SPITTLE BUGS

Mysterious damp patches on our dry garden path led me to look upwards to find the cause: water – no; sap – none that I could see; and then at last, having been dripped on, I spotted the culprits – several spittle-like masses of white foam on the twigs of the tree overhanging the path. As children we used to find these on grass and leaves and knew it by the name ‘cuckoo-spit’.

The bubbles were far too high up for a closer look – hooray for a camera!

spittle bug

The spittle, or viscous liquid, is excreted by the spittle bug nymph (family Cercopidae) as it feeds on plant juices, forming a protective foamy ‘home’ for the bug. They cannot survive in dry, sunshine conditions, so the foam keeps the nymphs cool for as long as they are feeding. As you can see from these images, more than one nymph can be found huddling together within the spittle mass.

spittle bug

spittle bug

The adults are known as froghoppers and they leave the foamy shelter only when they are ready to cast their skin for the last time.

FEEDING THE NEXT GENERATION

I noticed this spider-hunting wasp while I was watching birds the other morning. What attracted me to its presence was the speed with which it was running around this way and that. It seemed to be looking for something in the grass and leaf litter at my feet.

wasp looking for prey

Then the wasp emerged from the leaves bearing a fleshy-looking spider. According to African Insect Life by S.H. Skaife, the wasp stings the spider in order to paralyse it rather than to kill it.

spider-hunting wasp

She then takes the spider to a previously prepared hole, lays her eggs on its abdomen, and covers the hole. In this way the wasp can ensure a fresh supply of food for her offspring as, after hatching, the larva feed on the spider until it is time to spin a cocoon.

spider-hunting wasp dragging its prey

Looking up from all this interesting activity, I saw an Olive Thrush collecting caterpillars for its young.

olive thrush

Life, for everything on this planet, is geared towards feeding the next generation.

MEMORIES OF MANGO JUICE

I met an octoganerian in the juice aisle of our local supermarket this morning. He was looking perplexed for he couldn’t find the boxes of cranberry juice. “They used to be here,” he muttered as he searched the middle and lower shelves, clearly disappointed.

In true supermarket fashion, the cranberry juice was now stored on the top shelf. I gave him the two cartons he wanted and reached across for mango juice to add to my trolley.

The man smiled. “Mango juice is very nice,” he said and turned confidingly towards me, his blue eyes twinkling with a delight I was about to discover. “Do you remember sitting near the top of a mango tree burdened with ripe fruit?” His wrinkled face became suffused with a youthful energy as he recalled “plucking the fruit, biting the end to pull back the skin, and sinking your teeth into that sweet, yellow flesh. Plucking another and another, sucking each mango until there was nothing left but the large pip dropped to the ground to make way for another.”

He smiled cheerily. “I can still recall the sticky yellow juice dripping down my chin, running down my arms and onto my legs.”The man nodded and began to move away. “Yes, mango juice is very nice,” he said before heading down another aisle.

LOCUST

I was visiting the Clouston Garden of Remembrance en route to Colenso when I came across this locust sitting on the barbed wire fence:

locust

The weather was inclement and while I was watching it, a strong wind blew fiercely across the veld:

locust

Then the wind dropped momentarily and the locust recovered its rather fierce demeanour:

locust