Radical reptiles: Blue-Throated Agama

I was visiting my son on the farm he managed in Pretoria. I was hanging out in the hammock between two trees, simply gazing around, while the Grandies slept. It was absolute bliss, the breeze very gentle, but keeping it from being unbearably hot. As I looked across towards the paddock, I noticed a quick movement and flash of blue on a tree trunk. So I ‘observed’. It was what we call a ‘bloukop’, which translates as ‘bluehead’!

male

Male Agama

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Female Agama

Oh my word! I hadn’t seen one of these since I was a child in Zambia! I was fascinated, but equally terrified of them then! They lived in the trees around the boundaries of the garden. They’d scuttle around, going about their business and I adored watching them. But their quick rush from one place to the next always gave me palpitations!

These South African Agamas were a breeding pair, as I soon discovered. The male resplendant in his mating colours and the female pretty in her Sunday best. They got used to me over the next few days, as I never came too close, but only watched, chatted about them to Gaz and took photos. They stopped running and hiding, and just ignored us, posed for photos, and watched us with as much curiosity.

I was thrilled to see them again!

Information:

SWAHILI NAME FOR LIZARD: Mjusi, Mijusi (plural)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

The Blue-Throated Agama, Agama atricollis, is a very large agama, reaching a maximum length of 15 inches.

Its head, particularly in males, is large and triangular. The head and body are distinctly separate. The ear openings are larger than the eyes, and the tympanums (eardrums) are visible.

Agamas have strong limbs. Their bodies are compact and spiny. The scales on the body are small and keeled, with those along the back larger and mixed with scattered, enlarged, spiny scales.

Breeding males have a dull blue to bluish back, with bright blue to straw-yellow spines. The head is a coppery-green to brilliant ultramarine on top, blue-green on the sides and peacock-blue on the throat. There is a large black spot on each side above the shoulder, and a broad, blue-green to yellowish vertebral stripe. The tail is dull green to olive-brown.

Females and non-breeding males are olive to green-brown, marbled with black above, with a black shoulder spot. Juveniles have a similar ground color, with dark X-shapes surrounded by white blotches along the sides. The tail is banded with dark brown-black.

DISTRIBUTION and HABITAT:

These agamas are found in the open savanna, and along the edges of forests in Kenya and Ethiopia, extending through East Africa to Natal.

BEHAVIOR:

These beautiful lizards are frequently seen nodding their heads in display while clinging to a tree trunk. Most Agamas are terrestrial, but this species is arboreal. They come to the ground only to cross to another tree, and occasionally to eat.

When threatened, they retreat around the tree trunk, always keeping the trunk between themselves and danger. They will gape the mouth widely, showing the bright orange mouth lining, and will deliver a painful bite if caught. Contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous.

They sleep at night in a hollow branch or under peeling bark.

DIET:

Agamas are fond of flying ants and termites, and supplement their diets with grasshoppers and beetles.

REPRODUCTION and GROWTH:

The female lays 8-14 oval, soft-shelled eggs in a hole dug in moist soil. They hatch after about 90 days. Hatchlings measure 70-80 mm (about 3 inches). They triple in size in their first year, but growth slows thereafter. They become sexually mature in their second year.

 

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Another Creepy Crawler: Baboon Spider

In South Africa we also have tarantulas.
Ours are brown,
and we call them Baboon Spiders.

This is a lady that was washed out of her burrow next to the kitchen drain after very heavy rain one day. We brought her in to show the grandsons, as part of their ongoing wildlife education and conservation. We spread her legs out from her ‘death curl’ and I managed to get some nice close-ups. You can see her size, her fangs and some eyes and we turned her over to photograph her underside. We left her to one side to add to our Curiousity Collection.

Suddenly she waved gently, and slowly. I thought I was hallucinating! But, no, as she warmed up, she revived! Before she went scuttling off, to inevitably pop up to terrify me, we placed her safely in the garage to recover and choose a new home.

Females stay in their burrows, or close by, while males roam around.

