|Reptiles occur in a variety of habitats, from sea level to the mountain tops. The majority are unfortunately seldom seen due to their shy, nocturnal or burrowing habits. Besides tortoises, lizards are most easily seen and on sunny days may often be spied basking on rocky outcrops. The ecological value of these often inconspicuous creatures (for instance, in controlling insects and rodents) is not always fully appreciated - yet in southern Africa there are approximately the same number of reptile species as mammal species.
Tortoises urinate as a means of defence and it is best not to pick them up as this will deplete their limited water supply.
Not all snakes are poisonous, but all should be treated with respect. Most are shy and present little danger, apart from the poisonous puff adder, that lies on pathways. It is not necessary to kill snakes - if you stand still they will usually move out of your way.
One of the most common venomous species is the large puff adder with its beautiful camouflage markings. It can reach a length of 120 cm. These snakes are slow to retreat from people but -can move with surprising speed at times, and also swim well.
Berg adders are most commonly encountered on mountains.
The common slug eater is a friend of the farmer and gardener. It rolls into a tight spiral when disturbed, hence its Afrikaans name tabak-rolletjie (tobacco roll). Brown and olive house snakes also occur in the region. The large mole snake is non-poisonous but aggressive when handled. It feeds on rodents moles and other small mammals that may be troublesome to people at times.
The spotted or rhombic skaapsteker is fairly common and will bite only if provoked. The common egg-eater is non-poisonous. It is often confused with the venomous common night-adder, which it mimics.
The boomslang is poisonous but shy. Its excellent vision helps it catch its prey, which includes chamaeleons and birds. It is particularly active during its breeding season in spring. Cape cobras and rinkhals are poisonous, and when threatened raise the fore-part of their body and spread a broad hood. The rinkhals may also pretend to be dead.
The Cape mountain lizard is endemic to mountainous fynbos areas, together with the more common mountain lizard. The snake-like Cape grass lizard has tiny, rudimentary limbs and a long tail with which it appears to swim through long grass. If caught, it coils up like a spring and uncurls explosively, as a means of escape. The Cape girdled lizard or skurwejantjie jams itself into cracks by inflating its body, in order to prevent predation.
The southern rock agama is common and appears in a variety of habitats. Breeding males have bright blue heads (hence their Afrikaans name, bloukopkoggelmander), throats and forelimbs, and perch on the highest part of their territories, raising themselves on their forelegs and nodding their heads in order to warn off intruders (or possibly to see them better). The females and juveniles are plain grey.
FERNKLOOF HAS ITS OWN MOSS FROG
AND YOU THOUGHT FERNKLOOF WAS ALL ABOUT FILOWEIRS. But there is a visitor who comes for another very small reason - a little frog the size of a finger nail called Arthroleptelia drewesii or Drewes' Moss Frog.
She is Dr Abeda Dawood, of the Department of Zoology and Entomology and Centre for Environmental Studies at the University of Pretoria. She was one of the discoverers of this little frog in Fernkloof in 1994 together with Professor Alan Channing and Dr Denver Hendricks, all from UWC at the time.
Moss frogs, according to Abeda, are very small cryptic frogs endernic to South Africa. There are five species in the Western Cape and two in KwaZulu Natal. They have a very interesting life-cycle as they are direct developers; they develop directly from eggs to froglets and skip the tadpole stage
Our moss frog, Arthroleptella drewesii was named for Professor R C Drewes of the California Academy of Sciences, who collected the holotype or specimen on which the description was based. It is a small frog, just exceeding 2Omm in length, and morphologically indistinguishable from the other species in the Western Cape. However, the male advertisement call is quite distinct. The call consists of a series of more or less evenly spaced clicks. Five to ten single or double clicks are produced in .7 seconds. They call from ledges on moss covered or grassy slopes, often concealed under vegetation, often in the vicinity of waterfalls.
The species was also found to differ genetically from the other specimens in the Western Cape in a recent phylogenetic study using DNA sequences (Wawood and Channing 2000). Its distribution is Fernkloof and adjacent wet areas on the Kleinriverer mountains above 200m, although further fieldwork may extend its range.
Its conservation status is near threatened - so tread carefully when the rain comes down and you hear the moss frogs clicking.
Channing, A, D. Hendricks and A. Dawood 1994. Description of a new moss frog from the south-western Cape (Anura: Ranidae: Arthroleptella). South African Journal of Zoology 29:240-243.
Dawood, A., and A. Channing 2000. A molecular phylogeny of moss frogs from the Western Cape, South Africa, with a description of a new species. Journal of Herpetology 34:375-379.