IN NOMAD’S NATURE
When you enter the front gate at Nomad the first thing you may notice is that this is different world. There is so much green with big trees, thick bush, climbers, vines, plants and shrubs abound…and that is not even scratching the surface.
The forest around Nomad, on both sides of the beach road is one of the last remaining fragmented pieces of East African Coastal Forests found on the southern coast of Kenya and one of few still existing down the east coast of Africa. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership fund reports that these forests ‘contain remarkable levels of biodiversity’ while Conservation international calls these coastal forests ‘biodiversity hotspots’.
Over the last decades these forests which used to cover up to two hundred and ninety thousand square kilometers (290,000 sq km) of land along the east coast of Africa has now been reduced to less than thirty thousand square kilometers if the remaining fragments are put together.
Through its environmental and sustainability initiatives the Sands at Nomad is committed to making a positive impact on the surrounding environment both natural and social. From beach clean up’s in association with international projects (Project Aware and the Flipflopi expedition) to the creation of a Nomad Nature Trail through this forest, to implementing of multiple projects and initiatives with a drive towards sustainability through environmental awareness (see The Sand’s at Nomad’s Thinking Green initiative) it is our hope that others, both private and commercial will join this movement to try to minimize the impact we as humans have on our environment, both terrestrial and marine, both natural and social.
So what kind of animals can be found on the Nomad grounds and around? Below is a shortened list of some of the more common animals (both terrestrial and marine) that you may see during your stay at The Sands at Nomad Boutique Hotel or through scuba diving with the Crab Diving Center located at the Nomads Beach Bar.
It is important to know that NONE of these animals want to harm us. Please do show respect by keeping one’s distance. Please do not try to feed any of the wildlife as this can lead to a dependency and bad behavior. It is important to remember that the Nomad grounds are not a zoo. These animals are living wild and so constantly moving. For this reason it is not possible to guarantee seeing any one of these species.
Fumigation free! -Due to the huge numbers of connections all these animals both big and small have to one another and their environements, no outdoor fumigating is done on the Nomad grounds as, to do this, even just to remove one annoying insect like a fly will have a huge impact on far more species, which will in turn then affect more and so on. The decisions we make as humans can have implications far beyond what we can imagine. ‘The butterfly affect’.
If you would like to contribute any information or photographs to help us improve our species list or practices please email- firstname.lastname@example.org
SOME OF THE LOCAL WILDLIFE TO LOOK OUT FOR
‘ON THE LAND’
There are six different primates that can be found around Nomad.
Angola Colobus Monkey (Colobus angolensis ssp palliates)
Head - body length: 50 - 70 cm (tail can be up to 75 cm long)
Adult male weight: 10 – 20 kg
Adult female weight: 9 -12 kg
Lifespan: 20 years
The Angola Colobus monkey (one of six known sub species across Africa) is the most easily recognized primate due to it’s black and white coat with long white fur growing on the shoulders to flanks and on the tip of the tail. Baby colobus have completely white fur when they are born.
“Colobe”, the root of the name “Colobus” is Greek for “cripple.” This name stemmed from the fact that colobus monkeys (unlike other primates) do not have thumbs on their hands; they have evolved to be almost entirely arboreal (tree-dwelling), without thumbs their hands are most useful for swinging on branches. Interestingly, the lack of a thumb makes it difficult for colobus monkeys to catch live prey, so they have evolved to be far more vegetarian than most other primates. Their digestive systems have adapted to be more similar to that of an antelope, allowing them to consume flowers, leaves, fruit and twigs that would be either too coarse, non-nutritious, or even toxic for other monkeys. They can eat up to one third of their body-weight into their two-chambered stomachs where it is processed during the hours when they are asleep.
This monkey is endangered due to habitat loss and poaching for their coat.
Black-faced vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus hilgerti)
Head – body length: 30 - 60cm (11.8 - 24 In)
Adult males weight: 3.9 - 8.0 kg (8.6 - 17.6 lb)
Adult female weight: 3.4 - 5.3 kg (7.5 - 11.7 lb)
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Vervet monkeys are conspicuous with their black faces fringed by white fur. The fur on their bodies is more grey while their skin color is bright blue, clearly visible in the male monkey’s genataila.
Vervets live in large troops with both the females and the males having their own social hierarchies. Young male monkeys tend to leave their maternal troop at around three years old to join another troop (good for genetic variation). Female vervets will most often remain in their maternal troop all their lives.
Vervet monkeys eat a mainly herbivorous diet, feeding mostly on leaves, seeds, wild fruits, flowers and seed pods however vervet monkeys do have a carnivorous aspect to their diet which includes grasshoppers, termites, eggs and birds (both adult and chicks).
Interestingly vervet monkeys have been known to be spiteful towards other vervets. They are capable of destroying a competitor's food source rather than consume or steal it themselves, a rare behavior in wild animals.
Vervets have a very complex communication with multiple sounds. Alarm or warning calls vary in sound and pitch depending on the perceived threat.
Sykes Monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis)
Adult head – body length: 50-70 cm (20-28 in).
Male weight: 6-9 kg (13-20 lb)
Females weight: 3-6 kg (7-13 lb)
Lifespan: 20 years
Sykes or ‘white collared monkeys’ are mainly greyish in color; they are larger than the vervet monkeys with slightly longer fur, whiter around their necks and often slightly rufous-red on their backs. They also have red/orange coloration to their eyes.
The diet of the Sykes monkey is similar to that of the vervet, they eat fresh shoots, fruits, leaves, flowers, berries as well as insects and eggs if they can find and reach them. As with the vervets, there is a complex social structure in a troop of sykes monkeys with social grooming being an important physical activity which helps to solidify social bonds in a troop. Facial expressions, teeth bareing, yawns, vocalizations and posture are all methods of their complex communications.
Yellow Baboon (Papio cynocephalus)
Adult head - body length: 60-84 cm. (Adult male height at shoulder: 100 cm)
Male weight: 25.8 kg (56.9 lb)
Females weight: 11.0 kg (24.3 lb)
Lifespan: 20 – 30 years
This is the largest primate and second largest mammal on the Nomad property.
The sub species name of Cynocephalus literally means "dog-head" in Greek, due to the shape of this baboon’s muzzle and head. It is a very slim baboon with long arms and legs and yellowish-brown hair and a hairless black face.
Yellow baboons are diurnal (active during daylight), primarily terrestrial (on the ground) and like the other primates they have complex, mixed-gender social groups running from around ten to two hundred individuals per troop depending on the availability of food, secure roosting places and predation. Baboons are omnivorous eating almost anything but preferring fruit, leaves, shoots, seeds, pods as well as small mammals, insects, birds, eggs and even reptiles.
Baboons are important in their natural environment as they aid in seed dispersal due to their messy foraging habits. They are also efficient predators of smaller animals and their young, keeping some animals' populations in check.
Greater Galago or Thick tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus)
Adult head-body length: 26 to 47 cm. (bushy tail another 29-50cm)
Male weight: 1.5 kg (3.3 lb)
Females weight: 1.2 kg (2.6lb)
Lifespan: 10-15 years
The ‘greater bushbaby’ (AKA Greater Galago or Otolemur) is a cat-sized, grey to brown, fluffy, tree climbing, nocturnal (active at night) primate. It has large round ears that can move independently, huge forward pointing eyes and a very fluffy tail. Like all bushbabies its call is easily recognized at night as it sounds somewhat like a baby crying in the bush. This call is one of the most memorable noises of the African bush.
During the day ‘galagos’ will rest in tree hollows, thick tangles of creepers or dense bush. Females will make leafy, sheltered platforms for their young. Often greater galagos will have more than one sleeping site in their territories of a couple of hectares squared.
Territories are dependent on the availability of food, water and mates. At night these territories are patrolled along ‘tree-trails’ and marked using urine and scent from a gland in the chest.
Greater bushbabies eat fruit, berries, seeds, tree gum, flowers, insects, slugs, snails, reptiles, birds and eggs.
Interestingly, unlike in other primate species, social grooming does not happen in greater bushbabies, however there is an interaction of ‘reciprocal licking’ in which each other's fur is cleaned.
