Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Soutpansberg Summer Surveys: February–April 2018

Eastern Vine Snake (Thelotornis capensis capensis), Mphaphuli, Soutpansberg.
Soutpansberg Reptiles
Large Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) from the Soutpansberg.
The SCBC has had a busy second half of summer. The majority of the season has been spent at high altitude at Lajuma Research Centre. Despite the high altitude site, reptile abundance and endemism at Lajuma is high.  Lajuma Research Centre is a great place to see some highly restricted endemic lizards. One of the most interesting endemics, the Soutpansberg Rock Lizard (Vhembelacerta rupicola) can easily be seen foraging along the cliff edges and between the bush clumps.

Soutpansberg Endemic
Soutpansberg Rock Lizard (Vhembelacerta rupicola) a highly restricted Soutpansberg endemic.
Nocturnal surveys proved quite unproductive at Lajuma so we did most of our night work collecting data at lower altitudes. As usual we saw a lot of snakes during  this summer and we were happy to catch up to a few species that we don't normally see close up. Specifically Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis), Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus) and Short-snouted Grass Snake (Psammophis brevirostris). These snakes normally rely on their speed and camouflage to escape detection.

Possible female Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis). Lajuma, Soutpansberg.
Male Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis). Lajuma, Soutpansberg.
Olive Whips Snake (Psammophis mossambicus), Waterpoort area, Soutpansberg.
Short-snouted Sand Snake (Psammophis brevirostrus). Entabeni, Soutpansberg.
Map depicting SCBC data collection points. As you can see we have a lot of work to still do.
Research has been very productive and we are close to 8000 reptile records from the region since November 2016 and our species list is sitting at 112 reptiles for the mountain. It is going to take some time to tidy, analyse and present data, but we have already managed to produce an abundance list based on all observational records and here are the top five snakes you are likely to encounter in the region (if you cover as much ground, visit as many locations and search in similar pattern to us).

Common Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra). This is the snake with highest recording rate (close to 100 records).
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans). Second most commonly seen snake (70 records).
When active searching on foot Black-headed Centipede Eater (Aparallactus capensis) is the most common snake we encounter about 60 records.
Bibron's Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii). It is unusual not to see one of these while surveying at night at low altitude we have 50 records of this species.
Brown House Snake (Boaedon capensis) is number 5 for our surveys, with 45 records.
Despite the common reptiles we also saw a lot of other interesting reptiles during the season. One of the best things about the late summer season is the amount of baby reptiles one sees. We saw a lot of hatchlings this season, below are some of the little animals we photographed.
Southern Brown Egg-eaters (Dasypeltis inornata) hatching.
Six Southern Brown Egg-eaters ready for release.
Hatchling Brown Water Snakes (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) with eggs.
Freshly hatched Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus).
Hatchling Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia).
Baby Southern African Rock Python (Python natalenis).
Juvenile Bushveld Lizard (Heliolobus lugubris). These are abundant in hot dry areas.
Juvenile Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis). These seem to make most people very happy..
The SCBC also did a few intensive site visits this summer; where we spent a few days in an area and built up species lists. The most productive site visits this half of the season have been Goro Game Reserve in December, where we located Bradfield’s Gecko, Entabeni where we recorded Rhombic Night Adder and a new locality for Southern Brown Egg Eaters and Bergtop Game Reserve where we found an extraordinary gecko: the Kalahari Ground Gecko, Pachydactylus (Colopus) whalbergii a first for the Soutpansberg. That’s three new species!
Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus whalbergii). Soutpansberg, Limpopo.
Even though amphibians are not our target animals, we do record and photograph them when we find them. All the frogs illustrated here have one thing in common: they prefer walking/running to hopping around.
Banded Rubber Frog (Phrynomantis bifasciatus). SOutpansberg, Limpopo.
An unusually coloured Bubbling Cassina (Kassina senigalensis). Lajuma, Soutpansberg.
The Soutpansberg's only endemic amphibian, Northern Forest Rain Frog (Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus). Entabeni.
In addition to these finds, we are developing our study on Muller’s Velvet Geckos (Homopholis mulleri): we have added six new specimens of this species to our distribution records (thanks to Ruan Stander for four of those!). Looking forward to developing this project in the coming few months. Watch this space!

