Tour to Neocene
The nature of Africa has taken up the first impact from the
direction of people. It was an Africa, where this mammalian species had appeared
first and then changed the course of evolution at the whole planet. It looks
like a paradox, but megafauna – the community of large herbivores hunted by
predators – held its positions in Africa for an especially long time. African
species had time to adapt to evolution of this aggressive and inventive creature,
and the fear in relation to the human appeared at them, which allowed even to
large species to survive for any time side by side with people. At the other
continents after the appearing of people the megafauna appeared exterminated
within very short term. But the human influence to the nature grew gradually,
and even in Africa the megafauna had survived in vanishingly small amount, closed
in the limited territories of nature reserves. Extinction of mankind has improved
a distress of megafauna in very little degree: a genetic variety of the escaped
populations of once numerous species appeared insufficient for a survival, and
human activity had resulted in destruction of productive habitats and their
transformation into the semidesertic areas not capable to support large animals.
Climatic changes at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene had caused mass extinction
of species, and representatives of former African megafauna snuffled into oblivion
in common with the set of other animal species, having left the Earth ruled
by tiny species. And the forms escaped after natural catastrophe had taken advantage
of the resulted position to the full. Their descendants had settled the developing
communities and evolved to creatures not seen on Earth before.
In Neocene epoch North Africa from Gibraltar isthmus and Atlas Mountains at the north up to a woodland zone at the south of former Sahara desert represents a savanna. The winding river flows across it, originating in mountains at the east – it is Saharan Nile. True sources of Nile do not belong to Africa since the time when the East-African subcontinent, or Zinj Land, had broken off from it. Rains from Tanganyika Passage support the existence of bogs in which some inflows of Saharan Nile originate. This river supports life of diverse inhabitants of savanna: it is very difficult to recognize in them shy and small creatures, which were their ancestors in human epoch.
Giant beast of gorilla-like appearance had risen on hind legs and eats leaves of acacia. It is one of the largest species in African savannas, the savanna ndipiniotherium. The skin of animal is covered with yellowish wool, and along the back the dark “belt” stretches, extending on hips. Breast and throat of this animal are white – it is an attribute of maturity.
Ndipinotheres are ecological analogues of elephants in Neocene African savanna. Rising on hind legs, they easily eat foliage of acacias at height of up to five meters. Forepaws of ndipinotherium have special anatomic features: there are two fingers on them, which take up the whole loading during the walking of animal, and from both sides mobile fingers adjoin to them, with which help the animal can grasp tree branches. Having decided to eat appetizing leaflets on top branches of tree, ndipinotherium rears up and slightly leans one forepaw against the tree trunk. Using another paw, it picks up the branch and drags it to itself. Strong and constantly growing incisors inherited from hyrax, its ancestor, help ndipinotherium to bite off young leafy shoots of plants. The only competitor of ndipinotherium in feeding on foliage of trees is giraffe ostrich – a bulky bird having even higher growth.
High productivity of natural communities of Neocene and relative stability of habitats had resulted in origin of a plenty of large species among which ndipinotheres and giraffe ostriches are the true giants. In general, the African megafauna of Neocene epoch is comparable to megafauna of pre-human era in productivity, but differs from it completely by another qualitative structure. Ndipinotheres and flathorns, their relatives, are very large descendants of hyraxes – small and inconspicuous animals of human epoch. They evolved from small animals to ecological analogues of rhinoceroses and elephants. Ndipinotheriums literally look down on flathorns: flathorn feeds on undersized vegetation, and ndipinotheres prefer high bushes and trees. Ndipinotheriums gather in numerous herds numbering of some tens of individuals. It is easier to them to protect themselves this way against large predators living in savanna. The herd of ndipinotheriums represents some tens of large animals which surpass any predators of Neocene savannas in size. But the herd is non-uniform – it includes not only well-protected individuals, but also the most vulnerable ones. The youngest cubs persistently follow their mothers, and in case of danger they can expect for reliable protection. Large adult individuals are strong enough to throw off the attacked predator from themselves and to crush it by their weight. But there is a special age group, which representatives fall victims of predators more often – these are juveniles, young individuals too large for mother to continue their protection (as a rule, at this time it already takes care to new cub), but too small to take the certain place in hierarchy of herd and to protect itself independently against a predator.
Young ndipinotheres keep at the edge and at the end of herd. They do not know everything about the world around, but already are too self-confident. They take a liberty to separate from herd in searches of food, and thus represent an ideal target for a predator.
Where there is a prey, the set of predators will gather. Three young ndipinotheriums wander in thickets of undersized acacias at some distance from the main herd. Animals rise on hind legs and eat foliage of acacias, of the most widespread trees of African savanna of Neocene. Pointed prickles do not prevent them: animals accurately tear leaves off with the help of long mobile tongues. They see perfectly, how somewhere in the distance magnificent barbed herzogcat with long hairy “mantle” on shoulders hunts any small rodents. They also keep up the herd of congeners, being ready to return in any minute to appear in safety under protection of adult animals. But these animals do not notice that somebody observes of them.
From a bush which grows at some distance from the herd, a predator keeps an eye on ndipinotheres within several hours. Yellow eyes keep up movements of animals, and claws stick into the ground impatiently. The predator must choose a proper time for an attack and must make only one successful rush. Deadlynetta, a leopard-sized saber-toothed predator, prepares to attack. This large representative of viverrids is a specialized hunter for big game, which can be dangerous. Therefore the animal waits until young ndipinothereswill walk away enough from herd.
The herd of ndipinotheres moves forward gradually. These animals must constantly move along the savanna, because if they would stay for a long time at the same place, they can deplete fodder resources. Therefore deadlynetta can only infrequently hunt ndipinotherium. But it knows how to make it in most successful way.
Young ndipinotheres stopped for a while near an acacia, and the herd walked away from them for about one hundred meters. Having noticed it, two young males left off the feeding and rushed to the herd with a clumsy jog trot. But female is late for some seconds. And then something inevitable happens. As if a certain black-and-white lightning deadlynetta jumps out from an ambush. With its whole bulk it strikes a blow to the side of young ndipinotherium female and brings it down on the ground. Predator keeps its prey on the ground for some seconds, and at this time the main action takes place: deadlynetta puts deep wound with dagger-like canines to the basis of neck of ndipinotherium female. Having quickly pulled out canines from prey body, deadlynetta jumps aside away and stops in grass, panting hardly. The power struggle of predator and prey can’t proceed for a long time: defending itself, herbivore can put a dangerous wound to a predator, or even to kill its enemy. But the most important thing had been made: fatal impact is put, and now getting of prey is a matter of time only.
Deadlynetta looks quietly, how fatally wounded ndipinotherium female rises from the ground, reeling, and tries to come up the herd of congeners. In air the terrible smell of blood appears, and the frightened herd of ndipinotheres moves faster. Female tries to reach its congeners, but it weakens with each heartbeat. From its wound pulsating flow of scarlet blood runs, leaving an appreciable trace on the ground. Huge animal bleeds profusely gradually and lags behind group of the scared relatives more and more. Ndipinotherium female reels and breathes hoarsely. It is exsanguinated badly, and feels lack of oxygen. It walksslower and slower, moving its legs hardly. At last it faints and falls on the ground heavily.
Hunting is finished. When deadlynetta has come nearer to its prey, last spasms already contracted the body of ndipinotherium female. Having leaked once the blood still flowing from the wound at the base of animal’s neck, deadlynetta looked around. Having got its prey, the predator should be very cautious, because other predators, and even simply its own congeners can easily take it away. But deadlynettas live in savanna rather sparsely, like any other large game hunters. Its nearest relative, probably, hunts or has a rest at the distance of ten kilometers from it. But there is a set of other lovers of another’s prey, and they start gathering gradually.
The success of deadlynettahas not remained unnoticed: it is difficult for hiding. The smell of blood spreads for hundreds meters from a killed animal, and it is something like an invitation to dinner for numerous scavengers. The fastest and most impatient of them have started a meal, maybe, even faster, rather than the hunter did. Deadlynetta stuck its canines into skin on stomach of ndipinotherium, and had jerked it. Predator has torn off a huge rag of skin and meat, and guts of animal have fallen out from the break in belly. Flies hover around the muzzle of deadlynetta soiled with blood, and small beetles creep on skin of killed animal. Deadlynetta almost does not pay attention to them, and only sometimes shakes its head and sneezes, when the careless insect gets directly into its nostril. Flies and beetles are usual companions of predators and constant visitors on carcasses of killed or died animals from time immemorial. But in Neocenesome more unexpected companions are added to them –these ones are butterflies. It would be least possible thing to expect for appearing of these fragile and refined creatures on blood-stained prey of a predator, but, nevertheless, in Northern Africa there is one kind of butterflies which feeds exclusively on blood and tissue liquid of dead animals. This butterfly is named as grieving swallowtail and differs in rather large size and characteristic appearance. Wingspan of grieving swallowtail reaches approximately 15 cm. This butterfly has white color which is shaded with black border at external and back edges of wings. Butterflies with strict colouring fly above the carcass of animal, and are not afraid at all of presence of large predator. They gather in great number on tattered carcass of ndipinotherium. Grieving swallowtails hover like a cloud above the head of deadlynetta devouring its prey. One by one butterflies alight on skin of dead ndipinotherium, and, having unwrapped thin proboscises, suck the blood exuding from broken off flesh, not paying attention to flies and beetles scurrying around. Some insects, the most courageous of all, even alight on muzzle of predator. Deadlynetta shakes its head, driving importunate insects away, but it helps only a little: having flush in air and having hovered for a while, butterflies return to the blood-soiled wool of predator. Butterflies suck blood and meat juice, taking advantage from the presence of predator near its prey. Other carrion devourers are still waiting for their time now: deadlynetta can kill them, if they will come nearer carelessly and too early. And butterflies use this moment. When deadlynetta will be saturated, they also will be compelled to leave a place of the feast – the neighbourhood of other scavengers is dangerous for them.
While deadlynetta eats meat, on branches feathery guests gather, having great plans relatively to the rests of prey. The main feathery scavengers of African savanna are griffarrots, birds of green color with white spots under wings. These clever, but loud and noisy birds gather to large flock, looking from above at saber-toothed predator. They are armed with powerful black beaks, and front parts of head and breast are featherless at them, as at vultures of human epoch. Griffarrots can’t hide their own presence at all, and other carrion devourers fly, being guided for their voices.
On trunk of tree chosen by griffarrots two raven-sized birds jump dexterously. At first on this tree one bird of this kind has appeared only, but then the relative had joined it. As against parrots, these birds keep silently. Their back and wings have the same green color, as at parrots, but colouring of other parts of body is strictly different: plumage of these birds is grey with a glaucescent shade. And on the background of green plumage of parrots these birds stand out due to bright orange-coloured mobile cops. Very characteristic manner of flight, straight pointed beak and paws, on which two toes are directed forward, and two others turn back, indicate these birds are woodpeckers. However they appeared not casually among the birds waiting for their turn near a killed animal. They are interested directly with carrion, though woodpeckers, as against griffarrots, wait for their turn with a kind of restraint. It is very original species, the woodpecker adapted for feeding on carrion, named as bone-breaking woodpecker. It is a breeding couple which keeps together for many seasons in succession and searches for carrion in common. Woodpeckers do not like, when parrots start to express aggression to them. Therefore, when one griffarrot raises its crest and tries to drive them away, the couple of woodpeckers simultaneously demonstrates pointed beaks to it, calling loudly and unpleasantly. When the small conflict comes to end, bone-breaking woodpeckers start to clean feathers of each other. They touch feathers on cop of nesting partner gently, glancing from time to time to the carcass of ndipinotherium tormented by deadlynetta.
Loud wing flapping forces griffarrots to shut up scaredly, and frightened bone-breaking woodpeckers have rushed under the covering of thick branch. One more bird similar a bit to them by color of plumage, but many times larger perched on tree trunk above them. It has the same grey plumage on body, but wings are brown with two large yellow spots on each, and crest on head is bright red. It is one more species of carnivorous woodpeckers of Northern Africa, large griffon woodpecker. It has featherless face like griffarrots, and it indicates that the bird counts not only on rests of the carcass. Among other birds griffon woodpecker behaves confidently and imperiously. Even having wings folded it reaches one meter length, and its strong pointed beak represents a terrible weapon using resolutely and neatly by this bird. When griffon woodpecker skips along the large branch of acacia, its leaves shake appreciably. Griffon woodpecker is not going to wait until deadlynetta will finish its meal, but now it does not feel like sure enough to challenge to the top predator of savanna.
Griffon woodpecker raised head, and cried loudly. Its voice, loud guttural call, echoed far in vicinities. And in some seconds the same call returned as an answer. Some minutes passed, and during this time griffarrots presumed to themselves only silent squeaky sounds, and the couple of bone-cracking woodpeckers had gone down almost to the basis of tree trunk. And soon one more feathery giant of such kind perched on tree. Birds welcomed each other, raising bright red cops, and then looked downwards, where deadlynetta feasted, together. The couple of large griffon woodpeckers represent the force needed to be taken into consideration even by large mammalian predator.
While deadlynetta is feeding on ndipinotherium’s carcass, scavenging birds wait modestly for their turn, glancing cautiously on a couple of griffon woodpeckers. But these birds do not wish to wait anymore, and the couple of giant woodpeckers flies down simultaneously from the tree and perch on carcass. Deadlynetta eats meat from the softer part of carcass – internals and hips of prey. And woodpeckers try to get meat on shoulder of killed ndipinotherium. Birds peck through skin, and by turns pull out by beaks pieces of meat and swallow them greedy, pulling head and neck. While birds feed in the distance from deadlynetta, they do not affect this predator. But giant woodpeckers gradually come nearer to it, calling abruptly and raising red cops. Deadlynetta perceives their aggression as seriously, as it can: many years ago due to inexperience it nearly had lost an eye, trying to defend the prey from these birds. But in hope to drive woodpeckers off deadlynetta opened wide its mouth and had begun to roar loudly. Its actions, however, had an opposite effect: griffon woodpeckers stretched their wings, had cried loudly and started to make jerky lunges by beaks aside a predator. Their beaks represent a terrible weapon, and deadlynetta does not wish to test its force in second time. Therefore the predator recedes gradually and starts gnawing the back part of hip of the carcass. And griffon woodpeckers have started to rummage in torn off abdominal cavity of ndipinotherium, pulling out pieces of meat. And only grieving swallowtails have not reacted absolutely to “change of power” at the carcass. They have still continued to be sated with blood and meat juice, not paying attention to griffon woodpeckers. Seeing a success of couple of griffon woodpeckers, other birds have gradually grown bolder. Some griffarrots flied down on the ground, but they do not dare to approach to the carcass and keep behind the predators. When griffon woodpeckers had started to attack the deadlynetta, bone-breaking woodpeckers had risen as high as possible on tree trunk. They do not hasten, but wait for their turn patiently. Nobody will take away their part of prey, because there is a little number of animals which are able to eat the same food as these woodpeckers eat.
