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Reptiles(Lizards and Turtles) Of The Margallah Hills National Park

Introduction to Reptiles

Reptiles originated around 320–310 million years ago in the steaming swamps of the late Carboniferous period, having evolved from advanced reptile-like amphibians that became increasingly adapted to life on dry land. There are many extinct groups of reptiles, including dinosaurs. Modern reptiles inhabit every continent with the exception of Antarctica. All reptiles exhibit some form of cold-bloodedness.

Living Sub-groups of Reptiles

The three living subgroups of reptiles are

Crocodiles and alligators – 25 species
Snakes and lizards – over 9000 species
Turtles and tortoises – about 330 species

Lizards

Most lizards are insectivorous, and many primarily eat other lizards. Most lizards are active during the day. Their vision is typically adapted to daylight conditions. They have color vision and greater visual depth perception in comparison to amphibians and most mammals. Lizards tend to protect themselves from predators through camouflage. The Margallah Hills National Park is home to about 32 species of reptiles, these include thirteen species of lizards, and three species of turtles.

Yellow-bellied House Gecko

Hemidactylus flaviviridis

It is the most common and most familiar gecko seen in houses and buildings. It is an excellent climber, spending most of its time clinging to ceilings and walls. It spends the day hiding and comes out at night to feed on insects that are attracted to lights.

Spotted Indian House Gecko

Hemidactylus brookii

This gecko is commonly found under the bark of trees, in and under logs and in piles of dead branches and other rubbish. It is the most common gecko in the countryside and is known to forage after sunset. As with the majority of geckos, it lays two eggs at a time.

Asian Garden Lizard

Calotes versicolor farooqi

This lizard basically inhabits forests and areas with trees and shrubs. It abounds in roadside trees of Sheesham, Dalbergia sisso and Keekar Acacia species. It falls prey to domestic cats, house crows, kestrels, kingfishers and snakes. This lizard mainly feeds on tree insects, small birds, frogs and small mammals. It has the remarkable ability to change its body colour to camouflage itself, and sometimes become immobile to deceive its predators.

Turtles

Turtles are characterized by a special bony shell or carapace developed from their ribs that acts as a shield making it difficult for predators to crush the shell between their jaws. The earliest known turtles date back 220 million years— making turtles one of the oldest reptile groups. Of the many species alive today, some are highly endangered. Most turtles are herbivores, feeding on grass, weeds and leafy greens. They are generally reclusive animals. They lay eggs, like other reptiles, which are slightly soft and leathery.

Brown Roofed Turtle

Pangshura smithii

This omnivorous turtle is plentiful in rivers of the upper and lower Indus Valley and frequents muddy ditches, lakes, and marshes with vegetation on the banks. It adapts to wide variations in environments and is often found in the sewer systems of metropolitan cities. It hibernates in the  winter.

Indian Flap-shell Turtle

Lissemys punctata

This turtle is plentiful in the riparian system of the upper and lower Indus Valley. Individuals vary in temperament. When disturbed, some react by withdrawing their limbs and neck into the shell, while others hiss loudly and lunge forward with an open mouth, ready to bite, and expel foul-smelling secretions. The diet of this species includes adult frogs, tadpoles, fish and snails

Indian Soft-shell Turtle

Nilssonia gangetica

This huge soft-shell turtle inhabits rivers, large canals, and large permanent ponds where it remains buried in the bottom gravel. It is extremely aggressive, quickly extending its neck to give a very painful bite when disturbed. This is an omnivorous species and is a notorious carrion eater. It is cannibalistic and even attacks turtles of its own species.

Trees Of The Margallah Hills National Park

Few Words About The Trees Of Margalla Hills National Park

Trees are to land as clothes to humans: they cover and protect the earth. Their canopies, as varied as the trees, provide shade in summer and allow birds to roost and breed. They flower at different times of the year adding colour to the environment. Trees soften the impact of rain as it falls on the earth and their roots save the land from erosion. Some trees shed their leaves to protect the grasses from winter frost and some keep their leaves helping the snow to stay longer and help the earth recharge its aquifers. Islamabad is one of a handful of capital cities of the world that has a national park at its doorstep. The twelve most common trees of this area are presented in this poster. All these trees can be easily seen by the visitors. They are all native to the soil except the mango tree, which is a visitor from the Southern Punjab and Sindh and was planted here in the orchards many years ago.

