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:
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!