Category Archives: Forests

Long-legged Fly!

Dear All – thanks for your kind comments and continued interest in insects.

Have been in the rainforest for a couple of days. On one of the trails I spotted this amazing Long-legged fly patrolling a leafy lane. These flies are predators who hunt other small insects on the wing in the forest…

Long-legged fly in Kakamega Forest

Long-legged fly in Kakamega Forest

There were lots of butterflies about – the rains have been wonderful for the forest which is green and full of life. One of the most interesting butterflies I saw was the Clearwing Acraea (Acraea semivitrea) – as the name suggests, you can actually see right through the wings – they have fine ‘glass’ like windows in them which glint silvery in the sunshine. These clear patches are areas of wing that don’t have any scales or pigmentation on them, just the thin wing material

Clear-wing Acraea

Clear-wing Acraea

Also flitting along the forest paths were a number of African Map butterflies – who have what must be one of the most delicate wing patterns on an insect. More from the world of bugs soon!

African Map Butterfly

African Map Butterfly

Ant nanny!

Dear All – Thanks for the kind comments and sparing a moment to consider the world of insects.

 

Here is a another snippet from the rainforest. Climbed a hill on Christmas day so that I could telephone friends and family and wish them well. On the way down I noticed large black ants clambering about the stems of some grasses. As I brushed past them, they did not scurry away as most ants do.

 

I peered closer to one of them to see what they were up to. I flicked the grass with my fingers, and still the ant stood her ground. Then I noticed that she was standing guard over a small ‘herd’ of scale insects.

 

 polyrachis-scales-lr1.jpg

 

In a set-up similar to humans herding cattle and other livestock, many different kinds of ants lovingly tend scale insects, aphids and other plant-feeding bugs. In return the ants get to milk their charges for honeydew. The bugs get a veritable army of protectors, and in some cases even get carried around by their ant nannies!

 

The Ruby and the Sapphire…

Dear All, 

Hello – greetings from the rainforest. I was very lucky to spend the xmas holidays in the Kakamega forest in Western Kenya. After a dry spell, the rains arrived with a vengeance and it rained and rained and rained. This was simply wonderful and I truly hope that it heralds a good year ahead.

 

Thanks to the rain the bugs in the rainforest were incredible. Day before yesterday I took a long hike through the forest towards the Yala river.

 

In one section of primary forest by a stream I noticed a flash of pure angry red zipping by. A few seconds later it returned and settled on a leaf. To my utter amazement and joy it was a Ruby Jewel (aka the Uganda Red Jewel)!

 

 red-jewel-kakamegalr1.jpg

 

This is one of our less-common damselflies and has only been spotted a handful of times in Western Kenya. It was cooperative enough to let me take a few pictures, including of its flicking its abdomen in a sun-spot to woo females.

 red-jewel-kakamegalr2.jpg

 red-jewel-kakamegalr3.jpg

 

 

Unlike me, they seemed to be totally unimpressed by his efforts as none showed up during the entire time I spent watching him.

 

Later in the day yesterday, walking by myself along another stream I noticed a blur of incandescent neon blue-green. It floated by, darting in and out of the shadows. I followed it, hoping that it would settle. After several minutes of searching, it seemed to have vanished and I gave up. I returned to look at the bees on some flowers, soon losing myself in a daydream… then looking up I saw that the apparition was sitting right in front of me on a leaf, watching me with its beady black eyes!

 

 sapphire-umma-lr1.jpg

 

 

This was another of the most beautiful of damselflies – called the Sapphire. It is simply one of the most amazing sights to see – a smouldering neon flame flashing in the dappled sunlight. Again, this fellow cooperated and I managed to get some pictures.

 

This rainforest, Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya, was once mined for gold and searched for precious stones. However, I think that you will agree with me that the forest and her damselfly children are the true jewels of the this beautiful place.

 

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon! Thanks to everyone for the kinds comments…

Happy bees…

Dear All

 

Greetings from Western Kenya and many thanks to Rebecca and Dana for the kind comments. I feel very honoured that there are people out there who read this blog and care about the little creatures of the world! Just back from the Nandi Hills, and was in the Kerio Valley and West Pokot before that (more on that amazing trip soon).

Here are some pictures of honeybees and other insects visiting flowers at the edge of the forest in the Nandi Hills.

The honeybees were busy frantically gathering pollen and nectar from virtually every flower in sight. There has been some more rain in Western Kenya and it is good to see the bees and flowers are happy and healthy after the long drought!

 honeybee-nandi-lr2.jpg

honeybee-nandi-lr1.jpg

honeybee-nandi-lr3.jpg

 

There were also a few butterflies around, including this lovely orange Acraea visiting the flowers. Despite it’s fragile appearance, this butterfly is rarely bothered by predators thanks to its toxic nature advertised with the bright warning colours!

 acraea-nandi-lr1.jpg

I also found some tiny bees sitting inside the hearts of the Thunbergia flowers – (also called Black-eyed Susans) – they seemed to spend most of their time day-dreaming inside the flower, unlike the honeybees who were working tirelessly. I guess that if you are a bee needing a nap, the inside of a flower is the perfect place to take one!

 thunbergia-bee-lr1.jpg

 

 thunbergia-bee-lr2.jpg

 

 

 

More from the world of bugs soon!