Deadlynetta with long saber-like canines can eat only a small part even of large prey – only the softest parts of carcass. It eats only meat on back part of prey body, and eats also a part of soft intestines. Saber-like canine is an effective thing for hunting for large animals. But simultaneously it is a very fragile weapon and the great disadvantage during the meal. Therefore deadlynetta never tries to chew meat from ribs of its prey, being afraid to break its canines. When griffon woodpeckers had started to it drive away from prey, it has had time to eat enough to leave the most part of prey to scavengers. Having swallowed some pieces of meat, deadlynetta rises, stretches its body and walks away, wagging its long tail. Now it’s a time for smaller carnivores to start their dinner.
When the predator had retired to bushes, the carcass of ndipinotherium almost at once had disappeared under the cover of numerous bodies of animals which had waited for their lucky hour. Grieving swallowtails had instantly flied up from the carcass and began flying out gradually. But numerous griffarrots had started to chew meat from bones greedy. Their hooked beaks tear skin of ndipinotherium and cut off even firm tendons. And in the middle of their flock, as if certain demons, huge griffon woodpeckers tower. These birds keep among griffarrots confidently and aggressively due to their large size. Griffon woodpeckers can eat only soft meat and are not able to gnaw it from bones. Therefore they push parrots aside with undue familiarity, and sometimes make lunges using pointed beaks, forcing parrots to give up the place on the corpse. These birds reach parts of carcass where there is a meat not eaten by deadlynetta, and begin pecking it out. Griffon woodpeckers live in couples at the extensive territory, and are very friendly to each other. Therefore even during a sharing of prey they keep together. They eat prey of large predators and consequently protect the territory from relatives zealously. Their instinct of homeland protection is very strong, they even attack smaller representatives of close species which are at least a little similar to them in colouring. For this reason bone-breaking woodpeckers hide from these giants on tree.
Among the scavengers griffon woodpeckers start feeding the first, and finish their feeding also the first. They can eat only few parts of carcass, and make it faster to outstrip others scavengers. Both birds peck meat greedy, and swallow large pieces of it. Griffarrots have an experience and know that it is better not to come close to these birds while they feed. Therefore they try to keep a distance from griffon woodpeckers which feel themselves like dominants. When one inexperienced young bird appears too close to griffon woodpecker, the giant utters rolling guttural call and pointed beak clicks near the back of parrot. This warning is quite enough for bird to keep aside. During the feast griffon woodpeckers get terrible appearance: their featherless skin on head and neck is splashed with blood, and these birds resemble any dreadful monsters. They tear off large pieces of meat and swallow them entirely. These birds are rather gluttonous and sometimes eat more meat, than is necessary for them. After such feast griffon woodpecker is compelled to belch a part of swallowed food to fly up. If the bird ate regularly, it does not suppose it and is always ready to fly in air.
Having sated, griffon woodpeckers jump off from ndipinotherium carcass and clean their feathers for some time, standing on the ground clumsily. Their plumage is stained with blood, scraps of meat and even the contents of intestines of ndipinotherium. Therefore, before to depart, birds are obliged to take care to their plumage. Making series of flutters of some meters long, griffon woodpeckers move to the next tree near which there is a shallow pit full of dry sandy ground. It is a dust bath in which local animals take care to their wool or plumage. Birds reach it and satisfyingly fall on the ground, raising a cloud of a dust around of them. Scared by their approach, tiny lizard had jumped out of sand and had disappeared in shadow of bush. Hungry griffon woodpecker could easily catch it, but now both birds are full, and they are interested only with their own cleanliness. Griffon woodpeckers willingly bathe in sand, throwing it on themselves by movements of wings. Then they stir up, clean themselves a little, and lay in dust again. Hygienic procedure lasts for a long time, about twenty minutes.
Having cleared up their plumage, griffon woodpeckers fly up on tree. Having caught against its trunk, birds stir up, cleaning the rests of dust from feathers, and perch on trunk motionlessly for some time, having stretched wings and turned backs to the sun. It is a kind of natural disinfection: the similar behaviour had been characteristic for vultures of Holocene epoch. The similar habit of life results in development of more or less similar features of behaviour.
Having sat under sun rays, both griffon woodpeckers fly up and in some minutes disappear in thickets in several hundred meters from the place of a feast. All the time while full griffon woodpeckers cleaned their plumage griffarrots ate meat of ndipinotherium. Parrot beak fits excellently to cut sinews and ligaments and to crush the gristles. These birds are not as specialized, as griffon woodpeckers, and their share still includes many edible parts of carcass, when giant woodpeckers fly off. Voices of feasting griffarrots attract their congeners, and already some hundred birds surround the carcass of ndipinotherium. They behave very noisy, and between individuals from different flocks fights take place frequently.
Hooked beaks of griffarrots help them to clear ribs of ndipinotherium of meat. Due to efforts of carnivorous parrots the amount of meat on bones gradually decreases. Bone-breaking woodpeckers waited patiently for this moment. They do not apply for another’s share of prey, because they eat rather specific forage, and not every other animal can get it. The couple of these birds flies from tree, and joins the feast of parrots. Birds reach strong tubular bones of ndipinotherium legs and start pecking the articular heads. Dense ligaments are broken easily with impacts of pointed beaks, and bone-breaking woodpeckers start the destruction of spongy heads of bones. It is also simple for making, and after short work woodpeckers reach an internal cavity of the bone. Their favourite food, the marrow, is hidden here. With the help of long tongues the couple of woodpeckers licks off by turns a marrow from a humeral bone of ndipinotherium. But the bone is long, and woodpeckers can’t reach the food hidden in depth. Then the female of bone-breaking woodpecker simply perches on bone of animal and pecks an aperture in it near to bone tip. Through it both birds continue licking off the marrow. Then they move to rear leg of ndipinotherium carcass and repeat the same actions. Birds will stay near the carcass, waiting until bones of two more legs of ndipinotherium appear accessible due to efforts of other scavengers. But, until this moment will come, they use one more source of food, also accessible not to everyone.
Skull of ndipinotherium is very strong. During the intraspecific duels males use heads to strike a blow to the opponent. Attacking the female of ndipinotherium and then eating the carcass, deadlynetta did not make any attempts to bite through it, being afraid to break its canines. Beaks of griffarrots also do not fit well for this purpose: birds can bite through a skull of small animal with the only bite, but the skull of ndipinotherium is too large, and they can’t open beak so widely. But the bone-breaking woodpecker easily solves this problem. By strong impacts of beak one of birds opens a cranium, and the couple of birds starts feeding on brain of killed animal. This part of prey belongs only to them, and griffarrots do not try to take advantage of it at all.
When living in savanna, it is very favourable to be able to consume the rests of predator’s prey. But the most important condition here is not to turn to prey itself. But when having a chance, even prey lets slip no opportunity to turn to a carnivore at least partly. Near the rests of ndipinotherium carcass bushes move and some large animals come nearer to the carcass. In constitution and size they are similar to bear, but are rodents actually. These ones are mighty grasscutters, large, but harmless inhabitants of savanna. In usual life they prefer to keep the distance from deadlynetta, but they eat its prey very willingly, if have an opportunity to do it.
Having stopped near the carcass of ndipinotherium, mighty grasscutters rear on hind legs and start watching around and smelling air. In this group there are seven adult rodents and three juveniles. If near the carcass any predator is hidden, such demonstration of size and force would be rather impressive for it. Even the lonely mighty grasscutter can be very dangerous adversary, and the group is a force that must be taken into account.
Griffarrots have paid attention to appearing of these rodents and turned much more quiet than usually are. And some most cautious ones had flied up on tree. Bone-breaking woodpeckers also had stopped to regale themselves on brain of dead ndipinotherium and started watching around, being disturbed. And mighty grasscutters, having convinced in safety, come closer to ndipinotherium carcass, scaring birds away. When they started their meal, all griffarrots had flied up on tree, and therefrom began watching for enormous rodents. Bone-breaking woodpeckers, on the contrary, have continued to regale themselves on brain of ndipinotherium.
Mighty grasscutters eat the rests of meat and crunch when chew it off from bones, and gnaw the gristles with great pleasure. Using strong incisors, they crack the breastbone of ndipinotherium and eat its ribs, destroying and chewing both bones and rests of meat. Muzzles of huge rodents are blood-stained, and at this moment it is impossible even to think, that in other time these animals are peaceful herbivores. Carrion eating is the compelled necessity: in this way mighty grasscutters fill the protein shortage in plant food.
Bone-breaking woodpeckers feel obvious displeasure of nearby feeding of huge rodents which obviously are stronger than these birds. And this condition of birds is quite justified: one mighty grasscutter has come nearer to them. It sniffed for some seconds, and then, uttering low throat growl, has risen on hinder legs, and was lowered on all fours. Bone-breaking woodpeckers are scared by such demonstration; they fly up and perch on trunk of tree growing nearby. They obviously have nothing more to do here: rodents will not leave anything edible for them. Having frightened bone-breaking woodpeckers off, the huge rodent sniffs at an aperture in ndipinotherium skull made by birds. Then mighty grasscutter opens its mouth widely, and cuts a skull of ndipinotherium with powerful incisors. Uttering pleased snorting, it begins licking off the rests of animal brain, and then starts flaying skin from head of dead animal. Its prize for this work is a little amount of soft meat.
The feast of mighty grasscutters proceeds almost up to the sunset. After their feeding from the corpse of ndipinotherium only the gnawed backbone and sacral bones remain alongside with the rests of other parts of skeleton with pieces of skin. While rodents were fed, scavenging birds gradually flied away, having lost any hope to receive some more food.
Four-legged carrion devourers eat the most part of soft tissues on the corpse. But, when they leave, on the rests of the carcass there is a lot of edible matter for others animal – the largest bones, a significant part of skin with soft tissues and the rests of fat on its internal side. Invertebrates came the first to the sharing of deadlynetta’s prey, and they will leave it last, having left only few remains behind them.
Above the rests of ndipinotherium carcass flies hover. They are very numerous, and birds use their opportunity– they sweep through the swarm of insects, seizing them in flight. Flies are the most important scavengers of savanna. Each fly taken separately is a small and weak creature. But some tens of thousands of flies represent something much more gluttonous, than even the sole deadlynetta. Flies lay eggs on bones and a skin, and from them maggots quickly burst. These soft-bodied creations let out digestive enzyme directly on meat and bones, and then lick off the resulting “broth”. They are not stopped even with the beginning of decomposition processes, because of which remains of ndipinotherium begin smelling disgustingly. The circumstances driving other animals away can be regarded by insects as an invitation to the dinner.
Thousands of white and yellowish maggots swarm on remains of ndipinotherium, devouring everything edible. Among them brown and black beetle grubs creep. Some of them eat the same, as maggots do, and others eat maggots. Maggots grow very quickly. When the time of pupation comes, they fall from remains of animal down, on the ground. Having dug itself, maggot turns to adult fly in some days. But not all of them can complete their cycle of development. And the fault of this is a tiny killer having dazzling bright dress.
Fat maggot creeps out from the cavity in ndipinotherium backbone and falls on the ground. For some minutes it lays almost motionlessly, only slightly moving, and then starts to dig a vertical mine in which it can pupate. But its destiny will be quite different. Near the maggot the ground moves, and from it bright-green spider with white spot on cephalothorax and noble silky shine of numerous hairs on body appears. This spider rushes on maggot immediately, kills it with a bite and hides in ground with its prey quickly. Near it one more spider of the same kind appears. It seizes another maggot and also rushes back to its shelter. This bright kind of spiders is cadaverophilous shining spider, the representative of wolf spider family. Like free hunter, this invertebrate searches for prey, not building any permanent traps. Bright colouring with metal shine signals to other animal, that this spider has a poisonous bite. Bright-green spiders are females. Males of cadaverophilous shining spider look differently and lead the different way of life. They are spiders of ochre red with white tips of front legs, and their length hardly reaches the half of female size. They creep on bones of ndipinotherium or rummage in semi-decomposed skin of corpse, trying to find small grubs, maggots and moth larvae. These spiders search for corpses of animals by smell, and settle near them when the remains not eaten yet by other necrophages start the decomposition. The carcass of ndipinotherium turns to enormous lure for insects, and cadaverophilous shining spiders live for some days, surrounded with abundance of food.
Many individuals of ndipinotherium species will not die with natural death, but turn to prey of various predators. This is a quite natural state of affairs in nature. Some ones will be ruined by famine and drought, and others by diseases. In a nature the natural death is rather unusual event. But, while ndipinotheres are strong enough to struggle with enemies and to resist to adverse environmental conditions, they do it. Ndipinotheres represent a successful group of African herbivores. The largest kind of these animals lives in savanna, and its smaller relatives live in forests and mountains, only partly reaching the Southern hemisphere.
Ndipinotheres and flathorns wandering across savannas of Northern Africa represent the evidence of evolutionary success of hyraxes, the group of primitive ungulates. In addition to them, Africa is inhabited by other large descendants of hyraxes: in swamps and mangrove thickets massive ipopos prosper, leading semiaquatic habit of life. But inhabitants of savannas meet them only casually.
Hyrax descendants have kept one interesting behavioural feature of these animals: they do not spread their dung in savanna, but leave it in some strictly limited places. It is difficult for combining with a way of life of large animals which are compelled to move across savanna constantly, but nevertheless the original compromise had been found.
In savanna huge fetid dung heaps are frequently found – these are traces of the presence of ndipinotheriums. Such heaps occur in savanna mainly along the routes used by herds of these animals within centuries. Every dung heap exists for many months, and even for some years in succession and is constantly renewed. It has not only purely utilitarian purpose: dung heap serves as an original “bulletin board” for ndipinotheriums. Before adding their own manure to the heap, animals sniff what other animals have left. By smell of dung animals can find out each other even if herds, in which they live, did not meet for many years. Also by smell they can determine a physical condition of each other, estimate the physical condition of the contender or readiness of the female to mating.
