Category Archives: Moths

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:



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:

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 [email protected], and we will send you a soft copy).

Pollinator Breakfast…

Hello – Pollinators are responsible for about ONE IN THREE bites of food that we consume.

Some two-thirds of all flowering plants on the planet are dependent on pollinators, most of them are wild insects and many of those are bees.

Here’s the contribution of pollinators to my breakfast yesterday: I had a bowl of oatmeal with almonds, raspberries and some papaya (paw paw).

The raspberries and almonds are both pollinated by bees. Raspberries have composite flowers and need repeated visits by different bee species as well as honeybees to produce nicely-shaped and flavoured fruits. Almonds are pollinated by bees and there is a veritable industry of mobile beekeepers who truck around their bees to help pollinate commercial almond orchards. Papaya is an interesting tropical fruit tree and the varieties we grow in Kenya typically have separate male and female trees (this is known as being dioecious by botanists), and depend on wild hawkmoths to pollinate the female flowers by transferring pollen from the male flowers.

The oats are not dependent on pollinators. They, like most cereals, are wind-pollinated. However, without pollinators our food would be really plain and boring and much less nutritious!

Please click on the poster below for a larger version:




Moth Week…

Dear All

I recently participated in National Moth Week, which is a fantastic initiative to get people more interested in insects and the world around them.

To learn more about National Moth Week and see fabulous pictures of moths from around the world, please visit this site:

To look at moths in Turkana this involved looking at moths (and many events were held around the world). I was in northern Kenya at the Turkana Basin Institute at the time, and it had been fairly dry in the desert so there weren’t as many moths around. Here are a few photos of what we found:

The first step was setting up the light and sheet to attract the moths…


Within a minute, the first moth had arrived (I think that it is a member of the Tortricidae Family):

First moth that arrived at the light


A few minutes later and there were a lot more insects gathering at the light:

How many insects can you see? (Too many to count!)


Several different moths came by for the few hours that we were able to run the light, here are just a few of them:



More from the world of bugs, soon, including some amazing moths from Western Uganda!


Moth decorates trees in Nairobi…

The forests and woodlands of Nairobi have been looking particularly lush and green for the last couple of months. This is all thanks to the more-than-generous ‘short rains’ that we experienced late last year. Nairobi is an interesting city for wildlife and nature as it has both forests and savannahs right next to traffic jams and high-rise buildings!

For those who have had the pleasure of visiting any forest or wooded area in Central Kenya over the past few weeks, a strange and beautiful phenomenon is on display.

Scattered here and there in the forests are isolated trees that are draped with shimmering silk. The trees marked in this distinctive way are Elaeodendron buchananii, a common tree of the dry evergreen highland forest and riverine woodland. This species also occurs in the Mara region and parts of Western Kenya.

Elaeodendron tree covered in silk

Elaeodendron tree covered in silk

What makes them stand out at present are the beautiful sheets of silk that drape the trees, which can also be mostly defoliated. The silken sheets stretch over the entire tree, typically covering the trunk as well as the branches and what leaves/twigs are left.

The silk is spun by a veritable army of gregarious caterpillars of a group of insects know as ‘Tent Moths’. These moths, in the genus Yponomeuta, have their own Family within the Lepidoptera: the Yponomeutidae.

A view of the caterpillars enjoying their silk tent

A view of the caterpillars enjoying their silk tent

The Tent Moths are distinctive in that they live in social aggregations and often completely cover the Elaeodendron trees in Eastern Africa. The caterpillars spin the silk from special glands and move about the tree within its protective confines. Elaeodendron trees are also poisonous and this no doubt confers some added advantage to the caterpillars.

The caterpillars are present on the trees for a few weeks and will then pupate in an aggregation, often sheltered by a branch or on trunk. Occasionally they may enter leaf-litter or shrubbery close to the tree. From these pupae a smallish grey moth with spots on its wings will eventually emerge and start the whole process over again by mating and laying eggs on the host trees.

Adult Tent Moth (Yponomeuta)

Adult Tent Moth (Yponomeuta) (Photo by Martha N. Mutiso)

This phenomenon is really impressive and represents a massive investment made through the efforts of many tiny individual insects working together. Insects may be small, but working together they can have a big impact on the world!

