Big Eyed Wonder

At the start of every spring season, the little creatures that we don’t see in the winter time start to make their appearances. One of my favorite little scaled critters is the Boomslang – in my opinion one of the most beautiful and majestic of the snake family.
The average adult Boomslang is 100–160 cm (3¼-5¼ feet) in total length, but some exceed 183 cm (6 feet). The eyes are exceptionally large, and the head has a characteristic egg-like shape. Colouration is very variable – males are light green with black or blue scale edges, but adult females may be brown.
Our male is quite a handsome fellow and watches everybody from the crevice of a tree, with his characteristic big eyes, focusing on all the guests’ movements below. Most people will stand underneath him, and are in awe of his bright green colouration. Every now and again, he’ll move from his secret spot, and move easily through the branches of the trees around him.
Boomslangs are diurnal and almost exclusively arboreal. They are reclusive, and will flee from anything too large to eat. Their diet includes chameleons and other arboreal lizards, frogs, and occasionally small mammals, birds, and eggs from nesting birds, all of which they swallow whole. During cool weather, they will hibernate for moderate periods, often curling up inside the enclosed nests of birds such as weavers.
Guests are always in awe when you point him out, digging out their cameras like the paparazzi. The green scaled fellow has quite a following and must feel quite popular with all those camera flashes! Whilst most people ask many questions, the one that always comes up is how venomous these creatures are. While only around a few snakes are actually venomous, only around 1% of people die from snake bites every year. This is because snakes don’t usually bite people, rather trying the more subtle “mock” strike to warn off someone who is about to step on their tails. If the person still decides to try their luck, then they will bite the person, but only administering a small amount of venom – not enough to actually kill anyone.
Guests always appreciate the smaller creatures just as much as the larger ones. Sometimes more so than the bigger ones it seems…

Story by Angie (River Lodge)

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Foam Nest Tree Frog (Chiromantis rufescens)

A very common visitor that you might find in and around the lodge area is the Foam nest frog (also known as the Brown tree frog). The colour of these individuals depends on where you had seen them, as they can change their colour depending on their surrounding environment – when found on a tree they can be anything from a light to a very dark brown. In certain areas these frogs can be seen in a pearl white form.

Even though these frogs can change colour, their most interesting feature is the way they breed. The male will climb onto a branch that is overhanging a water source and start calling for a female to come and join him. The male will grasp the female (amplexus) while she starts laying the eggs. The male then externally fertilizes the eggs. During this whole procedure the male and female frogs gives off foam into which the fertile eggs are deposited. In this way the foam nest, that is overhanging a water source, eliminates the phase in which the eggs hang defenseless in the water, open to any sort of predation from fish to insects and even water birds.

When the eggs have fully developed into tadpoles they drop from the foam nest into the water where the free swimming tadpoles can defend themselves by fleeing to a safe spot.

Story by Riaan (River Lodge)

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Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus)

With the end of winter drawing close, the anticipation of a facelift for the bush in general is the main talking point at the moment. As the temperatures are slowly increasing, our cold blooded friends are starting to show face, with an increasing amount of “snake trails” that can be seen crossing the roads and one or two of our resident snakes around the lodge peeping their heads out of their crevices where they had been laying dormant for the winter.

The most common of these is the Spotted Bush snake. It is a harmless snake (well at least to humans) because it does not have any venom glands. This arboreal (tree living) snake employs a different method of catching its prey. The Spotted Bush snake is a constrictor, this means that the snake keeps dead still and waits patiently for an unwary skink or frog to pass by; it then lashes out at the speed of light and catches the prey item with a mouth full of needle sharp teeth. The prey item is then encircled by the coiling motion of the snake’s body, which clinches tighter and tighter every time the prey exhales. It is only a matter of time before the inevitable is achieved and the prey is swallowed whole, usually with the head first to avoid one of the limbs causing a blockage.
This method of catching prey is also employed by Southern Africa’s largest snake, the African Rock Python which can get up to 6meters.

The Spotted bush snake is a very pretty snake; it is a bright green color with black dots from the head all the way down the body for about two thirds of the body length. The last section of the snake towards the tail fades from a bright green to a blue/purple color.

