Devil’s Flower Mantis

Devil’s flower mantises are dressed up all day, every day.

  • The devil’s flower mantis is a species of large praying mantis, found among wildflowers of eastern Africa.
  • The scientific name of the devil’s flower mantis is Idolomantis diabolica, the sole species of its genus, and it is from the family Empusidae, a family of mantises.
  • Devil’s flower mantises grow to be roughly 10 to 13 centimetres (4 to 5 inches) in length, with the females generally larger than the males; and they are among the largest of all praying mantises.
  • ‘Devil’s flower mantises’ are also known as ‘giant devil’s flower mantises’; and they have a lifespan of around one year.
  • Adult devil’s flower mantises are mostly green coloured on their top side, while underneath, they are coloured green, white, red, black and purple, though some of these colours are not visible unless threatened.
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A Male Devil’s Flower Mantis
Image courtesy of Steve Smith/Flickr
  • While an adult can assume the appearance of a flower, a young devil’s flower mantis is brown and appears to be a dead leaf, causing it to be camouflaged in its surroundings.
  • If threatened, a devil’s flower mantis will rear up its body and front legs, resulting in its hidden flaps to flare out and display vibrant colours, causing it to look somewhat like a flower; and the mantis often waves about, to frighten the predator.
  • Devil’s flower mantises have a diet consisting of flying insects like butterflies, flies, beetles, and moths, and the prey is snatched from mid air by the mantis if the insects come too close.
  • Female devil’s flower mantises produce a number of foam-like capsules of eggs, out of which between 10 and 50 nymphs hatch after approximately 50 days.
  • Devil’s flower mantises are popularly sought after as exotic pets; however they do not thrive in captivity and are quite expensive.
Bibliography:
Devils Flower Mantis, 2015, Our Wild World, https://adlayasanimals.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/devils-flower-mantis-idolomantis-diabolica/
Devils Flower Mantis, 2016, Keeping Insects, http://www.keepinginsects.com/praying-mantis/species/devils-flower-mantis/
Idolomantis Diabolica, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idolomantis_diabolica
Sain T, Devils Flower Mantis, n.d, Our Breathing Planet, http://www.ourbreathingplanet.com/devils-flower-mantis/

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Miracle Fruit

Miracle fruits are marvellous game-changers.

  • Miracle fruits are berries of a species of shrub-growing plant, that is native to western Africa.
  • ‘Miracle fruit’ are also known as ‘sweet berries’, ‘miracle berries’, ‘taamis’, ‘miraculous berries’, and ‘agbayuns’.
  • The scientific name of the miracle fruit is Synsepalum dulcificum and it is from the family Sapotaceae, a family of evergreen flowering trees and shrubs.
  • Miracle fruits are small and are an ovoid shape, and they are roughly 2 to 3 centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) in length.
  • While the miracle fruit does not have much flavour itself, a protein named miraculin found in the fruit’s flesh, causes sour foods to taste sweet when the flesh is consumed.
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Miracle Fruit
Image courtesy of Forest and Kimm Starr/Flickr
  • The shrubs that bear miracle fruit grow to a height of 1.8 to 4.5 metres (5.9 to 14.8 feet), and the fruit is produced throughout the year.
  • The impact of the miracle fruit on one’s sense of taste lasts for around 30 minutes, or occasionally longer, and the fruit is eaten raw, typically immediately before sour tasting food.
  • Miracle fruits have a bright red skin colour and they have flesh that is a translucent white colour, which includes one seed.
  • To maintain the flavour alterating properties of miracle fruit, berries must be eaten promptly after picking, as their effectiveness decreases the longer they are stored.
  • Miracle fruit has been designated as a food additive in its history; and while research has been undertaken to determine the possibility of the fruit being used to change the taste of food to make it sweeter, as yet, it has not been a commercially viable option.
Bibliography:
Miracle Fruit, 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/miraclefruit.html
Miracle Fruit, 2013, Trade Winds Fruit, http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/content/miracle-fruit.htm
 Miracle Fruit, 2015, Cape Trib, http://www.capetrib.com.au/miracle.htm
Synsepalum dulcificum, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synsepalum_dulcificum

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Tree Tumbo

Tree tumbos are true desert plants.

