A BOUNTY FOR BUZZING BEES

This is the season for the wisteria to bloom – a fairly common plant in the older gardens of our town as well as in farm gardens.

Apart from the collective beauty of the flowers, they provide a bounty for bees. Only the bees focused on today are not your ordinary honey bee but the large bomber-type bee that audibly buzz whilst whizzing past your head: the carpenter bees (Xylocopa species) that are commonly active from now until nearly the end of February.

While carpenter bees do not produce honey, they play an important role as pollinators of crops and wild plants.

I felt bombarded by up to a dozen of them flying about the wisteria blossoms. All bore yellow and black stripes, which signal that they are female carpenter bees and are probably Xylocopa caffra, commonly known as the Doublebanded Carpenter Bee. The males are completely covered in yellow hairs – if they were about then they were well camouflaged.

FOUR BUGS VISITING

The weather has been too chilly for there to be much insect activity at night over the past few weeks. The first two featured are visitors to my study where this one came to inspect the texture of my work surface:

Followed by this one that was doing a quality check on the paper I use:

More interesting as far as their patterned wings are concerned are these two moths which have visited my bedroom recently. The first one tried to help me solve a crossword:

While the second thought it was raining inside the bottle.

A LONG-TERM VIEW OF A TERMITE MOUND

There is a lookout point on the Kranskop Loop which I have circled on the map of the Mountain Zebra National Park.

One is allowed to leave one’s vehicle to enjoy both a leg stretch and the beautiful views. For some reason I photographed a large termite mound there during our visit in 2014:

Perhaps it was because it is the only one on the edge of the parking area; or it might have been because there is clear evidence of fairly recent repairs to the mound, which you can see in the foreground; it may also have been simply because I find such mounds fascinating. The white spots on the top in this photograph are bird droppings. I thought no more of this picture until our return to the same place in 2016 and I photographed it again:

The small rock on the left is still there; there are leaves on the tiny shrub next to it; and the mound looks in a state of good repair – the community within must be functioning well. Naturally, I photographed it again in 2018:

The small rock and the tiny shrub are still there; the larger shrub on the left has grown larger, actually covering part of the mound – which still looks in a state of good repair. There is no sign of the thorns in the background that are visible in the previous photograph. In 2019, the mound looked like this:

Of course I had never thought of standing at the same place each time I photographed the mound! From this perspective though, you can still see the small rock and the tiny shrub – the other plants that had been growing around the base of the mound have disappeared; the shrub on the left has grown and the thorns are visible – they probably were there before but were hidden from where I was standing. The mound shows some signs of repair, although there are several holes visible on the dome. I photographed it again in 2020:

The little rock remains in place, although the tiny shrub now almost hides it; the thorns are more visible as the shrub on the left appears to have died off; and the actual shape of the termite mound has altered a little. There are signs of repair on the left and the holes on the dome are no longer as obvious. I simply had to photograph this termite mound again on our most recent visit. So, in 2021 it looks like this:

Again, the perspective is different, yet the mound struck me at the time as having ‘shrunk’ a little. The little rock remains firmly in place; the tiny shrub has grown, while the one on the left has dried out so that the thorns behind are clearly visible. There is a bulge on the left where more repair work has been carried out and bird droppings adorn the dome once more.

WHITE ALOE SCALE

There is an aloe growing next to a street I walk along regularly that has rapidly become covered in what is known as White Aloe Scale (Duplachionaspis exalbidais) which is a species of armoured scale insect.

White Scale insects are immobile once they lock themselves into place to pierce the plant and begin feeding on sap for their nourishment. They do this by sucking the sap through a fine, thin feeding-tubes. From a distance it looks as if the leaves covered in what appears to be white fluff.

As you can tell from the first photograph above, if the infected plant is left untreated, all its leaves become covered with millions of scale.

What is interesting is that these creatures actually space themselves equidistant from one another on the leaf surface  to  ensure  they  have  sufficient  space  to  develop  fully  without  being  crowded  out – although I think the earlier photographs suggest that their idea of crowding is very different from ours!

Click to access Biological%20control%20of%20the%20common%20aloe%20scale.pdf

A CRICKET IN MY KITCHEN

The chirping of crickets is synonymous with summer. They belong outside and can sometimes be seen hiding in the lawn. Well, it is winter in South Africa now and this cricket decided to visit my kitchen:

Not fully in focus, alas, as it jumped as I pressed the button on my cell phone. Even this blurry look reveals the cylindrical body, round head, and the long antennae that makes up the typical appearance of a cricket. Those back legs look remarkably similar to the legs of a grasshopper.