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What Insect Are You?

Entomology for Everyone

It is called ‘Biophilia’

 

kids love insects

Yesterday I was thrilled to discover that the condition I have happily suffered from for most of my life has a name: it’s called ‘Biophilia’.

Most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine.
— Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist

The word was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm to describe a healthy ‘life-loving’ attitude. But in his 1984 book Biophilia, Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson published his hypothesis that humans are innately attracted to other species and inclined to love nature. Here is a fascinating interview with Wilson.

I also firmly believe that children do have this innate love, and that ‘biophilia’ can be aroused easily in those who do not have it yet, simply by introducing them to little creatures. With every educational event this belief gets confirmed.

When people love, they become invested. When their heart is invested, they want to protect and nurture. It is the heart that motivates us to pro-environmental action.

Not fear. Not necessarily zealous environmentalism, nor dispassionate facts. But faith that something can be done, hope that we will succeed, and most of all … biophilia: the love for all living things.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Teachers: the door to a nation

Edgewood lectureLast week I gave a lecture to over 300 1st and 2nd year student teachers at UKZN School of Education, Edgewood Campus. Wow! What a thrill! I was delighted to discover that – truly – insects have universal appeal. The students exclaimed, laughed, participated enthusiastically, happily swept along by insect stories, which are always fresh and new and bizarre. The antics of insects can enthrall anyone!

Micropezid flies dancing
Micropezid flies: the male dances excitedly around a female, who looks like she is conducting the music and coreographing his moves.

They were particularly intrigued by different romantic strategies: from elaborate courtship dances in micropezid flies to the ‘run-and-jump’ manoeuvre of a male darkling beetle, from complicated sperm-transfer mechanics of damselflies to male-less, sperm-less cloning in aphids.

 

What really excited me that day was knowing over 300 young teachers are going out into the world, understanding that insects are the food base for most vertebrates, that insects need indigenous ecosystems to survive, and knowing of a few, simple things we can do to make a difference.

When teachers know something, there is the very good chance that very soon very many children will know the same thing. Teachers are the door to the nation.

In the light of this, we are soon announcing an exciting new project. Stay tuned…

Averting the Sixth Great Extinction

Where have insects gone

“If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen”… they call it the windshield phenomenon.

This worrying article appeared in May, reporting that over the last 25 years 80% of insects have disappeared from multiple sites in Western Europe. While the world had taken note of shrinking vertebrate populations (58% lost from 1970 till 2012), smaller creatures were being overlooked (evidenced by the lack of long-term insect population data).

Continue reading “Averting the Sixth Great Extinction”

Local Stalwarts of Conservation

kloof gorge

nature reserves durbanThere are some beautiful nature reserves in and around Durban, such as Krantzkloof (above) and others (see map).

I was recently invited to speak at the Hillcrest Conservancy AGM. It was extremely humbling and heart-warming to meet so many dear people (mostly pensioners), who for decades have put their time and effort into preserving parcels of our natural heritage. The current chair, George Victor, for example was instrumental in getting Springside Nature Reserve declared and protected.

These amazing people regularly go in, remove rubbish, clear out invasive aliens, organize walks and public events. They even run training courses for gardeners. Thank you! I salute you!

 

Showing and Wowing

Kids amazed

Last week I teamed up with CASME for two days of educational outreach at the American Corner in Bessie Head Library, Pietermaritzburg. Talking about biodiversity with about 150 high school kids was so much fun. Are you wondering what they are all getting so excited about? Science! Nature! Insects! Genetics!

stalk eyed flies
Stalk-eyed flies sizing each other up.

Insects are full of surprises, and there are so many of them, that one can never run out of fresh, interesting material. For example, we kind of know about courtship displays in birds. We may have seen male impalas battling it out to win the favour of their ladies. We know mammals feed their young with milk. But courtship, territorial battles and suckling of young – in flies???

