Bees in Sinai

“Sinai is one of the very few places in the world (and it may be unique) where no social bees of any kind occur naturally, only solitary bees…Recently hives of domesticated social honeybees have been brought in from Egypt, and scientists are worried about their impact on the wild bees, and hence on the efficiency with which native plants are pollinated. ” ~ Gardens of a Sacred Landscape: Bedouin Heritage and Natural History in the High Mountains of Sinai by Samy Zalat and Francis Gilbert

Bees in Sinai

Pictured here:
Top Right: Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa sp), which you can learn more about in this post.
Bottom Right: Leafcutter Bee (Coelioxys sp), which you can learn more about in this post.

There have been several reports in the past year of hives of social bees in Dahab and Nuweiba. After reading the book quoted above, I have been fascinated about their possible impact on the native solitary bees and plants, so I did a bit of research and found two very interesting articles:

Human interference in the natural order of our ecosystems is not always a good thing. I’ll be thinking twice now about buying honey from St. Katherine’s…

Flies in Sinai

Flies can be pesky for sure, but when you take a closer look, many of them are quite beautiful! Flies are in the order Diptera, which includes not only those pesky house flies but horse-flies, crane flies, fruit flies, hoverflies, midges, and mosquitoes.

Flies in Sinai

In this sampling of flies in Sinai, you see:

Top Left: Band-eyed Hoverfly (Eristalinus taeniops)

Bottom Left: Common Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata)

Top Right: Hoverfly (Eupeodes corollae)

The other two images are unidentified fruit flies (Drosophilidae family).

Mantises in Sinai

Mantids in Sinai

Top Left: Giant African Mantis (Sphodromantis viridis)
Top Right: Desert Mantis (Eremiaphilidae sp)
Bottom Left: Cone-headed Mantis (Empusidae family)
Bottom Right: Egyptian Flower Mantis (Blepharopsis mendica)

The bottom two are in their nymph stage.

You can learn more about the Egyptian Flower Mantis in this post.

Beetles in Sinai

Beetles, forming the largest order of insects with nearly 400,000 identified species, account for nearly 40% of all insects. So I guess it’s no surprise that my collection of beetle images is one of my largest!

Beetles in Sinai

Here’s what you can see in this sampling:

Blister Beetle
Carpet Beetle 
Darkling Beetle
Red Palm Weevil
Seven-spotted Ladybug
Hairy Rose Beetle
Jewel Beetle
and a few unidentified beetles (the blue/green ones…can anyone help with an ID?)

Dragonflies in Sinai

A couple of months ago, my external hard drive malfunctioned and I lost thousands of my photos – mostly my pics of Sinai wildlife. Fortunately, my talented husband was able to recover a good chunk of the images. Recently, instead of wandering through wadis shooting new photos, I’ve been sorting and renaming all the recovered images. It’s a bit tedious and overwhelming, so I took breaks to put together different collections, like this one – Dragonflies in Sinai. I’ll be sharing some more of these over the next few weeks so stay tuned. 🙂

Dragonflies in Sinai

Top Left and Bottom Right: Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata)
Middle Left: Desert Skimmer (Orthetrum ransonneti)
Bottom Left: Slim Scarlet-Darter (Crocothemis sanguinolenta)
Top Right: Unknown

Burton’s Carpet Viper

Although I’m super excited to share this venomous viper with you today, I’m also super thankful that I don’t come across them more often on my wanderings. Why? Because “species in the genus Echis are responsible for the greatest proportion of all snake bite fatalities in humans.” (ARKive) Eek!

Burton's Carpet Viper (3)

This Burton’s Carpet Viper (Echis coloratus) was spotted in a wadi in Dahab, moving away from us – or we wouldn’t have been so excited to come across it! But it took its time crossing the narrow path in front of us and then slithering its way up the sunny rocks, giving us plenty of time to observe its beauty.

These vipers have short, stocky bodies and wide heads and can grow to lengths of 75 cm. Their backs are covered with a pattern of pinkish-grayish blotches that have a darker outline. They also have dark gray bands that stretch from the eyes to the corners of their mouths. Their coloration gives them excellent camouflage against the rocks.

