In harsh environments all over the world, loose rocks in the environment shelter a large number of animals from heat, cold, rain predators and, especially in fynbos, from fire. On the coldest day the temperature under rocks will be quite moderate compared to “outside” and even after even the hottest fires in fynbos, the lizards, snakes, geckos and insects will be out and about within hours.
Geckos are highly specialized lizards that occur in most warm regions of the world. Their specialized feet that allow them to “stick” to almost any surface, including glass and they have very large eyes with pupils that can dilate widely at night, when most species are active, and contract to pinpricks in daytime. To protect their delicate eyes, most have transparent eyelids and some even have long tongues with which they clean their eyes! They have adapted well to human dwellings and have been carried all over the world in cargo.
Another little stone dweller is the Cape Legless Skink, a legless lizard that looks like a shiny snake! These lizards have lost their legs and their external ear openings therefore they use the entire body to pick up sound vibrations. They “swim” through loose sand feeding on earthworms and bugs.
Now we come to a creature that gives me cold shivers: I have an irrational fear of spiders and scorpions, but once one learns more about them, fear is replaced by absolute wonder. Related to spiders, scorpions are nocturnal predators easily recognized by their pinchers (pedipalps), and their tails with the well-known sting at the end. We have over 135 species in South Africa, and although most are not highly venomous, we also have some of the deadliest scorpions on earth.
Just before the end of my walk, I spotted a Cape Sand Snake in hot pursuit of a smaller lizard in a wild rosemary bush. One of the fastest snakes in fynbos, they have relatively large eyes and slender bodies. Although they are venomous, they are back fanged and pose no threat to humans.
At the height of summer, one is inclined to think that all life in fynbos has disappeared, but under the rocks one finds a collection of fascinating creatures. Next time you walk in the veld, spare a thought for life under every stone!