Friend or Foe? ~ Sri Lanka

We think of ourselves as animal friendly.  Peta tends to err toward the side of “animal rights activism”.  But our new home in Dalawella, Sri Lanka, is forcing us to consider what our views are to specific members of the animal kingdom.  From a broad ‘love all animals’ perspective to a more prudent reclassification of our animal neighbors into “friends” and “foes”.

Most, to be sure, are “friends”.  But…  there are “foes” too…

Here is where we stand with our animal kingdom, after a few weeks in our new home.

(Note: uncharacteristically, the photographs in this post are not our own).


Monkeys ~ friends, obviously

 It is nothing short of joyous to see a pack/group of monkeys play over head amongst the tree~tops.  We previously reported being welcomed by a family of white crowned, mostly black monkeys.  Well, today we get to discover a new species, while taking  a walk in our neighborhood.  This group of primates has a bright orange, cool haircut, not quite the ‘you know who, don’t want his name in our blog’  look, but going in that direction.  Also has a super long tail with a little white tuft at the end.

Turns out that this is a Purple-faced Langur, which is on the endangered species list. There are 5 or 6 of them playing together, jumping from tree to tree.  Definitely in the friends category.


Birds ~ positively friends  

We are richly rewarded for choosing a home nearby the rice fields that, after the rains, become a veritable smorgasbord of delectables for a large contingent of white, elegant cattle egrets.



These primary residents / frequent visitors to our own tiny “bird park” are not the only diners to feast on the just-turned earth of the rice paddy… There are also beautiful grey/white/black visitors ~ not large in numbers, but regularly seen ~  Red-wattled Lapwings.  Their call sounds like “did-he-do-it”.



And occasionally, we get a colorful flash of bright jewel tones, courtesy of the neighborhood’s Kingfishers



Bats ~ friends  

While bats get a bad rap, at least in the West, we learned to appreciate the value of bats in Nicaragua.  Bats do a wonderful job at keeping the population of mosquitoes under control and are actually very intelligent creatures.  On our way home from yoga at the nearby Yoga Shala, at dusk, we pass underneath a large tree with what we initially think are birds, making quite a racket, until we recognize the flight pattern…. These are definitely bats!  The bats here are much larger than in Nicaragua, with a wing span that seems to be about 2 feet.


unknown-2Nothing to fear from bats… very much in the “friends” category

Insects ~ mostly foes.  

At best we might be indifferent… the cool looking black and yellow dotted centipede does not bother us.  Ants, though individually not threatening, become foes the moment they form a column that marches across our living room. And by column, we mean a thick boulevard of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of black ants. We are currently playing a game of “if you left it out, it’s fair game”, with the neighborhood ants.  And they are definitely winning.  Forcing us to up our game, in terms of being meticulous about leaving any food out of the fridge.

So, not a fabulous sight to see a military parade of ants crossing up this wall, down the next, across our floor, on its way to the windows…  But does that make them foes? Well yes, because these tiny ants are actually a close cousin of the Pyrhana!  These @#$%^&* ants really hurt when they bite.  On the left side of the ring, a rather healthy looking caucasian male over 6′ tall, on the other side of the ring, a small ant a 1/10th of his finger nail.  The ant wins every time, sending Ben into a scratching fury.images-1

And these are the black ants.  There are also much larger, much more lethal red ants.  These we have seen, but have not had first hand encounter with, as of yet. Not looking forward to it either.


Then there are spiders.  Now, this is one of those insects that trigger an automatic response.  For my part (Ben), no big deal.  I mean, I don’t relish the thought of spiders crawling over me while I am sleeping, but if I see a small one on the wall, it’s not going to raise my temperature.


A quick look at exactly what the ‘spider situation’ is in Sri Lanka, leads us to the discovery that ahem… the small black ones are the least of our problems.  We have not encountered, and hope never to encounter, the more exotic Sri Lankan spider.  Brightly colored, they are pretty cool looking, but still, would hate to come face to face.


