July 2012

Thank you to everyone who has submitted articles, photos and comments for this edition. Please do keep sending all the sightings and information through, The Raptor is what YOU make it.
In line with current eco-trends and aiming for a 'greener' lifestyle this is an e-newsletter - it does not conform to traditional page sizes and is not designed to be printed.

In This Issue
Insect life around flowering Euphorbias There's more out there than you think!
More Flowers Some species on the estate
Gecko & Snake set-to! Photo essay on the fracas
Red-headed Weaver Study A school science project
Aloe marlothii In flower for the first time!
Genets on Raptor's Unravelling some misconceptions
Photo Gallery Great results from our photographers!
Mystery Bird Can you identify this species?
A Final Word Is re-cycling alive & well on RV?




Insect life around flowering Euphorbias - Lee Gutteridge, RV164
It is a remarkable thing - this diversity of form which we find in the insect world! It is amazing to see all the different colours and shapes of insects. This huge diversity also makes it quite hard to identify the creature to species level, as there are few reference books which have photographs, and even then only a small selection of the possible species you may encounter are represented.

I spent a couple of days watching and photographing wide range of insects which were buzzing around the Euphorbia cooperi in the middle of the road on Tawny Eagle during early June, with the intention of digging out my reference books and identifying as many as possible. Well, I can tell you it was pretty disappointing as very few of them were in my reference books! Fortunately there were some very similar looking species which appear to be of the same family, and where I was reasonably sure I have bravely ventured to name them. Some, however, were simply not identifiable with the reference materials I had. The pictures here represent only a few of the wasps, bees, butterflies and flies that visit these amazing plants.
Euphorbia

Wasps seem to be the most numerous group of insects, followed by butterflies. Surprisingly few bees were in attendance, and flies, although there were many individuals all seemed belong to only two or three species.

African monarch butterflies were well represented on the plants, with both males and females flitting around, and inserting their long black proboscises into the grooves on the flowers or cyathia (what we often call their flowers are really more complex structures that include their flowers and multiple other parts, the sum total which are referred to as cyathia - Ed). The male can be identified by the extra spot on his hind wing, which is in fact an androgenous cell which produces special pheromones to attract the ladies. These butterflies accumulate poisons when they are caterpillars from the food that they eat, and these poisons persist into adulthood. The toxic principles they ingest are cardiac glycosides, and these butterflies can only be harmful if we eat them!

Monarch-male Monarch-female
African Monarch - male
African Monarch - female

Spider Hunting Wasp The wasps were simply amazing in their diversity, and some were really very pretty indeed. There were several very large species, including a large black Pompilid, or Spider Hunting Wasp. These wasps are usually black or metallic blue and fly with a peculiar rattling sound - it is not known why they make this noise.
They hunt - as their name would suggest - spiders, lay an egg on the victim and leave it in their nest. The spider will then be eaten by the wasp larvae when it hatches. Some species of spider hunter do not catch their own spiders, but wait for a hard working hunter to bring back a spider to its nest, and then sneak in and lay their own egg on this stolen food source! When the parasite's egg hatches it will not only eat the spider, but also devour the larva of its host.

Braconidae is a family of brightly coloured wasps which are also found on the Euphorbias. These red wasps often have an exaggerated ovipositor, seen protruding from the abdomen. This implement is used to pierce plant material in order to deposit an egg on or near that of a potential host insect. We have all seen wasps collecting spiders or caterpillars but this takes things a step further, by simply exposing and using the hosts very own nesting chamber, which it thought was so safe! These wasps are variable, but with their characteristic round heads, and bulbous eyes and long antennae they can sometimes be recognised. Braconid Wasp

Delta Wasp Another major group are the Eumenidae, to which the well known Delta genus belongs. These potters are common, making rounded pottery bowls in which to store provisions for their offspring.

