Painted gigolo lizards of Augrabies
I remember reading somewhere that you get masculine and feminine waterfalls. The Augrabies Falls are emphatically male. Here the Orange River thunders through and over a rocky gorge in 1 of the driest parts of the country.
Augrabies Falls National Park was created to protect the delicate and biodiverse zone around the falls, and the area looks like a hot moonscape in the heat of summer.
It’s a land of quiver trees, klipspringers, Verreaux’s eagles and Hartmann’s zebra, all of them well adapted to desert life.
But almost as fascinating are the fabulous lizards, as gloriously coloured as Mexican blankets, doing acrobatic backflips on the rocks perilously close to the sheer drops down into the gorge.
You can’t miss them. Not only are they brightly coloured, but they tend to live together in something approaching colonies – quite unusual for reptiles.
Backflips by the males are to impress the duller females and also to catch those pesky black flies – their main diet, apart from fallen figs in season.
Such remarkable lizards, you’d think, should have a more exciting name than Augrabies flat lizard. Their alternative name is no better – Broadley’s flat lizard.
Like the waterfall, this is a macho world. The males' pick-up line with female lizards is to do a series of push-ups. Apparently the girls find it irresistible, especially if done by a manly lizard with a very blue throat.
The more brightly coloured the male, the more likely he is to be a dominant territorial specimen. But the bright colours are sometimes not enough to convince other males. Instead, they flash a yellow ‘badge’ under their bellies. If this doesn’t work then it may end in a battle, sometimes to the death.
Their pick-up line with female lizards is to do a series of push-ups. Apparently the girls find it irresistible, especially if done by a manly lizard with a very blue throat.
The dominant territorial males are quite formal about their approaches to females. Unfortunately, it’s not all gallant courtship. Sometimes ‘sneaker’ males without territories try to mate with females – apparently without their consent.
And then there are young males that haven’t yet developed their bright male colours. These ‘she-males’ also try to sneakily mate with females while they still look rather feminine themselves.
All of this frenzied chatting up takes place on the rocks by the roaring waters – under the unsuspecting eyes of visitors who only see the gaudy slivers of lizards tanning in the Kalahari sun.