Celebrating Pollinators: Pollinator Conservation Handbook Launched!

Dear All

Many greetings.

Am very pleased to share with you a book featuring and celebrating pollinator diversity in East Africa.

You can download the book through link by clicking on the cover image below:

Our Friends The Pollinators!

Click on image above to go to the page where you can download the book

 

To whet your appetite here’s a sneak preview of some of the pages from the book:

pollinator-handbook-preview1

 

Pages from 'Our Friends The Pollinators: A Handbook of Pollinator Diversity and Conservation in East Africa'

Pages from ‘Our Friends The Pollinators: A Handbook of Pollinator Diversity and Conservation in East Africa’

You can download the book freely from this link:

http://discoverpollinators.org/pollinators/pollinator-handbook/

Please share this link and enjoy the beauty and wonder of East Africa’s pollinators!

(PS – if you are unable to download it from the link, please send an email to insects.eanhs@gmail.com, and we will send you a soft copy).

Scorpion mother and her babies!

Dear All – greetings from the Turkana Basin Institute in Northern Kenya.

This afternoon while I was working in my lab I heard a soft rustling noise coming from the waste-paper basket.

At first I thought that yet another careless gecko had gotten itself trapped, but on closer inspection found a small scorpion hiding within.

As I gently eased her out to release her, I noticed there was something odd about her appearance. On looking closer I discovered that she was carrying a precious cargo of babies on her back!

Mama Scorpion with her newborn babies!
Mama Scorpion with her newborn babies!

 

Scorpions are one of many animals, including invertebrates that provide tender, loving maternal care for their offspring. While many of the arthropods simply lay eggs and abandon them to their fate, a few engage in a different strategy of reproduction. Rather than ‘playing a lottery’ by producing umpteen offspring in the hope that a few survive, these creatures produce fewer offspring and protect and nurture them. This greatly increases their chances of survival, especially during the first few days of their lives when they are especially vulnerable…

Scorpion mother and her young
Scorpion mother and her youngsters – how many can you spot?

A lovely example of the tenderness among creatures that many might find a little scary.

More from the wonderful world of creepy crawlies soon!

 

Rainforest Birds and Bees…

Dear All

I have been exploring the Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya over the last few days. The forest is sparkling with life after the heavy rains from earlier this month. It has been wonderful taking long quiet walks in the forest to look at insects and birds and ponder the meaning of life.

Here are a few of the weird and wonderful creatures that I came across…

Arriving at the forest in late afternoon, these gorgeous Blue-Headed Bee Eaters were sunning themselves after bathing in a rainforest pool:

A pair of Blue-Headed Bee Eaters

A pair of Blue-Headed Bee Eaters

Bees and butterflies were visiting flowers along the trails in the forest.

Brown Pansy Butterfly

Brown Pansy Butterfly

 

There were a lot of bees around, including this strange wasp-like bee (I think that it is a species of bee in the family Colletidae):

Wasp or Wasp-like Bee?

Wasp or Wasp-like Bee?

 

Predators also lay in wait on the flowers in the forest.

This Stingless Bee was one of the unlucky ones…

Plebeina Stingless Bee falls victim to a spider

Plebeina Stingless Bee falls victim to a spider

 

Further down the path troop of monkeys crashed through the treetops leaving behind a ‘gift’ that immediately attracted some wonderful flies. One of the first contenders to appear was this striking Flesh Fly (Sarcophagidae)…

Flesh Fly feasts on fresh dung

Flesh Fly feasts on fresh dung

 

The scent of the fresh dung wafted through the forest air drawing different kinds of flies close. A Black Scavenger Fly perched on a leaf nearby:

Black Scavenger Fly

Black Scavenger Fly

 

While some came for the prospect of a meal, others were drawn to the area with different hopes. The female Black Scavenger Fly was soon joined by a smaller male on the same leaf. At first she ignored him, but he waved his wings with passion at her:

Black Scavenger Flies (male on top left)

Black Scavenger Flies (male on top left)

 

No surprises as to what he tried to do next:

"Do you think I'm sexy?"