Around the dung heap ground is trumped and impregnated with urine plentifully. Therefore in radius of three or four meters from it only few kinds of grass can grow. But the heap itself is a place of a concentration of life.
The herd of ndipinotheres moves to one of such heaps. It is clearly visible, that this dung heap was not visited by these animals for a long time: the top layer of manure is dry and hardened like dense crust. In some places this crust has shook, and from under it egg-looking caps of white color stick out. One representative of the usual inhabitants of manure heaps grows in this way–it is giant manure mushroom. Fruiting bodies of this mushroom punch manure crust and expand on manure heap like huge umbrellas of half-meter height, white with reddish-brown underside.
Manure serves as a house and food not only to mushrooms. When ndipinotheriums have come nearer to heap of manure, from its surface the cloud of flies has flied up, and the small spider has jumped out from any shelter, and has disappeared in grass. Adult ndipinotheriums started to sniff at dried manure, and to devour simultaneously fruiting bodies of giant manure mushroom with apparent pleasure. Having eaten large mushrooms, one ndipinotherium has picked up manure crust with an incisor and has thrown it aside. Under it young fruiting bodies of giant manure mushroom were found out. The animal has cautiously grasped by its lips some young fruiting bodies, not fully developed yet, and has swallowed them with pleasure.
Having received all necessary information and having eaten all mushrooms, ndipinotheres one by one turn to manure heap by bottoms, and fresh layer of manure falls atop of dried up crust. Animals replace each other and walk aside, while their congeners evacuate their intestines. After last member of herd has finished this occupation, ndipinotheres have walked away. These animals are in constant movement - if they will stop for a too long time in any area, their stay can become destructive for vegetation.
No one of ndipinothereshas noticed, how from the back of one animal large beetle with golden metal shine has flied down and landed on fresh manure. Another animal, however, has felt something another – it had been stung painfully by a horsefly of huge size.
Beetle and horsefly are representatives of only two species belong to original community of invertebrates, which develops on manure heaps of ndipinotheres. Manure of large herbivores is rather rich source of food for ones able to use it. It contains a plenty of undigested vegetative parts - fibers, seed shells and non-chewed whole seeds. Abundance of this food source stimulated the evolution of the animals using it at various stages of life cycle.
Large blood-sucking fly makes many troubles to ndipinotheres. When animals graze, they are attacked by ndip horsefly – one of the largest blood-sucking insects of the Earth. This horsefly up to 45 millimeters long tries to suck blood in places, where ndipinotheres have the thinner skin. It attacks groin and axillary areas of beasts, and also bites their heads and ears. The places bitten by this light grey giant itch vastly, therefore animals are very anxious if there are too many horseflies around. Ndipinotheriums lacks tale like horse or cow, therefore they can’t drive these tiresome insects away from themselves. But birds help them to cope with this trouble. They perch on backs of these animals and overtake horseflies in dexterous rushes. But not all horseflies turn to their prey, and many of them succeed to give rise to new generation.
Female of ndip horsefly searches for dung heap. It flies up high above trees, trying to find out the stream of air carrying the traces of smell which could seem disgusting to any other animal. In the morning this female had a successful feeding on the body of one ndipinotherium, had dexterously evaded from a certain bird which tried to pursue it, and then had spent for some hours in shelter. At this time the consumed blood was digested, and in its organism the portion of eggs which need to be laid in ndipinotherium manure had ripened. At last, a weak trace of a desired smell had reached its receptors, and flight of ndip horsefly female turned more purposeful and fast. Having run about one kilometer, the insect finds a source of smell – a heap of rather fresh manure left no more than one day prior to its appearing here. Horsefly female is not the first guest here: many insects live near dung heaps permanently. Numerous flies of various colors and sizes sit on manure, sucking drops of liquid from it. But they fly up, when ndip horsefly female flies by above them – they have real reasons to be afraid of insects of such constitution. Heavy horsefly female makes some circles above a heap of manure, analyzing the smell. At last it finds suitable place, being guided by signs known only to it. Having landed on manure, horsefly female lays an egg quickly, having stuck the tip of abdomen deep in manure. Then it flies up and searches for another place, where its action repeats. Female repeats this maneuver for one and a half ten times – it should spread its larvae as widely, as it is possible, to prevent their meeting. Ndip horsefly larvae are active predators and may turn to cannibals at the opportunity. Therefore the superfluous density of settlement of horsefly larvae is negative for survival of the species.
While one ndip horsefly female had been occupied with egg laying, the another female of the same species had appeared above the manure heap. It also searches for a place for egg laying. But it is simultaneously dangerous for two females to meet each other on manure heap – one of them should search for any other place for its eggs. Otherwise larvae of two different females will compete, and, probably, hunt each other. Therefore horsefly female flied the first reacts immediately to appearing of congener. It flies up and both females meet in air. The true air fight takes place above manure heap. The first female of ndip horsefly tries to drive away the second one from manure heap: it keeps between the heap and the second female, rushing towards it, when it tries to approach. The second female does not hasten to surrender: it speeds up quickly and tries to come off the persecutor. But it is perfectly visible to the first female: at the body of horseflies of this species there are longitudinal strips of hairs reflecting ultra-violet light, and in clear sunny day these horseflies distinguish their congeners from the great distance. The first female does not hasten to rush to pursuit the second one: it prefers to stay near manure heap. Therefore, when the second horsefly female departs, the first female continues the interrupted affair. It lays some more eggs in manure and flies out. The instinct orders it to search for another manure heap in order to prevent her posterity to suffer from consequences of overpopulation. But, when it flies out, the second female of the same species appears above manure heap –it is that one which was banished by the first female. Now it lays eggs in the same heap without any problem. Maybe, when it will fly off, some more ndip horsefly females will come here. Thus, the cannibalism among their larvae turns to inevitability.
The second horsefly female as carefully, as first one did, chooses a place for laying of eggs, and leaves eggs one by one at certain depth in different parts of manure heap. When it lands to lay the last egg, it casually touches thin silk thread, which is stretched along the dried up manure crust.
This casual touch turns an accident for the horsefly female. In several centimeters from it the masked entrance to vertical mine opens suddenly and therefrom the small spider jumps out. In one jump it overtakes horsefly female, puts a fatal bite to it and moves backwards to the mine, dragging off a killed insect. On a twist of fate, the first ndip horsefly female had laid an egg only in several centimeters away from the place of a little drama. If it would touch another string of spider web stretched from the edge of spider mine, its fate would be the same.
The horsefly has fallen a prey of one of permanent inhabitants of manure heaps – of manure shining spider. It is a close relative of the species eating insect larvae on corpses of animals. However distinctions in colouring and habit of life prevent the confusing of these two species. The successful hunter is a female spider. Its colouring resembles something like a decaying piece of coal: front part of its body is brown with black specks, the most part of a body is crimson-red with metal shine, and only abdomen tip is orange. Hairs covering the body of this spider have silky shine that makes this spider even more beautiful.
Female of manure shining spider is a secretive creature. It prefers to hunt from an ambush. This spider digs out in fresh ndipinotherium manure a vertical mine, which depth is approximately four times more than its length. Walls of hole have a silky web cover, on which the hole owner moves like along the ladder. Near the edges of the hole the web forms a continuous ring from which strong thin alarm strings stretch. When insects touch them by legs, the spider jumps out from shelter and grabs its prey. To mask the entrance the female of manure shining spider covers it with easy and inconspicuous for the stranger’s look cover. For this purpose it plaits a piece of dry manure with its web and pastes the rests of plants or other easy subjects from the side. Being in a hole, the spider takes the cover with front pair of walking legs, and grasps insects with pedipalps.
Female of ndip horsefly had casually touched by its leg one of multiple signaling strings stretched from the mine of manure shining spider and had been attacked then. Having killed it with the sole bite, the spider had sucked out the horsefly dry and then had thrown out empty exoskeleton outside, having raised slightly a cover of the mine.
Manure shining spider in not only species digging holes in manure heaps. In thickness of semi-decomposed and fresh manure numerous species of insects dig their tunnels. The widest holes lead to the depth of manure layers, are directed vertically and reach the depth up to 50 – 60 cm. They had been dug out by grubs of jumbo dung beetles–very large dung beetles of Neocene epoch. These grubs build vertical mines in manure, and after the addition of new layers of manure from above they dig a hole through them, moving up all the time. Grubs of jumbo dung beetles are remarkable because of their huge size: their length is up to 20 centimeters. These creatures continuously devour manure, being generously supplied with it by ndipinotheres, which “register” their presence at the manure heap. The hole represents not only a refuge, but also a trap: jumbo dung beetle grub also willingly devours worms and larvae of other insects falling to its hole.
Adult jumbo dung beetles are magnificent insects. Males of this insect species are considerably larger compared to females because of the presence of long horn on pronotum, which is bent forward. It is difficult to overlook these insects: manure seems too unsuccessful frame for such magnificent creation of nature. Elytra of jumbo dung beetle male shine like polished gold in sunlight, when this beetle waits for appearing of females on manure heap, and pronotum, horn and head sharply contrast with this shine because of black color with noble “gray” of numerous white bristles. Male doesn’t hide itself: due to the size it has no reason to be afraid of the majority of birds living in savanna. Staying at the top of manure heap, it not only looks for female, but also declares to other males that this territory is occupied. But, as a rule, the contender arrives much earlier, rather than female.
The appearing of another male of this kind of beetles is not only perfectly visible, but also is audible long before both beetles will see each other. Massive male, attracted with a smell and shape of manure heap, flies to it from outside. But, having flown up closer, it notices the owner of the territory that seemed so attractive to it. The owner male does not hasten to fly up: these beetles arrange combats on the ground. But it opens elytras lightly and dark blue shine of its abdominal segments turns appreciable. It does not stop the applicant, and it lands on manure heap. Such behaviour represents an obvious challenge, and the owner beetle creeps fast towards the impudent contender.
Males meet each other at the slope of sun-backed manure heap. They both are the same: both beetles are well-developed physically. Nobody is going to recede from the territory without fight. And both huge beetles, scaring away flies and smaller beetles, hasten towards each other to be seized in fight. Males of jumbo dung beetle collide head-on, and try to push each other from the heap, jostling by foreheads. The owner of territory has the better position – it creeps on slope higher, than the applicant, and it is easier for it to restrict the massive contender. When bugs jostle each other by foreheads, rather loud sound is heard. But at this moment the applicant applied a trick casually or intentionally: it hooked horn of the owner beetle by its own horn and had hung on it. Being unable to keep slope of the heap, both beetles had fallen down the ground. Having uncoupled, they almost simultaneously had flied up, and had met again already at the top of manure heap. And their battle got rolling even more intensively. The owner beetle had tried to pick up the applicant for its territory by horn, but its opponent had managed to evade and push it away by leg. Having turned around, it had tried to counterattack, and it was almost successful: it had hooked the owner beetle by horn, and almost pressed it against the horn growing on pronotum with the movement of head. These two horns form strong tongs, and the beetle cannot get out of their capture. But the pronotum horn of applicant beetle had only slipped across the edge of owner beetle’s elytra, and tongs had slammed empty. On the contrary, the owner beetle had managed to apply the same maneuver more successfully. Its horn had picked up the applicant under thoracal segments, and horn from pronotum had strongly rested directly against the crack between elytra of the opponent. When it had risen, legs of the applicant lost the contact with the surface of manure heap, and it appeared completely helpless. The owner beetle held it clamped between its horns for some minutes, and then had slowly weakened its clamp. Its applicant had fallen out, and had slid down from the manure heap. Having turned on back, it moved by legs in air helplessly for some minutes before it could hook by leg against the grass stalk and turn over. It had stretched wings, had flied up heavily and vanished soon from the sight. And the winner male, having ratified the right to the territory once again, proceeds the waiting for females.
Jumbo dung beetle male knows what must happen before even one female will appear on manure heap. For this purpose ndipinotheriums must come here and make what they usually do in such situation. Therefore the beetle waits patiently.
Booming sounds of steps of the whole herd of huge animals force inhabitants of manure heap to be disturbed. Grubs of jumbo dung beetle hastily go down to the bottom of their holes, and manure shining spiders, on the contrary, leave holes and creep away to the grass. The approach of ndipinotheriums means the coming changes in life of small inhabitants of manure.
Animals surround a heap of manure, and first of all sniff at it. And jumbo dung beetle male flies up with loud buzz, forcing one ndipinotherium to recoil frightenedly. It keeps in grass away from herd, while manure heap is replenished with a fresh layer of manure. And when ndipinotheriums are going to leave, jumbo dung beetle male hears a sound for which it waited for rather long time. This hum of a special timbre can mean only one thing: the female has appeared on heap of manure. It had not arisen from nowhere: females of jumbo dung beetle travel right on bodies of ndipinotheriums. They behave so because they need exclusively fresh manure of ndipinotherium for egg laying. And the simplest way of receiving it is the staying on direct source of manure, on the animal. Also jumbo dung beetle females are large insects, therefore they are compelled to be hidden from birds on stomach or on inner side of legs of animal.
Female of jumbo dung beetle lays eggs in fresh ndipinotherium manure hasty. It lays up to ten eggs in every manure heap, distributing them in heap in regular intervals. And right after egg laying it is ready to pairing again. Jumbo dung beetle male knows it perfectly. Therefore, when ndipinotheriums have left, it has quickly flied up, and has quickly found a smell of female in pungent smell of manure. While female was engaged in egg laying, male kept beside, protecting it against other males. But, when last egg was laid, male moved directly to the female, displaying itself. It started walking near the female, having risen on all legs to seem larger. And then fast pairing has followed, and male has abandoned the female. The instinct orders it to wait for females on heaps of manure which were not visited by animals for some time. And female flies along the odorous trace of the herd of ndipinotheres which have delivered it on this manure heap. It will find these animals in some hours, and will travel on the body of one of these animals for any time –right up to new manure heap. And there, in absolutely different place, it will lay the eggs fertilized by this male.
When ndipinotheriums have left manure heap, its inhabitants have started to come back to habitual life. The pungent smell of ndipinotherium manure has involved thousands of flies, and they cover the surface of manure like a certain live carpet. Flies lick off greedy the drops of moisture exuding from manure. Near to them, however, light-winged and fragile butterflies of several species feed. These insects also do not refuse to taste so unattractive “regale”, and willingly push their proboscises into manure. For them it is a source of mineral substances, but not a basic food.
