Tuesday 28 March 2023

The Naming of the Hong Kong Newt: The Key Players

I photographed this male Hong Kong Newt in 1966 in the old Northcote
Science Building of the University of Hong Kong

In the literature the Hong Kong Newt is described thus: Paramesotriton hongkongensis (Myers & Leviton 1962). Behind that simple label is the story of those not only who described the species but also of those who collected and sent the animals from Hong Kong to Stanford University in California. Nearly all the people involved have appeared in my previous articles but until last week I had not realised that I had already related some of the events that led to the Hong Kong Newt being described as a separate species.

Pre 1962: the species it was then thought to be

Before 1962 the only species of newt or salamander found in Hong Kong was lumped into Cynops chinensis originally described by John Edward Gray FRS (1800-1875) of the British Museum (Natural History) in London. The description was published in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1859 and his specimens were obtained by a Mr Fortune who brought it in a bottle along with ‘some Fishes and a Leech, collected from a river on the north-east coast of China, inland from Ningpo’. The fishes, incidentally, turned out to be domestic goldfish (the description of the tail and the large upturned eyes fits the Celestial variety). Gray called them ‘a very peculiar monstrosity’—words I cannot better. Were they really found in the same stream as the newt? Or were they all from a stream in a goldfish farm?

That species of newt was redescribed by several taxonomists over the years but all the names given were eventually regarded as synonyms of that chosen by Gray for the newt from ‘inland from Ningpo’. I shall return to Mr. Fortune in another article. I shall write it after a cup of tea and therein lies a clue.

Geoffrey Herklots in 1930s Hong Kong was keen to identify the local fauna. He sent amphibians to Alice Boring in Beijing, or what was then Peiping to most Americans and Peking to most Brits, over 1200 miles to the north, where she was collecting and identifying amphibians of northern China.  She identified the newts that  Herklots sent as Triturus sinensis (a name that was a synonym of Gray’s C. chinensis and therefore invalid). In her paper published in The Hong Kong Naturalist in 1934, Herklots was forced to add a note since Boring suggested it might have been introduced. Herklots had sent her 27 preserved specimens from ditches in Quarry Bay and he pointed out that the newt was common and widespread throughout Hong Kong and adjacent areas of Guandong (Kwangtung, Canton) province and, therefore, clearly native.

Myers and Leviton began their paper with:

The newt occurring on Hong Kong Island and a small part of the nearby mainland (chiefly the hills of the Kowloon area has traditionally been identified with the newt inhabiting the Ningpo region of east-central China. The latter was named by Gray (1859) as Cynops chinensis. The two forms were separated subspecifically by Herre (1939), chiefly on osteological characters, but he erred in renaming the northern form, leaving the Hong Kong population nameless.

As far as I can make out (I have not seen the original paper) that Herr Herre (for there are two in the story) named the northern form T. sinensis boringi, possibly because a student of hers had found newts identified as this species in Chekiang (Zhejiang) province which would be expected since Mr Fortune had found Gray’s type specimen in the north of that province near Ningpo (Ningbo).

Karl Wolfgang Herre (1902-1997) attracts little attention these days. The paper Myers and Leviton referred to was a survey of Asian and North American urodeles. For his PhD awarded in 1932 he worked on the subspecies of Triturus cristatus, the Great Crested Newt of Europe. He later worked at the University of Halle and, part-time, at the Natural History Museum in Brunswick. He continued to work on urodeles for most of his life including the endocrine control of metamorphosis and fossil salamanders. A biography on Wikipedia in German shows that he was a member of the Sturmabteilung—the S.A. ‘Brownshirts’—and of the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund, NSLB—the National Socialist Teachers League—from 1934 and of the Nazi Party itself from 1937. It was during this time that he collaborated with other herpetologists in the study of newts and salamanders, including Wilhelm Georg Wolterstorff (1864–1943), a major player in research on newts and salamanders and in promoting amateur herpetology through the keeping of live animals and in linking amateurs with professional museum scientists. In 1936 Herre was co-author of a paper with Louis Lantz, the French ‘amateur’ working in Manchester. The Second World War would see the co-authors on very different sides with Lantz being the representative of the Free French Forces. Postwar we learn, ‘After military service and captivity’, Herre went to Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel ‘in the late summer of 1945’. He became a nutritionist and deputy director of the Zoological Institute and Museum and the Museum of Ethnology. In 1947 he was appointed director of a new institute for domestic animals. There he worked on domestication, particularly of dogs.