Pollinators hard at work!

Pollinators hard at work!

 

“One in three bites of food can be attributed to a pollinator”. This statement is often quoted by biologists around the world when talking about pollinators and their importance to our lives.

 

In Africa pollinators are primarily wild insects that travel between farms and natural habitat, and are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and destruction.

 

Pollinators intimately link wild species with basic human livelihoods. The relationships between insects and flowers are at once ancient, beautifully intricate and correspondingly fragile.

 

These intricate and essential links between wild species, natural areas and food production were beautifully evident on a recent visit I paid to a farmer in Western Kenya. Lucy Murira grows a wide range of vegetables and fruits for her family. Her farm is located in the Nandi Hills nestled between tea plantations and forest patches. It is these forest patches that provide the pollinators for Lucy’s crops. Below is a short video showing some of the crops and pollinators on Lucy’s farm. (Please forgive the sloppiness of this video – it is my first attempt at doing this!)

 

 [kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/xIv6KJCmxEk” width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

 

As mentioned in the video, one of the important and nutritious crops growing on this farm is ‘Njahe’ a local variety of blackbean. It is a verdant climber with lovely pinky-lilac flowers.

 

 njahe-blackbean-lr1.jpg

 

 

The main pollinators of the blackbean here appear to be wild bees, including these lovely, robust and fast-flying carpenter bees.

 

xylocopa-njahe-lr1.jpg 

 

 

Without the pollinating visits of these hardworking bees, there would be no pods to harvest.

 

 njahe-blackbean-lr2.jpg

 

 

One of the other crops growing here that benefits from pollination is the butterbean. As Lucy says, these are really yummy (in fact one of my favourites!). Skipper butterflies and bees were pollinating the butterbeans on this farm. All of them need the patches of forest to survive.

 

 butterbean-flowers-lr1.jpg

butterbean-pod-lr1.jpg

 

Pollinators need a clean, safe and pesticide-free environment to survive. Lucy’s farm is filled with a huge number of different pollinating insects. Not only were pollinating insects thriving on the farm, we even found this little reed frog dozing among the tendrils of the butterbeans!

 

hyperolius-butterbean-lr1.jpg 

 

 

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

 

Ant in the evening…

Ant in the evening…

 

A few weeks ago while visiting a forest at the coast I took a stroll in the evening. One of the most common kinds of ants along the East African coast are members of the genus Polyrachis. These are fairly large (as ants go!), over 1 cm long, and can commonly be found clambering around houses and trees.

 

 polyrachis-watamu-lr1.jpg

 

 

This particular ant was wandering up a twig of a tangled shrub at the edge of the path. It walked up and down the stem several times before climbing onto a leaf. These ants are famous for tending other insects – primarily bugs of various kinds that suck plant juices and reward the ants with treats of honeydew. I found this bug lying against the stem where the ant was walking up and down.

 

 fulgorid-watamu-lr1.jpg

 

After a few minutes, the ant clambered on to a leaf in the sunshine. There it sat sunning itself for a few minutes before wandering off.

 

 polyrachis-watamu-lr2.jpg

polyrachis-watamu-lr3.jpg

 

 

 

I wonder what it was thinking of – perhaps ‘How do I get home to my colony?’, Or was it, just like I was, enjoying the evening sunshine streaming through the forest… It seems that even ants need a moment to themselves sometimes.

 

 

More pollinator diversity…

celebrate_pollinators-lr5.jpgcelebrate_pollinators-lr6.jpg

Cool Click Beetle…

Hello – on the road here – but thought I’d share these photos of a very cool beetle. This is a Click Beetle, who is named for the sharp clicking noise they make by snapping their wing-cases against their thorax (mid-section). It is meant to alarm and scare off any would be predators. This lovely chap was photographed at Kakamega Forest – the incredible comb-like antennae enable them to locate members of the opposite sex…More soon!elateridae-kakamega-lr1.jpgelateridae-kakamegalr2.jpg

More on bees

Hello – many thanks for the comments from everyone. I thought I would share these fun facts about honeybees – they really are incredible creatures…

Did You Know These Cool Facts About Honeybees?

Honeybees originate in Africa – evidence comes from both from modern genetics as well as ancient rock art and the folklore of hunter-gatherer peoples.

 

Pure honey never goes bad. Jars with honey from the tombs of the Pharoahs have been opened after 2000 years and the honey is still perfectly delicious and edible!

 

A honeybee can tell her fellow bees where to find flowers through a special dance language – very few other animals can do this! Karl Von Frisch shared a Nobel prize with Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen for figuring this out.

