|Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek - The Official Guide (KIFCON, 1995, 72 p.)|
Despite the wide range of reptiles in the forest, you are very unlikely to see many unless you look specifically for them. Sensing the vibrations from your feet or vehicle, reptiles such as snakes and lizards disappear long before you reach them.
The most frequently seen reptile is the small Sand Lizard, which has a long rust-coloured tail. When disturbed from basking on the sun-warmed sand it can run at an amazing speed. A second small lizard which can be found basking, but this time on tree trunks, is the Day Gecko. It has distinctive black and white stripes on its head. The largest lizards in the forest and around the creek are the Savanna and Nile Monitors. They can grow to over five feet in length. Nile Monitors are fond of wetter areas and they are agile swimmers, while Savanna Monitors prefer, as their name suggests, dry country. In Sokoke, they readily climb into trees when disturbed.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the snakes are also tree-climbers. Some, such as Twig Snakes, Boomslangs and Green Mambas, are fully arboreal, living all their lives in trees, and are seldom noticed.
Although many snakes produce venom, only a handful are dangerous to people, the rest (the Tiger Snake, for example) have a mild venom only strong enough to kill prey. Rock Pythons and House Snakes are two of the constrictors of the forest, killing their food by encircling and squeezing it to death; whilst egg-eating snakes and the semi-ornate snakes simply capture and swallow their food directly. The latter eats small lizards, skinks and frogs.
Other snakes that may be spotted include the Forest Cobra, the Black-necked Spitting Cobra (very rare in the forest), the Hissing and Speckled Sand Snakes, and the nocturnal File Snake.
Two types of chameleon occur, the Flap-necked and Pygmy. The Flap-necked Chameleon comes in a wide range of colours, including striking green and yellow. Chameleons do change colour, but not quite as dramatically as is sometimes suggested since they still rely on blending with the vegetation. If you find one, watch carefully how its eyes swivel independently of each other. Notice too that it will move very slowly, to help disguise its presence.
The tortoises found in the forest are the Leopard Tortoise (up to 45 centimetres long) and the smaller Hinged-back Tortoise. The latter has the strange ability when threatened to pull its rear legs in and then shut the back of its shell for protection.
It has only recently been shown that Arabuko is an outstanding habitat for amphibian diversity. At dusk, especially after rain, the forest air fills with the choruses of thousands of frogs and toads, living in both pools and trees; 25 different species have been recorded so far, with almost certainly more waiting to be identified. They include Bunty's Dwarf Toad (Mertensphryne micranotis), whose tadpoles sport haloes; Glade and Ornate Treefrogs (Leptopelis argenteus and L. flavomaculatus), whose tadpoles can move overland; and the Common Squeaker Frog (Arthroleptis stenodactylus) which uniquely has dispensed with the tadpole (larval) stage altogether. One of the most fascinating and perplexing species is the Foam-nest Treefrog (Chiromantis xerampelina) which always makes its nest - a ball of foam inside which the eggs are laid - on plants overhanging water at heights from a few centimetres to 20 metres, ready for the hatched tadpoles to drop straight into the pool below.
Papilio dardanus (female)
A simple guide which includes most species from the forest is Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa by Norman Hedges (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1983).