Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saffron Sapphire!

Hello – many greetings from the wet Serengeti plains in Northern Tanzania. Just wanted to share this photo of a very special butterfly called the Saffron Sapphire (Iolaus pallene).

Watched this little fellow whirling around a kopje. They lay their eggs on parasitic plants that grow on large trees… The ‘tails’ on this butterfly actually function as a false-head encouraging predators to grab for the wrong end while the butterfly makes a hasty escape!

More from the world of bugs soon!

Tree planting in honour of Wangari Maathai

Yesterday Kenya and the world celebrated the life of Prof. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 who recently passed away. As part of the activities in her honour, across the country communities came together to plant trees. The Turkana Basin Field School students joined the Friends of Lake Turkana, Forestry Department officials, members of the IRC committee in Lodwar and students and teachers of the St Michael Kawalase Primary school in a tree planting exercise.

The activities were organized by Ikal Angelei, who is a leading champion for local social and environmental issues, as well as coordinating many of the activities of the Turkana Basin Institute. Ikal is a passionate and able spokesperson and activist leading the fight for a better environment, livelihoods and justice in Turkana. It was a great honour and privilege for the students and myself to participate in this humble and powerful exercise.

Ikal Angelei and the headteacher Mr Keem address the students, as Mr Kenyaman, the scoutmaster and a champion for tree-planting looks on.

We planted trees at two different locations: at the St. Michael Kawalase Primary School as well as at a camp for Internally Displaces People near Lodwar. Ikal noted how the example and life of Wangari Maathai had inspired people all over the world and how important trees were for human life and livelihoods in the drylands of Turkana.

Ikal plants the first seedling of the day at the school

Ikal carefully fills in the earth around the seedling

Then it was the Field School students’ turn to get their hands into the soil…

Hui gets her seedling ready for planting

Roy helps fill in some earth around the seedling

Elaine waters the first seedling planted by the TBI students

Sarah waters her seedling

Kait gets her seedling ready for planting

The Forestry Department helped plant several of the seedlings

After the seedlings were planted, the students thanked the school and community members for the opportunity to help out.

Wes thanks the students, teachers and tells the students the importance of studying hard

The humble act of planting and caring for trees is the first step towards making a better world for all of us.

More from the world of bugs (and people too!) soon…

Desert filled with bees

A recent rainstorm has brought out the flowers in the desert of northern Kenya where I am currently based at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI). I am here teaching an ecology module for the Turkana Basin Field School. A single rainstorm that fell a few weeks ago has also brought out a large number of insects. Like many of the plants, the insects are active and taking opportunity of the greenery to forage and breed. And like the plants they are all under intense pressure to complete their life-cycles. For insects this often involves several stages as eggs, larvae, pupae and finally adults.

Deserts and drylands are often mistakenly thought to be places of low diversity. However, they are rich in insect life, but most of this is hidden away awaiting the brief periods of flowering. As this time is now upon us, it has been very exciting for the students to glimpse some of the incredible bee diversity in this habitat. One of the groups of insects that are more diverse in drylands, especially in Africa, are the bees. These are wild bee species. Many people are surprised to learn that there are more than just honeybees. Bee diversity in this area is largely unexplored and no doubt many exciting new species and biology remains to be discovered.

A tiny bee, Nomioides, visiting a Tribulus flower at TBI

We started out watching and collecting bees on the Indigofera spinosa bushes within the TBI compound. A number of bees have been frantically visiting the tiny pink flowers. The students have collected several different bee species on the Indigofera. These include some large leafcutter bees who carry pollen on their bellies, which turns them bright yellow. Another common bee visiting the flower was a Pseudapis. Also visiting the flowers was a striking parasitic cuckoo bee species (Coelioxys) that is a brood parasite of the leafcutter bees. Just like the cuckoo bird, it lays its eggs in the nests made by the hardworking leafcutter bees!

Pseudapis - one of the most efficient pollinators of the Indigofera bushes

Leafcutter bee with its belly covered in pollen!

Cuckoo Bee (Coelioxys) visiting the Indigofera flowers.

We then travelled to a site in the open desert plains where a carpet of miniature flowers pressed close to the ground was busy with bee activity.

Students search for bees on the open semi-desert plains

Here we found several different bees that we hadn’t seen nearer TBI. These included a beautiful halictid or sweat bee with a bright orange abdomen.

Tiny, gorgeous halictid Nomiine bee

We also spent time catching parasitic wasps and bees that were tiny. These are so tiny that we had to use small bags and slip them quickly over the bees as they were foraging, as they could wriggle through the holes in the nets! The students worked hard and learnt a lot about bee diversity and how much work it is to study them!

Students hard at work looking for tiny bees and wasps

Student Hui poised ready to catch one of the zippy bees...

