Monday, March 19, 2018

Hot Nights in the Sand! Northern Slopes of the Soutpansberg 12-15 March 2018.

Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus wahlbergii). A new species for our list and a new record for the Soutpansberg.
Nice large Horned Adder spotted while walking through a hot dry area.
The Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation visited the Northern Slopes and Limpopo valley this week for reptile sampling. We visited a new site on a private reserve west of Waterpoort. As it was our first visit we spent our time identifying habitats to sample in, and began exploratory sampling to start building our lists for the reserve. Our aim for this first visit was to cover as much ground as possible and add as many species to the list as we could. In total we ended on 28 species of reptile from 142 individual records, including a few regional rarities and habitat specialists. We predict high diversity and abundance from this site.

Lala Palm thicket on Northern Slopes of Soutpansberg.
Open Savanna Sandveld of the hot northern slopes.
During the period we concentrated our efforts on two very different sandy areas that we identified as unique. The first being Lala Palm Thicket on deep sand, the second important area was Open Savanna Sandveld in a hot valley over the first ridge. Both habitats occur elsewhere on the Soutpansberg, but this is the first time we have sampled such large unbroken areas of these habitat. Other areas that were identified as interesting are the grassy marshy wetland areas and also the hot south facing slopes bordering hot dry sandveld.

Turner's Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri) most abundant gecko at site.
Juvenile Bushveld Lizard ( Heliobolus lugubris ) most abundant diurnal lizard at site.
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata). A common and attractive tree dwelling lizard.
Male Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)
Veld Monitor (Varanus albigularus) one of our largest lizard species.
The most common lizards we encountered during our survey were the highly visible and active bushveld lizards (29). Second most abundant was the nocturnal lizard, Turner’s Gecko (27). The third most common lizards encountered were the rock dwelling Rainbow Skinks and tree dwelling Striped Skinks (11 each). 

Peter's Ground Agama (Agama armata) one of two agamas we spotted.
Detail of Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus wahlbergii).
Our survey also produced one rarity, the Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydatylus wahlbergii). This gecko is common in the Central Kalahari region and there is an isolated population in Limpopo province, with records at Mopane (near Waterpoort) and Langjan. To our knowledge this is the first confirmed record of this species in the Soutpansberg and is a significant range extension.This brings our Soutpansberg Reptile list up to 111 species.

Adult male Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
Other interesting sightings were locating two species of Pachydactylus gecko (Transvaal Gecko and Speckled Gecko) in sympatry. This is also only the third locality in the Western Soutpansberg where we have found the Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
A beautifully marked Juvenile Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus).
Another surprise find was the the presence of Marsh Terrapins in Arid Sandveld. Three juveniles were seen in rock pools and a larger sub-adult was spotted in a man made drinking trough. Amazing that these aquatic animals have managed to move over hot dry sandy areas to find a suitable place to live.

Juvenile Marsh Terrapin ( Pelomedusa subrufa) found in temporary rock pool.
We were also happy to locate the White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes albiventris) on the deep sand. This is one of our target species we are working on in the Soutpansberg and busy updating distributional data for it. So far we have located them from Blouberg in the West all the way east to Nwanedi. Previously animal was restricted to Langjan area. 

White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes limpopoensis albiventris). A highly restricted Limpopo endemic. Our fourth locality for this species in the Soutpansberg.

We were surprised not to find many snakes during our sample effort although what we did see were interesting. At reserve we saw a Black Mamba, Bibron's Blind Snake, two Boomslang, a Horned adder, Yellow-bellied Sand Snake and Long-tailed Thread Snake. The dry hot weather probably resulted in the limited snake activity.
Female Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis)
Bibron's Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii).
Long-tailed Thread Snake (Myriopholis longicauda)
Juvenile Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis)
The Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation is also working on scorpion diversity and distribution and during our sampling we were lucky enough to locate a new species of scorpion for our list, Parabuthus kuanyamarum. this brings our Soutpansberg Scorpion List up to 26 species.