Vocal communication is very important in all galago species; like with the monkeys, studies have reported different calls for various needs or incidents.
Females typically give birth to 2 young, sometimes 1 or 3.
Lesser Galago or Northern lesser bush baby (Galago senegalensis)
Adult head-body length: 15 cm. (tail is often longer than the body)
Adult weight: 150 g (0.3 lb)
Lifespan: 10-14 years
The Lesser bushbaby is a miniature (squirrel-sized) version of the greater bushbaby though with naked oversized ears and it’s tail is not quite as bushy. They are also nocturnal and living in small territories that they mark night after night by urinating on their hands and leaving traces on the trees they climb and jump across. Males will also urinate on females to mark them.
Lesser galagos are much faster than the greater galago. Their form of locomotion is mainly fast jumps and bounds onto trees and branches (up to 7 meters long), an interesting feat in pitch darkness greatly assisted by the large, forward pointing eyes with dilated pupils allowing as much atmospheric light (stars and moon) into the light receptors at the back of the eye.
Lesser bushbabys eat insects, invertebrates and tree gum which they remove using a specialized ‘toothcomb’. When hunting insects they use speed rather than stealth like the greater bushbaby.
NB *It is important to remember that if one shines a flashlight/torch into the eyes of a nocturnal species like a bushbaby this bright light can cause irreversible damage to the animal’s light receptors in the eye as the pupil does not have time to constrict the flow of the light. This can put the bushbaby or other animal at a disadvantage for the rest of its life. Please shine flashlights next to bushbabies and not at them. Alternatively one can use red filters that lengthen the wavelength of light doing far less damage.
Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
Adult height at shoulder: 90 cm (35 in)
Adult weight: 45 – 80 kg (99 – 176 lb)
Lifespan: 12 years
Bushbuck are widespread across Africa and the largest mammal and antelope on the Nomad grounds. They have a light brownish red coat, with a varying number of white stripes running vertically down their sides from their spines. There are white spots on their sides and flanks as well as on the most mobile parts of their body such as the ears, chin, tail, legs and neck. Horns are found only on the male, these are spiraled once in adults.
These small antelope are mainly browsers but they will also graze. Bushbucks tend to be solitary, though some live in pairs.
Common or bush Duiker duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)
Adult height at shoulder: 50-70 cm (19 – 27.5)
Adult male weight: 15 – 18 kg (33 - 39 lb)
Adult female weight: 16 – 21 kg (35 -46 lb)
Lifespan: 8-11 years
Common Duikers live in thick bush like the forests around Nomad, their name was derived from the Africaans (Dutch) word for ‘diver’ due to their head-down, diving run as they escape through bush. They are usually grey in color with some variations towards a light brown. The male duiker has short horns that can grow up to ten centimeters long.
The success of this species of antelope has stemmed from its ability to survive on a very varied diet, not only does it browse and graze like some other antelopes it also will eat insects, frogs, fruit, small birds, mammals and even carrion if need be.
A duiker can go for a very long time without drinking water as long as there is some vegetation in it’s diet in which moisture can be removed, during the rainy season a duiker may not need to drink at all.
Duiker are active both day and night, they have territories which they mark using scent glands found below their eyes (pre-orbital glands) and between their front hooves.
Suni (Neotragus moschatus)
Adult height at shoulder: 30-43 cm (12 – 17 In)
Adult weight: 4.5 – 5.4 kg (10 - 12 lb)
Lifespan: 8-11 years
The Suni is among the smallest antelopes in the world and the most numerous in the forest around Nomad. Females are usually slightly larger, they are reddish brown in color and darker on their back than on their sides and legs. There is white fur on the belly, chin, throat and insides of the legs. The Suni’s nostrils are prominently red, and there are black rings around the eyes and above the hooves. Like the bushbuck and duiker only the male suni has horns, these are short and straight with ridges. Relative to its body size the suni has the largest pre-orbital glands out of all the antelope species.
Red bush Squirrel (Paraxerus palliates)
Adult head – body length: 29 cm (11 In)
Adult weight: 295 - 365g (10 - 12 lb)
Lifespan: 5 - 10 years
The red bush squirrel, sometimes called the red-bellied bush squirrel is very easily identifiable in the forests around Nomad due to its very reddish orange color and its ever-twitching fluffy tail. This squirrel is wide spread down the east coast of Africa through both wet and dry evergreen forests, woodlands and thickets. This squirrel is arboreal (in the trees) and diurnal, and usually solitary. It eats insects, roots, plants, fruits and seeds. The species has one, or perhaps two, litters annually of one or two young. Sometimes this squirrels chattering can be heard through the forest as they call warnings or compete for territory and mates.
Zanj sun Squirrel (Heliosciurus undulates)
Adult head – body length: 23 cm (9.2 In)
Adult weight: 295 - 365g (10 - 12 lb)
Lifespan: 5-10 years
The zanj sun squirrel is a large greyish brown squirrel with a slender tail that is a little longer than its body. This tail is ringed with between ten to fourteen black bands that are sometimes difficult to see on the coastal variation here at Nomad. The underside of this squirrel is whitish or pale rufous in color.
This squirrel family acquired its name from its behavior of seemingly basking in the sun on branches of trees. A dangerous pastime in any place with squirrel-eating raptors.
Sun squirrels are, like the red bush squirrel above, omnivorous. They eat fruits, leaves, seeds, buds, palm dates, insects and invertebrates.
Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus)
Adult head – tail length: 90 cm (36 In)
Adult weight: 1 – 1.4 kg (2.2 – 3.1 lb)
Lifespan: 5 - 7 years
These large pouched rats are not true rats, they are a large, outdoor, nocturnal rat with large cheek pouches (like a hamster) that it stuffs with seeds or nuts before running off to bury this treasure so that it can be eaten at a later date.
This pouched rat is among the largest in the world. Their sense of hearing and smell are highly developed to make up for their very poor eyesight. In parts of the world these large rodents have been trained to smell explosives in land mines hidden in the ground allowing for safe removal. They are even used to identify people with tubuculosis allowing for early treatment.
The Gambian pouched rat lives in bush and forests, it is omnivorous feeding on vegetables, insects, crabs, snails and millipedes as well as palm fruits and kernels.
Black and rufous elephant shrew or Sengi (Rhynchocyon petersi)
Adult head – body length: 28 cm (11 In)
Adult weight: 450 – 700 g (1 – 1.5 lb)
Lifespan: 2.5 - 4 years
This elephant shrew or sengi is one of only seventeen species found in Africa. It is easily identified by its stark color contrast of a black (rump) and rufous (forequarters). All sengis, are in the order Macroscelidea, a word which originates from the Greek for ‘large thighs’. This trait, along with the long snout that resembles the trunk of an elephant, are characteristic of all sengis.
This sub species of sengi are rare and only found in the coastal forests and thickets of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to its very small range and the loss of habitat this sengi has been classified by the IUCN as being a ‘vulnerable species’.
Sengis are monogamous, (paired for life) with each pair sharing and defending a territory of between 1 and 1.7 hectares dependent on the availability of food and shelter. A pair will build up to ten nests within their territory, these nests are around one meter across, made from leaf litter and used for shelter.
Sengi are mostly active during the day. They use their long, prehensile nose to forage through leaf litter on the forest floor looking for insects and invertebrates but supplementing this diet with fruits and seeds.
Four toed Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris)
Adult head – body length: 15 - 25 cm (5.9 – 9.8 In)
Adult weight: 250 - 600 g (0.5 – 1.3 lb)
Lifespan: 5-8 years
The four-toed hedgehog is a small, prickly, oval-bodied animal. The females are typically larger than the males. They have short legs and a short tail typically around 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in) in length. Hedgehogs have small beady eyes and a long nose with whiskers, implying that the animal has good senses.
As its name implies, and unlike other species of hedgehog, the four-toed hedgehog typically has only four toes on each foot, lacking the ‘thumbs’.
Though there is some variety in their coloration, wild four-toed hedgehogs tend to have brown or grey spines with white or cream colored tips. The fur on the body is speckled greyish in color, with brown around the muzzle, and white face, legs, and underparts. The upper body from the top of their head down their back is covered in spines varying from 0.5 to 1.7 centimeters (0.20 to 0.67 in) in length, being longest on the upper surface of the head.
