Samantha and I on Omani day at school.
So we went to the coast for Easter with our friends Mike and Lisa, and had a great time. Mike is the guy I mentioned in the last post, and he is a serious naturalist. When you walk through the bush with him he stops at every blade of grass to explain what is going on in the small ecosystem that you are walking through. Anyway, at the beach he told me about his friend Hans who is a true entomologist, the kind that has written books etc. So Mike sent Hans a picture of the mantid at school. Hans answered as follows:
This is in fact an “incredibly safi” mantid. Unfortunately, it is not a new species, rather the nymph of Pseudocreobotra Wahlbergi. Because of their camouflage mastery, these insects are often overlooked. They even manage to change color like a chameleon. I have personally observed their transition from yellow-greens to purplish. The adult of this species is featured on plate 70 in my book. In a dorsal view you could see their characteristic target-like eye spot which helps them deter potential small bird predators. You can see this eyespot even on the as yet underdeveloped wing in Marcello’s nymph.
This critter belongs to a group called “flower mantids”, whose specialty is to perch on flowers motionless for hours, waiting for prey. Some close relatives actually resemble orchids in shape and color and thus favor those flowers for their devious intents.
Quite a number of other mantids employ camouflage as a means of survival in a hostile world. For example, some resemble bark, others burned grass, still others dead leaves (see Fig. 9-13 in my book). One of the rarest and most spectacular of mantids in Tanzania is the devil’s mantis Idolomantis diabolica, which I, unfortunately, never managed to see in nature.
I hope this helps. And remember “there is always one more bug”.
After our two week holiday I went back to school. The heavy rains have started, and I was pretty certain that the mantis would not be there any more. I was sad but not surprised to see that in fact the mantis was no longer there on its familiar sprig of lavender. I told Mike that it had gone away, grieved a little, and I moved on in life. Later in the week I went back to Lee Beth’s garden, and started looking around the other plants. I got to the lemongrass plant, and below is what I saw. I could not believe my eyes! I called Mike immediately. Lee Beth must be laughing.
The school term is winding up, only four weeks until our Christmas break, and Sam and I are plotting our road trip down to Malawi. Sam was in Malawi for two years, in the Peace Corps, and we have always wanted to travel through Tanzania and down into Malawi. Sofia is quite happy in her car seat, but that is no guarantee that she will be thrilled at the prospect of a two week rumble through Tanzania. I am certain that she will let us know how she feels in due course.
Our plan is to leave Arusha as soon as school gets out, and to head down the road towards Dar Es Salaam, turning left towards the coast towards Pangani (just south of Tanga). We will stay on the beach for a few days (over Christmas) and then start our trip in earnest. We have not nailed down any details yet, but we would like to travel from Pangani down to Morogoro, on to Iringa, through Mbeya, and then down into Malawi. We have several friends who have done this trip, and they all have given us ideas that we are trying to fit in.
How far into Malawi we get depends on time and energy (Sofia’s, primarily). Sam lived in the very South, and Malawi is a long country, so it will be difficult to reach Cholo.
More news as we refine our plan.
This is the sort of thing that I thought I would be writing about on my little blog. The rains are here, the BIG rains, and the road down the mountain is worsening with every drop that falls. A year and a half ago the president (Jakaya Kikwete, lest anyone out there should think that there is only one president in the world) was due to visit a church up the road from us, and so the road was graded beautifully. Since then, no one of any importance has come by, and the road has suffered. Add to the woeful state of the road the woeful cattle driving skills exhibited by the Maasai morani and the result was that we were late for school.