Blister beetles, in the Meloidae family of beetles, earned their name from their defense system. They secrete a caustic chemical, cantharidin, which is an effective repellent for predators and can cause blisters on the skin when the beetles are handled.
The bodies of blister beetles are usually long and slender and often bi-colored. Their antennae are threadlike or beadlike.
Blister beetles use their strong jaws to chew the flowers and foliage that they feed on.
The bright red and black pattern on the blister beetle pictured above is a warning sign of their toxicity to predators.
Crab spiders are abundant in my desert garden at home and can also be spotted out in the wadis. Belonging to the Thomisidae family of spiders, they earned their common name from the way they extend their front pairs of legs in a crab-like fashion.
Flower crab spiders belong to the genus Thomisus and there are about 150 species worldwide. They earned their name from the fact that they are ambush predators, sitting and waiting motionlessly in or nearby flowers for prey to approach. Today, I will introduce you to the Flower Crab Spider Thomisus citrinellus.
Like all crab spiders, the males are much smaller and differently-colored than the females. Female spiders can vary in color – I’ve seen both yellow and white – and the color may depend or change according to the surrounding vegetation. They range from 5 – 7.3 mm in size, whereas males grow from 2.1 – 2.6 mm long. Females usually have dark spots on the points of their abdomens. The first two pairs of legs are longer and thicker and have spines. On the first pair of legs, there are four distinctive dark bristles, often seen as dots in the field. These dark bristles distinguish this from other similar Thomisus species.
Flower Crab Spiders prey on a variety of insects – flies, hoverflies, bees, and sometimes other spiders.
Flower Crab Spiders do not build webs, but they will spin silk thread to use as a drop line or to fold leaves into a tent-like structure where they can hide in ambush. Eggs are also laid in a silk dish covered with a lid.
In all my time in the deserts and wadis of South Sinai, I have encountered scorpions only twice. And that’s okay with me. They kind of creep me out, just like their arachnid cousins, spiders, used to. But I’ve learned to love spiders and so maybe one day I’ll feel differently about scorpions too. Indeed, I was simultaneously freaked out and fascinated when we encountered this Common Black Scorpion (Nebo hierichonticus) in a wadi last spring.
Common Black Scorpions can grow up to 11 cm in length, not including the tail. Their color ranges from light or reddish brown to dark brown with their legs and large pincers being slightly lighter in color.
I was relieved, once I was able to identify this scorpion, to learn that while their venom is quite toxic, causing hemorrhage and necrosis to small prey, their stings are generally harmless to humans, being compared to the sting of a honeybee. The scorpions prey mainly on big insects and spiders and sometimes on small vertebrates like geckos.
Common Black Scorpions live in and under big stones and rocks or in cracks and burrows in deserts and arid mountainous regions.
Sinai is home to a variety of scorpion species, including two of the most dangerous in the world – the Arabian Fat-tailed Scorpion (Androctonus crassicauda) and the Death Stalker (Leiurus quinquestriatus). You can also find Egyptian Pillar-tailed Scorpions, Egyptian Sand Scorpions, and Large-clawed Scorpions in Sinai, although this list is not exhaustive.
The Bedouin of South Sinai “have devised their own version of a primitive vaccine that is believed to provide their children with immunity against venomous stings of scorpions and wasps.” The process of immunization differs among tribes, but for the Jebaliya tribe, it involves collecting, roasting, and grinding a spider wasp and a young Death Stalker scorpion along with a bit of sugar. To this powder, spit from someone believed capable of passing on their immunity is added. This mixture is then given to a child sometime before they eat their first solid food.*
*Aly, D. & Khalil, R. (2011). Wildlife in South Sinai. Cairo.Funded by the E.U. in cooperation with G.O.S.S.
The Cone-headed Grasshoppers are very common in the wadis around Dahab, both in their black adult phase and their pale/yellow colored nymph phase. And are often seen mating, the large female carrying the smaller male on her back.
I just love the common name of this moth – Crimson-speckled Flunkey is so much fun to say!
This moth (Utetheisa pulchella) belongs to the Erebidae family and can be found in dry open spaces in the Afrotropical ecozone in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia.
Their wings are white with small black spots between larger bright red one with an irregular black border. Their heads and thorax areas can be cream- to yellow-colored with the same pattern as the wings.
Crimson-speckled Flunkeys fly during both the day and night, making them easier to spot than only night-flying moths. I have seen them in various locations in South Sinai, on a variety of plants.
The larvae, or caterpillars, eat a range of plants. In Sinai they most likely eat the leaves of Trichodesma and Heliotropium plants, as well as others. As they eat, the caterpillars accumulate a large amount of alkaloids in their bodies, making them unpalatable and toxic to birds. Their colors serve as a warning sign: They are dark brown or gray with orange lines across each segment. They have lateral white lines along their bodies and tufts of grayish hairs. I have never seen the caterpillars, at least not that I recall, but I found the image below on Wikipedia.
Have you ever spotted these moths or caterpillars on your wanderings?
Wasps are insects in the order Hymenoptera, which also includes sawflies, bees, and ants. Wasps such as hornets are social and live together in a nest. But most wasps are solitary. Wasps can be predators and pollinators. Some are parasitoidal, meaning they lay their eggs IN or ON other insects. The larvae eventually kill the host insect. Solitary wasps often do this to pest insects, so can be a beneficial pest control for crops.
Pictured here are a handful of the different wasps in Sinai:
Sand Wasp (Bembix sp.) Caterpillar Hunting Wasp (Delta dimidiatipenne) Carrot Wasp (Gasteruptiidae family) Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis) Thread-waisted Wasp (Ammophila sp)
Not all insects are bugs. True bugs form the order Hemiptera and include such critters as cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, and shield bugs. Most bugs feed on plants, using their sucking mouth parts to get at the sap.
Here you can see a nymph of a Lygaeid bug, a Bagrada Bug, Milkweed Bugs, a Black Watermelon Bug, and a Shield Bug nymph.
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!
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)
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.