We are used to geckos and lizards scurrying across the steps, clambering up walls or hiding behind the curtains or pictures. There are a lot of these in both our house and garden throughout most of the year and so a slight rustling, or a quick movement seen from the corner of my eye is not surprising … in fact, I nearly ignored what I thought was a large lizard crossing the step above the one I had just stepped on. A large lizard? We don’t get such large lizards here! I looked down and called out in delight: a chameleon!
I watched in awe as this perfectly camouflaged reptile crossed the step and began climbing the wall.
Later on I checked with my children – they agree that it must be at least twenty years since we last saw a chameleon in our garden. There used to be so many of them – always a delight to come across. They came in various sizes and were usually seen in hues of green. Whether the population of the time had succumbed to cats or birds – or even the changes in the weather – I don’t know. Many residents of this town have remarked on the apparent demise of chameleons and yet … after all these years … here was one showing off its rock climbing skills in front of me:
What a sighting!
A different Leopard Tortoise allowed me to take a closer look at it while it crossed a country road:
There was something odd about the gait of this Leopard Tortoise crossing the dirt road ahead of us. At first I thought it must have hurt its hind leg for it appeared to be dragging it slightly. Closer inspection shows that a couple of its marginal scutes have broken off.
The gap thus created means that as the tortoise walks, its hind leg catches on the sharp section on the left.
I couldn’t quite capture the catching action on camera, although this photograph gives a good idea. During the walking motion the leg stretches back, then gets caught on the way in.
Apart from slowing it down a little, the tortoise does not appear to be adversely affected. I could detect no sign of damage to the leg and so watched over it until it had safely reached the edge of the road, where it was safe from passing traffic in the dimming afternoon light.
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.
I wish you all a good weekend – whatever your weather!
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.