Category Archives: Climate Change

Buzz! Buzz! Bees make eggplants…

Dear All

Many greetings. I have been up in the hot and dusty reaches of Turkana in northern Kenya. Most people only hear about this region as a place of drought and suffering. Turkana is also a beautiful, biodiversity-rich and potentially productive place…

Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana

Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana

I recently visited a pilot farming project in a remote area south of the Turkwel River. This is where the Turkana Basin Institute has been established through the efforts of Dr Leakey and Stony Brook University. Ikal Angelei is an amazing young woman who is involved in many different things related to the environment, human rights and development in the region. Ikal is working with a local women’s group using simple and sustainable irrigation to grow and produce food.

Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm

Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm

One of the crops grown up here is the eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena). Eggplants have beautiful pale-purple flowers with fused yellow anthers…

Eggplant is an interesting species in that the flowers require a very special kind of pollination in order to set fruit and produce a yield. It’s called buzz pollination and this short video tells you more about it:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/vYcMQ2G1R1I" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There were several different wild bee species visiting and pollinating the flowers. Here are some photos of them:

Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower

Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower

Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen

Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen

While most of the bees visiting the flowers were working hard to release the pollen, a few tiny stingless bees were ‘stealing’ pollen where it had been spilled by the efforts of larger bees. It does seem that even in nature there’s always someone ready to take advantage of others’ hard work!

Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?

Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?

Here are some photos showing the stingless bees taking advantage:

Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!

Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!

Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...

Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...

Thanks to the hard work of the bees and women up here in the ‘desert’ there are beautiful eggplants to harvest!

Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!

Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!

More from the world of bugs soon!

Master of the air!

Dear All – thanks for the kind comments, especially from Brenton, Will, Barbara and Hannah. Here are some more insect pictures from the Kerio Valley – with the rains, the rivers and lakes are full again and there are lots of dragonflies about. Managed to snap these pictures of one dramatic Red Emperor on the wing!

Dragonfly hovering!

Dragonfly hovering!

ANother view of the aerial master!

ANother view of the aerial master!

Happy bees in northern Kenya!

Dear All – thanks for the kind comments. The rains we have had in Kenya have meant that a lot of bees are out and about pollinating. On a recent visit to Mt Nyiru, I managed to photograph some very interesting bees visiting the flowers of a succulent tree euphorbia…

Here are some of the pictures. More from the world of bugs soon!

This is a tiny stingless bee - these bees are very important pollinators in the forests and drylands of Africa

This is a tiny stingless bee - these bees are very important pollinators in the forests and drylands of Africa

A solitary wild bee species approaching the euphorbia flowers

A solitary wild bee species approaching the euphorbia flowers

A happy honeybee combing pollen into its fully-loaded pollen baskets!

A happy honeybee combing pollen into its fully-loaded pollen baskets!

Life from death…

Life from death…

 

 

As many of you will have read and heard on this site – there’s been a serious drought in Kenya and this has lead to lots of cattle dying. Out here on the plains we finally got some rain, and this means that there is a lot of green grass and wildflowers sprouting everywhere.

 

 

The herds of cattle that have survived (mainly from accessing grazing in the park) can be seen moving around a bit more happily now.

 

cattle-nnp-lr1.jpg 

 

There are also a lot of trees and shrubs flowering at the moment. Many of these are pollinated by flies.

 

 flies-flowers-lr1.jpg

 

 

Over the past few days I’ve noticed large numbers of flies visiting these flowers that are fly-pollinated. Species of plants with flowers that are open pollinated by flies tend to have greenish-yellow flowers with a musty scent and nectar.

 

 lucilia-flowers-lr1.jpg

 

One of the most abundant fly pollinators is known as the Big-Headed Fly (Lucilia sp.). This fly has a distinctive red head (actually the eyes). And there are literally thousands upon thousands of these flies now pollinating a variety of trees and shrubs on the plains.

 

 lucilia-flowers-lr2.jpg

lucilia-flowers-lr3.jpg

 

The reason for the abundance of fly pollinators is due to the abundance of dead cows.

 

 dead-cow-kit-lr2.jpg 

 

The flies lay their eggs in the carcasses where their larvae, the maggots, develop. In the process the flies help clean up the carcasses as they speed up their decomposition and break-down, and this also results in lots of flies to act as pollinators and as food for other creatures.

 

 lucilia-dead-cow-lr1.jpg

flies-dead-cow-lr1.jpg

 

On the same bush the flies are pollinating I found this smug-looking little reed frog. Hmmm – I wonder why he looks so satisfied?

 

frog-flowers-kitlr1.jpg 

 

It is not only the flies that are benefitting from the surfeit of food. Several beetles that also visit flowers, like the lovely Rose Chafer shown below, breed in the deep piles of cow manure.

 

 pachnoda-flowers-lr1.jpg

 

 

So from death and waste comes life again – thanks to the efficient re-cycling of Mother Nature! More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Bees in the news

Bees in the news

 

Dear All – here are a couple of links that might be of interest. Bees have been in the news over the last couple of days.

 

Newsweek has an article about the effect of bees disappearing on agriculture.

 

Here is the link to it:

 

http://www.newsweek.com/id/141461

 

And George Monbiot who writes for The Guardian has a piece on the failure of science to investigate the effects of pesticides on bees:

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/oct/14/bees-scientific-research

 

Please spare a moment if you can to look at them. Bees are in deep trouble, especially in Europe and North America as well as parts of Asia such as China. Whatever the may causes behind the decline of bees, especially the honeybee, we need to wake up and start doing something about it.

 

There is also a new film out called ‘The Vanishing Bees’, you can watch a trailer and learn more about it here:

 

http://vanishingbees.co.uk/

 

More soon – was just watching some honeybees foraging on the flowers of some acacias, will share those pictures shortly.

 

 

 

 

Blog Action Day – Climate Change!

Dear All – thanks for the kind comments – only just saw them!

 

Will post a link to the BBC piece asap.

 

On a separate note, today is Blog Action Day and the topic of focus is climate change. As I write this it is raining outside (unusual that its before 7 am) and this is the first real rain we have had this year! It last drizzled here on the 24th of July – so we’ve had almost three months with NO rain at all. Livestock and wildlife are suffering all around, as are people, who depend on the grasslands and rivers for survival.

 

 

Insects are just one group of creatures that are deeply affected by climate change – butterflies and bees get confused about when to forage or leave their hives, and are more susceptible to diseases and parasites when stressed by unusual weather patterns…

 

For more information on this global event, please look at

 

www.blogactionday.org

 

 

More from the world of bugs soon!