Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Knob-billed Duck

Sarkidiornis melanotos

The Knob-billed Duck, or African Comb Duck, is one of the larger waterfowl species in South Africa; at over 2.5kg in weight with a wingspan of 1.5m the male is considerably bigger than the female, though the large knob on its bill is his most conspicuous feature.

In South Africa, Knob-billed Ducks are found mainly in North West, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, marginally into the Free State and Kwazulu-Natal, with a handful of vagrants in other provinces. Furthermore they’re widely distributed over all of sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, India and South-east Asia. Within this range they roam widely, covering distances of over 3,500km, following the rains to recently inundated floodplains, marshes, pans, and more permanent waterbodies surrounded by woodland and savanna, at times disappearing almost completely from parts where they were still abundant just a few weeks earlier. Knob-billed Ducks are omnivores, feeding on seeds, small fruit, and a variety of aquatic animals and plants.

In the late-summer breeding season, Knob-billed Ducks are usually encountered in pairs or family groups consisting of a mature, territorial male, one or more mature females, and their ducklings, but outside of the breeding season they’re highly gregarious, coming together in flocks numbering from a few dozen into the thousands. They breed in holes in trees or large, abandoned nests, such as those of the hamerkop, always quite close to water and often using the same nest year-after-year. Clutches of 6-11 eggs are incubated by the female only for about 4 weeks, and shortly after hatching the ducklings have to jump out of their tree nest to follow their mother to water. The female is also solely responsible for caring for the ducklings, which become independent at around ten weeks old.

The IUCN considers the Knob-billed Duck to be of least concern, despite noting that its populations are in decline.

Guinea-fowl Butterfly

Hamanumida daedalus

The Guinea-fowl Butterfly occurs commonly from Kwazulu-Natal through Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo to the North West Province. They are also found through tropical Africa to Arabia, inhabiting savanna and forest habitats. Females lay single eggs on Combretum and Terminalia trees. Adults are on the wing year round, have a wingspan measuring between 5.5 and 8cm, and is attracted to rotting fruit. They fly slow and low, gliding over paths and bare patches, but are very nervous and will dart away at great speed when disturbed.

Ruff

Calidris pugnax

A large population of the Ruff migrates annually to South Africa to spend the austral summer here, the first birds arriving from August and the last departing back to breed in northern Europe and Siberia by April. A few individuals choose to remain here throughout our winter. They’re mostly seen at and around shallow dams, marshes, estuaries and along the beach, occasionally also spending time in adjacent grass- and farmlands. They feed in the water and on dry land, consuming seeds and a wide variety of invertebrates as well as small frogs and small fish.

Ruffs are social birds, usually seen in small groups here but often forming immense flocks while migrating. In their non-breeding plumage which we see here in South Africa, male and female Ruffs look very similar, except that the male, at around 200g in weight, is almost twice as big as the female. They have a wingspan of approximately 55cm.

With a global population estimated in the millions, the IUCN considers the Ruff to be of least concern. Their distribution range spans over Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa, sometimes straying to North America as well, depending on the time of year. During their time in South Africa they can be expected at almost any body of water throughout the country, even occurring at man-made impoundments in the arid west of the country.

African Common White

Belenois creona

The African Common White is widely distributed on the continent south of the Sahara, extending into Arabia and also to Madagascar. In South Africa they can be found in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and marginally into the Free Sate and North West. This distribution reflects their preference for savanna habitats. Eggs are laid in clusters on plants from the closely related genusses Boscia, Capparis and Maerua which serve as larval food plants. Adults have a wingspan of around 4cm and can be seen year-round.

White-throated Robin-Chat

Dessonornis humeralis

The White-throated Robin-Chat is endemic to southern Africa, occurring in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa’s North West, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal provinces, where it inhabits savanna habitats and riverine thickets and feeds on insects, other invertebrates, and fruit.

White-throated Robin-Chats are usually seen in monogamous pairs and breed in spring and early summer, building cup-shaped nests of fine materials on the ground in dense cover or other suitable shelter. Clutches consist of 2 or 3 eggs and are incubated by the female only over a 2 week period. The chicks fledge when they’re two weeks old but remain dependent on their parents for food for up to two months after leaving the nest.

The IUCN considers the White-throated Robin-Chat to be of least concern. Adults are about 15cm in length and weigh approximately 23g.

African Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

Two closely related subspecies of Honey Bee are commonly found in South Africa, the Cape Honey Bee from the Western Cape being more aggressive than the African Honey Bee that occurs from the Karoo northwards to Ethiopia and Sudan (distribution map). They were also imported to Brazil from whence they spread all over South and Central America and into the continental United States. African Honey Bees are much more aggressive and tenacious than their counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere, attacking intruders quicker and in greater numbers when defending their hive.

Honey Bees are well-known for being social insects with well-defined castes taking care of various functions within the hive, which is built of wax and resin in natural or man-made cavities. Hives may number up to 50,000 individual bees, with workers living a few weeks and their queen for as long as four years. They feed on both the nectar and pollen of a wide variety of flowering plants.

Honey Bees are vitally important pollinators of indigenous flowering plants as well as cultivated crops. The 20th of May annually has been designated “World Bee Day” to focus attention on declining bee populations and the impact this will have on natural ecosystems and human food production in future.

 

Layman

Amauris albimaculata

The sedate and elegant Layman inhabits forests, woodlands and savannas, occurring from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu Natal into the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and from there as far north as Cameroon and Ethiopia. They fly slow and high, descending only to feed on flowers and alkaloids seeping from damaged and wilted plants. Being a distasteful species, at least three other kinds of butterfly mimic the Layman’s colouration and patterns. Adult Laymans have a wingspan of 5 – 7cm and can be seen on the wing throughout the year. Females lay clusters of 3-40 eggs on the underside of the leaves of a wide variety of food plants.