Why are our snakes a little more active, nowadays?

Why are our snakes a little more active, nowadays?

They are feasting before the big fast!

During winter they do not eat at all or if they do, very little. This explains why they are stuffing themselves now and why we are seeing them more often prior to winter. They are hunting to build up fat reserves and then they will be off to seek a suitable shelter for the cold months ahead. But some snakes, like pythons and Puff Adders, are actively busy with mating on the Highveld right into the middle of winter..

Our winters are not cold enough for snakes to hibernate and although they are far less active in winter, they may emerge from their winter hide-outs on a warm winter day to bask in the sun.  Even when we have frost on the Highveld and temperatures drop well below zero, these snakes are relatively warm a meter or two underground where the temperature will not drop below 20 degrees C.

Hibernation has been described as an inherent, regular and prolonged period of inactivity during winter and the term ‘brumation’ is popularly used for reptiles. Snakes in cold regions of the world do hibernate and often in dens where hundreds or even thousands of snakes may share the same winter shelter.

With a dramatic drop in snake activity in winter, very few bites are reported and the majority of bites on humans are recorded in the warm summer months of January – April.

According to Professor Harry Greene, snakes consume between 6 – 30 meals per year and this is in summer. During winter they do not eat at all or if they do, very little. Because snakes are ectotherms and require no food for their heat requirements, they can survive with very little food and a large Puff Adder probably consumes less than 1 kg of food per year.

 

You will often see a rinkhals basking just outside its hole when a winters day warms up to around 23 degree Celsius.

Gladiolus saundersii, Welcome

Gladiolus saundersii, Welcome

Saunders’ Gladiolus, also known as the Lesotho Lily, is not often seen in our immediate area, on the contrary! Rodney Moffat, an honorary research fellow of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State, now living in Clarens, says he often sees this lily in the Drakensberg but cannot recall when he last spotted it in Clarens.

This elegant lady stands 400-600mm tall, usually grows in colonies in fairly dry rocky places between 2400-3000m. The leaves are sturdy, erect and grow into a fan to 15-25mm wide with the midrib thickened, showing prominent veins. The flowers are large, more or less 60mm wide, usually downward facing and strongly hooded. It is bright red with a broad white mark and speckling on three lower tepals.

The flowers can be eaten as salad or cooked as a pot herb. It is often used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea.

It is time for the annual migration

It is time for the annual migration

The Pioneer White butterfly recently flew through our Village to who knows where

The white butterflies just went through our village again. According to Professor Marcus Byrne from the school of animal, plant and environmental sciences at Wits University this is an annual migration and the white butterflies are called Belenois aurota which means beautiful gold dusting referring to the colour on their wings. 

They might be coming from the Kalahari and travels across the continent but where exactly they are going to is not clear. It is also not clear whether they do a return journey.

On average these insects live for about a month and can travel huge distances on the wind. With all the reports published about insect populations declining one should take heart in natural events like these happening.  

The Belenois aurota belongs to family Pieridae; it is a small to medium size butterfly commonly called “The Pioneer White”. They are mostly found in Africa and South Asia.

A Rambler’s Notes

A Rambler’s Notes

From the archives of Patsy Millin – June 2006

The native Rhus aromatica bush has lovely fall colour.

“There are differing opinions, as always, on the approaching winter, very cold, not so cold, much snow, not snow etc., but one of the joys is watching the way plants knuckle own to the cold.

“Looking up at our Nature Reserve mountain recently, my eyes were drawn to brilliant small patches of rusty-red. Closer inspection revealed them as one of the Rhus genus, Rhus divaricata. The Rhus genus is part of the Anacardiaceae family, to which Mangoes belong. It is an easy genus to recognise anywhere, as the leaves are trifoliate, that is, three leaves growing from one spot on a stem. So whenever you see this, whether the leaves are rounded (Rhus divaricata), serrated (Rhus dentata) or long and thin (Rhus lancia, Rhus erosa) as a few examples, you will be able to remember is is a Rhus. 

“The Rhus dentata is a very decorative small tree for the garden, with shiny red-brown fruit attractive to birds. Another shrub, Rhus pyroides, is also attractive to our winged and feathered friens. In fact, a visit to an indigenous nursery should yield a number of Rhus species.

“Rusty leaved leaved currant (due to the grey-green to red-brown hairs beneath the leaves). It  is a decidious shrub up to three metres tall found in mountainous areas up to 2,750m.

“According to Elsa Pooley’s book, Mountain Flowers, it is a good wood to use in making kieries and the dried crushed leaves are smoked to possibly cure coughts and colds. 

Peter Millin Bridge

Peter Millin Bridge

Peter and Patsy settled in Clarens during 1990. Peter is well known for his articles about birds which got published in several magazines over the years whilst Patsy often published her own delightful commentary known as A Rambler’s Note Around Clarens.

When you hike along the Scilla Walk towards Van Reenen St you will come upon a new bridge, named after Peter Millin, an enthusiastic environmentalist who were amongst the villagers who  started to map our, by now well-known, hiking trails.

With the kind permission of the Millin Family we will be posting some of their articles over the following months. The first appearing here.

More of Peter’s and Patsy’s articles appear on Di Jones’s web page, https://clarensbutterflybeds.co.za/

Patsy Millin cutting the ribbon at the opening of the new bridge with her daughters, Di Jones (left) and Penny Millin (right) looking on.