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Tropical & Subtropical Savanna

This is it. The most famous and spectacular ecosystem in the world! 


This is what most people think of when they think of Africa and it's wildlife. This is the original savanna. For this definition, I am including grasslands and open woodlands. These are found across tropical and subtropical Africa. There are many more specific vegetation communities usually based on dominant plant species, such as Acacia woodlands.

Acacia woodlands (Enjojo Lodge)
Unlike the rainforest, the trees in woodlands do not overlap to make a closed canopy.

For the page on the plants of the African savanna

Phylum Arthropoda

Subphylum Myriapoda: Millipedes & Centipedes

Millipedes and Centipedes are long and obviously segmented, and most notable for having lots and lots of little legs. The main physical difference between the two groups is that millipedes appear to have two legs per segment, while centipedes have one. In terms of behaviour, millipedes are generally slower, and feed on decaying vegetation. while centipedes are usually much faster, and tend to predate on other invertebrates. The latter can have painful bites, while the former have chemical defences. Millipedes tend to roll into a defensive ball when touched; centipedes shouldn't be touched! 

Class Diplopoda: Millipedes

A biologist who specialises in millipedes is known as a diplopodologist - but don't say that to their face!

(Lake Mburo, Uganda)

Upon closer inspection, millipedes appear to have two legs per segment.

(Lake Mburo, Uganda)

When harassed (or touched by the author), they tend to curl up.

Subphylum Hexapoda: Insects & relatives

Class Insecta

Order Coleoptera: Beetles

It's a shit job, but somebody has to do it! (Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa).

Pachylomerus femoralis, 'Flattened Giant Dung Beetle'.

Order Hymenoptera

Family Formicidae: Ants

(Ishasha, Uganda)

Dorylus spp. 'Safari Ants', 'Driver Ants'. Often form long marching lines. The larger soldiers guard the workers and allow them a protected path to follow in between them. The columns move through the bush, including settlements, although they are easy to get out of the way of. The soldiers have large heads and mandibles; their attack is not so much with their sting from the abdomen like many other ants, but is through a bit from their strong mandibles. Their grip is very strong, and can be hard to dislodge; even killing the ant may not make a difference if the mandibles are locked in. These are the ants that were infamously used as stitches in wounds for up to a few days by East Africans! They are mostly found in tropical Africa, but some species are found in tropical Asia.

Order Hymenoptera

Family Pieridae

Belenois spp., 'Caper Whites'

There are about 30 species in this genus, and they are found mostly in Africa, with a few in south-west Asia.

(Murchison, Uganda)

Belenois thysa, 'False Dotted Border'. Found in open forest across tropical Africa. The caterpillars feed on Capparis and Maerua

Class Reptilia

Order Testudines, Turtles

Family Testudinidae, Tortoises

The Tortoises reach their highest diversity in southern Africa, where there are 14 species. 

Kinixys spp. 'Hinge-backs', 'Hinged Tortoises' 

Hinged Tortoises are only found on mainland Africa. They often have a flat look to the top of the shell.

(Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa)

Order Squamata, Lizards & Snakes

Infraorder Gekkota; Geckos

This infraorder contains the seven families of geckos.

Family Gekkonidae, 'Common Geckos'

This is the largest and most widespread family of Geckos. 

Whenever I hear the name Wahlberg I think: "What...? No...!" from the Happening.

Homopholis wahlbergii, 'Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko' (Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa). Large gecko, sometimes seen around human habitation; this one was photographed at the toilet block in a national park; yes, I often carry my camera when I am going to the the toilet.

Family Scincidae

Trachylepis (previously Mabuya), 'Typical Skinks' are often the most obvious skinks in the African bush. They are usually small with stripes along the body.

(Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania)

Trachylepis varia.

Famly Elapidae

Dendroaspis polylepis, 'Black Mamba'. Very large and very venomous snake. It is not black, except on the inside of the mouth when open in threat display. It seems to have a 'smile' on it's lips. Probably because it knows you won't muck around with it! 

(Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa)

For the page on the non-passerine birds of the African savanna

For the page on the passerine birds of the African savanna

(Pin-tailed Wydah, Red Chilli Hideaway, Murchison NP, Uganda)

For the page on the mammals of the African savanna

The mammals are incredibly diverse across the open savanna woodlands, and easier to see than in any other habitat on the planet. 

(Mburo, Uganda)

places to explore African Savanna

South Africa is one of the easiest places to explore African savanna; it is easy to do by yourself in a rental car, with the continent's best infrastructure, and at the moment it is very good value. Kruger National Park is South Africa's premier national park. This park is reported to have the highest diversity of mammals in Africa. I visited the park in two different extreme times of the year; the end of the dry season, and the start of the wet season. Both contrasting times were great for different reasons. In the wet season I saw many cute baby animals, but at the end of the dry it was easier to see animals in general due to the sparser vegetation, and the animals congregating around drying waterholes. Another great wildlife spot and the oldest national park is Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park.

Uganda is a great country to explore, as it has a great mix of wetland. rainforest and savanna to explore. For the latter, Lake Mburo National Park is one of the closer national parks to the capital Kampala, and offers a variety of savanna species, including Uganda's only zebras and lots of birds to see. One of the highlights of Lake Mburo National Park is the boat cruise of the lake. In Uganda, there is also Queen Elizabeth National Park. The largest protected area in Uganda is Murchison Falls National Park. There is a huge range of things to do here, including safari drives and river cruises. It also has one of the best value accommodations in a national park in Uganda, the Red Chilli Hideaway, located on the river and with a great range of birds around the grounds (and the occasional Hippo wandering in at night), and a good little restaurant.

(African Fish Eagle, Lake Mburo)

Throughout the virus I am working in Australia on and off as local borders close, mostly in the Kimberley with Coral Expeditions (May-September). If you can't go travelling until everything settles down, then until then, here I am doing online guided walks for Noble Caledonia and online lectures for Silversea.