The problem of course is not the ants, nor the regular spiders, which we recognize and at least have some prior experience with.  The problem is “the others”.  Let’s just say that we will get a full education on the “insects of Sri Lanka”.  These are not so lovingly referred to by Peta as “jojos” ~ the J pronounced like “Jose” in spanish.  These “jojos” reach back to Peta’s South African childhood and, let’s just say that there has not been one reference to jojos to date that has a positive association.  Usually the word “Jojo” is accompanied by a high pitched scream or a carefully calibrated, solemn, soft voice that says, ” Ben, I need you to come here, NOW”…

It is thus my job to deal with undesirable jojos. And it turns out that there is a whole universe of jojos I have never seen or conceptualized.  Last night’s crop included a cool looking mini-dinosaur, maybe the size of a baby toe… it was bright red or brown, shiny, and fast moving.  At least it didn’t fly.   Luckily we don’t both react with fear at the sight of jojos, so as long as I am around, Peta is safe…

Rodents ~ friends

The cutest ambassadors to the rodent family are the frequent chipmunks that jump from tree to tree and seem to like dashing over the full length of our bathroom wall.  No problems with these guys…


Tempting to classify the mongoose as a rodent, as it kind of looks like one. But in fact a mongoose is a member of a family of small cat like carnivores, the Herpestidae.  Whatever they are, we have seen a few of them while we are  walking around.  Maybe it is due to French childhood fables, but I associate mongoose with their mortal enemy, the cobra.  If there are mongoose, does it mean there are cobras around?  Haven’t seen one yet, hoping not to see one ever.  But we do hear that there are occasional python sightings.  “Not very often” one of our neighbors assures us.  OK, we are on the look out for pythons and hope, again, to never see one.  But all things considered, a mongoose must be in the friend category.


It is worth nothing as a couple that some animals are for Ben (raised in France) in an exotic category, whereas the same animal to Peta might be rather mundane.  Such is the case of the mongoose ~ an animal very familiar to Peta, as she saw many of these on the hillside in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she grew up.

And then, there are reptiles – definitely foes

I guess one never knows how one feels about reptiles until one confronts one, or two, or many…  We had cute little geckos in Nicaragua and the extent of our relationship was around enjoying their  ‘tuk tuk’ sounds.

But Sri Lanka is an entirely different game.  We are talking “big game” reptiles here.  We already indicated in a prior post that we discovered the Monitor Lizard.  This 4-6 foot long grey creature was already intimidating enough to some of us!



Turns out that the 6 foot long monitor lizard has a much more ominous looking, much larger cousin, the Water Monitor or Rice Lizard.

We almost ran right into one ~ In a flash, a large dark brown and orange creature very abruptly dashed across the road RIGHT in front of our motorbike, when we were on the way to the local temple.  Peta freaked. He was literally inches from us and we almost smashed right into him.

Now let’s be frank, this one is fucking scary looking! It is about 9-10 feet long as an adult. It is supposed to be a “water” monitor, but is not adverse to taking jaunts across the streets.

The water monitor is a large lizard native to South and South East Asia. They defend themselves using their tails, claws and jaws. They are excellent swimmers, using the raised fin on their tails to steer through water. They are carnivores and consume a wide range of pray such as fish, frogs, birds, rodents, crabs and snakes.

Lets just say that the next day when Peta was deciding whether or not to join me on my business trip to Colombo, the thought of encountering a water lizard by herself, was enough to help her make a very quick decision. Colombo here we come….
unknown-3 Before we cast off all lizards as these scary as hell characters, we would be remiss if we didn’t provide “fair and balanced” reporting.  There are in fact in Sri Lanka, a whole bunch of gorgeous looking, “not going to eat you for lunch” lizards.  We haven’t seen any of these less scary but very exotic lizards, yet it is worth noting that they are around.  Perhaps if we think of the monitor monsters as merely larger and uglier than these cute colorful creatures, they will become less ominous.

For now… lizards will stay in the “foe” category.

