Wildlife in the Witwatersrand NBG

The Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden is home to a wide range of creatures, great and small. Some you will find described on this page, but some have pages of their own. Please use the links below to find the section you require.

[Amphibians] [Arachnids] [Birds] [Mammals] [Reptiles]


Frogs and toads belong to a class of animals (Amphibians) which are characterised by having two stages within the life cycle. In the rainy summer season at the Garden, a number of species emerge from their winter retreats.

The red toad can be seen seeking out insects as can the guttural toad. Frog calls are often the only way of detecting the presence of certain species. This is very accurate, as the calls are unique to each species. The calls are heard especially at night and vary from the curious "rusty hinge" squeaks of the common river frog to the beautiful liquid notes of the bubbling kassina.

Checklist of frogs


These animals include the scorpions, spiders, Red Romans (Solifugids), ticks and mites. They are characterised by having 8 legs (divided into 4 pairs), no antennae (feelers), no wings, usually two main body parts (mites have only one) and jaws which have a pincer action.


In spite of their menacing appearance, scorpions make excellent mothers. The babies ride in a cluster on her back. Should a baby scorpion fall off, she retrieves it with her pincer and puts it back on board.

An interesting thing about scorpions is that they do not lay eggs but give birth to live young. As with spiders, there is no larval stage and the babies are perfect miniatures of the adults. Scorpions are night hunters which feed on insects and are not often seen. None of the scorpions recorded from the Garden are dangerously venomous.

Checklists of scorpions



Spiders have developed extremely sophisticated methods of catching their prey ranging from complex web designs to mimicking insects and being able to move amongst them. For example if you watch an ant trail very carefully you may find an ant with two more legs than it should have! The ant mimicking spiders raise their foremost pair of legs in pretence of having antennae.


Webs are ingeniously designed for trapping insects. A tropical tent web spider constructs a web with "knock down" strands above and a "catch net" below. The "catch net" is a non-sticky modified orb web into which the insects fall once they collide with the "knock down" strands. This collision also serves to alert the spider which rushes down to the "catch net" to seize the prey.


Spiders taste their prey using their legs, or more correctly with the specialised hollow hairs which are found mostly on the lower parts of their legs. If an unpalatable insect such as a stinkbug has been trapped, the spider will reject it.


Checklist of spiders


A variety of mammals have been recorded at the Garden, although many are nocturnal and are generally only seen early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Rock hyraxes or dassies can however often be spotted from the Geological Trail path, lounging on the boulders at the base of the cliff. Dassies are one of the main prey animals of the Black Eagles.

Scrub hares are nocturnal but are sometimes disturbed from their resting places in the shade during the day. They have well developed hind-legs which enable them to bound away from danger at great speed.


The Slender mongoose with the characteristic black tip to its tail is occasionally seen darting into the bushclumps near the Woodpecker Walk. In spite of their diminutive size they are capable of killing large snakes. Rodents, scorpions and insects also form part of their diet.

The Vlei rat creates runways and tunnels in the vegetation and may be seen grazing at the edges of lawns in the late afternoon. They can be recognised by their blunt faces and relatively short tails. Spotted eagle owls are one of their main predators.

Mountain reedbuck usually remain hidden during the day, but can sometimes be seen from a distance in amongst the rocks along the ridge. They are small, reddish with white underparts. The males have sharply forward pointing horns.

Checklist of mammals


Apps, P. (Ed.) 1996. Smither's Mammals of Southern Africa. Southern
Book Publishers. Halfway House.

Branch, B. 1988. Field Guide to the Snakes and other Reptiles of
Southern Africa. Struik. Cape Town.

Broadley, D.G. 1990. Fitzsimons' Snakes of Southern Africa.
Jonathan Ball and Ad. Jonker Publishers. Parklands.

Carruthers. V.C. (Ed.) 1982. The Sandton Field Book. The Sandton Nature
Conservation Society. Rivonia.

Carruthers. V.C. (Ed.) 1997. The Wildlife of Southern Africa. Southern
Book Publishers. Halfway House.

Filmer, M.R. 1997. Southern African Spiders. Struik. Cape Town.

Leroy, A and Leroy, J. 2000. Spiderwatch in Southern Africa. Struik.
Cape Town.

Marais, J. 1992. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa.
Southern Book Publishers. Halfway House.

Mills, G. and Hes, L. 1997. The Complete Book of Southern African
Mammals. Struik. Cape Town.

Passmore, N.I. and Carruthers, V.C. 1995. South African Frogs.
Joint publishers: Southern Book Publishers. Halfway House. Witwatersrand University Press. Johannesburg.

Skinner, J.D. and Smithers, R.H.N. 1990. The Mammals of the Southern
African Subregion. University of Pretoria. Pretoria.

The Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden would like to thank John Leroy for the use of his photographic slides for this website. Also Astri Leroy for her time and assistance with the Arachnid section.

*Please note that John Leroy holds absolute copyright to his photographic slides. He may be contacted at email address:

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