Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Wildlife of Ojika : meet the critters !


Love looking for the wildlife while traveling ? Ojika is the perfect place for you !  

When I choose to come to Ojika, I had one goal : go on exploring the island and find as many animals as possible. And the island critters did not disappoint. Every day of exploring, snorkeling, or even while working around the house, I have encountered wild animals.

Even though have been looking mainly for reptiles during my stay, the island provides for all animal lovers : birds, insects, mammals and of course an abundance of sea life. 

In this article I will mainly describe my encounters with reptiles, amphibians, insects and arthropods, for I have more knowledge and footage to share about them, than I have of birds, mamals and sea life.

Reptiles and amphibians of Ojika

Reptiles and amphibians tend to be really discreet, and will skitter away before you even notice them.

Lizards in particular have been almost impossible to even catch on tape : you will often encounter them sunbathing on the edges of roads, before they quickly retreat to the bushes once they notice you.  The exception to this might be the geckos (ヤモリ Yamori) that crawl on houses walls at night : they will get away, but you will be able to have a good look at them first, and maybe even catch one. Be careful though, they can be feisty and will try to bite and jump out of your hands ! 

japanese gecko ヤモリ

japanese gecko ヤモリ

This one did try to do several leap of faith ! 

If skitterish, snakes take a bit more time before getting away. As a snake lover, I have been lucky to encounter three different snakes on Ojika : two シマヘビ (Shimahebi) and what I think was a  ジムグリ (Jimuguri). Out of the three, I only have been able to catch one shimahebi, for it is the only one I was able to identify immediately and so be quick enough to catch. 

シマヘビ shimahebi

For a snake who's head had just been caught, it was pretty chill

If most japanese snakes are rather big but harmless (except on Okinawa, plenty of venomous snakes there, no touchy), you might still encounter a マムシ (mamushi), the japanese pit viper, whose venom require about one week treatement in an hospital at best. While herping, always make sure you can identify the species you encounter and take the precautions necessary. I would recommand first documenting yourself as much as possible on the local species, their behaviour and appearance before going out looking for them. I myself read the Reptiles of Japan Field guide over and over ! 

Last reptile encountered while on Ojika was a little stink pod turtle (クサガメ kusagame), who was crossing a rather busy road ! 

クサガメ japanese stink pod turtle

Be careful while driving to not hit any little critter like this one !

Concerning amphibians, I have only crossed the path of two species during my stay : the Japanese tree frog (二ホンアマガエル Nihon amagaeru) and Red bellied salamanders (アカハライモリ Akahara imori). As summer approaches, we can hear many frogs from Goen, but I didn't think one would litterally try to live in the washing room ! 

二ホンアマガエル Japanese tree frog
二ホンアマガエル Japanese tree frog

The little frog, before and after a good wash. Amphibians's skin need to stay hydrated and clean ! 

My biggest surprise while on Ojika was encountering so many salamanders. In my home country I have never seen one in any river or pond, but here they thrive in the rice paddies. If they are on the side of the paddies, these little critters are quite easy to catch, but I would advise to first dip your hands in the muddy water they live in, as to not hurt their sensitive skin (amphibians' skin is a part of their respiratory system !). 

A little salamander that wandered in the garden, far from the rice paddies and too close to the cats !!! We have put it back in a paddy after a few pictures.

Arthropods of Ojika

If I am myself more of a reptile enthusiast, I was also delighted to see a wide variety of insects and other arthropods across the island. 

The insects most people might be the most happy to see would be ladybugs, butterflies and dragonflies, of which I have encountered many specimens while on Ojika. There is a wide variety of butterfly species, of all sizes and colors, the most striking one in my opinion being the Chestnut Tiger butterfly (アサギマダラ Asagi madara), a large blue and black butterfly common to Japan. 
I do not have a lot to say about dragonflies, except that they do stick around a lot when I am biking accross the island ! 

アサギマダラ Asagi madara butterfly

An Asagi madara butterfly freshly out of this cocoon ! 
I dropped the little guy on this flower for a snack.

A more seasonal insect to spot are fireflies (ホタル Hotaru), that can be encountered at night in the rice paddies at the end of May. The trick is to attract them with a flickering light, like car blinkers !


Behold the blurriness of nightime pictures

While it is charming to spot butterflies, the critters that get the closest to you on Ojika might not appeal to the largest public. The first animal I got a bit too close to was a Huntsman spider (アシダカグモ Ashidakagumo), which was, by my humble French standards, way too large for a spider. However, Huntsman spiders are not dangerous for humans : they will catch other bugs that might infiltrate your house, so if you still wish to have them out of the house, try not to kill them !
After a month and many more encounter with these spiders, my standards loosened, and seeing one in the bathroom will only makes me shrug.

アシダカグモ Huntsman spider

This one was about the size of my hand, with the legs spread out. 

Another big arthropod infamously known in Japan is the Japanese giant centipede (ムカデ Mukade). Known for its big size, its painful bite, its quickness and likeness to get into houses, this animal strikes fear in the heart of many, much so that it became a monstruous and evil figure in the japanese folklore.

However when encountering it, I simply saw a rather large arthropod simply living its life. Reaching up to 20 centimeters, it is indeed an impressive beast, but not one that will attack you on sight. As long as you leave it alone there is not much to fear about it. My unique interaction with this critter was when I tried to make one go away from near the house by gently poking it with a stick. This resulted in a very confused mukade that fled quickly.

In the case a mukade does bite you however, it is recommended to seek medical assistance. Being a rather common animal, it is good to remind that when you go on a hike, you need to wear proper hiking shoes and long pants to avoid any bite from surrounding insects.

ムカデ Mukade

Please get away from the house. Pretty please.

This concludes this article about the critters of Ojika ! Finding this many animals during my stay has been a wonderfull adventure for me. What about you ? Which animal would you like to encounter there ? Come around and explore the island to find them all ! 

- Clara Tinland

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