Butterflies in Sinai

Butterflies! I love them. I am enthralled by their process of metamorphosis. Over the years, I have raised dozens of them indoors and watched them grow and change from tiny caterpillars to delicate chrysalises to beautiful butterflies. Often I share this experience with my students, who are as fascinated as I am, learning along with them.

I am able to identify most of the butterflies I spot thanks to the book Butterflies of Egypt: Atlas, Red Data listing & Conservation by Francis Gilbert and Samy Zalat. You can download the book for free here. Many thanks to the authors for sharing this amazing resource!

Butterflies in Sinai

In the photo collection above, you can see:

Large Salmon Arab (Colotis fausta)
Grass Jewel (Chilades trochylus)
Small White (Pieris rapae)
African Babul Blue (Azanus jesous)
Saharan Swallowtail (Papilio saharae)
Dark Grass Blue (Zizeeria karsandra)
Desert White (Pontia glauconome)
African Caper White (Belenois aurota)
African Monarch (Danaus chrysippus)
Pomegranate Playboy (Deudorix livia)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus)
Scarce Green-striped White (Euchloe falloui)
Mediterranean Tiger Blue (Tarucus rosaceus)

Spiders in Sinai

It wasn’t until I turned my camera lens from the desert blooms to the creepy crawlies that I got over my fear of spiders. Mostly. Big, hairy ones still freak me out. But the little ones I find around the local wadis and my own desert garden have grown on me and I think they are quite stunning! Luckily, none of these commonly seen spiders are venomous, but there are dangerous spiders in Sinai, like the rare White Widow Spider. Camel Spiders are not spiders nor scorpions, but rather in their own order of Arachnids.

Spiders in Sinai

In this collection, you can see:

Flower Crab Spider (Thomisus sp.)
Spitting Spider (Scytodes sp.)
Velvet Spider (Stegodyphus dufouri)
Hairy Field Spider (Neoscona sp.)
Pantropical Jumping Spider (Plexippus paykulli)
Giant Daddy Long Leg Spider (Artema atlanta)
Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia arabica)
Jumping Spider (Thyene imperialis)
Unknown Jumping Spiders (Family Salticidae)

You can learn more about the Green Lynx Spider at this post.

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

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!

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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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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.

Leafcutter Bees

Continuing our exploration of the buzzing insects devoured by the bee-eaters, today I am happy to share with you the story of how I discovered Leafcutter Bees (Megachile sp.). Several years ago I was pruning the Sodom Apple tree in my garden, cutting away the dry dead stems, when, in one of the branches that I removed, I noticed this:

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I was fascinated by these bits of bougainvillea tucked so neatly into the branch.  We found two more empty stems sealed this way and left those on the tree. But my curiosity got the better of me and I broke this branch to see what was inside.

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Beautiful pink packages all lined up! Figuring these were nests of some sort, I felt bad about the disturbance I had caused. I tucked the little packages back inside and laid the branch under the tree in the hopes that the young would continue to develop, whatever they were, and headed inside to do some research. Here’s what I learned.

Leafcutter Bees in the Megachile genus are solitary bees that are known for neatly cutting bits of leaves or flower petals to build the cells of their nests. They will sometimes build these nests within a hollow branch, as the ones in my garden did, but more often they build them in burrows in the ground. Wherever they are built, the nests are arranged in a long column of cells. In each cell, the female places an egg and a supply of food, usually pollen. About a week after I found these nests, I discovered a bee busily adding a new cell and cap to one of the hollow branches.

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Once the egg hatches, it eats the food, molts several times, spins a cocoon, and pupates. It takes months before the adult bee emerges. Male Leafcutter Bees die shortly after mating. The females live a few weeks longer, allowing them time to build their nests. While they are alive and buzzing around, they pollinate the local plants. In my garden alone, I have spotted them feeding on Reseda sp., Schouwia purpurea, Capparis sp., and Echinops sp. 

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The authors of Gardens of a Sacred Landscape state, “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.” The book was published in 2008 and unfortunately I have not found any other research (in English) about this issue.

Sadly, there is a research study about Leafcutter Bees that are using plastic and other synthetic material to build their nests.