Bushwise Field Guides

Nature guides always refer to the ‘Big 5’, the ‘Small 5’ and the ‘Secret 5’ during game drives, so why not add another ‘5’ to that list? The Lazy 5 perhaps? Often seen on game drive with the Bushwise students, I think we can all agree that they fit the description quite well!

Lazy Creature #1 – Giant African Land Snail (Lissachatina fulica)

Whenever we come across a snail on the move, we are automatically drawn to its very, slow tempo, and when they are not on the move, they hide inside their shells or dig themselves into the ground and aestivate – two behaviours that have earned them a place in this ‘5’.

Truly gigantic gastropods in comparison to our average garden snails, the Giant African Land Snail can reach up to 30cm in length but their maximum speed may reach only 30 meters or so p/h. Those lucky enough to have observed these nocturnal snails will have seen that they leave a trail of mucous on the ground as they move forward across the ground. They move by means of a muscular ‘foot’ and this mucous helps them to move with ease over the substrate and protect their softer and exposed part of their bodies. It also leaves a trail of pheromones that helps a mate to follow it for mating opportunities.

Being hermaphrodites is greatly advantageous to such slow-moving creatures, as both snails can be fertilised during this unilateral or bilateral mating. Around 200 eggs are laid in the clutch, which may take around 2 weeks to hatch with their tiny shells on their backs already and a life expectancy of 5-10 years. The Giant African Land Snail possesses a substance called archaran sulphate that may act as a possible anti-tumour agent.

Lazy Creature #2 – Leopard Tortoise (Sticgmochelys pardalis)

These intriguing reptiles are generally seen walking, walking very, very slowly. When approached, the Leopard Tortoise will retreat into its shell. Although they seem lazy, they can actually walk 10 times faster than a Land Snail covering up to 300 meters p/h.
The spots on their specialised and unique shell are likely responsible for the leopard in their name. The ribcage is fused into the shell and is thus located outside of the body of the animal. They are the largest tortoise in South Africa and can grow to about 45 cm. They are also the only South African tortoise that can swim. This is attributed to their large domed shell and their ability to raise their head above the water surface – due to the absence of a nuchal scute above their neck and head area – making them the only South African tortoise capable of swim. They have a vegetarian diet but are also sometimes seen to chew on bones(osteophagy) or eat hyena scat (coprophagy) in a bid to supplement their diet with nutrients which are lacking.

Males and females can be distinguished in a few different ways. An obvious way is how the male mounts the female when mating, but to be able to stay on top of such a domed structure, the underside of his shell is concave. His tail is also thicker and longer and has a v-shaped scute above his tail, while the female possesses a u-shaped scute. Not uncommon in the animal kingdom, females are generally larger than males.

Four to six weeks after mating, the female will dig a hole in the ground after first wetting it with stored water in an area called the bursa. She will lay 7-24 hard-shelled eggs in the hole of about 25 cm deep and close it up again. Due to very varied environmental conditions, the eggs will hatch after 8-15 months. The eggs that are closer to the surface are generally exposed to warmer temperatures and will produce females, while the deeper, and therefore cooler eggs will produce males. They can reach 75 years and more.

Lazy Creature #3 – Flap Neck Chameleon (Camaeleo dilepsis)

The Afrikaans name for this very fascinating reptile with its independent swirling and protruding eyes, describes this lazy creature’s movement to a tee. Trapsuutjies translates as treading very quietly and very slowly. It moves forward in a slow rocking back-and-forth motion. The ground lion (binomial name) can grow up to 35cm long.Aside from its lazy walking style, the flap neck chameleon is also renowned for its ability to change the colour of its skin. This incredible physical adaptation is made possible by cells called chromatophores of which there are three types:

● xanthophores, which contain yellow-red pigments;
● iridophores containing colourless stacks of crystals or platelets that reflect and scatter light to generate hues such as blues, white and ultra-violet
● melanophores, which contain black melanin pigment

While camouflage is often believed to be the main purpose of this stunning change, hormones, mood, temperature and breeding behaviour are what actually influence and cause a Flap Neck Chameleon to change its skin colour. Camouflage is however a secondary advantage of this change. But how does this colour change come about? In basic terms the brain controls which pigments to hide or display depending on the above-mentioned influences.

