Dwarf Blue refreshed after 142 years

What are all these citizen scientists focused on? The temperature in the Robertson Valley is a warm 32°C. It is 1pm on 2 March 2019.

They are taking photographs of South Africa’s tiniest butterfly, the Dwarf Blue Oraidium barbera. It’s inside here, sitting on a little yellow flower! At the bottom of this blog, there is a hint if you can’t find it!

Here it is close up. The flower it is sitting on has a diameter of 10mm. This photo was taken by Fanie Rautenbach. In the LepiMAP section of the Virtual Museum you find this record at  http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=LepiMAP-673920.

Here is the Virtual Museum distribution map from LepiMAP for the Dwarf Blue before the trip. The grid cells for which there are Virtual Museum records have turquoise circles. These are the records with photographs. The orange squares are specimen records dating back to the year dot, assembled with great love and care from museums and other collections during the Butterfly Atlas Project, SABCA. There is an orange square in grid cell 3319DD Robertson (in the centre of the red circle), the which one we visited. This means that the records here are based by one or more specimen records.

Checking the LepiMAP database shows that two specimens were collected in this grid cell. The details of one of them are shown above! They were collected in January 1876, and are curated by the Natural History Museum in London. The specimens are still there, carefully preserved by generations of museum staff! These are the only records ever made of Dwarf Blue in this grid cell! In the Virtual Museum, the information is stored electronically (and accessibly!) at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=LepiMAP-230827

And here is the new distribution map, updated to show the turquoise circle! Awesomely well done, citizen scientist Basil Boer, on finding the Dwarf Blue. This record is the ultimate “refreshment” of an almost prehistoric record, made 142 years ago.

The team also added two species to the list for the grid cell: Tinktinkie Blue Brephidium metophis and Dwarf Sandman Spialia nanus. The list of Lepidoptera recorded in grid cell 3319DD Robertson since 1980 now totals 36 species. For an up-to-date list, click on http://vmus.adu.org.za/vm_locus_map.php?vm=LepiMAP&locus=3319DD. At present the median date of the “Last recorded dates” lies in 2008. In words, what this statistic means is that half of the species in this grid cell have not been recorded for 10 or more years! They badly need to be “refreshed.” Do they still occur here? To achieve this will take a series of trips, to different habitats within the grid cell, and at different times of the year.

The citizen scientists who were part of the 2 March 2019 trip to the Robertson District (N1 to Worcester, then the R60 towards Robertson) were Fanie Rautenbach, Wilna Steenkamp, Corrie du Toit, Basil Boer and myself. Besides butterflies, we had a good selection of dragonflies and damselflies to submit to OdonataMAP and a carnivore scat full of hair for MammalMAP (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=MammalMAP-27384).


The HINT follows!

HINT: Did you battle to  find the Dwarf Blue in this photo? Here is the hint. there are three minute yellow flowers a bit below the centre. They form a triangle. The Dwarf Blue is sitting on the flower at the top right of the triangle.

Did you find the butterfly? Here is a close up of the three yellow flowers. They form a triangle. The Dwarf Blue is sitting on the flower at the top right of the triangle, near the top edge of the picture.


Expedition site

The Fynbos Estate property has two sections. The lower section is agricultural, and they produce wines under the label Dragonridge. The winery is artisanal, and the wines are made using time-honoured methods that are too slow for modern winemakers. The farm uses no chemicals (and the birdlife is amazing). The upper section of the property is the Simson-Simons Nature Reserve, and consists of marvelous, and quite poorly studied fynbos on the slopes and summit of the Paardeberg. (For more information see http://thebdi.org/about/african-ringing-expeditions/)

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The expedition starts

The Biodiversity and Development Institute is setting up a long term bird ringing site on Fynbos Estate (@fynbosestate), an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. This cottage, the Black Eagle cottage, is the base for action. It provides comfortable accommodation for a dozen people. On this pioneer expedition we are a group of five ringers. For more information see http://thebdi.org/about/african-ringing-expeditions/

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How to submit records to the Virtual Museum

Do you love all things biodiversity? Do you love photography? Do you love exploring new places? And do you love nature and the great outdoors? Then you are a key candidate to become a BioMAPper (and a generally awesome person). So, how do you go about becoming a BioMAPper? In this blog I will explain step-by-step how you can make your photos count for biodiversity conservation in Africa.

