Reptiles in & around Alldays – by Kurt van Wyk

Alldays sits in a promising area for reptiles. Due to the high number of game farms in the surrounding landscape, land-use is arguably sufficiently low to allow for significant diversity and abundance. While winter is generally less productive for reptile surveys than the summer months, we’ve still had a nice selection of species turn up!

Southern African rock python (Python natalensis), caught sneaking around camp.
Southern African rock python (Python natalensis), caught sneaking around camp.

Over the past three months, I have recorded 31 species on Campfornis and several properties nearby. This covered a taxonomically broad array of animals, and included some major highlights! The title of “cutest reptile” is a hard toss between a young Speke’s hinge-backed tortoise (Kinixys spekii, below) and a little brown house snake (Boaedon capensis) that wrapped itself around my finger.

Speke’s hinge-backed tortoise (Kinixys spekii)
Speke’s hinge-backed tortoise (Kinixys spekii)

Snakes have been periodically abundant when the weather is warm, especially after a cold period. The most common of these has been the Western stripe-bellied sand snake (Psammophis subtaeniatus). You really can’t complain about these being so common when they’re so beautiful! The combination of intricate head markings, bold stripes and bright lemon-yellow belly is quite lovely, even to those who aren’t so keen on snakes.

A large Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) has been seen a few times passing through camp so we’re remaining vigilant. This species accounts for the majority of venomous snakebites in South Africa, but this individual appears to be a calm animal despite its dangerous reputation. I have also personally come across two black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis), both of which were lying completely still until my presence disturbed them and they swiftly disappeared. Living with venomous snakes is a fact of life around here, as it is for many people around the world, but if we treat them with respect and let them go on their way, the chances of being bitten are very slim. In fact, the only snakebite I have received here was from when handling a baby Eastern tiger snake (Telescopus semiannulatus semuannulatus), which is mildly venomous but its venom does not generally affect people.

The mildly venomous Eastern tiger snake (Telescopus semiannulatus semuannulatus)
The mildly venomous Eastern tiger snake (Telescopus semiannulatus semuannulatus)

Lizards are often out and about, from the entertaining Turner’s geckos (Chondrodactylus turneri) and rainbow skinks (Trachylepis margeritifer) that frequent our accommodation, to the family colonies of giant girdled lizards (Matobasaurus validus, subadult below). The latter reside on the various koppies and have tricked more than one person into thinking there’s a mamba in the rocks when they shift around!

iant girdled lizards (Matobasaurus validus)
Giant girdled lizards (Matobasaurus validus)

However, I’m a big fan of the more unusual reptile species, and a recent finding definitely fell into that category! The snakelike animal below is a Savannah legless skink (Acontias occidentalis), but is a highly atypical individual. This species typically occurs in two colour phases: black or dull orange. This one shows extensive white marbling – a pattern that is sometimes referred to as “piebald” in other species. As far as we can tell, a black phase example with this much white pattern has not been photographed before! A very special little animal…

That’s it for now, but I will be back later in the year to continue research into the impact of specific game farm land-use on reptile communities. Summer should bring many more exciting encounters and a greater diversity of fascinating species!

 

By Kurt van Wyk

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