Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Curious luck: New Species, Rarities and the familiar (April to June 2017)


Transvaal Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion transvaalense) from Entabeni. Photo Melissa Petford.
Panorama of Medike clearly showing the gorge cut by the Sand River (Photo Ryan MacDonnell)
The first half of the winter has been a very interesting period at the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. We have traveled widely to under sampled areas, spent a lot of time on the Northern Slopes and also enjoyed a fair bit of time at Lajuma and sunny Medike.

Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus). Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
Hatchling Leopard Tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) Photo Leo Eastley.
New Species for our Lists

During the last couple of months we have been working very hard looking for reptiles and meticuliously logging everything for our biodiversity surveys, amongst the 2406 records generated in just over two months, we managed to find some new species which is always exciting. 

The first new species for the period was a Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) from the hot dry northern slopes. After finding a sloughed skin of the species earlier this year we have been working very hard to locate specimens for photography and finally we caught up with one. Although these snakes are common they are very difficult to see. Since the first find we have located another.


First Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) for SCBC from the Northern Slopes. Photo Melissa Petford.
Second Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) from the Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
The second new species for the period was a rather big surprise, it was a juvenile Snouted Cobra. Anecdotal records indicated that the species did occur on Medike but we had not located them until May 2017 (note that we have been sampling since 2014). After the first we saw another, a very thickset two metre long adult, and a week later another. Very exciting! 

First Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera) for Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Second Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera) for Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
The other new species we found this past winter have been the elusive Dwarf Sand Snake (Psammophis angolensis), we spotted this little beauty while walking along the track at Medike. Next surprise was finding the Cape Skink in some deep Kalahari Sands while sampling in the far western Soutpansberg. Another interesting find was locating Stevenson's Dwarf Gecko near Pafuri in the North East. 


Dwarf Sand Snake (Psammophis angolensis) new species for Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.


Cape Skink (Trachylepis capensis) from the far Western Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Stevenson's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus stevensonii) from the North Eastern Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Southern Brown Egg-Eater (Dasypeltis inornata) from high altitude grassland in the Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.

The final new species for our list was the Southern Brown Egg-Eater (Dasypeltis inornata). The Soutpansberg harbours a relicit population of these plain, yet beautiful snakes. These snakes are completely harmless and feed exclusively on bird's eggs. These new finds bring our total list of reptiles for the Soutpansberg to 103 species and we are confident that we will locate even more with hard work in the coming months.
  
Rarities and Soutpansberg Endemics and Special Finds


The Soutpansberg is a hotspot for reptiles with many unusual and exciting animals to be seen. Sometimes locating them can be difficult, but with time we eventually catch up with even the most secretive. The most unusual and rare sighting we witnessed over this early winter period was Giant Baboon Spiders (Harpactira gigas) mating in the wild. We moved a rock and saw the male near the females chamber, the male started drumming and approaching the female. The whole thing took about five minutes and the male ran away in the end. This was a once in a lifetime sighting and amazing to witness. The whole thing was filmed by Ryan Macdonnell from Canada.
Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus) a rarity so far only found at Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.

Melanistic form of Cregoi's Legless Skink (Acontias cregoi) Punda Maria Kruger National Park. Photo Melissa Petford.
Normal colour morph of Cregoi's Legless Skink (Acontias cregoi) Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
The endemic Lang's Dwarf Worm Lizard (Chirindia langi langi), far eastern Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Some of our highlights include: locating another rare Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus), so far we have only located six individuals of this species at Medike which is a considerable range extension; finding a population of melanistic Cregoi's Legless Skinks (Acontias cregoi) near Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park; more localities for Lang's Dwarf Worm Lizard (Chirindia langi langi); obtaining a high altitude record for the Soutpansberg Purple-Glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra); a far western record for Savannah Lizards (Meroles squamulosus); and another locality for Jones's Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii).
The endemic Soutpansberg Purple Glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra) Entabeni, Photo Melissa Petford.
Savannah Lizard (Meroles squamulosus) a new species for our western Soutpansberg Lists. Photo Melissa Petford.
Gravid Jones's Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii) Western Soutpansberg. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

The Familiar

During Winter things are a bit slower and we tend to take more time with the animals we find and get some photographs of more common and visible species. Because our participants over the past two months were avid nature photographers we took a little more time to get some good images of the more common but still exciting Soutpansberg reptiles. As you can see we were lucky to see so many different species.