Burton's Carpet Viper (1)

Called hayiah or um jenah by the Jebaliya Bedouin, these vipers are fairly common in South Sinai and can be found at elevations up to 2,000 m. They typically live in rocky mountainous regions, on steep slopes, ledges, cliffs, and in rocky wadis. They are nocturnal and crepuscular, active during twilight. But we spotted this one on the move at around 9 in the morning.

Another name for these vipers is the Palestine Saw-Scaled Viper. This name comes from their defensive strategy of rubbing their coils together to produce a strong hissing or sawing sound when approached, especially to deter humans as they don’t want to waste their precious venom on us. Other names include the Arabian Saw-Scaled Viper, Mid-East Saw-Scaled Viper, and the Painted Carpet Viper.

Burton's Carpet Viper (4)

Burton’s Carpet Vipers are unusual among vipers as they lay eggs, whereas their relatives give birth to live young. The vipers feed on small mammals, birds, lizards, and large invertebrates. They have long, hollow fangs that they can reportedly fold back against the roof of their mouths when not in use.

Seeing as this viper and its relatives are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous snakes, I will be sure to pay better attention when I set up camp in the desert!

References:

Aly, D. & Khalil, R. (2011). Wildlife in South Sinai. Cairo.Funded by the E.U. in cooperation with G.O.S.S.

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Palestine saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus) on ARKive.org

Convolvulus Hawkmoth

It’s been almost a year exactly since I shared a photograph of an unknown caterpillar that was devouring the basil plant in my garden. A few months ago, my students and I were able to successfully raise one of those critters indoors and finally identify it as a Convolvulus Hawkmoth (Agrius convolvuli)!

Again, we had found the caterpillar munching my basil plant, but my husband and I have also found eggs on a sweet potato plant at his farm.

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The eggs are smooth, greenish spheres and are laid on the underside of leaves. The larvae will eat a range of plants, including but not limited to daisy, taro, morning glory, sunflower, purslane, and some legumes. And as we’ve learned – basil and sweet potato!

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The young caterpillars are green with a straight horn on their tail ends, but the larvae will go through five instar phases, molting its skin at each stage.

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Later instars develop pale diagonal stripes and their horns curve backward. Even later instars may become dark brown. The caterpillars are quite large, growing up to 8 cm in length.

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Our caterpillar buried a few centimeters under gravel and leaf litter to form its pupa, which was glossy and reddish brown. The moths spend between 5 and 26 days in this stage.

Hawkmoth Pupa

Adults Convolvulus Hawkmoths are grey with light and dark patterns. The abdomen has pink patches on the side of each segment.

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I have never seen these moths flying, but like other hawkmoths, they are able to hover in flight.

I am thrilled that we were able to raise this – my first! – moth and share our discoveries with you! Have you ever raised butterflies or moths at home? It truly is a fascinating experience.

African Caper White Butterfly

I mentioned on my Facebook page the other day that I was raising caterpillars with one of my students and I promised to write a blog post to reveal who would emerge from the chrysalis. This is a butterfly I have raised indoors on several occasions and one that is often found in my garden, so I have been lucky to observe these critters a lot over the years and I have a ton of photographs. It was hard to narrow down the choices, but I am finally ready to introduce you to…the African Caper White Butterfly!

First Ones (4)

Also known as the Brown-veined White or the Pioneer White, Belenois aurota butterflies only lay their eggs, in batches of 25 – 30, on the leaves of caper bushes (Capparis sp.) The eggs are tall and ribbed and stuck onto the leaves with a special “glue”.

When the larvae, or caterpillars, hatch, they are olive green in color and have glossy black heads. They live and feed gregariously, or socially in a group. They quickly devour the thick caper leaves as they continue to eat and grow.

Garden Caper Pooters (4)

Garden Caper Pooters (9)

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They will molt several times. The larger caterpillars are hairy and have a green stripe along their backs and mottled black stripes along their sides.

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With their last molt, they form their pupa, or chrysalis. It is cream-colored and dashed with black markings and round yellow dots. They attach themselves, again in groups, with a sticky thread to the leaves or stems of the caper bushes.

