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 – seems it means ‘spectacular!’ I like that!
I looked for our last Tembe trip and found I hadn’t written about it, so here goes, a Tembe retrospective.
We hared off to the elephant park on the Mocambican border with Jon and Dizzi Taylor. December 2010, so the kids had just turned 13 and 9.
Aitch wasn’t well, but game as ever, she got fascinated by the close-up views we had of ele feet and ele bums and used the camera’s rapid-fire setting liberally. I made .gifs of her series of pics:
Our guide Vusi kept driving right up one ele’s bum and eventually it got agitated and turned round, to the kids’ consternation. It just shook its ears at him, but to this day – full knowing that I’ll insist ‘No it didn’t!’ – they’ll say “Remember when that elephant tried to kill us?”
Another kids’ meme that has survived the years is Jonathan leaning inwards as we passed thorny branches intruding onto the track. To this day whenever we drive past a branch Jessie will lean inwards against my shoulder and laugh, even though we’re in an enclosed vehicle!
Jessie, ever the champion spotter, pointed out this beautiful Vine or Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis on the path in camp.
On one drive we were able to compare a rare black rhino footprint with an unusual white wino foot:
Our last game drive was one too much for Aitch. She asked to be taken back to the Lodge and we finished the drive without her. Back pain from her cancer that had spread to her bones meant she reluctantly skipped a drive – something she would never normally do, so we knew it was sore! She had been a champ all along, full of good cheer, but this did turn out to be her last game drive.
footnotes – what we learnt in 2018:
Vusi is now camp manager. He gave a lo-o-ong speech before supper *yawn!*
The painted dogs we saw in the boma were released but the project was not a success. They caught them and shipped them elsewhere. Then one bitch who had wandered off returned and gave birth to 15 pups! So Tembe has painted dogs in the boma again!
Yes, said TomTom, he’d join us! YAY! So we head back to Tembe Ele Park after nine years.
It rained and the sun shone and we had grey skies and then it rained hard. We ate well, drank a bit, got wet and had a lot of fun. Jess had a little wobbly when this tusker approached the vehicle, but he was chilled and just ambled past us.
There was no wifi, but Tom simply set up my phone as a hotspot and ate my data, his problem solved.
It rained; It cleared.
We had a lovely time and I do believe I’ll get Tom out to a wild area again. I’ll not rush it though, I’ll bide my time.