1962. The ‘new’species

The source of the material Myers and Leviton used to erect a new species is very interesting since it involved two international networks one, prewar, in fisheries research and the other, postwar, of those interested in aquarium fish. The type specimen—the holotype—for the new species was collected by Geoffrey Herklots from a stream on the Peak of Hong Kong Island. It was given to Dr Albert William Christian Theodore Herre (1868-1962) (the other Herr Herre) who from 1928 until 1946 was Curator of Zoology at Stanford University’s Natural History Museum. Before that he had been Chief of Fisheries with the Bureau of Science in the Philippines. The date given for the addition of three other specimens added to Stanford’s collection and designated as paratypes was 1941. The man who gave the specimens to this Herre was Herklots’s close colleague S.Y. Lin (Lin Shu-Yen) (1903-1974); they co-authored a book, Common Food Fishes of Hong Kong, in 1940. Lin was the man running fisheries research in 1930s Hong Kong along with Herklots who was in charge of the biology department at the University of Hong Kong. Lin was then or became Superintendent of Fisheries Research for the Hong Kong Government. He was later recruited by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to work in Washington DC as an expert in fresh-water fisheries and pond-fish culture. After that he worked in Taiwan in fisheries research.

What we do not know is why Lin passed specimens of the Hong Kong Newt to Herre, presumably in 1941 just before the Japanese invasion and occupation. Was Herklots keen to get another opinion as to their identity? Or was the request passed to Hong Kong from Stanford as its interests in systematics and taxonomy and its museum expanded? Was Herre visiting Hong Kong (which he had done in the 1920s) or were the specimens sent by post? There may be answers lying in archives.

The history of the live specimens sent to Stanford in the 1950s is also interesting. The paper states of one of the designated paratypes:

U 20280, female, Kowloon Mountains*, collected in January 1952, by J. D. Romer and sent alive to the senior author by Mme. Natasha de [sic] Breuil.

John Romer (1920-1982) and Natasha du Breuil (ca 1891-1966) have featured prominently in earlier articles I have written, as has George Sprague Myers (1905-1985) at Stanford.

Myers had a lifelong interest in aquaria and his professional activities in ichthyology and herpetology grew from and remained intertwined with others who kept, imported and bred fishes for the home aquarium. In that respect he worked on The Aquarium with William T. Innes and was scientific editor for the latter’s famous book, Exotic Aquarium Fishes. He also edited The Aquarium Journal.

Contact between Myers and Natasha du Breuil would have been via a worldwide correspondence group established by Gene Wolfsheimer, Aquarists' Internationale. Thanks to the activities of that group we have more information on when live Hong Kong newts were sent to Myers. 

In the special Coronation Issue (June-July 1953) of Water Life magazine it was reported that Mme. du Breuil had 'achieved a successful shipment of live newts by air to Dr G Myers (U.S.A.). It is believed that this species of newt...has rarely been imported alive into the United States. The newts for the special shipment were collected locally by Mr Romer…'

Just as with the earlier passage of specimens from Herklots via Lin to Herre at Stanford, we do not know who instigated the transport of live specimens from Romer via Natasha du Breuil to Myers who worked alongside Herre at Stanford. Were the Stanford taxonomists looking for more specimens in order to work on this newt or was John Romer looking for some expert taxonomist to take a fresh look at the identity of the Hong Kong newt?

Whatever the motivation, it took ten years for the paper by Myers and Alan Edward Leviton (whose major interest was in herpetology and is now Curator of Herpetology Emeritus at the California Academy of Sciences). It is clear from the description of the new species that the live specimens sent by Natasha du Breuil were of great value. Because the coloration of preserved amphibians is changed so markedly it is difficult if not impossible to include colour in formal descriptions of dead material. Myers and Levition did include such information since Myers, at least, had seen and recorded what the live newts look like.

