Big Bugs 2 (and a teeny, tiny gecko)

It sounds like the sequel to a bad movie, doesn’t it? Who would have thought we’d collect enough pictures and stories about bugs to warrant a follow up to the first post?

It takes observant eyes to notice this one while hiking! (Thanks kids!)

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We thought it was a type of praying mantis, but learned that actually “stick insects” or “walking sticks” are their own category, “phasmatodea.” It’s easy to see why “playing dead” is one of its effective defenses along with camouflage.  Would you have spotted it here?

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We have encountered cicadas in several forests throughout our stay and have been astonished by the volume and pitch of their call! In our experience they seem to congregate in shady groves and sing (screech?) along together. I read that only the males make these calls and that there are courtship, mating, and encounter songs. Sometimes when you get near one it will stop suddenly allowing you to realize the strength of even one of these fellows alone. Apparently the sound can be loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss to humans and that some smaller cicadas have calls at a pitch too high for human ears to detect. This video clip will give you an idea.

Shongololo is a fun word to say! It’s the common name for the giant African millipede of which there are several varieties. It comes from the Zulu and Xhosa verb “ukushonga” which means “to roll up.” They do often roll up into a beautiful spiral when irritated. But when they’re on the move it’s an impressive site seeing all those little legs tip-toeing along in waves underneath. I’ve heard several people reminisce about playing with these as children.

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We don’t have a very good photo of a spider but we have seen plenty of them. Mostly we find small, black jumping ones but on one occasion we saw numerous large sac spiders. We were at a rustic hostel on the coast with communal bathrooms under a traditional thatched roof. Every evening, these “classic” spiders, with beautifully striped, bulbous bellies and long delicate legs, would glide their way down from the ceiling to begin their webwork. We were both entranced and terrified. Evening bathroom use took some courage and we went in pairs, with one person keeping watch above while the other used the facilities. When we inquired about these spiders, we were told they were “dangerous, but not deadly” which was only partly comforting. It’s true that they didn’t seem too interested in humans. Even so, we learned last week that even a bite by a small and unnoticed spider can be serious. Elsa Ruth missed four days of school and required antibiotics after getting a nasty spider bite on her knee!  (Here’s one of the big sac spiders on the bathroom thatching.  His thorax was about the size of a half dollar coin.)

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With all these creepy crawlies it’s easy to get a little edgy about them sometimes. We try to keep in mind that they are food for plenty of other things around us, namely the lizards, geckos, and birds. When geckos skitter across the walls and ceiling we remind ourselves that they are helping control the bug population inside, even if they do leave their scat for us here and there. This has to be the smallest and cutest gecko we have seen. Not a Big Bug, but this guy deserved to be in a post somewhere so we’ll include him here!

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