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Archive for the ‘Reference’ Category

For a Healthy iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Just Add Adders

Snakes and Snakebite in Southern AfricaSlange and Slangbyt in Suider-AfrikaA Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa'n Volledige Gids tot die Slange van Suider-Afrika

26 gaboon adders have been successfully released into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the coast about 300 kilometres north of Durban. The snakes were reared at the nearby St Lucia Crocodile and Education Centre, and are important to the health of the whole ecosystem.

Johan Marais, herpetologist and author of a number of books about snakes, told Tony Carnie a bit more about the species for an article featured in The Mercury.

Marais explained that although the venom of a gaboon adder is potentially deadly, bites are next to “unheard of, except among snake handlers”:

“The bite is not unlike that of a puff adder – potently cytotoxic causing massive swelling, pain and blistering that may result in necrosis and severe tissue damage.

“But even the puff adder accounts for few deaths, as victims usually have enough time to get to a hospital and treatment. Gaboon adders are not often encountered, very well camouflaged and fortunately reluctant to bite. They will hiss loudly to scare you off.”

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News from the African Snakebite Institute: Johan Marais Explains How to Identify Mildly-venomous Snakes

Johan Marais is an internationally respected herpetologist and author of several books on snakes in southern Africa, including Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa and A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa.

Snakes and Snakebite in Southern AfricaSlange and Slangbyt in Suider-AfrikaA Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa'n Volledige Gids tot die Slange van Suider-Afrika

Marais also runs the African Snakebite Institute (ASI), through which he offers training courses, corporate talks and demonstrations, environmental impact assessments and reptile safaris. In the latest ASI newsletter Marais focusses on mildly-venomous snakes:

“Of the 173-odd different types of snakes in Southern Africa the vast majority of species are either harmless or mildly venomous. Only nineteen snake species are considered deadly,” the snake expert writes. Examples include the Common Night Adder, the Stiletto Snake, the Berg Adder, the Many-horned Adder and the Horned Adder.

Read the ASI newsletter to find out more about these snakes, including photos to help you identify them and tips on what to do when you come across one:

While the venom of most mildly-venomous snakes like the Herald snake, Eastern Tiger snake, the various Sand and Grass snakes and the Skaapsteker has virtually no effect on humans, twenty nine snakes that are not considered deadly have rather potent venom that could cause a great deal of discomfort or even hospitalisation. Sadly many of these snakes are listed as ‘mildly venomous’ on various internet sites. This is certainly not always the case.

The Common or Rhombic Night Adder is a good example. It is abundant where it occurs in the wetter eastern parts of the country and is a frog specialist, feeding largely on toads. Gardens with water features lure frogs and the Night Adder follows. Its venom is often described as mildly cytotoxic that will cause some pain and a bit of swelling. This may be the case in some bites but not always. We see some particularly bad bites, especially on children and dogs. Night Adder venom is potent enough to kill small dogs and I recently saw a case where a Maltese Poodle was bitten on a paw and its front leg had to be amputated the following day.

ASI offers many helpful tools on their website, including downloadable posters and links to resources on snakes. Have a look:

Dangerous Snakes of Southern Africa



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10 Critically Endangered Birds Species in South Africa

There are currently 10 endangered bird species in South Africa. Among others, the list includes the Wattled Crane, the Blue swallow and the Bearded vulture.

Wild Card Blog has posted an article in which they investigate which 10 species are under threat and why they are endangered.

All information was made available by the 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, published by BirdLife South Africa.

For more on South Africa’s diverse bird population, have a look at the books below:

Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern AfricaSasol Birds of Southern Africa IVChamberlain Birds of the Indian Ocean IslandsLatin for BirdwatchersNewman's Birds of Southern Africa
Sasol Merklys van Voëls in Suider-AfrikaSasol Voëls van Suider-Afrika IVSasol Voëls van Suider AfrikaNewman se voëls van Suider-Afrika


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1. Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) – globally critically endangered
Global numbers: 4 700 mature individuals
Where are they found in SA? Occasionally spotted off the west coast of South Africa.
Threats include: South African fisheries, longline fishing vessels mainly off South America, plastic, predation by introduced house mice on Gough Island.
Did you know? Their plumage gradually whitens over a period of 20 years.

2. Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) – regionally critically endangered
Regional numbers: Less than 250 mature individuals
Where are they found in SA? Eastern grasslands of the country with the core population located in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. A few pairs are also found in the grasslands of northern Eastern Cape around Ugie and Maclear and the Highveld grasslands of Mpumalanga and eastern Free State.
Threats include: Loss and degradation of wetlands due to agriculture, forestry and mining.
Did you know? They are monogamous and will pair for life.

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Image of the Wattled Crane courtesy of the Kruger National Park

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Snake Experts Expecting a Busy Summer in Nelson Mandela Bay as Reptiles Come out to Play

A Photographic Guide to Snakes, Other Reptiles and Amphibians of East AfricaSnakes and Snakebite in Southern AfricaA Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern AfricaSnake experts are expecting a busy summer as several venomous reptiles have already been caught across Nelson Mandela Bay.

Mark Marshall‚ owner of Sandula Conservation and a snake expert‚ has caught six snakes on different properties in the past two weeks.

In one of the most recent incidents‚ a two-year-old Staffordshire terrier died after being bitten by a puff adder during a fight in the garden of a Kunene Park home last Wednesday afternoon.

Marshall‚ who was called to the scene to catch the 1.2m puff adder‚ said the dog was rushed to Lorraine Veterinary Clinic in Circular Drive after being bitten.

He was called when neighbours ran over to the Blyth Street house after hearing the dogs barking wildly.

“They thought someone was breaking into the house but looking into the garden they saw the dog fighting with the snake and alerted the owners who called me.”

Vet Dr Kelly Flanegan said Monster the dog was bitten on the left shoulder.

“Within an hour of his arrival the dog began swelling and we tried everything to save him.”

Flanegan said if any animal is bitten the best method is to restrict their movement. “This is the start of a busy season. Every summer we receive many animals with snake bites‚” she said.

In March‚ a labrador-cross-alsation and a pit bull survived puff adder bites in separate incidents in the Bay.

On Sunday‚ Marshall said snakes had been more active due to the heavy rains about two weeks ago.

“This is the start of a busy summer season for all of us. Snakes are going to become far more active as the weather heats up‚” he said.

“Usually the snakes come out around the end of September and so this is basically a month early.

“The reason could be the heavy rains which flood the valleys and force the snakes to relocate to higher ground and which also increase rodent activity.”

Marshall said frog-eating snakes such as rinkhals‚ red-lipped heralds and night adders were coming out due to the increase in frogs from the rains.

Marshall explained that as the weather heats up‚ snakes also generally become more active‚ moving around in search of food‚ and with the start of breeding season‚ venturing into residential areas.

“Suburbs mostly affected are those bordering dense bush and grassy areas‚ particularly near the Baakens Valley such as Mill Park‚ Linkside‚ Walmer and Sherwood.

“Summerstrand‚ Mount Pleasant and Sardinia Bay will also probably see an increase due to the dense surrounding bush on the outskirts of the suburbs.”

Source: RDM News Wire

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Sesotho Name Given to New Dinosaur from South Africa

Famous Dinosaurs of AfricaRemains of a dinosaur, first discovered in the late 1930s near the Lesotho border, have been established as a unique species, and given the name Sefapanosaurus, from the Sesotho word “sefapano”, which means “cross”.

Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, palaeobiologist, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town and author of Famous Dinosaurs of Africa, was part of the team that named the new dinosaur.

“The discovery of Sefapanosaurus shows that there were several of these transitional early sauropodomorph dinosaurs roaming around Southern Africa about 200 million years ago,” she says.

Press release:

South African and Argentinian palaeontologists have discovered a new early dinosaur from South Africa. The specimen was found in the late 1930s in the Zastron area of South Africa, about 30km from the Lesotho border.

For a long time the remains of the dinosaur just languished on the shelves in the collections at the Evolutionary Science Institute (ESI) (then the Bernard Price Institute) in Johannesburg. A few years ago it was studied and considered to represent the remains of another South Africa dinosaur, Aardonyx. However, close scrutiny of the fossilised bones of this approximately 200-million-year-old dinosaur have revealed that it is a completely new dinosaur. One of the most distinctive features is that one of its foot bones, the astragalus, has a “cross” shape, for which the dinosaur is named. Considering the location of the fossil discovery, it was decided that a Sesotho name would be appropriate, and that since in Sesotho, “sefapano” means “cross”, the dinosaur should be named Sefapanosaurus.

Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, palaeobiologist and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT), as well as Emil Krupandan, a PhD student from the same department at UCT, are part of the team that named the dinosaur.

