Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Agama armata (Peters, 1855) - and St. George's Day.

So it's that time of year again - the day when the British all get in a hoo-hah over some long-dead gentleman slaying an alleged dragon. While the more sensible sources suggest that he actually slew a crocodile - and didn't even eat it - that had been terrorizing villagers (i.e. eating them), I maintain that he slew a less impressive lizard, made terrible by right-wing religious zealots in their war against all things scaly.

That's a little bit beside the point, really, so to make up for it, here's a member of the family of reptiles most widely referred to as dragons:

Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in December 2013, using Olympus E-420 DSLR with Zuiko 70-300mm Telephoto lens.
As a child, I always called these little lizards by the Afrikaans Goggomanikes, although I'll confess that I still don't quite know how to spell that; with the related Blueskop (again, spelling may be an issue), these were some of the most common lizards of my childhood that were clearly neither skinks nor geckos - although based on a rather vague drawing, when I first tried to identify these beyond the Afrikaans, I thought they were Bibron's geckos.

I was about six, so I've forgiven myself. They're actually, for the English-Speaking world, Agamas (alright, that's not originally English, but it's been subsumed internationally, so it counts) - perhaps best known by Australian representatives such as Pogona vitticeps, (Warlpiri - Japantarra / Mantalyarrpa; English - Central Bearded Dragon).

Back to the story, these once common lizards have not fared all that well in the Lusaka area. While this species remains common in parts of the outskirts, it quickly disappears in areas where ants are being poisoned (much like the more synanthropic gecko Lygodactylus (cf) capensis featured around St. George's last year) and neither this nor the (unfeatured) blueskop survives any real density of the domestic cats.

It doesn't help that two longish teeth at the front of their jaws look a little bit like tiny fangs, and have created an urban myth that their bite is highly venomous. In the unlikely event that they are, the delivery of the venom is unimpressive - for aggressive though they are when handled, they've yet to cause any deaths. That doesn't stop them being beaten to death on sight in many areas of Lusaka, however.

If you are lucky enough to have these in your garden, please, please, please, don't beat them to death. Keep any cats indoors or under control - an invisible fence and electric collar combination might seem cruel, but in addition to protecting your wildlife in the excluded areas of your garden, it will also stop your cat ending up as roadkill. So it's win-win, really.

To break up that rather lengthy monologue, here's another picture:

Same lizard, same place, same day. Same camera, too, but with a low flash to give a little more light - hence weird shadows.
Based on their distinctive breeding behaviour of climbing up tall objects and waving their heads about, these have earned the Chewa/Nyanja name of Dududu. In English, with the note that a word widely by English speakers in countries far from its origin counts as English, this is a Spiny or Ground Agama. Depending where you draw the species line, it should be Peters' Spiny Agama,

Agama armata*
(Peters, 1855)

And, as touched upon in the earlier block of endless text, is harmless and  really quite valuable ant control. 


And, with all that dispensed with, let's have a peek at the taxonomy: 

 
 - Agaminae       
 - Agamidae         
- Acrodonta          
- Iguania                  
- Squamata                
- Lepidosauria             
-  Lepidosauromorpha   
- Sauria                            
- Romeriida                          
- Reptilia                                
- Amniota                                
See also Hipposideros vittatus and Syncerus caffer
- Reptiliomorpha                        
- Tetrapoda                                  
- Sarcopterygii                                
- Osteichthys                                    
- Teleostomi                                        
- Gnathostomata                                   
- Vertebrata                                             
- Craniata                                                  
- Chordata                                                  
- Deuterostomia                                           
- Nephrozoa                                                   
See also Burtoa nilotica, Alopecosa barbipes, Ligia oceanica, Dysdera crocata, Phrynarachne rugosa, Hyllus argyrotoxus, Enoplognatha ovataArgiope bruennichi, Pardosa amentata, Dicranopalpus ramosus, Eremoides bicristatus, Hagenomyia tristis, Dichtha inflata, Oedemera nobilis, Otiorhynchus atroapterus,Malachius bipustulatus , Phyllobius pomaceus, Cheilomenes lunata, Melolontha melolontha, Neojulodis vittipennis, Demetrias atricapillusAnthia fornasinii, Lophyra cf. differens, Synagris proserpina, Vespula germanica, Astata tropicalis, Anthophora furcata, Andrena nigroaenea, Zebronia phenice, Crambus pascuella, Nemophora degeerella, Sphinx ligustri, Laelia robusta, Acada biseriata, Metisella willemi, Anthocharis cardamines, Papilio demodocus, Panorpa germanica, Chloromyia formosa, Senaspis haemorrhoa, Helophilus pendulus, Episyrphus balteatus, Metadon inermis, Diasemopsis meigeniiDolichotachina caudata, Megistocera filipes, Pephricus, Grypocoris stysiRanatra, Anoplocnemis curvipes, Idolomantis dentifrons, Sibylla pretiosa, Tettigonia viridissima, Stictogryllacris punctata, Enyaliopsis, Humbe tenuicornis, Lobosceliana loboscelis, Cyathosternum prehensile, Heteropternis thoracica, Pseudothericles jallae, Enallagma cyathigerum, Pseudagrion hageni, Lestinogomphus angustus, Rhyothemis semihyalina and Orthetrum brachiale.
- Bilateralia                                                            
- Eumetazoa                                                            
- Animalia                                                                 
- Eukaryota                                                                

And that, I believe, is all, folks!



