HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

December 5, 2010

A Sting in the Tail

As a field guide, it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of chasing big 5 animals all day long.  To be fair, it is what the majority of people coming through the door want to see, but as a guide it is our job to educate and share knowledge of all the fascinating aspects of the bush, big and small.  However, it is sometimes hard to gather knowledge of these things and that is where working for a proactive company such as Sabi Sabi comes into play.  We are currently experiencing a quiet period at the lodge in preparation for the Christmas rush and that gives us the chance to get external trainers in. 
For the last 3 days we have had the pleasure of entertaining Jonathan Leeming who is a world renound authority on scorpions and other arachnids.  And a hell of a nice guy to boot.  This has meant that we have had the opportunity to have lectures and go out into the bush searching for these little understood perceived menaces.  So, for the last few days we have been on out hands and knees in the bush digging up burrows and turning over rocks in an attempt to gain a better understanding of their habits.

A recently moulted Opistacanthus leavipes that is commonly found between or under rocks in our area

A venomous shiny burrowing scorpion (Opistophthalmus glabrifrons) that we dug out of its hole.  Capable of delivering a painful sting if provoked!

Me holding the (thankfully placid) shiny burrowing scorpion seen above
Turns out we actually only get about 12 species in this area and whilst they all look the same, their habitats are all pretty much diagnostic.  Most of them are actually very placid and we have learnt how to catch and handle them.  It’s fairly uncomfortable to be honest as it goes against everything you hear about.  It’s like allowing a bee or wasp to happily crawl around on you – it’s just not a good idea!!  But once you know the signs, handling even the more venomous ones can be done safely.  Admittedly there are still ones to avoid.  Anything in the Buthidae family is a definite no no.  Some of these guys can put you in hospital with spasms, palpitations and muscle cramps so they are best left alone!
As a general rule of thumb, anything with a thick tail and thin pincers should be given upmost respect and those with big pincers and a small tail and relatively harmless.  They are actually awesome creatures that have been around longer that dinosaurs, over 200,000,000 years longer to be precise!  And with the exception of changing from an aquatic to terrestrial habitat, have experienced relatively little evolution – truly the hallmark of a near perfect organism.  They are found on every continent except Antarctica and can survive in conditions ranging from freezing cold to the sweltering heat of the desert.  Perhaps their most unique and unusual characteristic is that they reflect UV light.  Even more amazing is that in such a technologically advanced world, scientists still have absolutely no idea as to why!?  This means that with my new UV torch, I can find them at night with relative ease!  It’s another great weapon in the arsenal of knowledge I’ve been so fortunate to have learned over the last few years.
All in all it has been a great few days and I haven’t been stung once!  Jonathan is also a bit of a spider guru as well and we found a few notable species including the highly venomous black button (South Africa’s version of the black widow) and violin spider.  I am fascinated by these things – probably borne about due to my irrational fear of them.  Something about the way they scuttle freaks me out!!!  But like the scorpions, they have remained unchanged for millennia.  You still won’t find me touching any but I have got very close and got some good shots!  I’m looking forward to my next guests to arrive so I can share some this new knowledge with them – plus it will freak them out and that’s always fun!!

Close up shot of the eight eyes on this burrowing wolf spider.  Also capable of delivering a painful bite!

Another burrowing wolf spider with its egg sack attached to its spinnerets

A ground dwelling lynx spider easily identified by the long spikes covering its body.  These are assumed to enble it to grasp hold of prey it catches

A tremolo sand frog (Tomopterna cryptotus) that we also found on our bug hunt