Southern African Reptiles

     Reptiles & SARCA
        About SARCA
        Newsletters & Media
        Virtual Museum
        Mailling List
     Amphibians & SAFAP
UCT logo
Herpetological Association of Africa

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
© 2024 ADU - UCT

SARCA Newsletter No. 7

August 2007

If you would like to be taken off this mailing list, please visit the site and complete the "unsubscribe or edit options" at the bottom of the page.

New subscribers, please visit for more information about SARCA. Previous newsletters are posted on the "Newsletters and Media" page.

Dear SARCA Supporters,


You have received a couple of notices via the SARCA list server, mysteriously signed by me as the new project coordinator. If you are really observant, you may also have noticed that my name has replaced James Harrison's in a few places on the SARCA website. Never fear - James is still alive and well and involved in SARCA, although in a different capacity (see MESSAGE FROM JAMES below). I've taken over the role of project coordinator and over the next few months, will be sucking James dry of as much of his vast bank of knowledge and expertise as possible, to ensure continuity in the running of SARCA.

So what's my background? Over the years, it seems that I've been sliding my way down the zoological ladder - from an evolutionary perspective, that is. My post graduate research was on mammals (porcupines and wild dogs); since 2000 I've been working on seabirds at the ADU (field work mostly on albatrosses at sub-Antarctic Marion Island); now I'm turning my attention to reptiles. Despite my apparent taxonomic confusion, the unifying theme for all the work that I've been involved with is a passion for conservation. I'm extremely excited to be part of SARCA, an innovative and elegant project which will make a huge contribution to the conservation of southern Africa's reptiles. I'm privileged to be part of an excellent and committed SARCA team, to work with an extremely knowledgeable and quirky bunch of herpetological experts, and to reap the benefits of the enthusiasm of all the other herpetofiliacs out there, namely YOU.

With Yellow-nose Albatross chick on Gough Island, Feb 2007 (Photo, Brian Bowie) 
With Mark Marshall's Olive House Snake (Photo: Ingrid Peters)

You can find out more about me on the ADU home page at

Dear SARCAlites

You have probably noticed a bit of a slow-down in communications from SARCA. I apologize for that. The reason is that there have been a number of changes to the way SARCA is run, and there have been some very pressing priorities to do with fundraising and getting the conservation assessment process going.

I have resigned from the ADU, but I will still be around to mentor my replacement, Marienne de Villiers, until the end of the year. I have full confidence in Marienne's ability to coordinate SARCA activities effectively, and I wish her all the best in meeting the considerable challenges that lie ahead. Marius Burger carries on as SARCA's Project Herpetologist.

It remains for me thank you all for your enthusiastic participation in SARCA. I have really enjoyed processing your submissions to the Virtual Museum - it's been almost as good as getting into the field myself! Please continue to support the VM - we still need many more records to populate the SARCA database! Remember that better information leads to better conservation assessment and better conservation planning, so your records are a real contribution to the conservation of our reptiles.

Best wishes,


Congratulations to the winners of the 2006/07 SARCA Virtual Museum Competition (posted on the SARCA website), and thanks to all those who donated the prizes. The next round of the competition is open, and runs from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008. So KEEP SENDING THOSE PHOTOS!
Having a whale of a time (Photo: Marienne de Villiers)  

Many thanks to all those who attended and otherwise supported the SARCA fundraiser on Thursday, 31st May. The audience, seated under the colossal skeletons suspended in Iziko Museum's Whale Well, was entertained by the evening's speaker, Marius 'Slangman' Burger. Then, following fortification with good food and wine, the audience settled back to enjoy the lucky draw.

Wine for the evening was donated by Brandvlei Kelder, Bree Rivier Valley, Gecko Ridge, Klein Constantia, Midmar Bottle Store and Zorgvliet. Prizes were donated by Africa Geographic, Avian Demography Unit, Struik, Tango Restaurant, Marius Burger and Vondeling. Special thanks to Anne Gray for helping to coordinate the event, to Marja Wren-Sargent for taking care of ticket sales and for creating the splendid SARCA banner, and to Stanley Norrie for the catering. If you wish to sponsor a SARCA field trip, please see the donations form.