Step 1: Register (or check if you are registered) as a BioMAPper

Step 2: Once you are registered, you can login to the Virtual Museums website at http://vmus.adu.org.za/, click on the “LOGIN” tab on the left-hand side of your screen and login with the email that you registered with and the password that you created for yourself (if, after registration, you get a message on your screen that tells you to wait for an email, please ignore this, your registration is instant and you can login to the Virtual Museum right away).

Step 3: On the left-hand side of your screen click on “Data Upload” (see photo below), a form appears. It is a two page form. The first page collects the information, and the second page uploads the photos.

Step 3: click on “Data upload”

Step 4: Fill in data capture form (see photo below). All areas of the data capture that are marked with * are required fields. These are: Year, Month, Day, Country, Closest Town, Locality, Latitude, Longitude, and the Source of your GPS coordinates. If you do not have the GPS coordinates you can use the interactive Google Map provided and pinpoint the area where you took the photo(s) (i.e. find the general area, zoom in repeatedly, and click on the map to place a marker on the map, trying to be as accurate as possible). If you use the Google Map, the operation of clicking on the map will automatically provide the coordinates at the bottom of the data capture form. After completing this form click on “Save” at the bottom to save all the location information, and to move onto the second form. (Handy Tip: you can save locations that you visit often as a “Gazetteer”. You do this by filling in all the necessary location details as normal and then creating a name for your gazetteer in the field labeled “Gazetteer locality name” and then clicking on “Save”…..next time you upload photos you can just select the gazetteer locality name from your saved list)

Step 4: the data capture form
If you did not take the GPS coordinates while out in the field, you can use the interactive Google Map in the data capture form to pinpoint your record(s)

Step 5: Select the project to which you want to submit your photo/photos. Upload your photos and click on “Submit” at the bottom of the form. After your photo(s) have finished uploading to the database, you will receive a confirmation on screen of the submission. You can load up to three photos per record (please note that one species = one record). The form makes provision for three records at the site described on the first form (If you just have one record to submit then you just skip over the provision for records two and three right down to the bottom of the form, and click on “submit”). If you have more than three records to submit for the sam location then you can select the little block at the bottom of the form that says “add more”. Once your record is submitted, confirmation of its arrival in the Virtual Museum database is provided by the appearance of a thumbnail version of your photo, and the basic details of your record on screen.

Step 5: select the project you are submitting to and upload your photos

Well done! You’ve successfully submitted your first record to the Virtual Museum. You are now a qualified citizen scientist BioMAPper and an Ambassador for Biodiversity! The drill is the same for all the projects in the Virtual Museum.

You can view this step-by-step guide on SlideShare as well: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-submit-records-to-the-virtual-museums/

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART THREE

Blue Basker

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best OdonataMAP records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. It was a year that delivered many interesting and spectacular damselfly and dragonfly records. The records mentioned in part three of the below report are records that are either range extensions, new records of species that haven’t been recorded for several years, or new species for a province or for South Africa. Part one of the report is available here, followed by part two which can be viewed here

North West

North West Province

For the North West Province, there were eight species that were recorded only once during 2018, with the Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni being a first for the province

  • A Black Emperor Anax tristis was mapped by Lance Robinson on 07 November 2018 at Sediba Game Lodge near Brits (2527BC). It is the first ever record for the North West Province!
  • Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans snapped and mapped a Sailing Bluet Azuragrion nigridorsum at Dikhololo Resort near Brits on 29 April 2018 VM. It was the second Virtual Museum record for the North West.
Sailing Bluet – photo by John Wilkinson
  • OdonataMAP record 44494 of a Common Thorntail Ceratogomphus pictus was the fifth Virtual Museum record for the province. It was mapped by Jaco Botes on 28 January 2018.
  • On the fourth of February 2018, Lance Robinson mapped a Horned Rockdweller Bradinopyga cornuta at Dikhololo near Brits. This was the third ever record for the North West!
  • A Portia Widow Palpopleura portia OdonataMAPped by Graham Barr on 24April 2018 was the only record for the North West for the year. He photographed this awesome dragonfly near Groot Marico (2526CB).
  • Jaco Botes recorded a Highland Dropwing Trithemis dorsalis, the fifth Virtual Museum record for the province, on 28 January 2018 at Boskopdam near Potchefstroom.
  • OdonataMAP record 46171 of a Ringed Cascader Zygonyx torridus was the second ever record for the North West. Niall Perrins snapped and mapped it on 18 February 2018 in Borakalalo National Park.
  • Niall Perrins OdonataMAPped a Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni, the first ever record for the province, on 19 February 2018 in Borakalalo National Park (2527BB).
Clubbed Talontail – photo by Niall Perrins

