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"

!he Philippine Archipelago is home to a spec-

tacular and diverse assemblage of amphibians and reptiles. Situated at the interface between the Oriental and
Australian faunal zones, the herpetofauna of this largely
oceanic island archipelago has captured the attention
and imagination of systematists and biogeographers for
nearly 200 years. Previously thought of as having a
depauperate herpetofauna, the Philippine archipelago
is now recognized as one of the most important center
of herpetofaunal diversity in Southeast Asia. Information generated from recent field surveys coupled with
analyses of available data on diversity, points to overwhelming evidence that the Philippine herpetofauna
is far richer, the levels of endemicity are much higher,
and the evolutionary history is far more complex than
have been assumed.
!"#$%#!&'%(#)!%*+&,-'&#-'#.%!.
Amphibians

!he Philippine amphibian fauna is comprised

of caecilians (Gymnophiona) and frogs (Anura). The


caecilians are represented by 2 genera and the anurans
are represented by at least 22 genera. At present, we
recognize a total of 101 species comprised of 3 species
of caecilians and 98 species of frogs. There are no known
endemic genera, however, endemicity at the species level
is exceptionally high: 78 of the 101 species (77%) are
found only in the Philippines (Table 1).
Caecilians are worm-like, limbless, and are among
the ancient living amphibians. In the Philippines, they
are restricted to the western and southern islands, known
thus far from very few localities on Palawan, Basilan,
and Mindanao. The natural history of the three Philippine caecilians is virtually unknown primarily due to
the secretive behavior of these animals. Frogs are found
in most of the islands of the archipelago. The most
primitive species of frog in the country is the Palawan

flat-headed frog (Barbourula busuangensis), a fully


aquatic species inhabiting unpolluted mountain streams
and rivers of Palawan. It is one of the only two known
species of this genus. Frogs of the genus Platymantis
are the most diverse; the number of Philippine species
currently stands at 26 but dozens of newly discovered
species are still awaiting description.
The fauna includes four species of frogs that have
been introduced by man either intentionally (Bufo
marinus, Hoplobatrachus rugulosus, Rana catesbeiana)
or inadvertently (Rana erythraea). Bufo marinus was
introduced supposedly to control populations of sugar
cane beetles while Hoplobatrachus rugulosus and Rana
catesbeiana were introduced for the purpose of farming as sources of animal protein.
Reptiles
The reptilian fauna is composed of terrestrial
turtles (6 species), marine turtles (5 species), lizards
(124 species), terrestrial snakes (106 species), marine
snakes (15 species), and crocodiles (2 species). This
diverse and complex group is divided into 17 families
and is represented by at least 83 genera. A total of 258
species occur, 170 species or 66% are endemic to the
Philippines (Table 2).
Five genera are presently recognized as limited to
the Philippines: Pseudogekko, Parvoscincus,
Cyclocorus, Hologerrhum, and Myersophis.
Myersophis is monospecific and is known only from
the highlands of the Central Cordilleras of Luzon. Ten
of the 40 or so species of Draco, the flying lizards of
Southeast Asia, are endemic to the Philippines. Fourteen of the 15 species of Brachymeles are likewise confined to the Philippines, with the remaining species
known only from Borneo. This genus of legless skinks
also exhibits one of the most spectacular Philippine
radiations. The lizard genus Sphenomorphus is the most
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speciose taxon with 25 species, all of which are endemic to the Philippines. Among the snakes, blind
snakes of the genus Typhlops are the most diverse with
16 species. They are also known to be among the most
ancient snakes in the world.
/%01#01),"2+

