Fynbos is such a diverse biome, with so many fascinating life cycles happening within it. While exploring Gondwana Game Reserve we came across a stand of Protea neriifoilia and noticed that fresh flowerheads were laden with beetles. It was fascinating to see that the beetles occurred at different depths within the flowerheads depending on what they were doing. The Green headed blister beetle seemed to be feeding higher up in the bloom and probably due to its size occupied the first 2/4 of the flowerhead. The monkey beetles were the last to be discovered as they were buried deep in between the flowers in the flowerhead, near the base. The smaller beetles seemed to be mobile and small enough to exist throughout. By carefully pulling open the flowers to see what existed inside the bloom, we discovered 157 beetles from 10 different beetle species in one flowerhead alone! We slowly photographed as many as we could some got away, but we managed to document most. The largest beetle in the flowerhead was the gorgeous Green-headed Blister Beetle (Lytta nitidula) found exclusively in fynbos. It enjoys feeding on fresh flower heads of various proteas and blossoms of certain irises.
Beetles in proteas either feed off the nectar and the pollen in the protea itself or are predators to the other beetles and mites in the protea flowerhead. They also become a source of food to sugarbirds and sunbirds who also feed on the insects inside the proteas from which they draw additional minerals that they do not get from the nectar.
The biodiversity that fynbos holds is simply amazing, and this is just what we can see with the naked eye, just imaging what exists in that same flower at a microscopic level!
These are the 157 Beetles all found in one flowerhead of Protea neriifolia. Below, larger images of the 10 different species.
Text & Photographs: Raquel de Castro Maia