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Reptiles Of Africa

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Nile CrodileCrodile - Nile crocodiles may exceptionally exceed 1,000 kg in weight. The jaws are long, and have prominent teeth. The eyes and valved nostrils are situated on top of the head.
The skin is covered with geometrically arranged, horny plates, many of which are keeled and bony. The plates on top of the head are fused to the skull.

The hind feet are webbed. The tail is 40% of the total body length, rectangular in cross-section, and has two raised dorsal keels. The young are greenish, with irregular black markings over the back and sides, and the throat and belly are uniform straw-yellow. Adults are darker, being uniform olive to grey, with a yellow or cream belly.

Habitat

Larger rivers, lakes and swamps, but also into river mouths, estuaries and mangrove swamps. Crocodiles are most common in Okavango Delta and Chobe River.

Behaviour

Young crocodiles dig a burrow up to 3m long in which they shelter for the first 4-5 years of life. They spend a lot of time out of water and eat small prey, Subadults take up residence in swamps and backwaters, eating fish, terrapins, birds and small mammals. Adults grasp prey with a fast, sideways swipe of the head. The tail may be used to knock over vegetation to dislodge nestling birds, or to direct fish to within striking distance of the jaws.

On hot days, they come ashore on sand bars to bask. At high temperatures they lie with mouth agape, losing excess heat by evaporation. They swim effortlessly, using the broad, flattened tail. The webbed hind feet allow careful manoeuvring during mating and when preparing to ambush food.

The valved nostrils and gular flap at the back of the mouth enable them to feed underwater. They live for up to 60 years, and very large specimens may live to 100 years.

Food

They feed regularly on fish, particularly catfish, but also ambush game coming to drink. This is seized and pulled into the water to drown. Antelope are usually taken, but even zebra and buffalo may be overcome. Man is considered fair game; attacks (and fatalities) are still relatively common. Large food items are softened by biting. If too large to be swallowed whole, prey is torn to bits by the crocodile seizing a mouthful and spinning on its long axis. Cooperative behaviour in feeding and breaking up prey is known.

Reproduction

Crocodiles are surprisingly attentive parents, and nest construction and the care of the young is very advanced. Sexual maturity is reached in 12-15 years at about 2-3 m (70-100 kg). At the start of the breeding season (May), males develop a dominance hierarchy. Mating takes place in the water in July-August. The female selects a suitable sunny sand bank that is above floodwater level and which has good drainage and cover nearby.

She will use it, unless disturbed, for the rest of her life. At night, usually in November, she digs a hole (30-45 cm deep) with her hind legs, and lays 16-80 white, hard-shelled eggs (70-78 x 50-56 mm, 85-125 g). The nest site is defended against predators and other crocodiles, and during this period the female does not eat, but may go to the water to drink.

The male remains in the vicinity, but is not allowed near the nest mound by the female. 84-90 days later the hatchlings, while still in the egg, give a high-pitched cheeping noise that is audible 20 m away. The female carefully opens the nest and takes all the young into her mouth.

The hatchlings (280-320 mm) are taken to the water, washed and released. They remain close together in a "creche area" for 6-8 weeks. The sex of the hatchlings is dependent on the egg incubation temperature. Females are produced at lower temperatures (26-30 °C) and males at higher temperatures (31-34 °C).

Cape Cobra

This relatively small, slender cobra has a broad head, and smooth but dull scales in 19-21 rows. There is one preocular and a narrow rostral. colouration is varied, with some phases common in certain regions. The yellow cobra is butter-coloured to dirty yellow, sometimes speckled with brown; the brown or speckled cobra is bright reddish-brown to mahogany, with darker and paler flecks; and the black cobra is purplish-black. Juveniles are dirty yellow, often finely speckled in dark brown, and have a black throat band.

Habitat

Active during the day and early evening, this snake feeds on a wide spectrum of prey, including other snakes. It will climb low trees and raid sociable weaver colonies.

Behaviour

Cape cobra is highly attracted by rodents. Unfortunately, it is both nervous and deadly. It spreads a broad hood and confidently disputes its right of way. It is a non-spitter. The venom is syrupy and as toxic as the black mamba's. The average venom yield is 120 mg (max. 250 mg); 15-20 mg is fatal in humans. The venom is neurotoxic, and death usually occurs from the rapid onset of paralysis. Large volumes of antivenom are urgently required in the treatment of the bite. Bites are not uncommon; this species is responsible for the majority of fatal snakebites.

Black Mamba

Black mamba is a large, streamlined snake with a narrow, coffin-shaped head and smooth scales in 23-25 oblique rows. The back is uniform gunmetal to olive-brown, but never really black; the belly is pale grey-green, sometimes with dark blotches, and the mouth lining is black.

Habitat

Savannah and open coastal bush, usually below 1,500 m. In Botswana black mamba is found in most places except the Kalahari Desert.

Behaviour

These active, terrestrial snakes eat birds and small mammals (e.g. rats and dassies). Prey is pursued and stabbed with the fangs until it collapses from the venom. Digestion is rapid. The black mamba is territorial, having a favoured home in a termite nest, a hollow log or a rock crevice. If disturbed, it will retreat unless cornered.

It is confident in defence; it rears the front third of its body, spreads a narrow hood and gapes the mouth, revealing the black lining. It will bite readily and often. Its hollow "hiss" is best heeded - if you step back, the snake will also retreat. The venom is neurotoxic and cardiotoxic. The venom yield is 100-400 mg; 10-15 mg is fatal in humans. A bite from this snake is extremely serious, and requires large volumes of anti-venom (up to 10 ampoules) to counteract the venom.

The victim may be fully conscious, but all the muscles are paralyzed; death from respiratory failure usually occurs in 7-15 hours. In spring, males fight by raising and intertwining their bodies; this combat is often mistaken for mating.

Reproduction

The female lays 12-14 large eggs (70 x 35 mm) in termite nests, etc. These hatch in 80-90 days. The young measure up to 600 mm; growth is rapid, and a black mamba may reach 200 cm in length in its first year.
 

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