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Animal and Plant Systematics

Animal and Plant Systematics

Study of  Reptiles & Amphibians | Plants


News

Postdoctoral Fellow appointed

Madeleen Struwig

23 January 2017
Dr Madeleen Struwig joined the Botany Department in January 2017 as a Postdoctoral Fellow for two years.  She will be conducting a taxonomic revision on two genera within the Aizoaceae, commonly known as the “vygie” family.  The Aizoaceae is a large family of succulent plants that are mainly distributed in the winter rainfall area of southern Africa.  The genera on which she will be working are however, distributed within central South Africa.  She will also be part of the team that will do a survey on the use of medicinal plants by the people of the Ghaap plateau and the Riemvasmaak area.

Previous work of Dr Struwig included a taxonomic revision on Boerhavia and Commicarpus (Nyctaginaceae) in southern Africa, the taxonomy of the southern African Menispermaceae and the pollen morphology of Prototulbaghia.

Staff

Specialist Scientist and Head of Department

Michael F. Bates PhD herp@nasmus.co.za

Mike-BatesMike started working at the Museum in 1983 as a Research Assistant. He was awarded a National Diploma in Nature Conservation from Pretoria Technikon in 1984. He obtained an MSc in Environmental Biology with a thesis entitled "The herpetofauna of the Orange Free State - with special emphasis on biogeographical patterning" (1993, University of Natal, Durban) and a PhD in Zoology with a thesis titled “An analysis of the Pseudocordylus melanotus (A. Smith) complex (Sauria: Cordylidae)” (2007, University of Stellenbosch). Both the latter were completed while at the National Museum.

See Research and Publications for further detail.


Senior Museum Scientist

Dr Cora Sabriel Stobie PhD cora@nasmus.co.za

Dr Cora Sabriel Stobie is a Senior Museum Scientist in the Herpetology Department at the National Museum. She started workingat the Museum in May2019. Cora obtained her PhD degree (“Population genomics and phylogeography of South African Labeobarbus[Rüppel, 1835] species”) from the University of Pretoria in 2018.

She obtained her BSc and BSc Hons degreesat the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Cora has presented the results of her research at eight conferences locally and internationally.

Her interests and expertise are primarily in genetics theory and techniques. She has a passion for frogs and is currently involved in a project investigating the phylogeny ofcrag lizards (Pseudocordylus).


Collections Manager: Botany

Dr Oladayo Idris PhD oladayo.idris@nasmus.co.za

Dr Oladayo A. Idris has been appointed as Collections Manager for Botany in the Department of Animal and Plant Systematics. Oladayo has experience in plant collection, herbarium management, publication of articles, reviewing of manuscripts, lecturing of students, and has also functioned as an external examiner of postgraduate research studies. He has completed a BSc degree in Botany, MSc degree in Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Management, and PhD degree in Botany (Fort Hare University).

During his PhD studies he gained knowledge of plant systematics, molecular biology, ecology, medicinal plants, and pharmacology. His doctoral study focused on the documentation of indigenous South African medicinal plants used in the treatment of intestinal parasitic worms, as well as their pharmacological significance and environmental impact. For two years prior to his appointment at the Museum, Oladayo was engaged in a postdoctoral fellowship at North-West University in Potchefstroom, where his research established a compelling link between medicinal plants and their relevance for the control of food crop pests and diseases.

He is an active member of the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB), European Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and the American Society of Ethnobiology (SoE). Oladayo’s primary activity at the Museum will involve the management of the herbarium, including the digitisation of preserved plant specimens. He will also conduct botanical research projects.


Research Assistant

Agnes-PhindaneAgnes Phindane BSc agnes.phindane@nasmus.co.za

Agnes obtained her BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry at the University of the Free State. She was appointed as a Research Assistant in the Department of Herpetology in November 2008, after working for a year as an intern, funded by the national Department of Arts and Culture. Her duties include keeping the various databases (e.g. specimen collection, photographic image collection, literature reprint collection etc.) up to date as well as all aspects of curation.


General Assistant

Edgar Mohapi

Edgar joined the Department of Herpetology in 1994. His duties are mainly curatorial, as well as the maintenance and feeding of the Museum's live displays. He is a keen field worker and an expert reptile and amphibian collector.


Research
Collections

Composition and Status of the Collections

In terms of the distribution of amphibian and reptile specimens represented in the collection:

99% of specimens are from the southern half of Africa with 90% representing the Free State Province. There are also large collections from other parts of South Africa. The balance is representative of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zaire, and Zimbabwe. The remaining 1% of taxa is non-African and represented by four amphibian, two lizards, seven snake, and two chelonian taxa.

Computerization of Collections

The reptile and amphibian databases are 100% computerized in relation to the catalogue.

