Author Archives: dududiaries

Weeds and Wildflowers = More Avocados!

One of my favourite plants (after cacao that produces chocolate!) is the avocado. They are one of the most delicious and nutritious fruits around…

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Avocado trees are one of the many different crops that depend on wild insects pollinators. I recently spent some time in the Kerio Valley looking at the insects visiting the avocado flowers.

Here are what the avocado flowers look like:

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator...

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator…

The pollinators of avocado on this small farm in northwestern Kenya were mainly different kinds of flies and honeybees.

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

After pollinating visits by several different flies, the avocado flower is pollinated and a young fruit begins to form.

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

They develop over several months into the wonderful fruits that we so enjoy:

Developing avocado fruit - they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Developing avocado fruit – they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Honeybees were also visiting the avocado flowers and pollinating them too:

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

One of the key things we’ve learned about pollinators is that they depend on a wide range of plants for their own survival.

While crops are only in flower for a short period of time, bees and flies need to eat from a wide range of different wildflowers. Without these plants, the bees, flies and other pollinators would not be able to survive. This would result in far fewer avocados and poor or low yields on the crops that depend on pollinators. Some of the plants that the bees and flies depend on at this site are considered weeds. These weeds, including the infamous ‘Black-Jack’ (Bidens pilosa) are actually an important resource for wild insects pollinators.

Honeybee sips nectar from a 'Black-Jack' flower

Honeybee sips nectar from a ‘Black-Jack’ flower

Weeds can be an important resource for bees...

Weeds can be an important resource for bees…

Weeds and wildflowers growing around the farm are essential in order to support healthy wild insect pollinators.

At this small farm near Iten, there were lots of different flowers growing along the edges of the farm, including this lovely, scrambling yellow-flowered creeper in the Daisy Family (Asteraceae). Several of the avocado pollinators could be found visiting the flowering creeper later in the day after they had been pollinating the avocado flowers.

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

This is why it is important to have diversity in the farming landscape, like here in Kenya’s beautiful Kerio Valley.

More wildflowers and weeds around the farm support more pollinators that produce higher yields!

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Please think of the pollinators when you next enjoy an avocado!

A few wonderful ‘Dudus’…

In honour of World Environment Day, here are a few amazing insects from the rainforest in Western Kenya to remind us of the incredible and wonderful creatures that we share this planet with…

I’ve been travelling around Kenya for the past few weeks, and here are some of the strange and fascinating creatures I came across.

One of the most beautiful of all African insects are the jewel damselflies, such as this Dancing Jewel found along the banks of the Yala River:

Dancing Jewel Damsefly

Dancing Jewel Damsefly

 

Among the many gorgeous butterflies in the rain forests of Western Kenya are the Charaxes, or Emperor Butterflies. They fly high and fast through the forest canopy, but can’t resist the lure of fresh dung to feast on! Many Charaxes butterflies have the most beautifully intricate patterns on the undersides of their wings, like this Giant Charaxes (Charaxes castor).

King Charaxes butterfly feasting on fresh dung!

Giant Charaxes butterfly feasting on fresh dung!

 

Some Charaxes species have the most intense colours on their wings, as can be seen here in this Blue-Spotted Charaxes, flashing its wings in the sunlight:

Blue-Spotted Charaxes Butterfly

Blue-Spotted Charaxes Butterfly

 

Even the fruit flies in the forest are colourful, as can be seen here with these Drosophila on some rotting fruit:

Feisty fiery-eyed Fruit Flies!

Feisty fiery-eyed Fruit Flies!

 

The beetles are not to be outdone with this amazing metallic tortoise beetle:

 

Silver Tortoise Beetle

Silver Tortoise Beetle

 

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon! Happy World Environment Day!

 

 

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!