Distracted by the lovely colours I thought Ah! A Lady Beetle or a Ladybird! She was beetling about the leaves of the Bauhinia tomentosa with its beautiful yellow flowers. So I took a branchlet and took her off to photograph.
She was busy and kept moving, but I got some OK pictures and sent them off to iNaturalist. What kind of Ladybird is this? I asked, being a bit of a ladybird expert now, having sent one in a few days earlier:
Well, the first ID came back in seconds: Bauhinia tomentosa. Oh! OK. I cropped the pic so the ladybird was bigger and the leaf smaller.
Stink Bug! Came the replies! What? My beautiful ladybird? But nope, she was a Stink Bug. Pentatominae genus. So then I looked closer, no longer distracted by the colours. Look at that shape, it’s a stink bug. You learn things on iNaturalist.
I always have little ‘blues’ on my lawn; small butterflies, some tiny that flit about too small, too fast and too pale for my camera to get a decent shot. They usually look little pale grey beauties.
But yesterday one was different, bigger; so I out with the camera and managed to get two fuzzy pics:
I thought ‘Hairtail;’ iNaturalist got back in seconds and said ‘Hairstreak;’ Now I’m thinking maybe one of the Sapphires? The fascinating thing about identifying creatures is . . names change! Knowledge is constantly being updated. Often the only real way to know what you’re looking at is to ask an expert, as even the most recent books are out of date to different extents. They keep up to the minute and usually instantly have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking at, taking image, location, time of year, etc into account.
I’ll update when I find out what this beauty is. And I’ll keep an eye out for a better picture.
Ah! Suncana says its Iolaus silas, the Southern Sapphire! Sun is our in-house entomologist on our Palmiet Rangers whatsapp group, and has a Palmiet project on iNaturalist, which I have now joined. She sent a better pic – Steve Woodhall’s from biodiversityexplorer.info
Bonus! Pictures from a Palmiet neighbour who’s a great photographer. Most (all?) taken right here in our valley:
Andrew Smith (1797-1872) – British army surgeon, traveler, collector, author, committee man and naturalist. As a boy he was apprenticed part-time to a medical doctor while studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
Sent to the Cape Colony in 1821, he was stationed in Grahamstown until the middle of 1825. During these years he made a study of the natural history of the frontier region and the customs of the Xhosa people. After visiting Smith, Cape governor Lord Charles Somerset created the South African Museum in the building of the South African Library, and appointed Smith as its superintendent. He solicited specimens for the museum and published lists of donations in the Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser. Soon he also published the first and only installment of A descriptive catalogue of the South African Museum in which he described the mammals on exhibition. A separate pamphlet provided Instructions for preparing and preserving the different objects of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. In December 1826 the Cape of Good Hope Horticultural Society was formed, with Smith as joint secretary. So, in charge of growing the dagga plants. Kidding!
In 1828 Smith went to the north-west border of the colony to investigate conflicts among the various groups of people living in the region. The political nature of the mission was disguised by presenting it as a scientific expedition, consisting of Smith and some locals to guide him. He reached the Olifants River, the copper deposits of Namaqualand, the Orange River, which he explored to its mouth, and returned to Cape Town.
The first general scientific society in southern Africa, the South African Institution, was then founded in Cape Town. Smith was elected as joint secretary and served as joint vice-president (ha! maybe there is something to my dagga theory!?). They appointed P. Jules Verreaux and launched the subcontinent’s first scientific journal, The South African Quarterly Journal. Smith wrote on birds, on ‘Observations relative to the origin and history of the Bushmen’, and on ‘Contributions to the natural history of South Africa, etc.’ He later wrote a series of ten articles under the title ‘An epitome of African zoology’, in an effort to promote the study of natural history in the colony.
In December 1831 Smith was sent on another diplomatic mission combined with a scientific expedition, this time to visit the Zulu chief Dingane and report on the nature of his country. The party went via Port Elizabeth, then to the vicinity of Umtata, then down to the coast near present Port St Johns. They reached Port Natal (now Durban) in March 1832. There Smith met H.F. Fynn, who accompanied him to Dingane’s kraal. He was the first well-known collector to investigate the birdlife of coastal Natal, where he found many new species. In an interview with the Grahamstown Journal upon his return he described the fertility of Natal and its potential for settlement. This praise was noted by men who became the ‘Voortrekkers’ who sarie’d voort and settled in Natal during 1837-1838.