Northern Cape

Northern Cape Province

For the Northern Cape, five species were recorded only once during 2018 with one being recorded for the first time. All these records were submitted by none other than Altha Liebenberg

  • Altha recorded the third Northern Cape record of a Clubbed Talontail Crenigomphus hartmanni (photo below) on 04 January 2018. She OdonataMAPped it on the Vaal River near Douglas.
Clubbed Talontail – photo by Altha Liebenberg
  • A Phantom Flutterer Rhyothemis semihyalina was snapped and mapped on 04 January 2018 near Smitsdrif, this was the second record ever for the Northern Cape.
  • Altha recorded a Red Basker Urothemis assignata  on 26 December 2018 near Douglas (2923BB). This was the second record ever for the Northern Cape, with the only other record mapped in Hartswater in December 2017 by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans.
  • OdonataMAP record 62870 of a Blue Basker Urothemis edwardsii, was the third record for the Northern Cape, mapped on the banks of the Vaal River in Douglas on 26 December 2018.
  • Altha also mapped a Ferruginous Glider Tramea limbata, the very first record for the province, on 04 January 2018 in the Smitsdrif district (2824CA).
Ferruginous Glider – photo by Sharon Stanton

Western Cape

Western Cape Province

In the Western Cape, six species were recorded only once during 2018 with a Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded for the first time. A Red Basker Urothemis assignata was recorded for the first time as well, with a number of records found thereafter

  • Andrew and Heather Hodgson recorded an Elusive Skimmer Orthetrum rubens in the Cederberg Wilderness Area near Citrusdal on 15 December 2018 (3219AC). It was the first Virtual Museum record and the first record since December 2015 for the Western Cape.
Elusive Skimmer – photo by Andrew & Heather Hodgson
  • Jean Hirons mapped a Dancing Jewel Platycypha caligata, the second Virtual Museum record and the first record since 2011 for the Western Cape, on 12 March 2018 at the Keurbooms River near Kammanassie Nature Reserve (3323CC).
  • OdonataMAP record 46263 of a Mahogany Presba Syncordulia venator was mapped by Andre Marais on 22 February 2018 at Jubilee Creek in Knysna (3322DD). It was the only record for the year for the Western Cape.
  • Amanda Walden snapped and mapped a Darting Cruiser Phyllomacromia picta in the Saasveld Forest near George on 20 December 2018. It was the third record for the province and the first record since 2009!
  • OdonataMAP record 48386 of a Black-splashed Elf Tetrathemis polleni was the first Virtual Museum record and the second ever record for the Western Cape. Jean Hirons recorded it on 01 April 2018 at the Hoogekraal River crossing in Sedgefield (3322DD).
Black-splashed Elf – photo by Desire Darling
  • Jean Hirons mapped a Red Basker Urothemis assignata on 06 February 2018, the first Virtual Museum record for the province, at the Karatara River crossing near Sedgefield (3322DD).
  • A Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded by Pieter Le Grange on 04 May 2018 was the first ever record for the Western Cape! He mapped it in Nature’s Valley (3323DC).

John Wilkinson’s pick for 2018 RECORD OF THE YEAR is the Mastigogomphus exuviae found by Gerhard Diedericks. Mastigogomphus is a genus in the family Gomphidae and is represented by 3 species in Africa:

  1. M. chapini from Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon.
  2. M. pinheyi from Kenya
  3. M. dissimilis from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The exuviae that Gerhard found is most likely that of M. dissimilis or it might even be a species new to science! Credit for information on Mastigogomphus: Dijkstra, K.-D.B (editor). African Dragonflies and Damselflies Online. http://addo.adu.org.za/ [2019-01-20].

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART TWO

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. This is part two of the report. Part one is available here.


KwaZulu-Natal Province

KwaZulu-Natal is very well surveyed and an area with high biodiversity, therefore it comes as no surprise that quite a number of great records came from this province for 2018. There were seven species that were recorded only once during the year, one of which was recorded for the first time!

