The marvels of the rain forest

Came across this little ‘house’ while hiking in the Mayombe forest. Hmm, I’m not quite sure about the triple roofing system, but otherwise think it must be a clever little ant colony living there, protecting their home from rain like that! Super cute! Someone pointed out to me that these ‘constructions’ are called forest gnomes – not sure if they resemble little old men or why they would be called that, but apparently they are. Another type of ants nest that I saw for the first time was a round ball-like construction hanging around thin tree branches, or sitting on top of dead tree trunks, I saw several similar ones during our hikes.

The rain forest is amazing, there’s so much to see, such diversity and so many weird and wonderful plants and animals. Most of the animals go unnoticed in this neck of the woods though. There’s been a steep decline in animal populations, and then it doesn’t of course help that you often don’t see more than a metre ahead of you, because of the thick vegetation. Gorillas, forest elephants and forest buffalo can easily hide without being spotted. So I’m sure there’s a few curious pairs of eyes following us whenever we hike through the forest, although we only notice the dreaded ants, in particular the army ants that invade our legs and pants in no time at all whenever we make the mistake of stopping in our tracks right on an ant highway – when will I ever learn to look where I put my feet before coming to a halt?!

Plantlife is easier to admire of course, can’t really miss the thick vines that curl around trees, hang from high branches and form a web above our heads. Or the huge cathedral trees that can house several people inside their hollow trunks. Not to mention the tall and narrow spider trees that stand delicately on a web of fingerlike roots sticking up from the ground. Then there’s the various plants that many of us are used to seeing as house plants, but that actually originate from the rain forest, from Dieffenbachia seguine (dumbcane) to Sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue), and from Monstera deliciosa (monstera) to Plectranthus scutellarioides (coleus). I’m always in awe when I see these – in a way familiar – plants in their real habitat and at their real size.

What makes me sad though is the relatively common sound of either portable generators or chain saws right in the middle of the Mayombe rain forest – the former is linked to the gold digging activity that takes place in this forest (they use small generators to operate water pumps), while the latter is due to people clearing forest in order to cultivate manioc or maize. Even sadder is the fact that the trees that are cut down are simply left to rot, nobody bothers to make use of the wood, for anything at all – not even as fire wood! And saddest of all, the clearings that are created this way are only used for 2-3 years, then they are abandoned, and new areas of hundreds of years old magestic trees are cleared! I know this is peanuts compared with the logging companies that are responsible for sending on average one hundred loaded timber trucks from various forests in this country to the port in Pointe Noire each day of the year. But still.


  1. Those were mean ants! It was miserable feeling a hard bite into your flesh in the middle of your hike somewhere around the knee or thigh inside your pants. It meant that the ant had crawled up your foot and gone inside your long hiking pants to continue the crawl up your leg inside your pants. There was no quick way to get rid of that hard biting ant! Are you going to drop your pants in the middle of the hike to remove the ant or what to do??? Stopping to deal with ONE hard biting ant inside your pants was a gamble as many more mean ants could attack you while stopped. Such a dilemma!


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