Category Archives: Threatened Species

Mistbelt Chirping Frog

– Article written by Nick Evans of KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation –

In the KZN Midlands lives a tiny little frog, which few people have seen, and most members of the public have never heard of: the Mistbelt Chirping Frog (Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis).

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 3

Appearance

It really is a tiny frog! Their maximum size is a measly 22mm. It’s a very pretty little frog, being a light golden brown colour, with speckles running down its back in a striped formation. It has a dark band on each side of its head.

A species in danger!

The Mistbelt Chirping Frog is currently listed as ‘Endangered’, by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was previously listed as Critically Endangered, before survey work was carried out by herpetologist and researcher, James Harvey. He had found a few new localities, which came as great news for this species.

It only occurs in mistbelt areas in the KZN Midlands, in high altitude, moist grasslands. So it is not a widespread species at all. Unfortunately for this frog, much of its habitat has been destroyed for exotic tree plantations. Even its habitat type is considered endangered! The last few remaining areas in which this frog occurs in, are rather fragmented by these plantations, isolating populations. These mostly fall under private land, owned by forestry companies. Other threats include invasive alien plants, which take smother these grasslands, over-grazing, and incorrect burning programmes.

The few areas that are still home to this frog desperately need to be conserved, so that the world does not lose yet another species. It may be small, but it still matters. It still plays a role in a functioning environment. Fortunately, it is being monitored by the likes of James and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 2

Did you know?

This species was only discovered and described in 1993! That was probably because of its size, and its undistinctive call, a subtle, insect-like, chirping sound.

What’s also interesting about this frog, is that they do not breed in water. Most frogs lay their eggs in water, but the Mistbelt Chirping Frog lays its eggs in leaf-litter!

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 1

Survey and photography mission

I was fortunate enough to join James Harvey recently, on some of his survey work. We went to a site near the Ixopo area where he had heard and found this species before.

We arrived in the afternoon, and conditions were perfect. There was a light drizzle, and it was misty too. The common but rarely seen Plaintive Rain Frogs were out in force, and although we did not see any, we heard dozens! Our hopes were lifted when, amongst the Rain Frog calls, we started hearing a couple of Mistbelt ‘Chirpers’! We walked down the slope where they were calling, hoping to find one. James warned me that they were extremely difficult frogs to find, and I soon learnt that he was not wrong. The long grass was so thick. Finding a frog that’s only two centimetres in length was seemingly impossible. Thankfully though, James knew a spot where it should be easier to find them, where the grass was a little shorter and slightly sparser than these thick patches we were searching in.

As we approached this particular area, we could hear a good few calling. Frogs are always easier to find at night, when they are generally more active and call from more obvious positions. However, we thought we’d have a quick try before heading back to camp for dinner, and resuming the search after dark. We were trying to track them down by their call, but as soon as you got one or two meters away, the little blighters would go silent. However, there was one that didn’t stop calling. Luck was on our side, and we spotted one quite high up in a grass tuft, calling. I scooped it up in my hands in great excitement, and called James to 100% confirm what I was holding- it was indeed a Mistbelt Chirping Frog! I was overjoyed! James was too, as despite his research work, he had only seen a handful of them. But our luck didn’t end there.

We returned to the sight that evening. We tracked down one which was calling in a tuft of grass. We were desperately trying to pinpoint its location, as it would emit a chirp every now and then. I thought it was in one place, and James thought it was in another. Their calls can confuse you like that. Eventually, we discovered we were looking in the wrong place. We thought it was calling at the base of the grass, when in fact, it had climbed around thirty centimetres up the grass clump, and was calling from there! Stunned at our luck of now finding two, we then went onto find another three in quick succession! Five endangered Mistbelt Chirping Frog, wow, just wow! We just couldn’t believe our luck! Our hard work certainly paid off!