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61 thoughts on “Friend or Foe? ~ Sri Lanka

  1. Alison and Don

    Those bottom three pics look like chameleons – I wouldn’t think of them as foes. And we’ve always loved geckos for keeping down the spider and insect population. Having never encountered anything as big as a water monitor I wouldn’t have thought of lizards as foes, but yeah, something that big, or bigger like Komodo dragons for instance, I’d be having a healthy respect for. Arrgh insects and spiders – don’t get me started. I guess because of growing up in Oz there’s an automatic assumption that if you don’t know what it is it could be something that could kill you. If they’re big they absolutely *have* to be removed before I’ll sleep. And then there’s mosquitoes. Did you know that there are 167 mosquito-borne viruses in the Amazon? When we lived in India we bought insecticide chalk that we drew across all the door and window openings to keep the ants out. There’s just some situations where I have to drop my standards on being environmentally friendly! Bats birds monkeys and mongoose yeah!
    Have fun there with all the beasties 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Right…the three guys at the bottom have yet to be seen in person, and once we do, they should help tip the scales for lizards to friends!

      The water monitor is a close relative to the komodoro dragon (of Indonesia).

      So far not a big problem with mosquitoes…. a common practice here are for homes to have little elevated cement water ponds with fish in them that eat the mosquitoes supposedly. That’s a LOT of mosquito borne viruses. Nope did not know. Insecticide chalk sounds on the more environmentally friendly side of the equation. So far I have been avoiding chemical sprays and am using a natural cinnamon repellant…Time will tell if I succumb to stronger measures!

      Thanks for the enjoyable commentary Alison,

  2. lexklein

    So, you had to bring up the monitor lizards again …. I was freaked out in a small way the first time, and now I am freaking out from 9000 miles away! I love your house and your life there, but I am feeling less and less sure I could do it when I hear about the columns of ants, the spiders, and those god-awful monitors! Fun post, though! 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Hahaha. Well Lexie if you are freaking out from 9000 miles away, you can only begin to imagine how freaking scary that thing was up close. I am definitely having some… “ooh this is a tad too rustic for me ” feelings right now. Sigh. Personally have not seen more than one spider but did see a scorpion the other day. Way scarier!

  3. Joanne Sisco

    It’s funny to see this post because I was wondering what the ‘wildlife’ was going to be like in your new garden paradise. I credit myself for being able to read through the spider and ant section. Especially the spiders!!!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      So far for me only one small spider sighting. Thank goodness. In Nicaragua there were some very huge scary looking spiders…hopefully no encounters of that nature here.
      Lets hope the chochos or jojos don’t overwhelm the garden paradise too much!

  4. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

    I was doing fine with the birds, but then OMG – spiders the size of shopping carts, monitor lizards the size of taxis, and maybe snakes as dangerous as Cleopatra’s asp? I scream much louder than Peta – wanna hear me?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Haha Sharon. Spiders freak me out, monitor lizards are NOT my cup of tea, nor snakes. Much as I love animals I am NOT a big fan of repltiles. Gonna be a lot of screaming….

  5. Nik

    Living on a farm, often encountering a lot of insects inside the house such as spiders/lizards/cockroaches/crickets/beetles etc I have developed a way of catching them that you might like to adopt.

    Keep a plastic container handy. When you see a spider, trap it by putting the container over it. Then slide a thin but firm surface (eg a sheet of cardboard or a thin flexible cutting board) underneath. Then carry all of it outside and throw into the bushes! Collect when empty, to reuse. Keep handy at all times.

    I think to avoid the ants and spiders getting in the bed I would have a double set of containers under each bed leg. Outer larger container filled with water. Inner one dry, to protect bedpost.

    Maybe the big dragon lizards will keep away from the house if your dogs bark at them…

    I also would have wirenetting over the outdoor bathroom to prevent anything like a monkey getting in there….

    Good Luck!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Nik for all these extremely helpful suggestions. You have obviously had more experience than us!

      The water pans for bed won’t work as we have a “platform”type wooden bed. No legs.

      This morning the stray dogs that live here were going crazy barking their heads off and sure enough they were scaring a monitor lizard away! Oy! Whew! Geez!