The children were riveted by the idea that female aphids make ‘photocopies’ of themselves, then giving birth to these clones, which already have the next generation developing inside them. I mean, that’s just CRAZY!

 

Urban Forests

Urban forests - NationalGeographic

The idea of urban forests is very exciting and trendy. Here is an interesting interview with the author on the subject.

TreepreneursIt is heart-warming to see tree-planting included in our government’s agenda. See article. More about tree-preneurs in South Africa.

Indigenous trees, apart from all their other wonderful benefits, provide the edible biomass that insects need to build up populations large enough to support other wildlife (birds, frogs, reptiles, mammals and a whole lot of invertebrates). Indigenous trees.

OCBC_Skyway,_Gardens_By_The_Bay,_Singapore_-_20140809 aHowever spectacular Singapore’s Gardens By the Bay (of concrete-and-metal tree-shaped superstructures with live plant skins) may be, I reckon if you like trees, plant trees.

I look forward to a future of serious tree-planting. Taken to its logical conclusion, it will lead us to the paradise cities that China has in mind. As long as we stick to indigenous species, I’m happy.

smog-tower-trees-business-insider_1024

 

Kids Love Nature

Danville arrow

Yesterday I ran a small, intimate educational event with members of the environmental club of Danville Park Girls’ High School. There was a kiddies birthday party happening in the next clearing, and some of the children (arrow) came over and watched.

They were very interested, participated in the insect hunt, stayed for the mini-SASS presentation by Lee D’Eathe, and were thrilled to look at the water creatures Lee had brought with him, through a digital microscope.

It was just plain wonderful, and tickled me pink, to witness such spontaneous enthusiasm. It confirmed everything I believe about children’s innate fascination with nature, and is exactly what we need to tap into when it comes to life sciences and environmental education.

Insects and Colour

LeopardsEcho article

“Colour is a big thing in the world of insects. Really big.”

Read the whole article in Leopard’s Echo, a bi-annual online magazine of Kloof Conservancy.

Insect Photography 1: Story-telling

Photography 001 mantis
This photo illustrates a camouflaged mantis, purposefully hiding under a leaf, in the act of eating a beautiful longhorn beetle whole. It is hard not to anthropomorphize. That pitiful beetle does look like it’s crying out in terror and pain, while the mantis appears totally unconcerned: “I’m eating. Come back later.”

After sharing on this topic at Hillcrest Camera Club in June, I thought it might be nice to publish something here – in a few installments. It’s a big topic. I’ll start with what I would call ‘philosophy’, then follow it up with technical considerations and general tips and tricks.

Arguably the most important consideration in any form of photography is the content. If the photo ‘tells a story’, all other photographic ‘laws’ and ‘guidelines’ may be relaxed. In extreme cases a photo may even break the number one cardinal rule – “subject must be in focus” – (many would disagree, and I admit I’m a bit squeamish about this one). As long as it is worth looking at. And that happens when the photo has something worthwhile to say.

Continue reading “Insect Photography 1: Story-telling”

Biodiversity Hotspot #27

IllovoThis weekend I participated in the Illovo Wagtail Conservation Festival. A local community concerned for their local environment, are trying to conserve the tiny little bit of it that is left.Biodiversity_Hotspots

Here in Durban we are privileged to live in the middle of one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots: the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany ecosystem.

Continue reading “Biodiversity Hotspot #27”

Wildlife in Dodoma

Tan dodoma

During a quick trip to Tanzania to visit family, I had some free time one day. So I went for a little walk on the outskirts of Dodoma – on the flanks of ‘Antenna Hill’ – to see what I would see. It was a disturbed area, a mosaic of natural vegetation and tiny cultivated fields.

James, my friendly Masai companion, spoke not a word of English but got the idea: we were hunting insects. And there was a lot to see – starting with a staggering abundance and variety of blister beetles. I have never seen so many in once place!

