🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Saturday 9 December 2023

South African Paper Wasps—Vespidae

 Don’t reach for the Doom!

These are the most common wasps and all species build papery multi-celled nests of chewed wood pulp and saliva. 

They are highly social. So if you see a paper wasp nest under the eaves, do not reach for the Doom. They are not aggressive and will not attack you. They are keeping the ecosystem in your garden in equilibrium, by preying on insect larvae and aphids.

They gather fibers from dead wood and plant stems, which they mix with saliva, and use it to construct nests made of gray or brown papery material. The resultant wood pulp is remarkably strong.

“Paper wasps have an interesting lifestyle. The nests are usually founded by a single queen. A mated female from the parental nest emerges in spring and starts building the nest. She becomes the queen and is soon joined by other mated females from the same nest to form a colony. The late-comers are relegated to the worker caste. After the queen has started construction of the first hexagonal cell of the nest, the worker females add more concentric circles of cells to enlarge it.

The queen will lay all the eggs. The worker females are destined to be the workers – building the nest, hunting for food and minding the offspring.”

— Read more here :

(The pics are of 4 different wasps and they are all chewing wood on my wooden clothes drying rack.)

Saturday 30 September 2023

Black Snow

It’s sugar cane burning season in South Africa and here in KwaZulu Natal, it starts late-winter (July/August) and continues into early-summer. 

Before the sugar cane can be harvested, it must first be burned to remove the outer leaves and make it easier to cut.

While this process is necessary for the sugar cane industry, it can have some negative effects on the environment and human health. The burning of sugar cane releases large amounts of smoke and particulate matter into the air, which can cause respiratory problems and other health issues for people living nearby.

At the start of the sugar cane burning season in Southern Africa, many residents brace themselves for what has become known as ‘black snow.’ This term refers to the thick, black smoke and soot that fills the air as sugar cane fields are burned to prepare for harvest.


Thursday 28 September 2023

Sunsets teach us

It was sunsets that taught me that beauty sometimes only lasts for a couple of moments. By the time I turned my back, went inside and closed the door, all the fiery orange had disappeared, leaving only a few splashes of pink and grey. 

I also found out that sunset or dusk is a good time for photography--it lends a certain peaceful quality to the garden.

Thursday 15 June 2023

Moles and Leather-leaf Ferns


What does a Mole have to do with a Leatherleaf Fern? you might ask. 

My Leatherleaf Fern is suffering from root-burn (I think) because I poured some diluted Jeyes Fluid down the Mole’s hole and I think some got to the roots of the fern. The Jeyes Fluid doesn’t harm the Mole, but the smell is strong enough to send him (and me!) scurrying to the other side of my garden fence. 

He has an extensive range of underground tunnels with many air holes (those unsightly heaps of soil all over your garden or lawn), so it’s quite a job watering as many of them as I can to keep him on the other side of the fence. 

Moles actually do not cause much harm, other than making your landscape look messy, which to an avid gardener or landscaper, can be extremely testing. That said, moles do help to aerate the soil, which makes for a healthy and robust lawn.

Moles do not hibernate. They are usually nearer the surface in winter and deeper in summer. They love moist soil where worms are active, which is why they suddenly appear when the soil becomes cool, and moist in late autumn.

Moles, like the Golden Mole, eat insects and snails and are more attracted by such soil pests present in the roots of plants, than by the actual roots. They are sometimes referred to as ‘surface moles’ and are more active during wet seasons. They are completely blind and rely on their hearing and smell to capture prey.

I have a suspicion that my friend is a Molerat, which feeds on roots and bulbs (and it is these moles that push the soil from their burrows, creating molehills), so he is actually not welcome in my garden. 

‘Nuff said. 

My fern in the days before the mole :(


Saturday 10 June 2023

Mousebirds (Coliiformes)

Mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers. They are typically about 10 cm (3.9 in) in body length, with a long, thin tail a further 20–24 cm (7.9–9.4 in) in length, and weigh 45–55 g (1.6–1.9 oz).

They get their name from the way they scurry along like mice amongst the tree branches. They eat berries, fruits, and buds. They have very strong claws and can hang upside down while feeding. Mousebirds are very social and often gather in groups.

Way back in the day, I was lucky enough to have a Mousebird in my life after rescuing it after it fell out of the nest. She used to cling to my bra strap inside my blouse, sometimes peeping out to the astonishment of whoever was around. Interesting about Mousebirds is that they do not bathe in water like most birds, but have dust baths, like chickens and guinea fowl. And after her sand bath, she would fly up onto my shoulder and beg for some fruit. Her favourite was banana, but I also served up apples and pears, with the odd orange which she wasn’t fond of at all.

She would also will feed on the buds of some plants in the garden and I’ve also seen her take the odd insect of it strayed too close to her.  

These Mousebirds are newcomers to my garden since they discovered the apples I put out for the Bulbuls.

The Zulu name is iNdlazi and in Afrikaans it is known as gevlekte muisvoel.