  • Tree tumbos are a species of large plant native to the Namib Desert of southern Africa, and due to their dry and lifeless appearance, they are commonly considered the ugliest plant alive.
  • A ‘tree tumbo’ is also known as ‘welwitschia’; in Angola it is named ‘n’tumbo’, meaning ‘stump’; in South Africa it is called “twee blaar kanniedood’, and has the literal translation of ‘two leaf diehard’; and the plant is known as ‘onyanga’, a term meaning ‘desert onion’ in the Herero language.
  • The scientific name of a tree tumbo is Welwitschia mirabilis and it is from the family Welwitschiaceae, with the plant being the sole extant species in the family.
  • Tree tumbos only grow two leaves, that can reach a length of 4 to 9 metres (13 to 29.5 feet) each, and the leaves tend to split along their length as the plant ages, so that the plants often appear to have multiple leaves.
  • Tree tumbos were first discovered in 1959 by Friedrich Welwitsch, a botanist from the Austrian Empire, who marvelled at the plant at first sight; hence its scientific name ‘Welwitschia mirabilis’, which honours the botanist’s discovery, while ‘mirabilis’ means ‘wonderful’ or ‘marvellous’ in Latin.
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A Tree Tumbo
Image courtesy of Joachim Huber/Flickr
  • The diameter of a tree tumbo can be as much as 9 metres (29.5 feet), and the height of the plant is generally from 0.5 to 1 metre (1.6 to 3.3 feet), though they can be as tall as 2 metres (6.5 feet), and while they tend to be short, they are considered botanically a tree, albeit very slow-growing.
  • Many specimens of tree tumbos are very old, up to 600 years, while others could be as much as 1000 years in age, with some specimens suspected to be at least 2000 years old.
  • Tree tumbo plants are either male or female, either producing male cones that are pink to red in colour, or female cones that are a combination of pink and bluish green; and the cones have a length of 1 to 8 centimetres (0.4 to 3.1 inches), with the smaller ones being male.
  • Tree tumbos are thought to be pollinated by a type of flying insect, that are attracted to the nectar that the cone like flowers produce at the centre of the plant; and once fertilised, the female cones produce papery coated seeds that are scattered by the wind, however, statistically only one in every thousand seeds will grow into a plant.
  • To remain sufficiently hydrated in the harsh desert climate, tree tumbos use their long tap root to draw water from underground, as well as absorbing moisture from fog and other precipitation via their shallower root system.
Bibliography:
Notten A, Welwitschia mirabilis, 2003, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantwxyz/welwitschia.htm
Welwitschia mirabilis, n.d, Encyclopedia of Life, http://eol.org/data_objects/12497003 
Welwitschia, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welwitschia
Welwitschia mirabilis, 2014, Info Namibia, http://www.info-namibia.com/info/plants/welwitschia-mirabilis
 Welwitschia mirabilis (tree tumbo), n.d, KEW Royal Botanic Gardens, http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/welwitschia-mirabilis-tree-tumbo

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Starfish Flower

Starfish flowers really want to let you know when they are around.

  • Starfish flowers are a species of succulent, rather than a cactus, and they are flowering perennial plants, native to South Africa.
  • ‘Starfish flowers’ are also known as ‘giant toad plants’, ‘carrion plants’, ‘carrion flowers’, ‘giant zulus, and ‘starfish cacti’.
  • The scientific name of the starfish flower is Stapelia grandiflora and it is from the family Apocynaceae, the family of dogbanes, and is in the subfamily Asclepiadoideae.
  • Starfish flower plants produce large flowers with five petals, mostly in summer months, and the flowers resemble a starfish and grow to be 5 to 15 centimetres (2 to 6 inches) in diameter.
  • The blooms of starfish flowers tend to be purple, red, or brown in colour, sometimes with a tinge of orange, and they are covered with hairs that are coloured white, purple and/or red.
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A Starfish Flower
Image courtesy of Steve L Martin/Flickr
  • Starfish flowers generally release a stench that is likened to that of a dead animal, intended to attract insects such as flies to pollinate the flowers.
  • Warm climates are best for growing starfish flowers, and they prefer sunny to partly shady conditions.
  • Starfish flower plants are often used for ornamental purposes, however they can also be used to attract irritating insects away from living areas.
  • The green vegetation of starfish flower plants is multi-stemmed, and typically grows to 10 cm (4 inches) tall, while the plant can grow to a diameter of 50 cm (20 inches).
  • The centre of starfish flowers can be a breeding site for insects, such as flies, where their eggs are sometimes deposited.
Bibliography:
Carrion Plant, Starfish Flower, Starfish Cactus, 2016, Dave’s Garden, http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/59151/#b
Grant B, Starfish Flower Cactus: Tips For Growing Starfish Flowers Indoors, 2016, Gardening Know How, http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/starfish-flower/growing-starfish-flowers.htm
Stapelia grandiflora, 2015, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stapelia_grandiflora
Stapelia grandiflora, n.d, Cactus Art, http://www.cactus-art.biz/schede/STAPELIA/Stapelia_grandiflora/Stapelia_grandiflora/stapelia_grandiflora.htm

Black Mamba

One definitely should not cross the path of a black mamba.

