How this tale starts is with an early morning drive on the first day of Insect week. I had decided to try something new and focus mainly on the little guys that often get overlooked. This seemed to be a hit with my amazing guests who had come all the way from Minnesota, USA. They had dreamt of coming to Africa for many years and now this was their time! I felt privileged that their experience was left in my hands. However, you can imagine that to have one safari focused strictly on insects is a bit of a gamble. But one that paid off.
We started the morning with a slow drive and first off on the list of insects was an amazingly hard worker, the Dung Beetle. To my surprise, this was not a foreign insect to my guests. We sat and chatted about the purpose of this member of the ecosystem for a few minutes when he took flight. His spontaneous flight did not last very long! Zooming off at around 30km/hour he came to a sudden halt on or should I say “in” a silver raisin bush. After having a little bit of a chuckle, we walked over to the bush he had hit against. At first glance and to our initial surprise there seemed to be a snake making its way up the bush. But on closer inspection, we noticed that it was in fact processionary caterpillars migrating away from the bush.
We were most thrilled and decided that maybe it was time for a coffee break while we watch these caterpillars make their way to the next bush, about a meter away. While we were making up a pot of freshly brewed coffee in a French press one of my guests Erin walked over to me with a leaf in her hand, and asked: “Are these baby processionary caterpillars?” I had a closer look and realized that this was in fact growth from the leaf itself made by what’s known as a midge, a gall midge to be exact. Now, this is an interesting find. How these growths come about is from a gall midge “injecting” a growth hormone into the chlorophyll filled cellulose where it then expands and forms a cocoon type protection for the eggs of a gall midge.
“Pretty neat” in a matter of 30 minutes we managed to cover a hand full of insects that not many people will ever get the chance to hear about or see, and this was what I would consider the best possible outcome to an educational week dedicated to insects.
Story and photos by Ranger Calton – River Lodge
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