PAINTED LADY

I was trying to photograph a False Gerbera (Haplocarpha scaposa) next to the road when this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) alighted in front of my lens!

This is probably the most well-known and widespread butterfly in the world and occurs all over South Africa. I rather like the Afrikaans name for it, Sondagsrokkie, meaning Sunday’s Dress, a tribute to the pretty pattern of colours on the wings, which are a rich tawny colour with black markings and white spots.

The underside of the wings are mottled with yellow, white and brown.

The males and females are similar and can grow to between 40 and 50 mm. It has a characteristic flap-gliding flight pattern that draws one’s attention to it.

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ALOE FEROX (2)

The main reason for our drive out of town yesterday was to admire some of the many aloes that are still blooming in the veld at this time of the year.

The most dominant of these are the beautiful Aloe ferox (also known as Bitter Aloe), some of which can grow up to five meters. In the picture below you can see younger plants in the foreground with older ones behind – easily recognised not only by their height, but by the dry leaves that remain on the stem as the aloe grows.

This one has the beginning of a potentially large termite mound developing at its base.

Although their spiky leaves are usually a dullish green, they can turn a reddish colour during drought conditions.

Seen close up, one can appreciate how beautiful their flowers are.

Aloe ferox are widely distributed throughout the drier parts of South Africa and provide an abundant source of food for insects and birds during the colder months of the year. We saw Black-eyed Bulbuls and Streaky-headed Seedeaters feeding on them next to the road, as well as these bees.

CRASSULA OVATA

The densely-leaved robust succulent shrubs, Crassula ovata, thrive in the sunnier spots of our garden and provide a good screen around part of our swimming pool. Their stout, gnarled stems soon give the impression that mature plants are very old. The flowers in this picture are past their prime and have turned brown.

Note the smaller, self-seeded plants growing at the base, which illustrate how well these plants propagate from broken off branches, or even leaves, stuck into the ground. The ball-shaped clusters of star-shaped flowers look attractive both from a distance and from close up.

They attract a variety of insects such as bees, wasps, flies, beetles and butterflies.

The flowers develop into small capsules, each holding many tiny seeds, which are dispersed by the wind. Bryan, the angulate tortoise that has found a home in our garden, sometimes munches on the lower leaves, which are edged with red, as these plants grow in full sun – ones in more shady areas do not.

For newer readers, here is a picture of Bryan, the angulate tortoise which has been living in our garden for some years now.

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ALOE FEROX

This iconic Aloe ferox grows on its own in our front garden. The leaves are broad and dull green, while the dry leaves remain on the lower parts of the stem.

The bright orange-red flowers provide a cheery sight in the winter garden.

As you can see, they open from the bottom up.

They are a magnet for bees.

ANTLION PIT

Antlions are often referred to as one of South Africa’s ‘little five’, although their presence is not confined to this country. As children we were endlessly fascinated by the conical holes made by the antlion larva in sandy soil.

Every time I see one I am reminded of how we would take a fine stick or a piece of grass and gently stir the fine grains of sand around the edge while chanting Molletjie, molletjie kom tog uit until the mysterious looking larva would appear – probably disappointed that the movements of its ant trap had not been caused by prey after all!

For years I wondered why we said molletjie, molletjie … until a colleague explained to me that the antlion larvae are called a molletjie in Afrikaans – such is the charm of childhood that we do not necessarily question what is an obvious ritual. I learned then too that the whole chant (although I never recall anyone saying it in full) is

Molletjie, molletjie kom tog uit,

Sout en peper en boerbeskuit!

Perhaps my developing understanding of Afrikaans at that stage meant that part was lost on me. Nonetheless, I diligently taught my children the same abbreviated chant as we teased the antlions from their traps while they grew up in Mmabatho – where there was plenty of sand!

These pits are made by the larvae reversing in a ‘cork-screw’ fashion into the sand. We sometimes used to watch them through a magnifying glass (a wonderful gift for a young child!) as they flicked out the sand with their mandibles until they had formed a smooth-sided, cone shaped hole. Ants walking along the edge would slide towards the bottom of the hole where they would be grabbed by the ant lion larva.  We would sometimes catch ants to put into the trap and wait to see the action!

MUD WASP NEST

The mud wasp nests I usually find inside or outside our house look like this one on a windowsill:

Sometimes they look like this one on the outside wall of our house:

The picture below shows a wasp nest that had been built between a box on top of a built-in cupboard and the ceiling, which probably accounts for the squat shape. You can see ceiling paint on the top of it:

The back of the nest looks like this – note what is left of a spider in one of the cells:

This nest was probably built by a Mud Dauber Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex) which commonly builds multi-celled mud nests attached to walls or even tree trunks. Each cell is provisioned with a spider that has been paralysed in order to provide food for the emerging larvae.

Here is a not very clear picture of a wasp spotted in the garden taking a spider to its nest.