Telling t’other from which

Myers and Leviton compared the specimens of Hong Kong newts with Gray’s Cynops chinensis (now Paramesotriton chinensis) which is kept at the Natural History Museum in London. Gray’s account suggests Mr Fortune’s bottle contained just one individual. However, the Museum’s records show there were two and since Gray did not indicate which was the ‘type’ (holotype) they are regarded formally as syntypes, i.e. one of several specimens in a series of equal rank used to describe the new species where the author has not designated a single holotype. Myers and Leviton thanked Alice ‘Bunty’ Georgie Cruikshank Grandison (1927-2014) who was curator in charge of amphibians and reptiles at the Museum. It appears that she sent one of the two from Mr Fortune’s bottle to Stanford.

Myers and Leviton originally placed the Hong Kong Newt in the genus Trituroides. All what have come to be known as the Asian Warty Newts have more recently been placed in the genus Paramesotriton.

This is how they distinguished hongkongensis from chinensis:

Differs from the more northerly T. chinensis (Gray) in the much smoother, less tuberculated (versus very rough, strongly warty) skin of the head and trunk; shorter and less divergent patches of parasphenoid teeth; a broader head and interorbital region; the presence of a distinct median parietal ridge; the presence of large (versus very small) spots (red in life) on the gular region; and the presence of a continuous light (red) streak (versus an interrupted one along the inferior midline of the basal part of the tail; and much stronger dorsolateral ridges.

Apart from a table of basic measurements comparing seven Hong Kong Newts with the syntype of chinensis (no differences are apparent) the differentiation was typical of the practice of taxonomy. The comparison is purely qualitative with no attempt at quantification. Presented with a specimen of either species how would an observer know whether or not the skin was smoother or less tuberculated or the head broader?

From Myers & Leviton 1962
The bottom specimen is that collected by Mr Fortune and described by Gray

Is the Hong Kong Newt really a separate species?

The naming of the Hong Kong Newt as Trituroides hongkongensis and now Paramesotriton hongkongensis as a separate species endemic to the territory of Hong Kong and the immediately adjacent areas of Guandong province always seemed to me somewhat anomalous. Why should that tiny bit of China have a distinctive species as the only urodele in its native fauna? Could it be, for example, that there were/are undiscovered populations between Hong Kong and Ningbo and that Gray’s chinensis and hongkongensis are the two ends of a cline of one species?

As far as I understand what has happened in more recent years the Hong Kong Newt was lumped back into Paramesotriton chinensis around 1990 but then split off again more recently. At present, and supported by limited evidence from mitochondrial DNA, the Hong Kong Newt still stands as the species Paramesotriton hongkongensis. An account can be found on AmphibiaWeb here.

*Old Hong Kong residents will recognise this stated location as a problem. Kowloon Mountain (no plural) or Kowloon Peak (Fei Ngo Shan) was a specific location best described as north-east of the old Kai Tak Airport. I strongly suspect that the location given, Kowloon Mountains, should be without that final s.  The mountains in mainland Hong Kong lie to in the New Territories, north of Kowloon. I am pretty sure John Romer would not have used Kowloon Mountains for a location other than Kowloon Peak. Indeed he refers to Kowloon Peak as a location for the species in his 1951 paper.

Böhme W. 1998. In memoriam Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolf Herre (1909-1997) - ein Zoologe mit bedeutendem amphibienkundlichen Werkanteil. Salamandra 31, 1-6.

Gray JE. 1859. Descriptions of new species of salamanders from China and Siam. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1859, 229-230, plate 19.

Herre W. 1939. Studien an asiatischen und nordamerikanischen Salamandriden. Abhandlungen und Berichte aus dem Museum für Natur- und Heimatkunde und dem Naturwissenschaftlichen Verein in Magdeburg 7, 79-98.

Myers GS, Leviton AE. 1962. The Hong Kong Newt described as a new species. Occasional Papers of the Division of Systematic Biology of Stanford University No 10, 1-4.

Romer JD. 1951. Observations on the habits and life-history of the Chinese Newt, Cynops chinensis Gray. Copeia 1951, 213-219.

Monday 20 March 2023

Blue-throated Barbet : a colour plate from 1961

In the days when colour printing was extremely expensive, the Avicultural Society had special appeals for funds to support the appearance in Avicultural Magazine of the occasional colour plate. A well-known bird artist was then commissioned. Although the whole run of the Society’s magazines can be found online, the plates rarely see the light of day. Therefore I decided to show one, now and again, on this site. This is the 5th in the series. 
– – – – – – – – – –

This plate illustrates an article by the artist, David Morrison Reid Henry (1919-1977), writing from Woodford Green in Essex.