But insects represent a food source for other inhabitants of manure heap. Female of manure shining spider climbs up the heap of manure with quick jumps. At this moment it is not interested in insects hovering above it. This spider hunts from an ambush, and it should make new shelter as soon as possible, because now its former home is buried under tens kilograms of manure. The building proceeds quickly: female chooses a place at the border between fresh and dried up manure, and starts digging a hole. It uses the back pair of legs on which a kind of shovels just for this purpose is developed. Spider female digs a hole, immersing the body into substratum back first and raking manure forward from under the abdomen. At this time it behaves very intently, and turns an aggressive pose when birds and even butterflies fly by above it. While it does not have hole, its only means of protection is its strong poison. In half an hour of hard work the hole is already dug out approximately for two lengths of spider’s body and it becomes much more difficult to throw out manure lumps. Now female bears out pieces of manure one by one and disappears in hole quickly. It works very quickly at the surface of heap, moving by jerky jumps. At this time its body covers sparkle beautifully in sunlight.
Approximately in two hours after the beginning of work the new hole is ready. Last stroke in building is the smoothing of walls which the spider makes with the help of two back pairs of legs. Now female begins taking care to itself. On palps of this spider the original “combs” of rigid bristles are advanced, with their help the spider brushes off from itself the stuck particles of manure, and at the same time removes from itself mites which inhabit manure heaps plentifully. After the hole is made, female of manure shining spider upholsters walls of shelter with thin web grid on which it is more convenient to creep out of hole. And along the edge of hole it stretches alarm threads. For this purpose female makes fast jumps out from the hole, pastes the tip of thread to the ledge on surface of manure, and with another jump it comes back to the hole, simultaneously stretching thin web string to an entrance. It repeats this operation for some times, and soon the hole is completely surrounded with alarm strings. The ends of these strings are connected to web grid on edge of the hole. Holding legs on web, the female of manure shining spider can control everything happening in vicinities of its hole. Finishing the preparations for hunting, female unites some pieces of dry manure by web strings, making cover for its hole. When the hole is closed, only very attentive sight can determine the presence of the hidden spider.
Manure heap is full of eggs of various species of insects – flies, horseflies and beetles. The majority of these eggs will be destroyed by other inhabitants of manure –by tiny, but uniquitous mites. They are small, but thereis a great number of them, and they breed very intensively. In fact, each insect landed on manure heap, carries away on its body nymphs of these mites. Due to such way of settling mites live in every manure heap. Nevertheless, despite of presence of such enemies, from the part of eggs larvae burst anyway, and their number is quite enough to provide the reproduction of species. Otherwise natural selection must reject such life strategy a long time ago.
From the eggs laid by ndip horsefly females blind soft-bodied larvae burst. They resemble worms and have transparent body covers through which their internals are clearly visible. But, despite of such appearance larvae are not as defenseless, as they look. On the contrary, they are the most dangerous predators of manure heap. Their mouths are armed with chitinous hooks with which help they grasp and keep prey – other inhabitants of manure heap, including their congeners. In manure heap larvae of various ages live, and there is a furious and uncompromising struggle between them. Ndip horsefly larvae rummage in manure, digging narrow passages. They easily penetrate into holes of other inhabitants of manure, and can pursue them in their own tunnels, being guided by keen sense of smell. But they succeed to catch prey not always.
Ndip horsefly larva dug a hole in thickness of manure. For this purpose larva contracts ring muscles of forward segments of headless body and stretches the front part of body forward. And then it moves forward by contraction of longitudinal muscles, expanding the tunnel. And just at the moment of larva body contraction large piece of manure falls off unexpectedly fallen from its tunnel from below. Larva has continued to move forward blindly, and has fallen out of the collapsed tunnel downwards. It has got into mine-like vertical hole of jumbo dung beetle grub, and has fallen down right on head of the grub staying in the bottom part of hole. Horsefly larva has felt the danger coming from the giant which it had fallen down. It began desperate wriggling, and even has tried to attack jumbo dung beetle grub. But its mouth hooks only slipped powerlessly over hard and smooth armour of head capsule of grub. But the jumbo dung beetle grub itself has decided not to miss an opportunity to have a meal. It has opened mandibles and attacked emphatically. Seized horsefly larva started wriggling convulsively, but mandibles of dung beetle grub literally cut it half-and-half. When last spasms of horsefly larva finished, grub started feeding. Horsefly larva has almost no firm parts, and it had been eaten without any rests. And grub has turned to slow creature again.
Dung beetle grubs are not specialized hunters. Their food is manure, and they eat other animals, if such opportunity will appear. But other species of animals living in manure heaps of nipinotheriums are much more skillful in hunting other animals.
Thin web threads stretch along the surface of sun-dried manure. They lead to the common center, to edges of a hole of manure shining spider. Hole is covered by cap; therefore it is difficult for distinguishing at the background of manure. And nothing suspecting insects can feed and creep in dangerous closeness from shelter of deadly enemy. On manure heaps numerous flies gather, and they may fall prey for this spider more often.
Large fly with shining body of green color lands on manure very close to spider hole. It creeps on surface of manure and casually touches the stretched web string by one leg. But for some reason nothing especial happens: spider does not appear from the hole. When another fly touches another web string, there is also no reaction for it. Usually the spider, even full, at least creeps out from the hole in reply to such touches. But now it does not react. The explanation is very simply: there is no clear separation to predator and prey in nature, and now the predator turned to prey in its own home.
Larva of ndip horsefly had attacked manure shining spider. It has dug a tunnel to spider’s hole and attacked it, getting sink its hooks into its abdomen. Spider appeared trapped in its own dwelling – it simply has no free space to turn around in hole to deliver poisonous bite to its enemy. Therefore horsefly larva could eat through spider’s abdomen without any obstacles. Within several hours larva eats it slowly in its own hole, and as a result only empty skin rests from the spider.
Tropical and subtropical latitudes of the Earth are the inhabited area of special group of insects without which processes of decomposition of organic matter would go absolutely in another way. Termites, uniquitous and absolutely omnivorous creatures, are very diverse in areas of climate suitable for them. In African savanna one species of termites, dung termite, is specialized in cleaning of manure of large animals. Work of these insects is imperceptible from outside, but inhabitants of manure heap feel it from within. Dung termites penetrate manure heap with tunnels, in which working individuals fill their intestines with manure to carry it away to the colony. The foraging tunnels made by them are temporary constructions. They gradually fall, and manure heap sinks because of it. Great work of termites is practically invisible from outside: these insects with tender body covers do not appear on the ground surface.
Working termites are perfectly adapted for carrying of forage to the home of the colony. They can do it in two ways. First, working termites simply eat manure, filling extensible intestines with it. Because of it their abdomen gets almost spherical shape. And, second, termite not only eats manure. The insect sticks into tunnel wall its flattened head acting like a shovel. Moving back, insect drags off the lump of manure on its head. Thus, working individuals of dung termite can bring to their nest much more food in comparison with their own weight, rather than working individuals of other species.
Due to efforts of working individuals of dung termite the network of tunnels inside the manure heap extends. But working individuals are the first ones endangering attacks of predators. There is a great number of them living in manure heap, therefore alongside with working individuals of dung termites in their tunnels there are larger soldiers. They are almost twice longer than working termites, and also have very large head with strong mandibles. These individuals defend nest and workers against various predators, but their help not always takes place in proper time. Termites should be afraid of all animals larger than they are and even occasionally display the interest to food of an animal origin. Giant grubs of jumbo dung beetle eat termites with pleasure entirely, right with the contents of their intestines.
Grub of jumbo dung beetle scraped slowly the wall of vertical hole by mandibles, eating manure with microscopic fungi which sprout on its surface in conditions of high humidity. But this occupation was interrupted by the lump of manure which has fallen from above. And together with manure the worker of dung termite has fallen down into the hole of the grub. It has already filled its abdomen with manure and consequently appeared too slow. If it wouldn’t gather a portion of manure, it would easily escape, having crept up the wall of the hole. But now it represents easy prey for the grub. It has seized termite body and began chewing it slowly, not paying attention to desperate attempts of it to escape. But it is too soft to render even the least resistance to grub’s mandibles. In some minutes the hard head capsule of termite has crackled in grub’s mandibles, and its dinner was finished. Only the slight smell of the perished working termite is felt in its hole for a short time.
This smell has drawn attention of the soldier termite. Blind, but well-armed, the soldier protects working individuals, and the smell of the troubled termite causes in it the reaction of attack. The large-headed soldier runs in tunnel and quickly reaches its end – the place where the working termite was broke in a hole of jumbo dung beetle grub. The soldier feels the smell of other live creature mixed with a smell of flesh of killed termite, and the instinct dictates it the only suitable answer: the attack. The soldier termite moves its antennae in air, trying to determine a location of the grub, and then splashes a jet of liquid in direction of the grub. Having got on body cover of the grub, this liquid instantly turns to viscous glue. Such way of attack is very effective against small and long-legged insects or spiders, but it is obviously insufficient against large grub. The soldier termite alone cannot stop large strong grub – it easily tears sticky fetters.
Jumbo dung beetle has to feel the action of dung termite weapon on its body – its development lasts for one year, and for it has to face these insects for many times. It has very effective means against warrior termites –it is a sticky emetic mass which grub is able to spat to the distance up to 20 – 30 cm. It is a fine weapon against termites, ants and small predators from among reptiles and mammals.
In some minutes some more soldier termites came to help the first one, and they have started to shoot glue to jumbo dung beetle grub altogether. The situation began more difficult: grub has felt its mandibles turned to move hardly, stuck together with termite secretions. And it started the emphatic counterattack. Grub has swallowed some portions of air and then with jerky contraction of muscles has cast out a jet of smelly foam to its attackers. The spittle has precious hit: some soldier termites had been pasted to an opposite wall of the gallery, thrown back by the spittle of the grub. Only ten minutes later they managed to free from emetic mass thrown out by the grub. It has conceived one more undoubtedly positive effect: gallery, in which dozens of termites scurried, had become empty, and nothing prevented the jumbo dung beetle grub to lead the former measured life.
Termites are tireless builders: having abandoned the gallery which had so unexpectedly led to the hole of large grub, they immediately begun to dig a parallel gallery aside. There is a great lot of such galleries in manure heap. Via them the population of large termitary located nearby is supplied with food.
Termites do not love sunlight and dry air on the ground surface. Therefore they are compelled to show permanently the building skills for maintenance of normal vital activity of the colony. Thousands of working individuals of dung termites dig galleries to places where flathorns and ndipinotheriums “register” their presence. The colony of termites, however, lives in traditional way, inhabiting the termitary, which represents the architectural masterpiece equipped with ventilation, thermal regulation and humidifying system. Sun can heat the top part of the settlement of dung termites and burn it up to ceramic hardness, but literally in several centimeters under it the atmosphere of termitary is pretty humid and has a temperature optimal for life of insects.
Galleries of dung termite are similar to a motorway of human epoch. Along them two streams of insects constantly move – working individuals with empty intestines hasten to manure heap, and in opposite side hardly loaded relatives slowly move, carrying in intestines and on flat heads loads of manure which becomes food for other inhabitants of the colony. Sometimes in gallery termites of the soldier caste appear– large-headed creatures armed with strong mandibles and hypertrophied salivary glands which emit sticky substance stiffening in air. Gallery has smooth vaults; along them termites also move. These individuals are smaller, rather than workers are, and they are only nymphs of medium and advanced age. Their abdomens are filled not with manure, but with water. They return from a deep waterhole tunnel, which comes down to five-meter depth to the source of water. Having drunk water and having filled an abdomen with it to the full, these individuals creep to nest and galleries. Creeping on walls and a ceiling of gallery, these insects belch drops of water and place them on roughness of walls. Evaporating water humidifies air and makes it suitable for life of termites. But not only termites use these galleries.
In darkness among termites strange creatures creep. Fat and soft, they are similar a little bit to wood lice, but they have only six legs. These are insects, distant relatives of termites. In fact, strange inhabitants of termite galleries are termite-loving cockroaches, commensals in a colony of termites. Life in the conditions of protection from enemies had transformed them to original animals. Termite-loving cockroaches have soft and thin body cover and their wings disappeared completely. These fat and short-legged creatures eat manure and do not harm to termites. Sometimes they are quite numerous – in galleries of a large colony there are tens of these insects.
The gallery is a safe place for its inhabitants, but sometimes rather unpleasant unexpectedness happen, caused by vital activity of other inhabitants of manure heap.
The stream of working termites moves in gallery in both sides between termitary and manure heap. But unexpectedly from the ceiling of gallery some little lumps of grounds fall, and termites rush away panic-stricken, breaking the regularity of movement. The originator of turmoil is large ndip horsefly larva. It has reached the size maximum for this species and is ready to pupate. Now it simply aspires to leave manure heap full of its gluttonous congeners and to pass the metamorphosis in safety. Larva simply dug a tunnel to the depth, and had casually fallen into the gallery made by dung termites. Now this creature wriggles at the bottom of gallery, having almost completely blocked it. Even preparing to the metamorphosis, this larva has not stopped being a dangerous predator. Therefore termites evacuate hastily to walls and ceiling of gallery, and soldiers hasten to the place of occurrence of this monster. They surround horsefly larva and start simultaneous shooting to it with secretions of salivary glands. Jets stick to the larva body and stiffen on its cuticle as long viscous strings. There are many soldier termites there, and they immobilize the larva properly. But this creature is dangerous, being alive. Therefore, as soon as larva stopped moving violently, into its body from various sides mandibles of soldier termites stuck. They quickly kill it by stings, and creep away soon. These insects do not eat food of animal origin, but successfully exist, eating indigestible cellulose and mammalian manure. But termite-loving cockroaches, neighbours of termites, are less selective. When danger is over, these insects have started to gather around the prostrate predator. They are unpretentious, and easily change their diet from manure to carrion. Mandibles of cockroaches start tearing larva cuticle and reach its soft and appetizing interiors. Glue of termites has dried up and does not prevent cockroaches to feast. Approximately in one hour they destroy horsefly larva almost completely, having left only its firm mouth hooks. These rests will be removed from the gallery by working termites, the hole in ceiling will be closed up, and the next day a place where the larva intrusion had taken place, will not differ in anything from other parts of gallery.
