The Skeleton Coast and Africa’s Little 5 (arachnid and snake warning!)

When we were over here last year for our honeymoon, we only spent one night in Swakopmund and saw details about a dune safari to spot the Little 5. We couldn’t do it then as it was a half day trip, so this time we planned some time in Swakopmund to do it. We were picked up early and headed to the entrance to the dunes shared by quad bikes and camel ride operators (not the healthiest of mixes you would have thought).

We only travelled about  1km into the sand when we stopped for a really interesting chat about the food chain in the sands. The muesli of the desert was wind blown grass and plant debris, which attracted the little bugs, the Tok-Tokkie, larvae and silver fish.  They normally accumulate at the bottom (leeward side) of the dune (think of a dune as a long gradual slope up blown by the wind, then a steep – though never more than 30 degrees – slope on the leeward side). The things that feed on the bugs, etc. are skinks (lizards without discernable necks), spiders and lizards. Then there are the geckos, chameleons and snakes. Then birds and bigger prey at the top.

The spider we saw was called the white dancing spider (part of the trap-door family). It digs into the sand and sprays silk all over the inside as structural support and digs deeper – The genesis of the tunnel boring machine. After a while, it spins a door of silk and covers it with sand to camouflage it. It’s called a dancing spider because it runs away from a parasitic wasp by cartwheeling down the steep slope of the dune (at 44 revs per second allegedly) and when it stops spinning it must be at the bottom, and then it raises some of it’s legs to fend off any predator if they were around. It can give you a nasty nip as well.

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And here she is (bigger than the male who gets a grizzly end after some rumpy)

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Here’s the legless skink, which is an amazingly fast digger

This gecko is only found in the Namib and has no eyelids (they lick their eyes), so we needed to protect it from the sun. Fortunately, it was overcast, but this meant the colours don’t come out as they might have.

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Namib gecko

The guides saw traces of a sidewinder snake. They are part of the adder family and are much smaller than we’d imagined (30cm max). We went over for the photo shoot and she was very accommodating sliding up and down the dunes and burrowing in when she felt safe with only her eyes out of the sand ready to pounce. Sometimes she pops her tail out in front of her head to mimic a worm or similar to capture the prey that feeds on it.

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Here are the classic sidewinder tracks

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Here she is camouflaging herself in the sand

We then went to a place where they’d seen a chameleon the day before and sure enough it was there. The guide had a bag of nice wriggling maggots and lured him out of the bush where he was a dark brown colour. It obviously looks around in all directions first to see what’s going on and who these large objects that have just got me out of my hideout are, but when he spots some wriggling, he spins both eyes to give him binocular vision for depth and fires his weapon and lunch is had. After his fill, he waddles off slowly to the bush again, a contented white colour now to match the sand.

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Happy chappy

Lastly we saw the shovel nosed lizard. They are extremely fast moving and when they spot a wriggling bite for lunch, they are on it like lightening. These are the ones you may have seen on the tele that lift opposite front and back legs to regulate their temperature.

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Blimey it’s hot here

After the tour we went up the Skeleton Coast towards the Cape fur seal colony at Cape Point (where the Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Southern Africa). There are many wrecks that give it its name, but we only saw this one:

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The seal colony was a very sad place. There are over 200,000 there during the breeding season (now) making it the largest such colony in the world. There were loads of pups born, but`so many, hundreds of them, were dead. And the smell of that and the shear numbers of seals together was almost unbearable. It made us wish we hadn’t gone there. The trials of life there in a nutshell.

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200,000 seals in one place

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Some of the cuter ones

2 thoughts on “The Skeleton Coast and Africa’s Little 5 (arachnid and snake warning!)

  1. Fiona says:

    OMG you guys…what a cool it. I watched a programme about that spider a couple of days ago! Love the chameleon. Weird all the dead fur seals, that would stink.


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