Tan blister

Continue reading “Wildlife in Dodoma”

7.5 Billion

WorldPop
Yesterday, 24 April 18h21 local time, our family watched as the world population clock ticked from 74 999 999 to 75 000 000. 7.5 billion humans! Each one infinitely precious and worth saving. I know what it feels like to agonisingly long for a baby, to lose one, to give birth to one, to love three.

All these people have to eat and live. Unfortunately we want more than that …”the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”… (1 John 2:16). What we are doing to earth in our selfish greed is frightening (see WWF and WRI reports).

Continue reading “7.5 Billion”

Earth Day? We need Earth Years!

The lecture at Edgewood Campus (UKZN) on 21 April was to celebrate Earth Day, which commemorates the birthday of the modern environmental movement 47 years ago. Though some things have improved, we are still losing ground. Since 1970 wild animal populations worldwide have gone down by more than half (WWF). Between 25 and 50% of forests and grasslands have been converted for farming purposes (WRI).

Hogsback

I can’t bear the thought of this lovely indigenous forest in Hogsback, which we visited recently, being threatened. The South African National Biodiversity Institute estimates that a quarter of our indigenous plant species are threatened or in a worrying state, the main threats being habitat destruction or deterioration and invasive aliens. Everywhere we went we saw depressing evidence of this (SANBI Red List stats).

Habitat destruction

The general attitude towards the environment is still marked by lack of interest, ignorance and apathy. Linked with humanity’s insatiable hunger for profit, meat and luxury, nature continues to languish. Quite frankly, I am determined to do whatever I can to change even a few people’s hearts, and show them how they can make a difference in their immediate surroundings.

Butterfly Easter

Butterflies

Insect-wise, our amazing Easter-time road trip around the Eastern Cape was dominated by amazing butterfly and moth sightings. Here are just a few examples. The hummingbird moth (Macroglossum sitiene, bottom row, 2nd pic) was special, but my favourite was the Sargasso Emerald (Drepanogynis bifasciata, top left). It is just too pretty for words.

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is a beautiful picture of Easter, and of baptism: the dying of the old incomplete life, the rising of a completely new glorious being.

Long live insects!

Kids collecting

Educational event with school kids grades R-9 at Paradise Valley. Thanks kids for being so enthusiastic. One boy said, “I thought it was going to be boring, but it was so interesting!” I hear they went back to school and started digging for antlion larvae… That’s the idea, isn’t it?

Winning insect: a large longhorn beetle, the same species as on the back cover of the book.

However, I found my own special beast that day, crawling across a rock in the river: a rove beetle of the genus Paederus.

Rove beetle

Some members of this group are loaded with pederin, a nasty toxin that causes painful burns and blisters when the beetle is crushed on the skin. In fact, these insects could be the culprits behind the sixth plague of Biblical Egypt.

Um, I didn’t check whether this particular individual was toxic… I let it live.

Insects in the news

Insects in news sma

A large longhorn beetle and his big friend study an article by Prof Michael Samways, author of Insect Diversity Conservation on why we need to look after insects: they look after us.

“Future generations depend on these small animals, so the focus must be on increasing awareness among the young. Research has shown that children are intrinsically interested in what a bee, cricket, butterfly or snail is…Yet strangely, while we care about our children, we care so little for all the small creatures on which our children depend on now and into the future.”

Insects in the food chain

plantsinsectslife

The presentation at the Bird Life Forum meeting (at WESSA, Howick) again started by explaining the role that insects play in nature, but then looked more closely at who else in the food chain relies on insects.

It turns out insects are on the menus of the vast majority of other animals. But even pure herbivores rely on insects indirectly, because around 80% of plants need insects to pollinate them!

Insects and plants are locked into a close partnership. Together they form the bedrock of every ecosystem outside of the oceans. This world cannot exist without insects. 

The problem is, often we expect it to…

Continue reading “Insects in the food chain”

Insects are everywhere… or are they?

insect-hunt-sm

Educational event for Botanical Society, at Durban Botanic Gardens.