As evolution proceeded, termites have received a considerable benefit, having developed the symbiosis with special flagellates living in their digestive system. Due to these protozoans termites have an opportunity to eat and to digest successfully a forage containing a plenty of cellulose and completely unsuitable for food to majority of herbivores. This feature gives these insects an opportunity to avoid a competition. Working individuals of dung termite return from manure heaps burdened to the full. Their intestines are filled with manure, and cuticle between segments of their abdomens had stretched utterly and is almost ready to burst. In addition they bear a significant amount of manure on flat heads. All food brought to the nest becomes the property of a colony immediately. Nymphs of various ages get on the body of such worker, and eat manure directly from its head, clearing at the same time body of working individual. After this manure is eaten, the still hungry nymphs start touching by their antennae to mandibles of working termite. In reply to such stimulation termite belches a portion of the swallowed manure which is immediately eaten by nymphs. Some nymphs start tickling by antennae the area of hindgut of working individual and eat semidigested food appearing from anus of termite. Probably, it can seem unpleasant from human point of view, but such way of feeding looks quite natural for termites. Working individuals carry food to the nest and share it with other individuals, digesting it by the whole colony according the traditional termite mode. Ndipinotherium manure, containing a great per cent of vegetative matter, passes through the alimentary canal of insect and has time to be digested only partly. Therefore termites eat each other’s feces in succession, assimilating all nutrients from it. Almost hundred-per-cent efficiency of digestion of food is reached this way.
Termites are not predators, but it is better to any animal not able to coexisting them not to get inside of their building at all. Termites of soldier caste have very dangerous sting, which kills even small mammals casually appeared in termite colony. Nevertheless, the creatures succeed to get on with termites prosper in their buildings. Termite-loving cockroaches belong to the number of such lucky beggars. These insects survive in termite nests, changing the secretions of special glands to semidigested manure, bodies of casual victims of termite attacks and reliable protection from the side of termites.
The secret of survival of termite-loving cockroaches is hidden in remarkable features of their antennae. Each antenna of this cockroach is separated into two halves – its basis is thick and rich in glands, and top part is thin and sensitive. In the bases of antennae the glands are located, secreting the transparent liquid – a regale desired for dung termites. Secretions of termite-loving cockroaches have special physiological influence on termites – they cause in them a condition a little bit similar to feeling of pleasure. Therefore cockroaches rarely succeed to be engaged in the affairs alone. Usually these insects are regularly visited by termites demanding a portion of liquid which is so pleasant to them.
Some termite-loving cockroaches creep in gallery leading from manure heap to termitary. Termites burdened with manure hastening to the nest run by them. But one of them stops near cockroaches. It starts touching one cockroach cautiously with tips of antennae. In return the cockroach turns to the termite, and raises its antennae. The termite belches some of the swallowed manure and freezes while the cockroach licks food off from its mandibles. When the cockroach has finished feeding, termite has touched its antennae once again. And after that at the bases of antennae of the cockroach drops of secretions attractive to termites appeared and shined. The working termite has cautiously grasped cockroach’s antenna between its mandibles and licked off the secretions accurately. Then it has repeated the same actions with another antenna of the cockroach, and has continued its run to the colony.
Manure brought to the colony by dung termites is evenly distributed among all its members. It will be digested completely, and each portion of it will pass through intestines of colony members more than once, while in it anything edible is present. But for dung termites manure is not only a food. One more important application of manure is use in termitary construction. Large working termites can prepare in their guts a kind of “concrete” of swallowed particles of clay and manure. This mix gets to building walls or galleries as excrements, or being belched. Construction work usually proceeds at night when air is more humid and not so hot. And in sun heat of African midday wet walls easily clinker to hard mass constraining successfully an impact of the most part of insect-eating animals.
The nest of dung termites is located mostly under the ground, and stretches to the depth of some meters. In its basis there is a spacious chamber where the queen continuously making eggs and male impregnating it live together. Above the “royal” chamber there is a series of chambers connected by through passes. These are former apartments of main female of a termitary from which it gradually moved to the bottom, more protected levels. In effuse nest they serve for ventilation of levels.
Like roots, from a colony of dung termites galleries stretch. Some parallel galleries lead to the main source of food for these insects, to heaps of ndipinotherium manure. In manure heap galleries branch to the set of tunnels ending in the thickness of manure heap. Here working termites store up manure as it is added from above due to efforts of huge mammals. Some galleries are directed downwards, to sources of water. Due to termites acting as water-carriers in the nest a hundred-per-cent humidity of air is always supported.
From the surface of the ground dung termite colony looks like small rounded hill. It can be mistaken for constructions of any rodents, or for objects of inanimate nature at all, but there is one very characteristic feature in them. The location of termitary is indicated by mushrooms of a specific kind. It is a relative of giant manure mushroom living directly on manure heaps. Its name is indicating manure mushroom, and its mycelium develops in optimal conditions created in a termitary due to the activity of its inhabitants. Termites eat a part of the mycelium expanding on walls of termitary galleries. Fruiting bodies of indicating manure mushroom usually grow on edges of termitary, outlining its size as a faltering ring. But occasionally these mushrooms literally break open firm roof of termitary, and expand in resulted gaps in numerous clusters. It causes certain inconvenience to termites: as fruiting bodies develop, insects are compelled to putty with “concrete” cracks between mushrooms and termitary to keep stabile the conditions inside the nest. On large domes of old termitaries traces of mushrooms growth are visible as bumps and prominences. Possible, such neighbourhood can seem not too favourable to termites, but it has the feature invisible to a sight. The mycelium of indicating manure mushroom makes walls porous – it sprouts through them, decomposing the manure included to building mix used by termites. Due to this circumstance walls of termitary are penetrated with microfissures and pores which provide the maintenance of an optimal microclimate in insect nest due to air circulation and water evaporation.
The termitary is well fortified settlement of insects. However, there are some species of animals living exclusively on ravaging of termitaries. Near the termitary dome the small ant of very remarkable colouring has appeared: front half of its body is black, and abdomen is almost entirely white, and only its tip is reddish-brown. This ant has smelt air near the nest of termites and has vanished in grass. It has hastened to the colony, leaving small odorous labels on ground and grass. This creature belongs to a special species of burglar ants. The colony of these insects had moved from other district, and had settled in abandoned hole of certain rodent. The lonely ant is one of numerous scouts of this colony. Many similar ants creep in vicinities in searches of termite nests. These ants specialize in attacking of termitaries.
About a half hour passed after the occurrence of the scout ant. Much to the regret for termites, nobody has eaten this ant during its way back, and it managed to reach the colony safely. From the moment of the foundation of their colony dung termites had not face these ants yet, but the moment of fateful meeting comes closer and closer relentlessly.
In grass the column of burglar ants stretches towards the nest of dung termite. It includes numerous small foraging ants, larger and aggressive soldiers, and also representatives of completely special caste of burglars which are the main hitting power during an attack. Soldiers of burglar ant are only a little larger than working individuals, and differ in large mandibles. But the anatomy of individuals of burglar caste is absolutely unique. These creatures are twice longer than average forager is. They have huge head with thick mandibles, covered with hard chitinous armour. These creatures are true alive armoured cars of the ant world, self-moving battering rams for attacking on strong walls of the termitary.
During the march soldiers of burglar ant keep at the sides of column, protecting foragers and burglars from possible attack from flanks. The column moves guided by odorous marks left by the scout ant.
In fast march the column comes closer to the termitary and begins decisive rise on its dome. Termites are necessary for these ants – they make the basic food of this kind of ants. Occurrence of the burglar ant species is the apotheosis of a confrontation continuing for millions of years. Probably, next millions of years will pass, and this branch of ant evolution will become a victim of its own specialization. But while they have such plentiful and quickly restoring source of food as termites, burglar ants survive successfully.
Forager ants disperse on the dome of termitary in searches of possible weak spots for attack. But termites do not make exits on the surface of the building – the only possible way to get into the colony is only through their underground galleries. But the ally of termites turns to their enemy now – ants have found out a place where strong crust on the surface of termitary was swollen up and burst because of development of fruiting bodies of indicating manure mushroom. Termites close up these cracks diligently at night, but the sun had no time to dry up the repaired sites of the dome yet, and mushrooms continue their growth. Foragers mark these places by smell, and along their trace the main hitting power moves, individuals of the burglar caste surrounded by soldiers. Burglars bite through less hard areas of dome, and break open the roof of termitary with powerful mandibles. Near to burglar ants soldiers keep, and behind their bodies foragers hide. In places where gaps appear, from the nest working individuals of termites appear immediately. These soft creatures are completely helpless against strong mandibles of ants, soldiers and foragers. Therefore in some minutes after attack some forager ants already hasten back to their colony, holding killed termites in mandibles. Attack against the termitary is led from several places at once: in every place where it was possible to find out cracks and weak places on dome of termitary. The smell of death enters the termitary from places where ants attack. It is a sign of critical position for inhabitants of termitary, and it is necessary to pass to definite actions.
Ants of burglar caste break off pieces of an external layer of termitary and throw them aside, making a place for actions of soldiers and foragers. And at this time some jets of liquid hit to their heads. The liquid instantly hardens to rubber-like mass, and burglars appear pasted to the dome which they broke. And some more new volleys of glue hit the heads to attacking ants. Soldiers of dung termites crowd now in areas of galleries broken open by ants, and start the chaotic “fire” to attackers. They are blind, but are guided confidently by sense of smell. Accuracy of their shooting is low, but the number of attacking ants is so great, that misses do not happen.
Advantage in fight gradually comes to the side of termites – numerical superiority benefits them. Their large soldiers with white spots on huge black head start restricting ants from the dome of termitary, and after them tens of working individuals creep out of galleries and at once begin repairing the damaged galleries, despite of hot sunny day. Soldier termites move towards the ants in long ranks. Shots of glue overtake burglar ants one by one. Having depleted stocks of glue, soldier termites recede, but the fresh soldiers ready to continue “fire” move forward and replace them. On the battlefield still there are enemies, and they still represent danger. Some burglar ants have remained pasted to the surface of termitary. Glue on their legs and body gradually dries up, and they try to free and to escape. But the receded soldier termites do not hasten to come back to the nest. They remain on the surface of termitary and kill the immobilized enemies. Among the captives waiting for their fate there are some ants of burglar caste. These giants are strong and dangerous, and the dried up glue begins falling off from their legs gradually, when they try to free. To one of such ants soldier termite rushes, attracted by its smell and movements. It can’t immobilize the contender – its stock of glue is depleted. But the soldier termite is armed with powerful mandibles and is skillful in using them. It makes the only mistake, rushing to frontal attack on burglar ant. Usually the termite bit through a head of the enemy with the sole strong bite. But burglar ant is well protected from head damages with strong chitinous armour. Mandibles of soldier termite slide helplessly on head of an ant. But the ant does not lose an opportunity to finish the contender – it seizes with mandibles the head of soldier termite and cracks it. Another termite has stuck its mandibles in abdomen of huge ant, and has killed it in the next moment
The column of black-and-white ants leaves from the termitary. Many forager ants are burdened with booty – they bear killed termites. But nevertheless this time the victory is at termites: they have successfully beaten off the attack of burglar ants and prevented the invasion of these predators inside the termitary. Losses from their side have made some hundreds of working individuals killed in first minutes of ant attack, and tens of soldier, killed at the defense of a termitary. However it is a small number in comparison with the total number of inhabitants of the colony. Burglar ants will certainly return to the colony of dung termite – in vicinities of their settlement there are some termitaries made by insects of different species, and ants periodically arrange attacks on termites, killing a part of individuals for the sake of livelihood of their own colony.
Ndipinotheriums walk slowly across the savanna, nothing suspecting about the whole world of creatures creeping under their legs and depending completely on their well-being. They do not suspect at all about the majority of its inhabitants, and some are perceived only as fleeting trouble in life, but no more. They notice from apart the manure heap left by relatives, and also leave their excrement in it. While the herd is near manure heap, large horseflies bite several ndipinotheriums, and from the back of one animals large female of jumbo dung beetle flies down on fresh manure, shining with its golden wings. Life proceeds, even if some inhabitants of ecosystem die – its death is a source of life for other creatures: in nature there are no superfluous and unnecessary things.
termite (Platycephalotermes stercophagus)
Order: Termites (Isoptera)
Family: Termites (Termitidae)
Habitat: savannas of Northern Africa.
Picture by Ilia
Success of termites in struggle for existence and also significant
evolutionary longevity of this group of insects are determined by two factors.
First of them is a social way of life, helping them to erect dwellings huge
in comparison with the size of separate individual, where conditions favorable
for existence are supported. And second is symbiosis with protozoans which had
increased the efficiency of termite digestion and had made plant cellulose,
the organic substance most widespread on land, accessible for them. Thus, termites
are reliably protected from predators and an adverse environment, and have absolutely
no feeding competitors.
Among Neocene termites one species appeared, which safe existence depends on prosperity of megafauna in Northern African savanna. It is so because this termite widely uses in daily life waste product of these animals, their manure. In places, where giant ndipinotheriums or flathorns make collective manure heaps, this species, named as dung termite, lives.
This termite is similar externally to other species of this group. Dung termite has rather large head and wide mandibles with which help these insects gather food. Queen, soldiers and winged individuals of this species have normal well-developed eyes. Eyes of nymphs are small, and adult working individuals are completely blind. They move to manure heaps of mammals using underground galleries, and search for fresh manure with the help of sense of smell.
Queen is a basis of safe existence of termitary. The size of this individual is really monstrous: more than 15 cm. But the most part of its length is made of huge hypertrophied abdomen, on which the head and thoracal segments with legs look like inappropriate appendages. Queen lives in well protected and ventilated chamber at the depth up to one meter under ground surface. Life expectancy of this individual reaches 10 years. The colony exists for approximately the same time. But in favorable conditions growing old queen may be substituted by one or several young queens, and the colony continues the existence.
Soldiers represent the main protection of dung termite colony. Their size may be up to 25 millimeters, and their appearance is rather characteristic. These insects have large head: nape is curved upwards and back, and covers thoracal segments from above. But the most part of head is taken not by brain, but by hypertrophied salivary glands. It is a part of protective adaptations of soldier termites: they spat to the enemy sticky liquid stiffening in air to rubber-like mass. With the help of such weapon soldier termites easily immobilize ants, their main enemies. Head of these individuals has contrast colouring, black with white spots on forehead and crown. In case of danger soldiers move towards the enemy and shoot them with glue.
