08 November 2010 by Kate Turkington

Kate’s Instant Guide to South African Creepy-Crawlies

I once ate (deliberately) a fried scorpion in a Vietnamese food market. It was scrunchy, munchy and totally tasteless. I suppose I was being environmentally incorrect, but I rationalised that if it had stayed alive it might have given someone a deadly bite - or at least a nasty nip.

South Africa hosts creepy-crawlies of all kinds. Scorpions, spiders, Parktown prawns (a particularly unpleasant large grasshopper-kind-of thing), mosquitoes (known unaffectionately as mozzies), ants, bees and wasps, and many more. Somehow they all play their part in the great Circle of Life.

I’m not sure about the role of scorpions, but spiders eat other insects and earn their keep by spinning beautiful webs. Look out for these dew-covered webs if you’re in the bush early in the morning. They are gorgeous.

Parktown prawns attract Hadeda ibises, those prehistoric-looking birds that fly over South African gardens screeching noisily. Hadedas love these critturs and dig deep into the grass searching for them and thus provide instant lawn aeration.

Ants are interesting. On safari, look out for the soldier ants marching purposefully along, or the leaf-cutter ants busily gnawing off leaves. They take the leaves back to their anthills and make mushy truffles which their queen loves.

Wasps have individual survival tactics. There’s a cuckoo wasp which lays her eggs in the nests of other species; the very social paper wasp which builds cells adjoining its neighbours; and even a spider-hunting wasp. This targets a large spider like a baboon spider, paralyses it, and then after laying a single egg on it, leaves it as food for baby.

So when you’re writing up that safari journal, don’t forget to add in the creepy-crawlies - but I don’t suggest you try to eat them.

Category: Adventure

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