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.

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