Cuban Caves

On my recent trip to Cuba I was lucky enough to be able to visit Viñales, which is located in the northwest Pinar del Río Province. The Sierra de los Órganos mountain range extends throughout the National Park here, with dramatic formations known as ‘mogotes’ towering over the landscape. The mogotes – large, rounded mountains – are all that’s left of a limestone plateau that existed here 160 million years ago.

Rainwater produces a carbonic acid when it interacts with limestone, a process that helped dissolve parts of the plateau and carve out the caves that exist here today. It was this special cave system that I was particularly interested in exploring, for only in this specific area live two unusual frog species that are found nowhere else on the planet..

Eleutherodactylus zeus (c) Andrew Gray, 2017

Both Endangered species belong to the genus ‘Eleutherodactylus’ and reproduce through something known as ‘Direct Development’, where the young hatch from the eggs as fully formed little froglets rather than as tadpoles. Eleutherodactylus zeus is a large species associated only with the limestone caves, where it lives in almost complete darkness and has adapted enlarged eardrums and exceptional vision to help it survive.

Eleutherodactylus adelus (c) Andrew Gray, 2017

Eleutherodactylus adelus uses the caves during the dry season to gain moisture rather than remain in its usual mid-elevation forest habitat. It takes cover in small holes where the cave walls meet the ground, where moisture that has run down the walls dampens the soil. Here the E. adelus hide until the rains come and they can once again return to the leaf litter cover in the surrounding broadleaf forest.


Crocker Range Carnivores


Wild Nepenthes sp. © Matthew O’Donnell

My final few days in Sabah were spent around the capital, Kota Kinabalu, from where I took a few day trips to explore the surrounding region.

The highlight of which was a trip to Taman Banjaran in the Crocker Range national park, high in the mountains to the south of KK, a place famed for its carnivorous plants.

Known as Pitcher plants, Nepenthes have adapted to survive in this high altitude and low nutrient environment by catching insects and other animals in their specially adapted leaves which form the pitcher, these victims are then slowly dissolved and the resulting nutrients are absorbed.

Knowing that many species of these plants are found growing in the wild here in Borneo I couldn’t go home without attempting to see them, unfortunately my earlier efforts at Mount Kinabalu were thwarted due to earthquake damage closing off the routes to where they are found.

Fortunately, this time we were successful! Please watch the video below to see what was found. A big thank you to Ebon for his invaluable help in finding these amazing plants.

Amphibian reproduction – Tree frogs use Bromeliads too! Bromeliad Biota

Plant Sciences – The University of Manchester

Annual Amphibian Symposium


BCA – 2012              BCA – Animal Management

Viper or not?


Bornean Keeled Green Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) © Matthew O’Donnell

Whilst in Borneo I was incredibly lucky to see a wide range of snake species, ranging from the impressive and photogenic pit vipers, to the less charismatic but equally intriguing slug eating snakes.

Many of Borneo’s native snakes are venomous, however in the field it is not always immediately clear what species you have come across, which is why caution is always the best policy when encountering snakes in the wild!

This is especially true when you come across species such as the painted mock viper (Psammodynastes pictus), these snakes are visually similar to the true vipers (Family: Viperidae) however they are actually a type of rear-fanged coloubrid, with venom that is thought to be harmless to humans.


Black-headed Cat Snake (Boiga nigriceps) © Matthew O’Donnell

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by local snake expert and Maliau Basin Ranger – Mas, who’s wealth of experience really helped in finding and identifying snakes as well as many other nocturnal animals! Notable snake finds included two species of cat snake, black-headed cat snake (Boiga nigriceps), mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila), a reticulated python (Python reticulatus) and the blunt-headed slug eating snake (Aplopeltura boa) as well as many more.

Mount Kinabalu      SNAKES       Superb snake sightings

Mount Kinabalu


Mount Kinabalu – © Matthew O’Donnell

On the 11th of January, I embarked on my first ever rainforest trip, as part of my Wildlife Conservation MSc from the University of Salford. I was lucky enough to travel to the Sabah, the northern Malaysian state of Borneo where over the last two weeks I have visited some of the most pristine examples of Borneo’s national parks.

My first stop was Kinabalu National Park, famous for its mountain as well as its spectacular flora and fauna. Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak between the Himalayas and Papa New Guinea, rising to over 4,000 meters above sea level. This elevation has resulted in a variety of habitats and environmental conditions stretching from the lowland foothills to the barren rocky peaks.

These variable conditions and the contrast with surrounding areas have created an island like situation which harbours many endemic species amongst its vast biodiversity. Estimated to contain 5,000 – 6,000 species of vascular plants alone, it is a hot spot for ferns and epiphytes where I saw hundreds of stunning species including many beautiful orchids. Renowned for its birdlife I spent many hours trekking the trails around the Headquarters failing to get many decent pictures of any of this colourful birdlife, I think I’ll stick to what I know. I did however manage to see some of the intriguing local reptile and amphibian life before heading back to the lowlands.

I also got an up close and personal introduction to rainforest wildlife, finding tarantulas in your bedroom will always be a novel experience!

Although I only had a couple of days up here before my field course began it was certainly worth visiting and is somewhere I hope to return to in the future. A quick thank you to Hans Breuer, who provided information and advice to help make this visit extra special.


Mt. Kinabalu foothills © Matthew O’Donnell


Never too much of a good thing ..

David2 copy 2

Sir David with Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calarifer (c) Andrew Gray

For those who missed it the first time round, the BBC are replaying Sir David Attenborough’s Fabulous Frogs, much of which you may remember was filmed here with our collection:





Happy ‘New’ Year!

Something universal 🙂