are covered with small plates that are in turn covered with numerous microscopic hooks that cling to small surface irregularities, enabling geckos to climb smooth and vertical surfaces and even to run across smooth ceilings.
  5. Walk on Water – In their efforts to avoid predators, geckos appear to be fast enough to sprint across the surface of a water body without sinking.
  6. Tail regeneratable and Storehouse – A gecko’s tail serves in many species as a storehouse of fat upon which the animal can draw during unfavorable conditions.  The tail may also be extremely fragile and if detached is quickly regenerated in its original shape.

Fijian Skinks


Fiji Barred Tree Skink and Skink Emoia
Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, Suborder – Sauria, Family Scinicidae | Image: Supplied
SkinksFoundSizeColourEnvironment
Brown tailed Copper stripped Skink Emoia-cyanuraNative – Across FijiAdults are 39-56mm (SVL) or up to 120mm (in total length)Brightly colored with black and copper longitudinal stripes on their head and back. Juveniles have a turquoise colored tail which later changes to copper-brown in adults. Their ventral surface is ivory white to a muddy copper white.Islands greater than 1 hectare, it is found in dense areas of vegetation, in open areas, on tree hunks and on bushes.
Pacific Blue-tailed Skink Emoia-caeruleocaudaNative – Taveuni and Viti LevuAdults can reach up to 65mm (SVL)Alternating dark and light stripes along the length of its body and their tail is either blue or gray.Inhabits coastal areas. It spends most of its time on the coastal ground. But will explore the base of the tree trunks in search of food prey.
Pacific Black Skink Emoia nigraNative – Taveuni, Lomaiviti Group and the Northern Lau GroupAdults are 112mm (SVL) or up to 250mm (in total length)Uniformly colored black skink. Although their ventral surfaces and their tail can be a dark brownThick vegetation or on logs and rocks in the forest
Pygmy Snake eyed Skink Cryptoblepharus eximiusEndemic – Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Kadavu, Lomaiviti and Lau Group of IslandsAdults do not grow much more than 40 mm (SVL)They are diurnal and have a broad colored dorsal stripe (copper brown) on the head which fades to grey on the neck. They have four alternating black and silver dorsal stripes running from the eye to midbody. Their ventral surface is grey-oliveCoastal locations – They can be seen basking on rocks, on raised vegetation and scrub, and in open areas of habitat
Table: Mokosari Skinks in Fiji

There are 12 types of skink (Known generally as Mokosari) in Fiji, above we have started our discovery of these amazing little reptiles with the four most common, which you would most likely discover on your travels, with some common characteristics found between the different types below,  we were pleasantly surprised to find they have a regenerative tail to help them escape predators…

6 Characteristics of the Skink

  1. Skinks are successful colonizers of the Pacific Islands and occur on most, if not all, islands of several hectares or larger.
  2. Skinks are slim lizards with smooth, shiny scales over their elongated cylindrical body. They have short necks and their legs are very small. Most skinks are striped but they may also be banded, spotted, or uniformly colored.
  3. Skinks are quite small lizards usually not more than 200mm in total length, although some giant skinks can be greater than 300mm. Their heads are conical and they have round pupils.
  4. Most species have slender tapering tails that are easily broken if caught by a predator but their tails can regenerate (autonomy). The loss of the tail does little harm to the skink as the caudal artery quickly closes to prevent excessive bleeding and the break does not occur between the tail bones (vertebrae).  Some skinks have brightly colored tails to attract predators away from their heads and body, especially in their juvenile phase. Females may retain their brightly colored tails but males will change to a more somber colour.  A new tail will regenerate but it will not be identical to the original because it is made up of fibrocartilaginous rods and nonsegmental muscle rather than skeletal vertebrae. Furthermore, the coloration of the scales is usually dull or altered indicating the animal has lost its original tail.
  5. The most common skinks are seen during the day on the ground either lying on elevated ground litter, on rock surfaces, near logs, or scuttling under the vegetation and debris. They can move very quickly after basking in the sun.
  6. The skinks in Fiji are insectivorous, although elsewhere some larger skinks are herbivorous.
 

What is the difference between a Gecko and a Skink?


Gecko or skink? Ever wondered if you're looking at a gecko or a skink? Here's a guide to help you tell the difference.
Differences between a Gecko and a Skink | Image: Anna Yeoman

Differences in Habitat

Geckos are mainly arboreal, meaning they prefer to reside on trees. If they have access to suitable food and shelter, they will often stay on the same tree or group of trees for their entire lives.  Skinks, on the other hand, live on the ground and hide in small crevices provided by rocks, logs, and in urban areas piles of debris, such as tires and roof tiles. They can also be found in overgrown areas, such as unmown areas along streams.

Footnotes

  • Diurnal – is a form of plant and animal behavior characterized by activity during the daytime, with a period of sleeping or another inactivity at night.
  • Dorsal – Near the Back
  • SVL – Snout Vent length
  • Ventral – Relating to or situated on or close to the abdomen; abdominal.

References

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  • National Trust (2020, January 1). Yadua Taba Crested Iguana Sanctuary. National Trust of Fiji. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from Link
  • Noel, K. (2018). Gecko. Kids National Geographic. Link
  • Noel, K. (2018). Gecko. Kids National Geographic. Link
  • Mamanuca Environment Society (2020, January 1). Endangered Iguanas. MESFIJI. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from Link
  • Oceana (2021, December 28). Banded Sea Krait. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from Link
  • Pritchard, P.C.H and Mortimer, J.A (1999). lucn.mtsg,org. Link
  • Unknown (1998). Hawksbill [Photograph]. US Fish and Wildlife. Link
  • Unknown (2012). Pacific Tree Boa [Photograph]. Snakeestate. Link
  • Unknown (2016). Yellow-bellied Sea Snake [Photograph]. Reptilefact. Link
  • USGS.GOV (2017, June 6). Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, The National Trust of Fiji and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti have discovered a new species of banded iguana. USGS. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from Link
  • Wikimedia Commons (2020). Rare iguana species discovered through The Blue Lagoon face a new threat to their survival [Photograph]. ABC.net.au. Link
  • Yeoman, A. (2000). Gecko or skink? [Photograph]. Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary. Link
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