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Cold-blooded wildlife of Borneo

Tropical rainforests are not just the home of snakes and crocodiles. In Borneo, you can find a wide variety of other reptiles including many species of turtles, tortoises, freshwater terrapins, and lizards.

Gharials are often confused with crocodiles. They are characterized by their long and thin snout. 
© WWF/Gerald S. Cubitt
Gharials are often confused with crocodiles. They are characterized by their long and thin snout.
© WWF/Gerald S. Cubitt

Borneo’s freshwater reptiles

Terrapins can be found in both terrestrial and freshwater habitats. One example is the endangered spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa), which mostly lives on the forest floor, although it infrequently visits streams and puddles.

The forest soft-shelled turtle’s (Dogania subplana) lifestyle is more closely connected to streams in forests and agricultural areas, where it goes searching for food at night. The species is recognisable by the spotted pattern on its head, a long, thick and flexible neck and sharp claws on the forefeet.

In the peat swamps you can meet the false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii), a medium-sized crocodile. Its elongated snout is specialised for catching fish, but the species is actually a generalist predator, feeding on fish, insects, crustaceans and mammals.

Borneo’s lizards

Some 105 species of lizards have been discovered in Borneo’s tropical rainforests, including the green crested lizard or Borneo bloodsucker (Bronchocela cristatella). The tail of this lizard makes up over 75% of its total body length and the lizard changes colour from bright green to brown when threatened.

Another colourful Borneo lizard is the 5-banded gliding lizard (Draco quinquefasciatus), found in lowland primary rainforest close to water. Borneo's very own dragon, this lizard’s body is marked by five dark bands with a series of white spots at the centre of each one.

On average, 3 new species are discovered each month in the Heart of Borneo

Between 1995 and 2010 more than 600 species have been discovered - that is 3 species each and every month.


© WWF-Indonesia/Jimmy Syahirsyah
Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)
© WWF-Indonesia/Jimmy Syahirsyah

Reptile discoveries in the Heart of Borneo

  • Hydrophis sibauensis, a highly venomous water snake, described from Sibau River (West Kalimantan).
  • Three new species of the Sphenomorphus genus, the most diverse lizard group in Borneo. All species known so far occur in lowland forests and are terrestrial, but the new species was found at elevations of more than 1,000 m above sea level, along the mountainous western spine of Sabah.
  • The beautiful Dendrelaphis kopsteini, or Kopstein’s Bronzeback snake, can grow to an impressive 1.5 metres in length. Discovered in 2007 in lowland to upland rainforest, this uncommon new species differs from all other Dendrelaphis species. It has a bright orange, almost flame-like, neck colouration that gradually fuses into an iridescent and vivid blue, green and brown pattern extending the entire length of the snake. The top of the head is deep bronze, a characteristic of all bronzeback snakes, and a dark stripe extends from the snout, across the eye, to the start of the neck.
© Gernot Vogel
Kopstein’s Bronzeback snake (Dendrelaphis kopsteini) is a beautiful-looking species that can grow to an impressive 1.5 metres in-length. Like most Dendrelaphis species, the Kopstein’s bronzeback has an aggressive disposition with a painful bite. In the wild, many inhabit trees and they hunt frogs and lizards.
© Gernot Vogel