"n understanding of the geographical distribution of the major groups of amphibians and reptiles
has been discussed in detail from the previous taxonomic and zoogeographic summaries of past workers.
These scholarly works ably discussed dispersal routes
of the fauna, zoogeographical relationships, possible
land-bridge connections, and have also identified faunal subdivisions (or biogeographic regions) of the Philippine herpetofauna. The herpetofaunal regions that
have been identified range from two to five.
To a large extent, the biogeography of the Philippine herpetofauna shows a pattern that is similar to
that exhibited by terrestrial birds and non-volant mammals. These biogeographic regions are centers of biological endemism that are concordant with the geologic formation of the Philippine archipelago during
the Pleistocene Epoch. During the great ice ages of the
Pleistocene, sea levels were reduced such that islands
that were separated by sea 120 meters deep were connected. Here, we refer to these ice-age island amalgamations as Pleistocene aggregate island complexes,
or PAIC.
We recognize 9 herpetofaunal regions in the Philippines albeit arbitrarily. These subdivisions could become modified further as our knowledge of species distributions, faunal boundaries, and taxonomic and phylogenetic relationships of the herpetofauna improve.
The herpetofaunal regions are as follows:
Batanes PAIC: composed of the islands of
Batan, Itbayat, Sabtang, and several small
adjacent islands
Babuyanes PAIC: Babuyan, Calayan,
Dalupiri, Camiguin, Fuga, and adjacent
small islands
Luzon PAIC: Luzon, Polillo, Catanduanes,
Marinduque, and adjacent small islands
Mindoro PAIC: Mindoro, Ilin, Semirara, and
adjacent small islands
Romblon PAIC: Romblon, Tablas, Sibuyan
Visayas PAIC: Panay, Guimaras, Negros,
Cebu, Masbate, and adjacent small islands
Palawan PAIC: Palawan, Busuanga,
Calamian, Culion, Balabac, and adjacent
small islands
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Mindanao PAIC: Mindanao, Samar,


Maripipi, Biliran, Leyte, Bohol, Dinagat,
Siargao, Basilan, and adjacent small islands
Sulu PAIC: Tawitawi, Jolo, and adjacent small
islands
While it is to be expected that aggregate islands
within a PAIC share a high percentage of faunal elements in common, there are many instances wherein
these islands contain endemic species of their own. A
fine example is the islands of Panay, Negros, and Cebu
in the Visayas PAIC. Panay has at least 4 endemic species (Platymantis panayensis, Parvoscincus sisoni,
Hologerrhum dermali, Pseudorabdion talonuran) that
have never been found on Cebu and on Negros, considering that the herpetofauna of the latter island is the
best studied in the Philippines. On the other hand, at
least 4 species (Platymantis hazelae, Platymantis
spelaeus, Lipinia rabori, Typhlops canlaonensis) are
confined to Negros while 2 species that are present on
Cebu (Brachymeles cebuensis, Typhlops hypogius) are
not known to occur in either Negros or Panay.
Data from recent studies suggest that amphibians and reptiles have a tendency towards a finer-scale
isolation and differentiation thereby making them appropriate organisms to use in identifying sub-centers
of endemism. For instance, three species of Platymantis
frogs on Mt. Banahao (an isolated volcano on the island of Luzon) have a spatial distribution of less than
70 square kilometers, are confined to the montane elevations on that mountain, and are found only on a
single island. This fine-scaled distribution pattern is
particularly exhibited by diminutive frogs, snakes, and
lizards and is repeated in many other isolated mountains and mountain ranges in the Philippines.
An understanding of mid- to late-Pleistocene
geology is the key to appreciating the distribution of
life in the Philippines and most importantly, in formulating effective conservation strategies. The recognition
of these Pleistocene aggregate island complexes is the
appropriate framework for appreciation of Philippine
biodiversity on all levels, for it is the unique geological
history of the islands that unites the evolutionary histories of Philippine biodiversity.
$0-!#)(,*%0-

!he

most recent publication of the IUCN


listed 32 threatened amphibians and reptiles in the
Philippines, and another 10 species that have lower
threat categories (Table 3). The critically endangered