These hedgehogs are solitary, nocturnal creatures. They move around on the ground but they are also able to climb and swim if necessary. They are very energetic and are able to cover huge distances in a single night as they forage for insects, invertebrates, snails, spiders, grubs, small snakes and even some plant matter.
One of the most interesting facts about these hedgehogs is that they have been proven to have a very high tolerance to toxins and have been recorded eating scorpions and venomous snakes. What is more, hedgehogs are one of only four other mammals with mutations that protect them against neurotoxic (attacking the neurons) snake venom. They are about 40 times more immune to this venom than a guinie pig of the same size.
Four toed hedgehogs ‘aestivate’ (hibernation in the dry/less food season), when they wake up that are very hungry and likely to eat just about anything.
When threatened the hedgehog’s defensive reaction is to tense up the muscles on its back causing its spines to stand erect, then it will roll into a ball protecting its limbs and head. Hedgehogs are also known to ‘self-anoint’ which is a process in which they lick smelly scent or even poisons they find onto their spines.
African civet cat (Civettictis civetta)
Adult head – body length: 67 – 85 cm (26 – 33 In)
Shoulder height: 40 cm (16 in)
Adult weight: 6.8 – 20 kg (15 – 44 lb)
Lifespan: 15 - 20 years
The civet cat is a spotted, cat-like, mostly nocturnal mammal. It is found in the tropical forest and bush regions of both Africa and Asia. Though a civet resembles a cat and has ‘cat’ in it’s name it is actually a ‘mustilid’ and most similar to mongooses and otters. Civet cats cannot retract their claws, their muzzle (nose) is extended and often more pointed than a cat.
Civet cats are omnivorous, eating just about anything from insects and invertebrates, to small mammals, fruit, seeds and carrion. A territorial civet will often go to the toilet in the same place, this location and pile of ‘scat’ is called a civet ‘midden’.
Like all mustilids, civets have perineal glands just below their anus. This gland secretes a very strong scent or musk called civet. In the past many perfumes produced by well-known companies used this musk as a base for their perfumes.
Lesser spotted genet cat (Genetta genetta)
Adult head – body length: 43 – 55 cm (17 to 22 in) Tail: same as body
Shoulder height: 12-15 cm (4.7 – 5.9 in)
Adult weight: 1.5 - 2.4 kg (3.3 – 5.2 lb)
Lifespan: +- 10 years
Genets resemble a very long and slender, short-legged cat. They have a spotted body and a long, black ringed tail. Towards the spine the genet’s spots become horizontal lines running down its back. Like its cousin the civet cat the genet cat is not a true cat, it has musk scent glands and only semi retractable claws.
Genet cats are generally solitary and excellent climbers, they spend much of their time hunting in trees and thickets looking for small vertebrates like mice and rats but also eating a range of other delicacies.
Primarily genets will use their senses of eyesight and hearing to pin point the position of prey. Both its eyes and its ears are large in relation to its small head allowing it to hunt in the low light conditions of dawn and dusk when it is most active. Being a thick bush dweller the genet cat is specialized in that its whiskers are longer than those of a normal cat. (up to seven centimeters). This allows the genet to ‘measure’ gaps in the bush before jumping through.
In basic terms there are two different types of bats that are separated through their diets. In both these suborders there are many different sub species. True identification of bats requires special equipment which helps identify subspecies through the frequencies of the sounds they produce. (Echolocation).
Insectivorous bats (Order- Chiroptera / Sub-order- Microchiroptera)
Insectivorous bats are far smaller, averaging a body size of only ten centimeters in length. These bats have very poor eyesight so they have evolved to hunt using a combination of their voices and their ears. Insectivorous bats emit high frequency clicks as they fly, these clicks then move through the air as sound waves before hitting and bouncing off things like trees, branches and flying insects. The bat then uses it’s super sensitive ears to hear the sound waves bouncing back off something, it identifies the object and makes a split second decision to either dodge or hunt. Microbats as they have been called in the past also posses something called a tragus in their ear. This is a part of the ear canal covered in little hairs which, when they pick up the sound waves returning from the echolocation, will tell the bat from which direction the waves encountered an object allowing the bat to ‘map’ in 3D.
Fruit bats (Order- Chiroptera / Sub-order- Megachiroptera)
Fruit bats can be very large, one of the largest being the Pemba flying fox which is located only on Pemba island off the Tanzanian coast. Its wingspan can be up to 1.6 meters across (5 ft 3 in).
Fruit bats, unlike their microbat cousins do not need to rely on echolocation to find flying prey, luckily for them fruit doesn’t fly. Instead fruit bats have large eyes which help it to navigate the skies in the dark, they also have a larger head with a well formed nose and snout which are very good at picking up the smell of fruit on the evening breezes.
Fruit bats are considered to be very important mechanisms for seed dispersal and germination especially in Fig trees.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco Peregrinus)
The peregrine falcon is a small-sized rator or a bird that hunts and feeds on other animals. They are well known for their speed which, when they dive from high altitude when hunting, can reach a staggering 389 km/h (242 mph) making this falcon the fastest animal on earth.
Peregrines have a blue-grey back, barred white underparts, and a black head. As is common with many of the bird-eating raptors, the female is usually larger than the male.
Peregrines are adaptable and found over most of the world, the name ‘peregrine falcon’ means "wandering falcon", a name given to them thanks to the migratory habits of populations found in the latitudes.
Peregrine falcons are specialists in hunting smaller birds in flight, it soars high above the forest watching and waiting before folding its wings and diving to hit or grab birds that might be too slow. These falcons are known to also eat small mammals and even insects allowing them the adaptability they need to be able to live in many environments.
Falcons have incredibly sharp eyesight that enables them to pick up and follow the smallest movements in the forest from way above. Compared with humans they have far more light and color receptors in the backs of their eyes allowing them to see in low light conditions, they can see four wave-lengths of light as opposed to us humans with only three, they can see ultra-violet light waves and they can zoom in on detail far better due to their eye ‘lens’ being far wider.
Falcons have an extra, translucent eyelid that opens and closes vertically. This clear eyelid protects the eye from the wind during dives and when struggling with prey.
Silvery cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes brevis)
Silvery-cheeked hornbills are by far the largest bird found on the Nomad grounds. Their bodies are black and white and 75 to 80 centimeters (30 to 31 in) in length. They have a large protrusion on the top of their bill called a casque, this helps identify adult, mature birds as well as acting as an amplifier for their long, undulating calls.
For the most part these large birds will be seen in small groups but it is not uncommon for flocks of over one hundred to be seen around seasonally fruiting trees and forests.
These hornbills feed on fruits, insects, small birds, rodents, small reptiles and centipedes and they nest in large hollow trees.
As large trees along the coast and throughout their range are cut down, nesting sites for these birds are becoming difficult for them to find. This will, over time seriously affect the populations of these hornbills along the coast.
Forked-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)
One of the more easily identifiable birds around Nomad. They are small, uniformly dark colored bird with a pronounced forked tail. Drongo’s are insect eaters specializing in hawking (swooping hunting) off branches in search of flying insects and grasshoppers. These little birds can be quite musical producing an impressive range of sounds. They are known to mimic other birds and even give alarm calls causing other birds to panic allowing time for the drongo to steal their meal. This is called Kleptoparasitism.
Pied wagtail (Motacilla aguimp)
The pied wagtail is one of the more common birds around Nomad. They are a small, black and white bird with a permanently ‘wagging’ tail. Most often they can be seen strutting and wagging their way along the ground or on the beach in search of crawling insects and invertibrates like ants or small crabs. Wagtails are monogamous meaning a breeding pair will stay together for the duration of their lives.
Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
This 18 centimeter long bird is fairly common around the Nomad forest and grounds. It is a conspicuous, noisy bird with a dark brown head and upperparts with a lighter belly and chest. There is often some yellow coloration on the underside of their upper tail.
Bulbuls will often be seen and heard as they flit about and call noisily from the top of a bush. They are a very territorial little bird often buzzing and chirping angrily at far bigger birds who happen to land in their territories.
