Monday, February 19, 2018

Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity February Trip Report (Entabeni, Punda Maria and Waterpoort)

Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) a highly restricted and rarely seen gecko from the Soutpansberg.
As part of our long term greater Soutpansberg Reptile Survey, the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation travelled to the eastern Soutpansberg to sample the Entabeni area near Thohoyandou. The trip was very successful; we logged over 400 individual reptiles (284 at Entabeni) with a total species count of 44, including a new species for our list. Big thanks to Eric Jolin for all the hard work in the in the field and maintaining a positive attitude throughout our visit. Also a big thank you to Lorraine Egan from SAFCOL for arranging our accommodation and for permissions. 

Transvaal Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion transvaalense), Entabeni.
Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulattus) Punda Maria.
Painted Reed Frog ( Hyperolius marmoratus taeniatus) Entabeni.
Entabeni (11-15 February)

Wet Grassland with forested bush clumps at Entabeni.

During our stay at Entabeni we aimed to sample as much high altitude grassland as possible. Finding suitable sites was quite challenging, as it is not an area we have sampled too many times before. The fragmentation in the area is quite high, yet there were quite a few pockets of undisturbed forest and grassland.

We found the grasslands to be quite high in reptile abundance, most common reptiles being Whalberg’s Snake-eyed Skink (Panaspis whalbergii). We concentrated our efforts in three main areas. One section of very rocky grassland that had been quite heavily grazed, another grassland with very few rocks that was moderately grazed and another patch of grassland which had both very rocky and less rocky areas which had also been partly grazed and was partly pristine.

Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus) high altitude eastern form. Entabeni.
Common Girdled Lizard (Cordylus vittifer). Entabeni.
The most frequently seen reptile Wahlberg's Snake-Eyed Skink (Panaspis wahlbergii). Entabeni.
Speckled Rock Skink (Trachylepis punctatissima). Entabeni.
Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia) a species complex recently split into three. Entabeni.
Male Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer). Entabeni.
Cregoi's Legless Skink (Acontias cregoi). Entabeni.
Vanson's Gecko (Pachydactylus vansoni) Entabeni.
Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis). Entabeni.
Hatchling Yellow-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis) found in nursery site with many eggs. Entabeni.
We made 284 individual reptile observations during our limited time. Significant records were high altitude records of Short-snouted Sand Snake (Psammophis brevirostrus), a predation record for a Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) which had eaten two Forest Rain Frogs, Breviceps sylvestris), a new species for our list a hatchling Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombetus), some Transvaal Dwarf Chameleons (Bradypodion transvaalense) and the twelve species of frogs we recorded.

Short-snouted Grass Snake (Psammophis brevirostris) Entabeni.

Hatchling Red-lipped Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) Entabeni.
Hatchling Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus), Entabeni.
Bicoloured adult Bibron's Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii). Entabeni.
Another interesting observation we made was that the pine forests contained a surprising amount of biodiversity. Traveling through the forestry roads we often saw Montane Speckled Skinks (Trachylepis punctatissima), heard Rain Frogs and saw quite a few mammals. The Natal Green Snake we found was also in highly transformed area with pine and alien pioneers (Solanum mauritianum). More research into recolonisation and biodiversity of these disturbed habitats should be prioritised.

Natal Sand Frog (Tomopterna natalensis). Entabeni
Flat-Backed Toad (Sclerophrys pusilla). Entabeni
Gutteral Toad ( Sclerophrys gutteralis) Entabeni.
Common River Frog (Ameita delandii). Entabeni.
Soutpansberg Forest Rain Frog (Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus) Entabeni.
Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus) Entabeni.

Punda Maria and Pafuri Sections: Kruger National Park (15-17 February)

Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus) Eastern Lowland Form. Punda Maria.
Leaving Entabeni, the short drive to Punda Maria produced a few dead on road specimens, including a young  Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus). After driving around looking at megafauna we went back to camp and walked around in the hot humid weather to see what we could find. It was rush hour and we photographed many species of frog including a Northern Pygmy Toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti), Dwarf Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus mababiensis) and Broad Banded Grass Frog (Ptychadena mossambica). The night also delivered the highlight for our Punda effort, a beautiful sub-adult Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus lunulatus), in addition to this we also found two Stilleto Snakes (Atractaspis bibronii). This has added another two snake species to our Punda Maria lists.

Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). Pafuri. Photo Eric Jolin.