3
taxa include 7 species of Platymantis frogs, 1 marine
turtle, 1 freshwater turtle, and the endemic Philippine
crocodile. Amphibians dominate the list while only 9
species are reptiles. While a good number of species in
this list are genuinely threatened with extinction, results from recent faunal inventories prove that some
species in the list apparently have stable populations
and secured habitats. It is clear that the status of the
species in such listings need to be re-assessed periodically. The general lack of data on the ecology, distribution, population trends, and abundance of more than
85% of the amphibian fauna and over 90% of the reptilian fauna impedes a more accurate assessment of their
conservation status.
Although no cases of extinction of Philippine
amphibians or reptiles have been documented, the largescale destruction of the lowland forest-now almost completely gone in many parts of the Philippines-imply
that part of the diversity may have already been lost
even before they were described by science. Similarly,
cases of declines in amphibian populations have not
been documented in the Philippines. One important
reason is the lack of long-term population studies being conducted on the islands, save for a few attempts
on Negros.
The most immediate and clear threat to the fauna
is habitat destruction. The clearance and fragmentation of the lowland dipterocarp forest and even the lower
montane forest affect more than 85% of the fauna. In
the light of recent studies showing that the peak of
diversity of forest frogs is found at the montane forest,
the common practice of converting vast tracts of montane forest into large-scale agricultural plantations (a
popular example is the so called "vegetable bowl" in
the Cordilleras of northern Luzon) proves to be detrimental to many endemic species.
Other important herpetofaunal habitats that are
also being destroyed at alarming rates include marine
reefs, beaches, natural lakes and ponds, limestone caves,
mangroves, and swamps. The siltation of mountain
streams and rivers due to forest clearance threatens the
existence of many species and their larvae that inhabit
these freshwater ecosystems.
Other big threats to the fauna are: 1) pollution
of streams and rivers from mine tailings, pesticide and
herbicide run-offs, 2) over-hunting (especially of monitor lizards), 3) the introduction of alien and invasive
species, and 4) the flourishing, unregulated pet and
leather trade. In addition to these threats, we suspect
that persecution and the unnecessary killing of animals, most especially of reptiles (for instance, all snakes

are killed by people), could exact a heavy toll on the


population of rare species. This matter needs to be investigated.
On the bright side, there are positive cases in the
effort to conserve the herpetofauna. Among the most
celebrated include the conservation programs for marine turtles and crocodiles. In close cooperation with
local and international agencies, peoples' organizations,
and local communities, the Philippine government has
successfully established sanctuaries, captive-breeding
facilities, and research and education programs to protect and conserve these species. Meanwhile, a community based conservation program has been initiated by
the Silliman University to save the Negros cave frog
Platymantis spelaeus (listed as a critically endangered
species) and its habitat (limestone forests and caves).
The designation of remaining tracts of forests and
other habitats as protected areas (especially under the
re-developed National Integrated Protected Areas System) is highly encouraging and is a positive step in
conserving Philippine biodiversity as a whole. One of
the major challenges facing the protected areas system
is developing initiatives that will provide needed resources and infrastructures to ensure the protection of
the areas. Most of these protected areas lack detailed
faunal inventories, habitat studies, or analyses of human impacts, rendering difficulties in the formulation
of conservation strategies. However, these gaps cannot
be used as an excuse for inaction.
,-,3+!%!

"n estimated total of 359 species of amphib-

ians and reptiles is now known in the Philippines making the herpetofauna the second most diverse vertebrate group in the Philippines. Of the 359 species, 246
(68%) are endemic to the country-currently the highest known percentage among the vertebrates. The rate
of discovery of new species is likewise the highest: a
total of 36 new species (20 frogs, 8 lizards, and 8 snakes),
roughly 10% of the total herpetofauna, has been discovered in the last twelve years. For its size, the Philippines has a particularly rich herpetofauna. As a point
of comparison, the island of Borneo, which is 2.5 times
larger than the Philippines, has about 140 species of
frogs. The Philippines has nearly 100 species while
many more new species are being discovered every year.
The exact total number of species of Philippine amphibians and reptiles still remains uncertain
up to this point. The gaps in knowledge on the systematics of the herpetofauna need to be addressed first
!"#$%&$'(#)*(+,*'(-..-

