Saturday, January 22, 2011

Away for a while

Before I leave on another tour again I'd like to add what I believe is the cutest of caterpillars = an "addition" to my previous posting about Butterflies & Moths - I wish I could "claim" this as 1 of my photos, but it's only part of my photo-collection & was photographed years ago in Namaqualand during a "desert-flower-explotion" by our son-in-law.

"See" you soon (in about 2 weeks).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Insects - Butterfly or Moth

Butterflies & moths are closely related & belong to the same insect order (Lepidoptera), which is the 2nd largest after beetles [SEE: Beetles & Bugs on this blog, posted Sunday, 16 January 2011]. Distinguishing characteristics include: most butterflies fly by day, whilst most moths fly by night. A butterfly "drinks" nectar through its proboscis (= long, tube-like & hollow tongue) - whilst the nectar merely provides enough energy for flight (> only larva/caterpillar phase is the feeding stage of a butterfly's lifespan). When not "feeding", a butterfly's tongue is coiled up beneath its head. A sure way to also distinguish between the 2 species is their antennae - butterflies have club-tipped and thin antennae, whereas a moth's are feathery or finely pointed.

This (Common) Dotted Border butterfly (= same as above) is a frequent garden visitor all year round, with peaks in Oct & from late Feb-April. Other than getting its name from the black dots at the edges of its wings, it "poses" with its wings up (or the wings "meet" over the back) - in contrast to moths, whose wings usually are fanned out.

The underside of a butterfly's wings often is also markedly different from the "upper" wings, which is clearly "demonstrated" by this "swarm" of (Spotted) Joker Butterflies - the upper wings are deep orange, whereas the underside is paler (= the part that's usually "on view").

Taking an even closer look at this Garden Acraea butterfly's wings, it's interesting to note that the "dust" that rubs off easily from a captured butterfly is actually "scaly matter" from its wings - if rubbed off completely, only a transparent membrane with a network of veins is left. It's therefore the scales that provide the colour and patterns on a butterfly's wings!

The African Monarch butterfly is widespread in Africa as well as in Asia, where it's known as the Plain Tiger. The lifespanof an (adult) butterfly normally lasts several weeks, whilst the "full" life-cycle starts with the eggs (which an adult butterfly lies), from which caterpillars hatch (= this larva phase is the "proper" feeding stage), then the pupal stage follows (= non-eating phase) - lasting 2-3 weeks before a "perfect" adult insect emerges.

Did you know that a 3 500 year old Egyptian fresco in Luxor "features" the oldest illustration of a Monarch butterfly?

From a monarch to an emperor - with names like that, who can resist admiring these magnificent-looking insects? The "eyes" (= large spots) of an Emperor Moth are meant to deceive enemies or act as a warning to predators (like birds) - they instantly recoil at the sight of such large "glaring" eyes (also called the "startle effect"). In contrast to butterflies, (adult) moths do NOT feed (= they do not have mouth-parts > a butterfly's tongue) & therefore only have an average lifespan of approx. a week (= in the wild) - a moth's sole purpose is to mate & lay eggs, then die.

There's not only a variety of colour amongst Emperor moths, but some actually have "eyes" on the hindwings as well as on the forewings! So the "startle effect" is even greater when "meeting" a moth with 4 eyespots.

Did you know that an Emperor moth is more like a butterfly because it is brightly marked - & flies by day?

Although moths & butterflies are related, about 90% of this large insect order are moths. Accordingly it probably is easier to identify a butterfly than "coming to grips" with moths - as I certainly experience, because so far, I haven't been able to identify this moth. Moths like e.g. the silkworm, are "farmed" for the silk from their cocoons, whereas others, like the Mopane worm (= caterpillar) is a significant food resource in southern Africa.

In contrast to the interesting-looking moth above, I do know that this is a "typical" Looper moth. These species of moths (there are several) have broad wings & a narrow body, are mostly nocturnal, & when resting, spread their wings flat against the surface.

Did you know that someone, who watches moths as a pastime (= hobby > specialist) is called a mother? To distinguish this word from its usual meaning it's often written with a hyphen (= moth-er), even if in speech, it's pronounced differently.

Another look at a Looper moth - this one was photographed quite a while ago by our son-in-law, & to this day, I insist that it's the "prettiest" moth I've ever seen, because it appears to be "decked" with jewels (e.g. pearls)!? Also, what a great photo - thanks to Quinton, who doesn't mind "sharing" his photos with me.