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The adults emerge in about 7 – 10 days. Their wings, about 4 cm across, are white with black or dark brown veins.

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When they are ready to come out, some segments of the chrysalis become red and will stay this color.

After the butterflies emerge, they will feed and mate.

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Garden Critters_ (5)

And they don’t waste anytime getting started! In the video below, taken in my garden, you can see butterflies trying to mate with one whose wings are still drying.

Egyptian Fan-toed Gecko

These little lizards have been showing their faces around my house and garden lately, so I’d thought we’d take a break from the buzzers and introduce the Egyptian Fan-toed Gecko!

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Also known as the Common Fan-footed Gecko, Ptyodactylus hasselquistii is reported to be “the most abundant of all lizards inhabiting the lowland wadis of South Sinai.” You’ve probably seen them around. They are easily recognized by their flared or fan-shaped toes.

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Ptyodactylus hasselquistii by Todd Pierson, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The gecko pictured above was hanging out on my ceiling several weeks ago. Fan-toed Geckos are excellent climbers and can run easily across boulders, vertical rock walls, and cave roofs, as well as under ledges and overhangs. The geckos are able to do this thanks to thousands of microscopic toe scales – hooked, hair-like projections that allow the lizards to grip almost any surface.

Egyptian Fan-toed Gecko 2

Called burs abu kaf in Arabic, these medium-sized geckos have flat, narrow heads, short and slender limbs, and long tails. Their color varies greatly depending on their surroundings, but they typically have dark bands across their back and tails. Fan-toed Geckos are generally nocturnal, coming out at night to forage on insects and arachnids, but they can also be active during the day, especially when the weather is colder and they can be found sunning themselves in a sheltered and safe location.

Egyptian Fan-Toed Gecko_Wadi G'Mai (2)

Most lizards are usually mute, but not these geckos! They will make a chirping or clicking sound – tek, tek, tek – to communicate with other geckos. (In fact, during my afternoon nap today, I’m pretty sure I heard the one that my cat chased into the kitchen a few days ago. Poor thing is probably stressed and wanting to get back outside.)

Another fun fact: Geckos do not have eyelids. Instead their eyes are covered with a membrane that they must lick to clean and keep moist.

Want to know more? Head over to Mother Nature Network and read 12 Surprising Facts about Geckos.

Note: There is another species of Fan-toed Gecko in South Sinai – the Spotted Fan-toed Gecko (P. guttatus), which the guidebook says is the species found above 800 meters. There may also be several subspecies of Ptyodactylus hasselquistii, but this is still debated by scientists.

References:

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Common fan-footed gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii) on ARKive.org.

 

The Second Edition is Finally Here!

Wandering through Wadis 2nd Edition COVER

I’m thrilled to announce that the updated edition of Wandering through Wadis: A nature-lover’s guide to the flora of South Sinai is ready!  It’s been four years since I published the first edition and I’ve spent a lot more time wandering, photographing, researching, and learning. I was able to add over 35 new plant species to the guidebook, bring the total number of plants in the directory to 142. I also added dozens of new and better quality images of the first-edition plants. The completely revised introduction now includes information about plant biology and the adaptations that desert plants employ to survive the harsh climate of Sinai, highlighting the fascinating lives of desert flora.

The Second Edition is available solely as an ebook. I have no plans at the moment to produce a print edition. I understand the love of paperbacks and the ease with which we can toss them into our backpacks, but the cost of paper and ink has doubled over the last year, as Egypt imports nearly two-thirds of what it needs from abroad. My book has over 170 pages and 450 photographs. That’s a lot of paper and ink. So, for now, it’s an e-version, a PDF file, which is easily read on tablets, iPads, laptops, and PCs. There is one bonus of reading the book on a device at least – the ability to zoom in on the images.

You can download a FREE excerpt of the book here. The sample includes the Table of Contents, Author’s Note, part of the Introduction, thirteen entries from the Plant Directory, the Index of Plants in the Directory, part of the Working List of Other Plants in Sinai, and References.

If you’re interested in purchasing the full book, you can do that here, for $8.

Happy Wandering!