Small in size but big in interest, here is a selection of some of the surprising sightings I have photographed in our garden.

Red millipede, South Africa

Most millipedes that we see in our garden are brown, so it is always a surprise to spot one of the handsome red ones decorated with black bands on each segment of the body. Millipedes are known to roll up when threatened, a habit reflected in the commonly used name songololo, derived from the Xhosa and Zulu name for these creatures, ukusongo, which means to roll up.

Bark mantis, suburban garden, KwaZulu-Natal

This week we were surprised to see this strange mantid-like insect that would flatten itself against a small branch of a sapling in the garden when we approached. If we got too close it tended to pivot around to the other side of the branch to hide, making photographing such a well camouflaged creature even more difficult. I think it is one of the bark mantids. Bark mantids are in the famiy Tarachodidiae, formerly a subfamily of Mantidae, but now recognised as a distinct family.

Bark mantis, South Africa

At one point the bark manid briefly raised its head, which up until then it had kept flattened face down against the branch, revealing its mantis-like eyes and triangular face. Bark mantids move about on tree trunks and branches searching for caterpillars and other prey.

Antennai of the reticulate bagnet (Anaphe reticulata moth

The surprisingly fine filament-like strands on the comb-shaped antennae of this processionary moth, reticulate bagnet (Anaphe reticulata), caught my attention. This particular moth was rather tatty and lethargic and was at the end of its life. Better known than the moths themselves are their larvae, the processionary caterpillars, which are famous for their long single-file nose-to-tail processions.

Owlfly in a garden in South Africa

I was most intrigued by this unusual insect that I spotted on a gate post in the garden in the summer a couple of years ago. At first I thought it might be an antlion, but now I think it is an owlfly, in the family Ascalaphidae. Owlflies often extend the thorax at 90 degrees to the body when perching as this one is doing. Adults hawk insects on the wing, usually at dusk, which is when I saw this one. I have not seen another owlfly before or since.

Longhorn beetle, KwaZulu-Natal

Who would not be surprised at the impressive length of the antennae of this longhorn beetle? The same beetle is in the header photograph. Most longhorn beetles feed on dead or living timber, hence they are also known as timber beetles.

Furry brown and beige moth, South Africa

This little moth was surprisingly difficult to photograph. I saw it one overcast morning as it took shelter in our woodpile. Its most surprising features were the furry auburn kind of cockscomb and the rather furry end to its abdomen resembling a tail. It somehow gave the impression of wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown. If anyone can shed any light on its ID, that would be great.

A blow fly visiting a flower for nectar

Blowflies have unfortunate associations, so it’s always surprising to see how attractive they look when visiting flowers for nectar and pollen.

A gathering of blowflies, South Africa

One morning I came across a tremendous congregation of blowflies in a bare shrub in the garden. This is only a small section of the large group. Quite what had attracted so many of them to this spot, I was not sure. They spent a long time grooming themselves. The one on the extreme right can be seen vigorously wiping down its face with its front legs.

Grasshopper with drooping antennae

Is it not surprising that this grasshopper bears a resemblance to the morose donkey Eeyore in E.H. Shepherd’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books?

Sleeping grasshopper

And here is another grasshopper that surprisingly enough appeared to be sleeping. At first I assumed it might be sick, but when I checked up on it later it was ‘up and about’.

Above is a close-up of the apparently sleeping grasshopper. For a short article in Popular Science on the question ‘Do insects sleep?’ see here.

Sleeping koppie foam grasshopper, South Africa

And strangely enough, on the same morning and quite nearby this koppie foam grasshopper also appeared to be sleeping. This photo was taken two minutes after the previous photo. This grasshopper too, when I checked on it later, was awake and moving around.

Net-winged beetle

This net-winged beetle looks surprisingly like a creation for a science-fiction movie.

Solitary bee visiting a flower and collecting pollen

Solitary bees do not have pollen sacs as honeybees do. Instead, rather surprisingly, they have specially adapted hairs or brushes to collect pollen on their legs or on the front of the abdomen, as shown by the bee in the photograph. In fact solitary bees spread pollen from flower to flower more readily than honeybees do, making them more efficient pollinaters.

Source: Picker, Mike, Griffiths, Charles & Weaving, Alan. 2019. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Posted by Carol