CMR Blister Beetle

Mylabris oculata

The CMR Blister Beetle is a large (4cm long) and colourfully-marked beetle in the family Meloidae, notorious for excreting the toxin cantharidin in defence against predators – this can cause blisters when making contact with skin and can even be fatal if ingested, both to humans and livestock.

After mating, the female lays her eggs in the ground. After hatching the larvae of the CMR Blister Beetle feeds on grasshopper eggs (including those of plague-causing locusts), while the adults feed on flowers and, often congregating in large numbers on flowering plants, are considered a pest in gardens and orchards. They are slow-flying insects. Adults are most often seen between late spring and early autumn. CMR Blister Beetles have very few specific habitat requirements and occur in almost every corner of South Africa.

The “CMR” acronym in this blister beetle’s name comes from the Cape Mounted Rifles, a military unit from South Africa’s colonial past whose colours resembled this beetle’s. In turn, the CMR Blister Beetle then became part of the Cape Mounted Rifles’ insignia.

 

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Red-capped Robin-Chat

Cossypha natalensis

The Red-capped Robin-Chat is an inhabitant of forests and dense woodlands, in South Africa to be found from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu-Natal into the Lowveld and escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and north of our borders widely through central and east Africa into southern Ethiopia. Insects make up the bulk of their diet and they are usually seen singly or in pairs.

Red-capped Robin-Chats breed in spring and summer. Pairs are monogamous and build cup-shaped nests in dense foliage or inside holes in trees, laying clutches of 2-4 eggs. This species occasionally hybridizes with the Chorister Robin-Chat. They are talented songbirds that can mimic up to 40 other kinds of birds, the whistling of a human and even the barking of a dog! Adults weigh around 32g with a length of about 16cm.

The IUCN classifies the Red-capped Robin-Chat as being of least concern.

Natal Green Snake

Philothamnus natalensis

The Natal Green Snake occurs only in southern Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa (from the Garden Route, along the coast through the Eastern Cape into Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng) with two subspecies – Eastern and Western – being recognized. It inhabits forests and woodland habitats, often near houses, where they feed mainly on frogs, small reptiles, chicks and large insects. This is an alert, active and agile snake that is entirely lacking in venom and thus harmless to humans. They breed in early summer, with females laying small clutches of 3-8 eggs (occasionally as many as 14). Adults grow to a length of about a meter.

The IUCN considers the species to be of least concern.

While visiting Umlalazi Nature Reserve in December 2018, Marilize was first to notice this Eastern Natal Green Snake one afternoon while enjoying the early evening hours on the patio of our accommodation unit. It was remarkably relaxed and unperturbed by our presence, and allowed us a few photographs before sneaking off while we weren’t watching.

African Mudhopper

Periophthalmus kalolo (P. koelreuteri africanus)

As a kid, the first time I learned about the existence of mudskippers, or mudhoppers, I was flabbergasted. Here was a fish-out-of-water that actually didn’t mind that at all! To this day I still find the idea absolutely fascinating. Mudskippers are amphibious fish that can survive out of water for considerable lengths of time by holding oxygenated water in their gill chambers and “breathing” through their wet skin and throat. Their pelvic fins are fused into suckers, allowing them to attach themselves to rocks and branches. And if that wasn’t astounding enough, they can use their fins and tails as legs and actually walk, run, hop, skip and jump on dry land!

The African Mudhopper is a small fish, growing to a maximum of about 14cm in length. They are carnivorous, feeding mainly on crustaceans, other invertebrates and smaller fish and spending most of their time looking for food on land rather than in water. When resting they usually do so with their tails in the water and bodies on the shore. Mudskippers live in the intertidal zone of river mouths, lagoons and estuaries, where the influence of the river, sea and tides conspire to create a challenging and constantly changing world of varying salinity and water levels. When their preferred mud flats become inundated by the incoming tide they hide from predatory fish in burrows that they dig themselves or they may use those of other creatures, like crabs, for the purpose. Males are territorial and display their colourful fins prominently to intimidate challengers and attract mates. Females lay their eggs inside the male’s nesting tunnels after mating, and the pair then cares for the eggs until they hatch.

The alternative name of “Common Mudskipper” is actually much more appropriate for this species, as they occur widely along the Indian and Pacific Ocean coastlines of Africa, Asia and Australasia. In our experience one of the very best places in our country to see these unique fish is the boardwalk through the mangrove swamp at Umlalazi Nature Reserve on the Kwazulu-Natal north coast.

Golden Orb-Web Spider

Genus Nephila

The Golden Orb-web Spiders are some of the most impressive, and noticeable, arachnids you’ll encounter in South Africa. With a body length of up to 6cm and legspan of 10cm or more, female Golden Orb-Web Spiders are much larger than the males (whose bodies are usually less than a cm long), whom are often found sharing a web with a female. The web from which their name is derived is extremely large; often over a meter wide and straddling the space between adjoining trees, bushes and fenceposts, woven in a wagon-wheel shape with concentric strands and strong enough to entrap even small birds, though insects are their main target. Several such webs are often found in close proximity to one another. These diurnal spiders can deliver a painful bite, but the venom of the Golden Orb-Web Spiders is not harmful to humans.

From his position at the edge of her web, the male will attempt to approach the female and mate with her while she is consuming her prey, for fear of becoming a meal himself (which often happens). Female Golden Orb-Web Spiders produce up to four egg sacs annually, each containing hundreds of eggs that take about two months to hatch.

There is eleven species of this genus in Africa.

The stork was busy at Imfolozi pre-Christmas

One of the greatest pleasures of visiting our wild places in the summer is seeing the great number of cute new baby mammals that made their recent entrance into the world, and our December visit to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park certainly had no shortage of cute babies to photograph!

Things that go “bump” in the night…

Mpila Camp in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is not fenced, and any animals, dangerous kinds included, can and do roam between the accommodation units at night (and often during the day too!). I have a basic little camera-trap that I sometimes set up overnight when we visit South Africa’s wild places to see what happens when we’re soundly sleeping, and here’s a few images it captured of Spotted Hyenas roaming outside our cottage at Mpila when we visited in December 2018.