Tag Archives: insects

Rocket Ship

Life on Earth can be an adventure too… you just need to know where to look!
Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen), The Sarah Jane Adventures

I’ve been back in Philadelphia for almost two weeks now, visiting people, unpacking (my room was rented out while I was gone, so this involves not just a fairly modest two suitcases, but instead almost everything I own), hanging out, and looking for work. I’m over jetlag, but my life has been moving at a leisurely pace, with few events that seem blog-worthy. I love being back in Philadelphia (more on that later, perhaps); I’d never been away from home for as long as 11 months before, and while I didn’t feel it in Zambia, I certainly felt it upon my return.

We went to a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor last week, which was lots of fun, and raucous and bawdy, and the whole trip reminded me of the diversity and the vibrancy I love about Philadelphia . . . and round about Act III or IV, the sky got very dark and it started pouring. So I never did see the end of the play, but my chitenge served very admirably as a semi-permeable raincape (Use #22 of a Chitenge. #23 is padding for carrying things on your head, #24 is a shawl when the room is over-airconditioned and you’re cold. Chitenge is pronounched chi-teng-gee, chi as in chimpanzee, teng like ten with an extra g, and gee like ghee, clarified butter), and all-in-all we had a very satisfying evening.

I did laundry this morning, and when I pulled my sheets in off the line, I found a small passenger.

I think it's a juvenile lacewing.

I think it’s a juvenile lacewing.

I had a terribly difficult time getting him (her?) off, too: I persuaded the little fellow onto my finger, but then it did not wish to get off, and I eventually had to use a maple seed as a miniature spatula. Even so, it was difficult to get the lacewing onto the maple leaf, rather than throwing it to the winds.

Are curious minds satisfied?

Are curious minds satisfied?

When I was walking to the library later, I passed a woman doing ballet in the Citizen’s Bank parking lot, using a vertical yellow pole as a makeshift bar. She did not have the typical ballerina figure, but there was a grace in the strength of her movements all the same, and in the calm poise with which she was practicing pliés and relevés alone, standing by the sidewalk, holding a chunk of yellow-orange cement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

True Adventures on 1st April

Friday night it rained. And rained. And rained. We’re nearly at the end of the rainy season, and things have been slacking off, but Friday night was like walking into a shower.

I spent the evening with the pilot’s family, Gemmeke (one of the Dutch students working at the hospital) and Marvin (German guy teaching at Macha Girls for a year), playing The Construction Game. There were tasty treats, as per usual, and the half-expected power outage didn’t last any longer than fifteen minutes. And then it started raining. It didn’t rain continually, but by golly it rained, and before too long we realized that a small army of inswa were battling their way through the mosquito net curtains so that they could fly all over the house.

(Probably at this point you can tell where this post is going. If that somewhere is a place that distresses you, you might want to stop reading right now.)

We closed the windows, but there were already a lot of inswa milling around in a confused sort of fashion. Once inswa are inside, really the only thing to do with them is catch them. (Possibly you could lure them outside again by turning off inside lights, turning on outside lights, and waiting. But that would let mosquitoes in, and usually one doesn’t feel like sitting in the dark until all the inswa have bumbled their way outside.) Luckily, inswa are slow, and, so far as I can tell, stupid, and they have large wings that are easy to grab, especially if they’ve gotten tired of flying and are crawling around on the floor. I’m told that they are capable of biting, but I’ve never been bitten by one, and I’ve caught lots. (My theory is that so many portions of the Zambian landscape, flora, and fauna are harsh, prickly, poisonous, ferocious, or some combination thereof, that there needs to be something that’s slow, loaded with nutrients, and easy to catch.)

This batch of inswa was small, bigger than some I’ve seen, but nothing like the zepplin-sized ones at the beginning of rainy season. Still, I figured, I definitely won’t get a chance again this year . . . so I filled a bowl with water so we could collect the ones we caught. (If their wings get wet, they can’t fly.) By the time we’d caught all (unless it was most) of the inswa inside, my bowl was so full that new additions needed to be poked with a finger to make sure that they actually got wet, and didn’t just land on top of the wings of their kinfolk.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this with white people,” commented Gemmeke. Clearly she hasn’t spent enough time with me.