4
before a satisfactory estimate of the diversity is reached.
Among the most pressing issues that need to be addressed include resolving the state of polytypic species
and subspecies (for example, recent studies prove that
some nominate species are clusters of multiple species)
and the need for taxonomic revisions of major groups.
It is certain that alpha-taxonomic studies and the revision of the systematics of the fauna will see an increase
in the number of recognized species. In addition to
these are the many new species that continue to be
discovered from largely unexplored areas. In fact, we
are aware of dozens of new species (especially frogs of
the genus Platymantis) that are currently in the process of being described.
The remarkable rate of discoveries and the increase in the number of publications show a heightened interest in Philippine herpetology. It is also worth
mentioning that Filipino scientists now form a majority of those working on the herpetofauna.
Since nearly 90% of the fauna are forest obligates, the continued destruction of the rainforest remains as the biggest threat to the fauna. And for species with highly localized distribution patterns, a modest amount of habitat destruction may prove to be catastrophic to the whole population.
Examples of effective conservation programs involving the herpetofauna are highly limited and are
typically centered on large and charismatic species.
However, efforts are now being initiated to undertake
needed conservation programs on smaller and less-appealing species.
There is a need for increased action in the field.
Immediate and exhaustive faunal surveys, ecological
and life history studies, and studies on the effects habitat fragmentation on populations are warranted in order to assess the conservation status most especially of
rare and endemic species.

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A. Altamirano, P. Alviola (Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology); C. Banks (Melbourne Zoo); D.
Bennet, K. Hampson (University of Oxford); E. Caete
(DENR Region IX); D. Cannatella (Texas Natural History
Collections); R. Crombie (Smithsonian Institution); E.
Curio (Philippine Endemic Species Conservation Project);
C. Custodio, R. De Veyra, M. Mendoza (PAWB), J. Ferner,
R. Kennedy (Cincinnati Museum of Natural History); C.
Dolino, P. Cario (Center for Tropical Conservation Studies); J. Dimalibot, J. Hibaya (Palawan State University); M.
Gaulke (Working Group for Tropical Nature and Species
Conservation); J. Gonzalez (University of the Philippines
at Los Baos); L. Liao (University of San Carlos); M.
Leonida, R. Maranan, R. Lagat (De La Salle UniversityDasmarias); N. Mallari, M. Lepiten, B. Tabaranza Jr.
(Haribon Foundation); A. Manamtam (CARE-Philippines);
M. Manuel, R. Caberoy (Philippine National Museum); J.
McGuire (Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State
University); P. Milan (Visayas State College of Agriculture);
H. Miranda, J. Ibaez, D. Afan, G. Bueser (Philippine Eagle
Foundation, Inc.); J. Morrison (World Wildlife Fund-US);
P. Ong, N. Ibuna, C. Morales, L. Valenzuela, M. de Guia,
M. Duya (Conservation International-Philippines); L. Tan
(Bookmark, Inc.); M. Pedregosa (Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation); A. Resetar, R. Inger, L. Heaney (Field
Museum); F. Romero (World Wildlife Fund-Philippines);
J. Vindum, M. Koo (California Academy of Sciences).

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Number of
Species

Number of
Endemic
Species

Bombinatoridae

Megophryidae

Bufonidae

Microhylidae

12

Ranidae

57

Rhacophoridae

18

101

78 (77%

Taxon
GYMNOPHIONA (Caecilians)
Icthyophiidae
ANURA (Frogs)

Total

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Number of
Species

Number of
Endemic Species

Cheloniidae

Dermochelydae

Bataguridae

Trionychidae

Agamidae

17

15

Gekkonidae

33

25

Dibamidae

Scincidae

69

57

Varanidae

Typhlopidae

20

18

Xenopeltidae

Boidae

Acrochordidae

Colubridae

74

44

Elapidae

21

Crotalidae

258

168 (65%)

Taxon
CHELONIA (Turtles)

SQUAMATA (Lizards and Snakes)