More from the world of insects soon!

Hawkmoth heaven!

With recent rains on the plains, the bush has sprung back to life and there are flowers and insects everywhere. On a recent evening walk I noticed a lot of hawkmoths whirring about a flowering Turraea bush. They were feeding on the nectar with their long tongues – the proboscis – which can be uncoiled and is used like a long flexible straw by the hawkmoths.

Here is a video of them in action – it was a real fluke to get this as they fly very fast and only feed for a short time just around and after sunset!

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Hawkmoths are fast-flying, long-lived and feed actively from many different kinds of flowers, a fair number of which they alone can pollinate.

Some 260 different species of hawkmoths are found across Africa. About two-thirds of these occur in East Africa, and a hundred species have been recorded in Kenya alone. Despite this relatively high diversity, little is known about their actual role as pollinators and especially as specialised pollinators of highly-adapted plants.

Convolvulus hawkmoth visiting the Turraea bush

Convolvulus hawkmoth visiting the Turraea bush

On a many-flowered shrub, like the Turraea, not all the flowers contain nectar. Even the ones with nectar, have only small quantities. This forces the feeding hawkmoth to move from flower to flower, plant to plant in search of adequate sustenance.

Watching for hawkmoths is a study in patience with brief interludes of intense excitement as I found out when watching these remarkable creatures in action.

Common Nephele hawkmoth pollinating Turraea

Common Nephele hawkmoth pollinating Turraea

Hawkmoths feeding from flowers give us a glimpse (literally!) of the long, complex evolutionary processes that shape our living world. The incredible adaptations of specialised flowers to their hawkmoth pollinators are some of the most amazing examples and evidence of co-evolution. If ever you find yourself near fragrant flowers at dusk keep an eye out for these swift, elusive phantoms!

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!)


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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.





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





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





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.





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!





More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!


More pollinator diversity…


Paradise flycatcher!

Hello – this morning I discovered a pair of mating hawkmoths sheltering on leaf in the garden. Just as I was photographing them, the female lifted the male, who is attached to her, into the air. As she flew clumsily (I guess he was rather heavy), I waited for them to land again so that I could continue photographing them.   basiothia_coplr1.jpg Suddenly a flash of angry red cut through the air. It seized the pair of moths and settled in a bush. Stunned, I moved forward to see what it was – a Paradise Flycatcher – one of the most voracious and beautiful birds in Kenya. The flycatcher seized the moths and gulped down the male first.  The female managed to break free…  flycatcher_hawkmothlr1.jpg   But not for long…   flycatcher_hawkmothlr2.jpg The bird pursued her swiftly up into the trees, grabbed her and then after beating her against a branch to remove some of the hairs covering her fat body, gulped her down whole!  flycatcher_hawkmothlr3.jpgflycatcher_hawkmothlr4.jpg 

More hawkmoths…

Hello – sorry for not posting more often (again!). In response to the question about the moth’s tongues – they can be very long up to 12″ or even more! There are mainly two groups of hawkmoths – those with medium-length tongues and those with super-long tongues…  Here you can see examples of both a short-tongued and long-tongued moth. More soon…  basiothia-lantanlr1.jpg  agrius-on-turraea-lr1.jpg 


Hello – sorry for not posting more often. Have mid-term exams coming up this week! I’ve been wanting to run a series about pollinators. This is the first of them. Pollinators, many of them insects, are one of the most under-appreciated groups of useful creatures in the world. Like the dung beetles they are toiling daily for us, but we mostly overlook them. To start off, here are just a few pictures of some gorgeous insect pollinators – hawmoths. These remarkable insects are fast-flying creatures that hover between flowers feeding on nectar with their long tongues (the proboscis) which can be coiled and uncoiled like a muscular spring. And as you enjoy them, please keep in mind this “One in three bites of food is thanks to a pollinator…”basiothia-lantanlr3.jpgagrius-datura-lr6.jpgnephele-carissalr2.jpgbasiotha-carissalr2.jpgleucostrph-qnightlr1.jpg