Readers’ photos: death in Thailand

April 14, 2012 • 1:42 pm

Reader Eric Danell is a Swedish plant physiologist, now working in Thailand, who has his own website, Dokmai Dogma.  He already published these pictures on his site but I thought I’d reproduce them here (with permission) along with his commentary.  It shows one of the innumerable life-and-death dramas that are always taking place in nature, even in hotel rooms:

In Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia the barking tokay gecko lizards are hunted to support the superstitious Chinese medicine with raw material. I spoke to a Swedish lady who has a lot of experience from keeping terrarium animals, and I asked her what she thought of the tokay as a terrarium pet? She said its ferocious behaviour made it so dangerous it should not be allowed as a pet at all. It is like a small crocodile, running up and down the walls attacking anything it can swallow. Is it of importance to man?

Yesterday evening, towards midnight, I walked to the bathroom at Dokmai Garden. To my great surprise I saw the silhouette of a giant scolopender hanging from the roof tiles. Using a flash light I realized this poisonous centipede was caught between the jaws of a tokay gecko.

As described earlier, such scolopenders may inflict a very painful and poisonous bite. Having a blue chap with a clown face taking care of such pests makes me feel safe. He watches over me while I am asleep, and his poo will become orchid fertilizer.

The part to the left is the scolopender’s rear end. The scolopender’s head with its powerful curved ‘jaws’ (they are in fact modified legs) is seen to the right. Both animals are big. In this photograph they are slightly smaller than natural size.

You can read more about Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) at Wikipediathey are the world’s second largest gecko, and can be up to 15 inches long. The description includes this gem:

When the Tokay bites, they often won’t let go for a few minutes or even up to an hour or more, and it is very difficult to remove without causing harm to the gecko. For this reason, it is considered to be best as an ornamental animal for experienced reptile owners.

49 thoughts on “Readers’ photos: death in Thailand

    1. “That centipede is absolute disproof of a benevolent God.”

      True, but an obsolescent concept. No, rather than an omni^3 old man on a throne somewhere, consider some conclusions based on what’s observable in nature.

      One possibility. Terra firma has developed into an ideal biologic workshop to try out novel constructs, initially archea and prokaryotes, then eukaryotes as the ultimate building blocks of habitable, multicellular forms.

      How? By the interactions of endogenous conscious life forms in cosmos with perhaps nothing better to occupy their time. And motive? None, other than to meet the ultimate challenges presented. But a further possibility; to ultimately occupy those bioforms.

      Why then the competitive and ultimately destructive results of those interactions (predator/ prey, parasite/ host)? Nothing more than a contiguous sporting event, which on a higher level consists of wars, greed and Republican politics.

      And, Since earthy sabbaticals are of limited tenure, why the hell not? The competitive nature within nature appears to be ubiquitous to all life forms, or should I say to the cohabitors of bioforms a priori considered to be life in toto.

      Sounds like philosophy, but actually science related, since rather than subjective thought, it’s more deductive thought, based on the evidence. A down the road confirmation of dualism would be somewhat confirmatory of this liklihood.

      And finally, to add a little more fuel to these smoldering possibilities, I give RBH credit for some insightful (perhaps even inciteful) thoughts.

      1. “Sounds like philosophy,…”

        I was going to say it sounds like something, but philosophy wasn’t it.

    2. Now now, “All God’s critters got a place in the choir”.
      Sorry – I couldn’t resist, since you brought God into the discussion.

      Anyway, I love scolopendras. We find a few every summer (I think the local species is Scolopendra heros), usually as they race over the ground looking for a place to hide before they’re spotted by a roadrunner. The desert species is about eight inches long, with copper-colored segments, fiery orange legs, and metallic blue heads and tails. I think there’s a species in Sumatra that is all blue.

      1. Yes – the centipede is irrelevant to whether there is a benevolent god or not. Just because people have a revulsion for some animals does not make them ‘bad’. You express what many people feel – if it is ugly to me, it must be dangerous & we should avoid it or kill it. Let’s not be speciesist – valuing one life above another.

        It just is.

  1. When I lived in Taiwan we had geckos living on all the windows, my infant son’s first two syllable word was ‘gecko’, but they weren’t as big or as flashy looking as this one.

  2. Venomous, not poisonous. I know, I know, I’m being pedantic. Just couldn’t resist.

    Lovely pictures, though. Glad I live in Ohio.

  3. Very cool shots of 2 cool animals. Sorry to hear the tokays are persecuted.

    “modified legs”?
    Sort of, I guess. They’re mandibles, the second set of head appendages behind the antennae. All living arthropods except chelicerates have them, and they’re always mouthparts (although they are ‘serially homologous’ with walking legs, and antennae, swimmerets, and various other mouthparts).

  4. “Both animals are big. In this photograph they are slightly smaller than natural size.”

    I’m not sure which photo this is meant to refer to (nor how big a screen I’m assumed to be viewing it on). But using the door as a yardstick in the topmost photo, I’m guessing the gecko is on the order of 35-40 cm nose to tail, the centipede maybe 20 cm.

    1. No, that’s unlikely. You can’t make a statement like that without knowing more (eg lens focal length and lens-to-subject distance, or ratio of lens-to-subject distance to subject-to-background distance).
      Don’t forget, your palm can blot out the sun!

