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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rhino Beetle

There are many beetles with horns and all are referred to as Rhino Beetles. The last picture is of the actual Rhinoceros Beetle (Oryctes boas) which is of medium size, brown and has a longish body. The other three shown here are: Dung Beetle (Copris elphener), Nursing Dung Beetle (Copris mesacanthus) and Trident Dung Beetle (Heliocopis neptunus)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dead trees

A very interesting dead tree ..... I have learnt long ago that one finds a lot in what we would call a dead tree. The peeling bark and other crevices host a multitude of lurking things.

I took my car to be washed and was walking around looking at the vegetation in the area. I went to look at the interesting bark on the dead tree and found 3 very interesting things.
First there was this very large Southern Agama Lizard. They live in the trees at night and feed both on the trunk of it as well as on the ground – anywhere they can find insects.

The male’s head turns a bright blue when ready for breeding. He was just climbing out of it as I approached. Kind of has a mean face doesn’t he?
Next I saw a small dash of green colour where there was not supposed to be any. The tree is dead right? So where would the colour come from. J

On closer inspection I found it was the head of a Spotted Bush Snake coming out from between the layers of bark.
The snake 45-50cm (18-20”) in length and is really beautiful. They are identified by being bright green with black stripes or dots on them which become less from about the middle of its length.

As I stood there watching, he slithered out more from this hiding place.

These snakes are not poisonous and feed on insects.
 Then there were a couple of Red-sided Skinks poking their heads out.
These lizards are about 10cm (3”) in length and feed on insects too.

Who says dead trees are not interesting!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fires and grass burnng in Kruger National Park

People are always very curious and horrified that in places like Kruger National Park controlled burning takes place and want to know why it is done. While in Skakuza, I contacted the Biodiversity Conservation Manager / Fire Protection Officer and this is their official release on the necessity of burning. The opposite side of the road is always left unburned and the difference can be seen in the last picture.
It does not take long for the animals to return to burnt areas to enjoy the new shoots sprouting out.
What are bush (veld) fires about and how necessary are they in the park?

African savannas have evolved with fire over thousands of years and veld (or bush) fires are very common in these savannas, especially in the dry season. Without fire, the vegetation and animal life of savannas would consequently be very different to what it is.
In Kruger being a savannah system; the fire season generally is between May and October, with most fires being set in July -September. Fires in Kruger are managed according to the ‘patch mosaic’ fire policy. In brief, the percentage of the Park which is burnt annually is dependent on the total rainfall received during the preceding two years and the objective of fire within the section.
 Research has also shown that the greater the rainfall, the greater the grass production and the greater the area which consequently burns every year. This relationship is consequently used to calculate an annual quota of how much needs to be burnt. At the end of the summer season, firebreaks are graded or burnt around the perimeter of the park and the infra-structure.

As soon as the grass is dry enough to burn, rangers apply controlled burns in their sections early in the fire season when the grass is still partly green thereby resulting in a patchy burn, i.e. some grass is not burnt, or is poorly burnt, whilst in other areas, all grass is burnt. This results in variable fire effects, which in turn have variable effects on a very wide spectrum of organisms.  Ignition is usually at a single point, the idea being to imitate how nature does this i.e. a lightening strike.
 Another objective of this approach is to reduce the amount of grass, thereby reducing the likelihood and extent of high-intensity fires later in the season. The burns are monitored by means of satellite images (MODIS– Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer) and information provided by the rangers. Management burning normally stops at the end of July, when the risks of a high-intensity fire, or an uncontrollable fire, increases considerably. Later in the season (October to November) lightning fires may occur.

Twice a day during the fire season, the rangers receive a weather and ‘Fire Danger Index’ (FDI) reports via e-mail from the Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Officer (FPO) in Skukuza. The FDI is determined by using a number of weather criteria to calculate the risk or likelihood of a fire running out of control. The index ranges from ‘Safe’ to ‘Extremely Dangerous’ conditions, when no fires may be lit, except for the purposes of cooking. It is often cooking fires which result in runaway fires, so please take care when making a braai fire!
Regardless of their cause, unscheduled fires occur every year, especially from September onwards, when conditions are hot and very dry. Most of these fires are ‘jump’ fires; fires which jump over the firebreaks under strong wind conditions and result in high-intensity burns. Some of these jump fires originate in Mozambique while others are caused by careless tourists who throw burning cigarettes from their vehicles. Poachers sometimes burn the veld intentionally to lure animals onto the resulting green lush, and people walking through the park illegally from Mozambique and over-nighting in the veld light fires which can spread the next day.

