For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cradle of Humankind SA - Part 5

About 7-million years ago, early hominids began to adapt to a climate that was cooling globally. Before this, Africa had been mostly covered in rainforest. But as the temperature cooled and dried, savannah replaced the forest. This meant tree-climbing apes had to become more adept at walking on land.

Our ancestors who ventured out into the savannah were rewarded with roots, shrubs and occasional animal carcasses, ensuring that those who walked on two legs were more likely to survive.
Bipedalism allowed hominids to free their arms, enabling them to make and use tools well, stretch for fruit in trees and use their hands to communicate. They could also see further over the savannah grass.
But even with these advantages, our ancestors probably spent time in trees as well, which we can tell by studying fossils of hands and feet, and how they were adapted to climbing. Although there is a popular idea that our ancestors slouched and stooped forward, the study of fossil hips, spines and feet suggest they always walked fairly upright.
Development of the jaw and diet
Our ancestors’ diet changed over time. From eating mostly plants, they began to eat a mixture of meat and protein, along with plant matter. This helped their brains to develop, and in turn altered the shapes of their jaws. Over time, their jaws became less heavy or “robust” and more slender or “gracile”. The jaws of Australopithecus, for example, projected far more forward than ours, but as Homo developed, the jaw moved further back, under the growing braincase. Our teeth also became smaller as we developed the capacity to cut and grind food.
Development and growth of the brain
One of the defining characteristics of becoming human has been the growth and development of our brains. Australopithecus had an average cranial (brain) capacity of about 450cc, about the size of an orange. Today, our brains are on average more than three times as big as that, at around 1400cc. But bigger brains don’t necessarily mean a species will survive. Neanderthals had brains on average between about 5% and 10% bigger than ours, and they became extinct about 20,000 years ago.
Stone tools
The oldest stone tools so far dated come from Ethiopia and are about 2.6-million years old. The first technology that our ancestors developed was the Oldowan Industry. These tools were primitive and were mostly just pebbles or broken pebbles. Next, came the Acheulean Industry (pronounced “Eish-oo-lean”). Acheulean tools included large, rough hand-axes and cleavers, probably for chopping and mashing meat. Dozens of Acheulean tools, including hand-axes, have been found right here at Maropeng in an ongoing excavation. The Acheulean was followed by the Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age, during which tools became much smaller and more refined and were developed for specific tasks, such as skinning an animal, or hafting onto a wooden handle to make a spear. The Later Stone Age in South Africa lasted right up till about 200,000 years ago, and the San people knew how to make these tools right into historical times.
Control and use of fire
The ability to harness and use fire was a major technological step in human development. Our ancestors probably learnt to capture fire from wildfires and keep it burning before they learned to make it. At Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind, scientists have found a collection of about 300 bones which have been burnt at a consistent temperature, which is higher than the temperature of the average bushfire. These have been dated to more than 1-million years old.

This is the oldest evidence for controlled use of fire in Southern Africa so far, though there is even slightly older evidence of it in East Africa. So we can say South Africa’s first braai happened right here in the Cradle! The ability to control and use fire helped our ancestors to warm themselves and to cook food, thus helping to expand their diets.
Development of language
Scientists don’t really know much about this, as our voice-boxes are made of soft tissue, and there is no fossil evidence of how they may have developed over time. Some scientists say we may have acquired the ability to speak at the time of Homo habilis, 2-million years ago, while others say it is only modern Homo sapiens that has been able to speak, within the past 200,000 years ago.
Our sophisticated ability to communicate across time and space sets us apart from other animals, and has helped us to populate the Earth and travel to its most inaccessible regions. It has allowed us to gather food better, to live in groups better, and to express ourselves better.
Exhibit SK54 is a juvenile cranium of a Paranthropus robustus dated at 1.5 million years discovered in 1949 at Swartkrans by Dr Robert Broom and J.T. Robinson. This specimen possesses two 6mm puncture wounds. Initially it was thought that these fractures were caused by a pointed weapon. Based on subsequent excavations by C.K. Brain the generally accepted theory is that these puncture wounds were caused by a leopard attack. Using another Swartkrans find a lower mandible from an African leopard, C.K. Brain hypothesized that victims wounds were from a predator/prey scenario. The canines of the leopard matched up to the puncture wounds of the skull. An equal distance of 33mm.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Home away from home - Part 2