Types Of Trees Found In Margalla Hills National Park

Aam Or Mango

Mangifera indica

It is known as the king of all fruits. Its leaves form a beautiful dark green canopy. These turn from orange-pink on the young tree to dark evergreen leaves as it matures. Each flower is small and has a mild sweet odor. The fruit takes from three to six months to ripen. Due to winter ground frost, Islamabad is unsuitable for this fruit, but the Saidpur village, because of its warmer temperature in the past, had planted mango orchards about half a century ago. The now-mature trees and can be seen at the far end of the forest nursery opposite the Visitor Information Center.

Kachnar

Bauhinia variegate

It is one of the fairytale trees in the Park. Found abundantly in the foothills, many young trees can be seen along the trail leading to the stream from the VIC. It is at its best in spring when the flowers explode in color and cover the whole tree. Hardly any leaves are visible at this time. Young flower buds are picked and sold in the local market as a vegetable that is usually cooked with mincemeat. These plants are easily recognized by the peculiar shape of their leaves, each constituting of two identical halves, folded at the midrib. The leaves form a very potent fodder. These are generally lopped for cattle.

Kahjoor Or Date Palm

Phoenix dactylifera

This signature tree of the desert is surprisingly found in the Park in small but striking numbers. It is extensively cultivated for its edible fruit known as a date. The Palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants. The Date Palms in the Park seem to be mostly male and have rudimentary or unfertilized fruit which is not edible. They are scattered in small numbers in the lower plains of the Park but a few species also grow at higher elevations. Seeds may have been spread by travelers who threw them away after eating the fruit. There are fine specimens present in the campsite close to the Visitor Information Center.

Ber

Zizyphus jujuba

It was one of the standard trees of Islamabad surroundings, but is now out of favor. It is a medium to large tree. The smaller bush variety grows at the foothills of the Park. The fruit, a favorite with locals, can be eaten off the tree when red and ripe and is also sun dried and sold in the local market. Theleaves and young shoots are useful as fodder and the wood is used as fuel.

Chir or Pine

Pinux ruxburghii

It is the queen of the Park. Pine trees are evergreen and resinous and form the silhouette of the park’s skyline. Pine trees have a thin, flaking bark. They are mostly monoecious, having the male and female cones on the same tree. The seeds are mostly small and winged, and are wind-dispersed. At maturity, the cones usually open to release the seeds. Pine trees are present on the upper reaches of the Darra Jangla valley where the trail ends at the road. Pines would not be normally present at the elevation of the town but have been extensively planted along the main  Margalla road.

Dhaman

Grewia optiva

It is large leafy tree. Its foliage is highly prized as lactaceous feed for cattle. Farmers never allow the leaves of this tree to fall naturally. Instead, they lop the tree slowly and steadily. Dhaman flowers during April-May. The fruits of Dhaman, fleshy drupe, are dark green when raw and pinkish dark when ripe, with scattered stiff white hair. Smaller branches are used as firewood.

Common Birds Of Margallah Hills National Park

Resident Birds

These birds remain in Margallah Hills National Park throughout the year. They sing and breed in spring. As their number increases the young birds disperse for food within the area and even disperse to new areas. The young birds are preyed upon by predators in the air as well as on ground. The smarter ones among these survive the hazards of nature to sing and breed in spring. Best time to see these beauties is soon after sunrise and little before sunset.

  • Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
  • Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)
  • Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosa)
  • Indian Tree Pie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)

Flagship Species

  • Small Minivet (Pericrocotus cinnamomeus)
  • Blue-throated Barbet (Megalaima asiatica)
  • Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
  • Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrogenys)

Migratory Birds

Four types of migratory birds visit Margallah Hills National Park (MHNP): a). Winter visitors from northern latitudes i.e. from northern Asia. b). Winter visitors from higher altitudes i.e. from Himalayan heights. c). Summer visitors from south i.e. the birds that breed and spend summer in MHNP, after that they migrate back. d). Passage migrants. These birds stop for short duration in autumn in MHNP while migrating from north to south or from Himalayan heights to lower heights or plains. These again pass through MHNP while migrating back in spring and stop again for short duration.

a) Winter Visitors From Northern Latitudes

  • Eurasian Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter nisus)
  • Northern Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

b) Winter Visitors From Himalayan Heights

  • Black crested-tit (Luscinia brunnea)
  • Yellow-rumped Leaf Warbler (Parus rufonuchalis)
  • Indian Blue Robin or Chat (Phylloscopus ororegulus)

c) Summer Breeders

  • Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
  • Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

d) Passage Migrants

  • Pine Bunting (Umberiza leucocephals)