The remains of the Sefapanosaurus include limb bones, foot bones and several vertebrae. Sefapanosaurus is represented by the remains of at least four individuals in the ESI collections. It is considered to be a medium-sized sauropodomorph dinosaur i.e. among the early members of the group that gave rise to the later long-necked giants of the Mesozoic.

Professor Chinsamy-Turan, co-principal investigator on the RSA-Argentina research collaboration project and author of Famous dinosaurs of Africa and Fossils for Africa, says: “The discovery of Sefapanosaurus shows that there were several of these transitional early sauropodomorph dinosaurs roaming around Southern Africa about 200 million years ago.”

Most of the researchers involved in the write-up are supported by a National Research Foundation collaboration grant between South Africa and Argentina. Dr Alejandro Otero, an Argentinian palaeontologist, and Mr Krupandan were visiting the ESI collections to look at early sauropodomorph dinosaurs when they noticed that the bones were distinctive from the other dinosaurs they were studying. Mr Krupandan, working on a dinosaur from Lesotho as part of his PhD studies, says: “As soon as I looked at the material I realised it was different to Aardonyx. This find indicates the importance of relooking at old material that has only been cursorily studied in the past, in order to re-evaluate past preconceptions about sauropodomorph diversity in light of new data.”

Dr Diego Pol, Argentinian co-principal investigator of the RSA-Argentina collaboration, says: “This and other recent dinosaur discoveries in Argentina and South Africa are revealing that the diversity of herbivorous dinosaurs in our continents was remarkably high back in the Jurassic, about 190 million years ago when South America, South Africa and other southern hemisphere continents were a single supercontinent known as Gondwana.”

Dr Jonah Choiniere, Senior Researcher in Dinosaur Palaeobiology at the University of the Witwatersrand ESI, says: “This new animal shines a spotlight on southern Africa and shows us just how much more we have to learn about the ecosystems of the past, even here in our own ‘backyard’.”

Dr Otero, lead author of the publication on Sefapanosaurus says: “Sefapanosaurus helps to fill the gap between the earliest sauropodomorphs and the gigantic sauropods. Sefapanosaurus constitutes a member of the growing list of transitional sauropodomorph dinosaurs from Argentina and South Africa that are increasingly telling us about how they diversified.”

The scientific publication naming the dinosaur was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society on 23 June 2015.

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Which is Africa’s Most Dangerous Snake? Johan Marais Explains

Snakes and Snakebite in Southern AfricaSlange and Slangbyt in Suider-AfrikaIn an article for Africa Geographic, internationally renowned herpetologist Johan Marais answers one of the most frequently asked questions about snakes: Which one is the most dangerous?

Marais explains the important difference between venomous and the word people often mistakenly use: poisonous.

“Most snakes are not poisonous but venomous,” he says. “Some plants, like certain mushrooms, are poisonous if eaten, while snake venom has to be envenomated [through biting] for the venom to take effect.”

Marais goes on to debunk the myth of the two-step snake – “a snake that bites and you die after two steps”, but adds that a bite from a black mamba, if left untreated, can kill a human in four to 16 hours – and in severe cases within an hour – making that snake the most dangerous in Africa – or even in the world – in his eyes.

A new edition of Marais’ seminal book Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa was launched at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Society Bookshop in December.

The black mamba is by far the largest venomous snake in Africa, historically reaching 4.5 m, although specimens over 3.8 m are unheard of nowadays. Due to its size it has a lot of venom, it bites readily (often more than once), the venom absorbs rapidly and may have a severe effects on breathing 20 minutes after a serious bite. Although often labelled an aggressive snake the black mamba is very shy and nervous and quick to escape when it has the choice but if cornered or hurt it will not hesitate to strike. Another problem is that because of its length it may bite quite high up in the chest region and such a bite would be far more severe than a bite on an extremity.

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Eggs to Lay, Birds to Hatch: All About the Phenomenon of Birds’ Reproduction

Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern AfricaWarwick Tarboton, co-author of Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa, recently contributed photographs to an article, “Cracking the Secrets of Eggs,” written by Andrew McKechnie for African Birdlife.

The article takes the simple statement “All birds lay eggs,” as it’s starting point. It outlines why birds lay eggs, and how different species’ eggs are adaptive in their environments. It includes lush pictures of brooding birds and close up views of difficult to reach nests

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All birds lay eggs. These four words, seemingly trite, in real­ity describe a puzzling biological phenomenon. To appreciate why, consider reproduction in the two groups of animals most closely relat­ed to birds: mammals and reptiles.

