The rains have caused an explosion in insects at both our project sites either side of Victoria Falls where our entomological surveys are undertaken. Recently in Livingstone, on the Zambian side of the border, the team had an interesting opportunity to observe a butterfly known as a Foxy Emperor or Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius saturnus) which had just burst from its cocoon. It couldn’t yet fly because its wings were too wet and fragile to provide it the necessary lift. We watched as it managed to climb to the top of dead tree stump to dry off in the sun.
Insects play a crucial role in ecosystems as they contribute to the transfer of energy. They occupy and can successfully utilize all habitats and possess the ability to reproduce quickly, thereby replenishing their populations over short periods of time. Therefore, monitoring such organisms helps in making informed deductions on the health of the ecosystem as the presence or absence of certain insect species may be an indicator of imbalances within the ecosystem.
On the Zimbabwean side of the border ALERT operates in the Zambezi National Park. Specific areas were selected as representative sites for the entire Park. An inventory of the various insects is being compiled with hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps) being the most abundant. Since the beginning of the year, spotted sugar ants (Camponotus maculatus), also known as the carpenter ant, have been the most abundant single species observed.
A considerable number of dung beetles have also been noted; the increase seems to be in synchrony with increased activity amongst herbivore species within the Park. Interesting interactions have also been observed in some areas as some dung beetles were being fed upon by ants as they gather dung.
Larger animals such as elephants and baboons, however, have been disrupting the data collection process by uprooting pitfall traps; presumably out of curiosity.
On the Zambian side, and operating in the Dambwa Forest, only 11 new species have been added to our insect library in the past month. As the species library continues to grow the probability of coming across species that we already have has been on an increase.
Of the newly collected samples from seven different orders, all have been identified to genus level, and six to species level. A considerable number of insects are currently difficult to identify in either location due to limited knowledge on Southern African entomofauna.
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