Bibron's Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii) Punda Maria.
Turner's Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri). Punda Maria.
Speckled Skink (Pachydactylus punctatus). Punda Maria.
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata) Punda Maria.
Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus). Punda Maria area.
Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) Pafuri region.
During the the drive through Kruger National Park from Punda Maria to Pafuri we located a few more species for our trip lists. These included Zimbabwe Flat Lizard (Platysaurus intermedius rhodesianus), Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus) and a Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis) crossing the road.

Dwarf Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus mababiensis) Punda Maria.

Plain Grass Frog (Ptychadena anchieta) Punda Maria.

Northern Pygmy Toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti) Punda Maria.

Pafuri to Lajuma via Waterpoort (17 February)

Female Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) a rarely seen and highly restricted animal.
To maximise our diversity and areas covered we exited at Pafuri gate and drove via Waterpoort to to do some night sampling in the area on our way back home. The trip back produced the highlight of our trip: a male and female Muller’s Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) found at Waterpoort. We also found two juvenile pythons moving about in moist weather and a very large Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra).

Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis) Pafuri.
Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis). Waterpoort.
African Bull Frog ( Pyxicephalus edulis)
Melissa Petford with massive Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) to show the scale.
All in all a very succesful trip. Watch this space for more trip reports and contact us if you would like to join us on one of our intensive reptile sampling trips at very resonable prices.

Reptiles (44 Species)
Pelusios sinuatus   Serrated Hinged Terrapin
Stigmochelys pardalis – Leopard Tortoise
Crocodylus niloticus – Nile Crocodile
Chondrodactylus turneri – Turner’s Tubercled Gecko
Hemidactylus mabouia – Tropical House Gecko
Homopholis mulleri – Muller’s Velvet Gecko  
Homopholis wahlbergii – Wahlberg’s Velvet Gecko
Lygodactylus ocellatus soutpansbergensis – Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko  
Pachydactylus punctatus – Speckled Gecko
Pachydactylus vansoni – Vanson’s Gecko  
Heliolobus lugubris – Bushveld Lizard
Cordylus vittifer – Transvaal Girdled Lizard
Smaug warreni depressus – Flat Girdled Lizard
Platysaurus intermedius rhodesianus – Zimbabwe Flat Lizard
Broadleysaurus major – Rough-scaled Plated Lizard
Gerrhosaurus flavigularis – Yellow Throated Plated Lizard
Matobosaurus validus – Giant Plated Lizard
Acontias cregoi – Cregoi’s Legless Skink
Panaspis maculicollis – Spotted-necked Snake-eyed Skink
Panaspis wahlbergii – Wahlberg’s Snake-eyed Skink
Mochlus sundevallii sundevallii – Sundevall’s Writhing Skink
Trachylepis margaritifer – Rainbow Skink
Trachylepis punctatissima – Speckled Rock Skink
Trachylepis striata – Striped Skink
Trachylepis varia – Variable Skink
Varanus albigularis albigularis – Rock Monitor
Varanus niloticus – Water Monitor
Chamaeleo dilepis dilepis – Flap-necked Chameleon
Bradypodion transvaalense – Wolkberg Dwarf Chameleon
Acanthocercus atricollis atricollis – Southern Tree Agama
Afrotyphlops bibronii – Bibron’s Blind Snake
Leptotyphlops sp. – Unidentified Worm Snake
Python natalensis – Southern African Python
Bitis arietans arietans – Puff Adder
Causus rhombeatus – Rhombic Night Adder
Aparallactus lunulatus lunulatus – Reticulated Centipede Eater
Atractaspis bibronii – Bibron’s Stiletto Snake
Psammophis brevirostris – Short-snouted Grass Snake
Psammophis mossambicus – Olive Grass Snake
Elapsoidea sundevallii longicauda – Long-tailed Garter Snake
Dasypeltis scabra – Rhombic Egg Eater
Dispholidus typus – Northern Boomslang
Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia – Red-lipped Snake
Philothamnus natalensis natalensis – Eastern Natal Green Snake