  • A Black Emperor Anax tristis recorded by Richard Johnstone on 14 January 2018, OdonataMAP 43152, was the only record of this species for the in KwaZulu-Natal for the year. Richard photographed it at Intaba Ingwe Game Farm near Heatonville.
Black Emperor – photo by Katharina Reddig
  • The only record for 2018 of an Eastern Duskhawker Gynacantha usambarica was recorded by Richard Johnstone on 02 April 2018 in Nseleni Nature Reserve near Richards Bay (2831DB). OdonataMAP record 48419.
  • Steve Woodhall recorded the one and only Friendly Hawker Zosteraeschna minuscula record for 2018 in Dlinza Forest near Eshowe on 25 November 2018.
  • The only Springwater Sprite Pseudagrion caffrum record for the year was mapped by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 04 March 2018 in the Royal Natal National Park near Bergville (2828DB).
Springwater Sprite – photo by Alan Manson
  • Alan Mason submitted the only record of a Deceptive Widow Palpopleura deceptor for the year on 01 April 2018. He mapped it in the Weenen Game Reserve (2829DD). There are only eight records of this dragonfly for KwaZulu-Natal in total.
  • The Russet Dropwing Trithemis pluvialis record submitted by Ryan Tippett on 01 June 2018 was the sixth OdonataMAP record for the province. Ryan mapped it on the banks of the Mkuze River in Amakhosi Game Reserve (2731DA).
  • Lappies Labuschagne recorded the first ever Zambezi Siphontail Neurogomphus zambeziensis record for KZN on 05 March 2018 in Ndumu Game Reserve.


Limpopo Province

For Limpopo Province, six species were recorded only once in 2018 and two species were recorded for the first time.

  • A Little Duskhawker Gynacantha manderica recorded by Antoinette Snyman on 22 May 2018 was only the second record to date for the province. She mapped it at the ATKV Eiland Spa near Letsitele (2330DA).
  • John Wilkinson recorded a Suave Citril Ceriagrion suave on 24 February 2018 near Tshipise. It was the first record for the province, the closest other record of this species is from Chikwarakwara in Zimbabwe, recorded in 1974 by F.C. de Moor!
Suave Citril – photo by John Wilkinson
  • Vladek Van Rooyen recorded the only Yellowjack Notogomphus praetorius for the year on 28 December 2018 at the Debengeni Falls near Tzaneen.
  • A Great Hooktail Paragomphus magnus was snapped and mapped by Niall Perrins on 16 March 2018 near Pafuri. It was the fifth OdonataMAP Virtual Museum record for the province.
  • A Little Wisp Agriocnemis exilis recorded by John Wilkinson on 08 September 2018 was the first 21st Century record and the fourth for the province.
  • Coen Van den Berg (with fellow observers Ignat Van den Berg, Chantel Ferreia and Charmaine Van den Berg) mapped a Brown Duskhawker Gynacantha villosa on 07 September 2018 in Phalaborwa. It is the first ever record for the province!
Brown Duskhawker – photo by Coen Van den Berg


Mpumalanga Province

In Mpumalanga Province, six species were recorded only once during 2018 and all of them were either the first, second or third record for OdonataMAP. One of these record is the first ever record for South Africa.

  • Gert Bensch mapped the first photo record of a Black Emperor Anax tristis on 09 December 2018 near White River. The closest other record is from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, mapped in 2008 by Warwick and Michele Tarboton.
  • A Peak Bluet Africallagma sinuatum snapped and mapped by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 15 March 2018 is the first photographic record for OdonataMAP (2430DD). The identification of this awesome damselfly was based on the shape of the terminal end of the abdomen of a young male (photo below).
Peak Bluet – photo by Alf Taylor
  • Gerhard Diedericks recorded a Harlequin Sprite Pseudagrion newtoni on 13 January 2018 near Pilgrems Rest (2430DC). It was the third photo record for the province. There are only eight records of this species in Mpumalanga.
  • OdonataMAP record 51802 of a Guinea Skimmer Orthetrum guineense, recorded by Ralph Jordan on 05 May 2018 in Mabusa Nature Reserve, was the second for the Virtual Museum. This species was last recorded in 2013.
  • OdonataMAP record 63965 of a Two-banded Cruiser Phyllomacromia contumax was the third photo record for OdonataMAP (there are only 13 records of this species for Mpumalanga). Snapped and mapped by Gert Bensch and Juan-Pierre Antunes on 29 December 2018.
  • To crown it all, Gerhard Diedericks submitted the first ever record for South Africa of a Snorkeltail Mastigogomphus exuviae on 31 July 2018 (photo below)! He mapped it in the Komati River near Tjakastad (2630BB).
Mastigogomphus exuviae – photo by Gerhard Diedericks

…..Part three to follow soon…..