The Blue-throated Barbet (Psilopogon asiaticus) is found at heights from 200 to 2000 metres. It occurs from northern Pakistan and India through Nepal and Bhutan to Burma and China then south into Thailand, Laos and northern Vietnam. We have seen this bird in the wild in Assam and in Bhutan.

The Asian Barbets (family Megalaimidae) are mainly forest-dwelling birds. They eat fruit, especially figs, invertebrates and any small lizard that may be spotted.

Avicultural Magazine 67, 1961

Friday 17 March 2023

Hong Kong: Black-crowned Night Herons - huge flock in Kowloon Park

AJP's lunch in Kowloon Park was interrupted this week by the appearance of a flock of around 200 Black-Crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax). In Hong Kong they occur as residents, migrants and winter visitors. These were probably migrating north to breed. They nest and roost (mainly by day) in colonies.

Enlarged from the iPhone photograph, the black crown and the plumes that develop in the
breeding season can be seen

Tuesday 14 March 2023

The Newt That Never Was. John Romer turns detective in 1970s Hong Kong

Shortly before he retired as head of pest control for the Hong Kong Government in April 1980 and returned to UK, John Romer became involved in a controversy over the discovery and description of a ‘new’ species of newt allegedly from just north of Hong Kong’s border with China. He, with Jean-Paul Risch of the natural history museum in Paris published a paper on their findings in 1980 which, in short, demolished that claim.

Risch seems to have unearthed the story from the European end. An animal dealer in Hong Kong advertised in a West German magazine in 1975, thereafter shipping newts to dealers in that country. One such customer who was expecting to receive the Hong Kong Newt, Paramesotriton hongkongensis, realised that the animals he had received were not of that species. Therefore he sent them to Konrad Klemmer of the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt for identification. Klemmer then sent the newts to Günther Erich Freytag (1918-1989) in East Berlin. Freytag with H-J Eberhardt described them as a new species, Cynops shataukokensis, the specific name given for the site of their alleged collection, in the West German publication Salamandra of December 1977. 

In the 20th century and until comparatively recently, the highly aquatic Japanese Fire-bellied Newt was exported in large numbers for both amateur herpetologists and pet keepers. With import bans imposed largely because of the spread of the disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, the numbers have decreased markedly. However, IUCN now has the species as ‘Near Threatened’. The Hong Kong Newt was sold locally by street hawkers alongside goldfish. It has protected status but is also classified as ‘Near Threatened’. At the right time of year it can easily be spotted in the streams.

In their paper Risch and Romer noted:

Freytag and Eberhardt (1978) do not mention all of these details, yet it is extremely important to know that the newts in question were purchased from an animal dealer.

In December 1975 Jean-Paul Risch was sold two kinds of newts by a different dealer in West Germany. One was definitely the Japanese Fire-bellied Newt, Cynops pyrrhogaster. The other, sold as Paramesotriton hongkongensis, proved not to be that species but another local form of C. pyrrhogaster. That German dealer had clearly ordered Hong Kong Newts from the Hong Kong dealer but had instead received Japanese Fire-bellied Newts of two different morphs or geographical variants instead. C. pyrrhogaster is now known to comprise several lineages or clades highly variable in coloration and morphology. Some of those bought by the first purchaser, a Mr K Haker, were then compared—and found to be identical—with those bought by Risch.

Haker contacted the dealer in Hong Kong who told him they had been caught at Sha Tau Kok, in Chinese territory near Hong Kong. Haker passed this information to Risch as well as via Klemmer to Freytag. And that is where John Romer comes into the story.

It seemed to Romer highly unlikely that the ‘new’ newts had been collected in the vicinity of Sha Tau Kok. In conversations with the dealer, Mr Wong, he first realised that the dealer regarded ‘Sha Tau Kok’ as a much wider area than the Hong Kong village that approaches and then straddles the border. Wong firmly believed only one species occurred there, P. hongkongensis. He also emphasized that he could clearly recognise the smaller Japanese Fire-bellied Newt. He had imported newts from Japan to re-export and exported those with newts from Hong Kong and the immediately adjacent areas of China. Romer also tracked down the man,  Mr Choi, who actually supplied the newts caught at ‘Sha Tau Kok’.

