A beautiful new button spider was found in Tembe Elephant Park and Phinda private reserve recently. The 32nd known button, or widow spider in the Latrodectus genus, of which eight are found in Africa; and – the first new one in 28 years.
And she’s a beauty:
A single female was first found in 2014 in Tembe Elephant Park in Zululand. It was observed until its natural death two years later, when it was collected and sent to a laboratory. Way to go! More and more we should be observing before collecting! In 2017 a number of live specimens were collected from the Phinda reserve. They and their offspring were studied until 2019 when it was confirmed to be a new species.
The species is only known to occur in the critically endangered lowland sand forest biome of northern KwaZulu-Natal. These forests are threatened by illegal clearing for farming as well as wood collection. The females build nests in trees and stumps more than 50 centimetres above ground, which is higher than most other members of the genus.
I haven’t been able to find out where the specific name umbukwane comes from. Will keep looking. isiZulu.net doesn’t have it as a word. Maybe the name of the person who first pointed it out?? Maybe a local place name?? No – it means spectacular! I like that!
I thought the nervous client had spotted Janet also looking at the scorpion and the puff adder in her room.
But it wasn’t like that; Janet wasn’t there.
The lucky, nervous – and ‘happy at the same time’ – client had spotted a scorpion, a puff adder AND a spotted genet like this one: All at once!
She had NOT spotted a Janet like this one:
Janet’s life in Botswana is seldom dull . .
So Janet wasn’t spotted. Some things are not spotted. In fact they’re STRIPED.
Later – Not-Spotted Janet sent a pic of another – or the same – puff adder visiting inside a chalet.
Beautiful, innit? Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’d shit your cotton undertrousers if you spotted a puff adder in your chalet, but think of the poor snake! It would shit its custom-made snake-skin undertrousers, seeing a 60kg murderous mammal towering over it. Poor thing is half a kg of innocence. Hundreds of them get bludgeoned for every human they bite – and only a few of those humans that get bitten actually croak. Give snakes a break.
Tom went to visit Ziggy in Umhlanga so Jess and I had a late breakfast at Europa Cafe – poached eggs, haloumi, mushrooms, bacon, tsatsiki, all-sorts, yum! Followed by delicious hot bitter black coffee and some sitting back and sighing. And then, what the hell, a chocolate milkshake!
Then off for a stroll at the lagoon in the Umhlanga Nature Reserve, a KZN Wildlife park.
A few birds – Diederik Cuckoo, Southern Masked Weaver, Bronze Mannikin, Familiar Chat, Olive Sunbird – but it was midday. I heard the cluck – cluck – cluckcluckcluck of a Little Rush Warbler while I was photographing a butterfly, so I switched to video:
Umhlanga Rocks is in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa; Umhlanga means reeds
Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
There are rules to how you name things. Plants and animals and things. The rules are something like this: The first one keeps its name, all others after have to fit in. So if a tree is named ‘acacia’ and another thousand acacias are found after it, it remains the type specimen for acacias and will always be an acacia. If changes happen, tough luck to the others, THEY have to change.
Unless you bend the rules.
And the Aussies bent the rules! Gasp! Who’d have thought that!? Aussies! But – they’re so law-abiding . .
So back in 1753 a tree was discovered in Africa and named Acacia scorpoides. Its name changed to Acacia nilotica, the well-known and beautiful tree we got to know as the Scented-pod Thorn when Trish and I first started identifying trees ca. 1985 using Eugene Moll’s unpretentious-looking but wonderful book with its leaf-identification system, under the guidance of good friend Barry Porter. The Scented-pod Thorn Tree was one of the easier acacias to ‘ID’, with its distinctive-looking and sweet-smelling pod.
So it would forever be an acacia. Unless a dastardly plot was hatched by people (whose continent shall remain temporarily nameless; anyway, they had co-conspirators from other continents) determined to steal yet another of Africa’s assets. Why? ‘Cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma; and because they could. So what did they do? They got some sandpaper and started roughing up the ball. They got 250 people to email the oke who was in charge of the committee, ‘supporting’ this unusual name change which went against the established rules. How Australian. Yes, 244 of those emailers were Australians, just saying. Sandpaper.
So in Vienna in 2005 the committee said ‘Let’s bend the rules’ and put it to the vote. So 54.9% voted to retain the current African type for the name Acacia. 54.9% said let’s NOT bend the rules. So they bent the rules cos another rule said you need 60% to overrule the committee. They sandpaper’d the rules cos Money Prestige Laziness and Not liking the name Racosperma.
How do you explain that? Well, its like if one’s ancestors were convicts and you didn’t want them to be convicts, you wanted people to nod when you said “I come from Royal blood,’ but the ancestral name (say Dinkum) was listed in the jail rolls; and you wanted to be a surname not on the jail rolls so you said ‘I know: Windsor!’ so you call yourself Windsor from that day on. Something like that.
And, like politicians, here’s how this was sold to the public: ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision,’ sandpaper-talk, instead of a truthful ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 failed to overturn this decision as, although 54.9% voted against it, a 60% vote is needed to overturn it.’
So then African acacias got one more African name, Senegalia (from Senegal and meaning, maybe, water or boat), which was nice; and one more Pommy name Vachellia, after Rev. John Harvey Vachell (1798-1839), chaplain to the British East India Company in Macao from 1825-1836 and a plant collector in China, which wasn’t so lekker; But the Acacia name was undoubtedly more prestigious, long-established and well-known. More desirable, y’know (imagine that said in an Aussie accent). It was derived from Ancient Greek with THORN in the meaning – ἀκακία (‘shittah tree’). Also ‘thorny Egyptian tree.’ Greek ‘kaktos’ also has been compared. A word of uncertain – but ancient – origin.
So I thought Oh Well, We’ll Get Used To It. You get used to anything except a big thorn sticking into your shoe – which reminded me that Aussie acacias are wimpily thornless – but some Africa tree people were less accommodating and determined to fight this rule-bending. Maybe they might have accepted Senegalia, but that other Pommy dominee name? Aikona!
The next gathering of the International Botanical Congress was in Melbourne in 2011! And there the decision to ratify the decision to bend the rules ‘was ratified by a large majority’ (I haven’t been able to find the actual vote yet). So strict scientific priority lost out to – I must confess I agree, bloody Aussies – a more pragmatic solution.
So Vachellia xanthophloeait is. Our Fever Tree. umkhanyakude. Seen here at Nyamithi Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve in Zululand.
And Senegalia nigrescens with its distinctive leaves and knobbly bark. The knobthorn.
So I’ll mostly be using Senegalia and Vachellia now, just as I use the new bird names as they change. Adapt or dye.