With the amount of lion, leopard, elephant and big game action around us, it’s easy to overlook some of the small things. A well-known photographer visiting our camps this month reminded us to revere all life. Beauty is around us constantly, but sometimes on a scale with detail our eyes are unable to see. The colours and intricate patterns of tiny arachnids, insects and amphibians are so striking close-up – especially when the subjects are seemingly so familiar.
Mantids are prolific in this region with five different families occurring in the Delta. Their curiously mobile heads and large compound eyes give them human-like qualities when seen as a macro subject. Whilst observing one through a macro lens recently, it ambushed and devoured a 4 mm mayfly. The mantid’s mandibles are incredible tools when seen so close up – they saw and clench and adroitly stuff prey mouth-ward. Now that the inundation has arrived and we’re able to explore the main channels on the boat, mantid egg cases can be seen in abundance.
What’s striking about jumping spiders is their incredible symmetry. They have four sets of eyes, with a pair, quite literally, on the back of their heads. Needless to say their eyesight is better than any other animal their size. Even the largest of them (pictured, complete with the photographer’s reflection in its eyes), only measures approximately 17 mm. Imagine the size of those individual hairs, which appear to coat the entire body. These spiders don’t build a web, but rather actively hunt their prey, which can make for some interesting game viewing.
Chameleons have a bad reputation in these parts, with several local superstitions surrounding them. For me though, there’s nothing more satisfying than spotting a chameleon in the bush. These creatures prefer the warmer weather, hibernating in winter, so their season to be seen is nearly up. We spotted a few flap-necked chameleons this month, some in trees and some right in the road. They’re solitary animals who can change colour to display their mood or sexual state, and to blend into their environments.
The 3 cm-long Angolan reed frog is certainly one of the most flamboyant amphibians found in the Delta. They’re most commonly seen clinging to reeds on the edges of channels. They occur in various colours and patterns – marbled, spotted, and greyish – but share the common trait of red toes, this attribute likely developed to thwart potential predators. But even with all their bright colours, one must have a keen eye to spot them.
An experience in the bush is as much about cultivating a keen eye and a measured pace as it is a taste for adventure and adrenaline. The depth and nuance of the bush is what keeps it infinitely interesting. Stopping to observe the dung beetle rolling her ball, registering the pattern of the butterfly drifting past, however fleeting – looking at instead of stepping over – this is what keeps you coming back for more.
By Hailey Gaunt