Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Cinnyris chalybeus

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird occurs only in South Africa (all provinces excluding Gauteng, the Free State and North West) and marginally into Swaziland and southern Namibia. They inhabit coastal and arid scrublands, fynbos, woodland, plantations and temperate forests and are usually seen singly, in pairs or family groups. They feed on nectar, fruit and small invertebrates. Adults are about 12cm long and weigh approximately 8g.

The peak breeding season for the Southern Double-collared Sunbird stretches from mid-winter to spring, though there are records from the rest of the year as well. Their nests are oval-shaped balls of grass, other soft plant materials and spiderweb built by the female without any assistance from the male. Clutches contain 1-3 eggs and are also incubated solely by the female over a 2-week period, but both parents feed the chicks which leave the nest by the time they are 3 weeks old. The youngsters become independent about a month after leaving the nest.

The IUCN regards the Southern Double-collared Sunbird as being of least concern.

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Rock Monitor

Varanus albigularis

The Rock Monitor, also known as the White-throated Monitor, at a total length of up to two meters, with males weighing as much as 17kg (average is about half that, and males are much bigger than females), is one of our biggest lizards (just slightly shorter, but heavier, than the closely related Water Monitor). They occur all over South Africa, with the exception of the southwestern Cape and very arid western parts of the Northern Cape, inhabiting arid scrublands, grasslands and savanna. It also occurs widely through the rest of southern, central and east Africa as far north as Ethiopia.

Rock Monitors are diurnal predators, feeding on anything small enough to overpower (mainly invertebrates and smaller reptiles) and carrion. At night they hole up in burrows, under or between rocks, or in large holes in trees. They also hibernate in these places during cold winters. Rock Monitors mate in early spring, wit the female laying clutches of up to 50 eggs in termite mounds or holes dug in soft soil. While incubation periods of about 4 months have been recorded in captivity, the eggs normally take much longer to hatch in the wild, with many clutches also being lost entirely to opportunistic predators like the Banded Mongoose.

When threatened, Rock Monitors will defend themselves with powerful lashes from their tails, failing which it will sham death in the hope that the attacker will lose interest and move on.

Garden Acraea

Acraea horta

As its name implies, the Garden Acraea is a commonly seen butterfly of South African gardens, though its natural habitat preference is for woodland and forested areas in which their larval food plants of choice (mainly Wild Peach and Passion Flowers) occurs. Seen throughout the year, though more commonly in spring and summer, they fly low and slow, relying on their foul taste to deter predators. Adults have a wingspan of around 5cm, with females being slightly larger than males. Garden Acraeas are found along the southern Cape coast, through the Eastern Cape, Free State, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng to the North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Common Sugarbush

Protea caffra

The evergreen Common Sugarbush grows up to 4m high (rarely up to 8m), growing on the slopes of rocky, grassy hills and mountains up to 2,100m above sea level and often forming extensive, dominant stands, especially on south-facing slopes. The Sugarbush bears its large flower heads in spring and summer – these are so rich in nectar that they’re the reason for this shrub’s common name. In South Africa, the Common Sugarbush is found in Kwazulu-Natal and on the Highveld and is the most widely distributed member of the genus Protea. There’s also an isolated population on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Common River Frog

Amieta delalandii

The Common River Frog, also known as Delalande’s River Frog, lives on the banks of streams and other permanent watersources in grasslands, bushveld and forests – they’ve also taken up residence in garden ponds and water features in the urban setting. When in danger of being seen, especially by day, these frogs quickly jump back in the water to hide in the mud. The males’ lovely croaks can be heard by day and night throughout the year. Depending on temperatures and availability of food the complete development and metamorphosis of the tadpoles of the Common River Frog takes between 9 and 12 months. Adults grow to 9cm in length.

Common River Frogs occur in all South African provinces, even in the arid Northern Cape along the Orange River.

African Hoopoe

Upupa africana

Not many South African people will be unfamiliar with the characteristically beautiful voice of the African Hoopoe, which is found in virtually every corner of our country and over most of Africa south of the equator, and is a familiar garden bird in our towns and cities. Many authorities consider the African Hoopoe to only be a subspecies of the Common Hoopoe (Upupa epops africana), with the IUCN showing the species as being distributed widely over sub-Saharan Africa, the North African Coast, Europe, Arabia and Asia and listing it as being of least concern with a population (though thought to be decreasing) of up to 10-million, without specifying how many might remain in their African or southern African range.

The African Hoopoe may be encountered singly, in pairs or in small family groups. They frequent a variety of natural and man-made habitats, though they reach their highest densities in thorny savannas and woodland. Here they forage on the open ground, probing with their long beaks for worms, insects and their larvae hidden in the soil or among leaf litter and dung, occasionally also eating small reptiles, frogs, seeds and berries.

African Hoopoes form monogamous pairs in the breeding season, which spans spring and summer. They nest in cavities in trees, rock faces or buildings, and clutches may contain up to 7 eggs. The female is solely responsible for incubating the eggs over a 2 week period, though the male is very actively involved in feeding both the female and chicks at the nest. The chicks leave the nest at about a month of age, with some pairs raising as many as three broods in a season!

Adults grow to a length of around 27cm with a wingspan of approximately 45cm and a weight of about 60g.

Yellow Pansy

Junonia hierta

The Yellow Pansy is a commonly seen butterfly occurring over most of South Africa. They are very active, flying low and fast and often returning to more or less the same spot – males may even be territorial. They occur in a wide range of open habitats and are usually seen singly.

The Yellow Pansy’s larvae feeds on a wide variety of herbs. Adults are on the wing throughout the year and measure 4-5cm from wingtip to wingtip. The IUCN lists the species as being of least concern. They occur widely over Africa, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.