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.

PRINTS ALONG A COUNTRY ROAD

Readers have remarked on how high the game fences are that flank the country road we are exploring – they are when compared with the height of the normal farm fence and are designed to keep the wild animals in. When we moved to the Eastern Cape, we learned to be wary about driving along any roads from dusk until dawn mainly because kudu are not confined to fences and there is always the danger of driving into one at night. They are not the only animals to be abroad once the traffic has died down: bushbuck, duiker and grey rhebok are among the animals that have been seen at night.

The sandy edges of the country dirt road reveal some of what was about during the night. The first photograph is not a print at all, but are the craters forming the traps of antlions. As children we had endless fun teasing them to the surface by tickling the sand with a tiny twig.

Now to the prints. Something with small padded paws walked along here:

Further on, we can see the spoor of an antelope on top of tyre marks:

Fine sand – and especially damp sand – makes for clearer prints, yet even this coarser surface has allowed for the clear spoor of an antelope to be left to tell a story in the early morning:

 

 

SOUTHERN MASKED WEAVER

While they are commonly seen throughout southern Africa, Southern Masked Weavers (Ploceus velatus) have taken some years to become regular visitors to our garden. They are no strangers to this blog for during the past year or two they appear to have become the dominant weaver – outranking the Village Weavers that used to outnumber them by far. They are easily distinguished from Village Weaver by being slightly smaller and have a plain, rather than a blotchy, back.

Depending on the weather, their breeding season usually runs from September to January, although the peak of the season is in summer. During this time, breeding males sport a black face mask with a narrow black band on the forehead above the bill. During the non-breeding season they adopt a more drab appearance, akin to the females, other than the retention of their red eyes. Note their short, strong, conical bill.

The shape of its bill is eminently suited to it being mainly a seed-eater. They eat seeds both from the bird-feeders and from the ground. I have also observed them foraging through leaves and branches as well as fighting each other – and other birds – over any scraps of food I place on the tray. These birds have bent and broken the stems of the cosmos flowers – in search of insects or nectar?

When we had rain and I was able to grow African Marigolds, I would often see some of the Southern Masked Weavers ripping the petals apart.

Now is the time when the lovely orange blossoms of the Cape Honeysuckle come into bloom and the weavers waste no time in biting off the tubular flowers at the base to get at the nectar. They do the same to the Weeping Boer-bean, which is also blooming now. When our Erythrina caffra trees are in bloom, they join with a wide variety of birds doing much the same.

Lastly, these birds are not slow when it comes to feasting on the termites and flying ants that regularly appear in the garden!