Among mammals, reproduction can involve egg-laying (echidnas and the platypus) or live birth (all other mammals). Similarly, reproduction in reptiles can involve egg-laying, live birth preceded by the incubation and hatching of eggs within the mother’s body, or even live birth after embryos develop in a manner remarkably similar to that of most mammals. A similarly diverse spectrum of reproductive strategies exists in most other animal groups.

So the ubiquity of egg-laying in birds represents an exception rather than the rule. But why has live birth never evolved in birds? The implications of the extra weight on flight ability may be one part of the answer: lugging around an increasingly heavy load as young develop internally would severely impact manoeuvrability. Another factor may involve temperature. Avian embryos, like those of mammals, need to be at 36 to 39 degrees Celsius for normal development, and higher temperatures can be lethal. Avian body temperatures are typically above 40 degrees, and so may inherently be incompatible with embryos developing within the mother’s body. The fact that most birds have higher body temperatures than mammals is probably related to the intense muscle activity required for powered flight.

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Presenting Grasses & Grazers of Botswana and the Surrounding Savanna by Veronica Roodt

Grasses Struik Nature is proud to present Grasses & Grazers of Botswana and the surrounding savanna by Veronica Roodt:

An accessible reference to the grasses and grazers of this region, Veronica Roodt’s book details the fascinating ways in which these plants and animals have evolved together. The book covers:

- some 100 grass species (includes sketches and photographs of each species) that are preferred livestock and wild game fodder and that serve as indicators of veld condition
- the role of grasses in the food chain
- grass anatomy and growth
- how grazers have evolved to survive on grasses, both physically and in terms of their behaviour
- significant grazers that occur in the region and that play a vital role in shaping the savanna biome
- effective grassland management practices.

Nature lovers, farmers, students and tourists who seek an in-depth look at the interactions between grasses and the grazers that depend on them for life need look no further than this invaluable guide.

About the author

Veronica Roodt has a BSc in Botany and Zoology and a BSc (Hons) in animal physiology. For many years she has conducted research on wildlife, plants and their uses from her base in a tented bush camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. She is the author of a number of books and maps.

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How to Handle Snake Bites and Venomous Spitting: Expert Advice from Johan Marais

Snakes and Snakebite in Southern AfricaJohan Marais, author of Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa, has written a series of articles for Leisure Wheels in which he shares important knowledge about venomous snakes.

In the first article Marais speaks about venomous snakes, polyvalent anti-venom and the few cases when the broad spectrum anti-venom is not effective.

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There are a number of venomous snakes that are not considered deadly but that have venom that is potent enough to cause serious damage or even death. The berg adder (Bitis atropos) comes to mind and there are unconfirmed reports of fatal bites. A number of patients have suffered particularly bad bites and even ended up on a ventilator for days. In other cases, patients have lost their vision for weeks. Unfortunately, the polyvalent anti-venom does not cover the venom of the berg adder.

In the second article Marais explains how to deal with venom that is spat into the eyes:

All of these snakes have the ability to “spit” their venom up to 3m through the air. They perform the act by putting pressure on the venom glands and forcing the venom through the fangs. The small exit hole in the bottom of the fangs is angled forward, as opposed to being angled downwards as in other venomous snakes.

When spitting, the snake aims at the target’s eyes and can be very accurate. There is evidence that if a snake spits at you while you are moving, it will anticipate your movement and spit ahead of you so that the venom still gets into your eyes.

Related links:

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Hot Birds Research Project Expands from a Small Base in the Kalahari to Beyond South Africa’s Borders

Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern AfricaSasol Voëls van Suider-Afrika IVThe Fitzpatrick recently published a report on the Hot Birds project, a research programme started by the late Phil Hockey.

Hockey, who was co-author of Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa and Sasol Voëls van Suider-Afrika IV, began the project because he wanted to understand the way climate change will affect birds.

The project started with a small team based in the Kalahari, and has now extended far beyond South Africa’s borders.

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The Fitztitute’s research programme on climate change and arid-zone birds, otherwise known as the Hot Birds project, marks its fifth birthday in 2014. The brainchild of the late Professor Phil Hockey, the project seeks to understand the ways in which temperature affects the ecology and physiology of birds in desert habitats, with a view to more accurately predicting the ways in which climate change will affect arid-zone bird communities.

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