Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Poet Laureate or Spike?

Well there could be no other way of starting this blog update than with a big...

It was so great to hear all of your views on the subject of including humour in these updates. Thank-you to everyone who took the time to comment here and to those who sent me personal messages too, from memory, that was John, Sam and Brian. Apologies if I have missed anyone. I applaud you all! 

Alright, to quote the late-great Northern Soul singer Clarence Murray, 'Let's Get On With It...'

Despite the cold winds, the signs of spring are everywhere...

It's not only the flora that is telling me spring is just around the corner, there are other signs too. For the first time in a while I spotted some frogspawn in a local pond...

There was plenty of it too...

They always look like a bunch of mangled human eyes to me! Sorry, that probably wasn't my best ever example of poetic writing was it, but you know what I mean.

This young lady could do with cleaning up her act I think? 
Both in terms of what she is doing and allowing her brood to get into such a muddy mess! 

Look at this frogspawn, it looks more like dirty lemon Bonbons? What kind of mother would be so lackadaisical? I'll tell you what kind shall I: the kind who is too busy getting her...too busy having...too...distracted! 💘

Traditional lemon bon bons
By the way, there seems to be a bit of a debate as to whether this candy should be spelled as Bonbons, or Bon Bons, or indeed Bon-bons. Not really interested huh?

Let's move on by way of another song lyric then shall we. "Snakes in the grass are absolutely free..." (Bow Wow Wow 1982) Or should that be bow-wow-wow? Can you see how my brain is working here? I got to Bow Wow Wow just because I wrote candy rather than sweets. Bow Wow Wow had a song called, 'I Want Candy'. That in turn has reminded me that this group were formed when most of the members of 'Adam and the Ants' band left and started their own band. So what, you are possibly saying under your breath right now? Oh, just another tenuous connection, that's all. Ants are insects after all.

Okay, I will shut up with my ramblings and get to the point. The snake in the grass that I found t'other day...

Natrix natrix. The European  grass snake. Sometimes called (although not by me) the ringed snake or water snake. Associated with water and feeding mostly on amphibians, they will occasionally eat ants; there, you were wondering when I was going to mention ants? The snakes themselves are in turn predated by owls, corvids and foxes.
Did you know that there are no native snakes at all in Ireland? 

I bet you are thinking, this blog update is all very nice 'JJ', but what it really needs is a photo of a slug on a trainer? What a coincidence then. I just happen to have one!

The full story is that somebody had thrown away this old trainer shoe and I suppose because it was brightly coloured I noticed it and then soon after, the slug. But I was puzzled by the shape of the slug and especially that sort of projection at the rear which seemed to be moving in and out. 

I think it was John Masefield who wrote:

 I must go down to the seas again,
 to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship 
and a star to steer her by.

But I always remember the Spike Milligan version, rather than the original...

I must go down to the sea again, 
    to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there - 

    I wonder if they're dry? 

Which is a rather silly way of segueing into the next addition to this update. I did get down to the sea again this week. Camber Sands to be precise. It wasn't a bug-hunting trip, but as ever, I couldn't resist the urge to scout around a few of the sand dunes before returning home. 

I only had the little pocket Pentax camera with me and so there isn't too much detail in these pictures but I think this is a Sitona species of weevil and there were several of them running around on the sand. I know that the Pea Weevil (S.lineatus) has been found in quite large numbers beside the ocean.

I am not too sure of the identity of the beetle pictured above but it was struggling to get around on the sand. 

A quick reminder that you will need to view this video online rather than in the email version of the update...

As was this one...

This one was a nice find for me as they are only associated with this kind of habitat. It is a Small Beach Scarab - Aegialia arenaria.  I read an interesting paper on the subject of coastal habitat recently. Here's a small excerpt: Although most UK sand dune systems are now fossilized, with little mobility and reducing amounts of bare sand, they support important populations and assemblages of terrestrial invertebrates. Offering open conditions, warm substrates and a range of habitats and habitat structures, they have become increasingly significant as other coastal habitats have been lost.

This was the scene facing the ocean.
And this is about the closest you will ever get to seeing a selfie of me...

I said right at the start of this update that there was only one way to start it: well in a similar way, there is really only one way to end; it has to be a photograph of a levitating larva surely? So you think I haven't got such a picture do you? Wrong! Slug on a trainer was only a precursor to the main attraction. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the levitating larva...

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Publish and be damned...

