Friday, December 31, 2010

Different Lizards

When identifying e.g. birds and animals - in this case, lizards - the characteristics, which distinguish 1 species from another, are most important. During my research to "correctly" identify the lizards, which I've photographed, I had problems finding "proper lists" of distinguishing features. So, of what I managed to "collect", I present the following:
Lizards (in general & like snakes) are covered in an armour of small scales, whilst their tails are at least as long as the body & many can discard their tails in an emergancy (= to escape a predator). Then a new tail usually grows from the stump of the old one [SEE further down: a "classical" example = photo of a male Rainbow skink].

One of southern Africa's lizard species are agamas, which are closely related to chameleons [SEE: previous entry on this blog; this photo = a Rock agama, photographed in the Gansbaai area, Western Cape]. By way of comparing these 2 lizard species, agamas characteristically have broad, toad-like heads & like chameleons, change colour as a form of camouflage.

This is another photo of another Rock agama species (photograped on Table Mountain) & which I think best "illustrates" its name in Afrikaans: koggelmannetjie (translation: mimicking little man).

About a dozen species (& subspecies) of agamas are indigenous to South Africa, amongst them also the Tree agama (photograped in the Kruger National Park). Agamas have long tails, which, if lost, don't regrow (!!) - similar to chameleons, which can't dispense their prehensile (= capable of grasping) tails.

[Also SEE: "Agama Confusion" = other agama species, posted on this blog Saturday, 31 January 2009].

A Lacertide lizard is characterised by a long tapering tail, other than having well-developed legs and clawed feet. They tend to be mobile, slender and terrestrial (= occuring on the ground). This species is also said to have the "typical" lizard-like appearance.

The Plated lizard belongs to a subfamily of the Cordylid lizard family, characterised by the fact that its head is NOT a distinct section in relation to the rest of its body (= rather a continuation of it) & has a long tail.

[I've "published" photos of this lizard before BUT "wrongly" described it as a gecko !! SEE: Monday, 22 March 2010 on this blog]

Skinks are a large & diverse family of lizards, of which the evolutionary link between lizards & snakes is the most obvious. They are characterised by long, smooth-scaled, shiny & cylindrical bodies = have a "stream-line" physique. They can also be distinguished from "similar-looking" lizards by having short (or NO) limbs. The Blue-tailed skink is a terrestrial member of this family (> burrowing skinks).

The Blue-tailed species is also known as the Rainbow skink, of which the female (in the photo) has a less electric-blue tail than the juvenile (= photo above).

The male Rainbow or Blue-tailed skink (in contrast to a juvenile or a female of this species) can be identifies by its reddish orange tail & pearly dots on the body scales. Skinks can shed their tails [SEE: "introduction" above] = "classical" tail/stump.

Finally: a "genuine" gecko (in contrast to the plated lizard, which ignorantly at the time, I once said was a gecko]. This lizard species has a distinctive, wide-eyed look (= large head & eyes), whilst unique amongst lizards, geckos lack moveable eyelids. Geckos are mostly thick-bodied, soft-skinned & easily shed their tails.

Last but not least: a tiny (= a baby) Cape gecko, a common but generally shy species found in most parts of our country except the coastal belt. In total there are 64 species of gecko in South Africa, of which 42 are found throughout the country.

SO: now I've "covered them all" = the lizard family (other than leguaans - but I've "posted" them before) & mentioned how one family member can be distinguished from another - from chameleons (= previous blog entry) to agamas, skinks & geckos, as well as cordylid & lacertid lizards.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Different Chameleons

In the Greek language "chameleon" means "dwarf lion" & they look the picture of "ferocity" when angered or disturbed: puffing themselves up to near bursting point, opening their mouths wide and venting sinister hisses. However chameleons are completely harmless and are known as arboreal lizards = living in or connected to trees.

The Flap-Neck chameleon is 1 of 2 local species in South Africa - lizards which typically lay eggs. Like the one in the photo, they often are "pedestrians" crossing the road, especially in the Kruger National Park area, other than "providing proof" why in Afrikaans, this particular chameleon is called Trapsuutjie. Also typically this chameleon can direct its eyes indepently of each other.

