Articles on biology by Bevan Pank
My only claim to fame – or perhaps infamy – is for
often writing on biology in analogical terms. For example, I described abalone
as good "buddies" for a dive magazine, so that the reader can more
readily identify with them. To help in promoting environmental protection, I
consider it necessary to "sell" the magic of indigenous fauna and
flora. This is because I was a marketing man – both locally and overseas –
in the building industry, before becoming an amateur science writer.
Although only a weekend-diver, I was privileged to witness
beauty seldom seen – except on television – by the average person. The
closest was to be found in more easily accessible intertidal rock-pools. I
therefore decided to write mainly on their tiny – but fascinating –
inhabitants. My motive was to indicate that all creatures – whatever their
size – warrant respect for their lifestyle and habitat. In my opinion, it is
immoral, when we relative newcomers to Earth over-exploit marine invertebrate
groups that have existed for over 500 million years!
that never age. We South Africans are morally obliged to never
pollute our water, in case some amazing tiny animals deserving respect are
killed. Known as hydras in fresh water and as hydroids in salt water, they
succeed where we fail - by never aging!
corals. Anyone visiting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is struck
by the beauty of its coral. A similar underwater kaleidoscope occurs in the
Caribbean and many other tropical regions. However, there is nothing dull
about South African corals.
jellyfish. One day last summer, many visitors to a popular Cape
beach had their holiday ruined by the intimidating presence of a huge
washed-up jellyfish. It was the largest known species - a Root-mouthed
Jellyfish - which averages 0,30 m, but can reach 1,5 m in diameter. The
bathers did not realize that this species lacks stinging tentacles and poses
Beach hoppers, the sandy
shore custodians. To people living on an unspoilt stretch of the
Cape coast, the stink of rotting stranded kelp is a temporary problem. It is
soon solved by beach hoppers. Commonly termed beach fleas, they are actually
air-breathing marine crustaceans with modified gills and related to shrimps.
Besides their role as "custodians" of the sandy shore, they also
attract bird life to the region.
Majidae - The magic
decorator crabs. There is magic in South African waters! Although
difficult to detect, it occurs among seaweeds in countless rock-pools from
the Cape Peninsula to Moçambique. We call this magic "Majidae" -
A family name for the decorator crabs.
The smashing and spearing
stomatopods. Come share a jug of navy rum and watch thy 100-gun
British man-o’war set sail from fair Simon’s Town with proud ensign atop
ye top gallants. its jacktars be warriors, but i hast a tale for thee of
greater warriors that conquered ye false bay shallows nigh on 500 million
years ago. Aye! They art bearers of weapons with ye fastest strikes on
wonderful world of decapods. Did you know that the east coast rock
lobster usually shares a home with an aggressive moray eel? It attracts the
eel with a shrill "serenade", which is performed by rasping
together certain body parts. So when a hungry octopus rolls up in search of
a crayfish cocktail, the eel quickly comes to the rescue and zaps it! Such
fascinating behaviour can be found in the wonderful world of decapods.
friend Bluey the hermit crab. A true story.
Animals with metallic
teeth. All about chitons of class Polyplacophora.
In defence of
abalone. Perlemoen or more correctly - abalone - are "nice
guys" and do not deserve to be over-exploited. When trapping a large
piece of drifting sugar-rich seaweed underfoot, they often wait for their
mates to arrive and join in the sumptous meal!
and sea hares. Ole! See the Spanish dancer with a gold, red and
white mantle. It ripples with each graceful swimming motion. This is one of
southern Africa’s most flamboyant marine invertebrate groups: the
harpooning cone shells. Although invertebrates in South African
waters are seldom - if ever - lethal, some give a painful sting and need to
be handled with protective gloves. This is especially the case with large
cone shells much prized by collectors. In fact, two species from the east
coast - fortunately rare - produce venom similar in effect to that of a
cobra. Toxins vary in potency, but all cones produce them and employ the
same delivery method through barbed harpoon-like teeth!
drills. Any commercial diver attempting to drill through limestone
will know that it is not easy. Surprisingly, a special group of marine
invertebrates have been doing this with panache for some 200 million years.
they are known simply as "the drills".
to grips with limpets! Meet South Africa’s family Patellidae.
commonly known as limpets, they inhabit our rocky shores and get up to all
sorts of tricks. To best appreciate their amazing lifestyles, let’s
imagine that their latest trick is the power of speech!