Story by Riaan (River Lodge)

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The Mating Behavior of Scorpions

The males have to be very careful when seeking out a female for mating as she might mistake his presence as lunch instead of a reproduction opportunity. So he does a little dance for her by waving his pincers, swaying his tail and shivering his body to send vibrations through the ground. Only when she winks at him, he will approach closely.

Males have special hooks on their pincers to grab a hold of the female’s pincers. Once he has her tightly, the dance commences. He has special organs on his abdomen and uses it to deposit his spermatophores. He then tries to turn the female around and ensure the hook on the small package of sperm catch onto the female’s genital opening. This dance may take up to 30 minutes as the male’s dance and weave to align the female just right. If he fails in dancing, he may pick her up and drop her down on the package, causing the package to break and release the sperm. The female then stands motionless for a short period.

Thereafter they will break apart and continuously sting each other. In some cases where the female is larger, she might try to kill the male and eat him. Fatal attraction if ever there was such a thing.

Scorpions have the longest gestation period of all arachnids (8-legged insect-like creatures) and depending on the species, could be from a few to 18 months and produce 8 to 32 young at a time. They get quite old and only reach adulthood at 1 year.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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Surviving the Winter

As we all know, the winter has past and spring is upon us. So on a lovely warm and sunny afternoon, we left the lodge on a quest to find animals. Around an hour into the drive, my tracker (Magnum) stopped me and told me to look into the relatively small Knob thorn tree. I was amazed to find a small foam nest frog on a branch. I showed my guests, and spoke about the nest of this frog. One lady peeks over her husband’s shoulder and asked me how this little frog survived winter, because we all know that a frog likes and needs water. I immediately smiled and said that is a good question.
This little frog will make some adaptations to his/her body to slow their metabolism down and breathe less to save energy and moisture. They will also find a spot where they can rest without being bothered and where it is safe, hence the nest being made in the Knob thorn tree.
They will then tuck away their legs and seal it off with mucus to make sure they don’t lose moisture. In some cases, breathing will be stopped completely and oxygen will be taken up through the skin. The cells inside the skin will actually change so that they can take moisture in but nothing can be lost, almost like a one way valve.
So these animals risk everything and go through so many changes and troubles just to get through the winter. So next time you this winter is cold and you can’t stand it, think about these little creatures and how they change their whole bodies to survive.

Story by Rassie (River Lodge)

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Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

The Black footed cat is one of the least studied cats in Africa, and was listed as Vulnerable in 2005. This is the smallest of the African cat species, with males only weighing up to about 2.5 kg in weight. Females are a little smaller and weigh up to about 1.7 kg in weight. The body length, including the tail, is about 60cm long for the males, and females being a bit smaller at round about 54cm.
Only the pads and the under parts of the feet are black in colour, and this is where the animal gets their name from. The colour differs from cinnamon to tawny and has patterns of black or brown spots that merge to become rings on the legs. They have very large eyes and their ears have a rounded look to them.
They live in dry, open savanna, grassland and Karoo semi dessert areas going up to altitudes of 2 000m above sea level. So this means that they are mostly found in South Africa, Namibia, a little bit into Zimbabwe and has been recorded in Botswana in the past.
Black footed cats are solitary and strictly nocturnal, making it very rare to see. They spend their daytime hours in old borrows or hollows. Unlike most cats, they are not very good climbers, their stocky bodies and short tails make it difficult for them to climb.
These small cats are very territorial, stretching from 10km2 for females and up to 25km2 for the males. Territories are marked in many different ways, like sent marking and rubbing their heads against objects. Females are only in estrus for two to three days, so males need to locate them very quickly. Females can have two litters a year, averaging about two kittens per litter. Kittens weigh about 80grams at birth but grow up quickly, reaching sexual maturity at about one year of age.
They hunt mostly small rodents and bird, but can bring down prey heavier than themselves, like the Cape hare. Insects and spiders are also prey, but only form about 1% of their diet.

Story by Stefan (River Lodge)

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