a trip report by Don Roberson & Rita Carratello
Page 7: Annotated trip list herps (reptiles & amphibians)
Winter is not a good time for herps in southern Africa. Most of them are in hibernation or rarely active in this colder part of the year. We did not see any amphibians at all, and the vast majority of lizards were a few out in the desert areas that were warm at mid-day. We also did not search very much for herps. Rather, if we saw one, we were interested and tried to i.d. it (and usually tried to photograph it as well). So this is a very short listing of the herps of southern Africa.

There is a great new field guide: Branch (1998). It has distribution maps, lucid text, and color photos of all species. The revised edition I acquired over there had 83 new species added since the previous edition, so there has been a fair amount of recent taxonomic work on reptiles in southern Africa. [Those marked with an asterisk (*) were lifers for us; this was most of them!]

Angulate Tortoise
Chersina angulata *

This was a common tortoise of the scrubby sand dunes in West Coast NP, a half-day's drive up the coast from Cape Town. We saw something like 30 (!) during our few hours; many smaller ones were crossing the road or seen at the road's edge. Unfortunately this was the only species we saw alive, A dead Tent Tortoise Psammobates tentorius was on the road enroute to Brandvlei. About 30% of the world's tortoises occur in southern Africa, and 12 species are endemic to this region.

Marsh Terrapin Pelomedusa subrufa * The common and widespread African turtle of ponds and marshes was seen at a waterhole in Etosha NP, Namibia
Karoo Sand Snake
Psammophis notostictus *

This thin small snake (about a foot long) was active at mid-day around our bungalow at Augrabies Falls NP. It was 'in-and-out' of little nooks in the outside of the chalet; it is a very fast diurnal predator on small lizards. Sand snakes of this genus have venom that works on lizards, but is usually harmless to humans. There are 23 species of sand snakes in Africa. This one was a cute little guy. Although we were alert throughout the trip, this was the only snake we saw alive [a Mole Snake Pseudaspis cana was found dead on the road near Brandvlei]

Striped Skink
Mabuya striata *

A mid-sized stripey skink in Etosha NP and at Nkwasa Camp near Rundu (below left) was thought to be this widespread species on the basis of range and overall appearance. There are other 'striped' skinks but they seem to be more local and elusive. This species inhabits a wide range of habitats and is common around human habitation. It is possible that the lizard (below right) at the entrance to Mahango Game Reserve in the Caprivi Strip is also this species. Breeding males are said to have an orange-brown head with yellow-orange throat.

Western Rock Skink
Mabuya sulcata *

This medium-sized black skink (left) was photographed at Canyon Lodge in south Namibia. Another was seen at Anib Lodge in central Namibia. It is the males that can get all-black (although they are suffused with bronze in some populations). Females and young are dull olive.

Namaqua Sand Lizard
Pedioplanis namaquensis *

These small (4-6 inch long) fast lizards were under very small bits of desert scrub at Spitzkoppe, and ran ahead of me as I chased down the Herero Chat. Branch (1998) says "These amazingly fast lizards can be seen in the heat of the day, dashing over open, sparsely vegetated sand and gravel flats." Although also said to be dormant in winter, this photo matches the species well.

Broadley's Flat Lizard
Platysaurus broadleyi

This lizard is endemic to a very short stretch of the Orange River in westernmost South Africa. Fortunately, this stretch of river include Augrabies Falls. As Branch (1990) says: "These beautiful lizards are common on the smooth granite walls of the Augrabies Falls." Males are colorful with dark blue throats, black bellies, and orange forelimbs. Alas, the only ones I got close to were the stripey females or young (left). Note the long toes for hanging on to vertical cliffs.

Cape Crag Lizard  Pseudocordylus microlepidotus * One was sunning outside our lunch restaurant at the Cape of Good Hope, but it scuttled away before I was able to retrieve my camera
Nile Monitor Varanus niloticus Several slunk along the muddy banks of the Okavango River but dropped into the water when we got too close.
Either Ground Agama Agama aculeata *
or Etosha Agama Agama etoshae *

This single small Agama was perched on this little boulder in central Etosha NP, and was photo'd out the car window. Etosha Agama has a tiny range: it is essentially endemic to Etosha park. Ground Agama has a much wider range throughout the interior of s.w. Africa. We wanted it to be the Etosha Agama but the photo in Branch (1998) looks better for Ground Agama the Etosha Agama doesn't seem to be this patterned. Further, the 5th toe may be as long as the 1st toe (good for Ground) instead of very short (as in Etosha). This is probably Ground Agama but, either way, it is a lifer.

Namibian Rock Agama
Agama planiceps *

These colorful and very fast lizards were clinging to huge boulders around the base of Spitzkoppe. Females (below left) and youngsters were by far the majority of the 20+ seen; full males (below right) were scarce. The dominant male defends a territory that has a harem of females, and will not tolerate another male in its territory during the breeding season (Branch 1998). These are comparatively large lizards (two feet long in males) but also quite shy. It took significant effort to get these shots.

Mystery gecko
Lygodactylus ??

I didn't think this was a gecko when I took the picture I labeled it "tree lizard" but close examination seems to show gecko-like toe pads (blow-up of left front leg; below).

It was perhaps 90-100 mm long (with tail) which would put snout-vent length within the range of a large Dwarf Gecko. It was on a large riverside tree at N'kwazi Camp near Rundu at the west end of the Caprivi Strip. Bradfield's L. gradfieldi and Cape L. capensis Dwarf Geckos are in range but the photos in Branch (1998) show more striped creatures that this speckled one. Maybe it is an adult of the following? I am confused. Photos of geckos in the genus Goggia and Afrrogecko are fairly close but none seem remotely in range.
Chobe Dwarf Gecko
Lygodactylus chobiensis *

This tiny gecko was on the woven shutters that fringed the sides of our individual bungalow at Xaro Camp in the Okavango Delta. Branch (1998) says they typically forage high in trees for ants and termites but are known to forage on houses. This i.d. is primary on range, behavior, and size.

Nile Crocodile
Crocodylus niloticus

A few were seen daily on the Okavango River. At this high water stage there were not many sandbars, and thus the few we saw were hugging the river banks, tucked under cover, and not very large. But you don't want to swim in the Okavango . . .

We also encountered a variety of other interesting plants and animals; shown below is an active paper-wasp nest at Spitzkoppe. Richard was very interested in wildflowers, and took a good selection of photos. I find I have enough trying to i.d. the birds, mammals, herps, and sharks we saw. But southwestern Africa is a spectacular part of this planet.
CLICK HERE to return to INTRODUCTION PAGE for this TRIP REPORT
CLICK HERE for DAILY LOG (part one) covering CAPE TOWN TO KALAHARI, SOUTH AFRICA
CLICK HERE for DAILY LOG (part two) covering northern NAMIBIA (Spitzkoppe to Etosha)
CLICK HERE for DAILY LOG (part three) covering OKAVANGO DELTA (Botswana) & WATERBERG (Namibia)
CLICK HERE for a COMPLETE ANNOTATED TRIP LIST of BIRDS for the July 2005 trip
CLICK HERE for a photo intensive ANNOTATED LIST of MAMMALS for the 2005 trip

PHOTOS: All photos on this page are © 2005 Don Roberson; all rights reserved. Many other shots from this trip are scattered about this web site. Check particularly bird families, mammals, and herps listings.

Literature cited:

Branch, B. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of southern Africa. Rev. ed. Struik Publ., Cape Town
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