 

Here is an excerpt from an article about them.

The Baboon Spiders of South Africa by Dr Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman
Baboon spiders or tarantulas, as they are known outside Africa, are the giants of the spider world. The last two leg segments resemble the finger of a baboon hence, the common name, baboon spiders. The first South African spider known from literature was a baboon spider mentioned in 1702 by Petiver. More than a hundred years later in 1832 the first baboon spider Mygale atra was described from South Africa and only in 1871 the first genus Harpactira was established for Southern African baboon spiders.

Southern Africa has a rich fauna of baboon spiders, represented by seven genera and 42 species. They belong to the family Theraphosidae, a very diverse family, represented by 86 genera and about 612 species worldwide. The theraphosids have a pantropical distribution and are known from Africa, the Far East, Australia as well as parts of South, Central and North America.

The baboon spiders are large, with a body size varying from 13-90 mm. They are very hairy and their colour varies between hues of brown, grey, yellow to black. The carapace is frequently decorated with radiating bands while the abdomen has variegated markings.

They are easily recognized by their large size, strong, hairy bodies, and the thick pad of hair present ventrally on the last two leg segments.

A Baboon spider may live up to 25 years and take about 10 years to mature.

Baboon spiders prey on a variety of small animals such as: insects – ants, beetles (e.g. tenebrionids), cicadas, cockroaches, Orthoptera (e.g. grasshoppers, locusts, crickets), Isoptera (termites), Lepidoptera (mostly Saturniidae and Sphingidae, Hymenoptera (driver ants of the family Dorylidae); arachnids – spiders, solifugids and scorpions; millipedes, reptiles, amphibians and snails: frogs and lizards.

Some theraphosids are known to deliver painful bites. Harpactira lightfooti,a baboon spider known from Cape Town and the Paarl region in South Africa are fairly aggressive and people sometimes get bitten. They produce a neurotoxic venom. Bites in humans results in a burning pain at the bite site. The patients, after about two hours, start to vomit; they show marked signs of shock, become pale and have difficulty walking. Bites are however, never fatal.

This one lives in my bathroom

baboon spider

 

Stock photo to give you an idea of size

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Creepy crawlers: Karate-style Spiders

I‘m scared of spiders too, but like any other “tree-hugger” I can’t bring myself to kill them. They really do so much good, like eating the mozzies that threaten to carry us off in the night, etc. (Yeah RIGHT!)

I remember once getting my “brave” on and grabbing a bucket and a magazine to attempt a relocation of a giant of the species that was in the bath. I wanted to use said bath to rediscover my 3 sons under a covering of mud, grass, twigs and assorted grunge.
I slowly moved the bucket closer and sort of swatted the spider towards the gaping opening. This was accompanied by karate-style shrieks (at least that’s what I told the boys they were; actually, pure terror!). The daft creature took a flying leap at the bucket and landed half in and half out! As much as I screamed in “karate”, it did not get the message to get into the bucket and be covered by the magazine, so that it could be safely, humanely and conservationally relocated to the great outdoors!

I threw the bucket into the bath along with the magazine and beat a screeching, leaping retreat. The three muddy mini-mountains went flying and screaming as their mother stomped all over them in order to save her own hide!

I managed to scrape most of the gunk off the boys and they had a sitz-bath in the kitchen sink that night. Daddy had to deal with the monster when he came home that night! I couldn’t watch, I was laid out on my bed, a bottle of “Rescue” in my hand and seriously considering having one of hubby’s beers to soothe my terror.
Spiders! *shudder*

spidey

Walking with an African Elephant and a lioness

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Matthew and I were privileged to go for a walk with an African elephant and a lioness on a Game Farm in Hoedspruit, South Africa. They were orphans that had been brought up by humans. The elephant was sweet and gentle and totally at ease and friendly. As I walked next to her, her mahout said I should slip my hand under her ear. I was entranced to find the skin as soft as that of a baby! She reached out her trunk and held my other hand, gently swinging it as we walked, exploring my palm with her “opposable thumb” at the end of her trunk. I was in heaven. The mahout said I should gently blow into her nostrils, so I did, she looked straight at me and blew gently and rumbled at me. She draped her trunk around my shoulders for about 2 minutes. Then it was someone else’s turn. I cried.