Articles on fish
ocean depths. Blowing across the darkened Sinai Peninsula, a Khamsin
wind covered military jeeps with dust and ruffled the waters of the Gulf of
Aquaba. Although the "six-day war" of 1967 was over, Israeli
troops still patrolled the coastline south of Eilat. Spotting a faint green
glow beyond the coral reef, they believed it to emanate from raiding frogmen
and lobbed grenades. Many of the dead were washed ashore, but their eyes
continued to blaze with eerie light for several hours. This was an encounter
with the magnificent flashlight fish.
Tickbirds of the
ocean. Just as tickbirds remove parasites from
cattle, so certain animals perform the same service - and much more - on
fish. Known as "cleaners", South Africa is proud to welcome two of
the greatest - the Cleaner Shrimp and Cleaner Wrasse!
Articles on the marine environment
Cape Peninsula. Well beyond the kelp beds
in Smitswinkel Bay, the skipper has dropped anchor on Rockeater. It
rests at 35 metres on the sandy bed with four other wrecks, forming an
artificial reef. There you will find soft corals, sponges, fishes and the
spectacular gas-flame nudibranch.
The Whale Dance. Describes
the anatomy and postures of the Southern Right Whale.
The magic of
Danger Beach. Consider
the situation at Danger Beach, so named on account of its rip tides when the
waves are large and only attract surfers.
It lies near St. James station, which is a 50-minute train journey
from the city of Cape Town and less on the motor expressway.
In spring, the lush lawn with its paved path to Danger Beach
gradually gives way to a psychedelic mass of yellow and white daisies.
Then suddenly appears the wildness of a huge wave-beaten stretch of
sand set between a low but wide rocky shore.
Amazing Bristle-worms. About polychaete worms that are found on
Articles on plants
gardening. About success in windy coastal
regions with indigenous plants.
his lesson. An analogy on Proteus - an ancient Greek - taking the
form of the sugarbush Protea repens, to help in uplifting a poor
Ed finds his roots.
Ed – or more correctly – edulus is actually a succulent species
of the genus Carpobrotus and is indigenous to the south-western Cape
coast. Commonly known as the Hottentot or sour fig, C. edulus is
easily recognized by its fleshy three-sided leaves and yellow daisy-like
Articles on insects
Did you know that many flowers on the Cape Peninsula cannot pollinate,
unless they are members of a 'guild' which attracts a particular fly? Did
you also know that another fly is partly responsible for ridding many
beaches of smelly kelp? So although we regard flies as pests, these two
flies help to beautify the region. Hence eco-tourism benefits, which in turn
strengthens our economy.
Articles on birds
The Lonely Otter.
Neither the Russian nor South African birds
were prepared to confront a hissing otter. Instead, they consulted some
recent visitors from north of the Limpopo River. These were the
Largerstriped Swallow, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Diederik Cuckoo and Redchested
Cuckoo. "Since your countries are democratic," they advised,
"you have no right to persecute little Otto". Little? He measured
1,5 metres and weighed 18 kilograms! "Otto leaves you alone", they
continued, "he only asks for the right to catch a few crabs here or go
fishing and never complains when we make a noise". The local birds then
hung their heads in shame!
Blockade. What an incredible sight! The
brave blockade-buster unsteadily flip-flopped his way with waving arms to
the nest site. "Kek-kek-kek", he shouted in imitation of a
Peregrine Falcon. When the Plovers gave their characteristic "tink-tink-tink"
warning, he responded with the falcon’s threat call of "chik-it,
chik-it, chik-it" and then all hell broke loose.
The Evening Dress
Parade. About African Penguins. The guided-missile strike craft was
fighting a raging southeaster in false bay, but all was calm at Foxy Beach
in the Boulders Coastal Park. Many youngsters smartly dressed in black and
white were staring expectantly out to sea. They were observed by a large
group of overseas visitors, who had come 40 km from Cape Town to witness
what some even regarded as the highlight of their South African tour. This
was the explosion of submerged black torpedo shapes!
the False Bay Champagne Trail. With raucous cries of indignation,
sea gulls weave between plumes of salty spray from waves crashing against
the Muizenberg catwalk. A rainbow tunnel lit by reflections off the silvery
sea invites us to taste the champagne-like air. It is spring and mighty Cape
rollers have scoured the beaches. This is the time to hike the 22 km
Africa's village of ecosystems. About the various ecosystems to be
found in and around the little coastal village of Glencairn on the Cape