Amphibians and Reptiles

Latest observations of Amphibians and Reptiles

The word "herps" is affectionately used to mean the combination of amphibians and reptiles together, and - more formally - their study is known as herpetology.


The Reptile diversity of southern Africa comprises 500 species (578 taxa, including subspecies) in 116 genera and 23 families, but it is estimated at over 600 species. Of this almost 80% are endemic. These comprise the following groups:

  • Snakes with 151 species, including 15 Cobras, 15 Adders;
  • Geckos: 111 species, mainly in the arid western areas. Some lineages appear to be ancient;
  • Skinks: 74 species, including many legless species;
  • Cordylids: 53 species, with 86% endemic;
  • Lacertids: 37 species;
  • Terrestrial Terrapins and Tortoises with 23 species. Tortoises amount to a whopping 33.3% of the world’s 42 living species;
  • Chameleons, 19 species, with 95% endemic;
  • Wormlizards (Amphisbaenians) 17 species (the richest area in Africa);
  • Plated Lizards, 13 species;
  • Agamas: 12 species; and,
  • Two Monitors and the Nile Crocodile.

Reptiles occur throughout the region:

  • The two forest biomes (Afrotemperate Forest and Eastern Lowland Forest) contain few reptile species, although endemism is high in places.
  • The Savanna Biome, or Bushveld, supports a rich reptile fauna with high endemism, but this is partly because the biome is so extensive. Most have extensive ranges, and few are threatened.
  • The Grassland Biome has medium richness and low endemism of reptiles.
  • The Nama Karoo Biome has low richness and low endemicity.
  • The Albany Thicket Biome has low richness and low endemicity.
  • The Fynbos Biome has medium richness of species, but with many vey localized species, many of which are on the threatened IUCN Red List.
  • The Succulent Karoo Biome has a high richness and high endemicity of reptiles, especially many rock-living species. Many threatened IUCN Red List species occur here.
  • The Namib Desert has low richness of species, but high endemism, because desert reptiles tend to specialize in this habitat. Very few are threatened, and those that are are due to stripmining for diamonds.
  • Marine reptiles include the Yellowbellied Seasnake, and five species of Turtle (Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley).


Some 157 species of frogs occur in southern Africa. The Eurocentric “Frog” and “Toad” are meaningless in the region, which comprises the following families:
  • Afrocommon Frogs: 47 species, with the Microfrog that will fit on your thumbnail, and the Giant Bullfrog weighing over 1kg;
  • Reed Frogs: 25 species;
  • Afrotoads: 24 species, recognizably similar to European “Toads”;
  • Rain Frogs: 15 species. These do not need water to lay their eggs, laying them in nests in the soil;
  • Grass Frogs: 12 species;
  • Tree Frogs: 10 species;
  • Platannas: 4 species. These live permanently in water;
  • Eurocommon Frogs: 2 species, “the Frog”; and,
  • Foamnest Frogs: 1 species;

Amphibians occur throughout the region, but are not as tied to the classical vegetation biomes as much as to wetland types. Those species relying on wetlands have an aquatic tadpole larval stage. Toads tend to not require water except for breeding and Rain Frogs lay their eggs in nests independently of water, with the tadpoles developing within the eggs to hatch as froglets.


Identification is usually based on appearance, including colour, shape and size, and type of movement. The animals' habitat and behaviour can provide additional clues, and a few of the amphibians produce characteristic sounds.

Photography for identification

Most reptiles are wary of humans, so it can be difficult to get near to them for photography. Frogs and toads are easier to observe, but tadpoles are a challenge to identify: the teethrows on the underside of the head around the jaws are essential for this.

Try to get photos from more than one angle if you can, and give an indication of size and habitat.

Useful links to UK sites: southern African sites coming soon.

Amphibians and Reptiles group links

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