      1. I was assuming the door and the lizard were in roughly the same plane. Now that you point it out I see that they’re not, exactly, but the shadows seem to indicate they’re not widely separated (for whatever that’s worth).

  5. No centipede should be that big. Intelligent Design my foot.

    It looks like the ones in the garden, same color even, except those are a lot smaller.

    1. As a kid, we lived on Okinawa for about 5 years. They had a local centipede that was about a foot long. When you’re up in a banyan tree, the last thing you wanted to see was one of those monsters heading toward you on a branch…nearly 50 years later and I still get the shivers thinking about those things. You did not want to have one of those things bite you. We knew of locals who’d been bitten on the hand and their entire arm would swell and turn black. I say ‘go gecko GO’.

      1. addendum: I think one reason I enjoy living in a climate that has a cold winter is that no insect, bug, or other creepy crawly ever gets very big; winter just does them in.

  6. Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is a wonderful book from beginning to end, but the best part is his riveting description of a battle to the death between a gecko and a preying mantis in his bedroom in Corfu.

    1. On a similar literary note, Geogre MacDonald Fraser, in his memoir of service in Burma in WW2, relates an incident involving his unit of veterans and a *massive* centipede – very amusing.

  7. Friend of mine had a tokay. Despite being an experienced herp keeper he made a bad move one day when feeding the tokay and he claimed that his thumb was never the same again after spending 25 minutes clamped in its jaws

  8. (Begin old man rambling)

    The little lizards (I don’t know what species they were) running around Taiwan when I was there did nothing to keep the monstrous cockroaches out of my apartment.(That was a can of Raid and a shoe that did that)

    We have smaller reptiles here in Kyushu, but they seem unwilling to come out of the forested areas… Unlike the mukade who are quite happy to come pay you a visit when you least expect it.

    tl;dr- If I wasn’t an atheist before meeting Asia’s large insects, I would have become one.

    1. Were the roaches perhaps larger than the lizards? Little lizards and monstrous roaches sounds like an unsatisfactory combination.

    2. I think they are the same as ginjoe in Thailand – here in Tainan I have 2 living in the bathroom – but in Thailand they would jump on you as you walked under the door – freak you out really bad : (

  9. In Hawaii, one doesn’t repair stone walls without wearing gloves and maybe even taping up pants cuffs to keep the centipedes out. From my experiences, bites from the small iridescent blue ones are much worse than bites from the big brown ones. Fortunately, a poultice made from a slice of equally-ubiquitous green papaya does wonders to reduce the pain and swelling owing to an enzyme in that fruit.

  10. Had one in my kitchen and it used to like to call out at 2 or 3 in the morning and they are loud. I finally cornered it one day and herded it into a corner where I tackled it with a pair of oven gloves. It gaped at me with a huge blue mouth, hissed and bit at the oven gloves but I successfully relocated him out side my property. Now I can sleep peacefully.

  11. Tokays are beautiful geckos, and if handled and treated properly, can become incredibly tame. As with pretty much any pet lizard really.
    Unfortunately, the Thai people believe that the bigger the gecko the more powerful the medicine. This has led to people force feeding them to make them grossly overweight. They are kept in atrocious conditions after being ripped from the wild.
    Poor little things.

    1. I’ve known some pet tokays (not mine), and not one of them ever got ‘incredibly tame’. Nasty, foul-tempered bastards afaict. Plus not that interesting a pet, since proper care involves giving them a good hiding place. They hide all day. One I knew had a cardboard shoebox lid as a hiding place and it used to hang out in there upside down. Another was being transported from the pet store, somehow escaped, and lived in the (big old) car for several months, occasionally being heard between the roof and interior lining, or spotted briefly on opening the trunk.

  12. Tokays are also noteworthy for their loud call, which sounds a bit like a ventriloquist shouting ‘tokay’ at regulat intervals. I have often heard it while staying in Indonesia. It is slightly spooky to hear this at night just outside your window.

    1. From an old friend living in Thailand (rural area):

      “I have had a Torkay Mother and her baby living at my house for over five years. They make a distinctive “barking” sound, a sort of “ooh-ahhh” that they will repeat up to 10 or 15 times, but, sometimes, as few as 3 or 4, preceded by a gargling sound as if they are ‘warming up’. Bets are commonly placed on the actual number “fifty (baht) on 6″ or whatever and then you count with whomever is in the pool. Correct number or closest wins….”

  13. Those things creep me out – centipedes I mean. I recall Fleming’s first James Bond book, Doctor No, in which someone put a giant centipede in Bond’s bed. The damn thing crawled right up him. Really scary.

    In the movie they replaced it with a tarantula, which Bond, once it had scuttled off him, dispatched with a shoe and quite excessive but totally understandable violence. They should have kept the centipede though, I’d far rather have a taranshula walking over me than a centipede.

  14. I’ve taught a survey of the animal kingdom course and handled both tarantulas and centipedes to show the students in lab without incident. If an animal knows you are not afraid of it, and are not going to hurt it, your interaction will probably turn out OK.

  15. I’d never seen such a huge gecko. That’s also got to be one of the biggest centipedes I’d ever seen.

  16. After a decade and half in Thailand I still love them critters – Thais are terrified of them Tok-kay – whole ghost thing and all. Me I like their feet – and they really do say TUK KAY very loud. Never had the honor of seeing those centipedes – now here in Taiwan we have some nasty bugs… yuck!

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