“Do you think I’m sexy?”

He met with some, albeit brief, success:

Black Scavenger Flies

Black Scavenger Flies

 

The antics were watched by other flies, like this ‘Zebra Fly’ (actually a Root Maggot Fly), from nearby leaves:

"Zebra Fly" (Root Maggot Fly)

“Zebra Fly” (Root Maggot Fly)

 

Further along the trail was one of the most incredible fly-mimics that live in this forest. Resting on a fallen tree trunk I spotted a large black ‘bee’, that turned out to be a rarely-encountered Mydas Fly!

Robber Fly that mimics a Carpenter Bee

The marvelous Mydas Fly

Mydas Flies are rarely see as adults as they live only a few days in this stage but spend most of their lives as larvae preying on other insect larvae. It is simply amazing that no matter how many times I walk through the rainforest, I always find something new and interesting.

I walked back down along a road through the forest and found this lovely Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly basking in the evening sunshine:

Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly

Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly

 

Here’s to a New Year filled with joy and wonder…

Remember to spend a few minutes in the company of insects and other creatures when you can!

On the summit of Lirandha Hill, Kakamega Forest

On the summit of Lirandha Hill, Kakamega Forest

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Honeybees Pollinating Passionfruit!

Dear All

Greetings from the Kerio Valley in Northwestern Kenya. This beautiful valley, an extension of the magnificent Great Rift Valley, is one of my favorite places. It is a veritable paradise for bees and other insects that live in the valleys’ forests, acacia-woodlands and rugged escarpments.

The Kerio Valley is also home to thousands of small-scale farmers. One of the crops grown here is Passionfruit. This delicious fruit comes from a creeper that bears spectacular and complex flowers that require insect pollination in order to produce yields.

Passionfruit Farm: Kerio Valley

Passionfruit Farm: Kerio Valley

 

At this particular site I found lots of honeybees visiting the passionfruit flowers:

Honeybee approaches a passionfruit flower...

Honeybee approaches a passionfruit flower…

 

Large numbers of honeybees were present on this sunny morning at the passionfruit flowers:

Jostling for room on a flower!

Jostling for room on a flower!

The bees were working hard collecting pollen by scraping it from the flowers’ anthers and then combing it into their pollen baskets (the yellow blobs on their hind-legs). In so doing, they transfer pollen between plants and pollinate the flowers, producing the delicious passion fruits that we so love. Here is a video of them hard at work:

These farms have bumper yields of passionfruits thanks to the bees.

But what helps make the bees visit the farms? The crop is only in flower occasionally, and bees need food year round at this site. The answer to this is simple: the abundant weeds and wildflowers in the fallow maize fields that surround the passionfruit farms.

 

Wonderful weeds at the edge of the farm

Wonderful weeds at the edge of the farm

 

Weeds are often seen as ‘the enemy’ by farmers, but they are important for supporting useful insects like honeybees and other pollinators.

Wildflowers help support the passionfruit farms!

Wildflowers help support the passionfruit farms!

 

The yellow wildflowers at this site were visited by the honeybees after they were done working on the passionfruit flowers…

Mmmm… yummy says the bee!

Mmmm… yummy says the bee!

 

Next time you enjoy a passionfruit – remember who to thank!

More from the wonderful world of dudus soon!

Celebrating with Bees!

Dear All

Today Kenya marks 50 years of independence…

We have so much to celebrate as Kenya remains one of the most blessed places on the planet in terms of biodiversity. While there are many challenges facing conservation in this beautiful country of ours, one thing that I can’t emphasize enough is how inspiring it is to live and work here among creatures who have evolved over hundreds of millions of years and today form an essential part of the ecosystems that support our lives and livelihoods. And we still have SO MUCH to learn about our country in terms of its biodiversity: many regions remain little-explored.

