Alliteration always amuses me, hence the headline – and it does describe some recent ambles around the garden. Peering as I go, I am sometimes amazed at what I come across – often in plain sight but so easy to overlook.

So please join me on some recent saunters round the garden – obviously only the ones when my camera came too.

Rather tatty Gold-spotted Sylph (Metisella metis), KwaZulu-Natal

A butterfly fluttered past and – surprisingly – landed close by and stayed in one place with its wings outstretched. Although it was looking rather tatty it could fly well. I think this is a Gold-spotted Sylph (Metisella metis) but definitely one of the Metisella species, known as sylphs and classed as skipper butterflies.

Flesh eating fly, South Africa

Not a butterfly but a member of the Sarcophagidae family of flies, known as flesh flies. If we drop any anti-fly prejudices, we might see that actually it is very good-looking. Some Sarcophagidae species eat decaying organic matter of animal origin, including faeces, where the female may deposit live larvae. Some species are parasitoids of wasps and bees, and others feed on the prey of spiders or wasps, and some species on termites or on locust egg pods. There are 157 species of Sarcophagidae flies in southern Africa (2029 Picker: 356).

Blue-coloured blowfly perching on a shrub

Also not granted a good press are blowflies, members of the Calliphoridae family. In some species adults, especially the females, are attracted to decaying flesh and faeces, where the maggot-like larvae develop. However, adult males are often nectar feeders, playing a role as pollinators. And some species in the family are associated with termite or ant nests. There are about 152 known species of Calliphoridae flies in southern Africa (2029 Picker: 354).

Without blowflies and their larvae to help dispose of carrion and other rotting matter, where would we be? And in addition, the contribution of flies as pollinators is often overlooked as is the role of parasitoid flies in controlling numbers of other insects, many of which we consider to be agricultural pests. For other aspects of flies see my previous posts bubble blowing flies and flies as pollinators.

Assassin bug in the flower of a Forest Pink Hibiscus while eating a caterpillar

While scrutinizing the flowers on a Forest Pink Hibiscus (Hibiscus pedunculatus) in the garden, I was hugely surprised to see an assassin bug feeding on an apparently fresh and juicy caterpillar. A very busy ant was in attendance scurrying about and entering and leaving though some perfectly round holes eaten into the petals – presumably by the caterpillar before it was captured.

The assassin bug family, Reduviidae, is a large and cosmopolitan grouping of ambush hunters. In southern Africa all species are predatory (not blood suckers as some species in South America are). They use their long curved beak (rostrum) to swiftly stab their prey and then inject a paralysing substance that also liquefies the innards of the prey item. The assassin bug then sucks up a liquid meal. They prey on a variety of species, and depending on the type of assassin bug they might target millipedes, stinkbugs, honey bees, ants, butterflies, wasps or other insects, with some preying on caterpillars as we can see.

My second surprise on watching the deadly process was that this assassin bug demonstrated a ‘look ma no hands’ technique while sucking its prey dry.

Initially I though this must be a Flower Assassin (Rhynocoris segmentarius) but then I thought its paler stripes are not yellow enough (I did not see its back). As there are about 475 species of assassin bugs in southern Africa it is impossible to guess at the ID!

Vervet monkey juvenile asking its mother to share a fruit in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal

While I was sitting on the ground watching the assassin bug a small group of Vervet monkeys passed by in the trees, looking rather surprised to see me seated in one spot in a rather unlikely place. The above photo is a bit of a cheat as I did not take it at the time. This one I took through a window at quite a distance. Serendipitously, I was able to photograph a youngster requesting that its mother share the green fruit she was eating. Happily, the mother complied.

Pregnant striped skink, KwaZulu-Natal

I was rather surprised to see the large tummy this skink was sporting. Although many skinks are svelte, some of them are rather broad in the beam, but it is not often one sees that impressive belly droop. It is likely that this skink was pregnant. This would be a member of the Trachylepis genus. For more about these lovely lizards see my post Likeable lizards: Striped skinks in the garden

Blue flower of a Large Spur Flower Bush (Plectranthus ecklonii)

I was surprised to see the vividness that the blue of the flowers of a Plectranthus took on in the relative gloom of dusk. I think this is the Large Spur Flower Bush (Plectranthus ecklonii), a plant of the forest understorey.

After having coffee out on our front deck the other morning I spotted a small insect trapped inside trying to find a way out through the panes of the sliding glass door. To rescue it I fetched the plastic tumbler and thin piece of card reserved for the purpose of rescuing insects. I placed the tumbler over the insect and then slid the card between the pane and the tumbler and carried the insect outside.

Once released it flew into an adjacent tree, which still had raindrops on its leaves. On a leaf the insect proceeded to rehydrate after its stressful time trapped inside. Seeing the spike at the end of the abdomen I thought it would be species of Ichneumon wasps, but I was surprised not to be able to identify it, so any assistance would be appreciated.

Homegrown pinapple bearing a fruit

When going into our rather neglected veggie patch – weather extremes have made veggie gardening difficult – I was surprised to see that the solitary pineapple that had spent months developing was suddenly ripe. So I took a photo before we picked it for eating and it was delicious. It was so nice to eat a sweet, non-acidic, sun-ripened and chemical-free pineapple. The flower that produced this fruit featured as the final photo in the post on fractals in my series on patterns in nature.

When the orange flowers of the Crocosmia known as Falling Stars (Crocosmia aurea) are widespread in the garden then I know that autumn is nearly here. It comes as something of a surprise to grasp that indeed autumn is upon us as the days are noticeably shortening. The Crocosmia flowers are one of the great pleasures of autumn.

We have just had several blisteringly hot days, but this evening there is a hint of chilliness in the coolness of the air. And to our relief, for the next ten days the maximum temperatures are forecast to be below 30 degrees.

Just as a postscript, I keep changing my mind about capitalising the initial letters of the common names of animals, birds and plants. Following convention, I had been sticking with not using capitals, but when writing last week’s post on butterflies I thought it seemed confusing not to capitalise names such as “Brown-veined Whites” and “African Migrant”. Surely one can argue that such names are indeed proper nouns (a convention birding publications seem to follow)? Sure you may get more than one common name for a species, but scientific names are subject to ongoing change too and synonyms for scientific names for the same species abound. What do you think about capitalizing common names?

P.P.S. I came across an interesting discussion of this issue in a post on the blog Mostly Birds


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

Posted by Carol