Wildlife on your windowsill
They don’t nibble rosebuds or dig up bulbs in the lily bed, which is already a good reason why some residents prefer the smaller wildlife in their gardens. Watching the antics of reptiles can be as rewarding as counting the stripes on the side of a zebra.
On the Greater Amber estate there are at least three lizard species that draw attention. The Nile or water monitor is the largest African lizard, ranging from 100 – 140 cm long and up to two metres maximum. It occurs in river valleys, foraging for food in marginal vegetation. The diet includes crabs, mussels, frogs, fish and birds and their eggs (one way of keeping down the Egyptian Goose population). They have been seen crossing the road, basking on reeds at the dams and even on my patio one memorable afternoon. After spring rains in August and September the female lays between 20 – 60 eggs in a living termite nest. It takes up to a year before the young emerge together, digging themselves out of the rain-softened nest the following summer.
The tree agama is the most colourful of the species. They are about 20 – 30 cm long and have broad heads and a strong fold across the throat. Breeding males sport a brilliant ultramarine colour on top of the head, blue-green on the sides and peacock-blue on the throat. Females and non-breeding males are olive to green-brown, marbled with black. Females lay 8 – 14 eggs in a hole dug in moist soil and are hatched after 90 days. Their diet consists of flying ants, termites, grasshoppers and beetles. These lizards spend most of their days clinging to a tree trunk (they love acacias), or more recently, the brick walls of retirement homes. This development in their preferred habitat is the subject of a study by a Pietermaritzburg student at the University of KZN. Nikisha Singh presented a talk on the “Urban Ecology of the Tree Agama” at the BLKZN Forum on 9 March 2019. To assist her with her project she has developed a questionnaire at https://goo.gl/forms/PAvopduyBqNGklAb2. She would love to receive your information. She reports that they also like eating cake.
The most commonly encountered lizards are striped skinks. Their coloration differs between sub-species, reaching a size between 18 – 22 cm. They are common in towns and tame easily. Their diet includes most small insects, beetles and moths. Mainly arboreal, they also live on rocky outcrops and houses. They give birth to a single litter of 3-9 babies in summer. (Reference: Field guide to the snakes and other reptiles of Southern Africa, Bill Branch)
Outing to Peter’s Gate Herbal Centre
The 33 members who attended the outing to the herb farm came away with an increased knowledge, not only of what herbs to plant in their gardens, but what uses can be made of the fragrant leaves in the kitchen or for the medicine chest. We were also treated to tea or coffee and scones.