Amphibians Of The Margallah Hills National Park

Evolution Of Amphibians

The word ‘Amphibian‘ is derived from the Ancient Greek term amphíbios which means ‘both kinds of life’. Amphibians can live on both land and water, and primarily inhabit damp ground in the most diverse parts of the world. The first major groups of amphibians developed in the Devonian period, around 370 million years ago. Amphibians were the first vertebrates (i.e. they have a backbone) to develop paired limbs capable of movement on dry land, the first to have a middle ear and to have a sensory organ, localized on the palate in the mouth. They were the first animals in which the eyes were protected by eyelids. Today more than twenty five hundred species of amphibians are known.

Indian Cricket Frog

Fejervarya limnocharis

These little frogs frequent shallow marshes, flooded fields, and damp grassland near canals and ditches. When disturbed, they leap into the water and start swimming. They are mostly nocturnal during the cool or very dry months but may occasionally be found in piles of decaying vegetation or under logs and rubbish.

Bull Frog or Tiger Frog

Hoplobatrachus tigerinus

This frog always lives near water, in weed-choked ditches, marshes, and tanks; often sitting on the banks under bushes; and is most common in habitats modified by man. During the monsoon season it is spread over flooded lowlands. It feeds on aquatic insects, snails and small frogs from its own species.

Murree Frog

Nanorana vicina

These frogs are largely aquatic, at least during the daytime. During the breeding season, the males have the thighs and throat suffused with a red color. It is endemic to Murree and its surrounding areas including the Margalla Hills National Park

Skittering Frog

Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis

This species tolerates considerable organic pollution and is most common in habitats modified by man. It inhabits clear rocky streams, muddy swamps, and reservoirs. Skittering frogs mainly prey on aquatic insects. They also feed on tadpoles of their own species. Their usual call is “crrreek, crrreek.” Adults can subsist for months in the water, spending much of their time floating on the surface. When alarmed, they skitter (move actively) across the surface of water before diving and hiding in the bottom of the pond.

Marbled Balloon Frog

Uperodon systoma

This frog is known to be an excellent burrower and comes to the surface only during monsoon. It is a weak swimmer and usually floats in water. Moist soil is indispensable for this frog. During dry months, it retreats into the moist vicinity of termite nests, termites being its main food. It has been known to have lived for thirteen months without food. The breeding season of this frog extends from May to July, during monsoon rains. The call of the male is like a bleating goat; its vocal sac is distended so enormously that it looks like a float.

Marbled Toad or Indus Valley Toad

Duttaphrynus stomaticus

These toads bury in burrows in wet soil or sand, and remain active from March to October over most of Pakistan. Adults are often seen floating in ponds and pools, and during the monsoon season they often enter houses. They are generally nocturnal, spending the day in dark, damp holes or crevices apparently with a strong attachment, as they have been found returning to the same spot on successive days after nightly feeding forays. They are usually solitary, but in captivity a group may rest in a jumbled pile.

Butterflies of The Margallah Hills National Park

Few Words About Buterflies

Butterflies play mainly three roles in the ecosystem. They lay a large number of eggs, so a
large number of caterpillars or larvae hatch out. These voraciously eat leaves throughout the
day and night causing considerable damages to green plants. These larvae are pulpy and are
picked by birds to feed their nestlings. After larval stage they become pupae and then these
transform to beautiful butterflies. These then suck juice from various flowers, thus they help
in cross-pollination. Margalla Hills National Park has large variety of butterflies. The common
ones are illustrated here

Some Common Types Of Butterflies The
Margalla Hills National Park

  • Common Leopard
  • Mottled Emigrant
  • Lemon Emigrant
  • Common Emigrant
  • Large Cabbage White
  • Pioneer (Male)
  • Pioneer (Female)
  • Common Grass Yellow
  • Common Brimstone
  • Plain Tiger
  • Common Tiger
  • Common Mormon
  • Common Windmill

Flowers Of Margallah Hills National Park

Types And Uses Of Flowers Of The Margalla Hills National Park

Yellow-flowered Strawberry

Scientific name: Duchesnea indica

Perenial prosrate herb. Leaves in a group of 3 Flowers
single, 5-lobed. Fruit red strawberry like, up to 1 cm long.
Flowers from March – May.
Uses: medicinal

Indian Sorrel / Khatti booti

Scientific name: Oxalis cornculata

Annual or perennial creeping herb 5-10 cm tall. Leaves in
group of 3, heart-shaped. Flowers 5-lobed. Fruit capsular.
Flowers from March – December.
Uses: medicinal, leaves are eaten both raw and cooked.

