Friday, November 6, 2015

What to do with fledglings and nestlings?

It’s that time of year again and we often get little birds “lost” on campus. Please refer to the following flow diagram when deciding what to do with them. If you make sure the students see the poster by displaying it in your class then we will be able to get rid of some of the most prevalent myths concerning baby birds

The little fellow pictured above seems to be a fledgling that belongs to the Southern black flycatcher who frequents the big Mahogany tree. After we left baby out on the deck she found it and probably led it somewhere safe.

Malik meets mobile moustache at Macaneta Mozambique!

Bioblitz report

Lassiocampidae (Eggar moth): the name gave me no indication of the visual impact of the  prehistoric animated Cuban cigar with highlights in its hollow venom spears that Malik found wrapped around a pod mahogany branch on Macaneta. I have seen a fair number of forgettable caterpillars but this one …

Speaking from a complete lack of experimental evidence. A carefully planned lack, I might add. I can say that this creature is not something one would want to mess with, physical contact with those spines can cause a type of histamine release and dermatitis called Lepidopterism.

Toxins from the hairs are likely to spill out if broken off, and these moths are prone to lash about forcing hairs into the skin if they feel threatened. People who are allergic to the toxins are in for a torrid time.

The weird name “Eggar” moth is derived from the egg shaped cocoon of some species of which there are over 2000 kinds on earth (some as yet undiscovered). Maybe the caterpillar should be called the animated victorian moustache. You never know what you are going to find out there, that’s what makes exploration time in the bush so cool.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Swifts nesting in the palms on the AISM deck

A number of swifts have chosen to nest above the tables on the deck, keep an eye out for them as you go to lunch. Mr L

A Charaxid butterfly pupating under our big tree

The above two photos taken from Wikipedia show an adult Charaxes jasius and its caterpillar.
We have a number of Charaxes species resident in our area, and it will be fascinating to watch and see which one this is.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Blondie: The Brown house snake at AISM.

One of the best things about house snakes is their steadfast reluctance to bite, It may have to do with the fact that they constrict their prey. This makes them the ideal take to school companion. Here Hanna gets to meet blondie.

Just look at those gorgeous iridescent scales, House snakes were named for their habit of hanging around homes in order to find their food. We named this one "Blondie" for its superb light coloration.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sonja de Beer at the British Museum of natural history.

The roach that we thought was new has proved to be a described species of Zuluia, but what is new is the recognition of the males (With wings) as being very different in aspect from the more segmented (Without wings) females.
Sonja managed to get a number of specimens of the males of Zuluia to the British museum of natural history in London so that the specialists become aware that they are significantly different from the females. I learnt from this experience that it is best to wait for a while before assuming that anything is a new species, because even the experts may have missed something.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Jonathan and the roach.

The highlight of my day was strolling over to John Marrone’s History class and telling my son Jonathan the good news that, Yes, we are going to name an insect after him…but, the bad news, is that it’s a cockroach!

It all began with an impromptu adventure to a rocky outcrop on the Lebombo Mountains above Siteki. I can’t conceive of anything better than scratching around weird habitats, and this place is plenty weird. There are orchids and Camphor trees and all sorts of other exciting creatures.

Jonathan, like all my kids was doing his own exploring, having become used to being dragged through the bush at regular intervals, from a very early age. I am not sure how he spotted it but there it was… “Dad, come see this strange beetle..”

Well a beetle it was not! As you can see from the photo, it has the makings of a paper thin, lichen encrusted, granite mimicking, coin. It looked bizarre, even to me as a complete novice on the topic of cockroaches.

So with a few cockroach pictures on file, we made our way back to Maputo where I sent the images to every cockroach expert I could find.

The reply from specialist Ingo Fritzsche came within two hours.

“Your cockroach looks really special, I never have seen anything like that before and on the first picture it looks like an adult. I can place it near in a Family, but nothing closer. Sometimes it is possible, that someone finds a new genus or of course new species, new to science.”

The end of the story is not yet apparent, because we obviously didn’t capture the roaches. We need to go back and make sure that we find some that can be described.

Nevertheless it sure pays to keep your eyes open. Well-done Jonathan.

Its a roach for sure!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pied Beauty in Maputo

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Of Hobbits and things

On the symbiosis of Entomologists and Hobbits

It is a sad fact that by the time one becomes a formal entomologist (the “bug”-lovers qualification), one has lost three of the primary characteristics that enable the discovery of new and varied species of “bugs”.

Firstly and most assuredly you have grown a pair of legs that puts you way over the desired height for bug spotting. Many insects prefer the understory and can only be spotted by midgets or the properly trained primary school student.

Secondly, the enthusiasm (think about that word…Theos within) in that age group is unparalleled. They love to crawl around in vigorous undergrowth, and revel in mucky environments that would daunt a Vietnamese potbelly pig.

And thirdly they the have eyesight of a teenager spotting a hamburger across a cafeteria swimming in boiled broccoli.

The wise entomologist makes sure they team up with the super spotters of the kindergarten/primary school variety. Not to do so means missing out on a myriad of superb discoveries. One of my fourth graders in Madagascar once found an entirely new species of stick insect in a highland rainforest.

While walking towards my Prado in the parking lot the other day, my daughter Jemma spotted the long horned beetle shown in the picture, under the tow bar of the car, at a level that was entirely obscured from my field of vision. I am not beyond bribery and I still owe her an ice cream.

Hurrah for the hobbits!