Early one morning we embarked on a special tour of the desert which lies just outside of the coastal city of Swakopmund, which means mouth of the Swakop River. Frikkie arranged for us to accompany the Living Desert Adventures folk to deepen our experience and understanding of the creatures who live in a desert climate. The Palmato Gecko pictured above was our ambassador to the secret beauty of desert life. This little guy is transparent and shows all the colors of the rainbow. The Living Desert Adventure staff call their tour The Little Five in contrast to the Big Five (the Lion, the Cape buffalo the Rhino, the Elephant, and the Leopard). The Little Five are the Palmato Gecko, the Namaqua Chameleon, the Sidewinder, the Shovel-Snouted Lizard, and the Cartwheeling Spider, also known as the Dancing White Lady. My hope in this blog is to share information and images, but even more, to share experience – the breath-taking, hidden beauty revealed, the deepening of my appreciation and love for the earth, including it’s tiniest amazing inhabitants.
Frikkie will accompany the Little Five Team to assist with the tour if there is a seat in the tour van. This morning all the seats were filled with tourists so he stayed back. Chris, the tour leader spoke highly of Frikkie. He is well known for his excellent work.
This is the Logo for the Living Desert company showing the Palmetto Gecko in all his rainbow beauty.
A bit of misty fog covered the desert on this morning – the fog is a primary source of water for the desert creatures. From a distance, however, there is no sign of life. You have to come closer.
As you walk quietly and get closer, the first thing you notice is foliage, grasses and bushes growing in whatever shade there is next to small dunes. The animals and plants who live in this environment find water from the morning mist, the plants are reservoirs of drops of water, the wind lodges strands of eatable vegetation at one end of a dune. The desert is full of life, but if you don’t know how to see it, you will miss it all. We had to be very careful when we walked around lest we trample on a little lizard or beetle living right under our feet. We were lucky enough to see up close four of the Little Five, plus other desert dwellers. A reason to return: to meet the fifth of the Little Five, theShovel-Snouted Lizard.
If you really want to meet the creatures who call the desert home you must get down on your knees, be quiet and pay attention to detail. Do you see anything here hiding in the foliage?
We are quiet and still enough that this shy rabbit shows himself. A delight!
If you noticed the bushes with these round green leaves above, here is a close up of the succulent leaves of the Money Bush. Its coin like leaves are full of moisture and it provides shade for little creatures, many of whom are hiding n the bush in hopes of getting a meal and a drink of water. Can you spot the strand that might be part of a spider’s web?
Here is someone who hides under the bushes. Down on our knees again we go to meet her.
Actually, In order to get our photos of this beautiful lady, we had to scoot down quietly on our bellies to achieve eye contact. She is a spider called the Dancing White Lady, also the Cartwheel Spider. She dances back and forth (a defensive motion) and is about 3 inches big. She is one of the Little Five.
While I’m flat on my belly on the desert I notice the grasses. From this perspective they look like a a brace of dry trees.
Among the leaves of another Money Bush we spot a Namaqua Chameleon. Our tour guide tells us that his dark color is indicative of his being in a bad mood, a bit cranky. He is a member of the little gang of Five as well.
The little fellow likes to hang out in places where insects gather to get his breakfast. He tolerated us admiring him, even showed his spots a little.
This legless lizard, a skink, lives just under the sand. This is Heather holding him. He looks like living iridescence, All the more reason to step softly on this desert. So much hidden life just under the sand.
It was a thrill-chill when our guide discovered a sidewinder just under the sand on a little mound where he was hiding in hopes of catching a morsel for breakfast. The sidewinder is a venomous snake so we observed him with careful respect. The sidewinder is the most dangerous of the Little Five, but without him, the balance of life in the desert would go awry.
Here I am again paying attention to detail noticing the wind created patterns which remind me of white filmy trees rooted in a sandy cliff. The light sand is newer sand; the dark gold sand is older; sand with a lavender tint is actually composed of garnet grains. And those are my feet at the top about to be covered with sand by the wind which is the artist’s brush in the desert, constantly re-sculpting dunes, sand grain by sand grain in infinite patterns of beauty.
And we did see a Palmato gecko, also called the web footed Namib dune gecko, also called the rainbow gecko another member of the Little Five. They are nocturnal and to escape the heat, burrow under the sand during the day. Maybe this guy was on the surface because it was still foggy and cool. I want to share a little bit about this gecko as an example of amazing desert adaptation. He hunts at night for fish moths, grasshoppers, spiders and dune crickets. He gets both protein and moisture from his food. He also gets moisture from licking fog droplets off his own body. He has webbed feet which help him burrow under the sand and scamper easily across loose surface grains. If you look closely you can see the webs between his toes. On his feet are adhesive pads, a little like velcro, but very tiny. These give him grip when he climbs. He is covered with thin, transparent scales. Sometime his internal organs can be seen through this clear skin. His pastel coloring and transparency are an adaptation to the desert. They provide excellent camouflage. He blends into the sand, a tiny desert rainbow. These geckos can live up to five years in the wild. They are endangered by the activities of humans who destroy their habitat by hunting them for food and capturing them for the pet trade. They appear fragile and delicate but they thrive in the Namib desert. It is a wonder to me that the beings such as this gecko who make their homes in the harsh, forbidding, hot sands of the Namib adapt by being small, intricate, and nearly transparent.
Our tour included exploring the very large dunes near the coast. I managed to clamber up the side of this dune the size of a small hill. I would have done better with webbed feet equipped with adhesive pads like the rainbow gecko. And after I caught my breath, what did I see from the top of this dune? Photo by Heather.
a universe of golden dunes…
extending miles into the horizon…
all the way to the misty sea…. there is continental communication happening here. Like lovers, the sea and the desert reach out to each other. How long will it take before they are lost in one another?