Events | March 2015February 24, 2015
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Compiled Sanet van Zijl
Chris Broeckhoven, a student at Stellenbosch University in South Africa recently won an award for the best presentation at the 12th Conference of the Herpetological Society of Africa, which was held at the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre.
Chris will be receiving his PhD degree in March. The title of his presentation was “Effects of predation risk, competition and climatic factors on the activity patterns of Ouroborus cataphractus and Karasaurus polyzonus ”, in laymen’s terms the name refers to the Armadillo Lizard. Armadillo Lizards are named for their appearance when in a defensive position. When threatened, they curl up, grip the tail in their jaws, and form a tight, armored ball, resembling an armadillo. Rows of spiny scales covering the neck, body, tail, and limbs deter predators from seizing or swallowing these lizards.
When research for his project started he heard that he would have to build a shelter for the lizards in the Western Cape outdoors, in order to observe them. He decided that he would not spend a year of his life in scorching sun every day to get the data that he needed. The decision was made to make use of infrared cameras for monitoring the lizards instead.
The Cape Leopard Trust showed that animal behaviour can be monitored effectively through infrared technology, but seeing as lizards are cold-blooded a super-sensitive alternative had to be found. It took time and effort for Chris to convince his study leader Professor Le Fras Mouton, that his idea would work.
Ten cameras with a very long battery life were imported from America. These cameras can also withstand intense temperatures. He placed five of the cameras on a farm at the West Coast directly in front of the rocky areas where a group of Armadillo Lizards live. The other five were placed randomly throughout the area to determine the type of predators in that area and when they are present.
The cameras in front of the rocks had two main purposes. The most important purpose was to take photos every five minutes, for 13 hours per day for 365 days consecutively. The cameras were also set to take photos of anything that moved in front of it. More than 580 000 photos were recorded. Chris identified 222 000 of the photos that could be used to analyze the behaviour of the lizards.
The data gathered from the photos uprooted a few beliefs in the herpetology world. In many studies it is accepted that temperature is the main factor that determines lizard behaviour. Chris showed through his study that the Armadillo Lizards’ behaviour is also influenced by life and death choices, such as competing for food or successfully avoiding predators.