They have a longitudinal pleat on the forewing, along which it folds when at rest, virtually halving the width of the resting wing, and supplying support to the structure. The eye also has a conspicuous notch on its inner margin - although very few people will want to get this close to these creatures as they have a notoriously painful sting!

One of the more beautiful wasps which I struggled to identify was possibly a Stizus Wasp. The features I used to identify this species were details of the eyes, body shape, antennae shape and length, the absence of a prominent ovipositor, the abdominal markings and the hairy thorax, but I don’t think this entirely scientific!

However, it looks pretty similar to the pictures in my references, and there is apparently a great amount of variation in the amount of yellow on the abdomen. I guess this uncertainty is inevitable when there are over 6000 identified wasps and bees and ants in the region. All three are in the order Hymenoptera, and thus related!
Stizus Wasp

I naturally thought that the smaller the creature, and seemingly more insignificant, the more difficult it would be to identify, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened my reference books and found a perfect picture of one of the tiniest wasps I had seen! This one turned out to be a Watsonia Wasp, which is widespread across South Africa, and is only 12mm long! This little creature gnaws cavities in the stems of plants, and provisions the individual cells with flies of the family Muscidae, one of which is shown here. The flies were happily feeding alongside the wasps on the Euphorbia! It belongs to a genus called Dasyproctus, and there are 13 different types.

Watsonia Wasp Musca Fly
Watsonia Wasp
Musca Fly

Honey Bees were also in attendance, and I had to ask myself whether the toxicity of the plant would affect the honey in any way. The nectar of the Euphorbia is produced in the tiny creases on the flower head, or Cyathia, but does not seem to be too much of a favourite of the bees, as I saw mainly wasps on the plant, and ill fated Muscid flies!

Another clever and well disguised predator was a Praying Mantis, who had taken up station on one of the Euphorbia flowers. It has tiny eyes which were pointed and looked very similar to the ripening fruit. It was sat motionless for hours, waiting for an opportunity to grab an unwitting insect!

Honey Bee Praying Mantis
Honey Bee
Praying Mantis

Regal Blowfly A fly species which is well worth mentioning is the Regal Blowfly. The one in the image here is a male, as the eyes meet on the top of the head but in females there is a small diastema or gap.

Males of this species also tend to be found frequently on flowers, as seen here, lapping nectar. Females are found on rotting carcasses, where they lay their eggs, which hatch within a day or so and these maggots feed for a while and then migrate as a group into the ground to pupate. They have small feathery antennal bristles and are metallic green in colour. The face below the eyes is orange in colour and there is a black stripe on the front wing margin.

This has been an interesting foray into the lives of a little known group of creatures for me, and many remain unidentified for now. Some of the wasps, bees and butterflies, in spite of fairly unique looking features were beyond my reference materials, but it was lovely nonetheless to see them and capture images of them utilizing this valuable and interesting food resource. Here are a few which evaded identification. Perhaps you know some of them and could let us know who they are?


References included:
• Field Guide to Insects – Picker, Griffiths and Weaving – Struik
• Insectlopedia – Erik Holm – Lapa
• Pennington’s butterflies – Pennington – Struik Winchester



More Raptor’s Flowers - Derek & Sarah Solomon, RV254
Another 4 species on the estate.
Tumbleweed Ground Lily
Tumbleweed, Acrotome inflata
This member of the sage family is a common annual herb flowering for most of the year. It is commonly found on road edges and generally prefers sandy soils. It is used to treat headaches and stress-related ailments in traditional medicine.
Sore-eye Lily, Ammocharis coranica
Also known as Tumbleweed, Ground Lily or Karoo Lily, its strap-like grey-green leaves lie flat on the ground. It is a member of the amaryllis family and generally flowers during November and December but the flowers do not bloom every year.
Veld Violet Caterpillar Bush
Veld Violet, Ruellia cordata
This perennial herb flowers between October and April and responds well to good rain producing new flowers shortly after a downpour. It is used traditionally as a love charm and to make someone invisible.
Hairy Caterpillar-pod, Ormocarpum trichocarpum
The copious, hairy brown pods of this small tree look like caterpillars, hence the name. This is a member of the legume or pea family and the delicate purple flowers appear mainly between February and October. Some people use the roots as protective charms.



