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Beryl Bwong, curious about all creatures cold-blooded

The main difference is in reproduction. Reptile egg is covered with a shell; that of an amphibian is not. Reptiles have dry skin covered with scales and breathe through lungs. Their eggs do not require moist environment to survive.

Amphibians can live in water and on land, don’t have scales on the body and can breathe through lungs and their skin which is moist. Amphibians secrete a mucous to keep it moist. If the skin becomes dry, they die.

Witu Tree Frog Leptopelis concolor Courtesy Steve Spawls

4. Your favourite amphibian?

The ridged frogs – I studied them for my Masters degree. They are very good jumpers.

5. How do you collect amphibians?

Mostly by hand but you can also use pit fall traps. But for amphibians like the caecilians (look like worms) that burrow underground, it needs some digging.

6. The rarest amphibian in Kenya?

That would be the Mt Elgon torrent frog last seen in 1962.

7. What’s the biggest threat to reptiles and amphibians?

Habitat destruction, pollution.

Environment indicators: If you see amphibians like frogs in the water, it means the water is clean. So these are creatures that tell us about the quality of things.

8. What’s your usual day like?

In the office, it is all about writing papers, proposals, collection management, lecturing students. But in the field it’s exciting and challenging.

Gaboon Viper. Copyright Steve Spawls

9. How did you get to work with reptiles?

I started out as an assistant in the Nairobi snake park

10. What fascinates you about all creatures cold-blooded?

Everything. Their lifestyle, their diversity and especially the colour patterns of amphibians.

11. What’s the most endangered reptile in Kenya?

pancake tortoise Malacochersus tornieri SDZ Tanz.

Pancake tortoise. It is a flat soft shelled tortoise. It’s found in rock crevices in arid places like Marsabit County southwards to Kitui County, Tsavo, Maasai Mara National Park and recently found in Lewa in Laikipia.

12. What’s your favourite place for reptiles?

The coastal forests because of the great diversity of reptiles and amphibians found there and some which are only found there.

13. Aren’t you afraid of snakes?

I was at the beginning. But when I learnt how to tell between venomous and non-venomous snakes, I became more confident.

14. What is the best way to stay out of trouble for the snake and you?

Watch them but don’t disturb them.

15. Best advice to look out for reptiles and amphibians?

Don’t go looking for them in the cold season since these are cold-blooded animals and not easy to find when it is cold.

16. What not to do in their presence?

Do NOT catch snakes since some could be venomous. Also avoid wading in murky waters if there are crocodiles around.

Endemic Shimba Hills Reed Frog. Copyright Steve Spawls

17. Have you collected anything rare?

We rediscovered Krefft’s warty frog in Shimba Hills National Reserve after 50 years of no sighting! It was very exciting!

18. For your kind of work what’s needed?

Patience. You work long hours into the night; sometimes in bad weather and sometimes you see no reptile or amphibian. That can be discouraging.

19. Your hope for the future?

That we get more Kenyans interested in the conservation of amphibians and reptiles

Ornate tree frog from Shimba Hills. Copyright Steve Spawls

20. Best guide book for reptile and amphibians?

I like the Field guide to East African reptiles (2018) by Spawls et al.

Field guide to the frogs and other amphibians of Africa (2019) by Channing and Rödel.

We are working on a reptile and amphibian field guide that is specifically on Kenya, out soon.

You can find Beryl at the National Museums of Kenya, herpetology department when she is not searching for frogs and snakes.

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