Thursday, 24 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The pan hinged terrapin

pan hinged terrapin
Pan hinged terrapin. 
Terrapins are reptiles from the order of Chelonians that also include both tortoises and turtles. Pan hinged terrapins are one of the five terrapin species found within the southern African region.

The bony and convex upper section of their shells are referred to as the ‘carapace’ while the flat and lower part of their shells are called the ‘plastron.’

The pan hinged terrapin is a small terrapin, reaching up to 180 mm in length, with a rounded, smooth shell and equipped with sharp claws. Their heads are large, their snouts blunted and their beaks flat. The carapace is a brown colour which often vary amongst others depending on age and wear.


Pan hinged terrapins live in eastern parts of southern Africa in areas of countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the islands of Seychelles and Madagascar. Within South Africa they are found in the Kruger National Park along the Upper Limpopo River.

They are water loving reptiles found in pans, marshes and slow-moving rivers. They enjoy basking on rock faces and floating close to the water surface.

Pan hinged terrapin.
Pan hinged terrapin. 

When feeling threatened terrapins will emit a foul smelling fluid from specific glands hopefully deterring predators.

These reptiles tuck their heads in sideways and withdraw their front legs before they close their hinged parts while tortoises pull their heads straight back into their shells.


Pan hinged terrapins have a taste for a carnivorous diet, feeding on water animals, small frogs and invertebrates, small birds and the carcasses of mammals.


Females nest throughout summer and incubate their eggs for between 104 to 107 days.  Young pan hinged terrapins are a mere 30 mm in length when hatched.

Did you know?

There are over 240 species of Chelonians.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The cultural and traditional Rainbow Nation, South Africa

South Africa, often referred to as the Rainbow Nation, is as diverse as it gets with 11 official languages, various cultures and different traditions, and a mix of people who call the country home.

Most South Africans are able to speak more than just one of the 11 official languages; Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The National Anthem is a true South African mix, being made up of the five most spoken languages in the country.

The country’s cuisine is largely based on meaty meals making braais (barbeques) a very popular social gathering amongst friends and families. Rooibos, a tea with a unique aroma and taste, is enjoyed by many South Africans and exported overseas for others to appreciate. South Africa is a nation with people passionate about sport, strongly supporting mostly soccer, cricket and of course rugby. Beautiful hand-crafted goods made from wire and beads are sold by vendors, that are often found on street corners and at traffic lights.

South Africa has a lot to offer; wildlife sightings, cultural experiences, natural phenomena’s and other various major tourist attractions.

KhoiSan rock art.
A short History lesson

The two groups of people who originally lived in the area were the Southern African aboriginal Khoikhoi and San tribes. Both the Khoikhoi and San were artists, leaving magnificent works of art engrained on rocks across the country. The San, also known as Bushmen, were hunter-gatherers while the Khoikhoi were herdsmen.

Groups of Africans (Bantus) arrived from central Africa while Europeans arrived to settle and colonise the south. All brought with them their     unique cultures, skills and abilities, making up a new nation.

The migrants from parts of Africa were not all from the same culture; there were the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Ndebele, Shangaan and Venda, amongst others, each with their own vibrant and interesting way of life.

South African traditional cultures

The Nguni group consist of the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi, and represent nearly two thirds of the African population within the country. The Swazi culture live in Swaziland, its very own country, which is situated within South Africa and so do not represent a South African culture.

The Zulu culture is the largest ethnical group in the country with around 10 million living in KwaZulu-Natal. They refer to themselves as ‘the people of the heavens’ and are known for their impressive beadwork and basket making as well as their traditional beehive shaped grass huts scattered throughout the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. Within tribes there are warriors armed with shields who engage in stick fighting.

Traditional Xhosa wedding celebration.
In the traditional Xhosa culture, men look after the cattle and take part in stick fighting as a pastime while women tend to the crops and do the housework. Dress code is important and indicates the social standing of a person, for example such as their marital status or whether they are a mother to a new baby or perhaps a widow. The initiation ceremony, where young men are circumcised and spend some time in the bush, is still practised today.

The Ndebele culture decorate their homes in lively and vibrant geometric designs, making for unique homes, and are also well known for their artwork. Women wear beadwork, neck rings and traditional blankets that are often very colourful while men will wear a breast-plate that hangs from their neck and animal skin head bands and ankle bands.

The Sotho group includes the Northern Sotho (Pedi), the Southern Sotho and the Tswana cultures and greatly differ from the Nguni group in how they manage their villages and marriages.

