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Lithops project blog


This is the blog page of the Lithops Project, in which we investigate the extent and evolution of locally optimized camouflage coloration in the enigmatic African "stone plants" belonging the genus Lithops.

In the first part of the project, we use hyperspectral and multispectral camera equipment for making detailed comparisons of the visual properties of Lithops species and the soil on which they grow across numerous locations in southern Africa.

We set out for our second month-long field expedition on June 27, 2018. As on the 2016 expedition, we aim to post updates every 2-3 days.

Our imaging expeditions are supported by National Geographic Society Science and Exploration Europe. Hyperspectral camera equipment is provided by Specim Spectral Imaging Ltd. and the Surface Optics Corporation.

For more information on our project, check out

Winter is coming…

Expedition blog 2018 Posted on Thu, July 05, 2018 11:29PM

Recharging stop in Kimberley. The rains have ended during our northward travel, but the South African winter has shown its strength during the last days, so the nights have been cold. The sunrises are very beautiful though.

Frosty morning with icy fog surrounding our camp next to an irrigation channel.

Unhappy field biologists demonstrating spoon frozen onto a plate during the night.

On the road again

Expedition blog 2018 Posted on Sun, July 01, 2018 09:44PM

Feels good to be on the road again! We headed up north from Cape Town on Thursday morning, and entered the distribution of our first target species, Lithops localis, in the evening. The weather of the first three days has not favored our efforts, as it has been mostly cold, windy and variably cloudy. Especially clouds passing over the sun substantially complicate taking multi- and hyperspectral images, which require long exposure times. And the plants remain just as difficult to find as before. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to image altogether five L. localis and L. comptonii populations. Right now we have stopped for the night in Vanrhynsdorp, where our program mainly consists of showering, charging batteries, and backing up files. It’s raining outside.

Some rare moments of sunshine.

Searching for Lithops localis. The flags mark found individuals.

Lithops localis. This probably explains why Lithops plants are hard to find.


Expedition blog 2018 Posted on Mon, June 25, 2018 10:32PM

This feels a bit like when a space probe suddenly awakens and sends a faint ping after years of silence and uncertainty, but… the Lithops Project is alive!

The journey since the 2016 expedition has been long and tedious, but now we’re fervently preparing for the second expedition, which will start on Wednesday June 27, 2018. The aims and determination are still the same, but more people are involved and the mission is to gather more data than on the first trip.

More updates will follow soon!

Back in Cape Town

Expedition blog 2016 Posted on Sun, May 01, 2016 10:40PM

Sadly, the Lithops 2016 expedition is now officially over. Awesome trip! The following months will be used to analyze the massive image dataset that we collected during the expedition.

We arrived in Cape Town in the afternoon, and have spent the evening unpacking and cleaning gear, showering, and eating. More posts will follow later, after sleeping and sorting out our photo files.

First rain day

Expedition blog 2016 Posted on Fri, April 29, 2016 02:57PM

Can’t really complain about the weather in South Africa: after three weeks of field work, we have the first real rain day. Because of the drizzle, we can’t photograph Lithops populations today, so we stopped for for lunch and coffee at the Kerksaal in Bitterfontein. At the same time, we’re backing up all of our image data.

Despite the rain, we have a couple of Lithops divergens sites mapped and ready for tomorrow, which will be the last full field day or our expedition.

Cold nights, hot days

Expedition blog 2016 Posted on Wed, April 27, 2016 11:14PM

The winter is coming, and the nights start to be cold – this morning the temperature dropped below zero. However, it gets warmer immediately after sunrise, and the days are still very hot.

We’ve come back south from the vicinity of Namibia, and have spent the last days photographing species in the remote areas of Bushmanland. These include Lithops naureeniae (top) and L. otzeniana (below).


Expedition blog 2016 Posted on Sun, April 24, 2016 01:20AM

By now, our daily routines have become rather standardized. Before dark, we search a good spot for camping, and make a small fire to cook food.

In a coming book called South African Field Cooking, I will describe the results that emerge. I’m sure Allan, Willem, and Jeroen have a plan during cooking, despite the fact that my still-untrained eye perceives the process like random mixing of ingredients that happen to be found in the cooler box.

After dinner we got to bed before nine and get up at sunrise. The fire is revived for making coffee. The fire pit can also be used for warming up cold feet, as demonstrated by Jeroen below.

After breakfast we pack everything in the car and head towards the closest Lithops population!

Flat tyres II

Expedition blog 2016 Posted on Sun, April 24, 2016 12:50AM

This is what our right hind wheel looked like on the morning of the second day of our trip (April 6).

Thursday morning revealed that our left hind tyre had a big gash on its side and was letting air out. As luck was, we noticed this in time and got it promptly repaired before leaving Springbok.

The last couple of days have been productive, and we’ve been processing populations of Lithops marmorata, L. meyeri, and L. geyeri. Below is a shriveled but flowering individual of L. meyeri.

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