Friday 21 April 2023

Bag-shelter Moth (Ochragaster lunifer)


For about a week I've been watching these caterpillars as they crawled up the wall after some heavy rain. (This is my next-door neighbour's condo.) First of all they were all bundled together in one big mass (didn't think of taking a photo on the first day), but the next day I found them walking up the wall in straight lines.

Why do these caterpillars go in a line? They travel in long lines of hundreds or more in search of food or a suitable place to begin the transformation into their adult form : the Bag-shelter Moth. Together they present a formidable number of irritant hairs to predators and the conga line helps prevent them getting lost.

It is also thought that they walk in line to scare off predators who might think it is a snake. How clever!

These caterpillars are grey and hairy with a brown head. They grow to a length of about 4cms. When they mature, they will descend from their tree (or wall, in this case) to pupate in a silk cocoon in ground debris, and what hatches is the Bag-shelter Moth.

I have actually found that not many birds like to eat this moth. When touched it curls up, showing a black and red body, which I presume signals that it is poisonous.

By day three the "train" had moved higher up the wall, heading for the roof, it seemed.

Note the bunch of caterpillars behind the Sansevieria close to the ground.

For another day or two they kept on "clustering" and forming trains until eventually, all that was left was a few stragglers - I presume that the rest had descended to complete their pupation.

By the way, lots of caterpillars together is called an "army". These ones are also called Processionary Caterpillars or a "train".


Saturday 7 January 2023

A newcomer to my garden- White-browed Scrub Robin

While relaxing in my lounge with a 1000-piece puzzle a few months ago, I heard a bird-call I’ve never heard before. Grabbing my phone, I slowly stepped outside to see if I could catch a glimpse — no luck. So my next move was to search for the bird-call on the Roberts Birds app on my iPad, and after a short search, I found him — a White-browed Scrub Robin! (Cercotrichas leucophrys).

)Still on my patio, I played the bird-call as loud as my iPad would allow and lo-and-behold, he suddenly appeared on the fence, trying to find the interloper who was, probably, trying to infiltrate his territory!

White-browed Scrub Robin flashing his tail, warning any possible interloper that he’s ready for him.

And true to all Robins, he pranced and posed and flipped his tail in that typical Robin fashion, allowing me to get a few pics. We played this game of him listening intently to my bird-call and excitedly answering in return untill he decided that this threat was obviously not worth his attention.

Since then, every time I play his call, he actually comes and investigates. But for the past two months or so I haven’t heard or seen him at all. Maybe he’s raising a family somewhere. I will keep on being on the lookout for him …

Indigenous to Southern Africa, it is common across the the eastern half of South Africa through to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and northern Namibia.

Gestreepte wipstert [Afrikaans]


Saturday 31 December 2022

Spittle Bugs (or Frog Hoppers)


Raintree Spittle Bugs (Ptyelus flavescens) on a Coral tree. 

Spittle bugs (or Frog hoppers) on a Coral Tree (Erythrina lysistemon), indigenous to South Africa. 

As I was photograohing them, the sky was blue, and I wondered why it was raining? I actually just happened to pick a spot just beneath a family of raintree spittlebugs! 

These white foam blobs are produced by the immatures, or nymphs, of spittlebugs, small insects related to aphids and other true bugs, in the order Hemiptera. Young nymphs blow bubbles with their excretions, and so they live and feed in a glorious soggy huddle. The dripping foam keeps them moist and cool and keeps predators and parasites away.

Empty skins and some adult Spittle Bugs. 

They suck the sap of a tree through a drinking straw, called a ‘rostrum’ or ‘stylus’. Plant sap is not all that  nutritious, so the bugs have to work through a lot of it to get sufficient proteins. But this Coral Tree doesn’t seem at all the worse for the wear and as I got close to some of the bugs, they would shoot of as if out of a catapult, so I presume they disperse fairly quickly when disturbed so won’t cause too much harm to the host tree.


Sunday 11 December 2022

A new discovery -- Leather-leaf Fern


During winter I discovered this beautiful fern just popping up between some pavers in a shady corner in my garden. It was so pretty and green so I decided to make a special little corner around it, incorporating a bird bath for my feathered friends.

It wasn't belong before they discovered this new feature, and soon they were flocking in and vying for the best bathing spots.

The Pennywort-looking weed actually adds some charm to this area. It also just started sprouting by itself in this shady spot, the only bit of shade in my mainly-sun succulent garden.

Rumorha adiantiformis loves a spot away from direct sunlight in a partly to fully shaded spot. Water regularly so that the soil remains moist but it must be well-drained. 

Afrikaans name : Seweweeksvaring (I have no idea why!)

Ferns reproduce from spores, not seeds. If you see small brown dots on the undersides of the leaves, they're probably sori, which are groups of sporangia that serve as spore cases. These spots may cover the entire underside of the leaf, but they aren't harmful to your plant. 

 With all the rain we've had over the last few weeks, it's grown so much that I had to remove a paver to give it some space to expand. And I've discovered two more ferns sprouting just opposite this one, will keep an eye on them and maybe find a spot for transplanting them.



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