      I doubt the monkeys will intrude. But time will tell…..

  6. Anonymous

    Definitely not for me!!!
    I don’t understand how you can even go to sleep at night….Scary… please be extra careful . I have only One Son and One Daughter in Law… You are irreplaceable

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      hahaha JB, “definitely not for me!!” that is the understatement of 2016!!

      We knew when we were writing this post that if you read it, you would be somewhat horrified at the “natural environment.”

      I can go to sleep quite easily because I know that Ben (ton fils) will protect me from the foes of the night, if they dare to come in.

      I must say that even though I am a pretty adventurous type of girl, coming face to face with a huge water lizard is not my idea of fun! What on earth is a nice Jewish girl like me doing in the jungle of the island of Sri Lanka?!?


  7. Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go

    You are definitely in an exotic area of the world and I love those impressively enormous bats as well as the colorful kingfishers. Having monkeys for neighbors sounds so exotic as long as they don’t get too bold but literally, running into giant lizard-like reptiles sounds like an adventure best avoided! I have some fascination with the world of creepy crawlies like we saw when traveling through Mexico and Central America but I must admit, I heaved a huge sigh of relief as our 2nd floor apartment here in Portugal seems to be almost insect and, even more important, spider-free! Anita

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Anita, it is very true that Sri Lanka is an exotic part of the world, it is definitely a part of the lure.

      Just today the stray dogs that “came with the house” were barking their heads off. I got up to see what the commotion was about and sure enough they were barking at a large Water Monitor that was right on the border of the property. Way too close for my comfort, although Ben was delighted. His response was, great, now we know the dogs are good protection or at least a warning system.

      Your 2nd floor insulated apartment sounds rather heavenly right now 🙂 I will have to remind Ben about the pasties de nada….. YUM!

  8. healingpilgrim

    Oh, you had me in stitches Ben & Peta!

    I can totally relate to the march of the ants.. and now I know to where all the lovely kingfishers that once graced the skies above Ubud have gone to.. As much as I love seeing and hearing the geckos that inhabit my house, I can’t say I’ve been up close and personal with those monitor lizards (Flores anyone?) but to see them in your immediate neck of the woods certainly gives me the chills. Yikes!

    May the foes keep their distance and may you cherish your oh-so-colorful menagerie of nature’s friends 😉

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Glad to be providing some humor Amit.

      I love that sentence “May the foes keep their distance and may you cherish your oh-so colorful menagerie of nature’s friends.” Perfect. Hear, hear.

  9. Chantal

    Well, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these charming friends…..the foes just gave me an itchy/scratchy attack….just thinking about sharing any space with them….
    I’ll stick with my 5lb Yorkie devilish baby….

    Keep on writing….love the stories, culture, variety of everything… are very brave, adventurous needless to say…..and I can’t wait to experience this lifestyle….for a 2 weeks vacation… Love you both

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Chantal. It’s a bit more adventurous than you might normally tend toward but you were the first to brave Nicaragua to visit and you were stoic as an adventurer yourself. Come on down, we have a room waiting for you. Insect free of course! Ben says: “Chantal, a part les bettes, tu vas adorer. Depeches toi.”

      Glad you are enjoying the posts so much! Yay. Love you too!! Gros bisous.

  10. carolinehelbig

    I’m with you on the monkeys, birds and rodents…especially monkeys. Whenever we are lucky enough to be in a place with monkeys I get such a kick out of watching their amazing acrobatic skills and funny antics. I am however horribly afraid of snakes and hope you never see one, and if you do, that your mongoose friends are out in full force. I don’t mind little lizards but those things are scary. I’ve been to Komodo and was petrified I was going to be a nice appetizer for one of those dragons (good name). Our son wants to go to Komodo with us, but once is enough for me. Tagging onto Alison’s comment about mosquitos: is malaria a problem on the island?
    Enjoy your friends and keep those foes at a distance.
    Cheers, Caroline

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Caroline for your nice comments. I am still hoping somebody out there will make the argument that they like monitor and/or water lizards and that they are in the friend category. Alas, it might be a lost cause. While in Indonesia, I was in no way inclined to go and see the komodoro dragons ~ now dolphins, or gorillas, orangutans, elephants, zebra… those will all get me making an effort to see them.