Contrary to what some people believe, veld fires very seldom permanently destroy the vegetation in a savanna.
Perennial grasses which appear to have been destroyed completely re-sprout from their basal parts the following season; while the annual grasses survive fire by dropping their seeds early in the season, with fire having practically no effect on them or the soil surface.

Woody plants, especially bushes, often get burnt down to ground level (but are very seldom killed outright). They re-sprout again during the next rainy season. Being taller, savanna trees also have thick bark for protection and are little affected by fire, except perhaps to have their lower branches scorched, during fire. But they are very seldom killed. Fire consequently has the effect of keeping the veld more open, which in turn favours certain animal species and is also beneficial to visitors as it provides greater visibility.
Is there impact of fires on animals?
Another misconception is that fire kills almost every animal in its path. Remember that savanna animals have evolved with fire over thousands of years and are therefore very successful in surviving fire. Although some do get killed in fire, but by far the greatest majority survive a fire. Animals can sense fire when it is still very far away and most normally have enough time to escape or move out of the path of fire front.
Reptiles and many kinds of smaller mammals and insects escape into holes in the ground or in logs, tree-trunks and under rocks, etc. where they are safe, because the heat from the fire front seldom penetrates the soil below 5 cm in depth. These individuals consequently re-colonize a burnt area very quickly after fire.

All fires are monitored by our rangers. After fire, rangers will record co-ordinates and other information on the fire and send this to the FPO. This information is used for a variety of management and research purposes.
Thank you Nick for this wonderful insight into burning.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo)

The Banded Mongoose where very disconcerted and confused when I went and sat down amongst them.
But after a while must have thought me a piece of wood or something as they just carried on foraging. LOL!!
The younger one did stop to lick his lips. I don’t know if that was from the insect he was dreaming of finding but he was looking at me with that glint in his eye. LOL!!
A smallish animal about 55cm in total length, with tail about half this length. Tails are usually about 60% of the length of head and body.

Banded Mongoose are easy to distinguish by the 12 or so black lines on the upper part of its back towards the tail.

Males weigh about 1.3kg, females about 1.4kg.
When danger threatens, they will freeze, raise on their back legs while balancing on their tail, to look around.

If the danger is real, mongoose will quickly disappear down nearby holes, into hollow logs or dug out termite mounds.
Bird’s eggs are held between the front paws and hurled between the back ones onto a rock or other hard object until broken then the yolk eaten out of the shell.

Found in northern regions of SA as well as a narrow strip down towards the Natal coast, they do not occur in desert areas.

These are a species only seen during the daylight hours and as soon as it starts to get dark, disappear into their burrows.

Food consists of insects, grubs, millipedes, snails, small reptiles, eggs of birds, spiders, frogs and wild fruit. Larger prey such as mice are jumped upon, held down by paws and torn apart to be eaten in small pieces.
They have 5 digits on the front feet and 4 on back. The first digit on front is small and situated at the side of the planter pad but armed with an unusually large curved claw about 8mm across the curve. The other 4 digits on the front have long, sharply curved claws up to about 20mm long.

They can be found in a wide variety of habitats including savannah, forests and woodlands.
Info: Unique Facts about Wildlife in South Africa (Joan Young)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Old, hotrods, drag and muscle cars

I went to an exhibition of old, hotrods, drag and muscle cars this weekend and these were my favorites.
I have never seen a car like this Talbot and I really liked it although it reminded me of a Batman car.
 The Jag was my favourite until I saw the Talbot.

These signs really made me laugh. :D
For more pictures go to:
 The crowd.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saddlebilled Stork

The difference between the male and female is that the female has a yellow eye and no wattles.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Blue-spotted Girdle Lizard (Cordylus coeruleopunctatus)

Family Cordylids

They take 2 years to reach adulthood and are slow growing
Food consists of  insects, grasshoppers, beetles, termites
Their young are not hatched from young as they give birth to babies. 2-3 per brood.
 The females do not have blue spots on their backs. Found in the George/Oudtshoorn district.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Millipede - Spirobolellidae species

Another fascinating millipede. 
 I have never seen one with stripes going the length of the body and not around.
 As always, no one can identify it for me.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mating lions

The female always initiates mating. Afterwards the female rolls on her back and the male scrapes his hind paws on the ground. They mate about every 10 minutes for 3 days.
Please watch this interesting video

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yellow-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis)

Family Gerrhosauridae
The juveniles look very different to the adult. (see last picture)
 Live in holes or termite mounds.