A trace of Czechia in Central Africa

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  30. 04. 2022

I’m trying to recall how many times I came across a trace of Czechia in Central Africa. Not many. Probably the one that stuck in my mind the most was a dilapidated Zetor tractor in the depths of the Congo. But recently, in Cameroon, a completely different Czech trace surfaced in front of me.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

My colleague, Karel Kodejš, also went on our last trip. His main task was to bring African palm weevils (Rhynchophorus phoenicis) to the new gorilla pavilion in our zoo. Their larvae are a popular delicacy in Central Africa. During our stay on the edge of the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Somalomo, Karel took the opportunity to shine a UV light at night to attract insects. One of his very first catches was a large moth with its body and wings covered in fine hairs. A beautiful creature! Before Karel released it back into the wild, I managed to take at least one picture of it with my mobile in the light of my torch. Hopefully the picture captures its velvety look.

It wasn’t difficult to assign the “velvet” moth to the saturniids, but it was not until we returned to Yaoundé that the species was identified. When I got online, I uploaded the photo to the iNaturalist app. Surprisingly, after just a few hours, the determination appeared: Lobobunaea melichari.

Of course, the species appellation melichari awoke my interest. With a few clicks I found out that this saturniid species was described just ten years ago, in 2012, by Thierry Bouyer an entomologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. However, this was all done using specimens brought back from the Central African Republic in 2008 by Czech collector Tomáš Melichar! It suddenly all fell into place. What’s more, I've even met this exceptional expert on the Sphingidae, or hawk moths, in Příbram, where part of his huge collection is exhibited in the Natura house.

I had already thought of a point I could make for this article. Something along the lines of the fact that, for me at least, Melichar's saturniid from Somalomo was a far better trace of Czechia in the heart of Africa than the rusty Zetor mentioned in the introduction. Unfortunately, this point fell at the first post when it came up to the reality of the matter. Upon returning to Prague, Stefan Naumann, a saturniid specialist, expressed the opinion that the species was more likely to be Lobobunaea goodii or L. sangha. A shame! But at least I don't have to be so down about the quality of the photo of this magnificent moth.