Goggas and Nunus

By Penny (with additions by others...)

Some of my fondest and most abiding childhood memories revolve around the abundance of creepy crawlies where we lived. We would often capture a chameleon and place it against different backgrounds to see how closely it could match them. I would keep one in a shoebox in my bedroom for a few days before releasing it - I have heard it said that the blacks are very superstitious about chameleons - but I don't remember our African servants being too concerned about them.

Another fascinating small reptile was the gecko that would disengage its tail before scuttling away if you made a grab for it.

The insects, or goggas or nunus if you like, were also part of everyday life in our little backwater and would be captured and imprisoned in a matchbox on a regular basis. There were the tok-tokkies, about 1" long beetles with a very hard, high domelike shell. They were slow, easy to catch and completely harmless.

Curly-wees - antlions- that constructed and lived in little conical holes in the sand. If you stirred the hole with a twig you might find the curly-wee, or even two if you were lucky.

There were also hoards of dung beetles that, attracted to the light, would collide with something and land on their backs and be unable to right themselves again. I remember being laughed at for forever stopping to turn them over.

When the white-ants started to emerge from the ground sporting wings you would know that in the evening the air would be thick with flying ants - we used to call them butter-bums because if you squeezed them something that looked like butter would pop out of their abdomens. They were about an inch long and fairly plump. The Africans would cook and eat them. My friend, Jenny, and I de-winged, fried and ate some once and as I recollect they were fairly tasteless but nice and crunchy.

There were also the huge, black matabele ants that marched in formation through the bush, and stank to high heaven if you squashed them. We also had a plague of locusts, and at another time of caterpillars - big fat colourful ones, once, so many that you had to pick your way through them as you walked. The Africans thought these were manna from heaven and cooked and ate those too. We weren't brave enough to have a taste though, ugh!

I always used to be happy to have a spider or two living on my bedroom ceiling - they definitely kept the mosquito population down!

Penny is associate editor of Out of Africa International


We used to call the ant lion a "curly whirly" and would say a little poem as we broke their 'house' to get them out. My daughter has just done a project on them, and I learned amazing things - like the size of the funnel/cone does not mean a larger antlion, just that it is very hungry! Also the antlion is the larvae and actually becomes a fly!! One is never too old to learn, and I was amazed that I had spent my whole childhood coaxing these things up from their hole, and not knowing that they turned into flies!!


Those little goggas are called "ant lions". HOWEVER, there are other nunus called "camel worms", which we used to lure out of their holes and force to fight with one another. Boy, they were quite fierce and used to attack each other very ferociously!


Chongololos and ant lions fascinated most curious children. I used to specialize in snakes and scorpions as a lad in Lusaka. I learned to skin snakes and cure the skins, and was not above picking up a (dead) boomslang off the road, wrapping it round my bike handlebars, and heading home to skin it. Our cat was always after my skins, and once I put one in the P.K.(outhouse) for safety. Mother went to use the facilities in the dark, and her screams got Dad going; he rushed out, shotgun in hand, in his pyjamas... I got a thick ear for my pains! Scorpions live about 3 feet down - the oval opening to their tunnel is a giveaway. I used to feed a piece of elephant grass down the hole, and if there was a tug, knew that a scorpion was in residence. I used to dig them out. It was tough work, because the ground in the dry season was like concrete. One day I had a KLIM milk tin with about five scorpions scuttling around, tails raised. A lady friend of Mothers was over having afternoon tea in the dining room. [I recall that she had a passion for Deanna Durban songs]. Well, she wanted to know what I had in the tin. Foolishly, Mother insisted that I hand over the tin to the guest. I did. She fainted clean away, the tin clattered to the floor, and the scorpions made a dash for freedom. What a fuss! Mother was yelling and the servants were in a panic. I was the only one level-headed enough to recapture my pets. God knows what became of number five; he was never found! I got another thick ear for my pains!


....chongololo memories. We used to collect them in cig boxes after the rains and then have a big "weigh-in". The kid with the most big ones was declared winner. Amusements were so easy to find then


I remember seeing a chongololo climb on top of one of those huge snails that you used to get. The snail retreated inside but somehow the chongololo made a perfectly round hole in the top of its shell and ate him from the outside, in. If anyone out there knows how this was achieved, I would be very interested to know! I thought they were vegetarians and I didn't think they had any kind of teeth.