 

It takes four honeybees working their entire lives to produce just one teaspoonful of honey.

 

All honeybees that forage and work are sisters and sterile – they spend their entire lives just working for the colony!

 

Honeybees start out life as nannies, looking after their younger siblings, then graduate to foraging from flowers, as they grow older and more experienced.

Here is a sketch of a honeybee and a traditional log hive that is the typical way of keeping bees throughout East Africa;honeybee-guidelr1.jpg

A Vanishing Lake?

Hello – I’ve been meaning to run a number of posts on the changing environment in East Africa. As pretty much everyone is aware, there are a lot of changes taking place globally, with shifting weather patterns having serious effects on many different habitats. In Kenya, and much of East Africa, drylands are very sensitive to change and without annual rains that renew and refresh, they slowly turn to deserts. Even though much of the Eastern Great Rift Valley and it’s extensions are hot and arid, there are many lakes in it that area fed from streams and rivers that originate in forests in the surrounding highlands. These highlands are also home to millions of people and the ‘bread-basket’ of the country as this is where all of the food is grown. However, much of the agricultural land is expanding and many rural populations rely on firewood for fuel which places a lot of pressure on forests.Many local watersheds (areas that drain into a single lake/river system) are impacted by human activities both close by, and far away. Kenya’s lakes are in deep trouble, and this message is being screamed out by one small lake in the Northern Rift, Lake Kamnarok, a blue canary in the coal-mine, if you will, but is anyone listening? The Kerio Valley is one of my favourite places in the world. Many of the more exciting posts on this blog have been about the insects and other inhabitants of this special place…kerio-valley-dec05-lr1.jpgIn the central floor of the valley is Lake Kamnarok, which has been until recently, a permanent freshwater lake fed by the Kerio River from the surrounding highland forest. These forests have been relatively undisturbed until recently and are especially lovely when the Cape Chestnut trees flower, dotting the green mosaic with pink.eldama-forest-lr1.jpgLake Kamnarok, like many of the lakes in this region does undergo seasonal fluctuation.Here is a picture of the lake from a few years ago:kamnarok-july05-lr1.jpgJuly is just after the ‘long rains’, and the lake was pretty full at the time. Even in the dry season that same year, there was still water in the lake from the ‘short rains’…. kamnarok-dec05-lr1.jpg  Over the last few years, Lake Kamnarok has been getting shallower, and large beds of rooted weeds have appeared in the lake. You can see this in the picture below taken in August last year…kamnarok-aug07-lr1.jpg So what’s going on here?Well – two separate things, but both having the same result.Firstly, there is severe soil erosion taking place locally. The pastoralist peoples of the valley floor are increasingly sedentary. More and more people are keeping more and more goats who are busy eating anything they can find. Here is a picture of some serious erosion on the valley floor near the lake…kerio-erosion-lr.jpgThe result of this erosion is hundred of tons of silt and soil washing into the lake. This raises the lake bed and makes it easier for invasive plants to take hold. It also makes the rate of evaporation go up.Of course, as this is a remote part of Kenya, with only a poor, rural subsistence economy, it never received much attention. Through 2007, more and more silt was washed in by the rains. And, simultaneously, water began to be diverted upstream in the highlands. Of course this had very serious implications. If you put in less water than is being lost to evaporation, well even a pre-school child can figure out that the lake will shrink: if you put in less and take out more, sooner or later you will run out! Not only did it shrink, but it dried up completely! This happened some time at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008.Despite the rains (you can see the green fields in the highlands above the valley in the bottom of the picture), the lake did NOT fill up. The local community cannot remember when the lake last dried up, and many of the plants now appearing in the drying mud-flats are also ‘new’ to them – i.e. recent invasive species. Here is a picture of the lake entirely dry earlier this year:kamnarok-june08-lr1.jpg In case you can’t tell where the lake is, this picture highlights the dry lake bed:kamnarok-june08-lr2.jpg The lake was home to an estimated 20,000 crocodiles. They retreated to a series of tiny pools trapped in hollows towards the Kerio River. Then in August some very heavy rains did bring water back to the lake. But not much, as you can see from these pictures taken from the lake-bed itself…kamnarok-cow-lr1.jpgkamnarok-boys-mamlinlr1.jpg(Above photo by J. Mamlin) The lake is currently rapidly drying up once more. While this dramatic event has not made any headlines in Kenya or elsewhere, Lake Kamnarok, as fragile as she is, is still crying out a warning to us – stop deforestation and soil erosion or soon there will be no freshwater! The people most affected by this will be those in the valley first – as many thousands of households rely entirely on the lake and surrounding pools/ponds for all their livestock and human daily water needs. This girl has to walk even further
when the lake dries up in order to fetch water for her family (Photo by J. Mamlin)…kamnarok-girl-mamlinlr1.jpg  When I last looked at the lake, before travelling, it was rapidly drying up again…kamnarok-sept08-lr1.jpgHopefully this time someone will listen to her…