Tag Archives: Kenya

Leaf-cutter bees in action!

Hello! While watching the eggplant flowers for pollinators in Turkana I noticed that some of the leaves of several nearby bell-pepper plants had neat circular pieces cut out from them…

Who is responsible for these missing circles?

Who is responsible for these missing circles?

I sat down to watch the plants, suspecting that the perpetrator would be back soon. A few minutes later an fervent buzzing zipped up to the plants and settled on one of the leaves. It was a leaf-cutter bee!

Leaf-cutter bee sinks it teeth into a leaf

Leaf-cutter bee sinks it teeth into a leaf

The bee works rapidly to cut through the leaf in a near-perfect circle…

Leaf-cutter bee rapidly chews the leaf off

Leaf-cutter bee rapidly chews the leaf off

Then the bee takes off for its nest with the piece of the leaf held under it. It will use this to line the walls of the tubular next that it constructs for its larva. As these bees are also very good and efficient pollinators, they are welcome to use some of the crops’ leaves for their nests.

Leaf-cutter bee carries off the leaf to its nest!

Leaf-cutter bee carries off the leaf to its nest!

More from the world of bugs soon. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments!

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!

Bees make Raspberries!

Dear All

A few days ago I visited a friend of mine who runs a farm on the outskirts of Nairobi. Su Kahumbu is an organic farmer who does amazing work with farmers across Kenya promoting sustainable agriculture and innovation…

Farmer Su Kahumbu with her raspberry bushes

Farmer Su Kahumbu with her raspberry bushes

One of the crops growing at her beautiful model farm are raspberries.

These delicious fruits are one of my favourite desserts… And of course in order to have raspberries on the table you need to have raspberry bushes. The raspberry bushes have flowers that need to be pollinated in order for the beautiful and yummy fruit to develop…

Raspberry flowers are composite flowers – which means that they are actually made up of many tiny individual flowers all joined together.

Freshly opened raspberry flower

Freshly opened raspberry flower

In order for a flower to set fruit, it needs to be pollinated. On Su’s farm these free services are provided to her raspberry bushes by several different kinds of bees. One of the most common pollinators is the honeybee.

A honeybee grapples with a raspberry flower

A honeybee grapples with a raspberry flower

The honeybees move swiftly between the flowers and visit in large numbers.

Honeybees drink nectar and gather pollen at the flowers

Honeybees drink nectar and gather pollen at the flowers

As these are composite flowers, every single tiny individual flower, called a floret, needs to be visited and gently dusted with pollen by a bee. Otherwise there will be no fruits produced.

Recently pollinated young raspberry fruits

Recently pollinated young raspberry fruits

Honeybees are not the only bees visiting the flowers. There are also some wild solitary bees. These are even more efficient in some cases as they spend longer times on the flowers and manipulate them more thoroughly. The quality, shape, flavour and size of the raspberry fruit are all directly tied to the efficiency of the pollinators. Too little pollen and the fruit is pale, small and not very sweet. It takes many visits by many bees to make a fruit round and sweet..

Solitary wild bee on raspberry flower

Solitary wild bee on raspberry flower

It is the actions of all these bees who make the delicious raspberries happen!

Yummy raspberry thanks to the hard-working bees!

Yummy raspberry thanks to the hard-working bees!

Please think of the bees that put the food on your table next time you enjoy some raspberries for breakfast or dessert. More from the wonderful world of insects soon!

The Spider and the Ant

Dear All – having been weighing and counting ants on the Whistling Thorns for some research work related to my PhD. There are a few alates around – these are the winged reproductive forms of ants… Each colony produces many hundreds, even thousands of alates that take off into the sky as part of a synchronised mating flight. Female alates become future queens, they are larger than the males. Male alates only live for the day of the mating flight – they have one chance to mate. They can never return to their colony once they depart. All of them will die within a day of departing on the mating flight…

Here is an illustration of the alates of the three common ant species on the Whistling Thorn trees in East Africa:

Alates - winged queens and males of the Whistling Thorn ants

Alates - winged queens and males of the Whistling Thorn ants (the black bar is for scale - it represents 1 cm or 1o mm)

Most of the them don’t make it and end up as food for birds, other ants and spiders.

I found this Jumping Spider eating a freshly captured young foundress queen…

Jumping Spider with Acacia-ant alate (winged queen)

Jumping Spider with Acacia-ant alate (winged queen)

The spider lives among the ants and dodges them by constantly keeping on the move, occasionally nabbing one of the hapless ants for a snack! Jumping Spiders are ambush predators that use their athletic skills and fantastic vision to capture prey. They have more than two pairs of eyes (in fact 4 pairs in total, with two pairs facing forward that are very well developed…)

How many eyes can you see on the spider?