Purple banded Sunbird (Cinnyris bifasciatus, subspecies microrhynchus)
Sunbirds are very small bird (9-12 cm) from a large family of mainly colorful nectar drinking birds. There are widespread across Africa with many different subspecies.
One of the sunbirds resident around Nomad is a rare subspecies of the purple-banded sunbird, a subspecies that has only been described from the south coast of Kenya and one other location in South Africa.
Primarily sunbirds drink flower nectar using long tongues and their long curved beaks but they will also eat seeds and insects.
During the nesting season (after the rains) sunbirds can be seen collecting spider webs which they mix with twigs, moss and bark to make camouflaged, teardrop shaped hanging nests. When one sees a sunbird collecting insects it often means it is rearing chicks.
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
Grey herons are a large bird with long legs. They have a white head and neck with a broad black stripe that runs from the eye to their black crest. Their body and wings are grey above and greyish-white underneath with some black on their sides. The long, sharply pointed beak is pinkish-yellow and the legs are brown.
Herons are predatory, wading birds most often found around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes and on the sea coast. They mostly eat aquatic creatures like fish, crabs and amphibians which they catch using their bill and a quick strike.
Here in Diani many herons have become more nocturnal as the beaches are too busy during the daylight hours. At night they can be seen wading in the shallows waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by.
White throated bee-eater (Merops albicollis)
This is a medium sized (19-21cm), migratory, gregarious (social) bird most often seen and heard as they flock and perch in groups. They are mainly green in color, but their faces and throat are white with a black crown, eye stripe, and neckband. The under side of the bird are pale green turning towards a blue on the breast. The eye is red and the beak is black.
These bee-eaters nest in 1 – 2 meter long tunnels dug into the hard-packed banks of rivers or cliffs. They migrate from arid, central Africa following the rains and the huge nutrient boost of hatching insects these rains cause.
Bee eaters are specialists in catching flying insects out of the air. Like many birds they have an eye that is large in relation to their head meaning the receptors in the eyes are located very close to the brain. This makes the speed of reactions to visual information (like a bee flying by) almost instantaneous.
Hardeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash)
This bird gets it name from its very loud and distinctive wake-up call "haa-haa-de-dah". They are a large bird (about 40 cm long) with mainly grey to brown coloration, a long curved bill and a narrow, white stripe across its cheeks. When seen in good light these birds have an iridescent purple sheen over their wings.
Hardedas eat earthworms, slugs, snails, millipedes, grubs, lizards and insects which they can feel and extract from holes, cracks and soft ground using their specialized thin, curved bill.
African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
This is a beautiful, large eagle with a brownish-orange back and a snow-white head, tail, chest and belly. The curved bill and feet are yellow with the latter ending in large claws which, combined with special rough soles under the feet (called spiricules) help to grab and hold on to slipper fish which is the fish eagles main diet.
Habitat-wise these eagles are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa wherever large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply occur.
Like in many raptors the females fish eagle is larger than the male and can have wingspans of up to 2.4 m (7.9 ft).
Though this species of eagle mainly eats fish it is also very adaptable taking a wider variety of prey such as ducks, guniea fowl, flamingos and even small mammals.
The fish eagle has a very well known, three-noted descending call which is said by some to be evocative of the spirit of Africa.
Lizards, Gheckos and Skinks
Nile and Savanah Monitor Lizards (Varanus niloticus)
Monitor lizards can grow to about 120 to 220 cm (3 ft 11 in to 7 ft 3 in) in length. The Nile monitor is more striking coloration than it’s savannah cousin though there is quite a lot of variation among individuals. Generally Nile monitors are greyish-brown on top with greenish-yellow barring on the tail and large, greenish-yellow patterns on their backs with a blackish tiny spot in the middle. The throat, chest and belly are an ochre-yellow to a creamy-yellow, often with faint barring.
Monitors have sharp regular-sized teeth and large claws which the use for digging, defense, climbing or tearing at their prey. Like all monitor lizards the Nile monitor has a long forked tongue which it uses to ‘taste’ by catching scent in the air or wind before withdrawing the tongue into the mouth and to the highly developed olfactory scent organ which then sends neural messages to the brain identifying the smell.
Nile monitors are highly aquatic feeding on fish, frogs, crocodiles eggs, snails, snakes, birds, insects, carrion and small mammals.
Greater plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus major)
The greater plated lizard is, as its name suggests, a large, scaled lizard. They live in termite mounds and rocky crevices throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
These lizards are most similar to the monitor lizards but this similarity is only due to their size (up to 3 feet long). Color-wise these plated lizards are greyish-brown with square scales or ‘plates’. These scales are keeled with yellow spots. Their bellies are dark brown; they have large eyes (a primary sense with their taste) and a long tail which can be used in defense. Males often have bright colored throats.
Plated lizards are omnivorous, eating a variety of plants parts but, like skinks and geckos, plated lizards also eat insects, spiders, millipedes, slugs, snails and other vertebrates like lizards and even snakes. They are important in this ecosystem for controlling populations.
Blue headed tree Agama Lizard (Acanthocercus Atricollis)
This is a medium sized lizard often found basking in the sun on tree branches or stumps. The male can reach a length of 12 – 15 centimeters (5-6 In).
When he has had time to warm up the male agama’s coloration strengthens until his head is a vivid blue, once this happens territorial males will then stand on high points in his territory doing ‘press-ups’ in which the bright head is moved up and down so attracting the attention of interested females and also claiming his area. Females are more naturally colored which helps not to attract unwanted attention from predators.
These lizards are primarily arboreal but they are seen on the ground regularly as they move from point to point in an aggressively defended territory. Unlike the males the females are more naturally colored and they tend to only be about half the size of the male.
Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)
Like most lizards around Nomad, these small, lightly colored geckos are non-venomous and harmless to humans however a medium or large ghecko may bite if captured though this bite may not even break the skin.
House gheckos are nocturnal, leaving their secure hiding places after dark to hunt insects. They are especially easy to see around lights in and around houses where they ambush moths, spiders, ants and mosquitos.
Like many species of ghecko the common house ghecko will ‘shake-off’ its tail when threatened. This tail will then fall twitching, hopefully attracting a predator’s attention allowing the ghecko to run away. The tail will grow back over time.
House ghekos grow to a length of between 75–150 mm (3–6 in), and live for about 5 years.
White-headed dwarf gecko (Lygodactylus picturatus)
Yellow-headed dwarf gecko. (Lygodactylus luteopicturatus)
These two little geckos are, as their names imply, only a couple of inches long. (80mm). Unlike the common house gecko this little reptile is diurnal spending it’s time on rocks, tree trunks and branches where it hunts for ants and other small insects which are its primary diet.
In coloration these two dwarf geckos are easily told apart thanks to the color of their heads. The white-headed dwarf gecko has a black and white patterned head while the yellow-headed variety has a plain yellow head and a more uniformly grey body.
The yellow-headed variety is rare and has only been identified from southern Kenya, the Tanzanian coast and Zanzibar.
There are a number of different skinks found around the Nomad grounds. Skinks are in the order of scaled reptiles or Squamata. They differ from ‘true lizards’ due to the absence of a pronounced neck, their limbs are shorter (some species have almost no visible limbs) and their movement style is more like that of a snake that a lizard.
Skinks are found in a variety of habitats from terrestrial to arboreal. As a general rule the length of its claws can tell a skinks habitat, longer claws are found in more arboreal species.
Skinks are carnivorous and mainly insectivorous (good for keeping the bug population in balance) Their prey species include flies, mosquitos, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, caterpillars, worms, millipedes, snails, slugs and some species even eat small rodents.
All species of skink love to dig and burrow, they spend most of their time under ground where they are safe from predators.
When hunting skinks use their tongues to sniff the air or the ground so as to track their prey.
Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized reptile most well known for their, slow and swaying gait, their independently moving eyes, their long sticky insect-grabbing tongue and for their ability to change their skin color.
They are an ‘old-world’ lizard with ancestors dating back to the early Jurassic period. There are currently 202 known species worldwide.
The word ‘chameleon’ stems from ancient Greek and is translated as "lion of the ground.
