It is two years since I encountered the strange looking creature at my door that proved to be my first sighting of a spotted thick-toed gecko (Pachydactylus maculatus), even though it is meant to be among the more common species of gecko in South Africa. These small geckos measure between 48 and 58 mm and so it is easy to see why my second such visitor that appeared on my doorstep earlier this year was almost overlooked.
This little gecko is well camouflaged against the cement steps. The anti-slip grooves in the step look enormous in comparison with it.
Here you can see its rounded snout and large round eyes more clearly. The four rows of elongated spots are not always as clear as this one sports.
The patterns on my previous visitor had fused to form irregular bands.
These geckos eat spiders – of which there are many in my garden – as well as small insects such as grasshoppers or crickets.
Look at this road:
Apart from the vegetation, there is not a living thing to be seen along the road that passes the Doornhoek Dam in the Mountain Zebra National Park. Now, look at the scrubby bush on the left hand corner and use that small flat stone in front of it as a marker, for – as we were about to turn left – this appeared as if from nowhere:
This Leopard Tortoise – also commonly known as a Mountain Tortoise – carrying the scientific name of Stigmochelys pardalis came ambling towards us. You can see the small flat stone almost behind it now on the left of the image. It stopped for a moment or two and stared at the large obstacle in its path before veering off into the grassy verge. The flat stone is now behind it to the right of the image below:
As you can tell from the specimen below, photographed in the Kruger National Park, it has a high domed carapace. This one is clearly marked with black blotches and spots on a yellow background – an indication that it is still relatively young. Mature adults appear as a nondescript brown once these markings have faded with time.
We come across these tortoises fairly often in the Addo Elephant National Park. This is a particularly attractive specimen.
These hardy tortoises usually eat grass and succulents, although they have been observed gnawing bones and hyena faeces – we choose easier means to get our calcium and essential minerals! I leave you with an apparently cheerful smile from another – showing off its ‘leopard-like’ appearance.
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.