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.

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