Parabuthus kuanyamarum a new species for our scorpion list.
Hottentota trilineatus eating solifuge.
Along the way we encountered some other interesting animals on the northern slopes off the sample site. Here are some of the highlights.
Parabuthus granulatus saw three moving around over two nights in hot conditions.
Juvenile Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus)
Large Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) hiding under bush.
Very obliging Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia) while photographing it jumped onto my camera and rested on my hand for a moment. These lizards are common, but one of my favorite species.

Very fat and possibly gravid Scolopendra morsitans.

Survey Site Reptile List

Marsh Terrapin (Pelomedusa subrufa)
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
Pienaar’s Flat Gecko (Afroedura pienaari)
Turner’s Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri)
Common Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)
Common Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)
Kalahari Ground Gecko (Pachydactylus [Colopus] wahlbergii)
Common Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)
Transvaal Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis)
Speckled Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus)
Bushveld Lizard (Heliobolus lugubris)
Savanna Lizard (Meroles squamulosus)
Jones’ Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii)
Soutpansberg Flat Lizard (Platysaurus relictus)
Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus)
Spotted-neck  Snake-Eyed Skink (Panaspis maculicollis)
Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)
Striped Skink (Trachylepis punctatissima)
Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia)
White-bellied Dwarf Burrowing Skink (Scelotes albiventris)
Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis)
Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis)
Distant’s Ground Agama (Agama aculeata distani)
Peter’s Ground Agama (Agama armata)
Bibron’s Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii)
Long-tailed Thread Snake (Myriopholis longicauda)
Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis)
Western Yellow-Bellied Sand Snake (Psammophis subtaeniatus)
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)

Big thanks to Mr. Jannie Moolman for allowing access to his beautiful property.

Juvenile Flap-necked Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis) sleeping on a branch.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity February Trip Report (Entabeni, Punda Maria and Waterpoort)

Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) a highly restricted and rarely seen gecko from the Soutpansberg.
As part of our long term greater Soutpansberg Reptile Survey, the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation travelled to the eastern Soutpansberg to sample the Entabeni area near Thohoyandou. The trip was very successful; we logged over 400 individual reptiles (284 at Entabeni) with a total species count of 44, including a new species for our list. Big thanks to Eric Jolin for all the hard work in the in the field and maintaining a positive attitude throughout our visit. Also a big thank you to Lorraine Egan from SAFCOL for arranging our accommodation and for permissions. 

Transvaal Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion transvaalense), Entabeni.
Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulattus) Punda Maria.
Painted Reed Frog ( Hyperolius marmoratus taeniatus) Entabeni.
Entabeni (11-15 February)

Wet Grassland with forested bush clumps at Entabeni.

During our stay at Entabeni we aimed to sample as much high altitude grassland as possible. Finding suitable sites was quite challenging, as it is not an area we have sampled too many times before. The fragmentation in the area is quite high, yet there were quite a few pockets of undisturbed forest and grassland.

We found the grasslands to be quite high in reptile abundance, most common reptiles being Whalberg’s Snake-eyed Skink (Panaspis whalbergii). We concentrated our efforts in three main areas. One section of very rocky grassland that had been quite heavily grazed, another grassland with very few rocks that was moderately grazed and another patch of grassland which had both very rocky and less rocky areas which had also been partly grazed and was partly pristine.

Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus) high altitude eastern form. Entabeni.
Common Girdled Lizard (Cordylus vittifer). Entabeni.
The most frequently seen reptile Wahlberg's Snake-Eyed Skink (Panaspis wahlbergii). Entabeni.
Speckled Rock Skink (Trachylepis punctatissima). Entabeni.
Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia) a species complex recently split into three. Entabeni.
Male Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer). Entabeni.
Cregoi's Legless Skink (Acontias cregoi). Entabeni.
Vanson's Gecko (Pachydactylus vansoni) Entabeni.
Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis). Entabeni.
Hatchling Yellow-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis) found in nursery site with many eggs. Entabeni.
We made 284 individual reptile observations during our limited time. Significant records were high altitude records of Short-snouted Sand Snake (Psammophis brevirostrus), a predation record for a Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) which had eaten two Forest Rain Frogs, Breviceps sylvestris), a new species for our list a hatchling Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombetus), some Transvaal Dwarf Chameleons (Bradypodion transvaalense) and the twelve species of frogs we recorded.