Year of the Dragon – OdonataMAP records of note for 2018 – PART ONE

John Wilkinson, one of the most hard working members on the OdonataMAP expert panel, has put together a terrific summary of the best records for 2018 for each province of South Africa. It was a year that delivered many interesting and spectacular damselfly and dragonfly records. The records mentioned in part one of the below report are records that are either range extensions, new records of species that haven’t been recorded for several years, or new species for a province or for South Africa.

Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape Province

For the Eastern Cape, there were eight species that were recorded only once during 2018. And for seven of them there are only 5 or fewer records in OdonataMAP for the province or South Africa (including historical data):

  • OdonataMAP record 46473 of a Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger submitted by Alf Taylor is only the fifth record ever for the Eastern Cape. It was recorded on 27 February 2018 (grid cell 3325DC) near Uitenhage.
  • OdonataMAP record 44614 of a Round-winged Bluet Proischnura rotundipennis is only the third record ever for the Easter Cape. It was recorded by Alan Manson on 27 January 2018.
Round-winged Bluet – photo by Alan Manson
  • OdonataMAP record 46108 of a Springwater Sprite Pseudagrion caffrum was recorded by Alf Taylor and Hillary Harrison on 17 February 2018 (3226DB) in the Hogsback Garden Park.
  • OdonataMAP record 44578 of a Lined Claspertail Onychogomphus supinus is the second ever record for the Eastern Cape. Recorded by Alan Manson on 27 January 2018. Alan writes: “many males were seen on the rocks (they were the dominant dragonfly species), about ten individuals in a 50 m stretch of the river”.
Lined Claspertail – photo by Alan Manson
  • OdonataMAP record 62911 of a Pallid Spreadwing Lestes pallidus is the second record for Eastern Cape, submitted by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 25 December 2018.
  • A Keyhole Glider Tramea basilaris recorded by Riëtte Griesel on 15 February 2018 is the fourth record for the Eastern Cape. It is OdonataMAP record 45848.
  • A Red Basker Urothemis assignata recorded by Alf Taylor on 05 January 2018 is the fourth record in total for Eastern Cape. It is OdonataMAP record 34383.
  • OdonataMAP record 49034 of a Two-banded Cruiser Phyllomacromia contumax is only the second record for the Eastern Cape. It was recorded by Alf Taylor and Hiliary Harrison on 24 March 2018.

Free State

Free State Province

For the Free State, there were four species of note, and they were all recorded only once during 2018:

  • A Powder-faced Sprite Pseudagrion kersteni (OdonataMAP 57134) recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 10 August 2018 was the fourth Virtual Museum record for the Free State.
  • OdonataMAP record 46318 of a Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 25  February 2018 is the fifth record for the Free State.
Cherry-eye Sprite – photo by Ryan Tippett
  • A Pallid Spreadwing Lestes pallidus recorded by Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans on 21 January 2018 (OdonataMAP 44094) was the only record of this species in the Free State for the year.
  • OdonataMAP record 61999 of a Bottletail Olpogastra lugubris is the second record ever for the Free State! It was photographed and uploaded to OdonataMAP by Evert Kleynhans on 15 December 2018.


Gauteng Province

Two species were recorded in Gauteng for the first time during 2018:

Great Sprite – photo by Juan-Pierre Antunes
  • OdonataMAP record 43968, a Goldtail Allocnemis leucosticta recorded by Keanu Canto on 13 January 2018 at the Amanzintaba Resort, Wilge River Valley (2529CA). Keanu writes: “A fairly large population was observed in the forested kloof/gorge of Amanzintaba Resort. Many mating pairs were seen. They were seen along the small stream running through this kloof/gorge, which is lined with rocky stream banks and many ferns”.

….. PART TWO follows here …..

… and now for something a little bit different … BOPping birds …

Since it started in March 2012, 450 records have been uploaded to the BOP section of the  Virtual Museum. BOP stands for Birds with Odd Plumage. The BOP logo conveys the concept of “odd plumage”. This blog reviews a few of the records in BOP.

