South Africa has an inordinate wealth of plants and animals. It is a country of superlatives with an entire floral kingdom occurring within its borders. With a land surface area of only 2 per cent of the global landmass, it contains 10 per cent of the world's plants and between 6 and 7 per cent of the worldâ€™s mammals, birds and reptiles. Not only does South Africa boast the greatest number of species of land tortoises of any place on Earth, it ranks fifth in the world with regard to overall number of reptile species. Such an array of reptiles, which at last count numbered 363 species, with more being described annually, shows an incredible range of adaptations enabling these remarkable creatures to live in extremes of climate from the high mountains to desert, from coast to coast and some even adapting to an urban environment. Despite this, the daily lives of most reptile species remain a closed book. Many species are cryptic, preferring not to be seen, while others display amongst the brightest colours in the animal kingdom. They range from very small species weighing less than a gram to the giant Nile crocodile, which may achieve a mass of 1 000 kg, and include some of the most poisonous species on the planet. It is indeed a treasure house.
Remarkable Reptiles offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of snakes, lizards, chameleons, tortoises, terrapins and crocodiles and hopes to provide a greater insight into the behaviour of these often maligned animals. Many reptiles, especially snakes, receive unjust treatment because of attacks on humans, while anthropogenic causes, which are far more lethal, tend to be less emphasised. Hopefully this book will contribute to, and instil respect and interest in the remarkable diversity of reptiles with which South Africa has been blessed.