Female Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri). Note swollen calcium glands, indicating readiness to produce eggs.
Other highlights for the season include finding three new scorpions in the Soutpansberg for our lists bringing the total species of scorpions located by the SCBC in the Soutpansberg to 24. Parabuthus granulatus is a well know species in Southern Africa as it has the most medically significant venom of all Southern African scorpions. We have located the species numerous times in the Northern Cape and along the Limpopo River, but this season was the first time we located them in the Soutpansberg, and this second half of summer we found them in two more localities. Parabuthus kuanyamarum and Afroisometrus minshullae are two rare scorpions which we thought we would never locate. This season we were lucky enough to find both.

Parabuthus kuanyamarum, Soutpansberg, Limpopo.
Afroisometrus minshullae is one of the rarest scorpions in Southern Africa with only a handful of records from northern Slopes of Soutpansberg into southern Zimbabwe. This tiny scorpion is a species we never expected to see.

Soutpansberg Scorpions
Afroisometrus minshullae, near Tshipise, Soutpansberg Region, Limpopo.

February we were joined by herpetologist Eric Jolin from Canada. Eric has spent the past four years working on Massasauga Rattlesnakes for Wildlife Preservation Canada throughout Ontorio. Eric helped us get our Leopard Tortoise Project off the ground, which he piloted. We are hoping this will turn into a popular long term monitoring project. Thanks for all your help and hard work in the field Eric, you gave us a very productive and enjoyable month.
Eric with an unnamed juvenile Leopard Tortoise (and a load of porcupine quills). Tortoise was marked and released for further studies on recruitment and habitat selection.
Looking forward to seeing what this winter will bring. While never very busy, we usually find and see some very unusual things during the winter season in the Soutpansberg. We are always looking for energetic and enthusiastic volunteers to join us on our sampling as well as researchers looking to do internships with us. Please contact the SCBC for more details.

Reptile Research South Africa
Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation: Reptile Research South Africa.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hot Nights in the Sand! Northern Slopes of the Soutpansberg 12-15 March 2018.

Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus wahlbergii). A new species for our list and a new record for the Soutpansberg.
Nice large Horned Adder spotted while walking through a hot dry area.
The Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation visited the Northern Slopes and Limpopo valley this week for reptile sampling. We visited a new site on a private reserve west of Waterpoort. As it was our first visit we spent our time identifying habitats to sample in, and began exploratory sampling to start building our lists for the reserve. Our aim for this first visit was to cover as much ground as possible and add as many species to the list as we could. In total we ended on 28 species of reptile from 142 individual records, including a few regional rarities and habitat specialists. We predict high diversity and abundance from this site.

Lala Palm thicket on Northern Slopes of Soutpansberg.
Open Savanna Sandveld of the hot northern slopes.
During the period we concentrated our efforts on two very different sandy areas that we identified as unique. The first being Lala Palm Thicket on deep sand, the second important area was Open Savanna Sandveld in a hot valley over the first ridge. Both habitats occur elsewhere on the Soutpansberg, but this is the first time we have sampled such large unbroken areas of these habitat. Other areas that were identified as interesting are the grassy marshy wetland areas and also the hot south facing slopes bordering hot dry sandveld.

Turner's Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri) most abundant gecko at site.
Juvenile Bushveld Lizard ( Heliobolus lugubris ) most abundant diurnal lizard at site.
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata). A common and attractive tree dwelling lizard.
Male Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)
Veld Monitor (Varanus albigularus) one of our largest lizard species.
The most common lizards we encountered during our survey were the highly visible and active bushveld lizards (29). Second most abundant was the nocturnal lizard, Turner’s Gecko (27). The third most common lizards encountered were the rock dwelling Rainbow Skinks and tree dwelling Striped Skinks (11 each). 