Short-snouted Grass Snake (Psammophis brevirostris) Entabeni.

Hatchling Red-lipped Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) Entabeni.
Hatchling Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus), Entabeni.
Bicoloured adult Bibron's Blind Snake (Afrotyphlops bibronii). Entabeni.
Another interesting observation we made was that the pine forests contained a surprising amount of biodiversity. Traveling through the forestry roads we often saw Montane Speckled Skinks (Trachylepis punctatissima), heard Rain Frogs and saw quite a few mammals. The Natal Green Snake we found was also in highly transformed area with pine and alien pioneers (Solanum mauritianum). More research into recolonisation and biodiversity of these disturbed habitats should be prioritised.

Natal Sand Frog (Tomopterna natalensis). Entabeni
Flat-Backed Toad (Sclerophrys pusilla). Entabeni
Gutteral Toad ( Sclerophrys gutteralis) Entabeni.
Common River Frog (Ameita delandii). Entabeni.
Soutpansberg Forest Rain Frog (Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus) Entabeni.
Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus) Entabeni.

Punda Maria and Pafuri Sections: Kruger National Park (15-17 February)

Flat Dragon Lizard (Smaug depressus) Eastern Lowland Form. Punda Maria.
Leaving Entabeni, the short drive to Punda Maria produced a few dead on road specimens, including a young  Olive Whip Snake (Psammophis mossambicus). After driving around looking at megafauna we went back to camp and walked around in the hot humid weather to see what we could find. It was rush hour and we photographed many species of frog including a Northern Pygmy Toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti), Dwarf Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus mababiensis) and Broad Banded Grass Frog (Ptychadena mossambica). The night also delivered the highlight for our Punda effort, a beautiful sub-adult Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus lunulatus), in addition to this we also found two Stilleto Snakes (Atractaspis bibronii). This has added another two snake species to our Punda Maria lists.

Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). Pafuri. Photo Eric Jolin.

Bibron's Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii) Punda Maria.
Turner's Gecko (Chondrodactylus turneri). Punda Maria.
Speckled Skink (Pachydactylus punctatus). Punda Maria.
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata) Punda Maria.
Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus). Punda Maria area.
Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) Pafuri region.
During the the drive through Kruger National Park from Punda Maria to Pafuri we located a few more species for our trip lists. These included Zimbabwe Flat Lizard (Platysaurus intermedius rhodesianus), Giant Plated Lizard (Matobosaurus validus) and a Northern Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis) crossing the road.

Dwarf Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus mababiensis) Punda Maria.

Plain Grass Frog (Ptychadena anchieta) Punda Maria.

Northern Pygmy Toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti) Punda Maria.

Pafuri to Lajuma via Waterpoort (17 February)

Female Muller's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) a rarely seen and highly restricted animal.
To maximise our diversity and areas covered we exited at Pafuri gate and drove via Waterpoort to to do some night sampling in the area on our way back home. The trip back produced the highlight of our trip: a male and female Muller’s Velvet Gecko (Homopholis mulleri) found at Waterpoort. We also found two juvenile pythons moving about in moist weather and a very large Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra).

Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis) Pafuri.
Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis). Waterpoort.
African Bull Frog ( Pyxicephalus edulis)
Melissa Petford with massive Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) to show the scale.
All in all a very succesful trip. Watch this space for more trip reports and contact us if you would like to join us on one of our intensive reptile sampling trips at very resonable prices.

