Central Sri Lanka

by Frank Hennemann & Thorsten Seifert (August 2000)
(by positioning the mouse pointer over the pictures you will get more infos about the pictures)

About the island
Sri Lanka KarteSri Lanka is an island just 50 km off the eastern coast of southern India. It became independent from Britain as the Commonwealth of Ceylon in 1948. and in 1972 became a republic within the Commonwealth. The capital Colombo is situated on the west coast and has about 1,7 million inhabitants. Sri Lanka is situated between 5°55' to 9°55' N and 79°42' to 81°52' E, about 700 kilometres north of the equator, and covers an area of 65.610 qkm (which is about the size of the German state of Bayern). The total population is about 21 millions. with a population density of about 320 people per qkm.

Wide areas are covered by hilly land, with a highland (up to 2500 m high) in the central region of the island. The highest mountain peaks are Pidurutalagala (2524 m) near Nuwara Eliya and the adjacent Sri Pada (Adam's Peak, 2243 m). The spring of  Sri Lankas's longest river, the Mahaweli Ganga, is the foot of Sri Pada. The mountains raise up steeply close to the southern coast where the climate is tropical and humid, still with great parts covered in rain forest. Sri Lanka's northern portion is much more plain with a warm and rather dry climate, the vegetation being dominated by dry bushland and savannahs.

Teeanbau bei Nuwara EliyaThe substantial diversity in it's appearance is much influenced by the monsoon, which reaches the island from southwest during the summer months. When the clouds raise up the southern mountain slopes, they loose most of their humidity, which results in the vegetation zones described.
During our stay we made close encounter with the monsoon in Nuwara Eliya where we had daily rain and clouds were hanging low. A second, yet less strong monsoon reaches the island from northeast during the winter months.

Great parts of the central highland are nowadays used for growing tea (almost 240.000 hectars) which is one of Sri Lanka's main export products. The primary rain forests which orginally covered this area has been mostly deforested with dispersed areas of primary forest only found at high altitudes.


Prisomera spinicollis WeibchenArrival
After a 10-hour flight from Frankfurt we arrived at Colombo early in the morning. There we were picked up by our driver, who should also be our driver and guide for our entire time in Sri Lanka.  It took us a 4-hour drive to reach our destiny, the Hunas Falls Hotel, which is situated about 25 km north of the town Kandy (500 m), in the heart of the Central Highlands. Our accomodation was offroad in the Elkaduwa mountains, admidst tea and cinnamon plantations and not far from the rushing Hunas Falls at an altitude of approximately 1000 m
. To reach our hotel we had to take a narrow, winding and badly maintained road. But the service was excellent and the comfortable, clean rooms offered an exquisite view over the nearby mountains and valleys.
Every drive to Kandy took us 45 minutes
because of the miserable road conditions, but the gorgeous landscape made it always appear rather short!


Hunas FallsHunas Falls
During the day we already explored the area of the Hunas Falls and looked out for feeding marks on possible food-plants in orderf to be well prepared for our first search during the night.
At sunset we set out to our previously discovered collecting site, equiped with torches, spare batteries and plastic boxes. The first evening we were heading for  the opulent vegetation alongside the narrow street, which leads from our hotel to Elkaduwa (800 m). 

Berge im Süden Sri Lankas (Adams Peak)But collecting prooved to be more difficult than expected - several times we were disturbed by the dogs of plantation workers living along the street and annoying leechs were hindering a continuos colleting. Every now and then we had to stop collecting, to pick of numerous  of these small, brown blood-suckers, which tried to get to the feet and legs even through the smallest gaps in our shoes.

Collecting along the street was not really productive, we only found could  4 specimens of Sceptrophasma humilis (Westwood, 1859) and a female of Ramulus humberti (Saussure, 1862) during two hours of intensive searching. Consequently, we decided to make a small turnoff and return to our hotel. With surprise we discovered that prospecting the cultivated hedges and forest edges along the plantations and the properties of plantation workers (900-1000 m) were much more productive. So, it was clear where we would collect in the coming nights.

Paramenexenus ceylonicus MännchenHere we found several adults and nymphs of three distinct species on cultivated Acalypha (Euphorbiaceae) and red-flowered hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis or H. mutabilis, Malvaceae). Exclusively on the hibiscus we found adults of the bizarre Prisomera spinicollis (Gray, 1835), a very characteristic species for Central Sri Lanka. On Acalypha we found numerous Cuniculina cunicula (Westwood, 1859) in all stages of developement and a few adults of Ramulus pseudoporus (Westwood, 1859, = R. lobulatus Brunner v. W., 1907).
On two isolated shrubs with very long leaves (maybe  Ixora sp., Rubiaceae) we found five adult females of Paraprisomera coronata (Brunner v. Wattenwyl, 1907). 