My guess is that the Hong Kong Newts newts were caught on the Chinese side of the border and entered Hong Kong at Sha Tau Kok, the site of a large egretry. That village was in a border area open only to local residents. However there was cross border traffic of people working the fields and bearing goods. Is that how Mr Choi obtained them?

Risch and Romer concluded:

We consider there are sufficient arguments that the newts collected by Choi at ‘Sha Tau Kok’ were really P. hongkongensis, that there are no fire-bellied newts of the genus Cynops in this area, that such newts sold to Germany had been imported to Hong Kong from Japan before reexportation, and that there has been confusion between Wong and Haker concerning their origin. Animal importation to Hong Kong from Japan is not unusual and has also been reported for chelonians.

Following our investigations it is not difficult to understand how the confusion arose, and in our view it is a dangerous practice to assign locality to specimens purchased from animal dealers. The danger is at its greatest when animals are imported from abroad from dealers who also import animals for re-export.

In other words, Mr Wong had imported two different morphs of the Japanese Newt and one of these had been confused somewhere along the line with the Hong Kong Newt. I also suspect that the dealers in West Germany had been the victims of the oldest exporters' trick in the book. If the species ordered is not available (and the Hong Kong Newt was never available on the market all year round) then send a substitute.

Further evidence that ‘Cynops shataukokensis’ was in fact Cynops pyrrhogaster came from electrophoresis; the protein pattern matched that of the ‘Hiroshima’ form of C. pyrrhogaster. Analysis of the morphometric data published by Freytag  and Eberhardt also indicated that what they had (re)described was in fact C. pyrrhogaster. Risch and Romer were also miffed about lack of access to the type specimens sent to Freytrag:

Unfortunately, we have not been able so far to make a thorough morphological analysis on the basis of collection material as the senior author has been unable to obtain the holotype of C. shataukokensis on loan from the Senckenberg Museum for examination and comparison with other Cynops samples.

The conclusion is clear. The existence of ‘Cynops shataukokensis’, its origins and the methods of its proposers had been shot down in flames. It really is the newt that never was.

…and that was the last scientific paper published by John Romer on the fauna of Hong Kong before his death on 15 March 1982.

Risch J-P, Romer JD. 1980. Origin and taxonomic status of the salamander Cynops shataukokensis. Journal of Herpetology 14, 337-341.

Sunday 12 March 2023

Ceylon or Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot : a colour plate from 1962

In the days when colour printing was extremely expensive, the Avicultural Society had special appeals for funds to support the appearance in Avicultural Magazine of the occasional colour plate. A well-known bird artist was then commissioned. Although the whole run of the Society’s magazines can be found online, the plates rarely see the light of day. Therefore I decided to show one, now and again, on this site. This is the 4th in the series.

– – – – – – – – – –

This plate illustrates an article by the artist, George Morrison Reid Henry (1891-1983). He published and signed his work ‘G.M. Henry’. One of eleven children, his father was manager of tea estates in what was then Ceylon. He was educated at home by his older sisters. After working as a laboratory assistant he was taken on as a draughtsman by the Colombo Museum. He worked his way up and in 1913 was appointed to a new post of Assistant in Systematic Entomology. He stayed in in that post until he retired in 1946. His son, David Morrison Reid Henry (1919-1977) was also a bird painter and his work is shown in the first of this series.

As well as papers on insects, he wrote and illustrated A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon (Oxford University Press) which was first published 1955.

Henry wrote the article for Avicultural Magazine from Constantine, five miles from Falmouth in Cornwall. He called the bird the Ceylon Lorikeet (Loriculus beryllinus) and preferred the word ‘lorikeet’ to ‘hanging parrot’ on the grounds that other unrelated parrots sleep suspended from small twigs. However, Hanging Parrot was then and still is the term used for members of the genus Loriculus. This is a species we have seen in the wild. It is endemic to Sri Lanka.

George Morrison Reid Henry died on 30 June 1983 in Worthing, West Sussex.