Workers of this species are about 12 – 15mm long. They have short, flattened and expanded in front head of black color. From external edge of mandibles head is “elongated” by jagged combs. In addition similar outgrowths are at the edges of thoracal segments. It is connected to features of activity of these insects. Transporting animal dung to the colony, working individual loads manure atop of its body, sapping under it by head. At the same time worker eats manure and brings a part of it to the nest partly digested. Abdomen of working individuals can stretch, containing large portion of forage.
Nest of dung termites has rather simple construction. It is a dome-shaped construction no more than 30 – 40 cm high and up to one meter in diameter. But it is only seen part of colony. From termitary some galleries stretch to manure heap, and along them the stream of working individuals gathering manure moves all the time.
This species utilizes dry and aged manure at night. This termite eats it, delivering semidigested food to neighbours. When in food passed through intestines for some times nutrients end at last, working individuals use it for building: they face gallery walls with this mass. But the most part of “mortar” is used for regular repair of termitary dome. The reason of such use is simple: besides numerous symbiotes in nest of dung termite mushrooms of a separate species grow, indicating manure mushroom. Termites eat not only manure, but also mycelium of this mushroom species. A by-effect of presence of mushrooms is the growth of their fruiting bodies through the dome of termitary. Thus growing mushroom breaks open firm crust of the nest, and termites constantly cover the basis of mushrooms with fresh “concrete” mixed of manure and clay. On smooth surface of termitary there are numerous “scars” in places where mushrooms sprouted through a roof of the nest. However nest is repaired by numerous working individuals quickly and in proper time. Harm made by mushrooms is insignificant, but the mycelium provides porosity of walls of termitary, due to which the optimum microclimate is kept inside termite nest.
cockroach (Coproblattula termitophila)
Order: Cockroaches (Blattodea)
Family: Blattids (Blattidae)
Habitat: savannas of Northern Africa, nests of dung termites.
Usually in nests of social insects various invertebrates of other species search for shelter and food. Some of them are symbiotes, and others are predators and eat larvae of excessively hospitable host insects. “Guests” belong to various systematic groups: among them there are beetles, flies, crickets and caterpillars of various butterflies and moths. Also cockroaches are frequent among these animals. One species of symbiotic cockroaches lives in nests of African dung termite –it is a termite-loving cockroach. This kind of insects does not form close relations with the host species, and its presence does not harm to termites. But cockroach is protected against predators by termites, and its nymphs have sanitary function in termite nest.
Termite-loving cockroach is not able to fly and is absolutely wingless. Its body up to 3 cm long has oval shape and is flattened. It is covered with soft elastic cuticle of grey color with thin white hairs. This cockroach is adapted only to life in conditions of high air humidity. Legs of termite-loving cockroach are short, and it is not able to creep quickly. In an adult condition this insect is completely blind, though nymph has well-advanced eyes. Termite-loving cockroach has long antennae separated into two parts: in the basis of antenna there are some large glandulous segments, and the rest of antenna is thin and sensitive.
This species is unpretentious in choice of food: it feeds on manure. Due to symbiotic protozoans living in its digestive system termite-loving cockroach is able to digest the plant rests it finds in manure. Sometimes termites feed it with partly digested food –with manure again. Usually termites do not tolerate insects of other species in their constructions, and dung termites are not exception in this rule. However termite-loving cockroach provides the loyal relation to itself from their side, because it secrets sweet liquid from special glands located at the bases of antennae. With the help of such “payoff” it lives in termite nest in safety.
This cockroach completes its life cycle in termite nest. Female of termite-loving cockroach is larger than male. After mating it lays an ootheca containing up to 20 large eggs. Female carries it at the tip of abdomen within two weeks while the embryos development proceeds.
Nymphs of this cockroach are more mobile, than adult individuals. Also they appreciably differ from adult termite-loving cockroaches in appearance: they have gracile rounded body, large eyes and harder body covers. It takes place due to the important difference in way of life of nymphs and adult individuals of this species. Adults of termite-loving cockroach never leave the termitary, and their well-being completely depends on life of termites. But at larval stage this species settles actively, and due to inclination of nymphs to travelling there is a gene exchange in populations of cockroaches. Some nymphs start their wandering – at night they creep out on ground surface and to the morning they climb on tops of grass stalks. Here they wait for appearing of large herbivores, flathorns and ndipinotheriums. When animals of any herd visit manure heaps, nymphs of termite-loving cockroach creep on their skin and travel this way in relative safety, moving to many kilometers from a native termitary. During the visiting by animals of the next manure heap nymphs leave them and search for nest of manure termite. Not all of them manage to do it, but the individuals, which could make it, create a new population of cockroaches in termite nest, or contribute to gene pool of already existing one.
Having got into the nest, nymph goes through several moultings and turns to a similarity of adult individual. It becomes less mobile, eyes decrease at each moulting down to complete reduction, and body cover becomes soft and water-permeable. Nymph reaches the size of adult individual in 3 months, and from that moment it becomes able to breed.
swallowtail (Funestopsyche necrophagus)
Order: Butterflies (Lepidoptera)
Family: Swallowtails (Papilionidae)
Habitat: savannas and woodlands of North Africa and southern Europe.
At top of food pyramid of the ecosystem there is a large predator. In savannas of North Africa and southern Europe bordering a hollow of dried up Mediterranean sea, such supreme predator is deadlynetta (Necrogenetta deima) – huge saber-toothed species of viverrids. Its prey includes large local animals: flathorns and ndipinotheriums, huge giraffe ostriches, and also very large rodent mighty grasscutter. In addition to deadlynetta in savanna there is a set of other predators, from small up to rather large. When such predators eat prey, near them various scavengers wait for their share. They understand that if they will hurry, they may draw upon themselves the aggression of predator. But some impudent ones easily receive the share of forage – they do not demand too much, therefore predators do not drive them away. One of such impudent scavengers is a snow-white butterfly with black border on wings. Long “tails” on wings specify its belonging to family of swallowtails. This species never meets on flowers, but gathers in great number on dead animals. For this feature this butterfly is named grieving swallowtail.
Adult butterflies of this species never meet on flowers – they had completely lost ability to eat vegetative food. But these butterflies fly by tens to smell of blood and meat. They literally stick round the prey tormented by predator, and are not afraid to sit on the muzzle of animal soiled with blood. Having unwrapped long proboscis, butterfly licks off blood and meat juice which make food of this insect. Besides of fresh prey of predators, this butterfly is able to feed on decomposed corpses of animals.
Wingspan of grieving swallowtail makes about 15 cm. Flight of this butterfly seems slow and majestic, but it is deceptive impression – butterflies fly very quickly, and already literally in some minutes gather on prey of various predators in tens. Colouring of wings of this butterfly confirms somewhat the name of species – on white background of wing the black border is brightly visible, and some large nerves in wing basis also may be black. On back wing there is long “tail”near which there are some other shorter shoots.
On prey of predators butterflies not only eat, but also pair. Only time when these insects are interested in plants is a larval stage. The caterpillar of grieving swallowtail eats on leaves of trees – more often it can be met on leaves of acacias in the top part of crone. The caterpillar of this swallowtail is colored dark brown with grey longitudinal strokes on sides. It keeps on bottom side of leaf, escaping from hot sunlight. Development of caterpillar lasts about four months, and for one year the grieving swallowtail can give two generations. This insect goes through driest months in pupal stage and finishes metamorphosis in the beginning of rain season.
dung beetle (Titanonitus aureus)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
Family: Scarab beetles (Scarabeidae)
Habitat: savannas of Northern Africa.
In human epoch, when various species of wild ungulates lived on the Earth, dung of these animals was used for food by various dung beetles. As wild fauna disappeared and agrarian landscapes expanded, the species capable to process manure of domestic cattle, and also the species eating dung of small mammals had received an advantage in struggle for existence. The latter group of beetles had got advantage in a survival in conditions of drastic impoverishment of ecosystems at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene. And when large herbivorous mammals evolved on the Earth again, among dung beetles large forms also appeared.
On manure heaps of ndipinotheriums and flathorns the largest dung beetle of Neocene lives –it is a jumbo dung beetle. The total body length of adult insect is over 10 cm, and its weight exceeds 100 grams. Body of this beetle is lengthened, covered with hard shell. The appearance of jumbo dung beetle is very attractive, despite of unpresentableness of its habitat. Representatives of both genders have beautiful golden colouring of elytra. When this insect flies up, the bluish colouring of abdomen with metal shine, especially appreciable at males, turns visible. Head and thorax are dark brown at female and velvety black with “gray hair” of short hairs at male. On pronotum of the male the horn bent forward grows. Tip of this horn is blunt and forked. Because of this “ornament” the length of jumbo dung beetle male may be larger, up to 12 – 13 cm. On head of male there is a horn also, wide and having three points. When male raises head, jags of two horns engage with each other, forming tong-like gripper used for tournament combats and for self-defense. Females have two small blunted horns directed in sides on pronotum.
Courtship tournaments of jumbo dung beetles take place right om manure heaps. Males battle against each other and try to seize the contender by horns. Having attacked the contender successfully, male picks it up by horn on head, and, having raised its head, compresses it strongly between horns on head and pronotum, like in tongs. Males winning in tournaments copulate with females and do not tolerate the contender on won manure heap. Usually male displays itself to potential opponents, keeping on the top of sun-lighted manure heap. Weaker males avoid searching for meetings of females in its possession, and fly out. But, if another male landed on manure heap already occupied, it is perceived as a challenge, and males arrange a duel.
Parental behaviour of jumbo dung beetle is very simple compared to those at dung beetles of human epoch. Female lays eggs one by one directly in manure heap of ndipinotherium, not being engaged in building of any shelter and preparation of forage stocks for posterity. Grub hatching from egg at once appears surrounded with food which stock is constantly replenished. Numerous grubs burst from eggs left by different females live in the same heap of manure. For egg laying female of jumbo dung beetle prefers fresh manure. It searches for it in very simple way: after mating female leaves manure heap and flies to search ndipinotheriums or flathorns. It simply lands on rear part of body of any animal, and, having felt the occurrence of fresh manure, quickly flies off from the animal body and lays eggs in manure. If animals walk out, female finds an animal by smell and returns to it.
Jumbo dung beetle grub reaches the length of 20 cm. It has soft fat body and head with hard head capsule. These creatures dig deep vertical holes in manure heaps of ndipinotheriums. In hot day time they hide inside manure heap. New portions of manure left by herbivores can block the hole entrance, but grub simply eats a tunnel through it. Whenever possible grubs of jumbo dung beetle diversify a diet with food of animal origin: they eat other insects casually fallen down in their hole. Due to powerful mandibles they gnaw through undigested vegetative fibers, and also can defend themselves from enemies. Also for protection against enemies grubs of jumbo dung beetle belch undigested food and spat it to the enemy.
The development of larva lasts for about one year. It pupates in ground, leaving the borders of manure heap. The adult insect can live for about one year.
ant (Pachycephalomyrma destructor)
Order: Hymenopters (Hymenoptera)
Family: Ants (Formicidae)
Habitat: Northern Africa, dry areas– savanna and light forests.
In a history of terrestrial fauna there are two large clades of social insects proceeding a severe war against each other within millions years without an armistice. These ones are termites known, possibly, from Permian, and ants, representatives of hymenopters, evolved in Mesozoic. Both groups of insects passed to social habit of life independently from each other, and lead absolutely different ways of life. Termites are tireless processers of organic matter, decomposing even difficultly decomposing substances like cellulose. Ants are mostly predators able to attack animals of much larger size, rather than their own, and to kill them. Termites are compelled to protect themselves from enemies and dry air, and for this purpose they erect the buildings of intricate design remarkable in exclusive hardness. Ants do not avoid heat, and they are ready to attack any creature wishing to ravage their colony. And some ants do not build permanent shelters at all.
Termites represent usual inhabitants of a tropical zone of the Earth. In Africa their buildings may be seen in fact everywhere. And one species of ants had adapted to attack well-fortified colonies of termites. This species is named as burglar ant.
The most part of a colony of burglar ant represents tiny working individuals. Their length does not exceed 10 – 12millimeters. But in a colony there are also the “soldiers” growing to the length of 15 – 18mm. And their strong mandibles add extra 5 mm to their length. Burglars ants differ in large head and rather aggressive behavior – even the average working individual may be aggressive, and easily overcomes “soldier” of other ant species attacking the nest of burglar ant. And stings of ants belonging to “soldier” caste are enough to frighten large herbivorous mammals, which may represent any danger to a colony of these ants.
Colouring of these ants is obviously aposematic: abdomen is white with reddish tip, and thorax and head are coal-black. This colouring is shown at all castes of burglar ant. But at individuals of “soldier” caste abdomen is brighter – it is almost entirely reddish, except for the two first segments.
Amazon ants attack colonies of other ants in order to capture pupae from which in their own colony “slaves” will develop. Burglar ant uses colonies of termites only as a food source. The siege of termitary is a very complicated task: sun heat dries up an external layer of their building up to stone hardness. But burglar ant had adapted to attack termite mounds in the special way. In colonies of this species there is a special caste of “burglars” with strong mandibles and head protected with an armour; the length of such ants is about 25 mm. The head of ant from “burglar” caste makes up to almost 40% of total length of an insect. Mandibles of “burglars” look unlike long and jagged at the internal edge mandibles of “soldiers”. “Burglar” has short thick mandibles with one small jag at the internal edge. On its head chitinous cover is very thick and forms a semblance of a shield – edges of an armour cover eyes and the bases of antennae, and mandibles jut out from under their front line. Such heads are absolutely impregnable for bites of termites protecting their nest. A role of “burglar” caste during the attack is an expansion of entrances in termitary. “Burglars” bite off a top layer of termitary by mandibles, opening the way to “soldiers” and foragers. In addition they make a kind of mobile shelter for “soldiers” at the defense against the termites protecting their colony.
These large individuals are tetraploids, but they burst from usual eggs. At burglar ant first divisions of egg cell do not finish completely frequently enough, and only a doubling of a chromosomal complement takes place. From such eggs larvae appear, which grow to much larger size, rather than usual working individuals and “soldiers”. They grow faster, but need much more food for it. However, the expenses of rearing of “burglars” pay off by successful final of the most part of attacks to termitaries.
