The temperature has been uncomfortably hot all week and today is no exception. There is still no sign of rain either. Despite the heat and the aridity of the air, the walls and floors of our home – both indoors and out – host a skittering of geckos of all sizes.
Although these large tortoises are often called Mountain Tortoises (probably as a direct translation of the Afrikaans name, Bergskilpad), it is also called a Leopard Tortoise – which is not surprising when you note its spotted shell. The pardalis part of its scientific name, Stigmochelys pardalis, refers specifically to its spotted shell.
Just for fun, here is a photograph of a leopard.
Leopard tortoises are the largest species of tortoise that occur in southern Africa. They are also the only tortoise that can raise its head or swim as they do not have a nucal shield above the neck. Their heads are moderately large with a hooked upper jaw. As they are toothless, they use their horny beak to sheer through the grass and other plants that they eat.
The high-domed shell provides protection from the heat of the sun. Note its tongue sticking out.
Their rear legs are well developed while the almost paddle-shaped and pigeon-toed front legs with a row of small nails is used to move very fast and easily manoeuvre over rocky terrain – which may also have given rise to its alternate name of Mountain Tortoise.
During the breeding season, males are combative, including actions such as ramming their opposition, butting and occasionally even overturning one another. This victorious one has found his female.
Regular readers do not get excited for it hasn’t rained enough here to soak the ground, let alone form rivulets and mud. Yet, the thickest, darkest, stickiest mud I have seen for a long time was evident at the Ghwarrie waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – where it hasn’t rained much either. Look at this family of elephants churning up the mud on the edge of the waterhole as they move forward to get to the clear water to drink.
One of them clearly desired a mud bath and spent some time squirting this thick, sloshy black mud over itself.
The results of this mud flinging can clearly be seen as they turn to move away from the water.
Some of the elephants looked as though they were wearing dark boots as they made their way along the edge of the waterhole to seek food further afield. Then I looked down at a strange dark object nearby.
On closer inspection I realised it was a terrapin!
This one had obviously decided not to burrow into the mud.
“Stop!” I called upon sighting a snake crossing the dirt road ahead of us. Out I hopped, camera in hand to see what it was. The shape of this sinuous creature indicated that it was definitely a cobra. The first Cape Cobra I ever saw was a rich yellow colour, which is why I did not recognise this one at first. To business: photograph it to identify later if necessary and then admire it a little before resuming our journey. Cape Cobras can actually vary in colour from the yellow I have fixed in my mind to copper, various shades of brown, and even black. They can also be speckled with shades of brown and orange.
Cape cobras are usually found on the ground, although they can climb trees and shrubs. I made sure to stand well behind it as I watched it cross the road. The tighter curves seemed to indicate that it was not particularly pleased with my presence. It also lifted its head slightly and began to spread its neck into a broader ‘hood’, which are typical warning signs.
You will forgive me for not waiting around too long to get everything in focus, but this is was its broad hood looked like.
The snake expressed its displeasure by lifting its head off the ground. Fortunately, the Cape cobra is not a spitting cobra and prefers to flee from danger. If it hissed I was not close enough to hear it. The warning signs were clear and I heeded them.
I let it continue on its way across the road, feeling delighted to have come across it so unexpectedly.
Cape cobras have fixed front fangs and they do not spit venom, but bite instead.
This stranger is dark and rather handsome, but not tall at all. In fact, it is a wonder that I noticed him at all! You see, I was coming in from outdoors and halted on the top step to unhook the french door as I wished to close it against the wind. It was as I bent down to lift the hook that I spotted this tiny, and very interesting looking, creature.
Apart from the pretty colouring and patterns, as well as the golden eye, I am fascinated by its tail. The tail is so different from the rest of its body – why? If someone reading this has any idea what this stranger’s name is I would be delighted to know. It remained very still for a while before entering the house over the lip of the door. You can tell just how tiny he is by comparing his size with that of the tufts in a very ordinary carpet.
NOTE: I am grateful to Chad Keates for positively identifying this as a Spotted gecko (Pachydactylus maculatus).