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Flora and fauna in Namibia

We found these Namibian icons especially interesting



Guide book author with an extreme passion for Madagascar and Ethiopia!
Published on

07 Mar 2018

Updated on

28 Feb 2024

Welwitchia Namibia Swakopmund

Namibia is world renowned for its wildlife and dry-country flora. These iconic species are especially interesting.

Namibia Swakopmund Sidewinder Adder
Peringuey's adder (Sidewinder) buried in the sand near Swakopmund


This small, venomous adder (maximum length 30 cm) is one of Namibia's most celebrated inhabitants. Known for its 'dune-surfing' capabilities, it can achieve a speed of 18 miles per hour. Watching one of them scale up, over and down a high dunes is quite something. The 'side-winding' movement from which the species gets its common name, is achieved by undulating its body in a series of smooth, lateral curves. An ambush predator, the Side-winder buries itself in the sand, starting at its tail and progressing towards its head, leaving just the eyes exposed. Uniquely, this snake's eyes are placed on the top of its head, not on the sides. Favoured prey items include the equally interesting Shovel-snouted lizard. Taking a living desert tour from the coastal town of Swakopmund is one of the best ways to try and spot one of these intruiging serpents.

Hartlaubs Francolins Erongo
A pair of Hartlaub's spurfowl, Erongo (female on the right)


Among the most sought-after species on the lists of visiting birders, the Hartlaub's spurfowl or francolin is unusual for a variety of reasons. This fairly small game bird frequents harsh, rocky terrain such as around Erongo in the Central Highlands where this pair was photographed. Its beak is disproportionately large for a francolin and males and females actually have different diets: males tend to forage on the ground for insects such as termites, while females are more inclined to dig their food out of the soil. Interestingly, its the girls who guard their territories: they're much more vociferous than their mates and they defend their homes with vigour. Their breeding system is referred to as resource-based monogamy. They also incorporate reverse-mounting into their courtship rituals.

Namibia Dune Gecko Swakopmund - Margo
Namib sand (Web-footed) gecko


Another denizen of the Namibian sand dunes, the Namib sand gecko (Palmato gecko) is an almost translucent, pale sandy pink colour which enables it to blend subtly into its habitat. By day, the gecko rests alone in a burrow that can be up to a meter deep. After dusk, it'll emerge to hunt invertebrates in the desert. The only truly web-footed gecko in sub-Saharan Africa, its feet are adapted so as to facilitate rapid movement over the loose sand. Females can be heavier than males by almost a third.

Biggest Known Welwitschia - Thoas Schoch
The largest known Welwitschia (Thomas Schoch)


Last but not least, the country's most remarkable plant - and one of the world's most extraordinary - is the Welwitschia. An icon of Namibia, this unmistakable creation (for lack of a better descriptive!) has only two huge leaves, which eventually grow to a length of a four meters each and fray at the ends so as to produce a few long strands emanating from a short central trunk. The biggest known specimen (pictured) is 1.4 meters tall and has leaves measuring 4 meters making a diameter of 8 meters. There are separate male and female plants; the seed cones somewhat resemble those of certain conifers. So distinctive is this plant, that it has been assigned not just its own genus and family, but also its own order.

Wondering when to visit? Take a look at this guide on the best time to visit Namibia.

Looking for some more inspiration? Take a look at our best safari holidays ideas, our favourite family safaris, our big five safari guide or our top African safari honeymoon suggestions.

If you are planning a trip to Namibia - whether a self-drive safari, a family holiday or a Namibian honeymoon, get in touch today - we'd love to help you.

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