Looking at those Namib Desert sand dunes, I never imagined that there could possible be more than a few creepy crawlies living under all that sand…. I had been told to watch out for scorpions and I expected there to be a couple of ants….what else could possible survive living under such harsh conditions?
To find out, I went on an amazing tour where I found out that the Namib Desert is very much ALIVE with LOTS of little animals.
The fog was still very much hanging over Swakopmund when we were collected at 07h50 and I must say, I wondered if I had made the right choice. Ten minutes later we met up with Chris, our guide and the owner of Living Desert Adventures, that’s when I knew my choice had been spot on! Chris is absolutely passionate about the flora and fauna of the dune desert belt area between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. His enthusiasm and energy are boundless and we were immediately caught up in his excitement of looking for the “little five”.
Chris (with the blue shirt) and his associate followed tracks and searched for those little animals that we would normally just drive past or walk over and never see – I promise you, after seeing what actually lives under the sand, I will never ever even think about taking a quick loo break. Take a look at what we found…
Although this looks like a little snake, the Fitzimons Burrowing Skink is actually a legless lizard. It “swims” through the sand very much like a snake would slither through grass. This is made possible by a shiny layer of wax which covers it’s body. It is blind and spends most of its time buried under the dunes where it looks for small insects to eat – as it can’t see, it relies on feeling for any movement an insect may make.
Can you see the eyes of this Sidewinder Snake peeping though the sand? One would never see this simply walking on the dunes on your own (thank goodness….) Chris had to actually take my camera from me, take a picture and then show me what we were looking at, only then could I see it. With its eyes located on top of its head it can bury itself below the sand keeping its eyes exposed and thus check out the landscape for any food…. it rather enjoys lizard as they have a high water content and, being in the desert, water is rather important.
One of the common names for this small adder is Namib Dwarf Sand Adder which seems to describe it best. It gets it’s proper name (Bitis Perinqueyi) from Louis Peringuey, a South African entomologist. Its called a sidewinder because it is able to move in a side winding way up the sides of a dune where the sand is fairly loose and soft – they also use this technique to keep most of their body off the sand when it is very hot – quite amazing!
I found this superb video of a sidewinder catching it’s prey, go take a look!
The beautiful Tyne Shovel Snouted Lizard is best known for its “thermal dance”. In the heat of the day, when the sand is very hot, it tries to keep its feet cool with the “beat the heat” dance It lifts two of its feet into the air and then alternates with the other two feet making it look like its dancing. It is also known as the Sand Diving Lizard because when it feels threatened it dives under the sand as far as it can to escape the danger. It will though also raise itself up and bite anything that it detects as danger, like this little one is doing below. They eat beetles and insects obtaining all the moisture they need from their food.
The Horned Adder below is often confused with other Southern African adders. It hides in the sand waiting to ambush lizards…. and me…. again, could easily step right onto it, so camouflaged, quite amazing. Note its triangular head with little “horns” above each eye. Its bite can be painful but will only cause swelling so not life threatening but still…..
What about this pre-historic looking guy? The Desert Chameleon has used its ability to change colour to adapt to the desert. When its cooler in the mornings, its black so that it can more easily absorb heat and as the day progresses and it becomes hotter, it becomes lighter in colour so that it will reflect the heat and stay cooler, pretty clever. Chris had some juicy worms with him which, as you can see, our tongue welding chameleon rather enjoyed.
This cute little E.T. lookalike was my favourite! This is the Namib Dune Gecko also known as the the Nude Gecko or the Web Footed Gecko. Just look at those big webbed feet, a bit like snow shoes which I am sure help him to get around the softer sand dunes with ease. He is almost transparent, one can actually see the blood vessels. His eyes are what they call “fixed lens” eyes and he does not have any eyelids which I find rather interesting, not sure how those eyes cope with the harsh sun? Apparently he uses his very long tongue to clean his eyes, a sort of windscreen wiper tongue
What a wonderful adventure this was, so interesting and fascinating. I also loved driving through the sand dunes – felt like we were on a roller coaster, a real adrenalin fix!
The Living Desert Tour was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Namibia, if you get the chance to visit Swakopmund, then I would highly recommend that you make time to do this tour.
Did you know that all these creepy crawlies lived under the sand? I now certainly look at the Namib Desert through different eyes.