Amphibians (20 species)
Breviceps adspersus adspersus – Bushveld Rain Frog
Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus – Soutpansberg Forest Rain Frog
Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti – Northern Pygmy Toad
Schismaderma carens – Red Toad
Sclerophrys capensis – Raucous Toad
Sclerophrys garmani – Eastern Olive Toad
Sclerophrys gutteralis – Guttural Toad
Sclerophrys pusilla – Flat-Backed Toad
Hyperolius marmoratus taeniatus – Painted Reed Frog
Kassina senegalensis – Bubbling Kassina
Phrynomantis bifasciatus – Banded Rubber Frog
Phrynobatrachus mababiensis – Dwarf Puddle Frog
Ptychadena anchieta – Plain Grass Frog
Ptychadena mossambica – Broad Banded Grass Frog
Xenopus laevis – Common Platanna
Ametia delandii – Common River Frog
Cacosternum boettgeri – Boettger's Caco
Pyxicephalus edulis – African Bullfrog
Strongylopus grayii – Clicking Stream Frog
Tomopterna natalensis – Natal Sand Frog
Chiromantis xerampelina – Southern Foam Nest Frog

Southern Ground Hornbill. Also interested in herps.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Lizard Life: First Half of Summer September 2017- January 2018

A beautiful male Arnold's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis arnoldi) from Blouberg Nature Reserve. Photo Melissa Petford.
The rarely seen Zambezi Giant Blind Snake (Afrothyphlops mucruso), near Waterpoort. Photo Melissa Petford.
The elusive Dwarf Sand Snake (Psammophis angolensis), Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
The first half of the season has been very interesting. We have been settling into our new base at Lajuma Research Centre located in the newly proclaimed Luvhondo Private Nature Reserve.  Lajuma, is a high altitude site and boasts the highest peak in the Soutpansberg. The habitat is broadly composed of Afromontane Forest, Soutpansberg Summit Sourveld and Soutpansberg Mountain Bushveld and has exceptionally high biodiversity and high endemnism.
Last season the SCBC saw one python. This season we have been seeing a lot. Photo Melissa Petford.

Vine Snakes (Thelotornis capensis) have been very common this season. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Lajuma Gate, Luvhondo Private Nature Reserve. New home of Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation.
So far the summer has been cool and dry (relatively speaking). Lajuma has received very little rain and reptile activity has been low because of drought conditions. Despite that, our hard work and determination has paid off, and we have found four new reptile species (Lygodactylus bradfieldi; Rhinotyphlops landeli; Pelomedusa galeata (subrufa); Homopholis arnoldi) for our lists, one new frog species (Strongylopus fasciatus) and a new scorpion (Parabuthus granulatus). Currently our scorpion list is at 24 species and our reptile list is sitting on 109. The diversity of the Soutpansberg never fails to amaze us.

Hatchling Marsh Terrapin Pelomedusa galeata (subrufa). Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Bradfield's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus bradfieldi), Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ruan Stander.
Arnold's Velvet Gecko (Homopholius arnoldi) Punda Maria. Photo Melissa Petford.
Male Parabuthus granulatus, Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
So far this season has been very exciting and busy off the field. We participated in BirdMap’s Big Bird Day at Blouberg, on 25 November logging  only 106 species in miserably cold and rainy conditions including a new species for the pentad. We also caught up with some of Blouberg’s amazing reptile fauna including one of the most vibrant Arnold’s Velvet Geckos we have ever seen.

Long-tailed Garter Snake (Elapsoidea sunduvallii longicauda) from Blouberg Nature Reserve. Photo Melissa Petford.

Beautiful pale coloured Speke's Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys spekii) found after a shower at Blouberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Striped Quill-snouted Snake (Xenocalamus bicolor lineatus) Blouberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
The highly restricted Makabeng Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus montiscaeruli) from Blouberg.
The SCBC also delivered a talk at Greater Mapungubwe Network and the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve Invasive Species Working Group meeting held on 24 November. Our talk was on Reptile Diversity in the Soutpansberg and we spoke about what drives the high biodiversity in region.

Melissa and Ryan delivering talk at Greater Mapungubwe Network and the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve Invasive Species Working Group meeting. Photo Malou Storm.
Sampling for Flat Lizards high up on an inselberg in the Makabeng. Photo Melissa Petford.
In an effort to remain dynamic, the SCBC has been doing exploratory fieldwork further abroad in the area. First week of January we traveled to the Makabeng Plateau south of Blouberg to see some of Limpopo’s highly endangered lizards, specifically Platysaurus monotropis and Platysaurus inopinus. It was a privilege to see these animals and experience the cultural landscape that is the Makabeng. Sadly the region is threatened by mining and these lizards will be one of the many unique species to disappear if threats continue.