Gecko & Snake Set-to!
A brilliant set of photos from Lawrence and Lydia Morgan, RV283 of a battle between a Spotted Bush Snake and a Turner’s Thick Tailed Gecko. The pair eventually fell off the deck and the end result is unknown!
Snake vs Gecko Snake vs Gecko
Snake vs Gecko Snake vs Gecko
Snake vs Gecko Snake vs Gecko
Snake vs Gecko Snake vs Gecko Snake vs Gecko



Red-headed Weaver Project - Cameron Blair, RV170
red headed weaver nest
Red-headed Weaver (male)
Partially completed nest
My Grade 7 class at Southern Cross School was asked to do a project for the Tritech science competition, and because of its significance to Raptor’s View, the editors asked me to report the findings of my project in this newsletter.

Outside my house in Raptor's View there are many Red-headed weaver nests and I wondered what determines where they build their nests. I visited several houses around the estate to try to establish the factors that may affect the presence of weaver nests. The criteria I looked at were:
1. the proximity to rivers
2. if the house was occupied and
3. the abundant trees in the area

I took all the data I collected in the surveys and found that an abundance of raisin bushes around the house seems to be the biggest single factor. (There doesn’t seem to be nests where there are sickle bushes but this is probably because they grow on overgrazed areas). Proximity to rivers and occupied versus unoccupied houses played no role in nesting behaviour.
I opened up a nest and found that they use raisin bush twigs to make their nests and I also found that they use jacket plum leaves to line a roof inside the nests.

I would like to carry this project forward by visiting more houses and looking at other factors involved - like the effects of bush clearing. I would appreciate it if you would let me look at your house - please contact me at markblair@iafrica.com

Editors Note: This is a great project and we hope that many home owners will help Cameron undertake the next part of his project (tea and cake not obligatory!). According to the literature the prime egg-laying times for this bird in Limpopo are between October and Jauary each year, but Cameron's observations will give us a much better idea of what happens on Raptor's View. We also hope that other young members of our community will submit some observations and/or project for publication in the The Raptor.



Aloe marlothii in flower for the first time - Michael Brooke, RV200
This aloe produced rich golden flowers for the first time in the nearly 10 years we have owned the property, and attracted dozens of nectar feeding birds, from Black-headed Oriole to little sunbirds such as this White-bellied female.
aloe sunbird



Unravelling genet misconceptions - Derek Solomon, RV254
To this day genets continue to be referred to as 'genet cats' - a totally misleading name. Although they do belong to the catlike side of the carnivore family tree, along with hyaenas , mongoose and the true cats; genets actually belong to their own family, the Viverridae and split off from the true cats, the Felidae some 25 million years ago. The only other member of the Viverrid family is the civet, of which there are some 17 species dotted around Africa and Asia.

Genet taxonomy continues to be a bit of a nightmare, often driving researchers to drink as new information comes to light. The South African species were known simply as Large-spotted and Small-spotted genets. The Large-spotted is now regarded as two species, the one restricted to the coastal regions of South Africa Genetta tigrina, and called the Cape Genet. The new recommended common name for the other, Genetta maculata, found here on Raptor’s View and throughout much of Africa is Rusty-spotted Genet - a name I prefer. The Small-spotted Genet, Genetta genetta, is now called the Common Genet and its distribution includes much of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula as well as south-eastern Europe.