Reptiles (44 Species)
Pelusios sinuatus   Serrated Hinged Terrapin
Stigmochelys pardalis – Leopard Tortoise
Crocodylus niloticus – Nile Crocodile
Chondrodactylus turneri – Turner’s Tubercled Gecko
Hemidactylus mabouia – Tropical House Gecko
Homopholis mulleri – Muller’s Velvet Gecko  
Homopholis wahlbergii – Wahlberg’s Velvet Gecko
Lygodactylus ocellatus soutpansbergensis – Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko  
Pachydactylus punctatus – Speckled Gecko
Pachydactylus vansoni – Vanson’s Gecko  
Heliolobus lugubris – Bushveld Lizard
Cordylus vittifer – Transvaal Girdled Lizard
Smaug warreni depressus – Flat Girdled Lizard
Platysaurus intermedius rhodesianus – Zimbabwe Flat Lizard
Broadleysaurus major – Rough-scaled Plated Lizard
Gerrhosaurus flavigularis – Yellow Throated Plated Lizard
Matobosaurus validus – Giant Plated Lizard
Acontias cregoi – Cregoi’s Legless Skink
Panaspis maculicollis – Spotted-necked Snake-eyed Skink
Panaspis wahlbergii – Wahlberg’s Snake-eyed Skink
Mochlus sundevallii sundevallii – Sundevall’s Writhing Skink
Trachylepis margaritifer – Rainbow Skink
Trachylepis punctatissima – Speckled Rock Skink
Trachylepis striata – Striped Skink
Trachylepis varia – Variable Skink
Varanus albigularis albigularis – Rock Monitor
Varanus niloticus – Water Monitor
Chamaeleo dilepis dilepis – Flap-necked Chameleon
Bradypodion transvaalense – Wolkberg Dwarf Chameleon
Acanthocercus atricollis atricollis – Southern Tree Agama
Afrotyphlops bibronii – Bibron’s Blind Snake
Leptotyphlops sp. – Unidentified Worm Snake
Python natalensis – Southern African Python
Bitis arietans arietans – Puff Adder
Causus rhombeatus – Rhombic Night Adder
Aparallactus lunulatus lunulatus – Reticulated Centipede Eater
Atractaspis bibronii – Bibron’s Stiletto Snake
Psammophis brevirostris – Short-snouted Grass Snake
Psammophis mossambicus – Olive Grass Snake
Elapsoidea sundevallii longicauda – Long-tailed Garter Snake
Dasypeltis scabra – Rhombic Egg Eater
Dispholidus typus – Northern Boomslang
Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia – Red-lipped Snake
Philothamnus natalensis natalensis – Eastern Natal Green Snake

Amphibians (20 species)
Breviceps adspersus adspersus – Bushveld Rain Frog
Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus – Soutpansberg Forest Rain Frog
Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti – Northern Pygmy Toad
Schismaderma carens – Red Toad
Sclerophrys capensis – Raucous Toad
Sclerophrys garmani – Eastern Olive Toad
Sclerophrys gutteralis – Guttural Toad
Sclerophrys pusilla – Flat-Backed Toad
Hyperolius marmoratus taeniatus – Painted Reed Frog
Kassina senegalensis – Bubbling Kassina
Phrynomantis bifasciatus – Banded Rubber Frog
Phrynobatrachus mababiensis – Dwarf Puddle Frog
Ptychadena anchieta – Plain Grass Frog
Ptychadena mossambica – Broad Banded Grass Frog
Xenopus laevis – Common Platanna
Ametia delandii – Common River Frog
Cacosternum boettgeri – Boettger's Caco
Pyxicephalus edulis – African Bullfrog
Strongylopus grayii – Clicking Stream Frog
Tomopterna natalensis – Natal Sand Frog
Chiromantis xerampelina – Southern Foam Nest Frog

Southern Ground Hornbill. Also interested in herps.