How do Chameleons change color? Well, they have two layers of skin, the first layer is superficial, underneath this is a layer containing guanine crystals. Color is changed by changing the space between the guanine crystals, which changes the wavelength of light reflected off the crystals which changes the color of the skin. Chameleons will change color for camouflage reasons but most commonly in social signaling and in reactions to temperature and other conditions.
Chameleons have a long, sticky tongue which is folded back in the mouth. This tongue is ‘fired’ at prey that can be more than the chameleon’s length away, the sticky, clubbed end then sticks to the prey pulling it off its perch and into the waiting mouth of the chameleon.
Most species, mainly the larger ones, also have a prehensile tail that is used to help it move through trees and bush.
Sadly, in many parts of Africa chameleons have bad reputations as people have associated them with which craft or believe them (falsely) to be poisonous.
Though they are almost impossible to spot, there are a few different species of snake in the Nomad coastal forest. Snakes are very wary of humans for good reason and as a result they are very quick to move away if they see or sense us. Sadly an innate fear of snakes and our lack of understanding about them has caused humans to assume that ‘a good snake is a dead snake’. It is thinking like this that has caused far reaching implications in a wild habitat that relies on a balance existing between its various parts.
Spotted bush snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus)
A very beautiful, non-venomous, slender green snake with black spots and a large eye in relation to its body. The spotted bush-snake is a frog, gheko and lizard hunting specialist. They are very good climbers and swimmers; they have good eyesight, and are fast, highly alert snakes. They are not territorial, and will roam great distances in search for food. Spotted bush snakes are very common and completely harmless.
Green snake (Philothamnu sps)
Another very shy snake, the green snake is broken up into a number of subspecies none of which are poisonous. Having a smaller eye, larger head and no spots this snake can be differentiated from the spotted bush snake. Green snakes like to live in thick bush; they eat mainly insects preferring crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, snails, slugs, and sometimes amphibians.
Centipede eater (Aparallactus turnerii)
The ‘Malindi’ subspecies of centipede eater is only found on the Kenyan coast. It is an easily identifiable a small snake with a reddish body with black on the top of it’s head. As it’s name implies this little snake (mazimum length of 40 cm) eats centipedes. It is mildly venomous to the millipedes but it is not aggressive towards humans and it’s mouth is too small to be able to bite.
There are many different types of frogs around the Nomad grounds, all of these (unless they find permanent fresh water) will aestivate during the dryer months waking up during the rains to eat and mate. Some of these frogs are terrestrial spending their time on the ground buried in the leaf litter. Others are arboreal and living in the trees, these are called ‘tree frogs’. Sometimes their calls can be heard from the forest canopy overhead. Other types of frogs to look out for are the amazing variably colored ‘reed frogs’ as well as the huge jumping, pointed faced ‘rocket frogs’.
For most people it is difficult to tell the difference between a frog and a toad though the differences are actually quite clear if one takes time to observe. Frogs have a smooth skin while toads have a much rougher, bumpy skin with lumps on it. Frogs have long rear legs which are very good for jumping while toads have short stocky hoppy legs, not so good for jumping large distances. Some toads, like the guttural toad above is easily identifiable from it’s repetitive croaking call which can often continue all night. It is a common misconception that touching a toad will give one warts but it is advisable to wash ones hands after touching a toad or a frog as some have mild toxins they can secrete through their skin when they are threatened or attacked.
Very few studies have been done on the butterflies of the Diani coastal forests and even less information has been made available. It is our hope to work alongside other organizations in the area to build a butterfly list. If you have any photos of butterflies taken in Diani or you have information on species found here please let us know.
This is a broad family of butterflies with over 500 known subspecies. They are taxonomically grouped together due to their similarities in size, wing shape (with tails), and basic patterning as well as some similarities in the morphology in their larvae stages.
Citrus swallow-tail (Papilio demodocus)
This butterfly is one of the most readily seen during the rains and one of the most beautiful. It is yellow and black spotted on its wings with a ‘false eye’ with some red on the lower wing. It is believe that this false eye found on many butterflies and moths is a form of ‘mimicry’ which helps to scare of predators by confusing them that their prey is larger and facing them.
Other anti-predatory behavior found in the caterpillars of the swallow-tailed butterfly family is the presence of an osmeterial organ. This organ, looking like a snakes forked tongue, remains inside the body in the thoracic region of the caterpillar until a threat is perceived. When extended this organ releases a foul smelling, toxic, disagreeable odor which helps to repel ants, spiders and mantids.
Citrus swallow-tails got their name from their preference of laying their eggs on citrus leaves or plants with some citrine.
The immature larvae or caterpillars resemble bird droppings in their early phase, this mimicry is known as camouflage coloration.
Blue-banded swallowtail (Papilio nireus)
Green-banded swallowtail (Papilio phorcas, s.sps tenuifasciatus)
Unlike the citrus swallowtail there is no yellow on the wings of these varieties. The wing shape itself tends to be sharper towards the front edge; the coloration varies from black and bluish in the most common subspecies found in the Nomad coastal forest to black and greenish. Within these subspecies the varying width of the color bands can separate these subspecies further.
Gold-banded forester (Euphaedra neophron, s.sps littoralis)
This is an easily identified butterfly that thrives in the forests around Nomad. It is mainly purple on the top-sides of the wings with a gold band across the tops of the upper wings. These foresters fly slowly through the lower forest where they land on the ground for a few seconds at a time opening their wings to the warmth of the light and one another in communication.
Cabbage butterfly (Pieris brassicae)
This is one of the more common butterflies around the world both in the tropics and the latitudes. The greater family of ‘whites’ and ‘yellows’ is large with the cabbage butterfly being a common name for just one in the family. All butterfly’s in this family are quite easily identified thanks to their names stemming from their coloration. Eg, the Orange tipped white, or the red tipped white.
Gaudy Commodore (Precis octavia sesamus)
One of the most regularly seen butterflies around Nomad is the orange gaudy commodore. These butterflies are quite low ground, fast ‘flappers’ and they tend to congregate around flowering bushes or their favorite laying plant species.
There are many types of moths found around the Nomad forest and grounds though, like the butterfly’s, more extensive studies need to be done so that a detailed species list can be written up.
Emperor moths (Saturniidae spcs)
One of the most distinctive moths found seasonally around Nomad are from the Emperor moth family or Saturniidae. These large moths can reach over 10 centimeters in their wingspans, they have a large ‘eye spot’ on their lower wing as a mimicry assisting in anti-predation.
Emperor moths are the adult phase of the silk moth family, the same family as their cousin the silkworm from Korea, Japan and China.
Hawk moths (Sphingidae spcs)
This is another broad order of moths with over 1400 identified subspecies.
The back turned, hawk-like shape of their wings, can easily identify these moths. They are fast flying and are often found around artificial lights at night especially during the rainy season.
Their ability to hover while sipping flower nectar (using their long, unrolled proboscis) and their unique ability to move sideways in the air without turning their bodies (swing-hovering) has interested aerodynamic engineers who are looking for ways to somehow replicating this ability.
Hawk moths, like many other flying nectar-drinking insects are very important pollinators of flowers, some flowers are specially designed so that the nectar is only available to hawk moths. Imagine what would happen if hawk moths were all removed?
Mantids are a very large order of insects (Mantodea) with over 2400 known subspecies in 15 families. Mantises are easily identified with their triangular heads and bulging eyes supported on flexible necks. Their long bodies may or may not have wings, but all Mantodea have enlarged forelegs that are adapted for catching and gripping prey; their upright posture, while remaining stationary with their forearms folded, has led to their common name of praying mantis.
Mantises are primarily nocturnal; they use their sharp eyesight as their primary sense for locating and pinpointing their prey of small insects before an ambush hunt using speed and their spiny, grabbing fore-legs.
Giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas)
One of the most common terrestrial invertebrates found around Diani especially during the rains when they are most active. They are often referred to by their common, bantu rooted name ‘Shongololo’.
This is one of the largest millipedes in the world, growing up to 38.5 centimeters (15.2 in) in length and 67 millimeters (2.6 in) in circumference. This coastal variety has approximately 256 legs although this can vary.
