Sorry to those who have emailed me lately and haven't received a response. We just had our 5th child and things are crazy. Most of my (other) work gets done after 9:30pm.
I promise I'll get back to the birds in my next post. Several folks have sent me their latest sightings and the general observation that many of the wintering birds have left and migrants continue to pass through. The summer residents are getting situated.
Bigwig has had a few posts about Geckos inspired by an email from LT Bill, who has also been birding. I thought it would be a good opportunity to review all the reptiles I saw in Iraq during the last year and give a bit of background on some of the common species.
Before I left for Iraq I researched as much of the wildlife as I could on the web. While looking into some of the lizards that I might come across I learned about a large lizard known to the Arabs as the Dhub or Dhub-Dhub. It is a member of the genus Uromastyx and some of the members collectively called Spiny-tailed lizards are commonly kept as pets. I've seen them many times in pet shops at home. I loved the name Dhub-Dhub and told my kids about this big fat desert lizard with a funny name. I told them the Bedouins sometimes catch and eat them and I also rashly told them I would catch one.
Fate was on my side and the Dhub-Dhub and I were destined to meet.
In Early February 2004 as part of our unit certification before we crossed the border we moved the battalion to a large range in the Kuwaiti Desert called Udari Range. It was flat and sandy with a few rocky rises, very desolate. On the CQM (Close Quarters Marksmanship) range we familiarized ourselves with shooting quickly at close range, firing while running, and generally walking around with a loaded weapon without shooting ourselves or others. We lined up to shoot at 25 meter targets in wooden frames. After our first set of shots we walked downrange to check our targets. I heard a commotion 2 targets down and saw people gathering around something. It turned out to be a huge fat Uromastyx. It reared up on its front legs, hissed and thrashed its spiky tail around looking very fearsome. No one got very close. I was very excited to see it, but we needed to get on with the shooting.
As we shot volley after volley, the Dhub-Dhub walked slowly around as bullets wizzed over its head. After a while I got concerned that some fool would shoot it. I put on my gloves walked over to it, pinned its head with my boot and picked up the big guy to everyones initial horror. Soon everyone started taking pictures and I was the hero of the moment. I let the lizard go at the edge of our range. Later when a sandstorm kicked up the lizard flattened out on the sand and let the blowing sand pile up around it. A few days later I called my kids and let them know that I had indeed caught a Dhub-Dhub and I'd only been in the desert 10 days.
The species I saw in Kuwait and others have seen in Southern Iraq is Uromastyx aegyptius microlepis .
Me and the Dhub, Udari Range, Kuwait
Geckos were everywhere. In my building, they usually would hang out around the lights hunting for insects, quite a few made it inside. I saw my first geckos in February, very small ones that I think were Mediterranean House Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus), they ranged in size from about 2 inches to maybe 4 inches long. I think I only saw one species at LSA Anaconda. On a trip to the International (Green) Zone in October I chased a large gecko around the guesthouse I stayed in. It may have been a Yellow-bellied Gecko (Hemidactylus flaviviridis). It was significantly larger than the others at about 8 or 9 inches.
Mediterranean House Gecko?, LSA Anaconda - March 2004
Mediterranean House Gecko? - This guy was running around in our
Tactical Operation Center - I had to kill it - It saw too much :)
Yellow-bellied Gecko? - International Zone, Baghdad - October 2004
I only saw one species of skink. They would scuttle around in the fallen Eucalyptus leaves near our building and sometimes hide under our airconditioner. I managed to catch the one pictured below, but it promptly dropped its tail. I think it may be one of the subspecies of Mabuya vittata - the Bridled or Striped Skink - a species found throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.
I only saw two species of snake in Iraq. One was the very interesting Thread Snake (Typhlops vermicularis) that people seemed to find when moving sandbags. These tiny burrowing snakes look like little earthworms. They apparently feed on ants, having the habit of breaking into a nest and eating the tasty larvae. The one picture was brought to me by one of our Sergeants wondering if it was poisonous.
The other snake I saw was a colubrid which I think was Coluber ventromaculatus. I've seen at least 3 common names - one is Gray's Desert Racer. The snake pictured was brought for identification by a soldier that had accidently squashed it with a sandbag. This one was only 7 inches long. I later saw a large adult that was around 2 1/2 feet long.
Please let me know if you can positively ID any of the above herps. I know other troops have seen some great herps. In a future post I'll link to as many of the pictures from Iraq as I can find.