Southern Africa is home to a very interesting tree that is host to an even more interesting insect. The mopane tree grows in hot, dry, low-lying areas and has distinctive butterfly-shaped leaves that brighten up the bush with shades of gold and red during autumn.
Field Guide and photographer James Suter comes across a rhino in a mopane forest
A very important little creature lives in these trees; the caterpillar of the Mopane or Emperor Moth [Gonimbrasia belina], known as the Mopane Worm, provides a nutritious food source for many rural people in southern Africa. It is a nutrient- and protein-rich snack as well as being easy to harvest and preserve.
Mopane or Emperor Moth (Gonimbrasia belina)
The moths are easily identifiable by their markings, which feature a large orange eyespot on each hind wing and two black and white bands isolating two smaller eyespots. Males have long, feathery antennae that they use to find a mate during their brief three-to-four-day lifespan.
This photo first appeared in the February 2014 Wildlife Report from Singita Kruger National Park. These monthly bush journals are penned by our field guides and are packed with interesting stories and photographs. You can read them all here or catch up on the highlights here.
Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
My partner, a tracker named Johnston, is quick to spot wildlife and fun… With his hand raised to stop the vehicle, we stare at his movements and look in the direction he’s looking. While we are expecting him to point out a predator track in the sand or an animal in the distance, he turns to us and says, “Leopard!” Everyone grabs their cameras and looks frantically around to see where this elusive leopard is. Johnston climbs off the tracker seat and saunters off down the road. By this time our poor guests are all speechless not knowing what’s going to happen. Then he points to the ground, smiles broadly, and announces, “Leopard. Leopard tortoise.” Indeed it was a leopard tortoise, and on this occasion it had retreated into its shell after feeling the vibrations of the vehicle. We all sat quietly and slowly a small head poked out and all four legs were set in motion. It may not be a Big Five species, but it is one of the Little Five and shares this accreditation due to their names being similar to the Big Five.
Field guide and tracker
Leopard tortoises all have unique and beautiful gold and black markings on their shells, hence their name. They generally eat grasses, and this must suit them well because they live up to 100 years. They are great diggers although they only burrow when building a nest for their eggs.
Singita Sabi Sand
The leopard tortoise is one of the world’s largest tortoise species as they can grow to 70 cm in length and 12kgs in weight. As with other tortoise species, the leopard tortoise has a large shell which protects its softer body. It is able to retract its limbs back into its shell so that no body part is left vulnerable.
It’s easy to forget that there’s more to Africa’s wildlife than elephants, giraffes, leopards and lions; the continent is home to all sorts of fascinating small creatures too. We shine a spotlight on these more diminutive beasties in our Creatures Great & Small blog series, which has previously showcased the flap-necked chameleon and the Giant African land snail.
You can read more stories like this one in our monthly Wildlife Reports, which are written by our field guides and illustrated with their stunning photography.
With the green vegetation sprouting along the roadsides and over the grasslands, creatures from large to small are on the move. A few days ago, and within minutes of leaving the lodge, we noticed movement on the road. A giant African land snail glistened in the morning light.
Like almost all pulmonate gastropods, these snails are hermaphrodites, having male and female sex organs. Although giant African land snails primarily mate with one another, in more isolated regions they are capable of reproducing on their own. Giant African land snails lay around six clutches of eggs every year, laying an average of 200 eggs per clutch – that amounts to about 1 200 eggs per year! What is really incredible is that around 90% of snail hatchings survive.
Giant African land snails are active during the night and spend the daytime hours safely buried underground. They reach their adult size by the time they are six months old and although their growth rate slows at this point, they never stop growing. Most reach between five and six years of age but some individuals have been known to be more than ten years old. The giant African land snail seals itself inside its shell to retain water. They do this about three times a year, depending on the areas which they inhabit. During periods of extreme drought, they practice aestivation which is a type of ‘summer sleep’.
Driving along looking in various directions for a twitch of an ear or a flicking tail, your eyes scan through the bush up and down, left and right. Often when looking for something large and obvious you miss the smaller treasures, without even realising it.
This description of an encounter with a giant snail by Ross Couper first appeared in the November 2013 Wildlife Report from Singita Sabi Sand. The monthly ranger diaries are written by the field guides themselves and contain plenty of delightful stories and stunning photographs from the bush. You can catch up on the Wildlife Reports from all the Singita lodges and camps here.
Chameleons really are funny little creatures! Did you know that, besides being masterful at camouflage and having tongues roughly 1½ times their body length, chameleons can rotate each eye in a different direction and go through life without the benefit of ears? There are 156 different species concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and many of them can be found at Singita’s lodges and camps throughout the region.
In this gorgeous photo, Singita Grumeti Guide Manager, Ryan Schmitt, carries this female flap-necked chameleon from the middle of the road to the safety of the grass. This particular reptile is a real crowd pleaser with guests and staff alike, and can often be found stalking their favourite snacks of grasshoppers and butterflies.
See more of the unique and fascinating wildlife to be found at Singita by reading our monthly field reports, written by the guides themselves.