According to the dictionary, a creepy-crawly is a small insect that gives you a feeling of fear and dislike.
We see insects differently. Insects, spiders and worms are crucial to our environment. These little critters are often overlooked, but they keep everything in balance - and most are harmless. We hope you enjoy coming on a bug hunt with us!
First up we spotted Stegodyphus which is also called the community nest spider. Easy to spot because of its large and messy nest which it constructs in trees. The Acacia tree is popular with these spiders where they use cribellate silk to spin their nests. The nests are intricate and made up of numerous tunnels and chambers. Many females, males and juveniles live together in one nest, and once some tasty prey is trapped in their web, the community gathers for a feast. Did you know a person who studies spiders, mites, ticks, or scorpions is called an Arachnologist? Ranger Evan Vermeulen says that community nest spiders love to snack on just about any insect and they share their prey. Good table manners and harmless to humans.
Evan is also interested in scorpions! The Burrowing Scorpion is widely spotted at Morukuru Family Madikwe but generally sticks to deep burrows in very hot and dry areas. Burrow construction is a time-consuming and energy-sapping task and, once a burrow is complete the Burrowing Scorpion likes to chillax and shelter in his retreat. During the winter these scorpions remain almost inactive.
We have huge admiration for the humble dung-beetle. Did you know that these brilliant bugs live in habitats ranging from hot, deserts to lush forests and are found everywhere except Antarctica? There are about 7000 species of dung beetle worldwide, and Southern African is lucky to have the widest variety. Specialist Entomologists (insect nerds) have identified about 780 species ranging in size from a few millimetres up to 5cm. We are always careful when out on a game drive vehicle, we choose to drive carefully to get great sightings and be cautious of small creatures like the dung beetle. A pile of elephant dung could be a clue to a herd of elephant just ahead but could also be home to thousands of dung beetles. It is essential not to drive over elephant dung because we might destroy an entire colony of the world’s most powerful insect. In relation to its size, the dung beetle is the world’s strongest animal! When moving balls of dung, a roller can pull a whopping 1,141 times its body weight – that’s the same as a human dragging six full double-decker busses along a road! Male dung beetles also use their colossal strength to fight, locking horns to push and pull rivals out of the way when they’re grappling for a female’s attention.
In South African we have our own name for a millipede. Colloquially you will hear the word “shongololo
” which is Zulu for millipede. The term “millipede” literally means “a thousand legs”, but although this may seem like the case when it moves, millipedes have nowhere near as many legs. They do, however, have two pairs of legs per segment of the cylindrical body. Like the dung beetle, Millipedes play an important ecological role. Dung beetles bury and consume dung; they improve nutrient recycling and soil structure. By consuming rotting vegetation and fungi, millipedes play a crucial role in decomposing vegetation and cycling nutrients back into the soil.
The milkweed locust also goes by the name African bush grasshopper and is in the family Pyrgomorphidae which are known as gaudy grasshoppers, giving wisecracking Jiminy Cricket with his top hat, tailcoat and umbrella some serious competition. The milkweed locust has a large body (70 mm) green fore wings and hind wings which are both red and blue. These wings are not only dazzling to look at but when a locust is alarmed the wings are rustled and an evil-smelling foam from the thoracic joints is produced. This locust comes with a warning - human fatalities from ingestion are known. So now you know what we saw on our Bug Hunt - when you are next at Morukuru Family Madikwe ask our rangers to take the slow road and point these little critters out.