The first talk, entitled “Insects at work”, showed the important role insects play in nature, as farmers (pollinating flowers and dispersing plants seeds), in the food supply chain (eating each other and being eaten), and in the waste management and recycling department. Insects, in a tight partnership with plants, are the bedrock of the rest of nature (outside of the oceans).

Continue reading “Insects are everywhere… or are they?”

botg-poster

Mud dauber

Over two days a mud dauber wasp (Sceliphron spirifex) built and stocked a nest on our dining room wall.

mud-dauber

What I found so interesting was that as the wasp added a dollop of mud to the structure, it vibrated its wings. Vibrate – stop – vibrate – stop. What was that all about?

Continue reading “Mud dauber”

Learning nature

educational-eventA paper published on how Grade 10-12 kids respond to the school life sciences curriculum concluded that more emphasis needs to be placed on what learners are interested in.

The most important aspect of science and environmental education is to tap into children’s natural curiosity.

As homeschoolers we know that children love to learn. They are programmed to learn. Tell them interesting stuff, in an interesting way, and they want to know more.

The better we know something, the more we appreciate it. And the more we appreciate it, the more invested we become: we want to protect it, preserve it. “Why do we harm nature? Because we are ignorant.” (P Cafaro*) Continue reading “Learning nature”

Christmas beetles

…I don’t mean cicadas and their screechy Christmas songs… I mean BEETLES!

Christmas beetles.jpgIt has been the most wonderful beetle holiday, with amazing beetle sightings. It helped that we briefly visited Hluhluwe Game Reserve, staying at Bushbaby Lodge. The bushveld teems with beetles, especially now that there has been some rain after the worst drought in recent years. The best treat were various blister beetles, which Prof Brothers from UKZN, who proofread my book, said should have been included. Of course they should have! Duh! Next edition…

2017-01-02 @20-13-12.jpgThen my husband gave me a gorgeous beetle book for Christmas, so I could fall in love some more. 600 spectacular beetles from across the world.

Happy New Year!

First print run

The first short print run is ready! The book is now available from the author, see Order page.

holding-book

 

Paradise Valley

The first educational event at Paradise Valley was a great success. The children (and parents!) were such a joy with their interest and enthusiasm.

By the end of the presentation everyone was just itching to go insect-hunting. No killing of course, just catch, look and release.

img-20161210-wa0003-sm

There were some lovely results. Many kids found the skins of cicadas clinging to tree trunks, which have been emerging from their long underground existence, in time for Christmas. Others found crane flies, a soldier fly, a miniature ladybird, damselflies, antlions – both pit building and roaming, some interesting bugs, and many more.

The hands-down winner: a Fool’s Gold Beetle. This is a tortoise beetle of the leaf beetle family.

 

Educational events

insect-day-2

Running a fun, educational event for the local home-schoolers this week at Paradise Valley Nature Reserve. 100 people are coming! Hoping for good weather. Another event follows next week for the general public.

With lots of insect photos and videos the presentation shows how insects hatch and grow up, how they breathe (in air and in water), how they feed (different diets, different equipment) and how they stay alive (mimicry, camouflage and other more exotic predator avoidance strategies).

Biodiversity Forum

This book saw the first light of day in public when I presented it at our municipal eThekwini Biodiversity Forum. It got a warm reception and the first ten local copies were sold. An endorsement from the Senior Environmental Technician can be found here.

bioforum-talk

The book is published!

book-front

After eight years, big dreams, hundreds of photo moments, many drafts, the book is finally finished!!!

More information on the The Book page. Order from CreateSpace, an Amazon company.

This book is the product of my various passions: insects, nature, photography, writing, teaching/training and people, especially children (not necessarily in that order).

This book has been a hobby project. I wrote it to bring joy to me and hopefully to others. It has been a labour of love as well as an act of worship. I love everything that ‘lives and moves and has its being’, and I adore the creator of it all. With this book I want to share that passion.

 

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