Avicultural Magazine 68, 1962

Thursday 9 March 2023

John Romer (1920-1982): A List of Publications from before and during his life in Hong Kong on reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fleas and bird strikes

I have written several times (here and here) on JOHN DUDLEY ROMER (1920-1982) the doyen of herpetology in Hong Kong. Romer’s full-time job was head of pest control for the Hong Kong government. After his death his papers were deposited in the library of the Zoological Society of London. The last time I was there I did not have time to see what that Romer archive held. Then Jack Greatrex of the Department of History in the University of Hong Kong contacted me. As part of his research on the history of pest control he was going to be in London and offered to send me his gleanings from the ZSL library. I of course accepted gratefully and Jack, now at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, sent me copies of a wealth of material, including a curriculum vitae from around 1979, the time of Romer’s retirement from Hong Kong, and his earlier notebook which included a list of his popular and scientific publications. The list of publications in his CV specifically excludes popular publications. I have used these two sources as the basis of a complete list of John Romer’s publications across all spheres of his activities from 1938 until a posthumous new edition in 1983. A few more publications came to light in searches online but it is possible that further popular publications in newspapers and magazines remain to be found. Some of the detail, like page numbers, is incomplete. A further visit to the ZSL library is needed in order to fill in nearly all of that missing information (marked in red below) but if anybody can help in the meantime I would be most grateful. I do appreciate that not many people are likely to have the Indian Army Ordnance Corps Gazette on their bookshelf.

John Dudley Romer I.S.O. M.B.E. F.I.Biol. C.M.Z.S.

9 September 1920 - 15 March 1982

List of Publications 1938-1983

Compiled March 2023


Romer JD. 1938. Fire-bellied and Yellow-bellied toads. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (June 1938).  volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1939. The newts of the British Isles. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (May 1939). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1939. Breeding the Spotted Salamander. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (June 1939).  volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1939. Amphibia collecting. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (August 1939). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1939. Breeding the Spotted Salamander. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (September 1939). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1939. The hibernation of European batrachians. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (October 1939). volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1940. The habits of the Edible Frog. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (April 1940). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1940. The Midwife or Bell Toad. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (August 1940). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1940. Newts. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (October 1940). volume page numbers

Romer JD. 1940. The grotesque Axolotl. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (December 1940). volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1941. Adaptation to environment in amphibia. Aquarist and Pondkeeper (January 1941). volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1942. A plea for amphibia.[Letter] Country Life 91 (No 2362), 815.


Romer JD. 1943. Should you kill that snake? Illustrated Weekly of India 64 (8) (21 February 1943). volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1944. Serpents of the sea [Sea snake from Bombay, Letter]. Country Life 95 (18 February 1944), 296.

Romer JD. 1944. Memorandum for the treatment of snake bite. Indian Army Ordnance Corps Gazette 22 (4) (April 1944). page numbers

Romer JD. 1944. Egg-laying period of the Common Indian Monitor. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 44, 600.


Romer JD. 1945. The hatching of lizard eggs. [Letter] Country Life 97 (No 2511) (2 March 1945), 386.

Romer JD.1945  A new record of a rare snake (Natrix xenura) from Assam. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 45, 540-431.


Romer JD. 1946. Aquatic snakes from India. Water Life 1 (1) (New issue) (April 1946). volume page numbers


Romer JD. 1947. Notes on the monitors. Aquarist and Pondkeeper 12 (3) (June 1947) 70-71.

Romer JD. 1947. Longevity of Natterjack Toads. Aquarist and Pondkeeper 12 (August 1947). page numbers

Romer JD.1947 An uncommon habit observed in the frog Rana erythraea Schleg. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 47, 173-174.


Romer JD. 1948. Notes on the geckoes. Aquarist and Pondkeeper 13 (3) (June 1948), 86-87.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 18 July 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong (2) - What to do in emergency. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 25 July 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong (3) - The geckoes. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 1 August 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong (4) - Sea snakes. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 8 August 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong (5) - Our dangerous land snakes. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 15 August 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. Reptile life in Hong Kong (6) - Indian python. Hong Kong Sunday Herald. 29 August 1948.

Romer JD. 1948. An extension of the known range of Bandicota nemorivaga (Hodgson) in China. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 47, 546.


Romer JD. 1949. Unusual coloration of Rana limnocharis (Boie) Wiegm. Bulletin of the Raffles Museum 19, 45-46.

Romer JD. 1949. Notes on the frog, Kaloula pulchra Gray. Lacerta 7 (4) (January 1949). [In Dutch] page numbers

Romer JD. 1949 Herpetological observations in Assam and Bengal (1944). Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society

48, 374-376.

