Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Drakensberg Prinia

Prinia hypoxantha

The Drakensberg Prinia is endemic to Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa, occurring along the Drakensberg Range and its foothills from Limpopo Province to the Eastern Cape. The IUCN considers the Drakensberg Prinia a species of least concern. Some authorities believe it to be a subspecies of the Karoo Prinia.

Usually encountered in monogamous pairs or small family groups, these small (10g, 14cm) but very active birds inhabit grassy mountainous slopes, fern-grown gullies and forest edges in high rainfall areas, where they subsist on a diet of insects and other invertebrates. Their nests are oval, ball-shaped constructions of grass built deep in thick bushes. Clutches of 2-4 eggs are laid in the spring and summer and incubated for about 2 weeks, with the fledglings leaving the nest around that same length of time after hatching.

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Ouhout

Leucosidea sericea

The Ouhout (Afrikaans for old wood) is a shrub or small tree of up to 4m high, occurring on the escarpment and highveld straddling all South Africa’s provinces (with the exception of the Northern and Western Cape), Lesotho, Swaziland and the highlands of Zimbabwe. It owes its name both to its aged, gnarled appearance and to its slow burning wood that produces copious billows of smoke, like old or decayed wood does. The Ouhout grows best in deep, damp soils in mountainous grasslands and along streams, and can form dense stands in suitable conditions. They’re exceptionally frost resistant, fast-growing and evergreen. Ouhout-wood is soft and not of much use for anything other than firewood and fence posts. Giants’ Castle Game Reserve and Golden Gate Highlands National Park have some exceptional specimens of this plant.

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.

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.