The Pedi culture live in the province of Limpopo in round huts, known as rondawels, made out of a mixture of clay and dung. This group of people are also referred to as Northern Sotho’s or Bapedi. Music, singing and dancing are important traditions to Pedi’s during celebrations.

Southern Sotho musicians wearing blankets. 

The Southern Sotho people are found in Lesotho with intensely coloured blankets worn as blankets as part of their cultural identification. Their blankets are store bought, adorned with various designs, and are not made traditionally. Art such as beadwork, sewing, pottery making, weaving and house decoration are of importance while items such as sleeping mats, baskets and beer strainers that are made by hand from grass materials by the women.  

Tswana is a culture divided into various clans situated in both Botswana and South Africa. Within South Africa, they are found in the northern part of the country; Gauteng, North West and the Northern Cape.

The Tsonga group is made up of the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga people and various other smaller ethnic groups.

The Shangaan traditional group formed when their leader, Soshangane left to Mozambique, and ended up wedding local women of whom some were Tsonga, and thus forming the Shangaan people. Today the majority live within the area of the famous Kruger National Park in the province, Mpumalanga. The culture is a mix of both Zulu and Tsonga culture; with the military system and traditional dress of the Zulu’s with the Tsonga patterned thatch roofs on round huts.  

The Tonga people are an ethnic group not located in South Africa but rather Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique while the Thonga (also known as Tembe) established a kingdom in East Africa.

The Rainbow Nation is made up of many cultures, and home to others from other African countries, making it an interesting country to visit!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The snouted cobra

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra with hood extended. 
This cobra species, also known as Egyptian cobras, live on average 20 years and are found throughout parts of Southern Africa.

Snouted cobras come in a variety of colours, from light yellowish through to shades of brown or black and usually have black markings or dark coloured bands. They have smooth scales, round pupils and particularly large hoods.

Adults are on average anything between 1.2 and 1.8 metres (3.9 and 5.9 ft) but on occasion can reach a length up to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft).


Snouted cobras are found in Southern African countries such as southern Mozambique, eastern Botswana, and northeast South Africa as well as throughout Zimbabwe and Malawi.

These snakes live in bushveld and low veld areas within savanna habitats and often take up permanent residency in abandoned termite mounds.

You can find them in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West, northern parts of Gauteng and northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, situated within South Africa.

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra on the defence. 

Like a typical reptile, snouted cobras enjoy basking in the sun during the day in order to absorb heat.

Snouted cobras are usually not aggressive snakes but when feeling threatened or nervous will assume an intimidating pose, by lifting as much as half of a metre of their body off the ground while spreading their impressive hood, however if possible they will escape into the nearest hiding place. 
The secret to them being able to spread their hood is because of the ability to flare the ribs in their neck.


The snouted cobra is a highly venomous snake loaded with neurotoxic venom; with one bite breathing is affected and if left untreated may lead to respiratory failure and eventual death. 

Victims are typically bitten at night on the lower leg and initially suffer from pain and swelling that often results in blistering.


These snakes eat animals such as toads, rodents, lizards, birds and their eggs as well as other snakes, especially puff adders.

They are mostly nocturnal and so search for food from dusk onwards.

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra. 

Mating season is during the months of September and October for snouted cobras, often making these snakes more aggressive than usual. Females are an oviparous species of snake, laying between 8 and 20 eggs during summer. Their gestation period is about 42 days and eggs are incubated for between 65 to 70 days.

Young snouted cobras are anything between 22 and 34 cm in length and are independent from birth.

Did you know?

Snouted cobras can climb trees. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The flap-necked chameleon

Flap-necked chameleon
The flap-necked chameleon. 
The flap-necked chameleon (chamaeleo dilepis) is native to sub-Saharan Africa and home to a range of different subspecies. Their name stems from the flaps that bulge from either side of the back of their head. Usually these flaps lie flat but when feeling threatened they raise and angle their flaps in hopes of discouraging rivals and predators. 

Reaching up to 35 cm (14 in) in length, the flap-necked chameleon, also known as the flapped-necked chameleon, is considered a large species of chameleons. They have small, white in colour, triangular shaped tubercles running down their throat and white belly, with their primary colour ranging from pale yellow through to shades of green and brown. 

Males are broader at the base of their tails and have a spur that grows out from the back of each hind foot. Within this species, females are considered the more dominant of the sexes, being larger, stronger and more territorial than males.

