Scurrying the earth on filamentary legs, hovering the air with membranous wings while gathering pollen grains or fluttering between flowers and plants collecting food with their mandibles – the Sabi Sabi ecosystem is abuzz with insect life!
Insects make up millions of species on earth, and are the tiniest creatures in the animal kingdom. This diverse group of fascinating (and sometimes frightening!) creatures outnumber all other species, representing more than half of all known living organisms.
Characterised by an exoskeleton, usually 2 pairs of wings and six legs – insects start their life as an egg. Certain species go through a complete metamorphosis, until they have an unmistakable appearance, such as the long, green caterpillars which feed on Acacias, developing into the Lowveld Yellow butterfly that favours riverine vegetation.
These small beings are distinguished by small, divided bodies composed of a head, thorax and abdomen and each of these parts consist of many segments. The Praying Mantis has a triangular head that can turn almost 180 degrees in either direction. Swaying silently in the breeze, this predator patiently waits for its next kill to move closer….
Precisely adapted to the environments in which they live, insects are opportunistic eaters that feed on plants, other animals or decaying organic matter such as dung. Dung beetles are often seen whilst out on safari, rolling fresh Rhinoceros, Elephant or Buffalo dung into a ball. An egg is laid inside the ball, which the beetle may bury underground. They clean up decaying matter and carry nutrients underground, playing a vital role in the ecosystem.
Bees, ants and termites have developed a complex social structure in their colonies. Honey Bees have striking colouration to warn predators of their effective defences, and humans are well aware of their sharp sting. In colonies of up to 50,000, they communicate location of food to one another through a series of “waggle dances”. These figure of 8 movements vary in intensity to show distance, and direction, to the nearest foraging area.
Cacophonous sounds, so characteristic of the African bushveld, are created by various members of the Cicada family. The Cicada female is attracted to the song of the males, a sound produced by the thrumming of a pair of membranes called tymbals, in the base of their abdomens. The sound of the larger Cicadas is reputed to reach up to 120 decibels at close range – the loudest sound on earth for its maker’s size: piercing enough to be painful to the human ear, and strident enough to scare off predatory birds. Although male Cicadas make their shrill, monotonous call in the heat of the day, their perfect camouflage, as they lie up against the trunks of trees, makes sightings very difficult.
Stalking in the shadows or crouched under a rock, the wingless arachnids exist in an intertwined culture with insects. Mainly carnivorous, spiders and scorpions are on certain levels more developed than insects. Fangs that inject venom, abdomens extruding silk and an extra pair of legs have earned them the status of intensely feared animals, but they generally don’t fit the usual criteria as a major threat in the animal kingdom because of their small size.
Feelings of aversion, fear and anxiety are easily evoked when crossing paths with perhaps the scariest being in all of the bushveld…..a spider-like, scorpion-resembling creature that is non-venomous and does not produce silk. It is identified by its large, formidable jaws used for killing prey, and the leg-like appendages in front (called pedipalps) which give it the appearance of having ten legs. This is a solifugae called the Sunspider, aggressively carnivorous or omnivorous…..it comes out after dark…. to hunt and feed on insects, spiders and perhaps the occasional rat or snake.
However fearful we humans may be of these tiny creatures much smaller than ourselves, our world cannot exist without some of them. The role they play in the daily biodiversity of our habitat is to a great degree unknown, but one thing is sure, we need them to stay. So let’s live and let live, swallow our fears and allow them to fulfil their daily tasks knowing that our world is all the better with them.