      With regards to malaria, happy to report that this September (per Wall Street Journal) Sri Lanka was declared malaria free by the World Health Organization. Sri Lanka became the third and most populous country in Asia to be declared malaria free by the W.H.O. Only the Maldives and Singapore have also been declared free of malaria.


  11. J.D. Riso

    I’m surprised that there are chipmunks in Sri Lanka. I always thought they were a northern species. Their cuteness makes up for the creepy spiders and horrifying monitor lizards. I like to think that I love all creatures, but they – along with komodo dragons – are just diabolical.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Julie thanks for stopping by to read us and to comment.

      So your comment about chipmunks got us researching the topic a bit. It appears that what we though was a chipmunk might actually be one of three species of palm squirrels, which have three stripes down their back which is what caused us to misidentify them. We’ll update the post. But as far as cuteness, there are lots of elephants, just not directly in our neighborhood ~ but a mere 2 hours away from us!


  12. rommel

    I don’t know. With enough distance, then with appreciation for beauty of nature, those foes look like friends to me. 😉 Well, of course, I can’t keep up where exactly those insects are gonna go so they’re exceptions… definitely foe. 😀

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Rommel, on the positive side, Sri Lanka is definitely a natures lovers paradise and so we are really enjoying all the sounds of nature at night and the lush green of the jungle during the day. We are thinking about taking a few days to visit nearby bird and elephant parks soon. Those are definitely in the friends category!!


  13. Johnny Oh

    How sweet that you’re discovering how to co-exist with native critters. Sure sign of settling in, no? Love the langur bob, and those big monitor lizards are handsome too in their own jurassic way. What do you suppose they make of us? Thanks for sharing all this!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      You are right Johnny…it is defintely a sign of mving in,,.Isn’t tge ,angur bob something huh! Ah and finally a vote for the monitor lizards…I like the way you put it “handsome in their own jurassic way”. They probably find us scary too!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. Eileen

    Okay……fun monkeys………….ants and lizards, not so much. You are brave, brave people.
    I’ve lived with copperheads outside my door, so I guess six foot lizards aren’t the worst to encounter, but I’ll pass on that experience. Delightful and informative post.

  15. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

    Copperheads outside your door Eileen? Where was that you lived?

    My father taught me to stamp my feet loudly as we walked down the hillside to school as children, to scare ’em off. Hoping that technique still remains effective, ha!

    Thanks for your complimentary comments.

  16. pmaghamfar

    Oh, no, no, no… There are reasons why we do not travel to certain parts of the world and you just named them all. I could deal with the monkeys and the birds, but anything that creeps, crawls and/or slithers sends me into an immediate panic. We lived just outside of Honolulu for 1 year and the giant flying roaches almost did me in – good thing our apartment was tight. I’ll keep learning from you while keeping my distance. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Hahaha….definitely not reasons for NOT travelling..

      We both love nature and being close to it, (even if it means there are a few ants and insects to contend with.) Sri Lanka is a nature lovers paradise and we are loving being immersed in nature. At night we go to sleep with our windows open, fresh night air and the sounds of nature around us serenade us to sleep ~ crickets, frogs….. And then we wake up to the chirping of a myriad of different birds. (A far cry from the concrete urban jungle of Chicago.)

      I am even getting used to seeing the monitor lizards around ~ freak out over.

      Thanks for stopping by…

  17. twobrownfeet

    I do love animals and yet strangely I like to observe them from a safe distance. I wonder how many of the above would be in my foe list though.:) I’m terrified of bats and maybe, monkeys too. The lizards look gorgeous!

    1. Green Global Trek

      Cheryl, I used to be scared for of bats and then…we lived in Nicaragua and I learnt to not only appreciate them but actually like them. They are so ugly that they are kinda cute and they use echolocation to navigate and forage, often in total darkness. At any rate they are harmless to humans.