Lizards
Spotted Sandveld Lizard (Nucras interetexta) Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.

High altitude camera trap image of a Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus). Courtesy of Jordy Koedam.
Whalberg's Snake Eyed Skink (Panaspisd whalbergii) Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
Kalahari Dwarf Worm Lizard (Zygaspis quadrifrons). Goro Game Reserve. Photo Melissa Petford.
Yellow Throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis) Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.

Soutpansberg Flat Lizard (Platysaurus relictus) Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Bushveld Lizard (Heliolobus lugubrus), Northern Slopes. Melissa Petford.
Hatchling Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis) photo Melissa Petford.



Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis), near Pafuri. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Water Monitor (Varanus niloticus), Pafuri, Kruger National Park. Photo Melissa Petford.
Water Monitor (Varanus niloticus) Punda Maria, Kruger National Park. Photo Melissa Petford.

Snakes
Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) near Waterpoort. Photo Melissa Petford.
Natal Rock Python (Python natalensis) Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.

Common Slug Eater (Duberia lutrix) Hanglip. Photo Melissa Petford.
Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) Hanglip. Photo Melissa Petford.
Common Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) Hanglip. Photo Melissa Petford.
Common Centipede Eater (Aparallactus capensis) Goro Game Reserve. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) Goro Game Reserve. Photo Melissa Petford.
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) in camouflage mode, Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
Juvenile Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Long-tailed Thread Snake (Myriopholis longicauda). Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Big thanks to everyone who helped us in the field and with additional support over the past few months, without you all none of this would be possible. Special thanks to Goro research Centre, Lajuma Reserach Centre, Hannes and Maritjie Underhay, Jordy Koedam, our assistants Leo Eastley and Ryan Macdonnell, Craig Napier and family, Nimeng Safaris and Johan Marais.
The core team for the past few months. From left Ryan Macdonnell, Jordy Koedam, Ryan van Huyssteen, Melissa Petford and Leo Eastley (Centre).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

January – April 2017: Lizard Days Serpentine nights!


Jones's Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii), Goro Game Reserve, Western Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
Spotted Rock Snake (Lamprophis guttatus) from North of Louis Trichardt. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus) found at Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Soutpansberg Flat Lizard (Platysaurus relictus) found throughout the western Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
A hatchling Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis). We saw hundreds this season. Photo Melissa Petford.
We have had an exceptionally busy late summer period here at the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. With the nice wet weather conditions, life of every type has flourished and with that a boom in reptilian activity. With warm temperatures well into the night we worked on the night shift most of the time. These involved long night walks and regular night drives to locate nocturnal species. This year we have been lucky enough to have traveled widely in the Soutpansberg, but as usual most of our time was spent at sunny Medike. The second half of the wet season produced some exciting new species for our lists: Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis), Snouted cobra (Naja annulifera), Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus), Striped Quill Snouted Snake (Xenocalamus bicolor lineatus), Fitzimons' Legless Skink (Acontias fitzsimonsi) and a new frog Northern Pygmy toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti).

Medike at the height of the wet season. Photo Melissa Petford.

Heavy rains north of the Soutpansberg. Perfect conditions for doing night drives. Photo Melissa Petford.
Bibron's Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii) in defensive posture. Photo Melissa Petford.
The rare Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis arnoldi) found near Waterpoort. Photo Melissa Pertford.
Jordy Koedam with a large Black File Snake (Gonionotophis nyassae) found crossing the road near Waterpoort.
Long-tailed Garter Snake (Elapsoidea sundevallii longicauda) from near Waterpoort. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) at Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Colour variation in population of Cape Geckos (Pachydactylus capensis). Photos Melissa Petford.
A beautiful Brown House Snake (Boedon capensis) Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Female Peter's Ground Agama (Agama armata) with a hole she dug to deposit her eggs. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen. 
View of Sand River at Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Chirindia langi occidentalis from Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Large Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus) Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.
Juvenile Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus), Medike. Photo Melissa Petford.