BOP logo
The logo for BOP – Birds with Odd Plumage

The Virtual Museum website describes BOP this way: “Birds with all sorts of unusual plumage variations are observed from time to time. Nowadays, with digital photography, pictures of these birds are frequently available. BOP (Birds with Odd Plumage) aims to provide a place where the photographs can be curated into one database. Any bird with any unusual plumage characteristic qualifies for inclusion in the Virtual Museum. This will provide the opportunity to look for patterns. Do certain species have abnormal plumage more frequently than others? Do unusual plumage patterns occur more in some places than in others?” The BOP section of the Virtual Museum has also become a curation place for photos of birds with deformities, especially of the bill, and also of hybrids.

Collage of BOP records

Here is a collage of thumbnails of the 13 African Penguins Spheniscus demersus uploaded to BOP. The most commonly encountered plumage abnormality is a double throat band, similar to that of Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus.  Every year there are twitchers who believe they have made the first African record of the Magellanic Penguin.

But take a good look at the two photos of penguins at the left ends of the first and second rows. They are both more or less black in front, and they have white patches in the same places. They look like photos of the same penguin. Here they are, side by side!

African Penguins in Birds with Odd Plumage

The left photo, BOP002, was taken on Robben Island on 21 May 2004 (curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-2). The right photo, BOP013, was taken by Jessica Kemper on Halifax Island, Namibia, on 1 June 2008 (curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-13). Movements of African Penguins between the the Namibian islands and the penguin colonies of the Western Cape have been recorded, but are quite unusual. Alas, we do not have a match. Jessica and I have agreed that, even though the general patterns of these two birds are quite similar, the details are very different. For example, the penguin on the right has a small throatband, the one on the left does not (the patterns stay identical moult after moult). Nevertheless, it is amazing that essentially the same colour morph, the “black-fronted African Penguin” has occurred in two colonies so far apart.

There are two more African Penguins with extremely odd plumages.

African Penguin with mysterious logo on its back

This bizarre bird looks like it has been branded as penguin number 100. It was photographed on 3 June 2010 by penguin research Lorien Pichegru on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay, a little east of Port Elizabeth. Lorien comments “This bird was seen again on St Croix Island, at the same spot in March 2013” (see http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-131)

Almost albino African Penguin

And this “Dalmation”-style penguin was photographed in the penguin colony at The Boulders, in Simonstown, by Andre Coetzer on 17 February 2017. The white back would be a useful climate change adaptation, because the normal black back is a poor choice of colour when lying on nests incubating eggs. Black absorbs heat, white reflects it. (See http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-290).

The next case study is totally different to the records for all the other species in BOP. We do not for a moment believe that the feathers of the Cattle Egrets actually grew to be pink and blue, just like we don’t believe that the blue ones are boys and the pink ones are girls.

Multicoloured Cattle Egrets in Birds with Odd Plumage

We have absolutely no idea what happened to dye these Cattle Egrets blue or pink. They were solitary coloured birds in flocks. The blue egret on the left was photographed by Grant Egen at Mkombo Dam, Mpumalanga, on 18 January 2015 (see http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-205). The photographs on the right were taken by Suzanne van Maltitz on a farm in the Northern Cape just south of Spitskop Dam. The top photo was taken on 22 January 2012, and the bottom photo three years later on 13 February 2015 (see http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-1 and http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-522). Explanations welcome.

King Myna in Birds with Odd Plumage

This bizarre abnormality is fairly frequent! It’s a bald Common Myna, featherless head, and a bright yellow skin, simply known as a “bald-headed myna”.  They are sometimes also referred to as “King Mynas”, as in this blog from the Seychelles where there is another, almost identical, photograph. Wherever Common Mynas occur, both in their native range and also in the multiple areas where they have been introduced, bald-headed mynas are observed occasionally. Chris Feare, co-author of a book called Starlings and Mynas, is particularly interested in this abnormality. He says: “It is remarkable that such an obvious and widespread variant has received little mention in myna literature. The causation of this strange condition remains pure speculation. We are not even close to understanding what is going on with bald-headed mynas.” Chris was involved in a myna eradication campaign in the Seychelles.  “We don’t have enough data to uncover any seasonal effects, and we killed all the birds we caught during eradication programmes so we can’t say whether they remain in the condition for life, or recover a full head of feathers at some stage.” So here is a challenge for everyone who lives with mynas. If you have a bald-headed myna in your neighbourhood, try to watch it, and see if the baldness is permanent, or whether it sprouts new feathers after a few weeks or months! The photo above, by Doreen Wood, was submitted by Grant Egen, and is curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-181.

The Common Myna is an alien species in South Africa.