The Cape of Good Hope Association for Exploring Central Africa was established to organise a scientific expedition into central southern Africa, to be financed by public subscription. Smith was elected joint chairman (kidding! – he was chosen as the leader of the expedition). They went to Lesotho and visited chief Moshoeshoe; then to Kuruman, from where the missionary Robert Moffat accompanied them to the kraal of the Matabele king, Mzilikazi, near Zeerust. On they trekked, eastwards along the southern slopes of the Magaliesberg to Hartebeestpoort, then northwards to the tropic of Capricorn. The expedition returned to Cape Town in February 1836 with a huge collection of natural history specimens and drawings. Smith published his Report of the Expedition for Exploring Central Africa.
Around this time Smith met the young geologist Charles Darwin when the second voyage of the Beagle touched at the Cape. Darwin corresponded with Smith about how the large animals in South Africa lived on sparse vegetation, showing that a lack of luxuriant vegetation did not explain the extinction of the giant creatures whose fossils Darwin had found in South America. Darwin frequently mentioned Dr. Smith in his writings, and sponsored the Doctor to gain membership of the Royal Society in 1857 despite the Doctor fighting with a nurse at the time (see below).
Smith was ordered to return to England. He took his private collections and the expedition’s collections with him. After exhibiting the latter in London for a year they were sold and the proceeds paid to the Association that had financed the expedition. In his spare time, he wrote a monumental and authoritative work, Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa, published in five volumes in 1849. It contained descriptions and coloured plates of the mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes by Smith, and the invertebrates, mainly beetles and marine crabs, by S.W. Macleay. Many of their new species have stood the test of time. This established Smith’s reputation as ‘the father of South African zoology’. Among others he described 64 taxa including 24 snakes and 37 lizards, the most by any author of this group, and 79 species of South African birds, again the most by any author.
In 1843 Smith married his housekeeper Ellen Henderson and that same year was elected a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. In his career, he became director-general of the Army Medical Department.
Following huge losses of soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-1856) he became involved in a bitter controversy with Florence Nightingale, who had quite rightly criticised the poor treatment soldiers got from military medical men, the horrid lack of cleanliness, never mind sterility, and the generally inadequate medical arrangements for the campaign. Although he was (predictably, it’s the military and the ‘gentlemen officers’ thing!) exonerated from blame, Smith probably realised Florence was actually right, as he then persuaded the government to build the first fully adequate military hospital and training school for military medical officers near Southampton; about that time, Nightingale also started the Nightingale Training School for nurses and midwives, in London.
Smith, now Sir Andrew Smith KCB, resigned his post in May 1858 and began writing an ambitious work on the ethnography of the whole continent of Africa. He presented thousands of specimens from his personal natural history collection to his alma mater the University of Edinburgh. Then, following the death of his wife towards the end of 1864 he lost interest in his writing project and spent the last years of his life as a recluse.
The Cape shoveler and Karoo thrush still carry his name.
Louis Adulphe Joseph Delegorgue (1814-1850) – French hunter, naturalist, collector and author, was orphaned at the age of four and brought up in the home of his grandfather at Douai, where he largely educated himself and was introduced to natural history.
Though he had inherited enough to be well provided for, Delegorgue joined the merchant navy at the age of sixteen, traveling among other places to West Africa and the West Indies. Five years later, probably inspired by Le Vaillant’s books, he decided to undertake a journey of exploration in southern Africa. He acquired the skills of a naturalist, including taxidermy, preparation of specimens, keeping records and drawing illustrations. He intended to collect specimens to sell in Europe, and of course to hunt for sport.
Arriving in Simon’s Bay in May 1838, he explored the by now relatively well-known Cape Colony till May 1839, when he sailed for Natal in the Mazeppa, in the company of J.A. Wahlberg and F.C.C. Krauss. He traveled, hunted and collected widely in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), sometimes with Wahlberg. His description of a hunting trip southwards to the Umzinto River in his book especially fascinated me, as he described the beauty of the area around the present Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve.
He traveled into Zululand to the Tugela River and on to Lake St. Lucia. In the Berea forest in present Durban he collected the type specimen of the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon which he cheekily named after himself, Columba delegorguei. Hey, if I find a new animal I’m going to call it Something swanepoeli. Maybe even subsp. koosi. It took me ages before I finally saw my first ‘Delegorgue’s Pigeon,’ above a mist forest at Mbona in the Natal Midlands.
In May 1843 he traveled to the Free State – must have passed through Harrismith! – and on into the Transvaal. From Potchefstroom he crossed the Magaliesberg and followed the Limpopo River down to its confluence with the Marico River and on northwards as far as the tropic of Capricorn. During his travels in the Transvaal he collected the Harlequin Quail, Coturnix delegorguei.
