Calling from the Ponds
Students and staff ventured to the ponds within the Skukuza Rest Camp in search of amphibians. Although this course is focused on reptiles, herpetology is the study of both amphibians and non-avian reptiles.
Our students had their first glimpse of the amphibian diversity in the Kruger National Park. We spent two hours scanning the ponds at the Skukuza Rest Camp for frogs, toads, and amphibian-eating snakes. We began our exploration at the pond nearest to reception. Immediately, we could hear at least two species calling around us: Sclerophrys garmani (eastern olive toad), Hyperolius marmoratus (painted reed frog).
As we reached the pond, the calling males hushed immediately. The light of our torches revealed several H. marmoratus with distended vocal sacs sitting on lily pads and dozens of Amietia quecketti that would occasionally plop into the water. After scanning through the water we located several Xenopus muelleri, which can be distinguished from X. laevis based on the presence of well-developed sub-ocular tentacles. Eventually, one lone H. marmoratus disregarded our presence began calling. Suddenly, the pond erupted with the sounds of 10-15 individuals calling for a mate.
Much like the first pond, the larger pond in the rest camp was filled with H. marmoratus. However, the sound was deafening as there were at least 30 males calling from the pond. It is incredible that a 30 mm organism can produce such a loud sound. Finally, our search turned up a Ptychadena anchietae (plain grass frog).
With rain in the area, we have started catching amphibians in our pitfall and funnel traps. In our traps this morning, we caught nine Breviceps adspersus (bushveld rain frog) across our field sites and a Hemisus marmoratus (shovel-nosed frog).
Many of our students are wary around amphibians and would much rather hold a large lizard or snake. A few of the students handled a frog or toad for the very first time on this course. To aid in identifying and learning more about the amphibians that we have have been observing, our student have been utilizing copies of Frogs of Southern Africa which were generously donated to us by one of the authors, Professor Louis Du Preez.
New additions to our trip reptile list include: Thelotornis capensis, Bitis arietans, Gerrhosaurus intermedius, Homopholis wahlbergii, and Mochlus sundevalli.