However "pretty", many moths (& particularly caterpillars) are a major agricultural pest in many parts of the world. Some larvae also eat fabric, mostly with natural fibers such as wool or silk (> artificial fibers). To end: I'm not able to say for sure if this is also a Looper moth - it certainly has the characteristic look of a moth, also finely pointed antennae (= 1 of the distinguishing features of a moth - if not feathery antennae).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Insects - Ants or Termites

Sometimes after a highveld-thunderstorm, I was amazed to see our house invaded by what until now, I assumed were flying ants. But after some "research" I reached the following conclusion: this "model specimen", which once landed on our bed, "proves" that it's a flying termite!

To determine if it's a flying ant or termite, the following are distinguishing, anatomical characteristics: although both kinds of insects "possess" 2 pairs of wings ONLY during the mating, reproducing & forming of new colonies, their wings are dissimilar. A termite's wings are equally "long", in contrast to an ant's, whose back wings are much shorter.

Also: an ant's body has 3 distinct segments - the head, thorax (= middle segment, which also "bears" the legs & wings) & abdomen. In contrast a termite has only 2 segments - a head & thorax, which also look more like 1 piece or as if this insect has a "fat waist".

Finally there's one more distinctive difference between flying ants & flying termites: their antennae. An ant's is curved/bend inwards & "topped" by a ball (also called a "club"). However a termite's antennae gently point outwards & are "beaded" [clearly visible on this photo if you click on it to enlage].

When before I posted photos of what I then incorrectly called a flying ant, I also mentioned that after mating, a male winged ant dies - whilst the female dispenses with her wings before creating a new colony. In contrast & amongst flying termites, the males & females travel together to another place/form a new colony. So why did this termite shed its wings after an amazing "performance"? Do flying termites sometimes "loose direction" & then die instead of becoming "kings" & "queens" (as well as parents) of a new colony?

This specimen on our bed certainly had the appearance of a "little old person" trudging off & feeling defeated. Unfortunately I never "recorded" what happened to it afterwards - at the time, I was only fascinated by the spectacular part of the performance. All I know for sure that like my "research-efforts" indicate, the wings of a termite are easily "knocked off" & then lie scattered around.

Termites build & live in amazing "termitaria" (= mounds - only "small", visible part above ground of a much larger "whole"), which are said to be the oldest, organised social communities on earth - "marvels" of engineering, housing millions of inhabitants in air-conditioned, humidified comfort.

Another termite mound BUT (more or less) at the same location & 6 years later - with the "twin" Omatako mountains (in central Namibia) in the background.

A termite or an ant nest? The "controversy" starts again = I'm not sure! Although the nest resembles a "dirt clod", I tend to photograph whatever "catches my eye", & I certainly do know that some ants are arboreal (= living in treetops) - but that could also be the case with termites. Ants & termites aren't related, & whilst termites exist in their present form long before more advanced insects such as ants & bees (as well as humans) "appeared on the scene", ants are the termites' worst enemy.

Like all insects, ants have 6 legs, & each leg has 3 joints. However ants are the most highly developed of all insects - like termites, they live in perfectly organised "states" & have evolved many forms of food collection. Also most unusual for animals is the fact that ants "indulge" in a form of slavery, military campaigns & animal husbandry.

Did you know that an ant brain has about 250 000 brain cells, in comparison to a human brain, which has 10 million brain cells? So a colony of 40 000 ants has collectively the same size brain as a human!

Is this a matter of moving nest (from cool or wet conditions to a warmer environment) OR raiding a nest? On the one hand ants can lift 20 times their own weight, so carrying their own eggs/larvae/pupae isn't a difficult job. On the other hand, Slave-Maker ants raid the nests of other ants & steal their pupae. When these ants hatch, they work as slaves within the colony.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Insects - Beetles & Bugs

There are more species of beetles than any other order in the animal kingdom - constituting approx. 25% of all known life-forms. Taking this into account it's difficult to identify a beetle if you aren't an expert on the subject. Beetles have mouthparts similar to grasshoppers - e.g. mandibles, which appear as large pincers on the front of some beetles. The legs are multi-segmented & like many other insects, beetles bear claws at the end of each leg. The antennae of beetles are primarily organs of smell - other than to "feel out" the environment.

Did you know that 'beetle' is derived from the Old English word bitan - meaning to bite (= chewing & biting, instead of sucking)?

The largest taxonomic family of beetles are the weevils (or snout beetles). Now weevils are generally "better known" as occuring in dry foods (including nuts & seeds, as well as cereal & grain products) & most likely can be observed in flour - "indicated" by the granules sticking together in strings, as if caught in a cobweb. Those are the "primitive" weevils, usually small (less than 6mm). In contrast a "true" weevil is a beetle - still commonly regarded as a pest - which has an exeptionally hard elytra (eleytron = 1 of 2 wing-cases of a beetle) & therefore, it's difficult to destroy.

