Dung Beetles and Marula Trees Hluhluwe Reserve
Dung beetles (coprophages, which means feces eaters), are the clean-up crews of the bushveld, able to carry off and scatter a pile of dung in an amazingly short time. The dung is buried in the ground where it decomposes, aerating and fertilizing the soil. The removal of dung also minimizes the number of flies, so these beetles are extremely useful in maintaining a healthy environment. Dung Beatles not only use animal dung for sustenance but also for egg development.
These little beetles are some of the most fascinating insects out here in the bush. For the whole of winter they have been in a state of torpor waiting for the first rains to arrive which is when the bush starts buzzing with the wing beats of these flying decomposers.
Dung beetles range in size from a tiny 5mm, to a very substantial 50mm and are divided into groups according to how they dispose of the dung. They are either “rollers”, rolling the dung into balls and then burying the “brood balls” in soft soil; the male will collect and roll the dung, forming a movable ball that will be pushed with the back feet as the front legs are armed with serrations to grip the ground for stability. When the ball is of a suitable size, the male releases a pheromone, attracting a female. She will cling to the ball as the male continues to roll in search of soft soil. When appropriate soil is located, the pair use their shovel shaped heads to dig away beneath the ball, slowly burying it. The larvae are left to develop using the dung as sustenance during the metamorphic process.
Guests are generally fascinated and highly entertained by the antics of the rolling dung beetles. Everybody is always amazed by the strength and tenacity of these little beetles, as they roll their ball of dung in a straight line over all sorts and sizes of obstacles, sometimes pushing more than 50 times their body weight up a steep embankment.
The “burrowers” take the dung into tunnels directly under the main heap and “dwellers” are the beatles whch actually live in the dung. There are often many varied species of dung beetles in a single pile of manure. Therefore it is never advised to drive over animal while in a game reserve as you never know how many dung beatles may be inside.
They are very diverse in appearance, with carapaces varying in colour from black to blue, green to copper. The beetles have a lifespan of approximately 3 years. Let’s all be very glad that these little insects are doing the job that no one else would want to take on!
Marula Tree & Fruit
Marulas are probably best known for their delicious fruit they produce as well as the famous cream cocktail beverage distilled from the fruit. Marulas are large trees growing in well drained sandy soils on the top of slopes with uninhibited access to sunlight.
The tree is classified as ” dioecious” which means male and female trees are separate and the easiest way to distinguish is to see which one bears the fruit. The tree fruits in the summer months, with apricot like fruits dropping to the ground before ripening. They are loved by animals like Elephants, Baboons and antelope alike. The fruits have a lovely citrus flavour and is used by humans to make jams, jellies, juice, beer and liqueur. They contain many times the amount vitamin C than an orange, taking in to account that they are much smaller than an average orange. Elephant bulls will feast on these fruit for a vitamin C boost to their immune systems before entering musth. The myth that Elephants get intoxicated by eating the fruits is untrue as their digestive systems do not facilitate that kind of fermentation as it is too rapid.
Having male and female trees separate has led to many traditional beliefs regarding the tree. One of these beliefs entails the sex of the marula tree can determine the gender of an unborn child. Drinking the tea made from the powdered bark of a male tree will result in a boy child being born and the opposite for the female tree. The marula tree is held in high regard amongst certain cultures, marriage ceremonies are associated with the tree and is seen as a symbol of tenderness and fertility.
The inner bark of the tree has antihistamine properties and is used against the stings of hairy caterpillars in particular. The pinkish dye extracted from the wood is used to colour basketwork and a brandy tincture made from the inner bark is also used as a traditional malaria prophylactic.
Picture of the week
Picture taken in the Umfolozi Game Reserve
Picture Taken by Jonathan Webster
Runner Up Picture of the Week
Picture was taken by David
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