In their first few weeks on Raptor’s View, Sarah and Lee Gutteridge, RV165 managed to capture both Common and Rusty-spotted genets on their camera. The easiest way to ID them is the white tip to the tail of the Common (below, left) vs. the dark tip to the tail of the Rusty-spotted (below, right) as you can see in the photos.
genet genet



Photo Gallery
Banded Mongoose Wild Dog
@ 50 Banded Mongoose spent a couple
of nights under our pool deck.
Keith & Penny Hartshorne, RV298
Wild Dog spotted on the morning school run on 25 May. Warren Cary, RV287
Monitor Giraffe Sparring
Rock Monitor, Mirjam Elbertse, RV206 Giraffe sparring at Osprey Dam, Simone Braun, RV255
Puff Adder Puff Adder
Puff Adder being escorted off the premises!
Jackie & Hugh Preston, RV288
Puff Adder - soon to be escorted off the premises!
Keith Hartshorne, RV298
Cheetah caracal
2 cheetah seen through the fence in early April in the evening. The light was poor but the sighting is great! Ron & Geoff Strike, RV112 A caracal at 4.30am in January, taken through the glass - difficult (or almost no) lighting but again an amazing sighting. Lawrence & Lydia Morgan, RV283
Grey Duiker African barred owlet
Grey Duiker, Lawrence & Lydia Morgan, RV283 African Barred Owlet, Lawrence & Lydia Morgan, RV283
Aardvark Civet Caracal
The camera traps have been very busy with Aardvark, Civet & Caracal spotted over several nights in June.
Lee & Sarah Gutteridge, RV164



Mystery Bird
mystery bird mystery bird
Many residents correctly identified the ‘mystery birds’ gleaning insects on the weaver nest as Grey Penduline Tits. Thanks to all who responded! Here is the next mystery bird!
It is a common resident, photographed through our office window whilst gleaning insects in the canopy of the trees.



A Final Word - is re-cycling alive & well on RV?
Keith Hartshorne, RV298

Well, I decided to see for myself, so Byron invited me to come for the ride on a Tuesday morning in May to accompany him.
At 9 am I met Byron at the contractors’ gate and found all the sorted re-cycling drums neatly lined up and loaded onto the long trailer. Closer inspection showed that all the recyclable material sorted from owners’ bags was filling the 44 gallon drums and had been separated into glass, cans, paper, plastic etc.
Rubbish Collection

We left in Byron’s bakkie towing the trailer and travelled out to the Guernsey road en route to the re-cycling facility which is a now-defunct large tobacco drying shed. I was met with the sight of a large area of organised chaos with workers processing the waste from separation to crushing to baling into neat square bales of about a metre cubed. We unloaded our drums and picked up empty replacement drums which went onto the trailer for the following week’s load.
So, at the contractors’ gate (separation, sorting, transport and processing) all is well.
Re-cycling!

On questioning Byron about the owners’ end of the process, it seems that that most owners are holding up their end of the bargain and that there are only 3 issues making the process more time-consuming than it should be. These boil down to:
Issue Consequence
Owners not separating wet and recyclables at all and placing all waste in black bags RV staff have the deeply unpleasant task of having to dig in wet waste to find recyclable material
Owners not using the red/green bags and using the black bags to deposit their recyclables RV staff have to check through the bags to see which contain wet waste and which contain recyclables
Placing wet waste in the red / green recycling bags RV staff having to remove the wet waste and store it until the following week because the wet waste is collected earlier

I have, since then, driven along Snake Eagle and Tawny Eagle before collection on a Thursday and noticed very few red bags at the top of owners driveways after collection by the “runners” and I have wondered whether some owners have somehow formed the perception that recycling has ceased on Raptors. Byron tells me that about a third of the bags collected are recycle bags (red or green).

I would really like to encourage fellow owners to keep up the good work in helping reduce our carbon footprint by following the simple rules below:
1. Place all wet, organic waste material in your black bags except paper and cardboard
2.
Place all non-organic, recyclable material in the red/green bag (even if it has got wet e.g. cardboard because the plant has no problem dealing with wet recyclables)
3. Rinse any remaining wet waste out of bottles, cans etc. before putting them in the red/green bags.
4. Red/Green bags are available from Roz in the office at R20 per pack of 20.