After some excellent die rolls ensured my victory, I packed up my collection of damp insects in a Parmalat Salted Choice Butter container and walked waded home. After brief consideration, I stuck them in the fridge, because I wasn’t sure how well they would last outside it, and I didn’t want my last chance to eat inswa spoiled by spoilage.

Yesterday we didn’t have power for most of the day, so early afternoon, after I’d finished a number of other puttering tasks, I fished out my inswa and spread them out to dry on a washcloth, before heading over to measure Gemmeke’s windows (long story, not particularly interesting). ZESCO came back, and there was cake, and what with one thing and another, I stayed until bedtime.

Before brushing my teeth and climbing into bed, I checked the washcloth to see if the drowned insects were drying out, and discovered that they were — but they weren’t. Drowned, that is. Several of them were wiggling feebly, and a few had even wiggled themselves off of the washcloth and onto the floor. This was an ISSUE. They didn’t look terribly lively, but most of them still had all of their wings, and I didn’t feel like catching the lot of them again if they decided to perk up enough to start flying around. Especially since I’d probably never get the disembodied wings out of the carpet, not to mention the ones that might crawl off under things.

Having just dried them, I didn’t want to put them back in water. Some of them were stuck to the washcloth, too. So I de-winged them, a task that needed to happen presently, but which I’d hoped would occur to a greater extent naturally, just from the soaking and drying. (Possibly if I’d used a bigger bowl, they would’ve been dead the first time and fewer of them would have retained their wings. Or maybe the big ones aren’t as firmly attached to their wings.)

I have to say that of food preparation tasks I have participated in, pulling wings off of small insects that are wiggling feebly is only surpassed in unpleasantness by accidentally pulling said insects in half while attempting to de-wing them. Definitely worse than killing the chicken, which at least, after I’d killed it, was then dead, and stopped thrashing relatively quickly. The inswa remained alive, and I was suspicious that having your wings pulled off probably hurt.

But I finished the lot and stuck them back in the fridge. It seemed the kindest thing to do.

At any rate, they weren’t wiggling when I took them out this evening to fry them up.

I’ve been told that inswa taste like groundnuts, and the first few I tried (the well-done ones) did taste a great deal like fresh-roasted groundnuts. Also like fried food. After I tried a few more, I decided that no, it wasn’t exactly groundnuts: they tasted like the little crispy bits of scrambled egg along the edge of the skillet, the ones that are very thin and soaked in oil. Mostly, yes, they tasted like oil. There wasn’t much to them, really: one crunch and they were gone, though you might find yourself fishing a bit of exoskeleton out from between your teeth later. Possibly the bigger ones have a little more substance, but maybe not.

I ate several, but didn’t finish them: they were SO oily that I didn’t want very many, even though they tasted nice. But Martha et al. are Nyanja, not Tonga, and were happy to eat the rest.

I did take pictures, but not on my camera (which unfortunately seems to have gone entirely kaput). Check back later.

—————

On the subject of eating insects, on last weekend’s excursion to Livingstone (the one that killed my camera), I had the occasion to eat mopane worms (caterpillars). I’ve seen them in the market in Choma, but was always leery of buying them, because how do you prepare caterpillars? but none of the Tongas I’ve talked to eat them.

However, Chris and I went to Zambezi Cafe our last night in Livingstone, after everyone else had left, and it served caterpillars. I was strongly tempted to order some, but was also trying not to entirely exhaust the funds Alison had brought me from Lusaka, and fifteen pin seemed like a lot to try one and decide that they were interesting, and Chris had already spent enough that he didn’t want to split an order. So I didn’t order them, but kind of regretted the decision even as I made it.

