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Hello beetlers,

Here is the final instalment of HT's intrepid adventures in Africa. We shall be sorry there are no more tall tales from the interior, but happy to have him back in the Coleoptera fold, and even happier with the beetles he will return with for us!

This is quite a long entry, but it's worth it to read to the end and celebrate the Royal Wedding once more (any excuse, and remember, it's always cocktail hour somewhere in the world!) with Hitoshi and his fieldwork companion Ian...I think you will find what they get up to in this video installment quite revealing...and no skipping to the end! BG

 

Uluguru Mountains

Expeditions in remote parts of the world have their ups and downs, and inevitably, things do not go to plan according to your itinerary. On departing Mahenge, our journey up to the Uluguru Mountains was hampered by the crossing of the Kilombero River, something that was very simple on the way down. There is no bridge here and the only means of crossing is a short ferry ride. This crossing is also the route linking the capital Dar es Salaam and Malawi – this is the main road, an economic highway of significant importance. We arrived at the crossing after a long day’s drive from the mountains and found that the ferry had been out of service for four days and a long queue has formed - four day’s worth of vehicles waiting to cross! This, unsurprisingly, made the national news. Not much forethought went into the ferries and unfortunately the spare ferry was also broken. Typical. We were stuck.

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Flooded Kilombero River

 

 

So to Plan B.

With nowhere else to go, we headed back south to a small piece of lowland forest called Nambiga, and camped by the side of the road. We don’t miss an opportunity for entomological collection and so up went the light trap right next to the vehicle! We attempted to cross the Kilombero in the morning but due to the incapacitated ferry, we took a small boat with all the kit across the swollen Kilombero and had another vehicle meet us on the other side.

This delay did at least allow us to watch the Royal Wedding on a tiny television screen in the only bar of a village in the middle of nowhere! It did however mean that we had to postpone the celebratory drinks planned for the forest until the following day. This did not matter too much – it gave us more time to secure the important gin.

If you are thinking that the last part of this trip has turned into one massive booze-up you would be extremely (well, partly) mistaken. There is still a lot of work to do.

Uluguru is an isolated set of mountains near the large town of Morogoro in the centre of the country. The close proximity of the forest to human habitation has meant that over the years, incredible amounts of deforestation has taken place and much of the forest has now disappeared. There are small pockets of intact forest left such as at Tegetero, the site of our research. Now, if you were wondering if I was going to make a comment on European architecture in Africa at this point, you will not be disappointed. The church and the mission at the village of Tegetero were built by the British in the 1940’s.

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Church at Tegetero

 

The walk in was similar to the other mountains – farmland, scrub and then forest. Unfortunately, the local villagers have been using the forest as their local “supermarket” and according to the local forestry officer, all large ground dwelling mammals such as duiker, bushbuck and bush pig have been hunted out. Just a small population of Colobus monkeys is all that remains. Having said this we also encountered an extremely rare bird; the Uluguru Bush Shrike is only found in these mountains and it was actually rather common, their noisy calls being heard regularly.

The lack of large mammals also means a lack of dung. The dung baited pitfalls were pitiful and caught four beetles in the whole time we were here! We might as well have just stuck a few cups in the ground and hoped for the best.

General collection and beating have worked rather well, the latter producing some fine weevils. Some of the most beautiful beetles we have seen here have been the large black ground beetles with a green iridescence belonging to the genus Tefflus which I have not seen elsewhere. These voracious hunters are often found on the forest floor near water and exude a rather unpleasant smell when held.

 

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Tefflus sp (Carabidae)

The MV bulb has worked better and on more than one occasion, we have had excellent nights with an incredible variety and number of moths. The hawkmoths are certainly some of my favourites and the species which have been turning up to the light have been spectacular. Pictured are Xanthopan morgani (with an incomprehensibly long proboscis), Euchloron megaera (left) and the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos (right).

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Xanthopan morgani

 

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Euchloron megaera (left) and the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos (right)

 

Yes, I know photos of moths on a beetle blog. My apologies. So to rectify the situation a beetle, Ceratocentrus spinicornis, that was also attracted to the light. As far as I can remember, the NHM collection does not have a single specimen of this species from East Africa.

 

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Ceratocentrus spinicornis (Cerambycidae)

 

Apart from the aforementioned, it has been rather quiet on the beetle front. It just goes to show that seasons play an important role in the abundance of all insects here – when I was last here in November/December, the light traps would be covered in beetles, especially the Melolonthine scarabs. This time around, only a few individuals have been present.

Our nightly visitors to feast on the insect “buffet” that is the MV light here in the Ulugurus have included amongst others, bats, geckoes and this beautiful tree frog.

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Tree frog of the genus Hyperolius

 

I now have a fellow wet season explorer with me on this expedition – Ian Baldwin, a contemporary of mine from university years and an aspiring wildlife cameraman, has been filming all entomological and expedition related activities for a short film later in the year. Watch this space!

The fieldwork will shortly be coming to an end. We will be heading back to Dar es Salaam, to the University to help stabilize their natural history collections and then home. London.

HT

 

A huge thank you to Hitoshi for sharing his trials and tribulations with us, and welcome back!

Next time, we are much closer to home with fieldwork at Bookham Common, where there are no monkeys. BG

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Tanzania Expedition Part 3: Magombera Forest and Mahenge Mountains

 

 

Having put up with the cold of the peak at Mwanihana in the Udzungwas, we found respite in the warmer, more humid conditions of Magombera Forest. Magombera is a small remaining fragment of a once larger forest that linked the Udzungwas and the Selous. The interior is still in good shape but the forest composition here is very strange – there is very little mid-storey and hence one gets excellent views into the canopy. This is one of the reasons for the excellent sightings of some rare and endemic monkeys. There are three species in this forest – Iringa Red Colobus, Black and White Colobus and Sykes Monkey. You have got to be pretty unlucky if you do not see all of these on a two hour walk. We even managed to see them in the pouring rain!