Sebastian Stroud with orphaned Lesser Bushbaby that the SCBC is currently rehabilitating.

This summer SCBC was joined by UK environmentalist Sebastian Stroud who participated in the SCBCs reptile programme for two months in the field. Sebastian’s strong fieldwork sensibility, willingness to learn, untiring enthusiasm and baffling sense of humour made for an exciting two months. Thanks for your participation Seb, the SCBC will certainly be left a better project with your input. Other field contributors to the project this summer were Colbert Mufamadi from South Africa, Jordy Koedam from Netherlands, Lisa Hoyer Germany, and Jaide Vidafar from Australia – thanks to you all for your help.

Mapangubwe

Free roaming Elephants near Mapangubwe National Park.
A beautiful Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) found near the Limpopo River. Photo Melissa Petford.
Our first destination this year was to visit the Limpopo river near Mapangubwe National Park. This is still a truly wild region. We saw Elephants on the side of the road, heard hyaenas calling nearly every night and one night while photographing a snake we could hear the distant roar of lions. In the area we mainly sampled at night and found a few new species for our lists, the most notable being Horned Adder, Quill Snouted Snake, Garter Snakes a new frog Guinea Shovel Nosed and finally we caught up with the Limpopo Parabuthus granulatus – Southern Africa’s most dangerous scorpion.

Long-tailed Garter Snake (Elapsoidea sundevallii longicauda) from near Mapangubwe. Photo Melissa Petford.
Guinea shovelnose frog (Hemisus guineensis) from near Mapangubwe. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Striped Quill-snouted Snake (Xenocalamus bicolor lineatus). Near Mapangubwe. Photo Melissa Petford.

 Lajuma


A remote valley near Lajuma peak.
 A massive Common Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas polylepis polylepis) found at Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.

The SCBC is lucky enough to be able to visit Lajuma and surrounding properties in the newly proclaimed Luvhondo Nature Reserve on a regular basis. This summer our work at Lajuma has resulted in a new species for the property list (Common Purple Glossed Snake) and a deeper understanding of the reptile communities on the mountain. Melissa Petford, SCBC Programme Coordinator, is currently engaged with her Masters Degree on rupicolus species and the ecology of two endemic dwarf geckos (watch this space for more details). 

Cryptic Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus incognitus) Lajuma. Photo Melissa Petford.
An interesting colour variation of East African Shovel-snout from Lajuma (Prosymna stuhlmanni).
Cregoi's Blind Legless Skink (Acontias cregoi) from Bergplaats, Soutpansberg. Photo Melissa Petford.
 

Goro

Open Savanna Woodland at Goro Game Reserve, the deep sand creates perfect conditions for high biodiversity.
The SCBC spent an extremely productive week at Goro Game reserve on the Northern slopes, we were sampling for fossorial species. It was here that we located Jones’s Girdled Lizard, Zygaspis and confirmation that Scelotes albiventris and Scelotes limpopoensis co-occur in the Soutpansberg. We have also begun to experiment with different sampling techniques; including randomised digging, drift net and funnel trap arrays and we have also begun experimentation for arboreal drift fence and funnel trap arrays. Highlights for Goro were a new locality and QDG for Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis. Very strange to see them on the blistering hot northern slopes.

SCBC team setting up drift fence with funnel traps at Goro.
Kalahari Dwarf Worm Lizard (Zygaspis quadrifrons). Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
A heavily gravid Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis). Photo Melissa Petford.