The lioness was younger than the elephant, who was 2 years old, and a whole other kettle of fish! She was boisterous and playful and full of mischief. The rangers said Matt should try to stay in the middle of the adults, because the lioness would want to play with him, being smaller than everyone else. She’d jump on him, not knowing her own size and strength, and could inadvertently hurt him. She was really fun to watch. Her poor ranger was rough-housing with her the whole way, not because he wanted to, but because she did. Matt did get jumped on; she grabbed him around the leg from behind. The ranger laughed and told him to stand still, and came over and pulled her off him. Matt was thrilled and delighted!

The elephant and lioness were not really friendly to one another, so the animals took it in turns to walk with us, while a ranger took the other one a few meters away. The elephant would glare at the lioness whenever she caught sight of her, but there were no problems or fuss. In fact they got the lioness to lie down on a branch in a tree, with the elephant posing right underneath her! The elephant knew exactly where the lioness was, and kept trying to grab her with her trunk!

It was a magical, beautiful, moving day.

I lost all the photos somewhere along the line, so I have posted a photo of another ellie friend.

By the way:

Instead of giving you the usual facts about elephants, I’ll give you a few surprise ones.

The South African Rock Hyrax, commonly known as a Dassie, is the African Elephant’s closest relative.

Taken from CapeTownMagazine.com

Dassie’s Relation to Elephant Finally Makes Sense

Table Mountain’s Dassies being the closest living relative to the African elephant is finally believable

One of the most unbelievable facts about Table Mountain’s Dassies is that they are the closest related relatives to Elephants. Despite the enormous difference in size between the two, research has claimed the dassie is the African elephant’s closest living relative.

Recent research has revealed that these claims may not be some unfathomable – at least in terms of size. A new discovery has revealed that the oldest ancestors of modern-day elephants were little bigger than a rabbit.

A 60 million-year-old skull dug up in Morocco has been identified as the earliest form of elephant species.

This creature was trunkless, measured less than 50 cm from tip to tail and weighed just 5kg. The mini-jumbo had front incisors which jutted out of its mouth to form the forerunner of the modern tusks.

Analysis of the teeth in the skull proved it was related, however distant, to the modern elephant. It is 10 million years older than other Elephant ancestor fossils discovered.

This is where our beloved dassie steps in. The close evolutionary relationship between the teeny-tiny Dassie and the ginormous African Elephant is deduced from similarities in the structure of their feet and teeth.

Dassies are heavily preyed upon by Eagles, Caracal and Leopard. Besides their treacherous incisors and a moveable membrane in the eye which shields the pupil and allows vision directly into the sun they don’t have much going for them when it comes to protecting themselves from predators.

Although we love our Dassies and hate to be the ones to say it – but it looks like the Dassie got the short end of the genetic stick in this family tree.

Dassies have evolved into somewhat lazy creatures. With a favourite pastime like basking in the sun on large rocks, particularly during mornings and late afternoons, the rock dassie seems to be the small and lazy brother in this family tree.

With Cape Town growing into a bustling metrople, it’s good to know that at least the Dassie still fits into the “Kaapstad – Slaapstad” theory

The Elephant Shrew’s closest relative is the Elephant

    

FUN FACTS

The 17 living species of elephant shrew are more closely related to elephants than shrews. They can be found throughout mainland Africa, with the exception of western Africa and the Saraha.

Elephant shrews are not related to shrews, rabbits, hedgehogs or llamas, as was thought at different times. Scientists finally figured out that these fuzzy, long-trunked creatures are in an order all their own. Not only that, but all 18 species are found exclusively in Africa, just like sea cows, aardvarks, hyraxes and elephants, to which they are related. To eliminate some of the confusion caused by their name – for, as stated, they’re not actually shrews at all – they are sometimes called sengis.

