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SARCA Field Survey No. 5 - trip report

May 2006     

Date: Date: 25 December 2005 - 3 January 2006
Locality: Locality: Western Cape Province, Herbertsdale district, on Gondwana Game Reserve, Vleesbaai Dune Route, and farms Elandsdans, The Island, Mimosa Grove and Zingela Indlela.

fynbos Trap array in fynbos.
valley bushveld Trap array in valley bushveld.

SARCA Team 5:

Marius Burger: SARCA Project Herpetologist.
PG Groenewald: Camera man, and the digger of difficult holes. PG is also an off-road driving instructor and logistics manager with the 4x4 Eco Challenge at Klipbokkop near Worcester.
Samantha Stoffberg: Bush Babe Sam, the Bat-Catcher, is a PhD zoology student at UCT.
Krystal Tolley: Krystal is South Africa's Chameleon Mechanic, sorting out the complex taxonomy of dwarf chameleons by studying their DNA. She heads the genetics unit at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

  Team 5 SARCA Team 5: PG, Sam and Krystal.

Marius's comments:

The previous four surveys were all conducted in the Northern Cape Province, in the Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and Savanna biomes. SARCA5 investigated Fynbos and Valley Bushveld habitats in the Western Cape and, predictably, the herpetofauna was significantly different. Of the 21 species recorded, 15 (71%) were not found during the previous surveys. Over the next three years I will be sampling a great variety of habitats in southern Africa, and I am excited about studying the species turnover between regions.

The two most important finds of SARCA5 were Cape Wolf Snake and Delalande's Sandveld Lizard. Although these two species are relatively common elsewhere in South Africa, records from the southern Cape are scarce.

The last day of 2005 was spent exploring coastal terrain near Vleesbaai. Cape Legless Skinks were plentiful, as were Southern Rock Agamas and Ocellated Geckos. The beauty of the day was a brightly coloured Dwarf Harlequin Snake from Fransmanshoek. We ended the year with a stint of road-cruising to search for dwarf chameleons, but by ten that night we headed for town to share in the New Year's festivities. The first reptile observation at the dawn of 2006 was inspirational for us all: on the way to checking our traps, a pair of Angulate Tortoises, mating in the middle of the road. Roll on 2006...

sandveld lizard Delalande's Sandveld Lizard Nucras lalandei.   pores A ventral view of the same lizard, showing the rows of femoral pores on the hind legs.

wolfsnake Cape Wolf Snake Lycophidion capense.   portrait Portrait of the Cape Wolf Snake.

PG's comments:

Jaaaaa - digging those blerrie holes is the pits - and yes, they're also the pitfall traps - but let me tell you this: that Valley Bushveld substrate is not the soft sand of the Kalahari! However, once the traps were in place, the fun-and-games commenced in all seriousness. I was the cameraman on this trip. Filming is a new interest of mine, one that I took up during the 4x4 Eco Challenge finals that took place only a few months prior to SARCA5. A reptile survey has all the right ingredients for a budding filmmaker: lots of bush, rivers, mountains and ocean, mixed in with a variety of creepy-crawlies and funny people, and more than just a sprinkle of madness. Thanks folks - I had a grand time.

PG with bakkie PG and 4X4 Eco Challenge bakkie.  

Samantha's comments:

Well, it wasn't like catching bats! (my usual field activity), but SARCA5 was definitely one of the best ways to end and start a year! The work was incredibly strenuous those first two days, setting up drift fences and pitfalls traps on land void of anything softer than hard rock! After sun spiders and many invertebrates, the reptiles did finally 'find' the traps. A Common Slug-eater was the first to reward our morning's trap-checking anticipations. Highlights on this trip were many, with special memories including that splendid Delalande's Sandveld Lizard, the legless skinks, an angry female Boomslang that crossed the road, chameleons on New Year's Eve, and turning those Gondwanan rocks... We met some amazing people on whose farms we worked - those cookies and koeldrank were really appreciated after checking the traps in the heat. Thanks so much to SARCA and most especially, Krystal, PG, and Marius. I had an unforgetable 10 days!

  Sam Samantha with a Common Long-tailed Seps.   legless skink Cape Legless Skink Acontias meleagris.

Krystal's comments:

Driving across the foothills of the Langeberg on the way to check traps, singing along to Metallica blaring out of the speakers, is one way to go about catching reptiles, if you happen to be on a SARCA fieldtrip, that is. I joined SARCA5 because working on lizards is my profession. As a scientist at SANBI, my daily work involves either catching lizards for their DNA, or lab work to analyse it. But that doesn't mean this fieldtrip was just another day at work. Most of my collections have been by "active search", i.e., walking around all day and night looking for reptiles to catch. SARCA fieldwork involves a fair bit of active searching, but also trapping, something I have very little experience of. I was amazed at the number of different reptiles that were captured in the traps: snakes and lizards that I had never caught before by active searching! So, you really can teach an old dog new tricks!

  Krystal Krystal with padloper tortoises.   chameleon Krystal's favourite study subject, a dwarf chameleon.

Species recorded during SARCA 5:


Acontias meleagris - Cape Legless Skink
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Bradypodion gutturale - Robertson Dwarf Chameleon
Cordylus cordylus - Cape Girdled Lizard
Nucras lalandei - Delalande's Sandveld Lizard
Pachydactylus geitje - Ocellated Thick-toed Gecko
Tetradactylus tetradactylus - Common Long-tailed Seps
Trachylepis capensis - Cape Skink
Trachylepis homalochephala - Red-sided Skink


Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Dispholidus typus - Boomslang
Duberia lutrix - Common Slug-eater
Homoroselaps lacteus - Spotted Harlequin Snake
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Lycophidion capense - Cape Wolf Snake
Psammophis crucifer - Montane Grass Snake
Psammophylax rhombeatus - Spotted Skaapsteker
Pseudaspis cana - Mole Snake*
Rhinotyphlops lalandei - Delalande's Beaked Blind Snake


Chersina angulata - Angulate Tortoise
Homopus areolatus - Parrot-beaked Tortoise
Pelomedusa subrufa - Marsh Terrapin
* The Mole Snake was recorded on route to the study area.


Once again, many-many thanks to the 4x4 Eco Challenge for providing a bakkie to conduct SARCA surveys.

We are most grateful to the farmers who permitted us to survey on their properties: Mark and Wendy Rutherfoord (Gondwana Game Reserve), Riekie van Rensburg (Vleesbaai Dune Route), Giselle and Christian Kriek (The Island), Frans Marx (Elandsdans), Philip and Lenie Muller (Mimosa Grove) who are also thanked for the biscuits! Special thanks go to Rienie and Deon Douglas (Zingela Indlela) for their generous hospitality, and for an excellent Christmas Dinner.

  ostrich Ostrich.....   Boomslang Boomslang. See the resemblance?

Photos by Marius Burger

Compiled by Marius Burger & James Harrison
SARCA Project Herpetologist & Project Coordinator


South African National Biodiversity Institute Herpetological Association of Africa Avian Demography Unit

SARCA is a joint project of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Herpetological Association of Africa (HAA), and the Avian Demography Unit (ADU), Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Cape Town.




[ Document posted on 5 June 2006 ]

    May 30, 2024, 1:23 am