Nearing midday, and not having seen hide or hair of an elephant, I am about to follow the example of the animals and head for a shady spot. One of my ideal camps is nearby and I head in that direction. The camp is situated on the banks of a river with a lot of game feeding there and at night, if I am lucky to get a camping spot near the fence, I can hear the animals walking past. There is also a handy pool in which I can lie and soak in like a hippo. Just before reaching the camp, I stop at a waterhole. There are hippo, crocodile and many species of water birds. The crocs are mostly lying on the sandy banks with their mouths open in order for the slight breeze to cool the mucus membranes in them and so cool them down. Crocs are fascinating creatures which can slow their heartbeats down to four beats per hour and this allows them to stay for a long period underwater. I learnt long ago not to trust quiet looking pools in the middle of nowhere. These would be ideal bathing spots in areas such as Botswana where there are no showers or other water. I would sit watching the pool for a long, long time before venturing into the shallows of one to have a VERY quick wash. Mostly I would try to find a place where water runs over a fairly large area of shallow, rocky surface as this would be safest. The alternative is to remain stinky for another day until a suitable place is found or else make do with a portable shower which has hung outside in the sun while driving. A grassy spot, shower hung in a tree, stripped naked, and wow! The luxury of being clean again!
Not much is happening here because of the heat and I will return later, so I head into camp and check myself in for the night. An hour by the pool, a hamburger and coke, and I feel like a million dollars again. I set up camp in a suitable spot next to the fence and need to go for another swim. Four o’clock and I head out to find those elusive elephants. They are here somewhere, I know they are!
Two giraffe are bumping heads in a sparring session. Once again I get fabulous shots as the bush is fairly open here and good for photography. Giraffe have the second longest gestation period of all land mammals, eighteen months. Giraffe and camels have a distinctive walk. Unlike other animals, they move the right side two legs then the left side two legs, where as others use alternate sides. One giraffe is chewing what looks like old buffalo bones which are an additional source of calcium. There is a baby of about a week old. I know if I sit quietly for long enough, it will come closer as they are very inquisitive. Anyone who does wildlife photography knows that the greatest asset in this line of work is patience. I get into position where I am comfortable (using a window mount for my camera), and prepare to wait. The only thing moving are my eyes as I keep track of the youngster and also watch the continuing battle between the two males. Forty five minutes goes by, they have forgotten I am here, but the baby has started to edge closer and is now halfway between its mother and the car. Then I smell it…….the unmistakable smell of elephant! They are so quiet, walking on their toes, that one always smells them first. The giraffe are forgotten and I whip around looking for the elephants. The giraffe flees back to the comfort of mom’s side and I see a small movement behind some bushes. Yes, there he is. A big bull about to pull a branch down off a tree. These mammals must eat in the region of 300kg per day, this includes bark, leaves and grass. What an enormous male he is. I get the camera going. He is about 20 yards away. His tusks are huge and he must be at least in his 60’s. I try to see if he has mates but cannot find another one, but that does not mean they are not there, just that I cannot see them for now. The males are usually loners or with two or three other males. They only join the female herds for mating periods and believe me when I say this is quite a sight to see. On the rare occasions when I have, I actually forgot to take pictures!! He finishes his branch and reaches up for another coming more into the open and closer to the car. I hear something in the bushes on the other side and turn to find another bull not ten yards away coming straight in my direction.
This elephant is HUGE. My car almost fits under his belly! I sit as still as I can, camera forgotten (again) he is closer. I look up into his mouth as he passes right in front of me to join his companion. Camera! Grab the camera! At last I get the shots I am waiting for. He joins the other elephant and the two start grazing on the grass not ten yards away. Thank goodness I have a quiet camera! They sure do smell and as fast as they put food in their mouths, it all comes out at the back. They move slowly away and I start to breathe again. Ten minutes later they are gone from sight, but I know they are still close by. The giraffe have all but gone too and I decide to move on. My first sighting of elephant has been good and hopefully there will be many more before this trip is over.
Part three coming soon……..

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Home away from home - Part 1