A Flap-Neck chameon's colouration varies from pale yellow through green shades to brown, changing its body colour to regulate body temperature other than in response to its environment. This is a relatively large chameleon (= largest species in SA) and its tail "equals" the length of its body. This chameleon tends to inhabit bush country or open savannah woodland.

The Namaqualand chameleon is confined to the drier parts of our country. This chameleon uses the skill of camouflage also as threat or mating display, whilst in the process, the "shadow" side of its body remains paler. It also uses this evolutionary "habit" to control its body temperature, so that some of its skin changes to white to deflect the sun (= during harsh hot days) or turns dark to absorb the sun (= to keep warm during cold nights in a desert).

In contrast to the above 2 species, this Drakensberg dwarf chameleon is 1 of 15 recognised dwarf chameleons in SA, of which 5 are endemic to the Cape Fold mountains. All of the dwarf species give birth to young - usually 2 clutches per year, each containing 5-25 young - in contrast to most reptiles laying eggs.

The Cape dwarf chameleon is predominantly green, has a long tail & is restricted to the region around Cape Town. As with most chameleons, its tongue is twice the length of its body & can be shot out of its mouth to catch insects a distance away.

Like the photo of the Namaqualand chameleon, which our son-in-law photographed, a friend of ours in Port Elizabeth sent me this photo of a Southern dwarf chameleon. It only occurs in the Eastern Cape province & finally we have another "colouring" (in contrast to mainly green, as the chameleons in my photos predominantly "display").

Green again! But this isn't a chameleon, right. This Green basilisk is an exotic species from the tropical forests of mainly Central America & is often favoured as a pet. It's a member of the iguana family of reptiles, has a long, whip-like tail & males have distinctive crests on their heads, backs & tails - to impress females! Because - to avoid danger - it tends to dart (= looks like walking) across water, this reptile has the moniker: Jesus Christ lizard.

Similarly this also isn't a chameleon but an indigenous Spiny-tailed (or Black) agama, which I regularly encounter on Table Mountain. To my mind & similar to the exotic basilisk (above), it "displays" a dragon-like pose - but not in a threatening way either (= dragon &/ lion look-alikes).

[More on agamas/different lizards will follow, even if I've posted various pictures of agamas, etc before].

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Empty Nest Syndrome

So the "Empty-Nest-Syndrome" (in reaction to what I reported during the previous posting on this blog) has set in. This is commonly known as a general feeling of loneliness when children leave home = a psychological condition than can affect a woman but for which there is no cure - only ways to deal with it.

This is what a few days ago the above nest looked like (= "containing" 2 Bokmakierie chicks). So instead of watching my children "spread their wings and fly away" - which, in actual fact happened years ago already :( - it happened to me (again!!) when the little Masked weaver as well as the Bokmakierie youngsters did so literally!!

But then: I caught a movement in a nearby bush & right away started "snapping" away, ending with this picture of a tiny wing being spread (= click on photo to enlarge).

After waiting patiently, this is what eventually emerged - a young Masked weaver - the little one I watched a few days ago leave its nest??

And there was mother Masked weaver (somewhat "hidden" from view on the left side of the photo = just click on photo to enlarge) still feeding her chick.

"Back at the range" (= amongst the 5 remaining Masked weaver nests just outside our bedroom) another female was around - revealing an interest to occupy one of the nests?

But wait a moment - 1 of the 5 nests has a big hole!!

Not only does the nest look "damaged" but actually, it's the nest I "scrutinised" for days, watching the female feed her chicks (bottom left in photo) and also from which days ago, I duly recorded the "surviving" little chick emerge & then fly away (after the storm; SEE: entry on this blog, Sunday, 12 Dec). SO: this isn't a nest, which according to "the theory" (> myth; SEE: entry on this blog, Tuesday 9 Dec), was rejected by a female!!?

And this is the culprit - our master-builder turned master-destroyer at work - AGAIN!! = the 3rd nest I've by now watched him destroy.

This happened this morning & in a very short time span, because the male Masked weaver "doesn't play around" - once he "decides" to destroy all evidence that a nest, in fact, once existed.

So in no time, this is the "sorry picture" of the nest. Now I'm confused: instead of only destroying a rejected nest, why also "wipe out" a once-occupied nest?

