Reptiles, birds and insects in Papua New Guinea

Reptiles

Of the numerous species of snake found in PNG, boas and pythons are the most famous.  Sea snakes are also common.  Crocodiles feature strongly in Papua New Guinean myth and legend, and are often taken as totemic ancestors. The patterns of their skin are imitated in scarification ceremonies, and their fierceness and hunting prowess is much admired.  PNG also has some of the world’s largest monitor lizards, referred to as crocodile monitors or dragons of the trees. The skins of crocodiles and lizards are highly prized, used for example to make drums. Traditionally hunted, crocodiles are now also farmed.  

Exotic birds

Papua New Guinea is famous for its birds of paradise. The feathers of these stunningly beautiful and rare birds are commonly used by Papua New Guineans for ceremonial costumes. The cassowary, an ostrich-like bird but with a smaller neck and more exotic colouring, is similarly used for its black feathers.  Its leg bones are similar to human bones, and can be made into ritual daggers. Cassowaries also commonly feature in creation myths, as do hornbills which are also thought to be particularly magical.

Insects

In the hot and humid climates of Papua New Guinea insects thrive and are a constant nuisance to humans. For Papua New Guineans, however, living with insects is part of everyday life, and in coastal areas grubs are often highly prized as a nutritional food. Particular species of insect are sometimes taken as clan totems and often feature in traditional art.  The distinctive shapes of the praying mantis and rhinoceros beetle are common motifs.