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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dark-webbed Ringlet (Physcaeneura panda)

The Dark-webbed Ringlet (Physcaeneura panda) is a butterfly of the Nymphalidae family and the only one of this species found in South Africa.

The sexes are similar but with the males having more rounded wing than the female.

They are common in the north west areas of South Africa where they are found in the hot flatlands.

They feed on flowers and fruit and are smallish in size.

Monday, January 30, 2012

SpearThistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) family Asteraceae

Cirsium vulgare (Spear Thistle) is a species of the genus Cirsium, native throughout most of Europe (north to 66°N, locally 68°N), western Asia (east to the Yenisei Valley), and northwestern Africa (Atlas Mountains). It is also naturalised in North America and Australia and is as an invasive weed in some areas.
It is a tall biennial or short-lived monocarpic thistle, forming a rosette of leaves and a taproot up to 70 cm long in the first year, and a flowering stem 1–1.5 m tall in the second (rarely third or fourth) year. The stem is winged, with numerous longitudinal spine-tipped wings along its full length. The leaves are stoutly spined, grey-green, deeply lobed; the basal leaves up to 15–25 cm long, with smaller leaves on the upper part of the flower stem; the leaf lobes are spear-shaped (from which the English name derives). The inflorescence is 2.5–5 cm diameter, pink-purple, with all the florets of similar form (no division into disc and ray florets). The seeds are 5 mm long, with a downy pappus, which assists in wind dispersal. As in other species of Cirsium (but unlike species in the related genus Carduus), the pappus hairs are feathery with fine side hairs.

Spear Thistle is often a ruderal species, colonising bare disturbed ground, but also persists well on heavily grazed land as it is unpalatable to most grazing animals. The flowers are a rich nectar source used by numerous pollinating insects, including Honey bees, Wool-carder bees, and many butterflies. The seeds are eaten by Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches.

The seeds are dispersed by wind, mud, water, and possibly also by ants; they do not show significant long-term dormancy, most germinating soon after dispersal and only a few lasting up to four years in the soil seed bank. Seed is also often spread by human activity such as hay bales.

Cirsium vulgare as a weed

Spear Thistle is designated an "injurious weed" under the UK Weeds Act 1959, and a noxious weed in Australia and in nine US states. Spread is only by seed, not by root fragments as in the related Creeping Thistle C. arvense. It is best cleared from land by hoeing and deep cutting of the taproot before seeds mature; regular cultivation also prevents its establishment.


The stems can be peeled and then steamed or boiled. The tap roots can be eaten raw or cooked, but only on young thistles that have not flowered yet.
Information supplied by:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus famelicus)

Andrea gave me this piece of information in his comment and I thought I would add it to the post as it is interesting.

"Do you know the meaning of "famelicus" in latin? It means "the one who always want to eat".

In modern italian is quite similar:famelico,and means exactly the same..."

Thanks Andrea. See his posts of African animals taken during his travels here on this link: Sidecar

Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus famelicus) belong to the Lygaeidae family of which here are many types and are medium to large in size.

Oncopeltus famelicus is one of the large species and identified by the orange and black stripes.

Although called a Milkweed bug, it feeds on a variety of other plants as well such as granadilla and sweet potato to mention a few.

The one in the picture above was just emering into its adult form.

They are common and found in most areas except the desert to the east.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Camel’s Foot (Bauhinia thonningil)

Of all the Bauhinia’s I have seen so far, this one has very different flowers to the rest although the leaves (from which it gets its name), is the same.

A small to medium size tree which occurs in low altitudes of woodlands.
The ash from the burnt wood is soapy and the green fruits provide a soap substitute.
The bark contains a fibre which is used as string and is made into ropes.
Cattle and game eat the pods and they can be ground into a meal and is said to be equal to maize and very nutritional. However, it is essential to dry the pods first for otherwise they tend to jam the crushing machines.
All the parts of the tree are used medicinally. The wood makes good fuel but other than this is of little value.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kite spiders

Isn’t this just typical!! I have been searching for a Kite spider for simply ages and could not find one, then here is goes, spinning a web right on my front porch!! J

I must admit though that I could easily have missed this one as the spider itself is only about 3mm at most and can hardly be seen and recognized with the naked eye. Thank goodness for macro lenses!!