The own nest of the burglar ant is not a complex and strong architectural masterpiece. These insects arrange a nest at the basis of trunk of large tree with core rotted through. If such trees are not present, they can use ready holes of various animals for the arranging of their nest– any other animal prefers to abandon hole, if these insects settle there. Ants arrange in a hole some simple chambers in which fertile females and larvae are placed, or rearrange minimally the ready parts of a hole, expanding or narrowing entrances. Colonies of ants which have choice of food sources – some colonies of termites, even of various species – develop in the best way. In this case colonies have time to restore after attacks of burglar ants. If after regular attacks of ant army the termitary degraded and population of termites perished, burglar ants can move to new place. Their queens have kept ability to move in normal way, and the colony of ants is able to spend some days in move, searching for a new place for life. At these moments they move also larvae and even eggs. During the resettlement “soldiers” and even “burglars” protect their colony.
horsefly (Titanotabanus ndipiotheriophagus)
Order: Two-winged flies (Diptera)
Family: Horseflies (Tabanidae)
Habitat: Northern Africa, savannas and light forests.
Holometabolous insects had received a distinct advantage compared to more primitive relatives at which from eggs tiny copies of adult individual burst. The difference in a way of life between larva and adult individual allows them to use the resources available in their habitat in fuller degree. All largest orders of this class include holometabolous insects not casually.
African megafauna had enabled evolution to various species of the insects depending on giants of Africa. Among the animals dependent on well-being of huge herbivores ndip horsefly, very large insect, is remarkable. Imago of this species reaches the length of 40 – 45 mm. This insect has an appearance typical for horseflies: head with huge eyes, stabbing mouthparts and flattened abdomen, which segments are connected by extensible zones of cuticle. Due to such features of anatomy ndip horsefly can easily pierce thick skin of large mammal, and sucks up to 2 milliliters of blood per one feeding. In addition to huge size, this insect has easily recognizable features of colouring: on light grey background of thorax and abdomen thin longitudinal lines of hairs reflecting ultra-violet light stretch. Therefore for the relatives and other animals distinguishing ultra-violet beams this insect has striped pattern. Eyes of this horsefly are transparent golden with iridescent shine. On tips of wings at males there are black spots, and females detect them in flight due to these spots.
This species of insects feeds on blood of large animals of savannas – ndipinotheriums, flathorns and giraffe ostriches. The sting of this horsefly is painless, but in some minutes the bitten place strongly swells and itches.
After feeding female searches for shelter where it spends some hours almost completely motionless. At this time in its organism eggs develop – some portions of 20 – 30 ones. For egg laying female of ndip horsefly needs the presence of ndipinotheriums, or, more precisely, their waste. It lays eggs in manure heaps of these mammal. To lay eggs female chooses areas of manure slightly dried up on surface, but moist from inside. It is easier to lay an egg in such places, but in some hours sun will dry the top layer of manure much more and will make it more firm. In this way larva will be protected from predators. However, it is a predator itself. Ndip horsefly larva digs extended holes in manure heaps of ndipinotheriums. This worm-like creature about 70 mm long is one of the most terrible predators in its habitat. It has pointed chitinous hooks around the mouth to keep and to tear its prey. It attacks insects and others invertebrates, including the spiders dangerous to adult individual of this species. The body of larva is covered with greyish-white transparent cuticle, which easily stretch and folds. On every segment belts of strong black bristles grow, and their tips are directed back. Bristles on segments help larva to move in holes. It digs holes, extending and contracting the forward part of the body like earthworms do. During the digging of the hole pointed hooks near the mouth are covered with plica of cuticle and are not damaged at the movement.
The larva development takes about two months. For pupating it leaves manure heap at night, and digs itself in friable ground among grass where it is more difficult for finding to insect-eating animals. Metamorphosis lasts for about one week. Life expectancy of adult insect does not exceed three weeks, but usually it is significantly shorter. For this time female can lay up to 200 eggs.
shining spider (Callolycosa coprobia)
Order: Spiders (Araneae)
Family: Wolf spiders (Lycosidae)
Habitat: Southwest Europe, savannas of Northern Africa.
In nature of the Earth some groups of live organisms can form extensive landscapes. It had taken place so in Cenozoic, when the union of graminoids and hoofed mammals had caused extensive productive communities – grasslands. In Neocene graminoids still prosper, and numerous herbivorous mammals do not allow savannas to turn to woodlands. Collision of Africa and Europe had resulted in occurrence of extensive dry areas surrounding dry desert of Mediterranean lowland. Large herbivorous mammals live in these places – harelopes, flathorns and ndipinotheriums. Except for them, the mite in formation of landscape is brought by huge giraffe ostriches. All these herbivorous animals devour a plenty of vegetation, producing the appropriate amount of manure. Many species of insects feed on manure of herbivores, and this circumstance has involved the separate species of wolf spiders – manure shining spider – to manure heaps
Body length of the adult female of this species is about 17 mm. Manure shining spider differs in very bright and beautiful coloring. The body is covered with plentiful hairs having intensive metal shine. Forward part of cephalothorax at animals of both genders is brown with additions of black hairs, but back part of cephalothorax, abdomen and legs are colored bright with metal shine. Body of the female is crimson-red and orange on the tip of abdomen. Male is smaller, then female (length of its body is less than 1 cm), and its body is colored blue. Hairs on the male body reflect ultra-violet beams intensively, involving to it insects, its potential prey.
The body shape of this species does not differ in any remarkable features. Legs are partly specialized for digging: the terminate segments of back legs are flattened, as if shovels. This spider, similarly to the majority of representatives of family, does not build cobweb, and leads vagrant life. It keeps in heaps of manure, and builds to itself temporary shelters – spider digs by back legs vertical burrows in substratum. Building the burrow, spider is dug in manure by back; therefore its bright colouring the most part of time is imperceptible for possible predators. By forward legs the animal holds the cover of cobweb, which closes the entrance to the burrow. On cobweb pieces of dry manure and dust are pasted, masking the entrance to the burrow. Manure shining spider prefers to live in places where inhabitants of savanna leave manure constantly. Only at drying or destruction by other animals of manure heap it passes to fresh manure.
Manure shining spider hunts insects involved with manure. More often flies and dung beetles become its catch, but occasionally it catches even butterflies, which receive mineral substances from manure and frequently visit manure heaps of large animals. Usually the spider hides in burrow and expects, while possible catch comes nearer to it itself. Having seized the moment, it jumps out from burrow by jerky throw, seizes an insect, and hides in refuge again.
On pedipalps of this spider combs of rigid hairs are advanced – spider cleans itself by them. Living in the environment, rich in bacteria and other pathogens, this spider spends a lot of time, clearing body from manure.
As plentiful and constantly renewing manure heaps meet in savanna rather seldom, manure shining spiders relate to congeners very unfriendly. Exception is made only by the female for the male in short minutes of pairing. Declaring about the territorial claims, spider of this species shows itself to the contender, sparkling in sunlight by bright colouring with metal shine. But the spider necessarily keeps by one leg for the edge of hole, ready to rush to shelter at first sign of danger. The heap of manure usually is shared by several females, and on edge of their territory vagrant males not building long-term shelters gather.
Colouring of manure shining spider is also aposematic: its bite causes severe pain in large animals; however it is not dangerous to life. Small animals, however, may die from bite of this spider. But thus spiders frequently become prey of birds, which kill them by impact of beak. Also lizards hunt these spiders.
At the majority of spider species male is much smaller, than female, and manure shining spider is not an exception here. Therefore the male of this species very cautiously approaches to problem of pairing. At first the spider accustoms the female to its presence, leaving odorous marks near her hole. Then it appears at the edge of territory of the female, trying to come nearer to her cautiously. If the female perceives him quietly, the male resolves to pairing. Before it he arms with piece of dry manure, and creeps in hole of the female bravely. He literally wedges her by this original weapon, braids legs of the female with web, and quickly couples with her. Using such preparation, after pairing the male frequently escapes from the female, and has an opportunity to fertilize up to five females before it becomes a casual victim of one of them.
In clutch of manure shining spider there is about 150 small eggs packed to snow-white web. But cocoon turns soon dim brownish-grey color because of specific inhabitancy of this species of spiders. The female with cocoon leaves manure heaps – it is too brisk place dangerous to young growth. She lives in old holes of rodents or in others shelters. The young growth becomes sexual matured at the age of about half-year.
The close species lives in savannas of Northern Africa: cadaverophilous shining spider (Callolycosa cadaverophila). This species of spiders had chosen as an inhabitancy corpses of animals at various stages of decomposition, and eats necrophagous insects. Colouring of this spider is also bright: the female is bright green with white spot on cephalothorax, and the male is bright red with white tips of front legs. The cadaverophilous shining spider is less adhered to the certain place of inhabiting and can overcome long distances in searches of suitable substratum. With the help of sense of smell it easily finds corpses of animals. Cadaverophilous shining spider digs in the ground near them, and catches necrophagous insects, and also gathers larvae of flies. This spider frequently settles near lairs of large predators like deadlynetta.
griffon woodpecker (Carnopicus maximus)
Order: Woodpeckers (Piciformes)
Family: Predatory woodpeckers (Carnopicidae), a subfamily of scavenger woodpeckers (Carnopicinae)
Habitat: savannas of Northern and Southern Africa.
Mass extinction causes the disappearing of, first of all, animals dependent on other animals – predators and parasites. When number of herbivores may reduce tens of times without damage to survival of the species, number of predators dependent on them may decrease below critical level much easier. At the boundary of Holocene and Neocene such destiny has befell many species of predatory birds depended on large prey. In Neocene species from other groups, passed to feeding by meat independently to “true” predatory birds, have started to occupy their place. Woodpeckers appeared the most unexpected species among feathered “meat eaters”. Some species of these birds began to assimilate the exempted ecological niches, becoming unusual and fantastical creatures. Carnivorous species of woodpeckers form the separate family inhabiting Old World, except for Australia and Oceania. These birds differ from “typical” woodpeckers in transition to completely different diet. They form some species divided to two subfamilies: scavenger woodpeckers (Carnopicinae) and true predatory woodpeckers (Loricaflangerinae).
The subfamily of scavenger woodpeckers (Carnopicinae) inhabits savannas and steppes of Africa and Eurasia. It includes the birds eating carrion and rests of catch of large predators, and numbers some species, among which large griffon woodpecker is the largest one. In general, it is the largest woodpecker of the Earth in Neocene epoch.
Large griffon woodpecker is rather big bird up to 1 meter long kept the characteristic features of woodpeckers: pointed beak, four-toed paws (two toes are directed forward, and two ones back), and strong tail of rigid feathers. The face of this bird is featherless, covered with skin of pinkish-blue color; nape and neck are feathered. On head there is a crest of red feathers sticking upwards. Neck is short, but mobile and muscled. Wings are brown with two yellow spots on bends, well visible at perched bird. Other body parts are grayish-white.
The woodpecker frequently lands on the ground, but is not able to walk and moves on the ground by jumps.
This bird eats carrion and can be frequently seen among various scavengers in savanna. Due to the cockiness and aggression this woodpecker easily determines the priority of food eating even if this bird had founded the prey not first of all. These woodpeckers often watch hunting of large predatory animals, and in case of success of predator drive other competitors off from its catch. And if the bird sees it may have no rests of meat, it can even attack the predator, perceiving it as a competitor. In Northern Africa this bird is the main scavenger able even to frighten off the deadlynetta from catch (the powerful beak of this woodpecker may pierce the skull of predator). Due to hard beak bird can easily open even the thickest skin of animal, and this species frequently begins a feast on carcasses of animals with thick skin inaccessible for other scavengers. This woodpecker feeds exclusively on meat, not interesting in firm parts of carcass. Bird tears off pieces of meat by jerky movements of neck and swallows it. Because of features of feeding large griffon woodpecker can not eat the carcass completely, being limited only to the softest parts of it.
After feeding the bird looks not so tidy: head of woodpecker is splashed with blood that gives rather ominous appearance to it. But griffon woodpecker keeps up the plumage cleanliness accurately: bird willingly bathes in shallow pools, “powders” itself with dust, cleans feathers by beak, and “sunbathes”for a long time, having placed head and opened wings to sun beams.
This species of birds is strictly territorial because carrion is the forage accessible in rather seldom cases (except for cases of epizooties). Being a monodin, this bird keeps in amicable breeding couples, expelling strangers from the territory in common. Expressing the territorial claims, birds arrange deafening “concerts” every morning: voice of this woodpecker represents very loud and unpleasant guttural calls repeating for many times. Usually pair of birds cries alternately or simultaneously since a half of hour.
Large griffon woodpecker has not lost habits of ancestors, and nests in tree-trunk hollows. Because birds of this species are rather large, it is difficult for them to choose a tree-trunk hollow of suitable size for themselves. Therefore couple of woodpeckers can hollow out or expand a hollow in trunk of large tree (for example, of baobab). Large griffon woodpeckers nest only once per one year. In clutch of these birds there are two large eggs (equal to goose eggs in size) with white shell. Nestlings hatch naked and blind. On their legs the calluses are advanced, permitting nestlings to sit on rigid bottom of hollow. Parents feed them with meat and various small vertebrates. Development of nestlings proceeds for a long time: at monthly age they only start covering with juvenile down and open eyes at the age of two months. They do not compete for food as intensively as nestlings of predatory birds, but at lack of forage more active nestling takes all food brought by parents, and the second nestling dies for famine. To the moment of leaving from nest (at the age of half-year) young birds are a little bit heavier then parents. They and parents feed together for about two months, but later parents start to display aggression to them, and expel them from the territory.
In tropical and subtropical areas of Old World some close species of griffon woodpeckers live:
Smaller griffon woodpecker (Carnopicus medium) lives in steppes of Central Asia and in India. It is a close relative of large griffon woodpecker, similar to it in anatomy and features of feeding. Body length of this bird is about 50 cm. It is colored slightly differently, than its large relative: naked skin on face is yellowish-white, head lacks crest, and instead of it there is simply red “cap” of short feathers on the nape. Wings are black with large blue spots serving for recognition of congeners. Body is colored pale grey. In feeding and behavioural features this species is similar to large griffon woodpecker, differing from it by voice: instead of series of abrupt calls birds utter in unison loud extended call in the morning. Also this species can diversify a diet with small ground vertebrates.
