Ever since the time when Adam bit into the infamous apple, reptiles have caused a shiver down people’s spine and our inborn reaction is to scream and run, or on occasion, worse for the reptile, pick up a blunt object and beat it into oblivion.
Reptiles, however, play a vital role in the environment and if one takes the time to study them, they are generally shy but fascinating creatures.
Southern Africa has an incredible diversity of reptile fauna with a minimum of 517 species that have so far been described. These include 151 snakes, 338 lizards, 27 tortoises and one crocodile. Many more species are still awaiting description in the scientific literature. Sadly, many of these reptiles have largely been ignored in conservation management plans and require special attention in the future.
The Puff Adder is one of the most widespread snakes in South Africa and can attain an adult length of just under one meter. It is a slow-moving snake that relies on its camouflage to avoid detection and ambush prey.
The Puff Adder is responsible for more cases of serious snakebites in South Africa than any other. The venom is cytotoxic, causing extreme pain. Handlers use plastic tubing and a snake stick to carefully capture and handle Puff Adders.
The male Southern Tree Agama is brightly colored to both attract females and warn other males of their dominance status. They form family groups that are centered around clusters of trees. They avoid danger by moving rapidly around the tree trunk and fleeing into the upper branches.
Southern Tree Agamas are unusual in that they feed almost entirely on ants and termites.
The Leopard Tortoise is the largest species to be found in southern Africa and may weigh as much as 12kgs. Their home ranges may exceed 80 hectares.
During the breeding season between September and April, male Angulate Tortoises use their enlarged gular shields in intensive battle with other males and try and use the gular shields as levers to overturn and ram their rivals.
The Robertson’s Dwarf Chameleon is one of 15 currently described species of Dwarf Chameleon and adults are small ranging between 4,5 and 10cm in length. Dwarf Chameleons are heliothermic using the sun’s rays to raise their body temperature and climb into exposed positions in the mornings to bask.
Chameleons eyes can scan almost 180 degrees and can be moved in different directions simultaneously. Their vision is more acute than that of humans.