The living desert

After a fairly strenous ride we arrived late in the afternoon in Swakopmund. All the more we were looking forward to getting up early the next morning to go see the small animals living in the desert next to Swakopmund.
Even though we were all a little grumpy when we boarded the bus at 8am, our moods soon improved realising how awesome the tour would be.
During the introduction the guide promised us half an hour of theory, followed by 4hours of practical application and he kept his word. After a serious warning about the distruction caused by quads and off-roaders in the desert we set off to go visit the “dancing white lady”: A spider living in the desert and building tunnels through the dunes by supporting the sand above it with a silk-net she creates. The silk is interlaced with little sand corns and looks quite impressive. Not as impressive as the spider though, which is completely white and, when annoyed, will attack anything that moves. Including sand corns, guides and cameras. The guide snatched my camera to demonstrate how close you have to get to a seriously pissed spider to be able to take a picture of its fangs and eyes, luckily I was staying safely in the back. Both the spider and the guide survived the experiment and I got an awesome shot out of it too.
Before we even boarded the truck again to continue our expedition, our guide also dug out a skink, a blind, legless lizzard that lives under the sand. It was a lot less gross than the kind of animals we usually find underneath the surface. 😉 After everybody had inspected the skink closely, it was set loose again and immediately vanished underground.
We finally were ready “to really start our expedition” and drove further down into the dunes. Shortly after we had the luck to see our guide in action, jumping out of the car, running up a dune and throwing his head as a diversion. What he caught turned out to be a lot less dangerous and dramatic than the introduction would have had you think. It turned out to be a lizzard, although a very cute one. The lizzard was new to the tour and unlike the guide explained and predicted, it did not dig itself into the ground to hide, but gave the guide another run for his money.
On our way back the guide pointed out that we’d been doing his work and someone had actually found a side-winding sand snake by stepping on it, the usual form of detection for those snakes. The sind-widing sand snake is a very slow snake, when moving, however it is the fastest striking snake. Therefore, the snake just burries itself under the sand and waits for someone to get into striking distance of its mouth. They can lie burried for days and weeks without moving and that is what makes them so hard to spot.. only the eyes are above sand and usually you can’t spot it while it is hidden. Hence the “detection mechanism” of accidentally stepping onto one.
The spider was no match for the snake in the “being pissed”-contest. The snake was hissing and puffing and moving about, making the impression that it wanted to kill everyone within striking position. According to our guide, she would not have been able to do that, however the bite supposedly hurts like hell for several days.
After testing out how mad one snake can get, we boarded the truck again and set out to our next adventure, definitely one of the cuter animals! On our next stop we dug out a gecko. A very lovely colourful little animal, that lives by night and therefore is pretty transparent. Sadly this also makes it very sensitive to sunlight and it spent most of its time trying to dig itself back into the dune and was very happy when we finally dropped it off at an location where the sand wasn’t caving in on it all the time.
Our last stop was one of the least elegant and most single minded animals I’ve ever seen, it took us quite a while to find it, because, as the guide put it, when you see something that looks like a chameleon it’s definitely not a chameleon. You need to look for something that doesn’t look like a chameleon.” Logic, eh?
Right from the start it was obvious that the chameleon wouldn’t be in any hurry to do anything. It slowly marched its way towards us and when the guide threw it a big worm, it snatched and gulped it down in one go. Then its color slowly changed from dark to light to indicate that it was a happy chameleon now.
A chameleon, however, is never so happy that it can’t eat more. The second worm quickly attracted its attention as the guide was holding it in front of it. So the chameleon trampled, if you can say trample for such a small animal.. it was certainly going through the motions, towards it and readily climbed onto the guide’s hand.
The fact that the guide trapped its tail between his fingers did not bother it either, on the contrary: It saved his life. The chameleon was so eager to get the worm in the guide’s other hand, it would’ve readily stepped into the void to reach it hadn’t the tail held it back. In the end it snatched the worm out of the other hand with its tongue. Demonstration successfully accomplished.
Once the animal was set back onto the ground, it had no interest in leaving and stumped around the group looking for anything moved or behaved like a big, juicy worm.. It was disappointed, although it did approach some cameras and fingers quite hopefully.


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