These millipedes are not dangerous to humans although it is not advisable to touch them as; one of their defensive mechanisms (along with rolling into a ball) is to secrete an irritating liquid from pores on their body. This secretion is acidic and can be harmful if introduced into the eyes or mouth.
Millipedes eat decomposing plant matter and they are a very important source of food for many of the other animals in the Nomad forest.
There are far too many beetles around Nomad for all of these to be listed here with information but here are a couple of more well known beetles that can be found if one is lucky enough.
Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae family)
The Dynastinae family is a subfamily of the scarab beetle family. There are over 300 known species of rhino beetle and over 5000 beetles in the scarab family.
This family is among the largest of all beetles with some reaching more than 150 mm (6 in) in length. It is believed that some species have the capability of lifting over 800 times their own weight.
This beetle got its common name from the characteristic horn/s that the male beetle has on its head and thorax. These horns are used in fighting other males during mating season, and for digging.
The larvae or grubs of the rhino beetle eat into dying trees before metamorphosing into the adult beetle when they reach an optimum size. Adults eat plant and fruit sap and flower nectar.
These beetles are completely harmless to humans as they cannot bite or sting.
Dung beetles (Scarabaeonidae spcs)
This subfamily has been divided into four different types of dung beetle depending on their behaviors. There are the ‘rollers’ who are the most well known as they make balls of dung (sometimes over 50 times their own weight) which they roll off to a location where it is buried and eaten or it is buried with eggs which then hatch and the larvae eat the dung ball. Secondly there are the ‘tunnelers’ who will collect and bury the dung wherever it is they find it. The third group are the ‘dwellers’ who just live in and eat the dung. The final type of dung beetle are by far the laziest, they are the ‘stealers’ and as their name implies they don’t want to work for their dung, rather they just want to steal it off another hardworking dung beetle.
Dung beetles are considered to be very important in any ecosystem as they keep the soil fertile by burying dung (manure), making tunnels which break up and aerate the soil and they clean up the surface meaning grass and plants can find their way to light easier.
Dung beetles have a very keen sense of smell. When looking for dung these beetles will fly back and forth across the wind currents until they pick up the smell of fresh dung, once scented they follow this smell to the source.
Arachnids are a class of invertebrate (without a vertebrae) arthropod that have eight jointed legs. There are six ‘subphylums’ in the Arachnid class, all of these have eight legs. Spiders (Chelicerata) make up the most in numbers and bulk, the others are scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen and solifuges.
Sadly, like snakes many people fear spiders though, like with snakes, this may be more due to a fear of the unknown. Spiders are a completely natural control method for other insects whose numbers would get out of control without a family of specialized predators.
FACT- More than 43,000 different species of spiders are found in the world. Of these, only a small number are said to be dangerous, and less than 30 (less than one-tenth of one percent) have been responsible for human deaths.
(Online Encyclopedia Brittanica)
Orb web spiders
These orb-web spiders are the most easily seen and recognized. When one sees a spiral shaped web or a classic web between trees or bushes these are built by one of many orb-web spiders.
Golden silk orb weaving spiders (Nephila Genus)
Nephila spiders are well known for their beautiful and often large golden silk webs. They are quite common and widespread around Nomad especially during the rains though often quite hard to spot unless one knows where to look.
This genus is quite large with many varieties of species and subspecies. Like many species of their superfamily these golden web spiders have striped legs specialized for weaving their orb webs. This specialization is due to their leg tips point inward, rather than outward as is the case with many wandering spiders.
Unlike some spiders the golden silk orb weaver remains on it’s large web making it easy prey for any insectivorous bird. To remedy this the spider has different layers of web on either side of the ‘entrapment’ web. These layers help to protect the spider from flying predators.
Due to its incredible compressive strength studies have been done using the golden silk weaver’s web. Under direct pressure the silk from one of these spiders is considered harder than steel.
Long-winged kite spider (Gasteracantha versicolor)
These spiders are also ‘orb web weavers’. They are easily identifiable due to their often-bright coloration and in the case of the females, prominent spines on their backs. Though the coloration does vary among the subspecies they all have in common broad, hardened shells found on their backs. Shells can be white, orange, or yellow with red markings. Females have six little spines ringing their shell; these are usually red or orange, two of these are usually longer and slightly curved. The male is usually smaller and has four spines that are darker with no red.
IN THE OCEAN
· MARINE MAMMALS
Worldwide there are five groups of marine mammals: pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, fur seals, and walruses), cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), sea otters, sirenians (dugongs and manatees), and polar bears.
Unless one is very lucky only the cetaceans can be seen of the Kenyan coast. The only sirenian to be found down the East African coast (the Dugong) is incredibly rare and listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.
Dolphins are a widely spread group of aquatic mammals, they have a common ancestor who was terrestrial and only semi aquatic, it is widely believed that they share this common ancestor with hippopotamuses but these two lineages diverged about 40 million years ago.
Dolphins are very intelligent species, they are well known for their considerable communication skills including their ability to search for prey by using echolocation (like bats). They give off clicking sounds and then listen for the returning echoes that will then help the dolphin to determine the location and shape of nearby items, including potential prey.
Dolphins also use body language (jumping, body displays and tail-slapping) and sounds for communication; they emit these sounds from their blowholes as well as nasal sacs below the blowhole. So as to help pick up tiny sonar or communication vibrations in the water, dolphin’s heads contain an oily substance that acts as an amplifier (similar to that in elephants).
Dolphins feed largely on fish and squid, but a few, like the killer whale, feed on large mammals, like seals.
Humped backed dolphin (Sousa plumbea)
These dolphins are characterized by the pronounced humps and long dorsal fins found on the backs of adults of the species. They are usually found close to shore. The pectoral fins of this species are small and the tail flukes have a well-defined notch between the two sides. Each jaw contains from 60 to 68 small coned-shaped teeth. In coloration the humpback dolphin has dark gray flanks with lighter grey stomachs. Adults can reach 2.6 meters in length (8.6 ft) and they can weigh upto 139 kg (306 lb).
Bottle nosed dolphin (Tursiops truncates)
This is the largest species of beaked (nosed) dolphin. They live in pods averaging around 15 individuals but over 100 have been recorded during special feeding events. These dolphins inhabit all warm oceans in the world absent only from polar waters. Color-wise this dolphin is grey. It can reach sizes of up to 4 meters (13 ft) in length with the largest male recorded being weighed in at 650 kg (1,430 lb).
Bottle-nosed dolphins can live for up to 50 years and, like other cetaceans, they breathe through a blowhole on the tops of their heads.
One of the main differences between bottle-nosed dolphins and other dolphins is that their necks are more flexible than other dolphins’ due to five of their seven vertebrae not being fused together as is seen in other dolphin species.
Bottle-nosed diets consist mainly of eels, squid, shrimp and fishes.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Humpbacked whales are one of the most widespread whale species in the world inhabiting all major oceans.
As one of the larger species, adults vary in length from 12–16 m (39–52 ft) and weigh about 36,000 kg (79,000 lb).
These whales can be easily identified due to their humped back, their elongated pectoral fins and the black dorsal coloring on their stocky body. Other characteristics of this species are the ‘tubercles’ or hair follicles that cover the head and lower jaw and the wavy trailing edge on the tail which is often clear of the water when they dive.
Male humpbacks produce a complex whale-song that can last as long as 20 minutes, they will often repeat this song for hours as they search for mates.
Humpback whales migrate up to 25,000 km (16,000 mi) each year. They feed on krill and small fish in the polar waters before heading into the tropical and sub-tropical waters to breed and give birth. During this time these whales will fast, living off their fat reserves.
Humpbacks have a diverse repertoire of feeding methods, including the ‘bubble net technique’ in which the whale will swim under a shoal of small fish blowing bubbles in a circle around them keeping them constricted, after this it will swim up through the center of the ‘bubble-net’ towards the surface taking the densely packed bait ball into their mouths where the baleen bristles (like a huge comb) remove the fish or in other cases krill. (shrimps)
Humpbacks are one of three species of ‘baleen whale’. These are whales which use hair-like, keratin bristles inside their jaws to filter their food out of the water which is then expelled while the food is swallowed.
Humpbacks have been documented and filmed protecting smaller species from attacks from killer whales.
