Desert Skimmer

Widespread in Africa and the Middle East, the Desert Skimmer (Orthetrum ransonnetii) is mostly found in hot, arid, rocky environments, like Sinai’s desert mountain region.

These dragonflies have almost completely black venation and completely transparent wings. (There is no amber color on the hind wings like in other species.) The males are blue, with an unwaisted body, and females are brown.

Because their larvae and nymphs are aquatic, Desert Skimmers are common at small flowing and standing pools of water, and particularly areas without a lot of vegetation.

Desert Skimmers are known to hang from vertical or sub-vertical rocks and walls. And if the weather is hot, they especially like to hang in shaded places.

Dragonflies are carnivorous, predatory insects, hunting on the wing for other flying insects, including mosquitoes, flies, butterflies and moths, and even smaller dragonflies. Their acute eyesight and strong, agile flight help make them some of the world’s most efficient hunters. Dragonflies catch up to 95% of the prey they pursue. And that’s good, because a dragonfly eats up to 1/5 of its weight every day.

Bedouin in Sinai, at least of the Jebeleya tribe, call a dragonfly a ghizlan غِزْلان

What do you call them in your native language?

Be sure to read the post about the Violet Dropwing where you can learn more about dragonflies’ amazing wings!

Wasps in Sinai

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. 

A collection of images of five different wasps in Sinai.

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)

Bugs in Sinai

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.

Bugs in Sinai

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).

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?)

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)

Dahab Keyhole_NOV12_11

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.

Garden Critters_ (18)

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.

DSCN8170

IMG_9004

DSCN8174

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

Garden Critters_ (8)

IMG_9361

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.

IMG_9208

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.

 

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:

IMG_9127

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.

Leafcutter Bee Nest (3)

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.

IMG_9352-horz

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. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Ladybird Beetles

Desert Garden Ladybugs (2)

Ladybird Beetles, or Ladybugs as I grew up calling them in North America, are quite well-known beetles, but some people may be surprised to learn that you’ll find these colorful beetles in the deserts of Sinai.

Desert Garden Ladybugs (1)

Ladybirds are red, yellow, or orange colored beetles with small black spots on their wing covers. They have small dome-shaped bodies and six short legs. Contrary to popular belief, the number of spots do not indicate age but rather a specific species. Both of the beetles pictured above are Seven-spotted Ladybird Beetles (Coccinella septempunctata), one of the most common.

I have also seen Eleven-Spotted Ladybirds (Coccinella undecimpunctata), pictured below, on caper plants in the wadis around Dahab.

Ladybird Beetles (5)

Both the larvae and adults feed on aphids, small insects that suck the sap from plants. Ladybirds are therefore quite useful in helping to fight these pests in gardens, especially the ones in the mountains around St. Katherine’s, but also in my own desert garden. 🙂

Wadi GNai_Oct13 (12)

When threatened, adult ladybirds release a yellow substance from a joint on their leg that is distasteful to predators and convinces them to find their next meal somewhere else.

Ladybird Beetles (4)

The Bedouin in Sinai call Ladybird Beetles ‘uwaynat umm sulayman, or “the eyes of Solomon’s mother”.

In traditional folklore in some cultures, Ladybird Beetles are thought to bring good luck. Have ladybirds brought you any luck in the Sinai?

References:

Zalat, S., & Gilbert, F. (2008). Gardens of a Sacred Landscape: Bedouin Heritage and Natural History in the High Mountains of Sinai. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) on ARKive.org

Striped Hawkmoth

I promised – to those of you follow on Facebook – that my next post would be about this magnificent critter that I found on a basil plant in my garden –

img_6807

– as he was indeed the inspiration for getting back to work on this blog, and so today is all about…hawkmoths!

Unfortunately, I do not know – yet! – exactly who this bright green caterpillar is, but I do know that he (or she) is in the Sphingidae family of moths. Moths in this family are commonly called hawkmoths, sphinx moths, or hornworms.

There are over 1,450 species of Sphingidae moths. The larvae, or caterpillars, of hawkmoths are hairless and have a “horn” on the posterior end.

img_7226
Striped Hawkmoth (Hyles livornica)

And while I do not know which caterpillar was munching on my basil plant, I do know who was bending over backwards to eat the tips of desert lavender. That is a larva of the Striped Hawkmoth, Hyles livornica.

It was early spring 2013 and we had had a wet winter in Dahab. There had even been a hail storm in November. So the desert plants were flourishing in the wadis!

On one early morning wander, we came across an area lush with fresh green asphodel, lavender, and sorrel. And crawling across the sandy wadi were the most amazing caterpillars I had seen in Sinai! Dozens of them. Some of the largest were as long and thick as my index finger. They were happily munching on all the nearby herbs.

img_3144

img_7182

img_7194

Like all caterpillars, these Striped Hawkmoth larvae go through several stages of development, or instars, and their colors and patterns can change quite dramatically at each stage.

img_7285

Hawkmoth caterpillars will burrow into the soil or gravel or hide among the rocks to pupate and I have never seen that stage of development. But about a month after we saw the caterpillars, we discovered the adult Striped Hawkmoths. They were busy feeding on the dhafrah (Iphiona scabra) flowers.

wadi-kostya-3

Sphingidae moths are known for their rapid flight and ability to hover in midair while they feed. They use their long proboscis (mouth parts) to reach the nectar in the flowers. Male moths are typically smaller than females. Both are beige with white stripes. Their hindwings, not seen when the wings are at rest, are pink and edged with black and white.

img_2700
a Striped Hawkmoth, attracted to the light in the tent during a spring safari

img_2699

Dahab was blessed recently with several good rainstorms and young desert plants are already poking their heads through the sand. Let’s hope the plants start to thrive again and that we have beautiful green wadis to wander through this coming spring. The butterflies and moths would be happy with that, too!

References:

Striped hawkmoth ~ ARKive

Hyles livornica ~ Moth and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa

Hyles livornica ~ Wikipedia