A Namaqua chameleon in threat display, Namib desert, Namibia, by Yathin S. Krishnappa.

Meet the “Little Five” Safari Animals of Namibia

The primary goal of many safari goers is to see the Big Five African game: leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalos, rhinos and lions. As rewarding as it is to watch these animals in the wild, you’ll miss out if they’re the only things you look for. Sometimes, the best things come in small packages!

One great place to look for tiny creatures is Namibia‘s Skeleton Coast, a unique desert ecosystem abounding with tiny fauna. Locals have developed a list of “Little Five” safari animals to complement the Big Five. It includes a sidewinder snake also known as Peringuey’s adder, the dancing white lady spider, the Namaqua chameleon, the Namib web-footed gecko, and the shovel-snouted lizard.

Read on to find out more about these marvelous creatures of the dunes!

The Namib web-footed gecko’s translucent skin helps it blend in with the sand. Photo by Simon’s Images.

Namib Web-Footed Gecko (Pachydacylus rangei)

The Namib web-footed gecko, also called the Namib sand gecko or palmatogecko, can reach up to five inches long from nose to tail tip.

It is well adapted to desert life. Webbed feet help it scurry over sand without sinking. They also serve as spades when the gecko burrows. Translucent skin helps it blend in with the sand.

Namib web-footed geckos are most active at night. During the day, they hide in the sand to stay cool. Their large eyes help them hunt for insects in the dark.

Interestingly, these geckos have no eyelids! They keep their eyes clean by licking their eyeballs.

sand-colored snake with flat head and eyes on top of head

Peringuey’s adder, or the Namibian sidewinder, can see what’s going on while buried in the sand thanks to its eyes being placed on top of its head, rather than at the sides. Photo by Jay Iwasaki.

Peringuey’s adder (Bitis peringueyi)

Peringuey’s adder travels over the sand in sideways, curving motions — so it is also known as the sidewinding adder.

The Peringuey’s adder lives on other small reptiles, particularly lizards and geckos. Although venomous, its bite is not fatal to humans. To hunt, it buries itself in the sand with only its eyes and the tip of its tail showing. The tail tip can attract prey, who sometimes confuse it for a wiggling insect.

Like the rest of the Little Five, Peringuey’s adders are small. Most individuals are just eight to ten inches long!

white spider with pinkish jaws standing on sand

Dancing white lady spiders live in burrows beneath the sand. Photo by Lworch.

Dancing White Lady Spider

Dancing white lady spider is a name given to two species in the Namib Desert: Leucorchestris arenicola and Carparachne aureoflava.

The two species look similar, but are different sizes and perform different “dances.” Leucorchestris arenicola, a larger spider, taps its two front legs on the sand to communicate with other spiders. Carparachne aureoflava, which is only two centimeters long, cartwheels down sand dunes to escape enemies, such as parasitic wasps. Because of this, it is also known as the cartwheeling spider or wheel spider!

Both spiders live in burrows under the sand that they line with spider silk. The burrows can reach more than a foot deep.

close up of chameleon face in desert with brown and red stripes on face

Namaqua chameleons change colors to communicate and depending on temperature. Photo by Chantelle Bosch.

Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis)

The color-shifting Namaqua chameleon is one of the larger chameleons in southern Africa, reaching up to ten inches in length. It’s also especially suited to desert life. Due to the scarcity of water in the Namib desert, this chameleon has evolved the ability to “drink” water through its skin!

Usually gray or brown with a pale belly to deflect heat from the scorching sand, the Namaqua chameleon can take on shades of deep red, yellow, and greenish-black, depending on its mood, lighting, and the surrounding temperature.

small beige lizard with dark spots stretches out tail and shows inside of mouth while standing on sand

A shovel snouted lizard in Dorob National Park, Namibia, makes a threat display.

Shovel snouted lizard (Melores anchietae)

Shovel-snouted lizards are small, fast, and good at dancing! To keep cool on hot sand, they lift their feet in an alternating pattern. This gives each foot a brief break from the heat. It also makes it look like the lizard is trying to dance! For this reason, you might hear them called thermal dancing lizards.

Other names include Anchieta’s dune lizard, in honor of a Portuguese explorer, and the sand-diving lizard, because they tunnel into sand to escape danger or the heat. The lizard’s shovel snout helps it burrow quickly.

The shovel-snouted lizard has a special organ that stores water collected from morning mists. This and other adaptations help it tolerate temperatures as high as 111°F.

Plan Your Trip to Namibia

Want to see Namibia’s incredible wildlife in person? Contact us for a one-on-one consultation to plan your dream safari!

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