Ever since visiting Guatemala in 2017 we wanted to go back to Mesoamerica – both because of the amazing herp diversity that the area has to offer, but also because we failed to find Nyctanolis pernix and some other iconic species during trips before. After some thinking and debating, me, Bobby and Laura Bok, and Joachim Nerz eventually decided to go to the Mexican state of Chiapas. Besides an impressive diversity of salamanders, Chiapas is also home to multiple species of the reptile genera Abronia, Lepidophyma, and Bothriechis, while interesting species like Loxocemus bicolor, Heloderma horridum and Boa imperator can be found there as well. Finally, the presence of cool tree frogs (Agalychnis, Duellmanohyla, Triprion/Anotheca) and other venomous snakes (Micrurus, Crotalus, Agkistrodon) made us more than excited to visit this part of Mexico.
As opposed to some other southern Mexican states (like those in the Yucatan Peninsula), reptiles and amphibians in Chiapas are quite often range-restricted or microendemic, which makes it more challenging to see a lot species, even if you have three weeks to roam around. Due to a period of exceptional drought it only properly rained once when we were there, which made finding most species even more difficult. Nevertheless, we found about 80 species, and were stoked to find several of our main targets including Nyctanolis, Ixalotriton, two Abronia species, three Micrurus species, and Bothriechis bicolor, Loxocemus bicolor and Phrynosoma asio. A big thanks goes out to the new friends we made while being there, who took us to several top spots.
Before we left, we recieved dire warnings about safety at some of the places we wanted to go. We did go, and only got a weird vibe once. Perhaps we were lucky. What I mostly felt was that people were extremely friendly and helpful, and that calm and respectful communication goes a long way, especially when you’re among ethnic communities in the highlands. I’ll be back!
We basically started our trip at a cave where Nyctanolis pernix occurs, in the eastern highlands of Chiapas. Although we sadly didn’t find any adults, there was one juvenile present – and the dream to see Nyctanolis in the wild finally came true.
Getting in and out of the Nyctanolis cave wasn’t that easy.
We moved to Lagunas de Montebello National Park after finding Nyctanolis, hoping to rediscover the species there. This was the only place in which it properly rained during our three week trip, but strangely we didn’t find much at all.
One nice herp that popped up in Montebello was this Craugastor sp., still in need of identification.
After Montebello we drove south, and climbed one of the higher mountains in the area in search of salamanders and Abronia lizards.
Habitat of Bolitoglossa franklini, Incilius bocourti, Abronia schmidti, Geophis rhodogaster and Tropidodipsas fischeri at 3000m altitude.
Gorgeous male Bolitoglossa franklini found active at night on a wet rock wall.
Something we didn’t expect – a huge, nearly completely black female Bolitoglossa franklini.
Again, we travelled further south, this time to Finca Argovia on the tropical Pacific slopes of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. Great place!
This disturbed forest habitat still held quite a lot of species, including Bolitoglossa occidentalis, Duellmanohyla schmidtorum, Ptychohyla euthysanota, several Incilius and Craugastor species, and smaller snakes like Sibon nebulatus and Rhadinaea decorata.
A creepy Lepidophyma schmidti.
When you’re sucked dry by mosquitoes and someone shines an extremely bright light in your face.
This pile of ‘basura organica’ is the habitat of one of our target species, the caecilian Dermophis mexicanus. We found two in here.
We moved westwards, and looked for herps in the wider Tonalá area. This ancient temple site was probably the best spot for reptiles that we visited during the entire trip.
Baby Lepidophyma schmidti.
At one point we hiked all the way to the top of a low mountain range, where Heloderma occur – but sadly we didn’t find any. Great landscape though!
After moving back north again for a short while we arrived in Reserva Ecológica La Pera, where we were guided around by new friends.
Anolis alvarezdeltoroi is one of the very few cave-inhabiting Anolis species. These guys share their habitat with Ixalotriton niger.
Huge female Bolitoglossa alberchi, in situ.
Habitat of Bolitoglossa alberchi, Agalychnis moreletii, and many more.
This was probably my personal highlight of this trip, for which we again had to descend into a cave – Ixalotriton niger. These guys move really, really fast for a salamander.
Agalychnis moreletii, in situ.
Joachim does Ixalotriton photo.
The habitat of Ixalotriton niger is difficult to capture on a photo. This is a limestone sinkhole in which a small cave opening in the wall to the left leads to Ixalotriton heaven.
We stayed at a great guesthouse, which had Micrurus browni in its backyard.
Our last week brought us back to the Pacific hills of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, where we were hoping to find Bothriechis bicolor. We were afraid that this wouldn’t be easy, as hadn’t rained for several weeks. Some frogs were still active at night close to streams though, like this Plectrohyla matudai.
This is apparently a female Ptychohyla euthysanota, but she’s much larger and has a much nicer pattern than any of the other P. euthysanota we saw.
And finally, absolutely gorgeous – Bothriechis bicolor.