BUT, after we finished our meal and before we left, a woman came around with a plate of them that she’d ordered and wasn’t going to finish. So Chris and I each had a chance to try one. They were interesting, and, I have to say, only marginally more attractive cooked and arranged artfully on lettuce than they are in the market.

“How do caterpillars taste?” I’d asked my roommate Nobubele, back in orientation.
“Like . . . like . . . like caterpillars.”

And I have to say that she’s right. They didn’t taste quite like anything else I’ve eaten. The closest thing I can think of is kalamari, but that’s texture, not taste: the mopane worms are rubbery in a similar sort of way, only they’re a little bit more substantial/chewy. Chris said the taste would be pretty good, if not for the texture. Me, I didn’t find them objectionable, per se, but I wouldn’t have felt the need for a second one even if the texture hadn’t been weird. But I could eat them again to be polite, if necessary.

And you find yourself picking bits of leg or shell or something out of your teeth as you walk home afterwards.

———–

Also on the topic of insects, but not on the topic of eating them, this morning’s excitement was the swarm of bees that descended on The Wooden House 3 today. I first noticed them while ironing clothes before church, when there was a collection of them buzzing angrily at the closed windows, and a swirling cloud of them next to the house/on the roof. By the time I came back from church, they’d settled down a bit, which was good, only they seemed to have settled into the hole right next to the front door, and were furthermore scattered across the floor inside.

Things did calm down enough that I was willing to make bread this afternoon, and by this evening I didn’t see them flying around anymore, but I still spent most of the day either away from the house or hiding in my room with the door shut. And I’m not sure if they’ve left, or just chill out in the evenings. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

All Creatures Great and Small

If you don’t like insects, arachnids, and other creepy-crawly critters, then it might be a good idea to stop reading right now. Especially if you don’t feel like coming face-to-antennae with photographic forms of some of them in the next few minutes.

Still with me?

All right. You have been warned.

———

Did you know that there is a Little Five in addition to the Big Five? The elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, and ant lion. (See, safaris in Botswana are educational!) None of those fine fellows feature in my post today, but I have rounded up a collection of my smaller neighbors to share with you.

Inswa, or, The Morning After

Inswa, or, The Morning After

At the start of rainy season, these fine fellows attacked any light source and mobbed it. They were impossible to keep out of buildings, and for about a week you usually needed a basin of water sitting in the house somewhere so that when you caught the inswa, you could toss them in the water, where their wings would get wet so that they would stop flying around (and sometimes hitting people in the head). They are LARGE (bigger than a baby’s finger) and have a double set of wings with a span almost as wide as my hand, for the big ones. We would sweep a carpet of wings and de-winged bugs off of the verandah every morning. This is the collection underneath the light at the side of the house.

They’re edible, but Tongas don’t eat them. I was keen to try some, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to prepare them (toss them in a pan and let them fry in their own fat. Or collect them in a bucket of water, dry them, and then fry them in their own fat. Either way, they seem to be eaten as a snack food, more than a main course, and I’m told that they’re an excellent source of protein, but give some people digestive problems because of the high fat content), and I was away from home most evenings that week, and also having diarrhea and not keen to eat something that has a reputation for giving people diarrhea — and then they were gone. It stopped raining for a few days, and one night there suddenly were not inswa everywhere. I’ve possibly seen a few small ones now and then, but not on nearly the same scale as that first week. I was told later that they’re larvae underground, and all hatch at once when the first good rains come. There are other insects like that, too: one day as I was walking to the hospital, a particular sort of small fly just seemed to be cascading out of little holes in the ground.

So I haven’t eaten inswa yet.

The Large Black Beetle

The Large Black Beetle

Ever since the rains started (are you noticing a theme here? There are a lot more insects since the rains started), we’ve periodically found one on these things on the verandah in the morning, typically stuck inside a plastic tub or stranded upside-down like a miniature beached whale with lots of wiggling legs.

Possibly this is the same sort as the other one earlier.  It's a different specimen, though (probably).  I'm much better at etymology than entomology.

