Winter and sunshine are not mutually exclusive where I live in KwaZulu-Natal. Of course too much of a good thing is not a good thing. May 2018 was the fourth-hottest May globally on record, with the other hottest Mays all occurring in the last five years (for details see here).

Although mostly our winter has been mild, many creatures enjoy soaking up the sun.  Like us humans, many sunbathe in summer too, but there is something about winter sunshine that brings good cheer to the heart – and to one’s bones (and in actual fact Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones).


Striped Skink sunbathing in the late afternoon winter sunshine on our back deck

Cold-blooded reptiles are well known sun-baskers. It helps them regulate their body temperature and it has been found that for reptiles as for humans, sunshine provides them with Vitamin D (for more on this see here).

Recently, I was enjoying some late afternoon winter sunshine on our back deck. First a Striped Skink enjoying the sun caught my attention, then a small (juvenile) Tree Agama lizard arrived to share in a patch of sunshine, and then I noticed a Cape Dwarf Gecko sunning itself too. They seemed quite happy to share the last patches of the last rays of the setting sun.


A young Tree Agama also soaking up some winter sunshine on our back deck


A Cape Dwarf Gecko hanging out on the vertical side of a pole in the winter sunshine and displaying its specially adapted toes that enable it to climb or hang from a variety of surfaces. These Geckos can voluntarily lose their tails as a kind of a decoy when under threat, and then in time the tail regrows. The individual in this photo has a newly re-grown tail

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A close-up of the same Gecko with its feet adhering to the vertical surface of a painted metal pole. The glint in its eye is a reflection of the afternoon sun

Mostly the butterflies in the garden, common in autumn and winter, flit restlessly by, pausing to rest only now and again. But sometimes butterflies do settle for extended periods, including in the sunshine, such as the Variable Diadem (I think that is what it is) in the photo below.

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A Variable Diadem butterfly that remained perched on the stem of a vine over our back deck one winter afternoon

 I have posted on birds sunning themselves in the garden before (see here), but recently I was amazed to see a group of about 15 Hadeda Ibis visiting our garden and indulging in a kind of group sunbathing session. Initially only a few birds were adopting their rather awkward sunbathing postures leaning on an outspread wing, but it seemed to be contagious as can be seen in the photos below. Eventually, nearly all the birds in the group were sunbathing in close proximity. This is the only time I have seen such a large group of birds sunbathing at the same time.




Part of a large group of Hadedas sunning themselves in our back garden


A Red-eyed Dove, spreading a wing and fanning its tail sideways in the sunshine

And it’s not just the wild visitors to our garden that enjoy the sunshine, our cats and dogs do too, especially in the coolness of the early morning, and as the day cools down in the afternoon.


Nina having a wash in early morning winter sunshine through a bedroom window


Rory trying out his new day bed in the morning sunshine

As for most things in life, moderation is the name of the game. We all know the potential dangers of spending too much time in the sun. But especially in winter, we all need a little sunshine.

Sources:  Dickerson, Kelly. 2014. Geckos’ Sticky Secret? They Hang by Toe Hairs.;  Live Science. 2009. Lizards Sunbathe for Better Health.;  Masters, Jeff. 2018. May 2018: Earth’s 4th Warmest May on Record.

 Posted by Carol

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