The students also collected data on visitation rates to flowers on the Indigofera bushes. This species is really important as it is the main browse for goats and camels which are the livestock species that people depend on in the drylands of Turkana. We found that solitary wild bee species are both the most abundant and the most efficient pollinators as they carry pollen between many different individual plants resulting in effective cross-pollination. The Indigofera bushes establish new plants from the seeds that only come about as a result of pollination by the wild bee species. So the bees feed the goats and camels indirectly!

Camel browsing on Indigofera from seeds made by bees

More from the world of bees and bugs soon.

To learn more about the Turkana Basin Institute, please visit their website:

http://www.turkanabasin.org/

Beautiful Bee-hawk!

Dear All
Many greetings, just back in access to the internet after lots of travelling in the field. A couple of days ago as I was counting ants I noticed a blur zipping through the flowers around me. At first I thought that it was a bee. A closer look revealed that this was a stunning hawkmoth that mimics bees. Here are some photos of this beauty called the Bee-Hawk…

Bee-Hawk visiting flowers

Bee-Hawk visiting flowers

The Bee-Hawk kept moving from flower to flower...

The Bee-Hawk kept moving from flower to flower...

The clear wings and boldly-marked body make this Bee-Hawk a good mimic of bees!

The clear wings and boldly-marked body make this Bee-Hawk a good mimic of bees!

Dutch flower paintings..

Saw these beautiful Dutch floral paintings while in transit to the US through Amsterdam – they are all painted before 1700! There are several insects hidden in them too… These paintings were seen as a metaphor for life, time and changing seasons/growing old etc…

Passionfruit flowers painted in the 1600's

Passionfruit flowers painted in the 1600's

A large composition with many different flowers and insects...

A large composition with many different flowers and insects...

You felt like you could pick the grapes in this one...

You felt like you could pick the grapes in this one...

Serengeti Swallowtail!

Dear All
Many greetings – have been in the Western Serengeti for 10 days training guides… Heavy rains and amazing insects everywhere. Watched these incredible Swallowtails soaring about a hilltop… This is the Citrus Swallowtail, one of the most common and beautiful of East African insects…

Citrus Swallowtail in flight!

Citrus Swallowtail in flight!

The butterflies gathering at the tops of hills are engaging in ‘Hill-topping’ a behaviour that allows males to compete, check out and chase off competitors and court any passing females…

Soaring Citrus Swallowtail...

Soaring Citrus Swallowtail...

Patrolling over the grassland

Patrolling over the grassland

Dragonfly, elephants and cattle!

Dear All

Many greetings and thanks for the kind comments. I just wanted to share this interesting encounter that I witnessed in Laikipia about a week ago when I was there collecting ants. I have also been chasing after dragonflies and took a break to visit a small dam at Suyian… As it was really dry, there were not many dragonflies around. Found a female Banded Groundling sunning herself..

Banded Groundling Female Dragonfly

Banded Groundling Female Dragonfly

As we were watching the dragonflies, a magnificent herd of elephants appeared – they were also seeking respite from the heat and looking to quench their thirst at the dam… Just after they arrived, we herd mooing and voices and a large herd of cattle began to make their way to dam. At first, we were worried that the two herds, elephant and cattle, would be in conflict. However to our amazement the elephants and cattle settled down and happily shared the dam… Here are a couple of them…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/oV4iTSpTmss" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/9afLFlGTWMs" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The herder who was watching over the cattle soon appeared. He told us that the cattle and elephants have been sharing water now for several weeks. It was fun and moving to see these beasts getting along and shows that sometimes people and wildlife can share natural resources peacefully…

Cattle Herder told us the two herds share water everyday!

Cattle Herder told us the two herds share water everyday!

eles-cows-suyianLR1More from the world of bugs and creatures both great and small soon!

New Year Dragon!

Dear All
Attempted to start the New Year with a morning run and came across this remarkable little person crossing the road. He was so full of character that I just had to sketch him… He obliged by sitting still on a twig – one of the most cooperative subjects I have ever had! Let him go on a bush by the river with lots of bugs on it…

Mini 'dragon' found crossing the road

Mini 'dragon' found crossing the road

Christmas Moth Surprise!

Dear All – I was lucky to spend xmas with my parents in the forest. As I walked back from a small chapel at the edge of the rainforest in Western Kenya after a Christmas carol service, I noticed something large flapping about in the bushes by the path… At first it looked like a bat, but on taking a closer look…

It turned out to be this spectacular African White-ringed Atlas Moth…

African White-Ringed Atlas Moth

African White-Ringed Atlas Moth

This picture gives you a sense of the size. Many thanks to all for comments, and more from the world of bugs soon!

Have a fabulous dudu xmas!

Have a fabulous dudu xmas!

Breakfast visitor…

Dear All, sorry have been travelling all over the place with little time or internet access. Finally spent a few days in Laikipia where this lovely fellow (a Dik-dik) joined us for breakfast every morning…

The Dik-dik is very fond of fruit (especially mango and papaya)...

The Dik-dik is very fond of fruit (especially mango and papaya)...