June 2000 Collecting Trip to Tunisia

by Martin Hauser

map of TunisiaArriving at the new airport in Tunis, I immediately realized that there have been a lot of changes in the past five years since my last visit to this beautiful North African country. After bargaining for a rental car in the airport, my friend Christian Schmid-Egger, a hymnopterist from Germany, arrived to join me for one of my two weeks in Tunisia. We decided to collect first in southern Tunisia, because Christian expected to find the most interesting Hymenoptera there. I wanted to spend the second week in the north.

Christian Schmid-Egger next to our rental car (nice color!) at the oasis of Nefta, after a day with amazing wasps, beautiful snakes, huge scorpions, hungry mosquitoes but no stiletto flies.
In the dry Dahar Mountains, it is often hard to detect a village from afar. They blend in perfectly with the landscape. Only the mosque with its white color stands out.
fortress in Tunisia
In troublesome times, the inhabitants of the village hide their belongings in a fortress such as this. For us entomologists, they look like the giant mud nests of Sceliphron wasps.
Christian on top of the “Sceliphron nest”, obviously happy with his findings.
In the very south at the border of the Western Erg, we found some wonderful sand dunes, but only a few Therevidae larvae. With a sandstorm brewing, it did not make sifting the sand any easier.
foot buried in sand, with sandaled toes jutting out
What was left of the author [Martin Hauser] after the storm.
An ideal place to find therevid fly larvae near Nefta, but even after sifting two hours, I was unable to find a single larva.
A close up of the salt lake “Chott El Jerid”. We were very surprised to find lots of ants, silver-white spiders (Salticidae) and other arthropods in this unfriendly environment.
The salt lake at the horizon and some dunes in the foreground.
But again no larvae in the sand.
With the help of Mr. Menzel Jemil (right) from the forestry department in Remel near Bizerte, I set up a malaise trap on a sand patch for an entire week, and luckily got some adult Therevidae out of it.
Martin Hauser stands near a malaise trap
Author [Martin Hauser] above.
Cape Blanc is the most northern piece of land of the whole African continent. And this place not only provides a gorgeous view, it was also a great place for collecting. For example, the most northern robberfly (Asilidae) in Africa.
One of my favourite places in Tunisia is Tabarka close to the border of Algeria. In these dunes, my advisor, Mike Irwin, collected a new species (Thereva mirabilisLyneborg, 1987) one day after my second birthday! Now, many years later, I tried to find it there, because it has never been found since that original collection. Not only was the weather bad, but the landscape had changed a bit: instead of endless dunes there are now a lot of hotels and Africa’s second largest golf course! But I found a lot of therevid larvae in the sand, so maybe I will be able to rear out T. mirabilis.
Only with the help of the Tunisian entomologist, Ben Jamaa (left), it was possible to get access to several interesting localities. We spent two days in Tabarka and Ain Draham, setting up Malaise traps and collecting insects.
Even though the Malaise trap was big, we caught only a few insects because of the rain. But as always, the people I met were very friendly and helpful, even if it was a bit strange for most of them that someone should be looking for small flies. And one of the most common questions was: “Don’t you have flies in America?”
During the last days of my visit, I collected a lot of larvae in these wonderful sand dunes near Bizerte.
Suddenly a herd of goats ran over the hill and I found myself in the midst of dozens of goats that were jumping over my gear, and try to eat some of it. This was not much of a problem, but the shepherd dogs, who were protecting the herd, thought that I was a dangerous threat to the goats and attacked me. I was lucky that the shepherd chased them away with a handful of stones. Normally I also used stones to keep feral dogs at a distance, but in the middle of a sand dune, stones are hard to find!