CROCODYLIA (Crocodiles)
Crocodylidae
Total

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Taxon

IUCN Status

AMPHIBIANS
Philippine Discoglossid Frog Barbourula busuangensis

Vulnerable

Basilan Island Caecilian Icthyophis glandulosus

Endangered

Mindanao Island Caecilian Ichthyophis mindanaoensis

Vulnerable

Negros Truncate-toed Chorus Frog Kaloula conjuncta negrosesis

Vulnerable

Small-headed Frog Micrixalus diminutiva

Vulnerable

Marys Frog Micrixalus mariae

Vulnerable

Spiny Tree Frog Nyctixalus spinosus

Vulnerable

Camiguin Narrow-mouthed Frog Oreophryne nana

Endangered

Palawan Toadlet Pelophryne albotaeniata

Vulnerable

Bongao Tree Frog Philautus alticola

Data Deficient

Leyte Tree Frog Philautus leitensis

Lower Risk

Mottled Tree Frog Philautus poecilus

Data Deficient

Hazels Forest Frog Platymantis hazelae

Critical

Island Forest Frog Platymantis insulatus

Critical

Isarog Forest Frog Platymantis isarog

Critical

Smooth-skinned Forest Frog Platymantis levigatus

Critical

Naomis Forest Frog Platymantis naomii

Endangered

Negros Forest Frog Platymantis negrosensis

Critical

Panay Forest Frog Platymantis panayensis

Endangered

Polillo Forest Frog Platymantis polillensis

Critical

Pygmy Forest Frog Platymantis pygmaeus

Vulnerable

Rabors Forest Frog Platymantis rabori

Vulnerable

Negros Cave frog Platymantis spelaeus

Critical

Mt. Data Forest Frog Platymantis subterrestris

Endangered

Eastern Mindano Frog Rana diuata

Data Deficient

Swamp Frog Rana leytensis

Data Deficient

Giant Visayan Frog Rana magna visayana

Vulnerable

Sulu Frog Rana melanomenta

Data Deficient

Philippine Samll-disked Frog Rana parva

Data Deficient

Woodworths Frog Rana woodworthi

Data Deficient

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Taxon

IUCN Status

TURTLES
Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta

Endangered

Green Turtle Chelonia mydas

Endangered

Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata

Critical

Philippine Pond Turtle Heosemys leytensis

Critical

Spiny Terrapin Heosemys spinosa

Endangered

Cantors Giant Softshell Turtle Pelochelys cantorii

Endangered

CROCODILES
Philippine Crocodile Crocodylus mindorensis

Critical

LIZARDS
Crested Lizard Hydrosaurus pustulatus

Data Deficient

Grays Monitor Lizard Varanus olivaceus

Vulnerable

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10

!"#$%&#'%$( )"#$*
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Alcala, A. C. 1986. Guide to Philippine Flora and Fauna: Amphibians and Reptiles. Volume X. Natural
Resources Management Center and University of the Philippines, Manila. xiv+195 pp.
Alcala, A. C., and W. C. Brown. 1998. Philippine Amphibians: An Illustrated Field Guide. Bookmark, Inc.
Makati City. xii+116 pp.
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Nat. Sci. Monogr. Ser. 1, Dumaguete City, Philippines. iii + 146 pp.
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Sci. Monogr. Ser. 2, Dumaguete City, Philippines. vii + 264 pp.
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species of amphibians and reptiles recorded in the Philippines. Unpublished manuscript.
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reptiles of Panay Island, Republic of the Philippines.
McGuire, J. A., and A. C. Alcala. 2000. A taxonomic revision of the flying lizards (Iguania: Agamidae:
Draco) of the Philippine Islands, with a description of a new species. Herpetological Monographs, 14,
2000, 81-138.
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Taylor, E. H. 1920. Philippine Amphibia. Philippine Journal of Science, 16:213--359.
Taylor, E. H. 1922. The Lizards of the Philippine Islands. Philippine Bureau of Science, Manila, Philippines.
Taylor, E. H. 1922. The Snakes of the Philippine Islands. Philippine Bureau of Science, Manila, Philippines.
Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines. 1997. Philippine Red Data Book. Bookmark, Inc. Makati
City. 262 pp.

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