You will notice that this newsletter does not contain the usual summary list of the last 1000 Virtual Museum contributions. In the hand-over of coordinator duties from James to me, a backlog in Virtual Museum records has developed, and one of my priorities for this month is to get to work uploading outstanding records. Newsletter 7 will contain a summary of the last batch of VM contributions. Meanwhile, please keep those photos rolling in. We would like to add some readers' contributions to future SARCA newsletters, so if you have any reptile tales (not tails) that you would like to share, please mail these to me at, and make the subject of the message "SARCA newsletter contribution."

Marienne de Villiers
SARCA Project Coordinator


SARCA held its AGM in late May this year. We also spent two days on a workshop dealing with the IUCN criteria for compiling species conservation assessments. Thus we had a substantial chunk of the South African herpetological fraternity together for a few days, and it seemed an opportune time to tackle those SARCA Virtual Museum records that have remained unidentified until now. So at the end of our meeting, they all swarmed to my place for a night of pizza and beer and wine and "What reptile is that?" Rene Navarro of the ADU extracted photos of all the unidentified species of the first 2700 records, 371 in total. These were projected onto a wall, and thus the debating began. It was well after midnight when the last few die-harders made the last identifications.

From left to right, our panel of experts are Andrew Turner, (crying for no apparent reason), Bates (yes Mike Bates), Alexander (in hiding), the new boss Marienne (quivering in the corner - can she be blamed?), the eager Wits monkeys Gavin and Bryan disagreeing with The Bill Branch, and Krystal (staring incredulously at me eating a salad; no trick-photography was used). (Photo: John Measey) Marius handing out sustenance to the panel of experts.(Photo: John Measey)

In total we managed to ID 258 records; the remaining 113 records will probably remain unidentified. This is because the pictures are either unclear, or they do not show the diagnostic characters needed for positive ID. The SARCA VM was subsequently updated. You will thus notice "comments by several members of expert panel" for those records that we managed to identify, and "not able to make positive identification" where we could not. The gathering consisted of Graham Alexander, Mike Bates, Bill Branch, Marius Burger, Marienne de Villiers, Wendy Foden, James Harrison, Johan Marais and his daughter Melissa, Bryan Maritz, Gavin Masterson, John Measey, Krystal Tolley and Andrew Turner, and even SARCA 16 fieldtrip volunteer, Fran Siebrits.


Almost 3000 records have been submitted to the SARCA Virtual Museum to date. Although most of these were of species that are relatively common, some submissions were of very rare reptiles, including species that I myself have never encountered before. I've made a selection of the top 10 special species, drawn from the first 1000 records submitted. Of course, judging the novelty rating of a particular record will differ between various evaluators - thus the following ranking is according to my personal opinion only. I will present the top 10 of records 1001-2000 in the next SARCA newsletter.

#1 is SARCA 346: Scelotes montispectus - Bloubergstrand Dwarf Burrowing Skink, submitted by G. Oliver. This is an easy winner and well deserving of the first place in SARCA's top 10 out of a 1000. In fact I won't be surprised if it remains as the overall most special Virtual Museum record for the next 9000 submissions too. This is only the 2nd known specimen of a new lizard species that was described in 2003. This specimen is also from Bloubergstrand area, where the first was found, but a 3rd specimen was subsequently found in the West Coast National Park.
#2 is SARCA 319: Lamprophis fiskii - Fisk's House Snake, submitted by R. Simmons. I am jealous! I always have Fisk's House Snake on my wish-list when I do surveys in the Karoo and Namaqualand - but a wish it still remains. This species is poorly known, and very few people can boast that they have encountered it in the wild - live or dead.
Scelotes montispectus: G. Oliver Lamprophis fiskii: R. Simmons

#3 is SARCA 518: Lamprophis swazicus - Swazi Rock Snake, submitted by T. Mol. I am still jealous! Another legendary snake which I will probably never get to see in my lifetime.
#4 is SARCA 676: Tetradactylus breyeri - Beyer's Long-tailed Seps, submitted by J. Theron and G. Diedericks. A lizard with a limited distribution range. This species would certainly constitute the catch-of-the-day if you are lucky enough to uncover a specimen during a grassland survey in Mpumalanga or KwaZulu-Natal.
Lamprophis swazicus: T. Mol Tetradactylus breyeri: J. Theron, G. Diedericks