This frog is one of the most difficult species to find that I have ever searched for. It’s been a species I have long wanted to see, and I feel privileged that my chance finally came around. We are now one of the few people that have actually seen and photographed this frog. What a special little animal.

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It really is tiny!

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Long-toed Tree Frog

– Article written by Nick Evans of KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation –

KwaZulu-Natal is the most diverse and species rich province, playing host to many forms of wildlife, including frogs. The KZN Midlands is particularly fortunate to be home to many of these beautiful frog species, and one such species endemic to the area is the special little Long-toed Tree Frog.

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Long-toed Tree Frog photographed by Nick Evans

The Long-toed Tree Frog (Leptopelis xenodactylus) is simply adorable, cute, loveable, however you want to put it – except gross or ugly! The same can be said for the other two Tree Frog species in this province, the Natal and the Brown-backed. There’s just something about Tree Frogs though.

This frog’s most unique and interesting feature is what its name suggests: their very long toes. The back toes are especially long, making the frog look quite comical. These extraordinary toes come in handy when moving through the long grass. The Tree frog walks and hops across grass blades, and may even be seen hanging off long pieces of grass, using those long limbs.

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Long-toed Tree Frog photographed by Nick Evans – Note the long toes.

The Long-toed Tree Frog is a ground-dwelling species. They live in grassy wetlands, or flooded grasslands. Here, they can be seen sitting on the ground next to the water, or as mentioned, moving through the grass, where they may be looking for a mate, or a mosquito.

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Long-toed Tree Frog photographed by Nick Evans

This is an endangered species with their main threat, like all wildlife, is habitat loss and habitat degradation. It is imperative that we protect the remaining habitat and to rehabilitate wetlands and grasslands where possible. We cannot lose this precious little mosquito-muncher.

Even ranidaphobes (people who fear frogs) could not possibly cringe at the sight of these little chaps – they’re just so cute! If you ever happen to see one, be sure to take a photo and contribute to science by uploading your records to the Animal Demographic Unit’s Virtual Museum: http://vmus.adu.org.za/vm_projects.php

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Long-toed Tree Frog photographed by Nick Evans

I hope that you see the beauty of this frog in these photos which I took recently in Lion’s Bush Conservancy area. Happy frogging during this ‘froggy’ season!

Nick Evans

kzn-amphibian-reptile-conservation

Email: nickevanskzn@gmail.com
Website: www.kznamphibianreptileconservation.com

Threatened Plant Species – Curtisia dentata

CORNACEAE: Curtisia dentata (Near Threatened)

Curtisia dentata, from the family Cornaceae is one of KwaZulu-Natal’s Near Threatened trees, occurring from Ngome Forest to KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. This tree is commonly known as Assegai, and threatened by over-exploitation and bark harvesting.

Curtisia dentata4

The tree grows between 15m and 20 m tall with leaves that are leathery, shiny and dark green in colour. The leaves are opposite, 120mm long and 75 mm wide, with dense bunches at the base. The under leaf is pale green with noticeable veins.

Curtisia dentata3

The stalks are about 25mm containing fine red hairs. The flowers are small, cream-coloured and velvety, with about 10-25 flowers per umbel, varying from yellow to brownish red.

Curtisia dentata2

The fruit are drupe, one or two seeded, and white to red in colour.

Curtisia dentata1

REFERENCES:

  • Notten, A. (2004, July). Curtisia Dentata. Available on: http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/curtisdent.htm [Accessed on 2 June, 2016]
  • Pooley, E. (1998). A field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Williams, V.L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N.R., Cunningham, A.B., Scott-Shaw, C.R., Lötter, M. and Ngwenya, A.M.(2008). Curtisia dentata (Burm.f.) C.A.Sm. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. [Accessed on 2 June, 2016]
  • Images by A. Rebelo; D. Turner; C. Lochner and A.E. Symons

Threatened Plant Species – Nerine pancratioides

AMARYLLIDACEAE: Nerine pancratioides [Near Threatened]

Nerine pancratioides, commonly referred to as the White Nerine, is a plant that grows up to 600 mm long. It was previously observed in parts of the Midlands, south-western KZN as well as in north-eastern Lesotho. This gorgeous flower is also featured in the Midlands Conservancies Forum 2016 Wildflowers Calendar.

