The company known as Kitengela Glass Studios is owned and run by artist Nani Croze. The artist settlement at Kitengela Glass is situated on the edge of the National Park. The landscape surrounding the settlement comprises lightly wooded savannah with some grazed and cultivated land.
Dr. Dino Martins,an adopted son of Nani Croze and a noted entomologist,has his headquarters here. In 2012,Dr.Ian Gordon,who recently retired as Head of Enviromental Entomology at ICIPE,when visiting Dino at Kitengela Glass, noticed that the savannah there was inhabited by a thriving population of the African Queen [Danaus chrysippus],a butterfly he had been studying for some forty years.He immediately informed his old friend and research associate,Dr.David Smith[retired Head of Biology at Eton Collage,UK],who had devoted even more years to researching this iconic and beautiful butterfly. Ian,David,Dino,Professor Walther Traut from the University Of Luebeck in Germany,and several kenyans,have formed a team to research D.Chrysippus at Kitengela glass,and applied to the Government Wildlife Department for permission to proceed.
The focus of interest at Kitengela glass is a hybrid zone between two subspecies of D.Chrysippus, D.C.chrysippus and D.C.dorippus; the two subspecies are in reality incipient species and,although they hybridize,the result is not harmonious. What has happened here,and elsewhere in the Nairobi region is that mechanisms are actively evolving which will ensure that the two subspecies eventually become independent species.
The principal ingredient of the speciation process at Kitengela glass involves two remarkable and unique features. The first is that one subspecies [D.C.chrysippus]is infected with a bacterium called Spiroplasma which kills male eggs,the implication being that females have only daughters:-as these daughters acquire the infection from their mothers,the all-female line is perpetuated indefinitely. The second extra ordinary feature is that,because D.C.chrysippus females cannot mate with males of their own type,they are forced to accept D.C.dorippus males as mates.
Because all their sons are killed,the hybrid daughters produce only daughters similar to themselves. We are also studying a chromosome mutation which has astonishing effect of preventing gene flow from one subspecies to the other. Darwin would have loved this.
The book, African Queens and their kin:a Darwinian Odyssey by David Smith [publisher Brambleby Book,UK]will be available from July 2014. This book tells part of the Kitengela glass story;It is, however,ongoing:otherwise we would not continue to do the research.Kitengela glass will play an important part in this unfolding story.