* A. armata  was formerly considered a subspecies of the Spiny Agama, A. aculeata. Branch (Snakes and Reptiles of Southern Africa) gives length of tail as a distinguishing character; elsewhere the striped throat of A. aculeata is treated as more useful; this specimen has a faintly speckled or very lightly reticulated throat, in keeping with A. armata, but a tail somewhat longer than head and body combined, which would support A. aculeata. As references to A. aculeata being resident to Zambia do not seem to take into account the splitting of the species, and in some cases refer specifically to the A.aculeata armata subspecies, and this was photographed so close to the  capital, it is taken on the balance that this is the species named in the text, and not A. aculeata. But be aware that I could be very wrong. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Kassina senegalensis (Duméril & Bibron, 1841), and Happy Earth Day.

The whole random selection of taxa game really isn't my thing. I re-ran it until it selected one I felt like featuring on Earth Day.

While I'm very fond of the animal, the picture isn't all that great:

Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia in November 2011, using Olympus E-420 DSLR, 40-150mm Zuiko lens and 2 KOOD magnifiers. I think.
In English, this is a Senegal Running Frog, or Senegal Kassina; in Chewa (Malawi/Zambia) Chule and Namchidwe cover all manner of frogs, but if we make that Chule Wothamanga, or Namchidwe Wothamanga, it should mean 'Frog that runs' or 'Runner Frog' - although it seems worthy of note that Wothamanga can also mean prostitute, so we could be talking about a frog lacking in virtue.

The species is also called the Bubbling Kassina, which is referred to in the Afrikaans name of Borrelvleipadda (literally bubble marsh-frog); my father has always referred to them as 'raindrop frogs' in another reference to their distinctly watery call. To avoid any insinuations as to the characters of these frogs, then, I'd take a stab at Namchidwe Wothakamuka (more-or-less bubbling frog) as a more straight-laced name.

In the Shangaan language of neighbouring Mozambique, these - and all kassinas - are Chikwarikwari.

But as always, there is a more universal name, and it is:

Kassina senegalensis
(Duméril & Bibron, 1841)

As a wetland dependant frog, this - and other anamchidwe more generally, are more than just producers of beautiful and evocative calls; they are also valuable assets in keeping insect pests at a manageable level in the rainy season, and, particularly in the tropics, bridge the gap in food-chains between the invertebrates, which they eat, and the diversity of larger vertebrates that feed upon them. 

Unfortunately, their thin skin and water-dependant nature makes them extremely vulnerable to pollution and water-borne diseases, things which become ever more prominent as populations and cities grow all over the world. Not to sound too preachy about it, but frogs like this kassina simply cannot survive the urban spread unless we humans try to pay a little more attention to what we're pumping out into the air and water

Now, Earth-day appropriate reminder of the extinction crisis (and no, that's not a doomsday cry, that's acknowledged fact based on the statistics of extinction rates through human history and beforehand) we're living in done with, and now for a quick delve into the taxonomy:


 - Kassininae    
 - Hyperoliidae   
- Brevicipitiforms
See also Breviceps poweri.   
- Ranoidea             
- Neobatrachia        
- Acosmanura           
-  Pipanura                  
- Bombinanura             
- Anura                          
- Salienta                         
- Batrachia                        
- Lissamphibia                     
- Amphibia                            
- Tetrapoda                             
- Osteichthys                                 
- Teleostomi                                      
- Gnathostomata                               
- Vertebrata                                          
- Craniata                                              
- Chordata                                              
- Deuterostomia                                       
- Nephrozoa                                               
See also Burtoa nilotica, Alopecosa barbipes, Ligia oceanica, Dysdera crocata, Phrynarachne rugosa, Hyllus argyrotoxus, Enoplognatha ovataArgiope bruennichi, Pardosa amentata, Dicranopalpus ramosus, Eremoides bicristatus, Hagenomyia tristis, Dichtha inflata, Oedemera nobilis, Otiorhynchus atroapterus,Malachius bipustulatus , Phyllobius pomaceus, Cheilomenes lunata, Melolontha melolontha, Neojulodis vittipennis, Demetrias atricapillusAnthia fornasinii, Lophyra cf. differens, Synagris proserpina, Vespula germanica, Astata tropicalis, Anthophora furcata, Andrena nigroaenea, Zebronia phenice, Crambus pascuella, Nemophora degeerella, Sphinx ligustri, Laelia robusta, Acada biseriata, Metisella willemi, Anthocharis cardamines, Papilio demodocus, Panorpa germanica, Chloromyia formosa, Senaspis haemorrhoa, Helophilus pendulus, Episyrphus balteatus, Metadon inermis, Diasemopsis meigeniiDolichotachina caudata, Megistocera filipes, Pephricus, Grypocoris stysiRanatra, Anoplocnemis curvipes, Idolomantis dentifrons, Sibylla pretiosa, Tettigonia viridissima, Stictogryllacris punctata, Enyaliopsis, Humbe tenuicornis, Lobosceliana loboscelis, Cyathosternum prehensile, Heteropternis thoracica, Pseudothericles jallae, Enallagma cyathigerum, Pseudagrion hageni, Lestinogomphus angustus, Rhyothemis semihyalina and Orthetrum brachiale.
- Bilateralia                                                       
- Eumetazoa                                                       
- Animalia                                                            
- Eukaryota                                                           