I have decided to post a story which I wrote of one of my trips to a wildlife reserve called Kruger national Park. Please bear with me, as I am not a writer by any means and I sometimes forget to use American spelling as we use British, but you might find this interesting .........
I left home at 4 am on the way to a few days out of the rat race to find sanity again in the bush. It is warm and all the windows are open to allow the fresh breeze to circulate. Everything is packed, food, cameras, camping gear and most importantly, binoculars. An hour down the road, the sky starts to lighten and an hour after that, the sun peaks over the horizon. Another glorious day in Africa, but best of all, no work today. No cars, no telephones, no noise! A short stop along the way for breakfast (and the toilet of course) and arrive at the entrance to our most popular game reserve. Ah! What a feeling of peacefulness! It is like coming home after a long time away. The cameras are placed in special foam on the seat next to me. Each camera has a different size lens and it is specially cut out in the shape of each camera so that they are close at hand and will not fall or bump each other. Coffee is made and put in a thermos. Now I am ready to begin my day.
The first thing I see is impala. They are a medium size antelope and there are about 28,000 of them in the park. They are the favorite prey of cheetah and leopard and it is beneficial to watch the herds as they will give you a good indication if predators are around. The females all gave birth in November and December, so there are plenty of young ones around who are very actively jumping and running around in the cool of morning. Later on, they will be under the trees trying to find a cool shady spot to stay in until the sun goes down. But for now it is amusing to watch their antics. I feel very sorry for the males as they only have a six week period in June/July when they mate with the females, then they run around most of the time chasing other males away and this does not allow them much mating time. However, they seem to get the job done eventually, but by the end of this time, actually have black rings around their eyes from fatigue! What an advantage us two-legged creatures have!
I spot two young males play fighting and I grab my camera to record the fight, and it reminds me of the first time I brought my parents to the park. We had stopped to admire a huge herd of impala on either side of the road. “What a lovely herd of impala” I said. “Where” asked my dad. “Here, all around us” I said, impatiently indicating the herd, thinking he was mad not to see them. “Oh” he replied “all I see is biltong” I had to laugh at that. I see some blue wildebeest close by and across the road, zebra. These all live in harmony with one another. They eat different things and each species increases the others awareness to danger.
The zebra walk in single file wherever they go. Like horses, they have a gestation period of a year and can calve at any time during the year but with a peak in the springtime. No two zebra have the same markings and this is used by the young to identify their mothers. Some are grazing peacefully while others roll around in the dust to get rid of ticks and fleas.
I pour some coffee, and start slowly down the road again. It is too late to look for predators as they like early mornings and late afternoons to be active and so I will look for them this evening. At the moment I am looking for elephants. They are my favourites and always the first animals I look for.

There are more warthogs and impala, with a small herd of waterbuck grazing nearby. They are one of the larger antelope species with only the males having horns and standing at about 1.7 m tall at the shoulders. I move on and see zebra. The earlier settlers in South Africa tried to use them in place of donkeys to pull their carts, but were found not to have enough stamina as they can only run for about ten km’s. They are fairly dependent on water and are never found far away from it. My eye catches sight of a rhino. It is a white one with a square lip for grazing grass. Rhino horn is made up of a very hard fibre similar to our fingernails. If they have babies with them, black and white rhino can easily be distinguished as the white rhino herds her young in front of her, while the black rhino baby trails behind. The white rhino also holds its head close to the ground while the black, leaf eating rhino, carries its head higher. They are Africa’s third largest mammal and their only enemy is man who has hunted them in large numbers. This one is quietly grazing and comes very close to me. They are extremely short sighted but make up for it by having a very good sense of hearing.
I see beautiful Starlings feeding and come across some ground Hornbills. They are the largest of the hornbill species and stand at about a metre tall. They are black with a bright red crop. The crop is yellow (almost white) when born, turning orange and then red as they grow older. They walk along the road looking for insects, snakes, centipedes and I have even seen them trying to get at a tortoise. Stunning creatures with very long eyelashes, they are wonderful to see.
Part two coming soon………

House Flies

I am sure you were always wanting to know this. LOL!!

Flies are distinguished from all other insects by having one pair of wings instead of two. Instead of a pair of hindwings they have a pair of halteres which are knob-like processes evidently used for balance in flight.
The housefly combines a capacity for producing great numbers of young with one of the shortest life cycles known. A few flies in early summer can produce millions of descendants by fall, and as many as ten generations in that single season. Each female lays about 500 slender whitish eggs in batches of a hundred or more at a time. A half-day later, in warm weather, each egg hatches into a tiny white larva called a maggot. After five days or more, the larva is full-grown and then transforms into a quarter-inch, brown, seed-like pupa or "resting stage". From these pupae, 3 or 4 days later, the adults emerge and are soon ready to start families of their own.
The average life span of an adult housefly is from 20 to 30 days. Occasionally, one may survive freezing weather if hidden away in a warm building but most of the parents of each year's crop spend the winter as maggots or pupae buried in stable litter or under piles of rotting grass.
A housefly's two transparent wings buzz at about 160 beats per second. Marked flies have been recaptured after traveling as much as 13 miles but, usually, they travel no farther than the nearest place to feed and lay eggs -- perhaps in the same city block. Each of a fly's six feet ends in a pair of claws and a pad covered with hairs that exude a sticky fluid. That is why they are able to walk up a polished window pane or stroll around on a ceiling.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mating moths - Owlet Moth - Noctuidae sp

These mating moths were almost invisible aaginst their background of paving stones.
They mated for almost two hours before it got too dark for me to see them any longer but they were gone in the morning.
Now I have two questions:
1. How long did they mate for?
2. They cannot see themselves, so how do they know they blend in with their background and are almost invisible?