Flap-necked chameleon
Independent eye movement.
Chameleons are equipped with an incredible ability to have a 360 º view of the world around them. Their eyes are conically shaped with fused eyelids and each eye is able to move in a different direction from the other, which allows for the 360 º vision.


Flap-necked chameleons are commonly found in parts of hot sub-Saharan African countries throughout central, eastern, western and southern Africa. They call home in all provinces within local South Africa except for the Western Cape. 

They usually go about their lives, mostly active during the day while sleeping at night, in the branches of trees and bushes. They prefer coastal thicket areas, woodlands, and moist and dry savannah habitats. These chameleons will make a trip to the ground when in need to feed or find a mate.

Colour change

The flap-neck chameleon cannot change the colour of its skin to just any colour but is restricted to changing between shades of light to dark green though to shades of browns and black.

Flap-necked chameleon
Camouflage change. 
Chameleons change their colour to aid in camouflage, signal their moods or entice a mate. When the flap-necked chameleon is light in colour, usually a light green, it signifies a relaxed mood. The chameleon will change to a darker colour when feeling stressed or threatened.

Chameleons change their colour by taking control of the cells that lie just beneath their transparent skin. These cells are called chromatophores which are a mixture of pigmented, light-reflecting and melanin cells of which they are even able to open specific cells to create a spotted or striped effect.


A flap-necked chameleons hunts insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, using the power of their eyes and tongue.

Once their prey is spotted using their incredible 360 º vision, they propel their tongue at a speed of around three hundredths of a second, latching onto the unlucky insect chosen as a snack. The tongue, which can reach a length further than its own body, holds onto the prey by creating a vacuum with the use of their tongue muscles or by using the layer of sticky mucus covering their entire tongue.

Flap-necked chameleon
Flap-necked chameleon having a crunchy snack. 

It is only during the mating season that female flap-neck chameleons will allow males to approach without displaying aggressive behaviour. Mating lasts about an hour after which the female again becomes aggressive towards the male, turning black in colour and butting his head with any approaching movement.

The female goes through a gestation period of about a month after which she digs a hole to bury up to 60 small eggs. The youngsters break out of their egg sanctuaries anything between 6 to 10 months, having to fend for themselves from day one.

Did you know?

The flap-necked chameleon is one of the most widely distributed species of chameleons.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The giant plated lizard

Giant plated lizard
Giant plated lizard. 
The second largest species of lizard found in South Africa, after the monitor lizard is the giant plated lizard.  A true-warmth loving reptile it named ‘plated lizard’ due to its plate-like back scales that act as its body armour.

The giant plated lizard is large in size, with a flattened head and body, and can reach a total length of 75 cm (29.5 in). Adults are a dark brown to black colour with bars, a yellowish tint in colour, running down their backs, a white throat and light brown belly. Youngsters are the same in colour but have a more prominent yellow speckled appearance and stripes running along their backs, which fade with age.

They have specially adapted black soles on their feet that are rubber-like balls for living amongst rock outcrops.

Giant plated lizard
Giant plated lizard amongst rock outcrops

Giant plated lizards are found in the north-eastern parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal within South Africa. They are also found in other countries of southern African such as Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

They live in the rocky outcrop areas which are mostly situated on the upper slopes of granite hills.


They are highly territorial reptiles although not solitary and will live in small family groups.
A shy lizard by nature they are hard to approach and will usually jam themselves into a rock crevice when feeling threatened by flattening their body and inflating themselves with air, making it impossible to pull them out.

With their strong and muscular legs, they are able to move effortlessly among the rock faces in their territory.


Giant plated lizards are omnivorous with a varied selection of flora and fauna to choose from to eat. They feed on flowers, leaves, soft fruits such as figs and will eat other smaller lizards as well as baby tortoises.

They move slowly when searching for their food while scraping through loose soil or leaf litter for possibly hidden snacks.

Giant plated lizard
A young giant plated lizard. 

When breeding season begins in summer, the males develop a pinkish-red in colour hint to their throat and sides of head. Males become highly territorial and will fight with one another, while persistently tailing a female.

Females are oviparous meaning they lay eggs after mating. They seek out soil-filled rock crevices in which to lay and hide their 2 to 5 oval shaped eggs. Giant plated lizards are 150 to 170 mm long when hatched.

Did you know?

Those that prey on the giant plated lizard are snakes, some mammals and a selection of birds of prey.