The wasp and the spider, Baysville

The strength and resilience of some of nature’s smaller creatures is well documented in a photographic and video record submitted by Johan Koekemoer of East London. Last year he witnessed a wasp carrying a paralysed spider for 14 meters to a nest across an incredible man-made and natural obstacle course. His story begins in the suburb of Baysville when he noticed the wasp attack a spider on a palette of bricks at a building site.

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The species of wasp belongs to the family Pompilidae (well represented in Africa) – recognised by their long hind legs, curled antennae and smoky wings.

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They are often seen moving along the ground at great speed, vibrating their wings and antennae as they search for spiders (only the female seeks out spiders). This wasp has caught a common rain spider (Palystes superciliosus) of the family Sparassidae. These spiders are  ground living and can grow to a size greater than 30 mm (illustrated above).

After paralysing the spider (sometimes stinging it in the front of the head – helping to paralyse the fangs) the wasp normally cleans itself before moving off with the prey item to her nest. In this instance the nest was beyond the wall (illustrated below) over which she had to drag the spider.

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The climb to the top of the wall was more 2.3 meters! This amazing feat was achieved with a dedicated pace by the wasp using an amazing climbing technique, combining back and front legs in a coordinated fashion to keep the climb steady.

The wasp still had to drag the spider across the top of the wall (250 mm) before descending on the other side.

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The climb down was another massive act of strength and perfect coordination again on the part of the wasp.

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After having negotiated the wall the journey to the nest was an equal challenge through rough grass for another 9 m! The nest site was under a trampoline set back and on the other side of the wall.

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Part of the route also included climbing over a cut tree stump …….. .

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After a 40 minute journey, well documented by Johan, the wasp reached the nest burrow underneath the trampoline illustrated below. In total the wasp dragged the spider for 14 meters from the kill zone to the nest!!

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The museum thanks Johan Koekemoer for this amazing story and we hope it encourages others to be vigilant of the ‘happenings’ around our feet in suburbia.

Kevin Cole ELM

Photo credits: Johan Koekemoer

Spider identification: Astri Leroy (Spider Club of South Africa)

References: Southern African Spiders – An Identification Guide by Martin R. Filmer

Spiders of southern Africa by Astri and John Leroy

African Insect Life by S. H. Skaife

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Recent Subantarctic fur seal stranding at Haga-Haga

A number of vagrant Subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) records have been noted during the past decade. The first was an adult male of the species (which has a conspicuous tuft of raised hair on the crown) which hauled out east of the Nahoon River (May 2007, Blue Bend Nature Reserve, East London). The animal returned to the sea after having spent a night resting on the shore.

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Museum scientist Kevin Cole with the male Subantarctic fur seal and Blue Bend May 2007

A second record for a sub-Antarctic seal along our coastline during this period was at Kidd’s Beach on the 4th September 2013. This female seal may have returned to the sea.

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Kidd’s Beach female Subantarctic fur seal. Photo credit: Judy Brown and Nigel Dunmore

A immature Subantarctic fur seal was reported alive from Bira (a seaside hamlet west of East London) during the month of August 2016. Unfortunately it did not survive.

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The Bira immature Subantarctic seal. Photo credit: Lynne Arnett

The most recent record was reported from Haga-Haga last week (Tuesday 20th June 2017). Rough seas the previous weekend were logged. This young female also hauled out alive, very fatigued and emaciated. The East London Museum visited the site the following day and noted that the animal had died. The body was retrieved for further study at the request of Bayworld Museum curator of Marine Mammals, Dr Greg Hofmeyr. The seal measured 1.22 m (weighing approximately 20 kg’s) and showed no signs of any physical trauma. The adult length for the female of the species is 1.4 m weighing between 25 and 55 kg’s.

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The immature Subantarctic fur seal which hauled out at Haga-Haga being investigated by museum scientist Kevin Cole

The sub-Antarctic fur seal is distinguished from our local seal by the creamy white colour of the throat and chest which extends upwards to the level of the ears and continues around the eyes and across the bridge of the nose.

The population of these seals is estimated to be between 280 000-350 000. They have been recorded diving to a depth of 208 meters and being underwater for 6.5 minutes. They have a lifespan of approximately 25 years.

Another species of fur seal (other than our local species, Arctocephalus pusillus) is the Antarctic fur seal, Arctocepahlus gazella.  The bulls of Antarctic fur seals are generally dark brown with grizzled silver-white hair on the convex of the crown. The pinnae are relatively long, very prominent and bare at the tip. They do hybridise with Subantarctic and New Zealand Fur Seals.

Mr Bryan Church (Strandloper Trail Manager) and Ms Siani Tinley (Chief Marine Services, Buffalo City) are thanked for reporting the latest find.

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Fin whale at Cove Rock – one year later

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the death of the female Fin whale which stranded at Cove Rock. It was a very sad moment to walk onto the beach last year this time and see a majestic creature such as she was succumbing to the labours of being beached.

