Baobab & Gladiators: Ancient to Present
Namibia is purported to have some of the most beautiful postage stamps in the world. But what’s more fascinating are the stories behind the artful images they depict—plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with her.
Here we look at two prehistoric specimens that thrive in the present.
According to legend, the Baobab tree obtained its unusual shape because God planted it upside down. The iconic tree of the African savannah, which is actually a succulent, is a symbol of life and positivity in a harsh landscape.
Little else thrives here. Baobab trees, dating back to prehistoric times, can have a lifespan of up to 5,000 years, reach up to 30 metres high and up to 50 meters in circumference. Many savannah communities have made their homes near these trees as their hollow interior can serve as a chapel, shop, and place of refuge for humans and animals.
The Ombalantu baobab was once a place of refuge for the Ombalantu people who used it to hide during tribal wars. It later became a post office and then a chapel and still contains a lectern-holding bible.
The unusual plant lends itself to many myths and superstitions. For example, there’s a belief if you pick a baobab flower you will be devoured by a lion as the blossoms are inhabited by spirits. On the other hand, if you drink water the seeds have been soaked in, it will protect you from attack by a crocodile. But be careful! Sucking and eating the seeds attracts crocs.
No matter where they are or what the season, the huge trees’ size, height, and age command reverence from anyone passing by.
On the other end of the size scale, a prehistoric insect thought to be extinct caused quite a stir in the scientific community, coming to light through a series of unusual circumstances.
The finding was extraordinary as a PH. D. student was examining a fossil insect trapped in a 45 million-year-old piece of amber which could not be identified. It was, however, very similar to an insect collected in South West Africa in 1909. Making inquiries at the National Museum of Namibia, it turned out a similar insect had been received only days earlier. After a thorough scientific study, astounded scientists had to name a new order for the first time since 1914.
The insects were dubbed ‘gladiators’ because of their fearsome appearance and the armour that covers them as nymphs, reminiscent of Roman fighters.
The Gladiator is similar but distinctly different than a Praying Mantis. Like the mantis, the former grabs its prey with both fore and mid legs and feeds on other insects, but the Gladiator’s first body section is the largest.
Like its namesake, the Gladiator is aggressive and thinks nothing of eating its own kind. In fact, after mating, males have to beat a hasty retreat lest the females devour them.
As rare as the find was, it’s even rarer for something thought to be extinct to ‘come to life’ again.