This afternoon, Joubert and I went searching for butterflies in the grasslands around Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and we were not disappointed!
The highly venomous but rather shy Boomslang (Afrikaans for “Treesnake”) occurs in parts of all South Africa’s provinces, occupying fynbos, savanna, thicket and forest habitats. It is also widely distributed over much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Boomslang is diurnal, arboreal and very agile, hunting by sight for chameleons, lizards, geckos, frogs, small mammals and small birds. When threatened, a Boomslang will inflate its throat and strike out at the attacker (see photos in gallery below). Their venom is a potent haemotoxin, delivered in extremely small doses of between 1 and 15mg, breaking down blood components, preventing blood from clotting and causing hemorrhages into the body tissues and externally. While it may be a slow-acting venom in these small doses, drop for drop it is the most potent venom of any African snake, and without prompt treatment with antivenom and blood transfusions a Boomslang envenomation of just 1mg will kill an adult human within 1-3 days. Thankfully a Boomslang will much rather retreat than bite when crossing paths with a human, and left unmolested a bite from one is highly unlikely to occur.
Boomslange mate in spring, with females laying clutches of up to 30 eggs in holes in trees, burrows in the ground or in heaps of dead leaves about 60 days later. The eggs hatch about 3 months after being laid, with the newly hatched babies measuring about 25cm. Adults measure up to 2m long and can weigh up to half a kilogram. Males are far more colourful than the females.
Now, for a bit of a tongue-in-cheek Public Service Announcement: If ever you visit South Africa, and in the unlikely event of being bitten by a Boomslang, then be sure to pronounce the name correctly, as can be heard in this very interesting video, when you arrive at the hospital. Pronouncing it as the two English words “BOOM” and “SLANG” (as in this horrible tutorial), especially with an ominous tone in your voice, will cause your nursing staff to start laughing uncontrollably and delay your rescue until they’ve been able to compose themselves…
The Cape Batis, listed as least concern by the IUCN, is endemic to Africa south of the Zambezi; parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho and of course South Africa, from the Western Cape to the Soutpansberg in Limpopo, where it inhabits temperate coastal, montane and riverine forests and more open adjacent areas, as well as densely planted gardens. It feeds almost exclusively on insects and other invertebrates. They are usually seen in monogamous, territorial pairs that build compact and well camouflaged cup-shaped nests during the breeding season, which spans spring and summer. Adult Cape Batisses weigh around 12g and measure just 13cm from the tips of their beaks to the tips of their tails.
The Black-collared Barbet is a denizen of a wide range of forest, woodland and savanna habitats, also occurring in riverine thickets in more open grasslands and well adapted to exotic plantations and suburban parks and gardens. They feed mainly on fruits and seeds, but will also consume insects and small vertebrates when the opportunity arises. They’re stockily built birds, with adults weighing around 54g and measuring 20cm in length.
Black-collared Barbets are often encountered in pairs or small groups numbering as many as 15. They are highly vocal and have an exquisite repertoire of duet calls – their most recognisable “too-puddly too-puddly too-puddly“ call also is a duet – the first note being uttered by one bird and its mate then singing the second note. The breeding season spans spring and summer, with both members of the monogamous pairs using their heavy bills to great effect in excavating nest holes in dead trees. The clutch of 2-5 eggs are incubated for just short of 3 weeks, with the chicks fledging about 5 weeks after hatching. The pair is often assisted at the nest by other adult members of their group.
The IUCN considers the Black-collared Barbet to be of least concern. In South Africa they occur from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng to the North West and Free State, and marginally into the Northern Cape, while north of our borders they are to be found thoughout central and east Africa as far as Angola in the west and Kenya in the east.
The Garden Commodore, or Garden Inspector, is a familiar butterfly occurring year round in South Africa, having quite distinctly marked dry season (April to August) and wet season (September to March) variations that could easily be taken to be altogether different species. Females are bigger than the males and at 6cm their wingspan is at least 1cm wider than that of the males. With their wings closed Garden Commodores, especially the dry season form, resemble dead leaves.
As their name suggests, the Garden Inspector is commonly seen in well planted gardens, but their natural habitat is rocky, grass- and savanna-covered hills. They are fast flyers and often land in the open, on bare ground, rocks or pathways. In South Africa they are found from the Eastern Cape, through Kwazulu-Natal into the Lowveld and Bushveld regions of the country.
Click on the first image, scroll through the gallery and by the end of it you are sure to believe, as we do, that South Africa is a treasure chest of beautiful creatures that you absolutely have to visit, and fully deserving of its reputation as one of the ten most biodiverse countries on the planet!
The Common Tropical House Gecko, also known as Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko, is a nocturnal species of gecko that is found in savannas, woodlands and forests. Naturally they’re arboreal, hiding under bark and in tree hollows during the day, but they have adapted to human habitations with great enthusiasm and is often seen catching moths, beetles, cockroaches and other invertebrates attracted by lights at night, occasionally even consuming smaller reptiles as well. They can grow to a length of about 12cm.
Males are territorial and get involved in vicious fights. In spring and summer females usually lay two sticky eggs in tiny hiding places but occasionally up to 60 eggs from different females may be laid in a specific spot. The eggs take about 2 months to hatch.
Their natural distribution range in South Africa stretches along the coast from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu-Natal to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West Province. They’re also found naturally over much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. This species also colonized large parts of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean after being inadvertently introduced by humans since the days of the slave trade, and is listed as an invading alien species in many countries. Even here in South Africa populations have been established in towns and cities well outside their natural range.