Herping the West Coast

Field report from Myself and Luke Kemp’s West Coast trip

Luke and I are aspiring herpetologists, currently under the supervision of Dr Shelley Edwards in the Zoology and Entomology Molecular Lab (ZEML). Our work, which, focusses on the herpetofauna of Southern Africa spans many orders and many more families, and while we love the hustle and bustle of the raucous molecular lab, that I myself have called home this year, we are always keen to explore the enormous diversity that our wilderness has to offer.

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For this reason, we jumped on the opportunity to explore it when we realised that we had a massive sampling gap along the western coast of South Africa. While well-studied in certain localities, South Africa remains rich with under-sampled diversity, if you know where to look. One such place is the west coast, especially if you are talking about reptiles. Luke and I thus set-off on the 28th of October with the aim of finding as many Spotted Skaapstekers and legless skinks as we possibly could… and maybe a few dwarf adders.

We started in Gordons Bay and slowly moved towards the coast, passing through Cederberg along the way. Once at the coast, we missioned north in search of samples, passing through Lamberts Bay Honderklipbaai and Koingnaas until we finally reached our most northerly locality, Port Nolloth. From the coast we set-off eastwards and spent time in Springbok and Aggeneys before moving towards Augrabies, where we spent our last night before coming back to Grahamstown. All in all we travelled just over 3600km, found a dozen specimens from six species of legless skink and three skaapstekers’. In terms of finding the target species, the trip was a massive success as we managed to get samples from over half of the species’ of legless skink found along the western coast.

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Much like the manic Pokemon Go players which graced our campus with their antics just over a year ago, Luke and I are much the same. But instead of seeking out the virtual pseudo-animals on our cellphones, we seek out the herpetofauna of South Africa, with the goal of photographing every species we can get our hands on.

 

This trip was thus once again a massive success because in the time between digging up acontias in the dumps of South Africa’s quaint coastal towns, we managed to find just over 50 species of reptile, almost 8 percent of South Africa’s known reptile diversity. Some of these include the: many horned adder (Bitis cornuta), namaqua dwarf adder (Bitis schniederi), large-scaled girdled lizard (Cordylus macropholis), armadillo girdled lizard (Ouroborous cataphractus), augrabies gecko (Pachydactylus atorquiatus), cape cobra (Naja nivea), cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum), strawberry rain frog (Breviceps acutirostris).

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But most notable of our finds was probably the one we made in Augrabies. It was the last day of our trip and although we were 960km from Grahamstown we still managed to find the famously regal academic, Professor Adrian Craig, perched upon his chair over-looking Augrabies Falls with Daniel Danckwerts by his side. In conclusion, we would like to thank Dr Shelley Edwards for affording us the resources and the time to complete the herpetological expedition, because if it weren’t for this experience, it is unlikely that we ever would have seen Professor Adrian Craig in his natural environment.

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Snakes and their Mates Videos from Trip:

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