      But see, you are a fan of lizards…!

      Thanks fo stopping by and commenting.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Even if legal, I don’t think I would be invited back into our bedroom if I resorted to shooting our foes…. You see, in our household, I am expected to “TALK them out of devouring us and invite them, gently, to go graze elsewhere”… (Ben)

  18. Jet Eliot

    Your life in Sri Lanka will always be interesting. Great post! I think those bats are really cool; and the rest of the friends, foes, and jojos are great too, but it’s a whole different story to live with them….

    1. Green Global Trek

      Thanks Jet. Yup, Ben promised me interesting, and that it definitely is.
      I grew up on a hillside so I am definitely no stranger to living close to all forms of nature. That said, am very glad that the dogs that adopted us have been doing such a great job of scaring off invasive monitor lizards.

  19. Liesbet

    That is quite the collection of animals on your doorstep, or in your “backyard”. Exciting, if not a bit threatening, but definitely interesting. Living in nature in a tropical environment, means having insects and spiders crawling throughout your living and eating space. Just like your home in Nicaragua, probably. When we stayed at a friend’s house for a few nights there, we saw a snake, a scorpion and bats, all in the same dwelling! Bats and geckos are great for mosquitoes, but those dragon-like lizards are a different story… Be safe out there! 🙂

    1. Green Global Trek

      Interesting it certainly is!

      In Nicaragua we lived in the city of Granada. There was definitely more threat of human ‘break ins’ than dragon-like lizards. (Our dogs there slept soundly through a break in when we first arrived…. ) Bats were an almost constant presence.
      Trips to Ometeppe island and the coast yielded an assortment of insect life ~ I got stung by a scorpion once and there were plenty of spiders and jojos.

      I also got a spider bite in L.A once though!

      Looking forward to more trips to visit our nearby elephant friends!


  20. lisadorenfest

    Amazing array of wildlife. Some that I’ve never even heard of. I especially like the red-wattled lapwings, the kingfishers, the purple-faced langur, and the mongooses (or is mongeese :-). We are seriously starting to plan a sailing trip to Sri Lanka in January of 2018 and are looking forward to seeing you!

    1. Green Global Trek

      And this is without considering the blue whales, spinning dolphins and elephants within two hours! But within our immediate vicinity my favorites are the same as yours. Mongooses is the most used plural form.

      That’s great you are planning a trip here!!! Where would you be sailing from and how long will it take to get here? I am so in awe of your adventurousness. Look forward to it!


  21. Sue Slaght

    That is quite the animal gathering at your doorstep or in some cases in your home! I can se myself doing a great deal of squealing, both joyful and ‘leaping out of my skin’. Here’s hoping for fewer encounters with the foes and more with your friends! BTW I admire your adventurous spirit more and more with each passing post here. Like Lexie I’m not sure I could do it but bravo to the two of you!

    1. Green Global Trek

      Ha ha thanks Sue. That’s a pretty good descriptor of my reactions too. I am actually now non reactive to moniter lizards ~ they have become the new ‘normal’, especially compared with the monster water one we almost ran into.

      Growing up on a hillside with natural all around (in South Africa) was a precusor to being adventurous!


  22. Frank

    Great post, lots of fun.
    It’s always a surprise what you come across when new somewhere. When we stayed in Nong Khai (northern Thailand) we once had a large Tokay (a sort of gecko) that was trying t get into the apartment. Nothing close to the lizard you encountered but they have a mean bite and you don’t want that crawling in your bed. In Cape Town one night we saw a HUGE spider (I’m told it was a rain spider) on the glass door of our balcony. Spanky freaked. I had never heard of them before.
    So you never know what new creature you’ll come across…
    Those bats quite something! Actually, I think Spanky fears monkeys the most, she really has a phobia about them.
    We haven’t spent enough time in SE and South Asia but I can imagine what a discovery all the animals and bugs are for you.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Ahhh Frank you do really get us!!! We enjoyed reading about your own encounters along your travels… I am adjusting slowly, but large spiders INSIDE the house, still freak me out. Big time.


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