A juvenile Bushveld Lizard (Heliobolus lugubris) mimicking a Carabidae beetle. Photo Melissa Petford.
Peter's Ground Agama (Agama armata). Photo Melissa Petford.
Bushveld Rainfrog (Breviceps adspersus adspersus). Photo Melissa Petford.
Black File Snake ( (Gonionotophis nyassae) from Goro. Photo Melissa Petford.
Black-headed Centipede Eater (Aparallactus capensis). Photo Melissa Petford.
Common Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) Goro. Photo Melissa Petford.
Transvaal Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis), Goro. Photo Melissa Petford.
The endemic Soutpansberg Purple-glossed Snake (Amblyodipsas microphthalma nigra) Goro. Photo Melissa Petford.

Punda Maria, Kruger National Park 

The SCBC made time to travel to the far South-eastern Soutpansberg to try our luck at Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park. Here we did very well and besides seeing all the mega-fauna we found an interesting little lizard call Acontias fitzsimonsi. The individual we found was melanistic and very difficult to identify. We also found a new scorpion for the area, Pseudolychas pegleri. Looking forward to sampling this area again in the coming months.

Fitzimons' Legless Skink (Acontias fitzsimonsi?), Punda Maria, Kruger National Park. Photo Melissa Petford.
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata), Punda Maria. Kruger National Park.
Common Rough-scaled Lizard (Meroles squamulosa), Punda Maria. Photo Melissa Petford.
Holub's Sandveld Lizard (Nucras holubi), near Punda Maria Kruger National Park. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Golwe-Vhurivhuri and Gundani

Miombo Woodland at Gundani (Brachystegia spiciformis) a unique environment. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Eastern Soutpansberg is a largely unexplored area comprised of rural villages, forested valleys, wooded sandstone hillsides asnd home to South Africas only patch of Brachystegia (Miombo woodland) at Gundani. We spent a day at Gundani in the forest and located a new locality for Chirindia langi langi. In the coming months we will explore this largely under-surveyed area.

Lang's Worm Lizard (Chirindia langi langi) from Gundani. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Transvaal Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis), Golwe. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Juvenile Pachydactylus affinis, Golwe. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Pafuri and Surrounds

Mopane woodland at Pafuri. One of the many habitats in the area. Photo Melissa Petford.
Luvhuvhu River at Pafuri. Home to the elusive Limpopo Forest Cobra. Photo Melissa Petford.

Possibly the most tropical region in Limpopo, the Pafuri area of the far north-eastern Soutpansberg is a biodiversity hotspot with very different biogeographic regions colliding: bringing together a wealth of different species including eastern tropical forms. It is here along the rivers that the Limpopo Forest Cobra has been seen skulking in the thick tangles, a species the SCBC is trying hard to study. Our visit to Pafuri was really productive this summer. We found more localities for Chirindia langi langi which is adding to further knowledge of these largely unknown and secretive burrowing lizards.

Chirindia langi langi from Masisi area. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis) in a tree at Pafuri. Photo Melissa Petford.
The crepuscular Sunduvall's Writhing Skink ( Mochlus sundevalli). Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Scorpions

Finding the Limpopo Parabuthus granulatus was the scorp highlight for the period. These scorpions are wide ranging in the hot dry regions of Southern Africa and come into Limpopo in the far north region. The scorpion’s venom has the highest Lethal Dose value of anhy Southern African scorpion with an LD value of 1.56mg/kg the second most venomous, Parabuthus transvaalicus has an LD value of 4.25mg/kg. Over the next few months we will be doing even more work on the scorpions of the Soutpansberg. Watch this space for more details!
Parabuthus granulatus near Mapangubwe. Note lack of hair on tail and small telson. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Parabuthus traansvaalicus from near Mapangubwe. Note hairy tail and large telson. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Uroplectes planimanus with babies, Pafuri. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
Uroplectes olivaceus from the Luvhondo Private Nature Reserve. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.
A premolt Parabuthus mossambicensis from Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van  Huyssteen.
Uroplectes carinatus Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van  Huyssteen.
Hadogenes soutpansbergensis with first instar scorplings, Lajuma. Photo Ryan van Huyssteen.

Male Hadogenes soutpansbergensis Goro Game Reserve. Photo Ryan van  Huyssteen.