Pygmy griffon woodpecker (Carnopicus minor) is the close relative of the previous species; it lives in open spaces of Europe (from the Gibraltar Isthmus along southern slopes of Alps and northern edge of Mediterranean swamps) up to the western areas of Three-Rivers-Land. It is the smallest species of genus: it is only a sparrow-sized bird. The bird is colored grayish brown (back is darker); on the head there is a red “cap”, stomach is white. Naked skin on face of bird is greyish-blue. This bird also eats carrion. The behavior of this woodpecker has appreciably changed in comparison not only with its relatives from more southern areas, but also with all woodpeckers in general: it is a flocking bird. Usually these birds keep in flocks numbering 20-30 individuals. They observe of large herbivores, watch the behavior of predators and other scavenging birds. Having noticed dead animal, these tiny woodpeckers literally stick it round with live carpet and peck meat.
Similarly to all species of woodpeckers, this species nests in tree-trunk hollows. These woodpeckers live in colonies numbering up to two tens of nests, and protect them against predators in common. Probably, lack of “living space” in steppes has resulted in social way of life of these birds. In clutch of these woodpeckers it is up to 5 – 6 eggs, and about a half of hatched nestlings survives up to leaving the nest.
This species of birds is discovered by Simon, the forum member.
woodpecker (Ossiflangerus medullaphagus)
Order: Woodpeckers (Piciformes)
Family: Predatory woodpeckers (Carnopicidae), a subfamily of scavenger woodpeckers (Carnopicinae)
Habitat: savannas of Northern and Southern Africa.
Picture by Amplion
After the carcass is almost eaten by scavengers, bones usually
remain. It is possible to use them in various ways – to swallow and to digest
as marabou and hyena did, or to break, having dropped from the big height, like
the lammergeyer did. But the bone-breaking woodpecker, the scavenger of the
Neocene Earth, acts in completely different way.
Already the Latin name of this bird sounds horribly – “the bone-crushing marrow devourer”. But the behavior of bone-breaking woodpecker does not cause horror in other inhabitants of savanna at all, though it corresponds to this name. This species is brisk and sociable crow-sized bird. It is colored rather brightly – back and wings are green, body is ash-grey, on nape there is the orange crest able to rise and fall, as if at cockatoo parrot.
Bone-breaking woodpecker differs in original and very strictly specialized way of feeding. It flies in savanna, searching for dead animals, and during the feast of predators or scavengers it modestly waits aside while meat eaters will be saturated. When only bones remain from a carcass, it starts a meal. Bones of suitable sizes, even rather old, are carrying by bird to its favorite “anvil” – the handy forked branch of tree. Bird fixes it there and breaks from one of head sides by powerful impacts of beak. Bird pecks out and also licks by long tongue the nutritious marrow from the broken bone. This substance makes a significant part of the menu of this species. If the bone is rather large and the woodpecker can’t carry it in beak to the handy place, it pecks it right on the spot. The vast territory, in which the enough number of herbivores and also predators lives, whose catch mainly serves as food of this bird, is necessary for life for such woodpecker. By virtue of these circumstances bone-breaking woodpecker is very territorial and expels congeners from its possession actively.
These birds live in tree-trunk hollows made by them. Woodpeckers of this species are strict monodins. Pairs are formed to the whole life though relations inside family at these woodpeckers are very original: usually birds “hunt” bones separately and in general meet only in nesting season, adhering only to common territory. They communicate with each other, uttering loud calls in the morning and in the evening, and listening to the answer of the mate. Nestlings of this species (there are 2 – 4 nestlings in hatch) are fed up with insects, food traditional for woodpeckers. When nestlings grow up and prepare to leave nest, parents start to feed them up with marrow, and then the whole family migrates together for a certain time, and nestlings train to search for food.
“Anvil” takes the special place in life of bone-breaking woodpecker. It is the handiest forked branch, and each woodpecker has its own one. In fact, “anvil” is the center of bird’s territory, and life of each individual or pair is concentrated around of it. The woodpecker protects the “anvil” from competitors. In courtship season the nesting pair uses the male’s “anvil”.
The bone-breaking woodpecker is widely spread in Northern and Southern Africa, coming by the Gibraltar Isthmus to Southern Europe (at the northern slope of the Alps there are small populations replenishing due to birds flying from Western Europe). The zone of tropical woods breaks off its area to two sharply bordered parts.
In Southern Asia, Hindustan and the north of Zinj Land the close species lives, Asian bone-breaking woodpecker (Ossiflangerus asiaticus). It is a smaller, pigeon-sized bird. It differs from the African congener in yellowish color of feathering, but is similar in behavior and features of feeding.
This species of birds is discovered by Simon, the forum member.
ndipinotherium (Ndipinotherium crassipygus)
Order: Damans (Hyracoidea)
Family: Ndipinotheriums (Ndipinotheriidae)
Habitat: Africa to the south and to the east from savannas of Sahara, Arabia; plain district with alternating sites of savannas and woods.
Picture by Timothy Donald Morris
The ecological crisis connected to human activity had substantially
undermined biological variety of the Earth. And the ice age at the boundary
of Holocene and Neocene became an additional test for biosphere. As a result
the majority of specialized groups of animals had died out. Large animals, whose
populations in human epoch turned too small and isolated to provide a survival
and the further evolution, also had died out. But ones being “in a shadow” in
human epoch – small species of live beings – had got the main “prize” in struggle
for existence. Damans (Hyracoidea), small order of primitive hoofed mammals
of African origin, are one of such very perspective groups. From small burrowing
or climbing animals of primitive anatomy animals of several types of constitution
had descended: tree-climbing ashkokos similar to
lories, cursorial hyracolopes
and massive flathorns. Flathorns
are not unique group of giant descendants of damans. Their relatives are members
of original family of ndipinotheriums, large ground animals of Africa and nearest
areas of Asia.
“Ndipina” is the name of gorilla in some African dialects in human epoch. Savanna ndipinotherium is similar remotely to this primate dyed out long time ago: it has massive constitution, short back and rather long forward extremities. It is a very large animal – standing on four legs ndipinotherium reaches three meters at a shoulder, and about four meters length. Rising on hind legs, savanna ndipinotherium can reach branches of trees at five-meter height.
In appearance and habit of life this animal is an original analogue of chalicotheres of the past and of huge groundsloth rodents from Patagonia contemporary to it. Savanna ndipinotherium is the social animal migrating to long distances in large herds numbering up to 60 – 100 animals.
Body of savanna ndipinotherium is covered with rough and rather thin wool – these animals live in warm climatic zone. Wool is mainly straw-coloured, and on back there is an extended dark brown spot. Its shape may vary at different individuals – from wide longitudinal strip along the back up to “shabrack” covering crupper and hips. On shoulders of ndipinotherium there are also dark spots. On throat and chest of animal white wool grows – it is a sign of sexual maturity, and the throat of young animals is dark.
Rear legs of all species of ndipinotheriums are plantigrade and very strong. The foot of daman, the ancestor of these animals, was covered with soft skin. At ndipinotherium feet are cornified – it is an adaptation to migrating habit of life. Large herbivorous species can not feed at the same place for a long time: it depletes badly the food resources of the district. Due to strong muscles this animal can easily rear, slightly supporting by forelimbs against tree trunks. Claws of hinder legs are similar to elephant hooves, but they are stronger.
On hips of an animal the layer of fat using during the fodder shortage is accumulated. Because of this feature this animal has specific epithet “crassipygus”, meaning “fat-bottomed”. Ndipinotherium lacks tail at all.
Forepaws of ndipinotheriums combine supporting and grasping functions. Animal has long hands; the third and fourth fingers are thick, strong and surrounded with the common skin cover on which bottom side the cornified skin grows. During the four-legged walking the animal supports on the bottom side of these fingers. The second and fifth fingers of hand do not reach the ground. They are short, but mobile – they may partly oppose to third and fourth fingers, operating similarly to the thumb of human hand. With such paws animal turns in and grasps branches of trees, which it browses. On forepaws of ndipinotherium small hooves similar to nails grow.
Head of ndipinotherium is short, wide and rounded; neck is mobile. Ears of animal are small. Eyes of ndipinotherium are located on sides of head, providing good circular view. Sight of animal is good: alongside with huge giraffe ostrich ndipinotherium is one of main “watchers” of savanna, targeting predators from apart.
With the help of mobile lips ndipinotherium browses soft leaves from branches. But when it is not enough forage for it, animal can equally easily cut off branches and lignificated stalks up to 2 – 3 cm thick. It is possible due to the inheritance received from damans – huge sharp incisors similar to rodent ones. If necessary, animal defends against enemies by bites: it tries to grasp an attacking predator by forepaws and to bite through its head or thorax. One bite is enough to kill a predator comparable in size to lion of Holocene epoch. Due to huge size adult animals have almost no enemies, and mainly juveniles or single animals suffer from predators.
The rut passes very roughly – males roar, calling females and threatening contenders. They drive competitors off from chosen females by impacts of shoulders and heads. When fight becomes especially obstinate, forepaws may be used. Pregnancy at ndipinotheriums lasts for about one year, therefore the period of rut in fact coincides the time of cub birth.
In litter there is one cub only, but it is advanced in great degree: it is covered with wool, opens eyes in some minutes after birth, and in half an hour after birth can rise on legs and tries to walk. One day old cub does not remain behind adults. It feeds on fat milk for about half-year, and keeps near to mother for some months after. For this time young ndipinotherium reaches about a half of height of adult animal. When the female becomes pregnant, she drives the grown up cub off from itself, and young ndipinotheriums enter the most difficult period of life: they should search for food independently. But, as a rule, in herd there are some cubless females (“nurses”) caring of growing up animals a little.
Ndipinotherium becomes completely adult at the fifth year of life. Life expectancy of this species in nature reaches 55 – 60 years. In old age the muzzle of animal grows grey distinctly.
Close species of ndipinotheriums live in Africa:
Picture by Carlos Pizcueta (Electreel)
ndipinotherium (Ndipinotherium littoralis) lives in narrow strip of
woods at the Atlantic coast of Africa. It differs from savanna neighbour in
small size, more gracile constitution and long extremities. Growth of animal
rearing on hind legs reaches 3 meters. This animal easily rises on hind legs
and can walk in such position for some tens of meters. Usually this feature
of behaviour is shown in courtship season.
Muzzle is narrower and more extended: animal eats rather soft leaves of bushes and large grasses growing near water.
Animal is colored grey with dark irregular-shaped spots on sides and back legs. Throat is white even at newborn animals.
It usually may be two cubs in litter at this species.
Picture by Alexander Smyslov
Mountain ndipinotherium (Ndipinotherium orobius)
inhabits highlands of Central Africa and its area is isolated from other species
of family. It differs in smaller size, stumpy constitution, rather short extremities
and rich wool of dark brown (almost black) color. It is the smallest species
of genus: growth of adult individual rearing on hinder legs does not exceed
2.5 meters. The tip of muzzle at adult animals is white, at males there often
may be a white spot on chest.
Animals have massive head and strong jaws: this species eats mainly rough grass and branches of bushes.
manure mushroom (Copragaricus gigas)
Order: Gilled mushrooms (Agaricales)
Family: Agaricaceae (Agaricaceae)
Habitat: savanna of Northern Africa, manure heaps of ndipinotheriums.
Picture by Ilia
Ndipinotheriums and flathorns are very large descendants of
hyraxes living in African savanna. They partly replace elephants and rhinoceroses
extinct in Neocene, and are the animals forming a characteristic landscape of
savanna. Manure heaps of ndipinotheriums and flathorns represent the important
source of food for various invertebrates, and also a substratum for growth of
numerous mushrooms. From hyraxes, their ancestors, these animals inherited a
habit to leave dung in fixed place. Of course, this feature of behaviour was
transformed due to a nomadic way of life of these species. These animals evacuate
their intestines in special manure heaps which became an integral part of landscape
of African savanna of Neocene epoch.
As different groups of animals leave their dung in strictly fixed places, on regularly renewing manure heaps steady biocenosis develops. Mushrooms actively participating in decomposition of the vegetative mass undigested by animals are a part of it. A large species of pileate fungi occupies the important place among them: it is giant manure mushroom. Its fruiting bodies can be found on manure heaps of ndipinotheriums and flathorns – this mushroom is quite “omnivorous”.
Mycelium of giant manure mushroom penetrates layers of manure of animals, avoiding only the freshest manure. Fruiting bodies of this mushroom of white color and similar externally to champignon develop on edges of manure heaps. Wide cap of mushroom at first is egg-shaped with edges bent downwards and to stipe. For the second day of growth of fruiting body it gets smoothed out, and thin film, covering hymenium plates, is broken off at this time. Its part stays on stipe of mushroom which continues growth in height. Hymenium of this mushroom has reddish-brown color changing to black as time passes. At completely developed fruit body of giant manure the height reaches 45 – 55 cm, and cap diameter reaches up to 40 cm. Later cap turns curved inside, and wide plates of hymenium tear to rags. The fruiting body of mushroom at the age of 4 – 5days starts decaying and turns to sticky black mass. At this time flies and beetles fly to the rests of mushrooms: they carry the spores sticking to their legs. Spores of this mushroom have black color.
Giant manure mushroom is not poisonous, and some animals willingly eat its fruiting bodies at various stages of development.
In savannas of Northern Africa there are some more related species of mushrooms:
Graceful manure mushroom (Copragaricus gracilis) grows in groups of some tens of small fruiting bodies. Its height is up to 25 – 30 cm, but the appearance of fruiting body is absolutely different, rather than at the previous species. The present mushroom has very thin and long stipe of pale yellow color on which small cap of greenish color grows. It is a highly specialized species settling only on manure of flathorn.
Indicating, or termite-loving manure mushroom (Copragaricus indicator) lives only on the manure processed by termites which is added to the structure of dung termite nest. It had entered symbiotic relations with termites, and its fruiting bodies are always connected to the nest of dung termites. Small fruiting bodies of this mushroom grow on dwellings of termites innumerous groups. The height of this mushroom reaches 6 – 8 cm; it has thin stipe and velvety brownish cap. Termites eat a mycelium of termite-loving manure mushroom. But its benefit for insects is not limited with it: the mycelium gives special properties to walls of termite nest. Despite of thickness and durability, they turn porous, because the mycelium dissolves the inclusions of manure added to the composition of “mortar” for wall building. However, the presence of mushrooms in the termitary has the underside. Fruiting bodies punch a roof of termitary in some places, or grow at the edges of the nest. Because of it termites are compelled to repair walls of nest permanently as fruiting bodies of mushrooms grow, to prevent the appearing of cracks through which enemies can get into the colony.