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LOCAL TIME: 12:14 am | Sunday, 19 May
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Knysna’s Reptiles

Knysna is home to many unique creatures, most notably the endemic Knysna Dwarf Chameleon. Some are interesting, while some are dangerous – either way it’s good to be on the lookout for these scaled inhabitants:

Knysna Dwarf Chameleon photo by Ian Fleming

Knysna Dwarf Chameleon | photo: Ian Fleming

Knysna Dwarf Chameleon

These masters of camouflage can change colour to not only suit their surrounding environment but when they get excited too! Adult males become intensely coloured when defending territories and courting females, which involves a lot of head bobbing. Females give birth to 2-3 clutches of 6-20 young in summer. Their greatest predators are birds and snakes, especially boomslang. Their scientific name, Bradypodion, means ‘slow foot’ which describes their slow walk. They climb high into the forest canopy during the day to bask and then sleep in the center of ferns at night, coiling their prehensile tales to look like fern fronds.

Leatherback Turtle

These turtles have the widest range of any reptile, occurring in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. They can dive to 1000 metres and have smooth skin, resembling vulcanized rubber instead of a horny shell, to allow for the compression at such depths. They are the largest and heaviest living reptiles recorded, with a maximum length of 2.5 metres and a mass of up to 1.5 tonnes. They eat mainly jellyfish and bluebottles, which they consume in large quantities. The nutritional requirements of adults are met almost exclusively by creatures that are 95% water! They don’t have teeth, but have long, horny spines in their throats, which allow them to swallow their slippery prey. Leatherback turtles nest along the coast in Zululand between October and February.

Angulated Tortoise

Angulated tortoises’ shells are straw-yellow and become smooth and dirty brown when they get old. Although they take shelter during the heat of the day, they can withstand temperatures of up to 40°C. They drink water through their noses from pools. On sandy soils, they raise their hind legs and filter water from that which runs off the shell around the snout, into the sand. If picked up, they can spray faeces up to a metre, with surprising accuracy. Sexual maturity is reached in 9-12 years. Females lay a single (rarely 2) hard-shelled egg in soft soil, 4-6 times a year. The egg hatches 90-200 days later, depending on the season.

Cape Skink

These fat (often obese) skinks are light brown to olive, with 3 pale stripes which have a series of dark spots or bars between them. Cape skinks hunt insects in clearings and live in tunnels dug beneath bushes and boulders. They also favour dead trees and fallen aloe stems. The females give birth to 5-18 babies in late summer. This gentle skink is easily tamed and would be much more common in gardens if it were not that they often fall prey to domestic cats.

Blue Girdled Lizard

These graceful lizards are olive, with black streaks towards the tail and orange along the sides. Distinctive blue spots are scattered around the head and thick scales and body plates protect them from abrasion against rough rocks, hence their name. They live on rocky outcrops in Fynbos and evade predators by jamming themselves into rock cracks. They do this by inflating the body and shortening and thickening their skulls, which are usually hinged structures.

Common Slug Eater

This stout-bodied little snake has a small head, hardly distinct from the neck.It’s brick red to pale brown back sometimes has a broken black line along the backbone. The sides are pale and the belly cream and edged with a dark, dotted line. This gentle snake is a gardener’s delight, as it eats only snails and slugs. They follow the slime trail and simply swallow the their prey at it’s end. It rolls into a tight spiral when threatened, hence the Afrikaans name ‘Tabakrolletjie’ (little tobacco roll). Although it is harmless, it can expel a foul smelling substance in defense. The females are larger than the males and give live birth to 6-8 young in late summer.


Puff Adders, avoid at all costs!

Puff Adder

Puff adders are sluggish and extremely well camouflaged, making them virtually invisible among plant debris. The body is yellow-brown to light brown, with black, pale edged chevrons on the back and bars on the tail. Their scales are heavily keeled, giving a rough appearance. They are often killed along tar roads where they seek warmth from the heat absorbed by the tar during the day. The puff adder emerges at dusk, lying in cover to ambush it’s prey which includes rodents and birds. If disturbed it adopts a striking posture and warns by giving a deep hiss. Large yields of cytotoxin venom can be injected deeply with long fangs, causing excessive swelling. Puff adders are regarded as one of the most dangerous snakes.

Boomslang (Tree Snake)

Boomslang are large snakes with distinct heads and very large eyes with round pupils. Their colouration is very variable and not always green as is commonly thought. Juveniles are twig-coloured with the head dark above, white below and the throat yellow and they also have emerald-green eyes. Females are olive to brown and mature males vary from bright green to black. Boomslang are extremely shy snakes. They have excellent vision that assists with hunting by day for chameleons and birds. When cornered, they will inflate the brightly coloured neck and may strike if escape is not possible. They inject a potent haemo-toxin, which prevents blood clotting resulting in death by haemorrhage. Symptoms may take up to 24-48 hours to develop.

More info on the town of Knysna More info on the Garden Route area

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