Peter's Ground Agama (Agama armata) one of two agamas we spotted.
Detail of Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus wahlbergii).
Our survey also produced one rarity, the Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydatylus wahlbergii). This gecko is common in the Central Kalahari region and there is an isolated population in Limpopo province, with records at Mopane (near Waterpoort) and Langjan. To our knowledge this is the first confirmed record of this species in the Soutpansberg and is a significant range extension.This brings our Soutpansberg Reptile list up to 111 species.

Adult male Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
Other interesting sightings were locating two species of Pachydactylus gecko (Transvaal Gecko and Speckled Gecko) in sympatry. This is also only the third locality in the Western Soutpansberg where we have found the Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
A beautifully marked Juvenile Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
Another surprise find was the the presence of Marsh Terrapins in Arid Sandveld. Three juveniles were seen in rock pools and a larger sub-adult was spotted in a man made drinking trough. Amazing that these aquatic animals have managed to move over hot dry sandy areas to find a suitable place to live.

Juvenile Marsh Terrapin ( Pelomedusa subrufa) found in temporary rock pool.
We were also happy to locate the White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes albiventris) on the deep sand. This is one of our target species we are working on in the Soutpansberg and busy updating distributional data for it. So far we have located them from Blouberg in the West all the way east to Nwanedi. Previously animal was restricted to Langjan area. 

White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes limpopoensis albiventris). A highly restricted Limpopo endemic. Our fourth locality for this species in the Soutpansberg.

We were surprised not to find many snakes during our sample effort although what we did see were interesting. At reserve we saw a Black Mamba, Bibron's Blind Snake, two Boomslang, a Horned adder, Yellow-bellied Sand Snake and Long-tailed Thread Snake. The dry hot weather probably resulted in the limited snake activity.
Female Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis)
Bibron's Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii).
Long-tailed Thread Snake (Myriopholis longicauda)
Juvenile Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis)
The Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation is also working on scorpion diversity and distribution and during our sampling we were lucky enough to locate a new species of scorpion for our list, Parabuthus kuanyamarum. this brings our Soutpansberg Scorpion List up to 26 species.

Parabuthus kuanyamarum a new species for our scorpion list.
Hottentota trilineatus eating solifuge.
Along the way we encountered some other interesting animals on the northern slopes off the sample site. Here are some of the highlights.
Parabuthus granulatus saw three moving around over two nights in hot conditions.
Juvenile Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus)
Large Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) hiding under bush.
Very obliging Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia) while photographing it jumped onto my camera and rested on my hand for a moment. These lizards are common, but one of my favorite species.

Very fat and possibly gravid Scolopendra morsitans.

Survey Site Reptile List

Marsh Terrapin (Pelomedusa subrufa)
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
Pienaar’s Flat Gecko (Afroedura pienaari)
Turner’s Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri)
Common Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)
Common Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)
Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus [Colopus] wahlbergii)
Common Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)
Transvaal Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis)
Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus)
Bushveld Lizard (Heliobolus lugubris)
Savanna Lizard (Meroles squamulosus)
Jones’ Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii)
Soutpansberg Flat Lizard (Platysaurus relictus)
Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus)
Spotted-neck  Snake-Eyed Skink (Panaspis maculicollis)
Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)
Striped Skink (Trachylepis punctatissima)
Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia)
White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes albiventris)
Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis)
Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis)
Distant’s Ground Agama (Agama aculeata distani)
Peter’s Ground Agama (Agama armata)
Bibron’s Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii)
Long-tailed Thread Snake (Myriopholis longicauda)
Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis)
Western Yellow-Bellied Sand Snake (Psammophis subtaeniatus)
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)

Big thanks to Mr. Jannie Moolman for allowing access to his beautiful property.

Juvenile Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis) sleeping on a branch.