 

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The Magombera railway line

 

With the exception of some of the more common species of butterflies, there was nothing spectacular in terms of insects. The dung baited traps worked relatively well, but compared to the diversity of dung beetles in Udzungwa, it was a little disappointing. From Magombera, our aim was to head to the Kilombero swamps and up to Mahenge. This part of Tanzania is extremely remote and the roads are truly appalling. You do see some extraordinary vehicles stuck in the mud and inevitably a long queue behind and in front of it. We made it down to the ferry crossing across the Kilombero river and realised that it would be nigh on impossible to undertake any work here; the river water was high and there was a very immediate danger of crocodile and hippopotamus. So an executive decision was made to go straight up to the high forests of the Mahenge Mountains. We passed a night in a lay-by on the road that runs through the Mahenge Scarp Forest (no hotels in this part of the world!). The light trap here was rather fruitful.

 

From here, another long and arduous drive up further into the mountains along what can loosely be described as a road to the village of Sali. I am getting use to finding amazing villages at the end of these long mountain roads but Sali really is astonishing and especially the architecture. It feels like you are in rural Europe; the German missionaries built a number of buildings including the church in the early 1900s and everything has been looked after incredibly well. The church has proper roof tiles (which according to the pastor was sent over from Germany), a bell tower (the bells are rung every morning), and arches over all the windows. Inside, all the furniture has been built using the local hardwoods; there is even a pipe organ! It really is amazing to think that everything is original and despite the rain and the humidity, in incredibly good shape. This village is remote. People were amazed to see that we had made it up here. We were told that the last vehicle which successfully entered the village was in January! IMGA0358church at sali.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Church at Sali

 

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The interior of the church at Sali

 

The forest at Sali, though small, is very good. There are good numbers of enormous mahogany trees still standing which is an excellent sign. The slopes here are (once again) very steep and this has stopped the logging of these trees. I have been told that one of these great trees would cost upward of 5,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (£2000), which is quite a considerable sum. The walk in is beautiful with many waterfalls along the river. There is one big one I would like to name. I wonder if I am allowed to name it... The locals have however decided to name base camp after yours truly – I expect all future researchers to reference the camp by this name in their work!

 

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The mahogany tree

 

There were fewer mosquitoes up here but they have been replaced by ants. Lots of them. For the duration of our time at camp, we had army ants. Along our transects, ants. Everywhere. They are a serious irritation. All our camp kit was closed and zipped up; all important goods (chocolate) suspended high up off the ground! The snails and slugs were pretty bad too. There have been some big ones – the size of your hand! If you put something down on the floor for more than 10 minutes, there would be either a slug or snail or both stuck to it. Absolutely vile... Flicking slugs off my tent has now become a morning routine.

 

There have been very few crosses in the personal injuries column up until now but here at Mahenge, a big cross has been inked in – I managed to stab myself with the oxalic acid syringe. Twice. On the same night. The weather has also been behaving. A more reasonable cycle of relatively warm and dry daytimes followed by heavy downpours throughout the night. None of this raining 20 hours a day that I had in Udzungwa!

 

 

Apart from the wonderful views and excellent forests that the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania have to offer, there is one more gem to be found here – the tiny pygmy chameleons. I have seen them at all the different mountains I have visited but the one found here is a particularly beautiful species. It is also one of the “larger” pygmy chameleons! 

 

 

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Pygmy chameleon of the genus Rhampholeon; star of the blog thus far! (BG)

 

 

 

On the beetle front, the dung baited traps have worked exceptionally well and there were many species which I have not seen in any of the other mountains. Carabids have been most numerous in these forests, found scuttling on the forest floor whilst walking around at night with a torch. Some interesting beetles have been appearing at the light sheet but again it has been quiet and the potential of the Mercury Vapour lamp has not been fully realised. I am hoping for better in the future. Unfortunately the bulb we had used up until now is no more - we awoke on the final morning to find it completely smashed. The cause? We have no idea.

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And to the 'dullest' photo of the blog thus far! Mysterious broken lightbulb; was it a bat, was it a giant moth; perhaps we shall never know...!(BG)

 

Up next – the Uluguru Mountains.

HT

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So all you avid followers of the Beetle Blog will no doubt be very excited to see the mystery beetle so diligently caught with a butterfly net by HT in Tanzania...

 

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Yet again, there appears to be another Chinese laundry bag right of image!

 

So we think this beauty is definitely a longhorn beetle (obviously!), and my money is on Cerambycinae; Callichromatini, possibly close to Ionthodes or Compsomera and MB has this enigmatic comment to add:

'Most African Callichromatini, especially the  common Philematium, have red legs, so the black legs should help; the widening  of the hind tibiae is likely to be helpful, it is also very large. I expect it  smells like a medicine chest!'

 

We haven't really had a proper look in the collection  - perhaps we will wait until the beetle (literally) wings its' way to our collection...unless anyone has anything better to add...?

 

And finally, despite much hardship, and unrelenting torrential downpours we have another video installment from HT in the wilds of Tanzania...enjoy!

 

Blaps

Blaps

Member since: Sep 15, 2009

I'm Beulah Garner, one of the curators of Coleoptera in the Entomology department. The Museum's collection of beetles is housed in 22,000 drawers, holding approximately 9,000,000 specimens. This little collection keeps us quite busy!

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