Grasshoppers and Spiders and Africa, Oh My

Working on a new e-book about the African safari experience has got me poking around into my photos from Africa. Here's one I reprocessed yesterday. It's a huge, finger-sized grasshopper from South Africa. Click it to make it bigger.


And while we're in safari mode, here's a random, short bit from the upcoming e-book. It's from a walking safari in Zambia:

Rains from November to April flood the Luangwa river system, and from then until November it's perfectly dry. The water will dry and recede and force the animals into greater and greater concentrations, with more and more conflict and danger from predators, but for now, there is peace, there are lagoons for crocs to eat catfish and places for hippos to eat and live apart from the river. The grass is still green and tall and thick, and Aubrey shows us how hippos change the landscape as they come and go from the river, creating an indentation on the water's edge that grows when it rains, collapsing the soil into gullies and washing it into the river.

Other animals use the trampled paths, that extend far up onto land, and sometimes hippo trails even evolve into rivers. We set out away from the river on a hippo path old and wide enough that there's a sandy bottom maybe half a meter wide with the grass on either side. Can't see ahead of us or to either side beyond the grass and Isaac pushes on toward a stand of mopane trees.

The sand is a treasure of information. Aubrey describes the three types of spoor for tracking wildlife: Aerial spoor, like branches or grass pushed back by passing game. Ground spoor, footprints and sign, and other evidence like droppings or dislodged stones, or the water lettuce we see far from the river, which has been carried up on hippos' backs.

And the sandy path yields hyena and leopard footprints judged by our experts to be from last night or earlier this morning by their still undisturbed state. If one had overlapped the other, we could have judged whether the leopard had followed the hyena or more likely the opposite. At the base of a mopane Aubrey shows us puku fur (very soft) and explains it was killed and eaten by a leopard. Leopards take the fur off and don't eat it and this fur was clearly not digested. And, under the tall mopane with its strong, nearly horizontal branches would be a good place for a leopard to take a meal, since at any danger he could hoist his kill up and away into the tree.

The grass gives way to larger trees as we leave the river and a bird clatters at us and flies on ahead. Aubrey says this particular bird is trying to lead us to a bees' nest, because if we disturb the nest that will help the bird eat them.

We sit at a not quite dried lagoon about 9:00 for coffee. Already it's hot, our sweaters shed long ago. I reach into my camera bag and I'm horrified to brush against a spider. Aubrey laughs and gently picks him up by a leg and puts him on the ground in front of us.

It's a baboon spider, he says. It's hairy, three inches across and I'm just wondering how long I've been carrying him around.



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