Possibly this is the same sort as the other one earlier. It's a different specimen, though (probably). I'm much better at etymology than entomology.

This is not the sort of fuzzy caterpillar that causes awful itchy rashes.  Thankfully I have not encountered any of those recently.  But it was so fuzzy that I'm afraid the picture is not entirely in focus.

This is not the sort of fuzzy caterpillar that causes awful itchy rashes. Thankfully I have not encountered any of those recently. But it was so fuzzy that I'm afraid the picture is not entirely in focus.

Okay, this is more a picture of one of the skinks that lives in the office than of whatever unfortunate insect it's caught.  Usually they're too shy to have pictures taken of them, but I guess having something to defend makes them braver.  Say hi to my officemate!

Okay, this is more a picture of one of the skinks that lives in the office than of whatever unfortunate insect it's caught. Usually they're too shy to have pictures taken of them, but I guess having something to defend makes them braver. Say hi to my officemate!

I've encountered these a couple of times.  They may be the weirdest insects I've ever seen.

I've encountered these a couple of times. They may be the weirdest insects I've ever seen.

This one is probably as wide as four fingers, with great big translucent wings that made it really difficult to get an in-focus picture.  I had another one in my room last week.  It spent the night perched on my mosquito net.

This one is probably as wide as four fingers, with great big translucent wings that made it really difficult to get an in-focus picture. I had another one in my room last week. It spent the night perched on my mosquito net.

Spiky bug!

Spiky bug!

These big, stripy grasshoppers are EVERYWHERE, and probably jump a meter in the air at one go.  Unfortunately, I'm told that they're a nuisance as far as crops go.

These big, stripy grasshoppers are EVERYWHERE, and probably jump a meter in the air at one go. Unfortunately, I'm told that they're a nuisance as far as crops go.

Chongololo! (Pronounced Jon-go-lo-lo.)

Chongololo! (Pronounced Jon-go-lo-lo.)

These giant millipedes can be found all over in rainy season, and curl up into a neat roll as big as your hand when touched or disturbed.  Unfortunately, this one had gotten fed up with curling into a ball because I had to keep rolling it out of the ditch while I got my camera out, and refused to pose.

These giant millipedes can be found all over in rainy season, and curl up into a neat roll as big as your hand when touched or disturbed. Unfortunately, this one had gotten fed up with curling into a ball because I had to keep rolling it out of the ditch while I got my camera out, and refused to pose.

I wasn't going to post this picture because it's a bit blurry, but I stepped on one this afternoon, and OW, do those things hurt, even if the stingers are only about the size of a splinter.  (And I'm lucky that there was only one of them.)  So stay away from African Honeybees.

I wasn't going to post this picture because it's a bit blurry, but I stepped on one this afternoon, and OW, do those things hurt, even if the stingers are only about the size of a splinter. (And I'm lucky that there was only one of them.) So stay away from African Honeybees.

This one has been tentatively identified as a mantid (praying mantis), which may make the brown ones mantids, too.

This one has been tentatively identified as a mantid (praying mantis), which may make the brown ones mantids, too.

One of my Wall Crab Spider friends, also known as flatties.  Unlike the insects, these guys and ladies have been around since I got here.  I figure that we must be pretty close, because how many spiders do you strip naked in front of on a regular basis?

One of my Wall Crab Spider friends, also known as flatties. Unlike the insects, these guys and ladies have been around since I got here. I figure that we must be pretty close, because how many spiders do you strip naked in front of on a regular basis?

Friendly local moth hanging out under the eaves.

Friendly local moth hanging out under the eaves.

I usually prefer to pursue lepidopterology outside the home.

I usually prefer to pursue lepidopterology outside the home.

I was sure that I had photographs of the leaf-camouflage insect, but I’m not finding them right now. Perhaps it’s hiding. Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of my least-favorite housemate:

Cockroaches.  At least these are small.  Alison has big ones.

Cockroaches. At least these are small. Alison has big ones.

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized