Ever watched a dung beetle push an impossibly big dung ball across a road and up a bank? Or seen a wasp paralyse a spider so that she can lay eggs within its warm body? Or marvelled at the noise that a single cicada makes? While insects might not be on visitors’ ‘must see’ list, they play a vital role in maintaining balanced ecosystems, providing food for bird and animal species and pollinating plant species, not to mention filling the African bush with their cacophonous sounds.
Bees, grasshoppers, ants, worms, spiders, wasps, locust, moths and butterflies are just some of the beautiful insects that abound at Sabi Sabi – each unique and each fulfilling a role in the bush. Some are commonplace, some rare but almost all are intriguing.
Take, for instance, the miracle that is a termite mound. A common sight at Sabi Sabi, these mini ‘villages’ are a feat of architecture, planning and cohesion. Hundreds of passages and conduits serve as ventilation for the below ground nest. Chambers are used to store food – primarily wood – and facilitate movement between the outside world and the nest. Astonishingly the interior temperature of the termite mound remains constant, 24 hours a day – the perfect temperature controlled system.
Six different spider wasp species are found in South Africa, and while their name refers to the methods they use to hunt spiders, they are essentially harmless. These long legged wasps are mostly black in colour with vibrant red, yellow or white markings that deter predators. Their powerful venom is used to paralyse a spider with one sting – their agility and precision making them incredibly successful at this – which is then dragged, alive but immobile, into a pre-prepared burrow. Here the wasp lays a single egg in the spider’s abdomen before leaving and hiding the burrow. Eggs laid in larger spiders will become female wasps while smaller spiders will host males. After about 10 days the larva hatches from the egg, feeds on the live but paralysed spider before spinning a cocoon and emerging as an adult. So while a lion stalking its prey is thrilling, watching a spider hunting wasp in action is equally ruthless and compelling.
There is no end to the remarkable facts surrounding the insect world at Sabi Sabi. Dung beetles that bury up to 250 times their weight in dung. Bees that pollinate hundreds of plants each day. Certain cicada species that ‘disappear’ for years at a time before re-emerging suddenly from below ground. Beetles whose sounds can be heard almost 2km away. All of these and many more are an integral part of the Sabi Sabi landscape and make for fascinating viewing.
And while many insects live in both a dark and silent world, they add immeasurably to the richness of any safari experience.
With encyclopedic knowledge about the fauna and flora that inhabit the Sabi Sabi Reserve, you will be hard pressed to find anyone with more passion about Africa and the environment. Meet Andre van Zyl – Safari General Manager – one of the doyennes of the Sabi Sabi Family.