One of the most incredible patterns that is emerging is how localized our biodiversity is in terms of species distribution. For example, around Kakamega Forest there are about 250 different species of bees, while around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya there are about 400-500 species. But, when you compare the two sites, there is only ONE species that occurs at both locations! The honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata) is the only species that overlaps between the two regions. This highlights the importance of conserving, studying and celebrating biodiversity wherever we are in this wonderful country.

I’ve been busy with the bees in Western Kenya and finished up this poster of the Bees of Kakamega Forest recently (one of my favourite places in Kenya, and one of the most important areas for biodiversity). Please click on the poster image for a larger version.

My humble contribution on this auspicious day… A little inspiration to keep us looking at dudus for the next 50 years!

Please enjoy and share!

Please click on image for a larger version

Please click on image for a larger version

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Weird Desert Scale-insects/Parasites(?) Mating!

Dear All – Many greetings from Northern Kenya. Sharing some photos here from an encounter yesterday that make it worth being an entomologist.

We have had some incredible rains up here in Turkana in northern Kenya. These have produced an outburst of life with lots of dormant insects waking up and furiously getting to work as they take advantage of the favourable conditions.

Yesterday I was photographing some of the first bees to emerge after the dry spell, including the delightful Amegilla bees, who were busy visiting whatever flowers they could find.

Amegilla bee approaches and Indigofera flower
Amegilla bee approaches and Indigofera flower

As I was watching the bees, I noticed a tiny, strange reddish speck of a creature flying over the sand at my feet. It had a long white streaming ‘tail’ and was weaving back and forth frantically. Being a good entomologist, I sat down in the hot sand and took a closer look. The red-and-white specks were massing around a tiny orange lump in the sand.

What on earth is going on here!?
What on earth is going on here!?

My heart skipped a beat as I realised that this was the rarely-witnessed mating behaviour of some bizarre scale insects (or possibly Twisted-Wing Parasites – the jury still out on ID)! In both cases these insects show extreme sexual dimorphism with winged males and lump-like females.

If these are scale insects: these fascinating insects are intriguing creatures with females that live as ‘lumps’ on plants and males that fly around and are only briefly seen. After the rains they emerge and males go on to become tiny flying insects who in their short airborne stage of life (just a few hours at most), disperse and search for the females who remain ‘larval’ lump-like forms emitting large doses of pheromones in order to attract the males.

Male grapples with the female Strepsiptera
Male grapples with the female

 

With such a bizarre and ‘beating the odds’ mating strategy, there is little time for formalities and males pounce on the female and mate with her as soon as they locate her. The female I watched mated with no less than 4 different males in the space of a few minutes! The mating itself appears to be rather traumatic and involves the males grappling and pushing each other about.

 

Stresiptera_Mating-TBI-LR2

The function of the long-white 'streamers' borne by the males remains a mystery...
The function of the long-white ‘streamers’ borne by the males remains a mystery…

After a few minutes of passion, the males departed and the exhausted female lay on the sand before burrowing underground to locate a suitable place to lay her eggs and feed!

The wonderfully strange female Strepsiptera!
The wonderfully strange female resting after mating

More from the wonderful and bizarre world of bugs soon!

 

Bees of Turkana Poster

Hello – I have been working on a series of posters showcasing and celebrating the diversity of East African bees as part of a book on bees that I am putting together. I recently completed a poster on the ‘Bees of Turkana’.

One might think that Turkana as a hot, arid environment does not have a lot of diversity – but the opposite is true. Bees seem to like it hot and dry and the Turkana Basin is home to hundreds of different species of bees.

Here is a poster showing just a few of the amazing bees that call this part of the world home:

Please click on poster for a larger version

Please click on poster for a larger version

Please feel free to download and share this poster…

More from the wonderful world of dudus soon!

 

 

Spider captures wasp (in my lab!)

Earlier today I heard a loud buzzing noise in my lab here at the Turkana Basin Institute in northern Kenya. There are a number of wasps who make their home in the lab. These wasps construct nests from mud, which they then stock with paralyzed caterpillars or spiders as food for their larvae.

