African Tuesday: Beware of the snail

I had always been under the impression that snails defended themselves mostly with their calciferous shells, and that otherwise they were pretty vulnerable creatures. That changed when I ran across an interesting encounter between a pulmonate snail and a predatory ground beetle (Carabidae: Anthiinae) in the rainforest of Atewa plateau in southeastern Ghana. I did…

Insect-mimicking snakes?

New Guinea has quite a few venomous, really dangerous snakes. Death adders (Acanthophis), taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), or Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus) are elapid snakes that have caused many human fatalities on the island. But the one thing that New Guinea does not have is coral snakes. The only venomous snake that looks like one is…

Weevils

J. B. S. Haldane, the British geneticist, is often quoted for proclaiming, “The Creator, if He exists, has a special preference for beetles.” (*) With between 275,000 to 350,000 described species of beetles it is hard to argue with this statement. Of these, about 60,000 species belong to a single family, the weevils (Curculionidae), making…

A disappearing Goliath

Quickly vanishing forests of West Africa are still home to one of the most magnificent members of the beetle order—the Goliath beetle (Goliathus regius). Despite their bulky appearance, Goliath beetles are excellent fliers, frequenting flowers blooming in the forest canopy. Adult beetles feed also on ripe fruits and sap, while their giant grubs, which can…

Life-saving beetles

Growing up in Poland, a country with relatively mild but still not particularly pleasant winters, I was always on the lookout for the first signs of the return of insect life, and one of the most welcome sights in the spring was a beautiful, metallically violet oil beetle (Meloe proscarbeus). I was so used to…

Stay away from my cucumbers

My wife has been trying to grow cucumbers for years. Her thumbs are as green as the fuzzy layer of mold on my tent after a month in the Ghanaian rainforest, and yet the fickle plant had refused to produce any reproductive structures for years. Until now. Yesterday she harvested her first, beautiful cucumber from…