· MARINE REPTILES
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
These sea turtles are a widespread species across all the tropical and sub-tropical oceans of the world. They inhabit a wide range of habitats, from the open ocean to lagoons and even mangrove swamps and estuaries.
They are a medium sized turtle with large paddle-like flippers, a lightly colored, flattened body and a ‘tear-dropped’ shaped carapace (shell). Males can be identified from the females by their longer tails and claws on their front flippers.
Unlike other members of the sea turtle family adults of this species are almost entirely vegetarian, feeding off the sea grasses which it prunes with its bill. Juvenile green turtles are carnivorous becoming more omnivorous as they mature finally becoming vegetarian as they reach maturity. The lower nutrient diet of green turtles is said to explain why they tend to grow more slowly than other sea turtles.
Like other sea turtles, green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. When looking to lay their eggs, females crawl onto beaches at night, here they dig and lay their eggs which can number over 150. After around two months hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water to fend for themselves.
Green turtles can live to 80 years in the wild; they are listed as endangered by the IUCN and CITIES.
Green turtles play an essential role in the ecosystems in which they live. When these turtles eat the sea grasses, only the tops of the leaves are taken leaving the plant and root intact. This sustainable feeding technique helps to improve the health and growth of the sea grass beds which in turn then create food, shelter and habitat for many species of fish and crustaceans so boosting the biodiversity in these areas.
Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
The hawksbill sea turtle can be found all over the world but sadly it is rare and critically endangered.
It is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak, the large ‘scutes’ (shell plates) and the rough edges along the sides of its shell, especially at the trailing edge. Their forelimbs have two visible claws on each flipper
Adult hawksbill sea turtles typically grow to 1 m (3 ft) in length and weigh around 80 kg (180 lb). They mainly feed on sponges found on coral reefs but they are also known to eat crustaceans, algae, and fish.
Recent studies have found that hawksbill sea turtles have a unique ability called biofluresence which is the absorption of visible light into the skin and the release of these light waves at different wave lengths (and color).
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
The leatherback is the largest of all living turtles. The average size of an adults is 384 kg (847 lb) in weight and 1.55 m (5.1 ft) in length. It is easily distinguishable from other sea turtles due to its leathery skinned back instead of the shell with scutes (plates) like other sea turtles. Another easily recognizable difference is the huge size of the flippers in relation to the body. Front flippers have been known to grow up to 2.7 meters long (8.9 ft).
Instead of teeth, the leatherback turtle has points on the edges of its upper lip. These, combined with backwards pointing spines in its throat help to stop food from escaping when being swallowed. Adult leatherbacks subsist almost entirely on jellyfish though they do also eat other soft-bodied marine invertebrates.
Leatherback sea turtles have been recorded as diving as deep as 1.2 kilometers and they hold the world record for turtle swimming speed at 35.28 km/h.
Leatherbacks are considered endangered; one cause for their endangered state is plastic bags floating in the ocean. Leatherback sea turtles can easily mistake these plastic bags for jellyfish. An estimated one-third of adult leatherbacks have ingested plastic which then inhibits and blocks their digestions causing ill-health and eventually death.
· RAY-FINNED FISHES – Bony fish (Actinopterygii)
Other than eight species of ‘lobe-finned fishes’, rays, skates and sharks all other fish one may see off the Diani coastline are ‘ray-finned fishes’ which constitute the largest class of ‘bony fishes’ (Osteichthyes) with over 30,000 known species.
Ray-finned fishes were classified together due to the fact they all posses "fin rays" being webs of skin supported by bony or horny spines ("rays") as opposed to the fleshy, lobed fins that characterize the class of lobe finned fishes.
Saltwater angelfish are a small family of triangular-shaped, vibrantly colored, flattened, tropical reef-dwelling fish with a long, continuous dorsal fin and a small mouth.
They closely resemble their relatives, the butterfly fish with the only characteristic that distinguishes them apart being a small spine in front of the gill and below the eye in all angelfish.
Angelfish are hermaphrodites as females can switch sex when required. An example of this would be if the male is eaten or dies or is removed from the community, the dominant female of the small community would switch sexes. Hermaphrodites are quite common among reef fish. (Photo above of a Juvenile)
Butterfly fish (Chaetodontidae)
Butterfly fish are found around coral reefs in tropical and subtropical waters. They are well known for their bright colors and elaborate markings. Though similar to angelfish, butterfly fish tend to be smaller, have spots on their sides and dark bands around their eyes. The mouth of the butterfly fish is more pointed than the angelfish.
Butterfly fish feed primarily on plankton in the water though they also occasionally eat sea anemones, coral and small crustaceans.
Butterfly fish form mating pairs that they remain with for life.
Clown fish (Amphiprioninae)
Clown fish are a small species of fish that are found around tropical coral reefs. The most common species are orange and white though they can be found in many different colors and shapes. There are 28 recognized species.
Clown fish are well known for their immunity to the stings of the sea anemone and they were made famous by the popular animated children's film Finding Nemo.
Most clown fish are found either in or near-to sea anemones which the clown fishes inhabit both for protection but also due to the easy availability of food. (Other fish may avoid anemones). Clown fish usually live in groups that include the breeding male and female and a number of younger only male clown fish.
Clown fish are hermaphrodites, they are all born male and only develop female reproductive organs when needed.
African Lion fish (Pterois mombasae)
These fish are easily identified by their characteristic and conspicuous warning coloration running in red, white, creamy, or black bands. They have very visible pectoral fins and long, spikey venomous ‘fin rays’.
Most often these ornately colored fish are found along corral reefs where they prey on invertebrates and small fishes. Lionfish are skilled hunters, they have specialized bilateral swim bladder muscles that allow them to have perfect control of their location in the water. This allows the fish to alter its center of gravity to better attack prey. Lionfish will sometimes blow jets of water while approaching prey, apparently to disorient them
The venom from the lionfish, although rarely fatal for humans, can cause extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, headache, numbness, diarrhea and sweating. Rarely, stings can cause temporary paralysis of the limbs, heart failure and even death.
Lionfish are not aggressive towards swimmers. Most accidents happen to fishermen, who happen to catch them in nets.
Sizes range from 5 to 45 cm (2.0 to 17.7 in) in length.
Yellow boxfish (Ostraciidae)
The yellow boxfish is just one species in the boxfish family, all are quite variable and found in all tropical oceans. As the name suggests, it is box-shaped. When juvenile, boxfish are often rounder and brighter yellow in color. This color then fades as the fish ages until older specimens have a blue-grey coloration. Yellow boxfish can reach 45 centimeters (17.7 in) in length.
The main diet of these fish is algae, but they will also feed on sponges, crustaceans and molluscs.
When stressed or injured the yellow boxfish secretes a poisonous protein from its skin. This poison can prove lethal to any fish in the surrounding waters. The bright yellow color and black spots are a form of warning coloration to any potential predators. This warning coloration is called aposmatism.
Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus)
This beautiful fish is the sole living remnant of its family and a common inhabitant of tropical to subtropical reefs and lagoons.
It is believed it got its name due to an ancient Moorish believe that this fish would bring happiness if possessed.
Moorish idols are very distinctive with their compressed, disk-like bodies, contrasting bands of black, white, and yellow and their dorsal fin, whose six or seven spines are elongated to form a trailing, sickle shaped banner or streamer.
Like butterfly fish the idol as a pointed mouth but the black, triangular anal fin in the idol will tell them apart.
These aptly named fish are usually between 35 to 50 centimeters long (14 to 20 in) in length. Their body’s are covered with encrusted brown or grey skin, with red, orange and/or yellow patches. It is this texturing and coloration that allows stonefish to easily blend with their environment looking like a stone or piece of reef.
The dorsal fin of a stonefish is modified into 13 spines. These spines are erected whenever the fish feels threatened. They also have 2 pelvic and 3 anal spines.
When pressure is placed upon a spine potent neurotoxic venom is released. This venom is produced in the gland located in the base of each spine.
Stonefish stings are both potentially lethal and extremely painful. Symptoms of a sting include a whitening of the skin and severe pain at the sting site. A sting can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, delirium, fainting, fever, headaches, muscle twitching, seizures, paralysis and in the worst cases, death.
