Tete , Northern Mozambique

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Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Sico » Sat May 18, 2013 8:22 pm

Been a while again...

I just got into Tete in Northern Mozambique for the start of a 15 month contract (Which I think will run significantly longer) constructing a railway line to ferry coal from the mines here to Nacala port. The first section is 64km, running from the town of Moatize on the Zambezi River through to the Malawi border. The next section crosses southern Malawi, then back into Mozambique for an 800km stretch to the port. I will be working on the first bit. We will be clearing a line the whole 64km, roughly 100m wide, through a decent mix of bush, grassland, agricultural land, mountains, seasonal wetland and villages.
So far we have cleared a stretch containing all of the above, roughly 40m x 9km, and I have to admit, compared to other countries that I've done this kind of field work in, there are NO BLOODY SNAKES IN MOZAMBIQUE! I've personally seen one, found the shed skin of another one, and heard stories of three others (one backed up with a picture - seems to be a Psammophylax sp - the other two were apparently medium sized Python natalensis). I have found plenty of rodents, smaller lizards and a couple of frogs - not many being the dry season with the average daily temp this past week at 36C- but I am sure this place is positively hopping after some rain. I don't understand it at all...
Anyway, this is likely to become quite a lengthy post, feel free to comment and add some ID's if you can, unfortunately I have precious little in the way of literature with me, as I am moving house back in SA and everything has been boxed up.
First off a map of the area
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The Zambezi River is on the southwest of the map. Tete is one of only three places where the lower Zambezi is crossed with a bridge. It is about 110km downstream of the Cahora Bassa dam. Moatize has some of the biggest coal deposits in the world, and this is being mined by Vale (Brazilian) and Rio Tinto (Australian). The railway line is marked off up to the Malawi border. Starting off in Moatize, the terrain is riverine, moving through the various types I mentioned above, and as we get to within about 5km of the Malawi border we hit a really big mountain range (Think Lebombo).

Reptiles and amphibs so far…
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Lygodactylus sp.

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Lots of these little Agamid? Running around on the ground. This is about their average size, I’ve not seen any larger ones, or any differing colour forms.

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Psammophylax tritaeniatus

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Chiromatis xerampolina resident on my windowsill in the camp.

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Pyxicephalus edulis turned out of the ground by one of the bulldozers. I took it well out of the way and buried it again.

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I found this cast skin in a little river bed I was exploring today. I only found the back half sticking out of a hole and when I pulled on it, it broke off. Midbody scale count +-11, single anal scale, paired subcaudals. Scales are not keeled. The pattern looks highly familiar with sort of oval shapes in a row down the spine, and then a sort of broken chevron (perhaps narrower ovals) down the sides, which stop just above the ventral scales. It wasn't a very large snake from the size of the skin. Maybe 10-15mm across the back, perhaps 2-3ft long. Any thoughts?

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Skinks

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This Chameleon was crossing the main road this morning about 50km outside of Moatize, in the middle of a village. I stopped and picked it up and relocated it into the bush some way down the road, much to the horror of my driver.
I’ll add some more tomorrow, general ones of the environment and some other critters.
Mark
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Mr Jingles » Sat May 18, 2013 10:14 pm

Nice, love the little chameleon
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Sico » Sun May 19, 2013 8:46 am

A few shots of the countryside. You can see the mountains fo the Malawi border in the background.
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Lots of Baobab trees around Moatize. There are some positively huge ones here. The further east we go the fewer there appear to be, the furthest one I have seen from town is around 24km.
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There aren't a huge amount of birds around at the moment, and those that there are tend to be rather shy. I have seen a lot of Lilac-breasted Rollers about, and was lucky enough to have one sit not too far from me for a few minutes.
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I've seen about 15 different rodent species, most fo them squished up behind the earth moving machinery, this little chap was running around after getting turned out of his burrow. Looks very similar in ALL respects to those russian dwarf hamsters that were all the craze in SA a while back. He was relocated to another koppie off the work reservation.
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Several species of butterfly about, although this deep into the season most of them are nearing the end, and look it.
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Plenty of Mantids about, grass, stick, bark, leaf, these normal green ones... No flower mantises yet, but I am sure they will be around in due course. This one was particularly large, about 120mm in length.
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40-50mm Robber flies are not uncommon in the long grass either.
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Also common in the long grass are the Nephila sp. I probably come across about 15-20 large ones every day.
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N. senegalensis
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N. argyroides
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N. fenestrata?
Mark
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Chris89 » Sun May 19, 2013 8:59 am

Looking good sico! will be following this one for sure. Your rodent is a Pouched mouse Saccostomus campestris.
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby levi_20 » Sun May 19, 2013 11:10 am

Great thread, thanks!
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Warren Klein » Sun May 19, 2013 12:01 pm

Hey Mark, I'm sure there will be more snakes to come. I think your shed skin could be from a Snouted night adder Causus defilipi The scales do look slightly keeled to me.
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Westley Price » Sun May 19, 2013 1:52 pm

Great post ONCE AGAIN!

I look forward to updates. I think you will be finding some interesting fossorial stuff with all the work. I am 100% sure some Elapsoidea sp. is in your future.

I recon the shed skin is from Dasypeltis scabra. I had a quick look and the midbody scale rows looks like a lot more than 11, I count roughly 19 or so from the picture.