Common Myna with bald head in BOP

It can’t get much worse than this for a myna. Johan van Rensburg took this photo west of Delmas in Mpumalanga on 18 May 2014. He comments: “A rather bizarre combination of two rare, unrelated plumage conditions, bald-headed as well as leucistic. One in a million?” Curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-157.

If you want to have a look at more of the weird and wonderful plumages uploaded by citizen scientists, and curated in Birds with Odd Plumage, head over to the Virtual Museum at http://vmus.adu.org.za. Select BOP as your project, and then click on either of the “Search” buttons without choosing anything specific to search for. The next page will display the first 30 records. At the top  of this page, you can click on “Display thumb-nails only”, and you will get small versions of the first 250 records in BOP. Click on any of the thumb-nails, and you will get a display of the record.

If you have photos to contribute to BOP, please do upload them! If you are new to the Virtual Museum, and want to get involved, please make contact.

Viva Virtual Museum! Let’s get BioMAPping…

Welcome to the ADU Virtual Museum http://vmus.adu.org.za

What is the Virtual Museum? When people hear the word “museum” they often think of a building filled with dusty display cases and stuffed animals. But, the Virtual Museum (VM) is not gathering dust. Our “specimens”, photographic records of Africa’s biodiversity, are being used to make a difference for nature conservation in Africa. The VM provides the platform for citizen scientists (members of the public), aka BioMAPpers, to contribute to biodiversity mapping projects. We cannot conserve Africa’s wonderful biodiversity effectively if we don’t know where species occur. Up to date distribution maps are key for species conservation. The realm of biodiversity conservation is no longer only the responsibility of professional scientists and game rangers; everybody has their part to play in conservation. It is up to all of us to make a difference, the future of Africa’s wildlife and natural ecosystems are in our hands. So what can you do to help? You can snap it and map it! https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-submit-records-to-the-virtual-museums

I encourage all of you to submit your photographs of the awesome critters that you find out there on your adventures, to the various projects in the VM (e.g. MammalMAP, which is the Atlas of African Mammals), along with the locality information and the date. You can try and identify the critter that you photographed, but this is not essential, because the species identifications are confirmed by a panel of experts for each project. Within each VM project there are distribution maps and species lists freely available online, and these also serve as conservation and education tools. These maps and species lists include VM records as well as other distributional records contained within the Animal Demography Unit’s databases (e.g. historical records, museum collections, bulk data uploads, records from private collections, and expert confirmed sightings records). The data from the VM has been used in the Red Listing and Atlas of mammals, butterflies, reptiles, and frogs of southern Africa. This is data that is making a difference.

Over 5000 pages of valuable information has been gathered by BioMAPpers and used for species conservation
Some FrogMAP record examples of the Family Bufonidae

VM records help expand the distribution databases and information for these various taxa (mammals, reptiles, butterflies/moths, dragonflies, mushrooms, lacewings, spiders, scorpions etc.); they not only confirm the presence of a species at a particular point in time, but they also provide new distribution records for species and sometimes lead to extensions of the known range of a species. By uploading your photos to the VM you can make a difference for biodiversity conservation. Instead of having your photos sit on your computer gathering digital dust they can form part of a valuable database of biodiversity. Let’s take responsibility for biodiversity conservation, let’s snap it and map it! If you have any questions about how to submit your photos to the VM please don’t hesitate to contact us. Happy mapping!

The projects in the Virtual Museum

The town in South Africa with the most Virtual Museum records per inhabitant is Daniëlskuil

We asked citizen scientist Altha Liebenberg to select a few of the Virtual Museum records which had given her the greatest pleasure in submitting during 2018. Altha lives in a small town called Daniëlskuil, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, about 140 km northwest of Kimberley.

This is a photo of Altha Liebenberg’s of the town of Daniëlskuil,  from RePhotoSA (see http://rephotosa.adu.org.za/Search_photos.php?option=search-rec&rec=287)

Traditionally, coverage of this vast area of the Northern Cape north and west of Kimberley is pathetically thin in biodiversity projects. Altha has turned Daniëlskuil into one of the coverage hotspots for the Virtual Museum. Over the past six years, she has submitted almost 12,000 records from the town and its immediate surroundings. This is close to the number of citizens of Daniëlskuil.