Romer JD. 1949. Naturally occurring albinism in a specimen of Rattus norvegicus Berkenhout. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 48, 579-580.


Romer JD. 1950. List of geckoes known to occur in the Colony of Hong Kong. Copeia, 1950, 54-55.


Romer JD. 1951. The occurrence of the lizard Gekko gecko in the Colony of Hong Kong. Copeia. 1951, 80.

Romer JD. 1951. Introducing the geckoes. Zoo Life 6 (1) (Spring 1951), 26-28.

Romer JD. 1951 Observations on the habits and life-history of the Chinese Newt, Cynops chinensis Gray. Copeia, 1951, 213-219.

Pope CH, Romer, JD. 1951 A new ranid frog (Staurois) from the Colony of Hongkong. Fieldiana—Zoology 31, 609-6l2.

Romer JD. 1951. A temple of snakes. Aquarist and Pondkeeper 16 (7) (October 1951), 150.

Romer JD. 1951. Surface-locomotion of certain frogs (Rana), and the occurrence of R. taipehensis Van Denburgh in India.  Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 50, 414-415.

Romer JD. 1951. Survey of fleas from 'domestic' rats in the Colony of Hong Kong. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 34, 33-36.


Romer JD. 1952. A new record of a little-known Snake, Opisthotropis andersoni (Boulenger), from Hong Kong. Copeia 1952, 46-47.

Romer JD. 1952. Racial variation in Common African Toads. Nigerian Field 17, 82?-? page numbers

Romer JD. 1952. White-lipped Pit Viper. Zoo Life 7 (4) (Winter 1952). page numbers


Romer JD. 1953. Introducing some common Nigerian reptiles. Nigerian Field 18, 70-75.

Romer JD. 1953. Reptiles and amphibians collected in the Port Harcourt area of Nigeria. Copeia 1953, 121-123.

Romer JD. 1953. Coloration of the snake Elaphe moellendorffi  Copeia 1953, 123-124.


Romer JD. 1954. Notes on sea snakes (Hydrophiidae) occurring in or near Hong Kong Territorial Waters. Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal  1954(1), 35-37.


Romer JD. 1955. 1955 An Australian skink, Egernia depressa (Günther), introduced into Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Biological Circle, No. 3, 5.

Romer JD. 1955 Domestic fleas known to occur in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Biological Circle, No. 3, 7-8.


Romer JD. 1958. Cetaceans recorded from within or near Hong Kong territorial waters. Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal 1958 (2), 127-129.

Romer JD. 1958. Occurrence of the sea snake Hydrophis ornatus ornatus (Gray) near Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal 1958 (2), 129.

Romer JD. 1958. Partial albinism in a Chinese Cobra, Naja naja (Linn.). Copeia 1958, 334.


Romer JD. [anonymously] 1959. Aid to the Recognition of Venomous Snakes in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Government Printer.


Romer JD. 1960. Bats known from Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 4, 1-4.


Inger RF, Romer JD. 1961. A new pelobatid frog of the genus Megophrys from Hong Kong. Fieldiana—Zoology 39, 533-538.

Romer JD. 1961 Annotated checklist with keys to the snakes of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 5, 1-14.


Romer JD. 1963. Notes on the White-lipped Pit Viper, Trimeresurus albolabris Gray, in Hong Kong. In, Venomous and Poisonous Animals and Noxious Plants of the Pacific Area edited by HL Keegan and WV Macfarlane, pp 379-384. New York: Pergamon.

Romer JD. 1963. 1963 Occurrence of the Common Water Monitor, Varanus salvator (Laurenti), in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 6, 12.

Romer JD.1963. First record of the Grey Shrew, Crocidura a. attenuata Milne-Edwards, in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 6, 13.


Romer JD. 1965. Illustrated Guide to the Venomous Snakes of Hong Kong. Second (Revised) Edition. Hong Kong: Government Printer.


Romer JD. 1966. Further records of bats in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 7, 4-5.

Romer JD. 1966. Overwintering eggs of the lizard Gekko gecko (L.).  Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 7, 11-12.

Romer JD. 1966.Two colubrid snakes not previously recorded from Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 7, 13-14.

Romer JD.1966. The frog Microhyla butleri Boulenger found in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 7, 15.

Romer JD. 1966 Long-tailed Macaques in Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 7, 16.