Great stuff and again, thanx for posting.
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Sico » Sun May 19, 2013 2:43 pm

Thanks Chris. I will post some more rodents as I get them if you can help ID it'd be much appreciated.
Warren and Wes... I thought of Dasypeltis looking at the colouration, but there just doesn't appear to be enough keeling on the scales... Hopefully IW ill find something alive with the same colouration in the same area. I am pretty sure D. scabra is common in the area and I have found a LOT of finch and weaver nests with eggs in them.
Wes... I am stunned that so far I have not found any fossorial species. I have been keeping an eye out for Leptotyphlops, Typhlops, Elapsoidia and even Atractaspis but seen no evidence of anything now, despite the amount of relatively shallow earthmoving that has gone on. So far it has all been at the eprfect depth and in the perfect soil types and environments to produce things, compared to Uganda where we were working even shallower and turning up plenty, this place appears barren.
We shall see what the coming year holds. We had about 4mm of rain early this morning, so perhaps tomorrow might be a little more fruitful. We'll be spending the next week close to the border and the terrain is substantially different there.
Mark
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby WW » Sun May 19, 2013 4:18 pm

Great early obs, look forward to following this!

I reckon the skin is a Dasypeltis - the scales are clearly keeled (bearing in mind it's inside-out, so it is "negatively keeled" (= grooved), and I am pretty sure I can see some slightly oblique scales on the lower sides (top left of photo)
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Westley Price » Sun May 19, 2013 4:26 pm

Also, I recon the Agama sp is A. armata.

I regularly saw them in central Zim and they looking exactly the same with those regular rows of enlarged tubercles.
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby it_bit_me » Sun May 19, 2013 7:44 pm

The Nephila with the male is an stunning pic
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Sico » Mon May 20, 2013 8:25 pm

Today was a fairly productive day, although it was overcast and very much cooler than normal, we had about 5mm of rain yesterday and early this morning which appears to bring out a few things…
Started off with this Giant East African snail, Achatina fulica, which I collected several empty shells of for my Lamprologis cichlids back in SA. This one had a shell length of 110mm.
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Next I found this little mouse which had been killed by one of the dozers.
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Followed by Elapsoidea semmiannulata boulengeri ! Westley called it! Unfortunately it was only the posterior half of the snake so this one becomes a Half-half-banded Garter. Try as I might I was unable to find the front half and get any decent shots of the head. As you can see draped across my knee it was a decent sized specimen before it was dismembered.
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I also found a Ptychadena, I think P. mossambica, Striped grass frog.
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Today wasn’t the best light for photography but I did manage to get a couple of damsel and dragonflies near a little stream I came across. The thing was stuffed full of Tilapia as well and I would love to get out there one night to see what other amphibs come out. Luckily we are building over 250 bridges and culverts here, so plenty of good access during the rainy season.
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This was a rather large Selenopidae sp that was under a rock, and this small scorpion, Uroplectes sp , I think was under another. This is only the second scorpion I’ve been able to find, although I intend to bring a black light with me next time as I am sure there must be a lot of bark scorpions on all the dead wood around here.
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Last but not least, in fact the highlight of my day, was coming back to the hotel and the manager telling me that he “bought a turtle for the fishpond of some local kids today”. I went to have a look and to my great joy I found a Zambezi soft-shelled terrapin, Cycloderma frenatum, around the size of a dinner plate paddling about. Really one of the coolest animals I’ve ever seen.
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Warren Klein » Tue May 21, 2013 9:20 am

Love the Soft shell, they get a lot bigger than that too. The hotel manager will end up with a terrapin pond rather than a fish pond in no time if it does not excape before that.
An inaccurate naturalist is a pest and a danger, forever perpetuating illogical deductions and landing later naturalists in trouble. Damm and blast them all to hell in the most painful way. C.J.P. Ionides
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby gekosin » Tue May 21, 2013 11:03 am

Sounds like a massive project, what sort of impact studies were done before hand?
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Re: Tete , Northern Mozambique

Postby Sico » Tue May 21, 2013 7:03 pm

Gekosin I have no idea, knowing the main client I am sure that an EIA was done. On the other hand, knowing the client, I would have difficulty attesting to the accuracy of it as well. One of those things.
Today I found a small Crotophopeltis hotamboeia on the track. As in the ones I found in Uganda, the red lip was entirely absent.
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It had been run over by a vehicle as well. It seems, now that we are heading into more cultivated lands that the incidence of snakes is a bit higher. I noticed in Uganda as well that there seemed to be a higher prevalence of snakes in these areas, as well as on their fringes, than in the purely "wild" areas. I can only assume that there is a higher number of rodents and amphibians attracted to the food sources, which then brings the snakes in as well. I am looking forward to having a bit more rain out here which I think will bring out more snakes as well.
Whilst out marking cut lines we came across some deadfall traps that had been setup in the maize fields. I assumed the locals use them for catching rodents for some or other reason.
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This one was within about 50m of a hut. On the way back to where we had parked we walked past the hut and the resident was busy braai'ing rats on a stick, then hanging the sticks up in a tree. My driver was quite impressed with all this and some haggling ensued. For a small amount of cash (ZAR10.00) my driver walked away with three sticks, ten rats to a stick, beaming from ear to ear.
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Despite his attempts to convince me of how tasty they would be, and tempting as they were, I did not wish to have some previously undiscovered Zoonoses named after me by default of being the first westerner to succumb to it. They still looked dodgy even after waving all the flies off them...
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