As the weather changes, Samantha du Toit marvels at the peculiar habits of brown and yellow fruit chafer beetles and their self-appointed little human caretakers.
The rains we had so long awaited did not disappoint. In fact, more water flowed through the rivers and fell on the parched earth than had been seen in decades. The results were fast and fascinating. Grass kept appearing, covering areas which had not gone to seed for years. New species raised their heads and others that had not been seen in the recent past appeared again, to the excitement of local Maasai elders. Plenty of grass in their banks to tide them over to the next rainy season, they proclaimed. In accordance with local grazing rules, they had moved their herds out of the grass banks, which double up as their wildlife conservancies, to graze on the land across the river and allow the banks to fully recover.
With the rains came insects. Plenty of them, crowding round the lights at night or crawling across the footpaths during the day. Then came ‘Fanta’, the beetle. The children had never had a pet before, at least not one over which they had full responsibility. Fanta, a medium sized brown and yellow fruit chafer beetle, was found near the camp kitchen. The children asked if they could keep her, feed her and observe her for a few days. They settled her into a medium sized tupperware, poking holes on the top to the dismay of our camp cook, provided sand for a base, some fruit for food, some leaves for shelter and a name.
After breakfast the following day they excitedly opened up the lid to see how she was doing. After a few minutes, their faces dropped and they rushed into the office to seek advice from anyone who would listen as to whether poor Fanta was alive or dead. Lying with legs curled away, Fanta had not moved for minutes. Even when she was picked up she stayed tucked up, lifeless. It was declared by our resident ‘bug’ expert (a visiting researcher who is passionate about insects, and thus our resident expert on the subject) that it would seem Fanta had indeed died. He returned to his desk to leave me with two heartbroken children to console. Mid consolation, Fanta decided it was time to wake up, slowly uncurling her legs and setting off towards the slice of mango. The children were ecstatic, the ‘expert’ astonished and me relieved.
Three happy days later, as Seyia was changing the fruit in Fanta’s tupperware, she was once again devastated to find that somehow in a Houdini-like manner, Fanta had now disappeared. We searched everywhere, but Fanta was really gone. Seyia, although tearful, was happy with the thought that Fanta had been able to find freedom and perhaps was off laying her eggs somewhere. Taru, less convinced, was too sad to eat supper. I was once again slightly relieved. The Fanta era had come to an end, and we could move on, or so I thought.
The children left the tupperware on the kitchen counter in the hope that Fanta would return. I decided to humour them and left the box out over night, with the aim of clearing it away in the morning. Imagine our amazement in the early morning, as we went to put the kettle on, to find Fanta back in the tupperware! Once again, the children were ecstatic, the ‘expert’- and me this time- astonished.
The rain has now stopped and the compacted earth is starting to turn to dust again. The animals, both domestic and wild, which made it through the drought are gaining weight and producing offspring. For a short while at least, people can relax and enjoy nature’s bounty and all the surprises this brings. Including, of course, the peculiar habits of brown and yellow beetles and their self-appointed little human caretakers.