Recommended treatments include the application of heat (water/heat pack) to the affected area for 90 minutes (hot without burning the skin) and anti-venom. Hot water has been found to denature the enzymes in stonefish venom and minimizes discomfort to the victim.
Stonefish are carnivorous, preying on various types of fish and shrimps. They hunt by using their camouflage to enable them the advantage of a surprise attack in which they ambush prey and swallow it in the blink of an eye. Attacks have been timed at 0.015 seconds start to finish.
Unlike other species of fish, stonefish are able to survive up to 24 hours outside of the water.
In reproduction, fertilization takes place in the water when the female releases huge number of eggs that will be sprayed with male's sperm.
Stonefish live from between 5 to 10 years lifespan in the wild.
There are 95 species of parrotfish found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide with the majority of these species being herbivores and reaching 30–50 cm (12–20 in) in length.
Their habitats include coral reefs, rocky coasts, and sea grass beds.
Due to their specialized jaw muscles, mouth structure (armored) and their extra pharyngeal teeth found in their throats parrotfish play a significant role in bioerosion, which is the erosion of marine substrates like corals into fine sand.
Parrotfish have fused teeth which grow continuously, replacing material worn away by feeding. Their pharyngeal teeth help to further grind up the coral and coralline algae.
In some areas parrotfish are important consumers of sponges. An indirect effect of this is the protection of reef-building corals that would otherwise be overgrown by fast growing sponge species. Their feeding activity is also important for the production and distribution of coral sands in the reef environment, and can prevent algal overgrowth of the reef structure.
Snowflake Moray eel (Echidna nebulosa)
There are over 200 species of Moray eel worldwide; most of them live in the ocean or in slightly brackish water. The name moray has stemmed from the greek word muraina which translates as ‘a kind of eel’. Despite this the moray eel is actually one of the families that come under the ‘ray-finned fishes’.
The snowflake moray is one of the most commonly seen in the Diani waters. It is a widespread species in all tropical oceans where it spends its time in crevices and holes in corrals from around 2 meters up to 30 meters deep. (7–100ft).
Snowflake morays have a white or silvery-grey body with black and yellow botches which resemble snowflakes. They have yellow eyes and yellow patterning on their heads.
Like most morays they are a ferocious carnivore, their diet consists of krill, shrimp, octopus, squid and small fish. They hunting tactics are to sit in caves and crevices with just their head poking out. When prey comes within reach they lunge out of the hole ambushing their unsuspecting victim. Like all moray eels, snowflake morays actual have two sets of jaws. The outer jaw grabs the prey and the second jaw (Pharyngeal jaw) shoots up into the main jaw, and drags the prey down the throat.
· CARTILAGINOUS FISHES – Lobe-finned fishes (Chondrichthyes)
These are fish with jaws and cartilaginous vertebrates and skeletons rather than bony like in the ‘bony fish’ class. They also have paired fins, nostrils and a heart with it’s chambers in series. (rays, skates, sharks, sawfish and ghost sharks)
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
Whale sharks are a large, slow-moving, filter-feeding, pattered shark and the largest known living fish species (12.65 m (41.5 ft) with a weight of about 21.5 t (47,000 lb). It is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon.
The whale shark is found in open waters of the tropical oceans and is rarely found in water below 22 °C (72 °F).
They feed almost exclusively on plankton that they filter out of the water they take in to their mouths before expelling through their gills. This is called filter-feeding. Despite this specialized diet there are records of whale sharks eating small fish, corral spawn, squid and crab larvae.
Whale sharks have five large pairs of gills. Their heads are wide and flat with two small eyes at the front. They are grey with a white belly and their skin is marked with pale yellow spots and stripes which are unique to each individual.
Females give birth to a number of live young which are around 40 to 60 cm (16 to 24 in) long. Evidence suggests that these pups are not all born at once; rather they are birthed at intervals. The species is considered endangered by the IUCN.
Blue spotted stingray (Taeniura lymma)
These beautiful rays are found in the intertidal zone up to around 30 meters. They are a widespread, tropical reef dwelling, small ray not exceeding 35 centimeters (14 in) in width.
They have a mostly smooth, oval, pectoral fin disk with large protruding eyes, and a relatively short and thick tail with a deep fin fold underneath.
The blue spotted stingray can be easily identified by its striking color pattern of many electric blue spots on a yellowish background, with a pair of blue stripes on the tail.
Generally blue spotted rays are nocturnal feeders, leaving secure refuges on reefs in the evenings to move into shallow tidal waters in order to feed on small fish and crustaceans in the sand. When prey is located, it is trapped by the body of the ray and maneuvered into the mouth with the disc.
These rays are not aggressive and will swim away when disturbed. Most reported stings from this ray have occurred in the shallows where swimmers are wading.
Symptoms of a sting include immediate, sharp, excruciating pain that peaks in 1-2 hours. The wound bleeds and becomes swollen, it may turn red or blue. The lymph nodes may become swollen, and other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, muscle cramps, tremors, paralysis, fainting, seizures, elevated heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and in the worst cases death may occur.
These rays have been classified as endangered due to a large drop in their numbers thanks to loss of habitat and over consumption.
· MARINE INVERTEBRATES
Nudibranchs are a group of soft-bodied, marine ‘slug’ which shed their shells after their larval stage. They are found in all tropical waters at all depths down to over 700 meters (2,700 ft) and are most well known for their incredible coloration and patterning. Nudibranchs are often mistaken for being ‘sea-slugs’ though they do not share a common family.
The name nudibranch is appropriate, since these marine invertebrates breathe through a "naked gill" which looks like branching plumes shaped like a rosette on their backs.
Nudibranchs vary in adult size from 0.4 to 60 centimeters (0.16 to 23.62 in) and other than two species (a pelagic swimmer and an upside-down floater) all other Nudibranchs are found ‘crawling’ along sea beds and corrals.
Some species of nudibrachs are known to produce toxins when threatened.
Red spine star or African red knob sea star (protoreaster lincki)
This commonly seen starfish is active in the daytime. It spends its time searching for prey species such as tubeworms, sea urchins, other starfish and clams which it will then consume using it’s mouth which is found on the underside of the starfish.
Starfish used to be more plentiful in the waters off Diani but sadly due to an uncontrolled curio industry and guests being unaware of the damages caused by buying these starfish they are becoming rarer.
The knock on affect of the removal of starfish from these reef systems is the over population of sea urchins which causes over consumption of the reefs which are the breeding ground for many of the fishes in the ocean..
Sea urchins (Echinoidea)
Worldwide there are around 950 species of echinoids inhabiting all oceans from the intertidal level to 5,000 meters (16,000 ft; 2,700 fathoms) deep.
Sea urchins have a shell, or "test" which is round and spiny, typically from 3 to 10 cm (1.2 to 3.9 in) across. Common colors include black and dull shades of green, olive, brown, purple, blue, and red.
Despite appearances sea urchins can move slowly by means of hundreds of tiny, transparent, adhesive ‘tube feet’ located on the underside near their mouths. These tube feet are moved though hydraulic pressure.
Sea urchins have spines ranging from around 1 to 30 cm (0.39 to 11.8 in) in length; these spines are only a couple of millimeters thick and sharp helping to protect the urchin from predators. These spines can inflict a painful wound if they penetrate human skin, but (other than some species) they are not themselves dangerous if fully removed quickly; if left in the skin however, painful infection can occur.
Sea urchins can be either male or female, differentiation these two is difficult but generally the males like ‘high ground’ which is good for releasing ‘milt’ (sperm) while females tend to like more protected and hidden locations.
Sea urchins possess five pairs of external gills located around their mouths, they feed mainly on algae but can also eat sea cucumbers, mussels, sponges and other invertebrates.
In areas where their predators are removed (starfish and fish) urchins devastate their environments, creating what biologists call an ‘urchin barren’ devoid of seaweeds, sponges and all the other species of life associated with these.
One of the more common sea urchins found off the coast of Diani is the ‘long-spined sea urchin’ (Diadema savignyi), this urchin can be distinguished by the iridescent green or blue lines visible on the upper part of the urchin around the anus.