Returning to Port Natal in April 1844, Delegorgue left South Africa for France, via St. Helena. For the next few years his time was taken up with the preparation and publication of his two-volume book, Voyage dans l’Afrique Australe…, which was published in Paris in 1847.
His book – the first of these explorers whose actual account I read – sparked my interest in finding out more about these lucky souls who saw Southern Africa before the anthropocene!
It contains a detailed account of his travels and adventures, and includes a sketch map of KwaZulu-Natal, a Zulu vocabulary, a catalogue of lepidoptera, entomological notes, and a description by an anonymous author (maybe himself!?) of the new pigeon species Columba delegorguei.
Early in 1850 he left France on another expedition, this time to West Africa, but died of malaria on board ship along the West African coast. .
I often think ‘I wonder what it was like here before we spoilt it’ as I travel around Southern Africa. I especially would love to have seen the open grasslands, one of the habitats we have changed the most.
So whenever I can I read the early explorers’ accounts with great interest. As a fellow explorer, I decided to write a short pen-sketch on some of them. Pinch of salt, of course, as I add my own non-expert comment and my ‘kind and knowledgeable locals’bias. My theory: Despite their tales of derring-do and how ‘they did it all by themselves’, they – like us centuries later – were visitors, shown around by local people who knew what they were doing.
Carl Pehr Thunberg (1743 – 1828) – was a Swedish naturalist and one of ‘the seventeen apostles’ of Carl Linnaeus. He has been called ‘The Father of South African Botany.’ He went to the Cape in 1771, undertaking field trips and journeys into the interior to the north of Saldanha Bay, east along the Breede River Valley through the Langkloof as far as the Gamtoos River and returning by way of the Little Karoo. Local guide JA Auge showed them the way.
In the Cape, Thunberg met fellow Swede Anders Sparrman and Francis Masson, a Scots gardener sent to Cape Town to collect plants for the Royal Gardens at Kew. They were immediately drawn together by their shared interests. During one of their trips, on which I suspect they will have been accompanied by kind and knowledgeable local people, they were joined by Dutchman Robert Jacob Gordon, a soldier on leave from his regiment in the Netherlands. Thunberg and Masson undertook two further inland expeditions: To the Eastern Cape as far as the Sundays River, and to the Roggeveld. In the Knysna forest a buffalo – was it wounded? – gored and killed two of their horses. Thunberg collected a significant number of specimens of both flora and fauna. He was the first professional botanist who personally made extensive collections of South African plants and studied them at first hand. During his three year stay at the Cape he climbed Table Mountain fifteen times and collected over 3000 plant species, of which more than 1000 were new to science.
The beautiful flower Black-Eyed Susan – our feature picture – is named Thunbergia alata after our first traveler / explorer / collector.
Although he was actually the first private visitor to travel far into the interior, he was slow to print, and his account of his travels was published after those of Francis Masson and Anders Sparrman.
Thunberg donated his extensive natural history collections to Uppsala University, Museum of Evolution and Zoological Museum: 27 500 plant specimens, 25 000 insects, 6 000 molluscs and shells, 1 200 birds and 300 mammals.
In his book ‘Travels at the Cape of Good Hope 1772 – 1775’ he wrote: ‘Roads, that can be properly so called, are not to be found in all this southern part of Africa; yet the way which people in general take, when they travel, is pretty well beaten in the neighbourhood of the Cape; farther down in the country indeed, very often not the least vestige of a road appears. Therefore in plains that are either very extensive, or covered with bush, it may easily happen that a traveller shall lose his way; so that he ought to be well acquainted with, and accurately observe the marks, by which he may get into the right road again. He must see then whether there be any sheep’s dung in the fields, which shews that there is a farm-house in the vicinity; and likewise, whether he can discover any herds of cattle grazing, or any cultivated land.’ No drought in the Cape during his travels: ‘Almost every day we were wet to the skin, in consequence of deluging showers of rain, which were sometimes accompanied with thunder.’
Thunberg was regarded as a generous person who cared deeply for others. He became famous and honoured the world over in his own lifetime. He was a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences for 56 years, serving as president in 1784. In 1785 the Swedish king honoured him as a Knight of the Royal Order of Vasa. This meant he got to wear a distinctive green and white habit on formal occasions, with green breeches, a white sash with a gold fringe around the waist, a black top hat with gold hat band and a plume of white ostrich and and black egret feathers and a pair of green boots with gilded spurs. All my life . . . He married Brigitta C. Ruda and they adopted a son and a daughter – ah, a good man; he never wore this kit in front of the children. He succeeded the younger Linnaeus as professor of medicine and botany at the University of Uppsala , a post he held to his death, when he got buried in his top hat. I confess I don’t know if that is true about the top hat or scaring the children.