Dodak

Scientific name: Convolvulus prostatus

Prostrate perennial herb with a woody base
and wavy branches. Leaves stalkless, narrow
and densely hairy.
Flowers from March – April.

Invasive Plant Species Of The Margallah Hills National Park

Some Common Species

Lantana

Scientific name: Lantana camara Local name: Panch Phulli

Lantana originates from Tropical America. About 3 m tall, this is an evergreen shrub with pink and yellow, occasionally orange flowers. It competes aggressively with local plants on the south-facing slopes of the Margallahs where it has overtaken native vegetation along stream beds, roads, croplands and even forest areas and pastures. Although its seeds are edible the leaves are toxic to livestock. Lantana contains an aromatic chemical which causes them to burn even when green.

Common Cocklebur

Scientific name: Xanthium strumarium
Local name: Kandiari

Cockelbur originates from North America. Reaching about 1.5m this shrub regenerates annually, flowering from July to October. The fruit are oval- shaped burs covered with hooked spikes that enable them to stick to the coats of animals or clothes of human beings. It is buoyant and floats down-stream to colonise new areas, spreading rapidly on a wide range of disturbed soils along roadsides and eroded stream beds. Both seeds and seedlings are toxic to livestock.

Carrot Grass

Scientific name: Parthenium hysterophrus
Local name: Gandi Booti

This weed comes from Central America. The plants, which regenerate each year, are up to a a metre tall, produce clusters of small white, disc-like flowers. It spreads through seeds and is a highly invasive ruderal plant in the Margallahs where it colonises disturbed areas in overgrazed rangeland, alongside roads, trails and tracks. All parts of this plant are plant are poisonous and may cause skin allergies and respiratory problems in humans and their livestock.

Invasive Alien
Species

Paper Mulberry

Scientific name: Parthenium hysterophrus
Local name: Gandi Booti

This weed comes from Central America. The plants, which regenerate each year, are up to a a metre tall, produce clusters of small white, disc-like flowers. It spreads through seeds and is a highly invasive ruderal plant in the Margallahs where it colonises disturbed areas in overgrazed rangeland, alongside roads, trails and tracks. All parts of this plant are plant are poisonous and may cause skin allergies and respiratory problems in humans and their livestock.

Marijuana

Scientific name: Broussonetia papyrifera
Local name: Valaitee toot

The land that is Islamabad today was just agricultural fields 40 years ago, at that time the city managers in a desire to green the new city on a fast track decided to import this fast growing broad leafed tree from China. It grows fast and once taken root can grow over a meter in a good monsoon. It reaches a maximum height of about 12 m and, like all deciduous trees, it loses its leaves in winter. It reproduces rapidly from seeds or roots and has spread along the lower south-facing slopes and lowland regions of the Margallahs. 

Mammals Of The Margallah Hills National Park

Jungle Cat

Felis chaus

This feline lives and hunts singly, and usually comes out in the late afternoon. It can chase its prey at high speed and can climb trees easily. It usually feeds on rodents and birds, but can also live off insects, reptiles, and small amphibians.

Small Indian Civet

Viverricula Indica

This is a solitary animal that hunts in the late evenings or before dawn. It is omnivorous and digs for insects, rodents and lizards. It can, however, also survive on fruit, berries, starchy roots. Civets can climb trees in search of fruit and bird nests.

Flying Fox

Pteropus gigante

These large fruit‐eating bats roost in big colonies in tall deciduous trees in the summer and in evergreen trees in the winter. They routinely fly up to 20 miles in search of fruiting trees. They also feed on the pollen and nectar of night‐scented flowers, such as those of mango trees, and in the process they help pollinate these trees.

Yellow Throated Marten

Martes flavigula

This medium‐sized mammal is more agile than a monkey and can easily run up and down trees or along branches. It hunts during the day, looking for invertebrates’ and birds’ nest in trees, fallen logs, or cracks in rocks. It likes to eat all kinds of wild berries, cultivated fruit, and is attracted to wild bee hives. 

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