Members of the vertebrate class 'Reptilia', are commonly known as reptiles, which include Snakes, Lizards, Turtles, Crocodilians, the Tuatara and numerous extinct fossil species. Among the existing forms are about 2,500 species of Snakes, 2,500 species of Lizards, nearly 250 species of Turtles, 22 species of Crocodilians, and two species of Tuataras. Being cold blooded (dependent on the environment for warmth), most reptiles prefer warm climates and regions. Gir has a fair share of all the representative reptile types.
Next to the big predators, few animals arouse as much
interest, awe and fear as Snakes do. To most people, all Snakes are
venomous. The fact is that majority of Indian Snakes are non venomous. One
surprising characteristic of Snakes is their ability to move rapidly
without legs. Snakes are also good climbers and swimmers. All Snakes are
carnivorous, eating a variety of animal life from insects spiders, and
snails to frogs, mice, and rats. Gir has numerous non venomous Snakes
along with the four venomous varieties.
INDIAN ROCK PYTHON
The Indian Rock Python is a non-poisonous Snake of the python family. It usually inhabits deciduous, and riverine vegetation in Gir. They are often found near water, but also spend much of their time on trees. Pythons can also be found just outside towns and cities. They are needlessly feared and killed when found in fields and orchards.
During the day, the Indian Rock Python basks in the sun or rests in a cave or crevice, abandoned burrow or other refuge. At night it prowls for prey, or lies in wait at a waterhole to encounter its prey.
Gir has its fair share of venomous Snakes. Here's a brief
account of the big four that are venomous.
The 'hooded' head of this often seen Snake makes it the easiest of the four venomous Snakes to recognise. This is also the Snake that plays a big role in Indian religion, and is always seen wrapped around the neck of the Hindu God Shiv (also spelt as Shiva).
Cobras use their deadly poison only to kill prey and help in digestion. The only cure for a cobra bite is the anti-venom vaccine. Most cobras have a varied diet, like Frogs, Fishes, Birds, Rats and various small mammals.
The Common Krait produces venom that attacks the nervous system, but this Snake is not aggressive and is inactive during daytime. During the day they hide in the holes of field mice, rats, termite mounds and piles of rubble. The diet consists of Snakes, lizards and rodents. They also devour the young of their own species. Their venom is extremely toxic and induces nerve paralysis.
SAW SCALED VIPER
A head wider than the neck, a tapering tail, short but heavy dull coloured body and small chain like pattern are distinguishing features of this viper. Its saw, when rubbed, produces a 'sssshhhhh' sound similar to the hiss produced by other Snakes during violent encounters. They are the smallest of the big four venomous Snakes and the average length is 0.3 to 0.5 m.
Their diet consists of Mice, Lizards, Frogs, Scorpions and other Arthropods (animals without a backbone like Insects and Spiders). The bite of the saw scaled viper is rarely fatal as the Snake is small in size and hence the venom injected is of lesser quantity.
The Russell's Viper is a heavy Snake that resembles a small Python. One can recognise this Snake by its heavy short body, triangular head, tapering tail and regular chain like pattern. In hot weather, they are found in termite mounds and rat holes, but more favoured places are rock crevices, grass, thorn bushes and cacti.
The bite of the Russell is considered most dangerous of all Indian Snakes and must be treated immediately with large amounts of anti venom vaccine. The venom affects the blood and is used in medicine to control bleeding.
The 'true' turtles, live in freshwater ponds and rivers, and
are either hardshelled or softshelled. Most turtles are omnivorous, but
some tortoises feed exclusively on vegetation, and some aquatic species
are strictly carnivorous. All turtles lay eggs, which they usually bury in
soft sand or dirt. They generally live long; some species for more than
100 years. Generally, turtles are aquatic and tortoises are terrestrial
SOFT SHELLED TURTLE
Commonly found in all major and minor water bodies of Gir, these turtles are characterised by their fully or partly webbed feet and their usually flat, streamlined shells. Both features help in diving and escaping underwater. By virtue of their thin edged, flat shell these turtles a leathery appearance.
Turtles are known for their aggressive behaviour, and the bite of a large specimen is capable of severing a human finger. Turtles lack teeth. Instead, their jaws have sharp edges capable of tearing food. Being partly scavengers, they are known to keep the water bodies clean and so are kept in ponds of temples at many places.
The reptiles known as Tortoises are generally restricted a single terrestrial family. The carapace of the star Tortoise is high and dome like. Their thick shells and heavily scaled limbs afford effective protection against predators. They have strong thick legs, like pillars, to support their weight. Their short necks enable them to withdraw within the shell when attacked or harassed. Unlike Turtles, Tortoises generally have mild dispositions.
One of the largest living reptiles, Marsh Crocodiles are remnants of a large and ancient group of reptiles. They have a long body, short legs, and long powerful tails to aid in swimming. They also possess touch hides, long snouts, and sharp teeth to grasp their prey. In Gir, the Marsh Crocodile is found at the Kamleshwar Dam Site. Occasionally they attack large animals and human beings. A Crocodile can twist a large animal into pieces by seizing it and then rapidly spinning lengthwise in water.
Monitor is a common name for a genus of Lizards. About 30 species comprise the genus, ranging from 0.2m to more than 3m long. The Monitor Lizard is characterised by a long, forked, Snake like tongue, and is able to engulf and swallow large prey. They are sleek, fast runners with tapered heads, long necks, strong legs, and long, powerful tails. Depending on size, they prey on insects, birds, reptiles and their eggs, small mammals, and carrion.
Although Monitors are mainly terrestrial, they also climb trees in search of food and are good and strong swimmers. Though they may look fearful, the Monitor is not venomous. The teeth are small and not very sharp as its only purpose is to grip the prey and prevent it from escaping. Look out for them specially near the Termite mounds as they like to rest within the cool and moist chambers of the mound.