  • A Lioness weighs between 120-150 kg (260-330 lb)
  • Female lions usually hunt at night or dawn and in packs.
  • An adult female lion needs about 5 kg (11 lbs) of meat per day
  • In prides the females do most of the hunting and cub rearing.
  • Many of the females in the pride give birth at about the same time. A cub may nurse other females as well as its mother.
  • Lionesses aren’t the most successful of hunters, because they usually score only one kill out of several tries. After the kill the males usually eat first, lionesses next-and the cubs get what’s left.
  • Males and females fiercely defend against any outside lions that attempt to join their pride. Maybe in this case the family that preys together stays together!
  • The lion is the only member of the cat family with a tasseled tail, which serves a purpose beyond aesthetics. It’s often used to signal to other members of the pride, with messages ranging from directional, “this way” commands to flirtatious, “come hither” invitations!
  • Baby lions
  • Baby lion in the wild are born in a den which can be a cave, a thick bush, a very secretive spot in the forest.
  • Baby lions in the wild are only protected by the lioness, the female and male lions, the dominant lion and the whole lion pride.
  • Baby lions in the wild feed on milk and meat, eat lizards, birds, insects.
  • Baby lions in the wild will drink river, lake spring water which is sometimes mucky and infested with crocodiles.
  • Cleaning of the lion cubs is the duty of the lioness; by licking the lion cubs with its tongue from head to toe. Washing the baby lion’s face to the ears, eyes and nose.
  • Baby lion in the wild are born in a den which can be a cave, a thick bush, a very secretive spot in the forest.
  • Baby lions in the wild are only protected by the lioness, the female and male lions, the dominant lion and the whole lion pride.
  • Baby lions in the wild feed on milk and meat, eat lizards, birds, insects.
  • Baby lions in the wild will drink river, lake spring water which is sometimes mucky and infested with crocodiles.
  • Cleaning of the lion cubs is the duty of the lioness; by licking the lion cubs with its tongue from head to toe. Washing the baby lion’s face to the ears, eyes and nose.

Magic in the African Bush


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When I was a young teenager living in Zambia, we went camping in the bush with my uncle. It was amazing! We packed up the Land Rovers with all our camping gear, food, clothes, games and cards, and bush-stuff (cameras, binoculars, bird and animal books, oh and guns!). The rifles and ammunition all went in a big chest, with a BIG lock, onto my uncle’s Landy. Another of the Landys towed Dad’s boat, a Hamilton Jet V8, which was packed with petrol, water skis and life-jackets. We youngsters chose which Landy to travel in, depending on ages, and friendships. It was far to go, so we left very early in the morning after an excited and sleepless night.

Setting up camp was huge fun. The Landys parked to form a laager, or circle. The campfires were readied in the middle, one for cooking, and one for sitting around. Actually one big pit, but the smaller cooking fire was at the edge, on one side. Beds for the women and us youngsters were made up in the Landys. The men slept around the fire, while one or two took guard shifts. We were in Big 5 territory after all, and close to a river. Predators and hippos go walkabout at night as they hunt or forage. The culled carcasses were hung high up in a tree, some distance from camp for our safety. There were hungry predators and scavengers that sometimes managed to enjoy a free meal! A lion left large, scary paw prints and no carcass tied in the branches the first night!

The adults and older youngsters water skied on the croc and hippo infested river! But you had to be good, and not scared! The boat was driven up and down the river a few times, to encourage the submerged “dears” to vacate the area. Then you strapped on the skis and stood on the edge of the riverbank. The boat roared off and as the ski rope started to tighten, you took a flying leap into the water, hoping your timing was right and balance was good! It was beyond thrilling or exhilarating as you went for a relatively short ski on the river. Landing was done as close to the bank as possible, some clever ones could leap out of the ski’s and run wildly up the bank with arms wheeling, screaming and yelling, as their legs pumped! It usually ended badly with thorns in feet, skinned knees and bruises from falling; due to acceleration winning out! But it was hysterical to watch! The rest of us prayed as we dropped the rope and skied in, “Don’t hit the bank! Don’t hit a hiding croc! Don’t do the splits in the reeds!” It was the best skiing ever! There wasn’t an accident, but I honestly don’t understand why!