Another look at another weevil with a longer "rostrum" (= snout) as well as much longer antannea. In some species this characteristic snout is short & squad, in others long & narrow. A weevil's exclusively vegetarian diet includes numerous agricultural crops - other than "attacking" newly emerged leaves of garden bulbs.

Characteristically beetles have hardened shield-like forewings (= not used for flight) but underneath have a 2nd pair of (hind) flight wings. However some ground beetles - like the "true" weevils as well as a dung beetle endemic to e.g. the Addo Elephant Park (in the Eastern Cape Province) - have "lost" the ability to fly.

There are several species of dung beetle, also known as "scarab" (from family Scarabaeidae) & which had a sacred status amongst ancient Egyptians. Dung beetles have shovel-like heads for burying their "precious" ball of dung (either as food storage or as a brooding ball). By consuming the dung, these beetles improve nutrient recycling & soil structure.

This also "improves" the environment because by removing dung which, if left, could provide a habitat for pests like flies. Dung beetles vary in colour from black to brown, or a metallic green, blue or bronze.

Like a dung beetle, the Rhinoceros beetle is a member of the Scarabaeidae family. Only the male Rhino beetles have the characteristically large horns, which they use to fight other males during the mating season, although the horns also function as "built in" digging tools.

Is this perhaps a female rhino beetle (since it looks similar but doesn't "possess" a proper horn)? As I've indicated, I had to do quite a bit of research before being able to identify at least some of the insects I've photographed through the years. Rhino beetles are also known as Hercules, Unicorn or horn beetles.

After not knowing if this was a beetle or bug, I luckily found a "replica" in the (small book): Sasol Field Guide to Insects of Southern Africa. It's a Tiger beetle & this family of Ground beetles is described as very fast-running beetles with long, slender legs. The head is broad with prominent eyes & they have long antennae.

Talking about bugs - I've previously posted this photo of Shield bugs - but want to use it again to "demonstrate" that bugs are quite different from beetles: bugs have sucking or piercing mouthpieces (instead of being able "to bite" like beetles). In addition bugs almost always have 2 pair of wings. Amongst the bugs are some of the smallest but also some of the largest insects found all over our country.

However in English, any offensive little insect is often referred to as a "bug". Similarly in Afrikaans, gogga is used to describe any small animal that crawls or flies. Did you know that gogga is derived from the Khoikhoi word xoxon?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Architectural Gems

Since lately I've "concentrated" on Cape Town & environs [SEE below: Minstrel Carnaval & Wildlife at the Cape Peninsula] I'll continue this trend today. The colourful houses of The Bo-Kaap are always a pleasure to see & photograph - even the various mosques "follow this colourful trend". Most of the unique architecture & historical cobble-streets date back to the late 1700's when originally, the freed slaves or their descendants settled here.

Accordingly the multicultural area of the Bo-Kaap is sometimes still called the Cape Malay Quarter. In contrast to the "belief" that the Afrikaans language has it roots in the nearby town of Paarl, it actually developed in the Bo-Kaap as the lingua franca - educated muslims were in fact the first to write texts in Afrikaans.

The Castle in Cape Town is the oldest European building south of the Sahara & the ornate De Kat balcony a unique part of this fort. This balcony, built in 1695 & redesigned in the 1780's, is part of a defensive crosswall (= "kat" in Dutch) that divides the inside of the Castle into an inner & outer court. The "key ceremony" is re-enacted most days at 10am. From this balcony terms of punishment were also read out during the original Dutch occupation.

The Dolphin Pool in the rear courtyard of the Castle was added after Governor W.A. van der Stel obtained permission to build a new bakery in 1705. The double storey building was constructed at right angles to create a private "garden" behind the governor's residence, where the square pool was built with a central "dolphin" fountain. In 1860 the British Army (stationed here) filled the pool with soil, which was only reconstructed in the 1980's.

Other than that the tower of Cape Town's City Hall is a (small) replica of the Big Ben in London (UK), it's of great historical significance - shortly after his release from the Victor Verster (today called: Groot Drakenstein) prison on 11 February 1990, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela appeared on the balcony of this building to "hold" his first (nationally & internationally) televised speech.

2 of Cape Town's "landmark" buildings in Adderley Street - the Groote Kerk (NG Mother Church) & the (original) Slave Lodge - now housing a cultural-history museum.

Did you know that Adderley was a British parliamentarian, who "fought" the decision that the ship "Neptune" should deliver British convicts at the Cape (during the 1850's)? After this "battle" was won, the ship instead sailed on to Australia!

This certainly is a gem of a building = "housing" South Africa's parliament.

Did you know that each brick of this House of Parliament building, constructed in 1884, "carries" a stamp: "Made in England"?

Another gem of a building in the Company Gardens = Tuynhuis. Originally it was built as a guest house for visiting dignatories, but now is the city office of the State President.