#5 is SARCA 212: Typhlosaurus cregoi cregoi - Cregoi's Blind Legless Skink, submitted by G. Masterson. Reptiles that live under the ground may be common in terms of the number of individuals in a population, yet we may consider them to be rare because they are seldom encountered above ground. I don't know many people that have found and photographed this legless lizard, so well done Gavin.
#6 is SARCA 8 & 476: Bitis armata - Southern Adder, submitted by T. Phelps and J.C. Els. Through the research efforts of Tony Phelps and his team of eager assistants, Johannes Els and Ryno Bezuidenhout, several interesting reptile distribution records have been accrued for SARCA.
Typhlosaurus cregoi cregoi: G. Masterson Bitis armata: T. Phelps, J.C. Els

#7 is SARCA 66: Prosymna frontalis - South-western Shovel-snout, submitted by A.J. van Wyk. The main distribution of this small snake species is in Namibia, but it does extend into the Northern Cape. You'll be lucky to find one, even if you search long and hard.
#8 is SARCA 892: Platysaurus minor - Waterberg Flat lizard, submitted by W. Botha. Locally common where they occur, but the species has a rather limited distribution range.
Prosymna frontalis: A.J. van Wyk Platysaurus minor: W. Botha

#9 is SARCA 85: Monopeltis capensis - Cape Spade-snouted Worm Lizard, submitted by J. Aucamp. It is probably a super-abundant species, yet these strange lizards are rarely found above ground. This is the only amphisbaenian (worm lizard) of the first 1000 reptile records submitted to the SARCA Virtual Museum.
#10 is SARCA 588: Scelotes caffer - Cape Dwarf Burrowing Skink, submitted by F. Grundlingh. A species with a wide, but scattered, distribution. It is seldom encountered, and even less often photographed.
Monopeltis capensis: . Aucamp Scelotes caffer: F. Grundlingh

I've often heard people express frustration when the scientific names of plants or animals are changed by taxonomists. I can sympathise in general, because I also don't want to unnecessarily strain my limited brain cells with superfluous info, but usually such name changes are ultimately for the better. As we gather more information about species and their relationships with each other, be it in terms of their morphology or genetic makeup, it sometimes becomes necessary to make these name changes. In essence we are fine-tuning our understanding of these species. In the past five years or so, several South African reptiles underwent changes at the genus level. These names are already in use in the scientific literature, and also in the SARCA Virtual Museum species list, but they are not yet reflected in any of the popular field guides currently in bookstores. However, the good news is that a new book with all the updated names and general information is imminent. A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa by Graham Alexander and Johan Marais should be on the shelves by November 2007. In the meantime, here is a list of the most important name changes that may have caused you some confusion:
  • Even the Leopard Tortoise did a name change - it is no longer in the genus Geochelone - instead it is Stigmochelys pardalis.
  • The so-called typical skinks of the genus Mabuya changed to Trachylepis. This change affected 23 southern African species of skinks. The genus Mabuya used to be cosmopolitan, occurring on all continents, except for Antarctica of course.
  • Two species of legless skinks of the genus Acontias are now in a separate genus called Microacontias. They are M. litoralis, and the three subspecies of M. lineatus.
  • Geckos of the genus Pachydactylus were reviewed by Aaron Bauer (University of Villa Nova) and his colleagues, and resulted in the following changes:
    1. The two web-footed geckos Palmatogecko rangei and P. vanzyli were both transferred to Pachydactylus.
    2. Pachydactylus kochii is now in the same genus as the Kalahari Ground Gecko, i.e. it is now Colopus kochii.
    3. Three species of Pachydactylus were moved to Chondrodactylus, a genus that previously included only the Giant Ground Gecko. These species are Chondrodactylus bibronii, C. fitzsimonsi and C. turneri.



[ Document posted on 28 August 2007 ]

    May 30, 2024, 2:00 am