Phloeonomus end the Protea Pirates
It was not exactly a hidden treasure. The proteas stood there like all proteas do, roots in the ground sucking water and holding on tightly in the south-easterly wind, leaves making food in the sunshine and blossoms waving enticingly in the wind. To any pollinator the blossoms were like lighthouses. To any human being they were, well, proteas. But they were special treasures! Once this species had covered the entire Cape Flats. Today this was one of the last stands in the area. Hundreds of people rode past in their fast cars daily: to them this treasure did not exist.
And that is why Phloeonomus had that ticklish feeling in his stomach. He had found a treasure and it was his own secret. He drew a map, with a big X marking the spot. He hid the map in the roots of the Protea bush in which he lived.
Every month, when he went to visit aunt Dung Beetle he would stop to make sure that his treasure was still there. He was always careful not to go too near the plants, lest he transport some horrible fungus which would make the bushes sick. And he did not want the pirates and robbers to know where the bushes were.
You can imagine his horror, when one Saturday he discovered that all the blossoms had been picked off his bushes. Somebody knew the whereabouts of his treasure. And on the ground were the dreaded tracks Phloeonomus knew so well: Larrin the Bee Pirate had stolen his blossoms. Poor Phloeonomus was so scared that he almost did not notice the sentry the pirates had posted to guard their treasure. But there he was, fast asleep: Asilid the Robber Fly. Phloeonomus could not stop his legs shaking: Asilid had eaten his cousin Phyconomus and several of his friends. He hid under a leaf. It was ten minutes before he could get his wings to work properly again.
Aunt Dung Beetle was no help. She suggested calling in the Army Ants, or getting Uncle Bombadier Beetle to bomb them, or the Fireflies to burn them, or Mr Tiger Beetle to eat them. It was all so depressing: his treasure was in the hands of the baddies.
As he sat in the moonlight worrying, Miss Atlas Moth told him to inform the Protea Atlas Project. In fact, she took his note to them. A month later when he visited the patch there was no sign of the pirates and robbers, but there was a terrible din: the Sawflies had moved in. They were clearing the area for housing.
Phloeonomus found Toktokkie, who tapped a message straight to the atlas coordinator.
A week later Phloeonomus got this letter:
Dear Flea-on-a-mous today
Thanks for the tok sent by your friend.
There is nothing anyone can do for your treasure site. The builders are not interested in "bossies". People need homes. I have passed on your tok to the Botanical Society Search and Rescue team. They need your help to show them the plants so that they can take cuttings and collect seed. They will then grow the plants at Kirstenbosch and store the seeds in a seed bank.
Meanwhile, I am asking ESKOM and the National Roads Board for permission to plant your treasures under the powerlines and in the road verges near your home. Working together, we can save your treasure.
Do you have any Protea treasures near your house? We would like you to fill in the X on our treasure map, the Protea Atlas.
Of course we need to make sure that our treasure isn't stolen. You can also look for signs of pirates and thieves - have any plants been picked? Make ure that in your investigations you do not trample too close to the plants. Proteas don't like their roots squashed and you may have killer diseases on your shoes.
And while you are doing your detective work, look for pollinators and other animals on your plants. Each plant is a real treasure-chest of information. So if you do find a Protea treasure, please write in and tell us.
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