Enquiries:

Dr Rod Douglas rod.douglas@nasmus.co.za

Dr Michael Bates herp@nasmus.co.za


Amphibians

The amphibian collection (NMB#-A) comprises 7795 catalogue entries as at 28 February 2011.

The collection comprises 100 species and subspecies. There are 27 amphibian species and subspecies occurring naturally in the Free State of which over 95% are represented in the collection. The collection therefore mainly consists of non-Free State taxa from the rest of South Africa and other African countries.

Batches of tadpoles and froglets are usually accessioned together under one number, i.e. the total number of amphibians far exceeds 7795. There are now several thousand tadpoles, stored as a separate collection.

The amphibian collection is representative of the following Families:

AnuraArthroleptidae
 Brevicipitidae
 Bufonidae
 Heleophrynidae
 Hemisotidae
 Hyperoliidae
 Microhylidae
 Phrynobatrachidae
 Pipidae
 Ptychadenidae
 Pyxicephalidae
 Ranidae
 Rhacophoridae

Reptiles

The reptile collection (NMB#-R) comprises 9395 catalogue entries as at 28 February 2011.

The collection comprises 270 species and subspecies: 270 (157 lizards, eight amphisbaenians, 94 snakes, 11 chelonians). The collection also comprises a large component of non-Free State taxa from the rest of South Africa and other African countries.

There are 99 reptile taxa occurring in the Free State (55 lizards, 38 snakes, one amphisbaenian and four chelonians) of which 95% are represented in the collection.

The reptile collection is representative of the following Families:

SauriaAgamidae
 Chamaeleonidae
 Cordylidae
 Gekkonidae
 Gerrhosauridae
 Lacertidae
 Scincidae
 Varanidae
  
AmphisbaeniaAmphisbaenidae
  
SerpentesBoidae
 Colubridae
 Elapidae
 Lamprophiidae
 Leptotyphlopidae
 Pythonidae
 Typhlopidae
 Viperidae
  
EusuchiaCrocodylidae
  
CryptodiraChelonidae
 Pelomedusidae
 Testudinidae
Collaborative Projects

Bates, M.F. Pseudocordylus project in collaboration with Mr E. Stanley of the American Museum of Natural History, New York and Dr M. Cunningham of the University of the Free State, Qwa-Qwa campus.

Bates, M.F. Dasypeltis project in collaboration with Dr D.G. Broadley of the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, Zimbabwe.

Bates, M.F. Cordylus warreni complex project in collaboration with Mr E. Stanley of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Bates, M.F. Cordylus vittifer project in collaboration with Dr M. Cunningham of the University of the Free State, Qwa-Qwa campus.

Bates, M.F. Gerrhosaurus project in collaboration with Ms J. da Silva of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

Bates, M.F. Amphisbaenian project in collaboration with Dr J. Measey of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

Bates, M.F. Afroedura nivaria project in collaboration with Dr W.R. Branch of Bay World (Port Elizabeth Museum).

Live Displays

Live-Displays-banner

The live displays were established to showcase unusual animals, known only by name to many people, and rarely seen. These animals also serve as living examples for lessons provided by the Education Department for school groups, helping to stimulate a keener interest.

Vertebrate live displays

Herpetology Hall

The National Museum vertebrate live displays, which are some of the most popular exhibits in the Museum, include the following:

Snakes

Red-tailed Boa (Boa constrictor)
Red-tailed Boa (Boa constrictor)

Some of the most popular displays in the Museum are the live displays, and in particular the snake display. The nearly 4-m-long female African Rock Python (Python natalensis) that was on display for many years was a great attraction, particularly among visiting school groups. Unfortunately she died in July 2010 after refusing to eat for some time. Owing to her popularity with the public it was decided to replace her with some other large constrictor. Other constrictors, such as the African Rock Python (P. natalensis), Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus), Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) and Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), were considered unsuitable as they would eventually become too large for the existing cage and would also be a problem to feed later on.

It was therefore decided that Boa Constrictors would be ideal for the display as neither their size nor feeding would be a problem. A male and a female Red-tailed Boa were duly purchased. The Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor) is one of the few animals whose common name is the same as its scientific name. Boa Constrictors usually grow to about 2,5 m in length, although females may grow to 4 m, and weigh up to 27 kg.

All boas and anacondas belong to the Family Boidae, as opposed to pythons who belong to the Family Pythonidae. Until more recently pythons were considered a subfamily (Pythoninae) of the Boidae and hence boas and pythons were referred to as boids. Generally pythons are found in the Old World (Africa, Asia, Australia) while boas live in both the Old World and the New World (North, Central and South America). There are 10 subspecies of Boa constrictor which live in a variety of habitats from tropical rain forest, to savanna, to desert. However, most occur in tropical rain forests due to their preference for high humidity and temperatures. They are semi-arboreal and nocturnal, preying largely on smaller mammals and birds, with the bulk of their prey comprising rodents. Lizards may also be taken.