Malnate EV, Romer JD. 1969. A snake new to the fauna of Hong Kong and China: Amphiesma atemporalis (Bourret). Notulae naturae of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia  No 424, 1–8.


Romer JD. 1970. Revised annotated checklist with keys to the snakes of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 8, 1-22.

Romer JD. 1970. Bird problems at Hong Kong airport. In Proceedings of the World Conference on Bird Hazards to Aircraft (Kingston, Ontario 2-5 September 1969), pp.77 and 79-86. Ottawa: National Research Council of Canada.


Romer JD. 1974. Annotated checklist with keys to the bats of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 9, 1-6.

Romer JD. 1974 Notes on a specimen of the snake Natrix percarinata (Boulenger) from Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 9, 20.

Romer JD. 1974. Notes on the care and breeding of tree squirrels Callosciurus spp. International Zoo Yearbook 14, 115-116.

Romer JD. 1974. Milk analysis and weaning in the Lesser Malay Chevrotain Tragulus javanicus. International Zoo Yearbook 14, 179-180.


Romer JD. 1975. Annotated checklist with keys to the lizards of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 10, 1-13.

Romer JD. 1975. Hong Kong's "New" Zoo. International Zoo News 22 (5) No 129, p 33.


Romer JD. 1977. Illustrated Guide to the Venomous Snakes of Hong Kong. Sixth (Updated) Impression of Second (Revised) Edition 1965. Hong Kong: Government Printer.

Romer JD. 1977. Reptiles new to Hong Kong. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society 17, 232-234.

Romer JD. 1977. Occurrence of the frogs Rana paraspinosa and Rana spinosa in Hong Kong. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society 17, 237-238.


Romer JD. 1978. Annotated checklist with keys to the chelonians of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 12, 1-10.

Romer JD. 1978. Brook’s gecko found in Macau. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society 18, 191.

Romer, JD. 1978: First record of the pelobatid frog Leptobrachium pelodytoides Boulenger in Hong Kong. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society 18: 211-212.


Romer JD. 1979. The Red-necked Keelback, a venomous snake of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Urban Council.

Romer JD. 1979. Captive care and breeding of a little-known Chinese snake Elaphe porphyracea nigrofasciata. International Zoo Yearbook 19, 92-94.

Romer JD. 1979. Second revised annotated checklist with keys to the snakes of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 14, 1-23.

Romer JD. 1979. Annotated checklist with keys to the adult amphibians of Hong Kong. Memoirs of the Hong Kong Natural History Society No. 15, 1-14.


Risch J-P, Romer JD. 1980. Origin and taxonomic status of the salamander Cynops shataukokensis. Journal of Herpetology  14, 337-341.


Romer JD. 1981. Notes on the geckos of Hong Kong. Herptile 6, 18-19.


Romer JD, Bogadek A. 1983. Illustrated guide to the venomous snakes of Hong Kong. With recommendations for first aid treatment of bites. Third Edition. Hong Kong: Urban Council.

The above  Publication List can be downloaded as a pdf HERE

John Romer handling a Wagler's Pit Viper
at a temple in Penang. September 1950
(Aquarist & Pondkeeper, October 1951)

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Black Bulbuls in Hong Kong

Black Bulbul. Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve 15 February 2023

These photographs were taken by AJP two weeks ago in Tai Po Kau reserve in Hong Kong. Since there were lots it has to be assumed this was an irruption year. These days small numbers may be seen in Tai Po Kau but occasionally there is a huge influx from the north in winter; other years there are none to be found. During an irruption Black Bulbuls can be seen throughout Hong Kong.

I can remember the excitement of seeing Black Bulbuls for the first time—in the University of Hong Kong compound. That was in February-March 1967. The Bird Report for that year noted:

The early part of the year produced what was probably the biggest irruption of this species in Hong Kong ever recorded.

The first were seen on 7 January 1967 but flocks of up to more than 90 were seen in February. They stayed until well into March with the last reported sighting on 25 March.

In the university compound, before it was ruined by over-development, it was relatively easy to get a good view. The tops of the trees where they were living reached the level of a footpath by the library.

In those days the Black Bulbul living in Hong Kong was regarded as a subspecies of Hypsipetes madagascariensis. Now it considered a full species, Hypsipetes leucocephalus, one described by Johan Friedrich Gmelin in 1789. Only fully adult birds have s completely white head.