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Nerine pancratioides photographed in the Karkloof by Richard Booth

Habitat loss and destruction has caused a significant decline in the species population size in several of its localities, and in some instances even resulting in extinction. Deterioration of wetlands in the form of overgrazing, invasive alien plant infestation and damming are major concerns for the population’s survival.

Nerine pancratioides

Nerine pancratioides photographed by CREW

The plant grows in moist areas with acidic soils, on banks of streams, in grassy depressions and in seepage areas on steep hillsides. The flowers appear between March and April and are known to respond well after fires have occurred.

Nerine pollinator

Nerine pancratioides photographed in the Karkloof by Richard Booth

The leaves grow to 300 mm long, are narrow, round at base and almost flattened towards the top. The stalk is robust growing to 600 mm long. The sheathing bracts are narrowly egg-shaped with sharp tips. The pedicels are densely covered with hairs, 300−450 mm long. The inflorescence is umbel, 10−20. Tepals are ± 25 mm and white.

Nerine pancratioides seed

Nerine pancratioides photographed by CREW

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager S.Parbhoo@sanbi.org.za

REFERENCES:

  • Baker, J.G. 1896. Amaryllideae. In: W.T. Thiselton-Dyer (ed). Flora Capensis VI (Haemodoraceae to Liliaceae):171-246. L. Reeve & Co., London.
  • Craib, C. 2004. Nerine pancratioides. Degradation of grassland habitats by exotic plantations are threatening the beautiful white Nerine with extinction. Veld & Flora 90:105-107
  • Mtshali, H. & von Staden, L. 2015. Nerine pancratioides Baker. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2016/03/16
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Threatened Plant Species – Dierama pallidum

IRIDACEAE: Dierama pallidum [Vulnerable]

Dierama pallidum is a beautiful brightly colored plant found between Pietermaritzburg and Durban (Table Mountain, Valley of Thousand Hills, Mt. Vernon, Noodsberg and Inchanga). It grows on open stony and sandy grass slopes.

Dierama pallidum by Richard Boon

Dierama pallidum by Richard Boon

Dierama is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family, Iridaceae. Botanists rarely (if ever) use common names for plants, however, various species of Dierama are loosely known by common names such as Fairy’s Fishing Rods, Fairy’s Wands, Fairy Bells, Wedding Bells, Hairbells, Harebells. You will have noticed their similarities which refer to the bell-shaped flowers on slender scapes that bend gracefully under the weight of the inflorescences, nodding in the wind.

Dierama pallidum by Richard Boon

Dierama pallidum by Richard Boon

Dierama pallidum consists of either a single stem or a few growing in close groups. They have few and reduced enveloping leaves (about 4) which arise so close to the base of the stem they almost appear to come from the roots.

They have flowering stems that grow between 500–1000 mm. The inflorescence hang, with the lowermost flower stalk growing about 200 mm long. Flowers are somewhat crowded (tip of each bract reaching to or nearly to base of second bract above it). Dierama pallidum can be seen flowering from October to March.

Dierama pallidum

Dierama pallidum

Bracts are about 20 mm long and 8 mm wide, narrowly egg-shaped and gradually narrowing to a long point on the tip, white with specks on midline and at the tip. Perianth (flora) is about 16 mm, tepals about 10 mm long and 5 mm wide, cream to pale yellow, rarely tinged pink or purple. Dierama pallidum is related to Dierama sertum, but can be distinguished by its white bracts where the veins diminish in the upper parts; flowers are crowded.