Our hero-cum-master-builder/destroyer has solved the mystery: soon after getting rid of every bit of evidence that a nest existed once, I saw him hang upside down from the twig - as if he was "testing" the flexibility/strength of the twig. Moments later he returned with a blade of grass = started to build a new nest right away = on the same twig = the male Masked weaver was obviously convinced that THIS was the ideal location for his next attempt to "grow the family" :) because from here an offspring had successfully "emerged".

A LAST look at the "location" (click on photo to enlarge) = centre/rightish. This "saga" started off with 5 nests, then there were 6 of which the "owner" soon after destroyed 1; then after the storm, 1 was "ripped off" (which eventually, the owner also destroyed); he built another (never probably completed) nest & there were 5 again; then he destroyed another nest (= the third - as mentioned above) & now: there are 5 nests "around" again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Project

As I mentioned on this blog (2 "postings" ago) - I have a new "project", now that the little Masked Weaver has left its nest. This is 1 of the 2 Bokmakierie (= bush shrikes) chicks . . .

. . . and this is the other little chick. I took these photos about a week ago when their eys were still closed and only their beaks opened instinctively the moment they heard a rustling sound (on this occassion - me).

Usually in the vicinity is either father or mother Bokmakierie - handsome-looking birds, which either arrive with food for their young . . .

. . . or just seem to "stick around" as protective guards.

A few days later and the little chicks already open their eyes - other than their beaks . . .

. . . whilst father and mother Bokmakierie are very agitated because they don't "appreciate" my pressence/scrutiny. That's when I hear (other than their "signature" song) how they make clucking-kind-of sounds - apparently their warning-call!?

My last photo of the 2 chicks - because when I checked this morning, the nest was empty = now this "project" has also ended.

And by way of a "report-back" - a photo of a young Masked weaver, which I believe/consider might be the little one I watched leaving its nest.

Another recent visitor was a Common waxbill - a "first-time-visitor" in the sense that I haven't observed/photographed 1 in our garden before. It's difficult to get a clear visual of these birds because they are so tiny (approx. 12-13cm)!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frog or Toad

Recently I heard a "booming" sound I realised must be a frog although it sounded "weird". On closer inspection of a nearby pond, I "discovered" this creature and realised it must be a toad.

It didn't "like" my pressence and swam off, but at least I got a good "shot" of it - so that at home and with the help of some "investigation", I could possibly identify it. By now I know that it's a Red toad, recognisable by two dark spots in the middle of its back, as well as by its reddish-brown colour and a dark ridge along each flank.

As I was still "looking" for more "objects" to photograph, 2 heads suddenly popped up. My first reaction? Did frogs/toads - like baboons or monkeys - carry their young on the back?

Another look of these 2 - which I now know are Red toads - viewed from a different angle . . .

. . . when at home and after "closer inspection", I realised it were 2 toads mating - even if the 1 "on top" (= the male) is much smaller than the female. I realised this because I "detected" a long chain of eggs, as I learned toads tend to lay!!

I photographed this toad in our garden quite a while ago and by the "look of it", eventually identified it as a Guttural toad . . .

. . . so when we regularly had a nightly "visitor" in our dog's water-bowl, I simply assumed it also was a Guttural toad - but now I'm aware, after "meeting" Red toads (see above), that this is/was also a Red toad. Quite "ironic" (isn't it?) since its inside a red bowl :)

Frog or toad? I've indicated that I'm no expert at identifying amphibians (in contrast to wild animals and birds) but after quite a (photo) collection of aquatic creatures, I did some research and now believe that this is a frog - because: it has 2 bulging eyes and long, webbed hind feet = frog-characteristics. I also think it's a Cape River frog, because: I "found" it in a pond on the Cape Peninsula and its long legs, as well as its "colouring", seem to confirm this.

I "know" that this is a Tree frog simply because someone, who should know, told me so - LOL

Frog or toad? Just as was the case with lizards [SEE: e.g. entry on this blog Sat, 31 Jan 2009] where I "learnt" to distinguish between agamas, geckos, skinks, etc, I now try to "become more familiar" with amphibians. So now I know that toads are 1 of many families of frogs and that often, its a "matter of the eyes"!

Frog or toad? It's such a tiny creature but I think it's not a toad - because of its size!?