Kite or Box spiders are solitary, web-bound spiders with the females being much larger than the males as with most spider species. They belong to the Araneidae family of orb-web spiders, sub-family Gasteracanthinae.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba)

Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba)  -  Pedaliaceae family

The wild foxglove varies in height, depending on the amount of water it receives during the summer. In the garden with regular watering they grow 1,5 - 2 metres tall. Some plants become quite bushy while others remain single stemmed. The soft, green leaves are about 50mm long and divided into 3 lobes with a bluntly serrated margin. The leaves are carried on long thin stalks up the stems. Plants with pink flowers usually have dark red stems while white flowering plants have yellow-green stems.

The beautiful white or mauve foxglove-like flowers are carried in pairs up the stems in tall, sparsely flowered spikes. Unfortunately the promise of an overwhelming display is never fulfilled as only two or three flowers on a stem open at a time. The bottom flowers open first and form fruits while new buds are still developing at the tip of the stem. Each flower is about 50 mm long with 5 lobes, the bottom lobe longer than the others and streaked with delicate lines running into the throat.

When in flower they create quite a buzz as a favourite of the carpenter and honey-bees. In nature the wild foxglove flowers throughout summer but at Kirstenbosch the best display is during the late summer months (Feb-March). The small black seeds are formed in the 30 mm long fruits which have two very prominent horns at their tips. Within a few weeks of flowering the green fruits turn brown and dry, splitting open to release the flat, pear shaped seeds. The leaves, stems and flowers are covered in fine white hairs. The plants are slightly sticky and when crushed give off a strong unpleasant smell. The flowers last for a few days in the vase.

This is the only species of Ceratotheca that is found in South Africa. Ceratotheca means having horned capsules, from the Greek kerato-, horned and theke, a case. The species name triloba means three-lobed (Latin), alluding to the leaves.

Cerathotheca triloba is used in traditional medicine to treat painful menstruation, stomach cramps, nausea, fever and diarrhoea.

Information supplied by:
Flowering during the warm summer and into autumn, this tall, elegant annual adds a cool and lush feeling to the garden. In nature they are commonly found in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa, especially the grasslands. Opportunistic annuals, they germinate best in disturbed areas like roadsides where they manage to grow, flower and seed before the onset of the dry, frosty winter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Velvet Ant (Dolichomutilla sycorax)

Velvet Ant (Dolichomutilla sycorax) family Mutillidae Hymenoptera (Wasps)

When I bought my first little point and shoot camera way back in 2008 in order to take pictures of insects, little did I know that this was going to become the foremost thing of importance in my life. I did not for one minute think that bugs of any kind could be interesting enough to capture my heart. Now, I live and breath BUGS!! If you have to love something, why not insects?? :)

There are a few hundred species of Velvet ants (Mutillidae) in South Africa of which I have sofar only managed to photograph 2.

This is Dolichomutilla sycorax and mostly lays its eggs on and paratizes wasp larvae. It bites its way into a cell and lays an egg on the pupa inside, resealing the nest when leaving.

For pictures of the second species and more information on Velvet Ants, please follow this link.

I could probably have chosen something easier to photograph though and not something that bites, flies, crawls, jumps etc and is so difficult to keep still to get good photographs.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Male/Female Monarch Butterfly - mating

There are many Monarch's around at this time of the year and I was trying to take pictures in order to show you the difference between the male and female. The underside of the wing was no problem but as they so seldom open their wings, getting the top side was a challenge. I hope these will help though. For more information on them, please follow this link.
The male has four black marks (dots) on his wing and the female three.
 A close-up of the tongue and eyes.
 The pictures below show the female on the left and the male on the right.

On the bottom of the wing, if you follow the main vein in the wing, the female has no dot in the first split to the left of the largest one.
Looking at the same vein, the male does have another dot. If you can get both the top and bottom pictures on your screen, you can see what I mean. 
Comparing the top of the wing, the same thing. Male in the first picure and female below that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cicadas (Melampsalta leucoptera)

19/09/2012 Update on name - Thanks to Martin for the identification.