How many eyes can you see on the spider?

Serengeti Insects (and yoga!)

Dear All

Hello – many thanks for the kind comments. I am just back in Kenya after 10 amazing days in the Grumeti Reserve in Serengeti. I was training guides and exploring the insect life in the area with them…

Thanks to the rains, the Serengeti Plains were a sea of rippling green-and-gold, with the grass as high as an elephant’s eye (literally!)…

Beautiful grass after the rains

Beautiful grass after the rains

We spent time learning some of the common butterflies, like this striking Round-winged Orange tip. There were lots of butterflies around thanks to the lovely rains that had brought the Gutenbergia into flower. Here are just a few of the hundreds that we saw visiting the purple flowers…

Round-winged Orange Tip Butterfly

Round-winged Orange Tip Butterfly

African Golden Arab Butterfly

African Golden Arab Butterfly

One of the most interesting butterflies that we saw was a small, shy creature who darted about like a nervous spirit. She finally settled down and I managed to snap this picture of this very intriguing butterfly, a type of Skipper called the Netted Sylph…

The enigmatic and aptly-named Netted Sylph

The enigmatic and aptly-named Netted Sylph

The gorgeous Zebra Butterfly

The gorgeous Zebra Butterfly

Edward meets a Female African Mocker Swallowtail

Edward meets a Female African Mocker Swallowtail

We spent time watching many different kinds of insects. Here are a few of those who were both friendly and fascinating:

Mishi meets a Blister Beetle - note the bright warning colours!

Mishi meets a Blister Beetle - note the bright warning colours!

We also found this lovely Armoured Ground Cricket who was riding along in the car with us. Despite their formidable appearance, they are gentle creatures and harmless to humans…

Agnes meets the Armoured Ground Cricket

Agnes meets the Armoured Ground Cricket

We ended some of the long field days with a yoga session on the plains…

Yoga after a long day of looking at bugs...

Yoga after a long day of looking at bugs...

More from the world of bugs 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

Jaws!

I recently went on a walk in a forest in Western Kenya and stumbled into these remarkable beasts. Ants may be tiny, but they swarm in large armies and are also armed with some impressive weapons in the form of ‘jaws’ (mandibles) that can inflict a lot of damage quickly…

Among the most impressive jaws among the Kenyan ants are no doubt those belonging to the dreaded Siafu, or Safari Ants, who swarm through forests and similar habitats feasting on anything and everything they can subdue…

Safari ants swarming along a forest path

Safari ants swarming along a forest path

Here are some close-ups of the ‘soldier’ ants jaws who guard the highways that the ants run along through the forest..

Siafu standing guard!

Siafu standing guard!

Remember all these ‘soldiers’, and in fact all of the ants in the swarm are all females, all sisters and all sterile! And they are also all blind – none of the worker Siafu have eyes!

Jaws built like miniature daggers!

Jaws built like miniature daggers!

Foraging nearby were some other interesting ants with impressive jaws too. These were Trapjaw ants who hunt alone, unlike the Siafu. They walk around with their jaws held wide open, and then snap them shut when they meet a suitable prey item. The shutting of their jaws is one of the fastest movements in nature – close to the speed of sound!

Trapjaw ant on the hunt

Trapjaw ant on the hunt

Trapjaw ant resting

Trapjaw ant resting

More from the world of bugs soon!

Praying-mantis praying!

Dear All – This morning as I stepped out of my house to find this lovely praying mantis meditating in the morning light…

Praying-mantis praying in the morning!

Praying-mantis praying in the morning!

Whistling thorn flowering…

Hello – back in Kenya here. The Whistling Thorns are just starting to flower on the plains…

The Whistling Thorn has swollen thorns that ants live in...

The Whistling Thorn has swollen thorns that ants live in...

There are lots of different insects visiting the flowers, including these bees. It seems like the bees are the most efficient pollinators of this acacia’s flowers.

Honeybees visit the flowers in large numbers

Honeybees visit the flowers in large numbers

This is a leafcutter bee - it carries pollen on its belly!

This is a leafcutter bee - it carries pollen on its belly!

Another kind of bee - there were so many different ones!

Another kind of bee - there were so many different ones!

Here is a wild bee hovering near the flowers

Here is a wild bee hovering near the flowers

Butterflies were also visiting the flowers - This is an African Monarch

Butterflies were also visiting the flowers - This is an African Monarch

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!