PUFFADDER CROSSING

One does not often see snakes in the road and so it was interesting to see this puff adder (Bitus arietans) crossing a dirt road.

Notice how its body seems to dent in as it passes over small pebbles. Unlike several other snakes that seem to move at great speeds, the heavy-bodied puff adder moved slowly enough for me to observe its passage from one side of the road to the other. You can see its tongue more easily in this photograph:

It is commonly accepted that snakes use their tongue as a primary sensing device. They can ‘smell’ by flicking their tongue up and down to pick up various particles in the air. The chemical information collected is used in conjunction with the Jacobson’s organ, situated in the roof of the mouth. Puff adders mostly rely on their camouflage and the ability to lie still in order to catch their prey. When a Puff adder detects movement in its immediate vicinity, it will use its tongue to determine the source of the movement. This Puff adder headed up the raised bank at the side of the road.

Where it would soon ‘disappear’ in the shade of the low bushes.

 

 

SOUTHERN ROCK AGAMA

Among the many pleasant aspects about staying over in a national park is that you get to know the birds and other creatures that visit your immediate surroundings. I was fascinated by the appearance of this Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra) basking on a nearby rock on our first morning in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

Wait! I hadn’t noticed there were actually two of them: the one in front is a female. Both of them blend well with the rocks they chose to bask on during the day.  The male is a fine looking fellow:

He had a wise look about him:

Seen on her own, the female is also rather attractive:

Although, she didn’t delight in the attention and opted to scramble up a wall:

Then, probably feeling threatened, decided to head south to where she could scuttle into a crevice:

WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

While the quotation Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! (Sir Walter Scott) uses the imagery of a spider’s web, it often springs to mind when I walk past this enormous Natal fig (Ficus natalensis) growing next to the road around the corner from where we live. Look at the intricacy of the large trunk and the air roots that have become so entwined over the years – much as that ‘small white lie’ might grow and twist until one can become completely ensnared by it.

No, this isn’t a moral tale – merely an analogy. We too have a magnificent Natal fig in our garden, the base of which is somewhat hidden by a number of clivia plants.

It was big thirty years ago and now has a very wide drooping canopy of shade, with branches that stretch right over the street!

While the figs are not edible to humans, they attract a wide variety birds which relish them.

The broad branches provide adequate roosting spots for several Hadeda Ibises that come in to land during the late afternoon and generally start waking up the neighbourhood about half an hour before sunrise every morning. Here two of them are perched on a branch.

Other birds commonly seen in this tree are Red-eyed Doves, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Black-collared Barbets, and Olive Thrushes.

We are always delighted when a flock of African Green Pigeons settle in to devour the fruit.

We have seen Olive Thrushes and Speckled Mousebirds nesting in the tree, as well as Fork-tailed Drongos. Here a parent has just brought food to its youngster.

A thick layer of mulch has gathered underneath the tree, so thick that one can sink into it. One has to step through it with care – this puff adder emerged from it into our neighbour’s garden three years ago.

NO TAIL

Most of us are used to seeing enormous trucks driving along the main roads, carrying various loads from one place to another. The mechanical horse and trailer fit together like a cup and saucer – until one comes across a mechanical horse sans trailer, then it looks odd: too big to have what appears to be such a short wheel-base; the cab set far too high … the same applies to a gecko or a lizard that has lost its tail. Look at this one:

These marvellous creatures can sever their tails as a form of self-defence as the wriggling tail is quite likely to distract its predator. This self-amputation is known as autotomy (from the Greek ‘self’ and ‘sever’). There is no blood loss, and the tail regrows over several months. I have seen some with forked tails or rather skew tails too – possibly because they have not regrown properly.

CAPE DWARF GECKO

The speckled body of this tiny Cape Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis) helps it to camouflage itself well – although these days I cannot miss them when they come out of their hiding places to enjoy the sunshine. Although they may look a little drab at first, closer observation shows they have a beautiful colouration – including an orange tint to the tail – and patterns. This one is on an ivy leaf.

I watch them daily as they move about the flower pots or the steps near to where I am sitting. While they catch the odd unwary fly, they mostly seem to eat ants.

These agile creatures climb everywhere and are not afraid to jump from considerable heights or across what must be for them vast chasms between flower pots or bricks. I have seen them scuttle up and down tree trunks and work their way along downpipes at speed for they have specialised toes that aid their grip on surfaces such as tree trunks and rocks.

I often see these geckos indoors at night, sheltering in the fold of a curtain or hiding behind a picture frame. On more than one occasion I have found one in the boot of my car when I open it to deposit my bags of groceries!