One day a bunch of moms and us youngsters went for a slow boat ride upriver to spot game. They don’t seem to mind a boat, and are as curious as we are. It was great seeing what was there. We were almost back at the campsite when the inboard engine caught fire! We had some towels, so used them to try to smother the flames. One caught fire and was thrown into the water. We managed to fish it out and threw it on top of the ones doing the smothering, and smoldering! The fire wouldn’t go out fast enough! It was crazy! Hippos and crocs watched with fascination, and we paddled like mad! The only man aboard, my dad, had decided to jump overboard and try to swim for help when we got the fire under control. All caution had been thrown to the wind and water was being poured onto the engine. A smallish branch came serendipitously floating by, and was grabbed and used to try to paddle to shore. Our shouts and the smoke had alerted the rest of the group and they brought a Landy, fortunately one with a winch, to investigate. We were winched to shore and the boat dragged out of the water. Nobody was hurt and we were all hugely excited at our adventure! It made for great campfire stories that night!

During the day the youngsters were taken game viewing in the Landys. It was fantastic. We saw everything from aardvarks to zebras! We saw births, hunting, kills, and babies learning and playing. Insects doing the busy thing, birds building nests and learning to fly. We learnt behavioural patterns, territorial displays, courtship and mating rituals, identified tracks and calls, and had the most incredible experiences. Nothing was left out, or not investigated or watched avidly. Pure magic!

Wild, exciting days and beautiful, shared nights made for some incredibly wonderful memories.

My Book: There’s an Emu in the Garden

 ” to hold a living creature,
to learn its loveliness,
to feel its heart beat in your hands,
to know its trust, is to rejoice in life”

 These are stories of my encounters with animals, domestic and wild.
It has been a wonderful adventure.

March 2011 download 242 (640x428)

I was lazing in the hammock in the garden, when I heard a sound behind me … there it was, the title of my book!

I started writing the stories for friends, and decided to compile them into a little book for my Grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and young cousins. I never realized there were so many stories! I’m so glad I’ve done this. Some stories are old, and to the best of my recollection; and others are new, from my life living at Buckingham.

When Noel and Allison Badrian, my dad’s brother and sister-in-law, worked in the Congo with Bonobo’s, or pygmy chimpanzees, I remember begging dad to let me go and join them. I wish, in some ways, I’d been more bratty or insistent!

So, here are some of the stories in my book, I hope you enjoy them. They may stay forever on my blog, but, I may, one day, decide to publish them. I’d love to know how you like them.

Please go and check them out

Puff Adder – Bitis Arietans

Out and about on the farm today, we saw this big puffy.

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Puffy’s are seen fairly often on our farm. but are not a problem. They much prefer to keep to the quieter spots with no interference from man nor beast. So we live in harmony for the most part. If we find one too close for comfort, middle son catches and releases them away from harm. He’s a trained Field Guide (Game Ranger) who knows exactly how to do this.

3 articles about this beautiful, deadly snake

One of the Deadliest Snakes in the World

* Puff Adder Bites Are Deadly Serious

When most people think of deadly snakes in Africa, the black mamba, cobras and various other snakes come to mind. Ironically, the puff adder and the Egyptian cobra kill more people in Africa than any other snakes. Puff adders often are not even mentioned in a list of dangerous African snakes and that is a huge oversight. The black mamba is certainly the fancy pick, but the puff adder is the more functional one. They bite more people and therefore kill more. Here are some great facts about the puff adder you may not have known:

Puff Adder Habitat

The puff adder can be found over the vast majority of Africa with exception to the north. Unlike many other venomous reptiles, they are not usually found amongst the woodlands. They prefer to hang out in the grasslands. They are right at home in the dry grass and use their camouflage to ambush their prey.

