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Little Critters of the Namib Desert

Little Critters of the Namib Desert

The ancient and vast Namib Desert is the world’s oldest desert and covers an area of 81,000 km². It is an arid desert reaching temperatures of 45°C and receiving as little rainfall as 1.4 cm a year. For anything to survive in these extreme conditions they would need to have adapted cleverly over the millennia. Guest on Namibia Lodge Safari or Namibia Self Drive trip have the option to go on an enlightening Living Desert Tour in the Sossusvlei region to discover the desert’s “Little Five” where they will have the chance to see some of these remarkable creatures, read below to learn more about what to expect.


Shovel-snouted lizard

This is the famous dancing lizard of the Namib Desert. Its unique dance is actually a way of keeping cool by raising alternating feet from the scorching sand every 10 seconds. When it gets too hot and this thermal dance no longer works the lizard dives down into the sand to cooler temperatures. The flat snout allows it to plunge into the sand and “swim” deeply in order to hide from the sun’s extreme heat, as well as predators, it can stay hidden like this for up to 24 hours. The Shovel-snouted lizard is one of the fastest creatures in the desert, especially relative to its size, using its impressive hind legs to propel forward and the front legs only for steering. This speed allows it to capture insects and other prey which also provides it with all its water. It also has a second bladder for storing water from the desert fog, which is incredibly useful during times when hunting for prey has not been successful.


Namaqua chameleon

The fastest chameleon in the world can be found in the Namib Desert, the Namaqua chameleon needs these speeds to race after quick beetles and other desert prey. It is also one of the larger species of African chameleon and being based in a sandy desert instead of lush forest, is less colourful than other chameleons, displaying earthy tones of brown and tan. It still changes colour, specifically to regulate its temperature, turning darker to almost black in the cool mornings to absorb heat and then lightening to white in the heat of the day to reflect the bright sun’s rays, it can also split this colouration along its spine so that the side that’s in sunlight is light and the side in the shade is dark. They also regulate their temperature by excreting salt from their nasal gland, allowing them to retain more water.


Peringuey’s Adder

This venomous viper has eyes on top of its head instead of on the side like other snakes, this allows it to hide its body in the sand while only the eyes peep out, placing it in the perfect position to strike at unsuspecting prey that passes along the way. Like some of the other animals mentioned here it “drinks” water by licking the condensation from fog on its smooth skin, it also preys on the Shovel-snouted lizard that has a second bladder filled with water. What’s truly exceptional about these snakes is the way they move – spiraling completely on its side up the steep dunes, which is why it is also known as a Sidewinder. While undulating in smooth lateral curves it raises most of its body off the hot sand and to see this in action is like poetry in motion.


Palmato gecko

This nocturnal gecko spends most of its day burrowed under the hot sand and emerges at night when it is much cooler. It has special webbed feet that allow it to run at great speeds over the desert sands as well adhesive pads that help it ascend sand dunes quickly. The translucent skin with light brown stripes and a salmon underbelly is excellent camouflage against predators. The Palmato gecko’s large lidless eyes are ideal for spotting prey, providing it with a panoramic view. The eyeballs also capture moisture which the gecko licks off with its tongue to drink, while at the same time cleaning their eyes from dust and sand.


Golden Cartwheeling Spider

This spider doesn’t spin a web but instead roams around searching for prey. This however, puts its own life in danger from predatory wasps who seek out the spiders to paralyse and implant their larvae that will feed off the spider and eventually kill it. To avoid this gruesome and painful fate the spider has adapted a unique and fascinating escape method: cartwheeling down the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. The spider accelerates and flips on its side, rolling down at 44 turns per second, so fast that it forms a blur. This fascinating technique has inspired scientists and engineers when building spacecraft such as the Transforming Roving-Rolling Explorer (TRREx).

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