Young male Orange-throated Flat Lizard (Platysaurus monotropis) from Makabeng area. Photo Melissa Petford.
Unexpected Flat Lizard (Platysaurus inopinus) from the Makabeng. Photo Melissa Petford.
The biggest development in the SCBCs forseable future is our current involvement in coordinating the Western Soutpansberg Biodiversity Project in partnership with University of Venda and Lajuma Research Centre. This massive project will sample an area of 68103 ha covering two quarter degree grids (2229CD and 2329AB).

Lajuma Biodiversity Project Study Site. Graphic (c) Norbert Hahn.
The project aims are ambitious and will consist of: GIS mapping of physical environmental factors; creation of detailed vegetation maps; compilation of detailed species checklists for area (all flora and fauna); a list of parasites and pathogens active in region; mathematical models will be created to identify species richness, biodiversity hotspots, and to further our biodiversity and rural development agendas; and genetic analysis will be used to determine the taxonomic status of problematic species or subspecies. We will need a lot of help for this project: watch this space for more details and don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information.

It's been a really busy season so far. We have visited many localities and seen a lot of diversity, From the eastern foothills of the Soutpansberg at Punda Maria, all along the hot northern slopes to the cliffs of Blouberg Nature Reserve in the far west; below are some of our highlights:

Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis). Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Nice reddish Speke's Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys spekii) Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Serrated Hinged Terrapin (Pelusios sinuatus) Punda Maria, KNP. Photo Melissa Petford.
Spotted Rock Snake (Lamprohis guttatus), Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large female Common Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) Lajuma Research Centre, Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Large Puff Adder (Bitis arietans). Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Limpopo's only endemic snake, Soutpansberg Purple Glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra), Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
A highly agitated Bibron's Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii). Near Vivo. Photo Melissa Petford.
Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis) laying in ambush position in small rain filled puddle. Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
High altitude and unique colour form of East-African Shovel-Snout (Prosymna stuhlmanni). Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Perhaps the most common snake in the Limpopo Valley, the Stripe-bellied Sand Snake (Psammophis subtaeniatus). Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
A harmless Herald Snake(Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) showing threat display. Vivo. Photo Melissa Petford.
Soutpansberg Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra) Punda Maria, KNP. Photo Melissa Petford.
Common Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense) from Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Varigated Wolf Snake (Lycophidion variegatum) Sand River. Photo Melissa Petford.
Long-tailed Garter Snake (Elapsoidea sunduvallii longicauda) from Waterpoort. Photo Melissa Petford.

Rhombic Egg-Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) fro Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Eastern Tiger Snake (Telescopus semiannulatus) Sand River. Photo Melissa Petford.
Adult and juvenile White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes albiventris), a highly restricted sand swimmer. Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Limpopo girdled lizard (Cordylus jonesii) from Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
The endemic Pienaar's Flat Gecko (Afoedura pienaari) from the Sand River. Photo Melissa Petford.
The highly restricted Stripe-bellied Legless Skink (Acontias kgalagadi subtaeniatus). Goro. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Blue-throated male Orange-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis). Lajuma Reserach Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
African Bullfrog (Pyxicephalus edulis) Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Bubbling Kassina (Kassina senegalensis) Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Tremolo Sand Frog (Tomopterna cryptotis) Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Striped Stream Frog (Strongylopus fasciatus) Lajuma Research Centre. Photo Melissa Petford.
Flat-backed Toad (Sclerophrys pusilla) Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Cheloctonis jonesii from high altitude grassland, Lajuma. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Large solifuge eating Giant Sand Cricket (Sia sp.). Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Ethmostigmus trigonopodus, Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Cormocephalus nitidus, Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Big thanks to everyone who made this first half of the season successful and memorable. Notably Francis Burger, Lauren Hale, Jazz Violet, Sterrin Smalbrugge, Craig Napier, Henk Nel, Ruan Stander, Johan Marais, Ashley Kemp, Luke Kemp, Gary Nicoloau, Sina Weier, Jabu and Bibi Linden, Ian Gaigher, Oldrich van Schalkwyk, Richard Pettifor, Hannes and Maritjie Underhay, Alan and Lorna Carr, Tim Hartelt and Sylvie Failletaz: thanks to all of you without your help and support on and off the field our season and project would be poorer.
Common Mole Rat (Cryptomys hottentotus) found crossing the road during a survey. Photo Melissa Petford.