Cicadas have to be amongst the most difficult insects to find. Although you hear them constantly, their sound seems to echo and you can never pinpoint exactly where they are.

For more information, click on this link.
 Else, the sound stops when you get close and it is absolutely useless searching in the grass to find them. They tend to hide in amongst the roots so finding this one was a stroke of pure luck.
 This one, like so many species I find, at first pretended to be dead, but I know that trick by now and am not fooled by it. :)
 He is about 5cm (about 1/2 an inch) in body length. The male of each species of cicada has a specific call to attract females.
 To quote Field Guide to Insects of South Africa:

“Males have a pair of circular sound-producing organs (tymbals) that appear as 2 rounded membranes on either side of the abdomen, each reinforced with a strong circular ring. A muscle attached to the centre contracts and the recoil produces a click, rapid contraction of these muscles produces a shrill continuous noise.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snake handling and first aid courses

Snake awareness courses: This course covers the biology and life history of African snakes, snake bite and first aid for snake bite. It is aimed at safety officers, game rangers, trainee doctors, corporates, mines and businesses that encounter venomous snakes from time to time. Successful attendees, after having written an exam immediately after the course, are awarded a certificate. Johan Marais is accredited by the International Society for Zoological Sciences and is an approved FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) service provider.
 Snake Handling: This follows the Snake Awareness Course is aimed largely at trainee doctors, game rangers, safety officers, police officers, fire departments, traffic departments, corporates and businesses such as game lodges and mines that regularly encounter venomous snakes on their premises. Participants are taught how to safely catch venomous snakes using appropriate tools for their safe removal and release elsewhere. Delegates are awarded a certificate. Johan Marais is accredited by the International Society for Zoological Sciences and is an approved FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) service provider. This course is also offered elsewhere in Africa, especially for mines that often encounter venomous snakes in the workplace. The mine programs take anything from 7 – 10 days, depending on requirements and the number of people being trained. Snakes used for snake handling courses include at least three of the following species: Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera), Boomslang (Dispholidus typus), Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) and one harmless species.
 Snake Bite First Aid and Emergency Protocols: This covers venoms and snake bite, first aid procedures and setting up emergency protocols for snake bite incidences. It is aimed at mines, game lodges, corporates, safety officers, trainee doctors, fire departments, paramedics, police officers and outdoor enthusiasts. Delegates are awarded a certificate. Johan Marais is accredited by the International Society for Zoological Sciences and is an approved FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) service provider.

These are offered by: Johan Marais

Author of A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa

Tel. +27(0)82 494-2039

Fax +27(0)86 525-2557  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Animal babies

Spring time and the beginning of summer is far and above the most wonderful seasons for me. It means that many species of wild animals are going to be having their babies and they are fascinating and oh so cute!! These Wildebeest always form a protective ring around them. 
 This is the time of year, after the first rains, when grass is plentiful and it ensures that the little ones have plenty of grazing. Outside my gate, there is a watering hole for the animals and it is wonderful to sit on my porch and see the herds with their babies come down to drink and feed on the grass. Last year this mother Warthog had 4 babies but this year, only 3. As soon as they sense any danger, the tails go up and they run off. No, that is not a seven-legged, two-tailed warthog, just two running side by side. J 
 During June and July there is a frenzy of mating amongst the Impala as the males have only about a 6 week period in which to cover all the females in his harem. This means that in November / December, all the little ones are born within a 6 week period and in places where there are predators, only so many can be killed and eaten so most survive to become adults.
 In the cat and dog family, the gestation period is only three or four months so the little ones are born with their eyes closed and are totally reliant on their mothers to feed them. When they are about 3-4 months old, they venture out for the first time. What a big, scary world it must seem to them. Lions
Elephants have on one baby in a four year cycle but they are as perfectly proportioned when born as they are when older.
 Zebra foals have very brown stripes when young and this one was not going very far from its mother.

Have you ever seen a Giraffe baby trying to stand on its feet just after birth? It has to be one of the funniest sights as those legs are so long, they do not seem to want to go where the baby wants them too. LOL!! At 2m (6’) they are the tallest babies around.
Please follow the links for more information on each species.