This is the sixth time Altha has photographed this “form” of baboon spider at Daniëlskuil for the Virtual Museum.  This is her only record of it for 2018 – see http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=SpiderMAP-9631. This spider belongs to the genus Harpactirella. Ian Engelbrecht, who has a specialist interest in the baboon spiders, comments:  “The genus Harpactirella is complex and we don’t know what the species boundaries are. This particular form only occurs around Daniëlskuil.  At Griekwastad, Kuruman and Campbell, the next closest points from which we have records, different forms occur. These various forms occurs across the Karoo. They make very distinctive round burrows along drainage lines and the edges of pans. The females  have striking orange markings on the front legs. All of Altha’s records so far have been of males.” So there is lots of taxonomic research needed just to sort out the species of the genus Harpactirella.


Altha uploaded 14 records to ReptileMAP in 2018, and is responsible for 88 of the 109 records of reptiles for this grid cell. This was her “reptile of the year”. She wrote: “OK, I’m still in shock. I was slowly creeping up on some springbok for MammalMAP when this snake came across the electric fence. I thought he was going to be a dead snake, but luck was on his side and he just sailed away.” This is a Northern Boomslang Dispholidus typus viridis and is curated in ReptileMAP at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=ReptileMAP-168928.


BOP stands for Birds with Odd Plumage. It is the smallest section of the Virtual  Museum, and contains photos of birds with abnormal plumages or with deformities, such as abnormally long bills. There are currently 441 records in BOP. Whether or not this section of the Virtual Museum ever delivers any real “science” is a moot point. We believe that, sooner or later, someone will discover some amazing pattern within these records. Altha highlighted this African Red-eyed Bulbul as her record of the year for BOP. She comments: “There was a flock of these bulbuls present, and in among the flock was this black one. It really stood out from the rest, and looked out of place.” This is an African Red-eyed Bulbul, curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BOP-476; the inset photograph of a normal bird is by Vaughan Jessnitz (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BirdPix-3460) and was taken at Witsand Nature Reserve, not far from Daniëlskuil, in the Northern Cape.  (I will do a blog post soon on a selection of the weird and wonderful records in BOP.)


Identifying the “green lacewings” of the family Chrysopidae to species from photographs is notoriously difficult. This member of the family Dichochrysa tacta is an exception. LacewingMAP has 80 records of this species, and 40 of them are photographic. The emerging distribution is shown on the map inset. In broad-brush terms it consists of the arid parts of western South Africa and southern Namibia. But it would be nice to have a lot more records to see the pattern in detail.

This photo is one Altha’s 17 records from Daniëlskuil).  (See http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=LacewingMAP-15393). There is special value in multiple records for a species at a site.  They help define aspects of the “phenology” (timing of the annual cycle). The records for Dichochrysa tacta are spread throughout the year, but the overwhelming majority are in September-December. This was the first of Altha’s five records of Dichochrysa tacta for 2018, on 25 August.

Daniëlskuil is inside the red circle in the inset map above, so Altha’s records are at the “edge” of the distribution. If there are 17 records here, the obvious question is: “How much farther east does the real distribution extend?”


Altha took this photo on 26 December 2918, during an expedition to Douglas, a town near the confluence of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Her comment: “Dragonflies were scarce, and I was getting very down-hearted that I had not seen any for the whole morning. Then this little guy popped in and said hullo and then was gone again. He just gave me time for two quick photos. I picked this record as one of the highlights of the year because it made a bad day marvelous.”

The species of dragonfly that made Altha’s day for her is Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa. This record is curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-62887. Red-veined Dropwings occur throughout Africa, and the distribution extends beyond Africa in a northeastwards direction to the Arabian Peninsula and to Turkey in southwestern Asia.


This is the distribution map for the Red-veined Dropwing in Africa, based on 6,497 records; there are 3,823 records in OdonataMAP (ie the photographic records such as Altha’s) and 2,674 records in the Odonata Database of Africa, known as the ADDO database (African Dragonflies and Damselflies Online). The ADDO website also contains a profile of the taxonomy, identification and ecology of the Red-veined Dropwing. In this map, the grid cells in which Virtual Museum records of the species has occurred are green and the ADDO records are blue. The ADDO database contributes massively to our knowledge of distribution everywhere north of southern Africa. As amazing as this map is, the reality is that there are still lots of grid cells where Red-veined Dropwings occur, but for which we do not yet have a record!!


It would make the most remarkable difference to our understanding of biodiversity and its distribution if every community across Africa had a citizen scientist just like Altha Liebenberg.  Thank you,  Altha.