Gratidia humilis Männchen
Above our hotel (1100 m), at the edge of the rain forest we discovered several adult specimens of Paramenexenus ceylonicus (Saussure, 1868)
on dispersed bramble groves (Rubus sp., Rosaceae).

Eggs were collected from all five species, which we took back to Germany for breeding purposes.


Kandy (Central Province) is with 150.000 habitants Sri Lanka's second biggest town. It is situated some 115 km northeast of Colombo with admist hilly land and the caracteristic Knockle's Range to it's east. Kandy lies at an altitude of 500 m with a rather cool climate and is on three sides bordered by the river Mahaweli Ganga.
There we visited one of our drivers friends who lives near Gampola where he intended to open up his own restaurant. After some cool drinks and a few explanations we drove to the property of his father just beside Mahaweli Ganga close to Gelioya (500 m).

Lopaphus sp. WeibchenHe told us that he has seen phasmids on numerous occasions there. He even knew Walkin-Leaves (Phyllium bioculatum Gray, 1832), but said they were quite rare in this area and sometimes found on Guava trees. Though not successful in finding Phyllium, we encountered some Sceptrophasma humilis (Westwood, 1859) and subadult nymphs of Nescicroa sparaxes (Westwood, 1859) on low-growing vegetation alongside a narrow field path about 50 m away from the river.
After finishing our nocturnal collecting we returned to the house of our hospitable guide, where we spent a comfy evening with Old Arrack and beer.


Nuwara Eliya
The "town of light" is Sri Lankas highest situated and most english-looking health resort. It lies  in a plateau at an altitude of 1889 m and is surrounded by tea and vegetable plantations. The avarage temperature is 16 °C, while maximum rainfall occurs during June and July. Most of the surrounding of Nuwara Eliya ist deforested with plantations and scattered Eucalyptus grandis (Myrtaceae) trees dominating the scenery.
Bergwald der Horton Plains
After 3 days it became clear to us why the British felt so comfortable here and built the magnificent, old english-style Grand Hotel. A fine drizzle day-in day-out, thick fog and astonishingly low temperatures. In Kandapola (1900 m), just a few kilometers north of Nuwara Eliya we visited yet another friend of our driver, one of the resident vegetable gardeners. His mother and one of his employees reported to have seen phasmids (called "wanda") in adjacent pine and eucalyptus forests regularely.

So, after sunset we set out for these adjacent pine forests, protected with caps and cagoule accompanied by that employee. A heavy storm and downpour complicated collecting, but at least we were not attacked by leeches. After some time of searching we discovered adult males and females of Lopaphus srilankensis montanus (Hennemann, 2002) and a couple of Parasipyloidea seiferti (Hennemann, 2002). Both species were not described back then, which however was not astonishing in such a poorly prospected area. It seemed that they were feeding on low-growing, small-leaved shrubs which were scattered on the forest floor (similar to Hypericum). After collecting we enjoyed a delicious dinner - Srilankan style and cooked by our driver!


Horton PlainsHorton Plains
While staying at Nuwara Eliya we visited the Horton Plains National Park, an absolutely unique and rainy high altitude plateau  at about 2000 m some kilometres south of Nuwara Eliya. It is characterised by a cool, stormy and humid climate and is home to a great number of very rare and partially endemic animal species - like deers, leopards, bears and different monkeys. The extensive plateau is dominated by open grasslands and dense dwarft-forests with swamps and clear rivers but in the south abruptly ends at the so-called "World's End", an almost vertical scarp some 600 metres deep.

After exploring great parts of the Park for several hours, we left - deeply impressed by this one-of-a-kind natural paradise - to drive back to Nuwara Eliya. We could find countless feeding marks on  various plants, but unfortunately night-collecting was impossible due to several reasons. Certainly, extensive collecting in such a unique and very poorly prospected area would reveal numerous new species of phasmids. For instance, the Horton Plains are home to two tiny, highly specialized  and endemic Miniphasma-species (Subfamily Pachymorphinae), which are amongst the smallest Phasmatodea known.


The material collected on this trip was studied in the following publication:

HENNEMANN, F. H. (2002): Notes on the Phasmatodea of Sri Lanka (Orthoptera). Mitteilungen der Münchner Entomologischen Gesellschaft, 92: 37-78.


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