I need your input blog-readers. I had a nice email from somebody who used the  blogger 'contact JJ' option, that was very complimentary about my little blog, but mentioned at the same time about my writing style.
They were expressing a preference for the more factual updates, over the, well frankly, sillier ones. 

And so I would love to know what others think. I want to get the balance right because, although this is my blog, it is nothing without you loyal readers. Please do let me know any thoughts, good or bad, by using the same contact option, or just adding a comment at the bottom of this post.



Here we go then (at last) no frivolity included! Oh, before we get too far into this update, I need to apologise for the brevity and lack of tremendously exciting subject matter. I have already made a note to myself to try harder next time. The whole story is a little convoluted and uninteresting in itself but I did actually start this update almost two weeks ago and between then and now have had a bout of man-flu...

It's always a thrill to find my first jumping spider of the year and as usual, I spotted my very first on the wall of the house the other day...

Salticus scenicus-A Jumping Spider
There are of course several really similar jumping spiders here in the UK but I think my ID is sound for this one.

On the very same wall I also came across this nicely marked Nursery Web Spider...

Pisaura mirabilis - A Nursery Web Spider

To complete the spider trio; a teeny thing found in the garden on the same day...

This one might be a tad more difficult to identify to species level It could be either Araniella cucurbitina or Araniella opisthographa. Commonly known as the Cucumber Green Orb Spider I think.

Underneath a terracotta pot, I found this Moth Fly. Well I say Moth Fly, that's what I call them. I think possibly Psychodidae is the correct term. Also known variously as Owl Midges, Drain Flies, Filter Flies and Sewage Flies. It's a shame they have so many names 'cos they only live about five days and so by the time you have got to know them all, they will be gone.

On a recent walk in what was mainly coniferous woodland, I noticed in a couple of sunnier areas that the wood ants were appearing above ground in huge numbers...

Unfortunately I only had my phone to take pictures with but you can see there were lots of them. I also did a tiny video...


I think these are Formica rufa (The Southern wood or horse ant) and there is some very interesting info on these ants and their nests on the UK Wood Ants website.
A small extract: The wood ant’s nest is a marvel of insect construction and contains thousands of workers, over 250,000 individuals in Formica rufa. On the surface, the mound is made of a soil core surrounded in a “thatch” made of organic materials including pine needles, small twigs, moss, heather, dried grass and even pieces of lichen. The thatch is made in such a way that it intercepts the sun’s rays at right angles, acting like a solar panel to raise the temperature of the nest above that of the surroundings. This is important for the development of the brood inside the nest and to keep the workers warm enough to remain active, even on cool days. Workers will move the brood up and down the nest in order to provide them with the optimal temperatures for growth, sometimes bringing them onto the surface of the nest for an extra boost of warmth from the sun. The thatch is also an umbrella for the nest, each piece laid in a precise manner so that rain water trickles away from the nest, keeping it dry.
The heart of the nest is actually deep under ground and comprises of a series of tunnels and chambers. Inside a special underground chamber the queen will reside with her brood.
Wood ant mounds vary tremendously in size and shape, from tiny nests no bigger than a dinner plate, to humungous mounds over 1m tall.
Please check out the link for more: HERE

I think I may have disturbed this click beetle from its hibernation...

The last thing of note is this little springtail that I found. It was more what it was doing than the actual find that interested me. It's a fairly common collembola but I have never seen one on top of a slug like this...

It was also raising its abdomen in the air and 'waggling' it too...

I had no clue as to this behaviour; but I knew of somebody who might. Collembola expert and all round nice guy Frans Janssens. I fired of this email:

Hello Frans,
I wonder if, when you get time, you might be able to clue me in as to what is happening with the behaviour this collembola is exhibiting?
It was aboard this slug and even though I watched it for some time, showed no signs of wanting to climb off. It kept dipping its head as if drinking and at the same time sticking it's abdomen in the air and 'waggling'.
Any clues would be very much appreciated.

Many thanks

Here is his reply:

Dear John,

The head dipping is not drinking but eating: Neanura muscorum is a typical suspension feeder and feeds on the slime the slug is covered with. But I have no idea why it uplifts its abdomen as such... I have seen it in Hypogastruridae:
But I have no clue what they are doing.

Kind regards,


Ah well! If the expert isn't sure, I don't feel so bad about not knowing myself. As always I do wish to thank Frans for taking time out to answer my little poser though.

And so that is all I can offer for this update, I can add just one more photograph before I go though. A selection of springtails from the garden...

That's it! As Wellington famously said to Joseph Stockdale ..."Publish and be damned".

Until the next time...