And that is all for now, folks!


Monday, 21 April 2014

Orthetrum brachiale (Palisot de Beauvois, 1817)

It's been a while, hasn't it?

To break that streak, then:

Photographed in Chongwe, Lusaka, Zambia, in December 2013, using Olympus E-420 DSLR with Zuiko 40-150mm lens and 2 KOOD magnifiers.
This delightfully blue dragonfly seems limited to Sub-Saharan Africa, and a few of the associated islands. It apparently hasn't made it across the Sahara, as the IUCN disregards a handful of records from Egypt; these presumably belong to one of several quite similar species.

As a side-note, dragonfly, in Chewa, is Tombolombo; to translate the English name of 'Strong [Skimmer] Dragonfly', we'd go with Mphamvu Tombolombo (possibly not in that order, and spellings of mphamvu vary considerably, with mpamvu being a closer guide to pronunciation in the derived Chi-Nyanja language spoken around Lusaka).

In the more universal Linnaean binomial, this is:

Orthetrum brachiale
(Palisot de beauvois, 1817)

Which further belongs to:
- Libellulinae    
-  Libellulidae     
- Libelluloidea     
- Anisoptera          
- Epiprocta             
- Odonata                 
- Holodonata              
- Odonatoptera             
- Metapterygota             
See also Eremoides bicristatus, Hagenomyia tristis, Dichtha inflata, Oedemera nobilis, Otiorhynchus atroapterus,Malachius bipustulatus , Phyllobius pomaceus, Cheilomenes lunata, Melolontha melolontha, Neojulodis vittipennis, Demetrias atricapillusAnthia fornasinii, Lophyra cf. differens, Synagris proserpina, Vespula germanica, Astata tropicalis, Anthophora furcata, Andrena nigroaenea, Zebronia phenice, Crambus pascuella, Nemophora degeerella, Sphinx ligustri, Laelia robusta, Acada biseriata, Metisella willemi, Anthocharis cardamines, Papilio demodocus, Panorpa germanica, Chloromyia formosa, Senaspis haemorrhoa, Helophilus pendulus, Episyrphus balteatus, Metadon inermis, Diasemopsis meigeniiDolichotachina caudata, Megistocera filipes, Pephricus, Grypocoris stysiRanatra, Anoplocnemis curvipes, Idolomantis dentifrons, Sibylla pretiosa, Tettigonia viridissima, Stictogryllacris punctata, Enyaliopsis, Humbe tenuicornis, Lobosceliana loboscelis, Cyathosternum prehensile, Heteropternis thoracica and Pseudothericles jallae.
- Megoperculata               
- Pterygota                        
- Dicondylia                          
- Insecta                                
- Hexapoda                              
- Arthropoda                            
- Ecdysozoa                               
- Protostomia                              
See also Burtoa nilotica.
- Nephrozoa                                  
- Bilateralia                                     
- Eumetazoa                                     
- Animalia                                          
- Eukaryota                                         

There are, as previously noted, a fair few similar blue matombolombo around; the most troubling is usually Orthetrum stemmale, which is perhaps most easily distinguished by the colour of the pterostigma (coloured cell on the leading edge of the wing, near the tip); so far as I can tell, O. stemmale has a very dark brown, almost black pterostigma with a thick black border. In O. brachiale, on the other hand, the pterostigma seems to be pale brown with a thin black border. To put today's guest into this discussion, here's a more inclusive shot: 

 It is worth noting that, with the paucity of literature readily accessible on this subject, a pale brown pterostigma should not necessarily be taken as a clear sign that O. brachiale is the species, but it seems to be a helpful hint.


And that's all, folks!