Today however, the tables were turned and one of the Potter Wasps that had been coming/going from its’ nest had become entangled in the loose webbing of one of the long-legged spiders that lives under my desk.

Potter wasp gets caught!

Potter wasp gets caught!

 

The spider had to handle the wasp carefully as she can sting, and the spider did this by using its long legs to spread its sticky silk over the wasps’ body.

Ensnaring the wasp with silk

Ensnaring the wasp with silk

 

The wasp struggled fiercely, but was slowly overcome after the spider leaned in and delivered a venomous bite:

Once bitten, the wasp struggles less...

Once bitten, the wasp struggles less…

 

A few minutes later the spider dragged its prize to the sheltered space between my desk and wall where it lives. On looking closer I could see many tiny spiders (including their recently shed skins), who were no doubt thrilled that their mother had brought them such a feast…

Dinner for the spiders!

Dinner for the spiders!

Sometimes you don’t have to travel far to find ‘dudus’ doing interesting things!

More from the world of bugs soon!

 

Golden Ground-nesting Bee!

In keeping with the theme of where bees nest…

A few weeks ago walking back in the evening from a day of looking at bees on farms, I noticed something sparkle on the path.

All alone with nowhere to go?

All alone with nowhere to go?

 

Peering closer I discovered that it was a beautiful Seladonia bee and I wondered what she was doing out so late. Watching her for a few minutes, she flew a short distance and landed near the entrance of a tiny hole in the ground. Peeking out from the hole was another individual Seladonia bee.

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

 

She quickly retreated into the nest and the first bee the slipped closer. The reason they were being so shy was so as not to ‘reveal’ to me the location of their nest entrance!

Approaching the nest

Approaching the nest

 

Then she quietly slipped into the safety of her nest.

Goodnight!

Goodnight!

This encounter illustrates one of the many diverse ways that wild bees make their homes. Some, like the honeybees are strictly social, living in families with different castes. The vast majority of bees are solitary, going it alone in the world. But a few, like these lovely Seladonia, appear to have come to compromise of sorts and share their nests, probably with sisters or other relatives. Inside this nest are cells packed with pollen gathered diligently from flowers where the bees will lay their eggs for the larvae to develop with plenty of food and safe from the harsh world…

 

Many different bees nest in the ground especially those in the Family Halictidae. These sites, often at the edges of farms near natural vegetation are important for bees and should be protected as the allow the bees to survive and work as pollinators for us.

 

Seladonia bee gathering pollen

Seladonia bee gathering pollen

So much more to learn about bees!

 

A bee that spins it’s nest!

On a recent visit to Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya I noticed one of my favourite bees (a bee called Pseudoanthidium, also known as Carder Bees for their nesting habits) buzzing about near the windows. It was flying back and forth from the edge of the forest.

This pretty bee is marked in black and yellow and flies about fast furiously visiting flowers.

 

Carder Bee visiting Ocimum Flowers

Carder Bee visiting Ocimum Flowers

 

Flowers are an important resource for wild solitary bees as they depend entirely on the pollen and nectar for their own energy and food as well as for their larvae. Most solitary bees collect pollen and store it in their nests for their larvae to feed on.

Pseudanthidium_Ocimum-LR12

Carder Bee working hard at an Ocimum Flower

While bees need wildflowers, they also need safe and sheltered places to nest and store their hard-earned pollen. This bee is one of those that constructs its nest from woolly plant fibres that it gathers specially for this.

Following the tiny bee back and forth I noticed that it disappeared behind a window.

On closer inspection I was delighted to find that there was a tiny nest that the bee was provisioning:

Bee at her delicately spun nest

Bee at her delicately spun nest

 

I enjoyed watching the bee coming and going and marvelled at the beautifully spun nest.

A work of art in a nest!

A work of art in a nest!

 

More from the world of bugs soon!