  • Black mambas are a snake species native to the grassy plains, woody areas and rocky habitats of African countries south of the Sahara Desert.
  • The scientific name of the black mamba is Dendroaspis polylepis and it is from the family Elapidae, a family of venomous snakes.
  • Black mambas generally reach a length of 2 to 3 metres (6.6 to 9.8 feet), though they can be as long as 4.3 metres (14 feet), and they can weigh as much as 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds); and are notable for being the longest venomous snake in Africa.
  • Black mambas can be grey, brown, or a brown-green colour, however the inside of its mouth is black, hence the word ‘black’ in its common name.
  • Black mambas are very capable hunters, fitted with deadly venom and speedy movements, reaching speeds of at least 11 km/h (6.8 mph) and up to 20 km/h (12.4 mph).
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A Black Mamba
Image courtesy of Herman Pijpers/Flickr
  • The diet of the black mamba consists primarily of birds, bats and smaller mammals, including rodents.
  • A black mamba’s bite is easily deadly, and can cause a fatality in a human within 20 minutes, or up to 15 hours if left untreated, by causing the shutdown of the nervous system.
  • Black mambas are preyed on by certain snake species and some birds of prey, and the occasional mongoose; and they have an average lifespan of around 11 years.
  • Black mambas have a status of being particularly dangerous, the most dangerous snake in Africa; but despite this, the snake would rather shy away from humans as it is relatively timid, always attempting to keep distance from potential threats.
  • Female black mambas lay from 6 to 17 eggs in a hollow or cavity in or on the ground, and once the eggs are laid, they are left alone to hatch, afterwhich the young are required to take care of themselves.
Bibliography:
Black Mamba, 2016, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/reptiles/black-mamba/
Black Mamba, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_mamba
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), n.d, Wildscreen Arkive, http://www.arkive.org/black-mamba/dendroaspis-polylepis/
Schott R, Dendroarspis polylepis, 2005, Animal Diversity Web, http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Dendroaspis_polylepis/

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Peacock

The peacock is something of total magnificence.

  • Peacocks are spectacularly dressed birds, and depending on the species, are native to India, Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia, including Myanmar and Java, as well as Congo in Africa, though some of have been introduced into other countries around the world.
  • The common name ‘peacock’, technically refers to the male bird, with the term ‘peahen’ reserved for females, while ‘peafowl’ is the general name of the bird; and the birds can have a lifespan of 20 to 25 years in the wild.
  • There are three extant species of peacock and they have the scientific names Pavo cristatus – the blue or Indian peafowl, Pavo muticus – the green peafowl, and  Afropavo congensis – the Congo peafowl; and both the Pavo and Afropavo genera are from the family Phasianidae, the family of pheasants, chickens and quails.
  • The magnificent feather train of male peacocks is able to be fanned out in display, to attract females and compete with other males.
  • Peacocks range in length from 0.86 to 3 metres (2.8 to 9.8 feet), which includes the train on the males that can be at least 60% of the length of the bird; and they usually have a wingspan of 1.4 to 1.6 metres (4.6 to 5.2 feet) in width, and a weight ranging from 2.7 to 6 kilograms (6 to 13.2 pounds)

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  • Peacock males generally have a striking metallic blue to green plumage, while females are usually coloured brown or grey, sometimes with dark green colouring; although all white versions and other variations of the bird exist.
  • Species of male peacocks from Asian countries feature eye-like spots on their tail feathers – the train; while all peacocks have intricate crests.
  • The diet of peacocks consists of insects; vegetation including flowers and other plant material; reptiles, including snakes; and small amphibians; among others.
  • Male peacocks may mate with multiple females each year, with each female laying around 3 to 8 eggs of a brown colour, in a nest they make on the ground.
  • Numbers of two peacock species have been decreasing, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting, with the Congo peafowl listed as ‘vulnerable’, and the green peafowl listed as ‘endangered’.
Bibliography:
Fowler E, Pavo Cristatus, 2011, Animal Diversity Web, http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pavo_cristatus/
Indian Peafowl, n.d, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/Facts/fact-peafowl.cfm
Peacock, 2016, A-Z Animals, http://a-z-animals.com/animals/peacock/
Peacock, 2016, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/birds/peacock/
Peafowl, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peafowl

 

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