Puff Adder Venom and Danger to Humans

Puff adder snake venom is a cytotoxin. This means that the venom breaks down tissue and spreads slowly to the rest of the body. The bite of a puff adder is usually a long and slow break down of the body if you have no medical attention. This can take up to 24 hours for the effects to take hold, and once they do they are hard to reverse. Puff adders are not the most venomous snakes in the world, but they are highly aggressive biters and are around people more than some of their brethren. The slightest thing will cause a puff adder to strike, whereas many other snakes are simply likely to slither away if they are close by.

Puff Adder Identification

The puff adder is a fat snake but relatively short at only 3 feet or so. It has a sandy base color with dark chevron patterns up and down its body. The pattern is very good at blending in to their surroundings and a great many people never see the puff adder until they are upon it. Females are larger than males due to the fact that they have huge numbers of live babies when they breed.

Puff Adder Feeding

The puff adder is an ambush hunter that will strike out from nowhere to secure their food. They do this by striking from cover. Once the bite is delivered, they track the prey and swallow it whole. Puff adders are fond of any small mammal that they can swallow.

Puff Adder Breeding

One fascinating fact about puff adders is that they produce more live young than any other snake. The males often fight over a female that is ready to breed. Once bred, the female may bear as many as 40 little puff adders in one batch. Many more have been recorded as well.

Published by Rodney Southern

* Habits

A slow-moving, bad-tempered and excitable snake that may hiss or puff when disturbed.When annoyed, it strikes vigorously in all directions and has the capability of a lightning-fast sideways strike without withdrawing the head. Fortunately it often gives warning of its intentions by hissing noisily.It relies on its perfect camouflage to escape detection and will rather freeze than move off. Moves in caterpillar fashion leaving straight deep track in the sand.

Puff adders make splendid rat-traps.  A veld-rat was observed scurrying along a grass track; within seconds there was a thud, followed by anguished squeaks which soon ended. On investigation, it was noticed that the rat’s tail was protruding from the mouth of the puff adder, which had cunningly parked on the rodent track to snap up the ones that never look where they are going. The snake deposited the rat and inspected it, possibly wondering if the speedy catch was palatable. A second puff-adder appeared on the path and seized the rear-end of the rat and started swallowing, much to the chagrin of the first puff adder which quickly grabbed the rat’s head and commenced gulping towards its competitor. As internasal distance narrowed and neither snake was prepared to yield, their respective snouts soon met at mid-body. Number one gave an enormous gulp, encompassing most of his opponent’s head. An intense struggle followed but gradually the challenger was painfully persuaded to follow the rat down a very different path.

Food

Rats, mice, small mammals, ground birds.

Reproduction

Bears 20-40 young in Summer, 150-200mm long

Enemies

Man, honey badgers, warthogs, birds-of-prey and other snakes.

http://www.ultimatefieldguide.com/puff_adder_-_bitis_arietans.htm

The name ‘puff adder’ stems from the snake’s habit of inflating itself and hissing when threatened. The noise produced is a menacing hissing sound and should be construed as a strong warning! The snake itself is rather sluggish and generally moves in a rectilinear motion, or straight line (like a caterpillar), as opposed to the serpentine motion exhibited by most other snakes. It does however possess one of the fastest strikes of all snakes and should be respected at all times! It is easily recognised by its stumpy appearance, only growing to a maximum of about 1 meter in length, the chevron-like markings on its back and a large, triangular shaped head.

The puff adder is responsible for more bites (and therefore fatalities) in South Africa than any other snake, even though other snakes have higher venom yields. The reasons for this are simple: it is very adaptable, is found in multiple, varied habitats and it is one of the few lazy snakes. Snakes do not have ears but they are able to sense the vibrations caused by footsteps and will quickly disappear before their presence is even detected. The puff adder however, is a slow moving snake and prefers to rely on its brilliant camouflage to remain unseen. It is possible therefore, to find yourself in close proximity to the snake and should you accidentally surprise it by treading on it for example, or put it in a position where it feels the need to defend itself, the rest is self-explanatory