All around the world eager naturalists were out there turning over rocks and recording their discoveries.
Now this is such a fun idea, I always want to take part... until the actual day.
Then two niggling little doubts start gnawing at my enthusiasm.
What are these misgivings?
1. I will die.
2. I will kill something.
OK, I realise that plenty of people flip rocks in places where deadly critters slither and scuttle in dim, dank crannies. But heck, I really don’t want to stick my fingers under there!
Last year I managed to avoid the whole finger-fang close-encounter bit by fortuitously stumbling upon a rock monitor snuggled away in a rock crevice. But what were the chances of repeating such a serendipitous find?
I was mulling over the problem when it hit me that this was the same conundrum that I face professionally every day. You see I’m always trying to figure out ways to obtain the data I need without inflicting harm. If the aim of rock-flipping is to document what’s living under the rock, isn't there a less invasive way to get the info? Why not find a rock that’s clearly someone’s domicile and try to coax the resident out?
Now I was secretly very pleased with this solution, because although it was primarily motivated by my aversion to legless beasts, I could sell it as a commitment to animal welfare. Triumph!
Umm... but would it work?
Well yesterday, after visiting the mongooses (who were appropriately hiding underneath rocks to avoid the attentions of a black-breasted snake eagle), I set out on a binge of non-invasive rock-flipping.
Clutching my camera, a Tupperware container of mealworms and a water bottle, I tracked down a suitable rock.
|The rock. OK, I know this behemoth is way beyond the provenance of conventional rock-flippers, but someone’s got to hang out under there.|
Sloshing some water about, I sat down in front of this rock to wait for the alluring aroma to work its magic.
The first face to appear in the gloom beneath the overhang was that of a lady rainbow skink. She made straight for the puddle.
|A female rainbow (or five-striped) skink (Trachylepis quinquetaeniata) enjoying a thirst-quencher. Youngsters and adolescent males also dress in female garb to avoid the aggro of territorial males (who wear orange).|
When I tossed this intrepid pioneer a mealworm pupa, I was immediately surrounded by zipping reptiles. Among the many skittering rainbow skinks were some slicker, racier models.
These were lady common flat lizards.
|“Too much lippy?” Flat lizards can live to fourteen in captivity.|
I’d been divvying out mealworms for quite a while before the reigning monarch of the flat lizard colony deigned to emerge. In keeping with his status, he was a little more reserved than his courtiers, but I guess it must be difficult being the centre of attention all the time.
|Flaunting the royal colours. His highness defends the rock face upon which his harem and progeny live.|
|Why flat lizards are flat.|
When the mealworms were almost spent, a large shadowy figure appeared beneath the rock overhang.
|This giant plated lizard (Gerrhosaurus validus) gave me the evil eye but wouldn’t emerge any further. She belongs to an ancient group of lizards (which includes the girdled lizards) endemic to Africa.|
Giant plated lizards are... well... giant. They grow to a whopping 70cm (2ft 4in) and hang around in family groups. If you startle one when it’s basking it'll toboggan down the rock face on its tummy (not that I enjoy doing this, of course). Although these lizards guzzle berries and flowers, they’re also keen hunters, tracking down bugs and small vertebrates using their flickering tongues. My dwarf mongooses often run into them, and while this is a non-event for most of the year, during the summer breeding season (when both species have bite-sized young) suspicions run high. Exactly who chases whom depends on which species’ nursery is nearest. Mongoose pups, just big enough to look after themselves, find these scraps endlessly exciting.
After failing to coax mum from the shelter of the rock, I was just wondering whether to call it a day when junior appeared.
|A non-giant giant plated lizard.|
This little juvenile shared none of mum’s reticence and came dashing out into the sunshine in pursuit of mealworms. In fact, much to my surprise, it came zipping straight up to me, even climbing up onto my shoe to plead for further handouts.
|“Please, please, just one more...”|
So all in all, I feel that my non-invasive rock-flipping went quite well.
And all of us are still alive!
You can discover what other rock-flippers found beneath their rocks at Wanderin' Weeta.
|God’s own creatures contributing to my under-rock species count.|