Usually the Brown-veined White Butterflies (Belenois aurota) migrate all over South Africa from late November to mid-February, depending on the weather conditions.
It is our most common butterfly and occurs in most areas in South Africa. While the main migration appears to be over for this season, a few stragglers still pass through the garden now and then. Judging from the travel torn wings of the one in the photograph below, I should perhaps say a few ‘ragglers’ can be seen now and then.
As these fragile looking creatures fly long distances, laying eggs as they go, and have been known to fly as far as Mozambique and even across to Madagascar, it is important to maintain several nectar-bearing plants in our gardens to provide some sustenance for them.
An unusual visitor outside my kitchen door:
I watched this praying mantid as it slowly made its way from the harsh sun into the cool shade of some succulents.
I thought it was interesting to see its face – especially the mouth.
I was sitting in the shade of a creeper-covered tree the other morning, quietly drinking tea while keeping an eye on the birds in the garden, when a large bee buzzed directly at me. I could see the dark shape heading for my face and heard a loud buzz … seconds later it swerved passed me and disappeared. This happened again. When I was buzzed for the third time I turned around to have a closer look to see where this missile had disappeared to. This perfectly round hole in the trunk of the ancient tree behind me was the only clue.
A closer inspection was called for and I detected some movement from within.
Intrigued, both my tea and the birds were forgotten as I tried to see inside the dark hole – hoping all the while that the resident would emerge. That was not to be, although I saw a fair amount of movement. This was the clearest picture I could get.
So immersed are we in literature and television documentaries from abroad, that the average South African happily calls the overlarge bees that buzz about in our gardens Bumble Bees. These do not occur in this country – Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa species) do. They are well named too, for as you can see from the photographs above, the females of this solitary species burrow into dead wood and then excavate a nest in which they lay their eggs in chambers.
There were two other holes in the tree trunk. The wood at the site lower down possibly proved to be too hard to complete the hole.
The site higher up looked much older, but it too was incomplete.
The large (up to 8cm long), rather fierce looking Emperor Moth caterpillars (Bunaea alcinoe) are back in our garden after an apparent absence of three years. I first encountered them in 2014, when several of them chomped their way through leaves of a Cussonia spicata (widely known as the Cabbage Tree/ Kiepersol). What happened to them after they had defoliated the tree is anyone’s guess for they simply disappeared after a day or two.
These caterpillars must have been feeding off other trees in our garden such as the Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild Plum), Celtis spp (White Stinkwood), and the Ekebergia capensis (Cape Ash), for my Cussonia remains untouched so far.
The picture above shows what is left of a cluster of leaves in the Cape Ash tree after the caterpillars had feasted on them. There are many of them crawling across the grass and in the compost area – I counted about twenty of them in various parts of the garden yesterday. I can only imagine that they are looking for suitable place where they can bury themselves in the ground, where they will transform into a pupa awaiting the completion of metamorphosis before emerging as a moth. Having seen several of them on the lawn, I wonder if they bury themselves under the grass too. This one is in the compost area.
The caterpillars must surely be food source for birds, although I have not seen any of them having been eaten. Three dead ones found on the lawn this morning show no signs of having been pecked at.
Over the past month I have been struck by the tall purple flowers growing near the roads I have travelled on. A closer look – I am always happy to investigate something that intrigues me – revealed the flowers to look a bit like a relative of the verbena that gardeners are fond of using as ground covers. Clearly some further investigation was required.
It turns out that these flowers are commonly called Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis) and what has really surprised me is that, far from it being an indigenous plant as I had imagined, it is actually classed as an invasive alien in many parts of the country!
Why I am taken aback by this is because I have seen it growing in the veld for years and never given it a second thought – the flowers have simply been there, occasionally waving their purple petals in the breeze but otherwise not really drawing attention from passers-by. As with so many invasive plants in this country, the Tall Verbena originates in South America and, as with others of its ilk, it grows in disturbed areas and then invades grasslands. The problem here is that it is poisonous to livestock and other grazers.
The bonus is that they are attractive to butterflies and, as this image shows, beetles too! I was attracted by this CMR beetle (actually Mylabris oculata) which is named for its similarity in colour to the uniform of the South African Cape Mounted Riflemen, which had black and yellow bands.
The Cassionympha cassius butterfly, also known as the Rainforest Brown, is commonly seen in the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal as they flutter around dense bushes or along forest fringes. This one was in a patch of bush near the road.
Large ants scurried underfoot in the Bushveld. Being part of the landscape, they were largely ignored.
They were largely ignored until I spotted this one from a distance carrying something large and white. Was that an egg? I bent down for a closer look.
The ‘egg’ had a stalk attached.
It was no egg, but what could it be? I looked around for similar objects and saw none until the following day when I happened upon a cluster of them lying on the ground.
The mystery was solved. These were fruits from the Karee trees that lined the dam.