What is the difference between the Black and White Rhino?

The most remarkable differences between the black and white rhino are:
a) the white is the larger of the two species;
b) a larger hump and head are found on the white rhino;
c) black rhino have a round lip whereas the white has a square one;
d) the grass eating white rhino carries its head close to the ground while the leaf eating black rhino hold its head higher;
e) the calf of the black rhino follows behind, while the white calf walks in front.

Oops!!! Wrong view...sorry!! LOL!!
They are Africa's third largest mammal and their only enemy is man who has hunted them in large numbers.
They will use their horns to dig for water in the dry season.
Three toes are found on each foot.
The black rhinoceros is very agile and when running, it can stop and spin around within the length of it's body.

To rid themselves if insects and ticks, they will wallow in mud and once it is dry, they will rub themselves against a tree so that the mud encased insects will fall off with the mud.
The ears are able to rotate independently of each other.
They are colour-blind and like dogs, can only see images in black and white.
Rhino horns are actually made up of a very hard fibre and are not a true horn.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


So many of you were on the right track but sorry, no cigar this week to anyone. Tom is going to be mad again and say I switched the pictures. LOL!!
The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. By dragging the bodies of large animals aloft it hopes to keep them safe from scavengers such as hyenas. Leopards can also hunt from trees, where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce. These nocturnal predators also stalk antelope, deer, and pigs by stealthy movements in the tall grass. When human settlements are present, leopards often attack dogs and, occasionally, people.
Leopards are strong swimmers and very much at home in the water, where they sometimes eat fish or crabs.
Female leopards can give birth at any time of the year. They usually have two grayish cubs with barely visible spots. The mother hides her cubs and moves them from one safe location to the next until they are old enough to begin playing and learning to hunt. Cubs live with their mothers for about two years—otherwise, leopards are solitary animals.
When a female is pregnant and we have a period of drought, she can actually stop the fetus developing further until conditions improve. There are only two animals I know of which can do this, the other being the kangaroo.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cradle of Humankind SA - Part 4

We humans are relatively recent arrivals on Earth. But our ancestors have been here for millions of years.

Our ancestors are called “hominids”. The oldest hominid discovered so far is Sahelanthropus tchadensis, from Chad, which is about 7-million years old. This fossil has been nicknamed “Toumai” in the local Goran language. There are also several very old species that have been discovered in Kenya and Ethiopia.
While the exact shape of the human family tree is something scientists are still debating, the one thing that they mostly agree on is that humankind was born here in Africa.

In the Cradle of Humankind, about 1,000 hominid fossils have been discovered, spanning several million years.
The oldest hominid fossils from the Cradle are more than 3-million years old and belong to the genus Australopithecus. There were many species or types of Australopithecus, which lived in Eastern and Southern Africa.
“Mrs Ples”, the famous fossil of a skull of an Australopithecus africanus, was discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves by palaeontologists Dr Robert Broom and John Robinson in 1947. “Mrs Ples” is about 2.1-million years old. In 1997, palaeontologist Professor Ron Clarke and his assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe, discovered the full skeleton of an Australopithecus inside the Sterkfontein Caves, encased in breccia, a type of rock. This skeleton, called “Little Foot”, is still being excavated.
Note: There is a big controversy going on concerning Mrs. Ples. They now believe that it should actually be Mr. Ples as the hip and eyebrow structure give indications of this.
After Australopithecus came the genus Homo, to which we humans, Homo sapiens, belong. The earliest named Homo species is Homo habilis or “handy man”, which researchers believe made the first stone tools. Homo habilis emerged about 2-million years ago. After Homo habilis came, among others, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis and Homo Sapiens – us.
These species lived in different parts of the world. Not all Homo species were direct ancestors of humans.
The human family tree has many branches, several of which broke off as species became extinct.
Modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged only about 200,000 years ago. While older species of Homo, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, lived in Asia and Europe mostly, scientists believe that modern humans, like our most distant ancestors such as Toumai and the australopithecines, evolved here in Africa.
The oldest fossil evidence for modern humans discovered so far comes from Ethiopia and South Africa.
I do apologize for the quality of these photographs again as everything is behind glass and extremely difficult to photograph.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Odds and ends - Part 6

This flower looks like it is made of plastic.
A very attractive bush but not native to SA. The red seed pods are eaten by birds but it does not taste very interesting.
Beautiful Hibiscus. Many species are grown for their showy flowers or used as landscape shrubs. Hibiscus is also a primary ingredient in many herbal teas.
This tiny little spider s about the size of a match head.

The street where I live.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Miscellaneous Grasshoppers

We have grasshoppers of every description, shape, color and size here so I thought I would put together a small collection to show you.