Did you know that secretively at the time, Nelson Mandela was invited here for talks with the then South African President, P.W. Botha?

To "demonstrate" the Cape-Dutch architecture = the manor house at Groot Constantia - this estate also "represents" the Cradle of the Wine Industry in South Africa.

[For other "architectural gems" SEE other entries on this blog: Port Elizabeth, Friday 30 May 2008; Pretoria = The Jacaranda City, Wed 23 April 2008; Stellenbosch = Historical Winelands, 24 Mar 2010; Pilgrim's Rest = Old World Charm, 4 March 2010; Graaf-Reinet, Mon 6 October 2008; Camdeboo Magic, Sun 30 November 2008]

Architectural Gems

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Numeric Worms

In numerology 11 is a "Master number" (as are all double-digit numbers), meaning today's date is highly significant - so numerologically speaking, this is going to be a wonderful year! We already had 1.1.11; today = 11.1.11 & in November: 1.11.11 & 11.11.11 = this combination 4x this year! By way of "representing" the number 1 "photographically" - one caterpillar. If a caterpillar (= the larva of a moth or butterfly) is brightly coloured that usually "acts" as a warning for e.g. birds that this caterpillar is ditasteful or even poisonous - although some caterpillars are mimicking an unpleasant species.

In everyday language the term 'worm' is applied to various living forms (in contrast to a computer worm) including larvae & millipedes, although generally, worms do not have legs. In alarm a millipede rolls itself up into a neat, flat coil. Did you know that that "accounts" for the popular African name shongololo (= rolled up)?

In comparison with a centipede, a millipede certainly has the greater number of legs but not nearly as many as is implied by its name (= 'thousand-footed') - in line with today's theme again, this is a numbers "game".

It appears that the 2 "worms" have had enough of my scrunity, so they move off in unison - resembling the number 11? When defining numbers (in numerology) even numbers are considered lucky (because good luck comes in pairs) - accordingly 1 = individual; aggressor; Yang & 2 = balance; union; Yin - now if you add 1 + 1 (11) = 2 & voila, an unlucky number "turns" lucky :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wildlife at the Cape Peninsula

Most tours to Cape Town include a trip along the Cape Peninsula to reach Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope. Some travel literature continues to claim that here, the Indian & Atlantic Oceans meet - whilst in fact, that happens at the southern-most tip of Africa = Cape Agulhas (= more than 100km further east from the Cape of G.H.).

A look from the parking area at Cape Point towards the Cape of Good Hope - with 2 Eland males grazing peacefully. Our "visit" to this Nature Reserve today is "dedicated" to some of the wildlife found here instead of the scenic beauty, for which the Cape Peninsula is more famous.

A closer look at the 2 Eland males = the largest antelopes found in Africa. Although it has a heavy & humped appearance, the Eland is very agile - it can jump with ease over a 2m-high fence. Although the Eland are more commonly found in the drier parts of SA or in the mountainous Drakensberg region, they aren't restricted to certain vegetation. A water supply for this wild animal is also not essential, because it can obtain all the moisture it needs from what it eats.

Similarly Ostriches are associated with desert or semi-desert regions, but also easily adapt to other conditions - & it certainly isn't an uncommon sight to see this biggest & most fleet-footed bird in the world near the sea in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. It's a "distant relative" of New Zealand's kiwi, Australia's emu & South America's rhea.

Larger game like Mountain zebras & Bontebok also have a "home" in this Nature Reserve, whilst amongst the reptiles, tortoises are common as well various lizards - of which this Rock agama is a fine example. [Also SEE: Different Lizards & Different Chameleons on this blog, Friday, 31 & Monday 27 Dec 2010]

And then there are the baboons - hardly any visitor to the Cape Peninsula leaves without a sighting of these primates, who many inhabitants in this region have come to view as a pest. In contrast this male Chacma baboon appears to "think" he's the "King of the Castle" . . .

. . . or is that the "King of the Jungle"? This baboon male certainly looked as fierce as a lion!!?

Less fierce yet also with wide-open beaks, these African penguins (formerly known as Jackass penguins) are "suffering" as the result of a heat-wave, which often occurs at this time of the year around the Cape Peninsula, where at Boulders Beach, these otherwise island-based inhabitants have found a home.

In contrast to the hot weather, the water of the Atlantic Ocean is always cold, and near Houtbay on the Cape Peninsula, a colony of Cape Fur Seals are at home on a small, rocky island. The fur seal is also known as a sea-lion, but gets its more common name from the pelt (of the pups), which are coveted in the fur trade.

Talking about Houtbay - after a visit by boat to the seal colony, visitors are usually "welcomed" back to the harbour by these Kaapse Klopse [SEE: previous entry on this blog = below].