If you have seen this plant, please contact Mbali Mkhize, CREW programme: KZN Node Project Assistant m.mkhize@botanicalsociety.org.za

REFERENCE:

  • HILLIARD, O.M. AND BURTT, B.L. 1991. Dierama: The hairbells of Africa. Acorn Books, Johannesburg and London.

Threatened Plant Species – Dierama luteo-albidum

IRIDACEAE: Dierama luteo-albidum [Vulnerable]

The genus name is derived from the Greek word dierama, meaning “funnel”, a helpful hint to the shape of the flower. Dierama luteo-albidum is a beautiful plant that appears to be confined to a very area of south central Natal growing in open grassland at altitudes of about 915−1700 m, from Nottingham Road to Pietermaritzburg.

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Dierama luteo-albidum is readily distinguished from all other known species in Natal. They are solitary or in small clumps. The plant is 0.65−1 m long and is the fourth species of Dierama and first with whitish flowers.  The corm is densely covered with fiber tunic. Stems are long and drooping. Leaves have a cover at base, 3−4 leaves closely covering the stem and leaf bracts white to lightly flecked.

Dierama luteo-albidum flowers between October to December. Flowering stalks are very slender, and are closely sheathed to the lowest branch of the inflorescence by the leaves. Inflorescence (part of the plant bearing flowers and bracts) 2−5 branched, ± 5-flowered; about 80 mm. Perianth (floral organs) white, pale cream yellow, parallel sided and bell shaped.

Two species D. pulcherrimum and D. grandiflorum are similar to D. luteo-albidum. All of them have large bell-shaped flowers, but they all differ in the colour of the perianth.

Dierama luteo-albidum by Isabel Johnson

Dierama luteo-albidum by Isabel Johnson

They are unfortunately threatened by forestry and heavy grazing on grasslands.

If you have seen this plant, please contact Mbali Mkhize, CREW programme: KZN Node Project Assistant m.mkhize@botanicalsociety.org.za

References:

  • Hilliard, O.M. and Burtt, B.L. 1991. Dierama: The hairbells of Africa. Acorn Books, Johannesburg and London.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Verd, I.1942. Dierama luteo-albidum: Flowering Plants of South Africa xxii. t. 845.

Threatened Plant Species – Asclepias woodii

APOCYNACEAE: Asclepias woodii [Vulnerable]

Local is lekker” which is why we love this month’s highlighted plant, Asclepias woodii, as it is only found in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, and mainly centred on the town in Howick.

Asclepias woodii by Christeen Grant

Asclepias woodii by Christeen Grant

Asclepias woodii are part of the Milkweed family, and they are a perennial herb. The stem is solitary, upright, up to 650 mm tall, often compressed, covered with scales or hairy scales. Leaves are usually in 4 pairs, growing upwards or almost upright, without or with short leaf stalk. Bracts are sharply pointed. Inflorescence produced in terminal pair.

Asclepias woodii flowers from November to January. Flowers 4−12, dark purple below. Leaf stalks 10−70 mm or when solitary up to 180 mm long, smooth to hairy. Corolla-lobes reflexed, spreading, egg-shaped, and pale green. Corona-lobes yellow, arising from the staminal column and equalling or slightly exceeding it, ending abruptly, rounded at the top and on the back.

It grows in unburned grassland, and it is threatened by habitat loss due to invasive alien plant infestation, frequent fires, overgrazing by livestock, and habitat loss due to plantations and development.

Photograph showing the entire plant, Asclepias woodii

Photograph showing the entire plant, Asclepias woodii

If you have seen this plant, please contact Mbali Mkhize, CREW programme: KZN Node Project Assistant: m.mkhize@botanicalsociety.org.za

References:

  • Brown, N.E. 1909. Flora capencis, Vol 4, 518.
  • Nicholas, A. 1999. A taxonomic reassessment of the subtribe Asclepiadinae (Asclepiadaceae) in southern Africa Volume 1. PhD thesis. University of Natal, Durban