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Africa Geographic
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Africa Geographic Travel

Africa Geographic’s science editor Tim Jackson answers your questions about wildlife. Send yours to leni@africageographic.com and you could win one of Struik Nature’s books on African flora and fauna!

Tim Jackson
Tim Jackson

Question: We were walking along the beach at Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape after a spring tide when we noticed a seagull pecking at something that had washed up on the sand. Upon investigation, we found this strange creature. Can you identify it for us?

Trevor and Sherrill Fish, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Cape conger
© Trevor and Sherrill Fish

Answer: I had this pegged as a young oarfish – reputedly the longest fish on the planet – but luckily I turned to marine biologist Charles Griffiths from the University of Cape Town before wandering blindly down the corridors of ignorance. And it’s a good job I did!

‘This is certainly not an oarfish,’ Griffiths corrects me. ‘Oarfish are strongly compressed laterally, so they look very thin, and have a long red dorsal fin. They also have a quite different head with a small mouth.’ He opts instead for another elongated group of fishes. ‘I am pretty sure this is a conger eel and, judging by its colour, it’s a Cape conger. This species occurs from Knysna eastwards and grows to about 1.5 metres long and 15 kilograms in weight. It’s largely nocturnal and feeds on fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. The eels make good eating, but they are reputed to be capable of inflicting a serious bite when landed by anglers.’

The Cape conger is a coastal species found in estuaries and up to about 30 metres from the shoreline. It’s not restricted to African waters, but occurs as far afield as Australia and New Zealand too.

 If you have a question about animals or their behaviour, e-mail it to leni@africageographic.com, together with your postal address. Each month, Tim will answer one of the questions submitted which will be published in our magazine.

Trevor and Sherrill Fish win a copy of Shaping Kruger by Mitch Reardon, which is kindly provided by Struik Nature. This fascinating book provides insight into the lives, habits and behaviour of the large mammals in the Kruger National Park and how they impact the workings of this famous sanctuary. Join the Struik Nature Club at http://randomstruik.co.za/natureclub or find it on Facebook.

Shaping-Kruger-cover

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Tim Jackson

With degrees in zoology from the universities of Cambridge and Pretoria, Tim Jackson is mandated to keep his finger on the pulse of the science underlying African conservation and wildlife issues. His insights appear in publications such as Africa Birds and Birding, Safari interactive magazine and in Africa Geographic, where he is the scientific editor. Tim is passionate about travelling and enjoys nothing more than heading into the African wilderness with his trusty camera and notebook to uncover the latest developments and news in the world where wildlife and science collide.