The clarity of wide-open spacesJuly 14, 2016
Namibian owls: Creatures of the nightJuly 19, 2016
Text and Photos by Tim Osborne
Lizards underfoot, lizards overhead, lizards everywhere. But not to worry, they eat bugs, not humans. So why lizards when your goal is to see lion, elephant and rhino? Because before you’ve laid eyes on your first African elephant, you’ll probably have seen at least three kinds of lizard.
A s you explore the wonders of this vast and wild land, you’ll encounter many of Namibia’s lizards – and there’s a wide selection – on the walls and in the gardens of your hotel, in your bungalow, on the roads, amongst the rocks and even in trees.
From Windhoek northwards, in rocky areas, you’ll no doubt spot the Namibian rock agama. The male, which is quite large – about 30 cm from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail – can be distinguished by his bright orange head and tail and dark grey body. The female has a yellow head and is smaller. When trying to attract females while defending his territory, the male runs up to a high vantage point and bobs his head up and down, the behaviour that gave rise to his Afrikaans name, koggelmander (koggel meaning to mock). In towns, walls often serve as rocks, as at Hotel Heinitzburg located on one of the highest hills in Windhoek, where the rock agama is especially common.
Another common lizard is the skink or mabuya, an African name now used as its scientific generic name. Mabuyas are found throughout Africa. The most common mabuya found in Namibia is probably the western rock skink, which is active during the day in rocky areas. The male has a bronze colour, with a yellow-orange chin and throat, while the female is olive brown with six pale-yellow longitudinal stripes.
There are over 36 species of gecko in Namibia, most of which are nocturnal. Geckos have specially adapted toes that allow them to cling to windows, ceilings and walls. The small greenish red-spotted geckos found at Twyfelfontein amongst the rock paintings and engravings are Barnard’s Namib day gecko. This is one of the few geckos that is diurnal.
Also at Twyfelfontein, near sunset, you can hear common barking geckos squeaking from the entrances of their burrows. These geckos are common in the sandy areas of the Namib Desert. While it is difficult to imagine that the voice of a lizard barely six centimetres long could carry very far, their barks can be heard from several hundred metres away.
As we once witnessed on our thatched ceiling at Mushara Lodge, fighting territorial geckos literally become locked into battle. Two Bibron’s geckos had apparently locked jaws and twisted themselves into such a position that neither could let go. They remained locked and motionless for 12 hours before finally separating.
One of the most desirable traits of lizards around dwellings is their dietary preference for ants, mosquitoes and other household bugs. Lizards are so common in Africa that most Namibians expect to find them in their homes. There is a limit to lizard tolerance, though, as some Norwegian tourists staying in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley will tell you. In the evening they approached the manager to ask for a different room because there was a lizard in their current one. The manager gave the usual comforting response about the usefulness of lizards eating bugs. The couple looked doubtful but returned to the room for the night. In the morning the tourists, looking tired and haggard, again requested a new room. The lizard had made so much noise that they’d been unable to sleep for most of the night and they’d been afraid to leave their bed. The manager investigated and found a two-metre-long water monitor lizard hiding under the bed!
Fortunately in Namibia the water monitor is found only along the perennial rivers bordering the country: the Orange in the south and the Kunene, Okavango and Zambezi in the north. The most common Namibian monitor lizard is the rock or white-throated monitor found in the interior. These monitors feed on a variety of prey, from insects and frogs to small mammals. During December and January, monitors gather below the floodlights at the Okaukuejo waterhole in the Etosha National Park to eat mopane moths attracted to the light. They are usually visible only during the rainy season, as they hibernate during winter. Monitors usually have dens in holes in the ground and in rock caves. They also inhabit hollow trees and occasionally house attics. So if you hear scrabbling noises on the ceiling at night, it’s probably only a lizard enjoying a few bugs for dinner.
This article was first published in the Flamingo May 2006 issue.