Characteristically, the females of both Families attain greater lengths than males, with the males and females of both Families exhibiting the primitive characteristic of a vestigal pelvic girdle. The hind-limbs of the pelvic girdle are visible externally as pelvic spurs, located on either side of the vent, with male spurs being much larger than female spurs. A clear distinction between boas and pythons is that boas give live birth (viviparous), while pythons lay eggs (oviparous).

The distribution of the species Boa constrictor extends from northern Mexico, southwards to Argentina north of 35° S. They also occur on many islands along the coast of Mexico and South America. Some subspecies have only very subtle differences in markings and colouration, and their status as separate sub-species is controversial. On the other hand, colour and pattern variations within a particular subspecies may be sufficient to lead to the assumption that a specimen may well be a different species or subspecies. Captive cross-breeding has made matters even more complicated and it is often very difficult to determine which subspecies a specimen may be, particularly in the Red-tailed Boa group. This is the most commonly kept captive species.

It is sincerely hoped that the public will get many years of pleasure from viewing our two new acquisitions.

The other occupant of this display is a large American Yellow Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta).

Common Platannas

(Clawed Frog) (Xenopus laevis)

These unusual amphibians spend their entire lives in water, although they may move overland for brief periods in search of an alternative habitat. The way in which Platannas stuff food into their mouths with their front limbs is fascinating for visitors. Common Platannas, originally from Africa, have now established themselves in many parts of the world.

Yellow-bellied Terrapin

(Pelusios c. castenoides) (freshwater)

There is presently one Yellow-bellied Terrapin on display and it has been a popular exhibit for many, many years. The extended periods of time this Terrapin spends resting on the bottom of its tank often has visitors worried.

Cichlid fish

A large tank contains various cichlid fish, mainly colourful Malawian species, which brighten up this corner of the Herpetology Hall. Fish may appear out of place in this Hall, but were included here to provide a valuable resource for the Education Department to illustrate their lessons to school groups.


Invertebrate live displays

Invertebrate Hall

Australian Redclaw Crayfish

(Cherax quadricarinatus)

African Freshwater Crabs Potamonautes warreni
The freshwater Australian Redclaw Crayfish tank is a very popular exhibit containing a number of crayfish in a rocky habitat. Their bright blue bodies and red claws make them ideal for live exhibition purposes.

African Freshwater Crabs

(Potamonautes warreni)

The African Freshwater Crab display is relatively new. Although referred to as an aquatic species, the African Freshwater Crab is amphibious and can spend considerable time on land, breathing air. These crabs have well developed lungs but retain gills. Freshwater crabs are seen as environmental indicators, reflecting the quality of their habitat, and are useful in biomonitoring.

Cockroaches

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Gromphadorhina portentosa
There are two live cockroach displays, one containing Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), the other Common House Cockroach (Blattella germanica). Unlike other insects, the Hissing Cockroach female (up to 7 cm long) does not lay eggs but retains the developing embryos inside her body, giving birth to live young. Despite the human loathing of cockroaches, the public are fascinated by these displays.

Bee Hive

A functional African Bee (Apis mellifera) hive has been established in the Museum behind glass, where the daily activities of bees can be observed at close range. This display holds visitors spellbound for ages while they try to locate the Queen bee.


Contact details

For any queries or information regarding the Live and Herpetology displays please contact Dr Mike Bates herp@nasmus.co.za

Loan Policy

The Departmental Loan Policy will vary depending on what research aspect loan specimens are required for.

For further information please contact Dr Mike Bates herp@nasmus.co.za.

Research

Research efforts are currently focused on medicinal plants in southern Africa. In an effort to accomplish this, the Botany division is currently engaged in a research project aimed at determining the biogeographical boundaries of the vegetation within the Witsieshoek Valley, Phuthaditjhaba, Qwa-qwa, Free State, based on species turnover patterns, distribution, and richness, as well as plant sample collection for the expansion of the NMB herbarium.

Fieldwork at Witsieshoek Mountain Valley by Dr Solomon Owolabi of the University of the Free State (left) and Dr Oladayo Idris of the National Museum (right).

 

Collaboration

The Botany Department works in close collaboration with various institutes:

  • South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) – ongoing.
Services Offered

The Botany Department renders support services to the community by supplying information, education, plant identification and research.

Loan Policy

Material will be made available to bone fide research institutions, subject to the Herbarium’s loan conditions.

For enquiries contact Dr Oladayo Idris: oladayo.idris@nasmus.co.za

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