All that remains today are parts of the skull. This will hopefully still be collected by the museum.

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Adding another special Thorny Seahorse to the record ….

Mr Michael Vermaak kindly reminded the museum that he had submitted a photographic seahorse record for identification earlier in the year (January 2017). Reviewing the data this was noted and it had not been identified to the species level. SAIAB fish scientist in Grahamstown, Ofer Gon,  confirmed the seahorse to be the same as the recent find at the Orient Beach (see the post below)- Hippocampus histrix (Thorny Seahorse), though it may be a juvenile specimen.

Michael found the seahorse on the beach between the Nahoon River and Bonza Bay last December (2016). The is the first record from this stretch of beach and it is interesting to note two similair specimens in close location found in recent times, considering the last East London record for H. histrix was in 1991 (EL Harbour mouth). He is sincerely thanked for reporting this to the museum. Below is an illustration of the seahorse.

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Thorny Seahorse, Hippocampus histrix, found by Michael Vermaak of East London along the beach between Bonza Bay and the Nahoon River

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Thorny Seahorse found at the Orient Beach (East London)

Last Thursday (11 May 2017) it was reported to the museum that a seahorse had been found and released at the Orient Beach (East London). Shane Roach contacted the museum after listening to the radio programme called ‘Our World’ on WCFM 98.6 Mhz (every Thursday at 16h30). During the program museum scientist, Kevin Cole, reported on a number of unusual marine specimens which had washed up during a spell of very cold water. Shane shared a record of a brightly coloured seahorse which had been found by Roger Elliot on Saturday 6th May 2017. Sea temperatures had dropped below 11 degrees Celsius during the preceding week. The seahorse was identified as Hippocampus histrix, the Thorny Seahorse.

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Thorny Seahorse, Hippocampus histrix, found by Roger Elliot of East London

SAIAB (South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity) fish scientist, Ofer Gon, was contacted about the find. He detailed previous records lodged at SAIAB for the East London area. These are listed below:

SAIAB 1380 – Kaysers Beach, 01/May/1969

SAIAB 38532 – Haga-Haga, 01/April/1989

SAIAB 39242 – East London, Harbor mouth, 10/May/1991

Seahorses occur worldwide in tropical and temperate seas. The most common seahorse along our coast is Hippocampus kuda. See an earlier post on this (14th September 2011).

Their  bodies are armoured with dermal plates forming a tubular series of rings. They have a small mouth at the end of a snout. The body has no scales and there is a difference in size between males and females. The males can carry eggs which have been fertilised either on a concealed pouch or a fold of skin or the eggs can be exposed. Seahorses vary in size from 2-65 cm.

This was a special find for East London, considering the last one was in 1991 and Shane and Roger are thanked for revealing this marine species to the museum.

Reference: Coastal Fishes of southern Africa by Phil and Elaine Heemstra (SAIAB 2004).

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Winged robbers …… flies of a different sort

A large fly recently settled on a wall in Beacon Bay (EL) and was identified as one of the species of robber flies found in the region. With a wingspan of close to 25 mm, this species, Alcimus tristrigatus, was resting on a wall and may have been attracted to a body of water close by. When resting on the ground they can mimmick short-horned grasshoppers (a major prey item). The robber flies belong to the insect family called Asilidae and are generally recognisable by being  bristly and the top of the hairy head hollowed into a deep groove. Preying on other insects which are normally caught in flight, they are voracious and have powerful legs to subdue prey. Prey species include bees, wasps and grasshoppers.

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Robber fly (Alcimus tristrigatus)

 

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In the field with palaeontologist Dr Rob Gess

Museum scientist, Kevin Cole, recently spent time with Grahamstown palaeontologist, Dr Rob Gess. A field outing to road cutting close to Grahamstown proved to be an amazing meander back in time to the Devonian period (about 368 million years ago).

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Dr Rob Gess

Passion and dedication on the part of Rob has resulted in some wonderful finds for science. Many years ago he had the foresight to collect a lot of rock separated out mechanically for a road cutting. This rock later revealed interesting fossilised extinct fish species, young coelacanths and the worlds earliest evidence of a scorpion. The interpretation of some of the science can be seen on display at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown (see photo below).

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The display carries large colourful illustrations  ….. fish with armoured plated heads, lampreys (no bone in their bodies), spiny finned fishes (ancestors to sharks), lobed-finned fish, lung fish and fish with jointed armed appendages (see illustrations below).

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Back in the lab at Rob’s office in Grahamstown rock specimens were presented and one of the samples clearly showed the pincer of a late Devonian scorpion (360 million years old) and another sample the fossil tail with the sting of the scorpion. At that time South Africa was part of a giant landmass known as Gondwana (which later split up into Antarctica, South America, Madagascar, India and Australia). This find represents the earliest land living (terrestrial) animal on this ancient landmass. This new species was named Gondwanascorpio emzanziensis (see photo below).

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