This reptile’s talents don’t stop there. Its extraordinarily long tongue shoots out at lightning speed to capture prey items such as grasshopper, with some experts estimating this speed at 1/300th of a second. The tongue may be longer than its body and the tip forms a type of “suction cup’ that attaches to the prey with the help of saliva and a vacuum forming action inside the suction cup.
They have a lifespan of 5-8 years and reach sexual maturity quite fast from only 9-12 months. Three to four months after mating for about 60 minutes, females lay eggs in a dugout in soft soil and lay 25-50 eggs. After closing the 15-25cm deep hole, she may be so exhausted that she can die. This egg laying process can take up to 2 days to complete.

Lazy Creature #4 – Nile Crocodile ( Crocodylus niloticus)

The binomial name basically translates as pebbles man or pebbles worm to some. This ancient-looking reptile’s demeanour has landed the Nile crocodile a place in this Lazy 5 ‘club’. To the naked eye it seems to do little else but bask in sun from sunrise to sunset. While this is true, there is in fact method to their ‘laziness’. Nile Crocodiles are ectothermicwhich means their bodies do not generate their own heat but get heat from their surrounding environment and from the sun. Those noticeable ‘pebbles’, which cover their skin, are termed osteoderms and are bony structures supplied with a network of blood-filled capillaries. The blood inside the osteoderms warms up and in turn heats up the crocodile’s entire body. It is believed that the black colouration inside their mouths on the gular flap also has a heat generation purpose. Their very tough skins were used as popular armour for soldiers in historical times of Rome.

Although they seem very lazy and slow, they can actually move quite fast, particularly inside water. They can swim faster than a man can run but on land can only produce short bursts of speed up to around 15 km/hr.
Their fast reactions inside the water are perfect for catching their prey while laying an ambush inside the water. Once they get a hold of prey, their approximately 60 very sharp, strong teeth bite and clamp down at an incredible force of up to 5000 PSI – more than that of a spotted hyena.

They can grow to exceed 5 meters but due to human hunting influences those sizes are very rare nowadays. We can expect to see 3-4-meter-long Nile Crocodiles in the wild. Crocodiles are not alligators although they are in the same Order – Crocodilia. Crocodiles are in the Family Crocodylidea while alligators are in the Family: Alligatoridae.
When it comes to their breeding times the crocodile cow will lay 25 – 80 eggs in a hole that she dug out in the sandbank above the flood line. This will happen about 1-2 months after she mated with the bull and the eggs will hatch more or less 3 months after being laid but only 1 or 2 of the whole clutches will reach sexual maturity at 12-15 years.
Nile crocodiles can reach more than 60 years of age.

Lazy Creature #5 –  Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious)

Driving past water bodies in game reserves, we usually come across a bloat of hippos that seems to float lazily in the water. Their fat and lazy appearance may be one of the reasons many humans are caught off guard and are tragically killed by hippos, which can actually run at 37 km/hr.

This also occurs when hippos leave the water after dark to graze and return to the water before dawn. They happen upon people walking on the hippo or game paths to collect water.

The hippo’s binomial name, which translated as ‘river horse that lives in water and on land’, was prompted by its typical behaviour of staying in water during the day and feeding on land after dark.

This strategy of remaining inside the water during the heat of the day has nothing to do with laziness but is actually a very ingenious way for them to conserve energy and reduce competition. They do not have to contend with the same heat during the day that other herbivores have to deal with and when they go out at night the grass that they feed on may contain up to 30% more moisture. Furthermore, many diurnal grazers will now be resting or have reduced feeding patterns during the night, therefore less competition for grazing at night.

Because they have a very efficient way of reducing their energy needs by their amphibious ways, they actually eat much less than other herbivores of similar size. A square lip rhino will graze 60 – 80 kgs of grass per day while the hippo only needs around 20-40 kgs. This means that hippos need to graze about 1.5% of their body weight compared to other herbivores that need 3.5 – 6% of their body weight to sustain themselves. Hippos also have a 3-chambered stomach and very long intestines, thus resulting in a long and efficient digestive system, which helps them to maximise the nutrients inside the grass.


Although very well-adapted to life inside the water and closely related to whales, hippos can’t actually swim. They will stay in shallows so they are able to run or walk on the bottom and come up for air every 5 minutes or so. Astonishingly they are the only land mammal to mate and give birth inside water. Hippos can reach 39-40 years in the wild.

These creatures are lazy to the naked eye, very lazy in fact, but does an inability to perform better qualify as ‘lazy’? Would they, if they could?

Blog by Gerhard van Niekerk