Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Noticeable by their absence

Strange as it may seem, this post came to mind about 2 weeks ago when I realised I wasn't seeing any of these lovely little creatures. This time last year, I'd seen loads around, all over the place from my back garden to walking down the side of my truck. But this year I've only counted 4. It was brought to mind again when I was cleaning out the little munchers (not so little and getting bigger every day) and I noticed that I had inadvertently introduced some aphids to the their tank. "If only I had a couple of Ladybirds I could put in there", yes, ladybirds. The little beetle that's a friend to our gardeners, a bug that our children adore, an insect that is almost instantly recognisable. Yet, how many have you seen this year???
Their absence is truly shocking, last year I noticed loads of 7-spots about, a couple of years before that it was 2-spots. There are about 47 species in the UK, of which I've seen only about 8 of them including the dreaded Harlequin Harmonia axyridis. A species that we introduced as a biological control to aphids. Why didn't we breed or trust in our own ladybirds to do the job? Because the Harlequin has a ravenous appetite and breeds twice, sometimes three times as much as our native ladybirds so you get more ladybirds for your money. Yes, money again seems to be the issue, as I said, these species were introduced by commercial growers who wanted to have less waste in their crops to make more money. Unfortunately, no-one considered what harmful effects this non-native species would inflict on our much loved natives when they got out into the open world.

A breeding, eating, killing machine. 

I know, sounds a bit dramatic, but this is what it boils down too. Our native species only breed once a year around April-May, yet the Harlequin, as stated previously, can breed 2-3 times a year. So all of a sudden, there's a dramatic increase in Ladybird numbers in the environment who need food. The food that has been a staple diet for our natives is suddenly being gobbled up quickly by these invaders. Our natives are hatching and finding there's not much food about. Someone (Sundby, R.A.) done an experiment back in the 60's that showed that when a ladybird larvae gets less food than normal, it doesn't emerge into the same size adult as a fully fed larvae would after reaching its final instar (we covered instars in the last blogpost). It was also found that the starved ladybird laid fewer eggs than a sated ladybird. So our ladybirds have a fight on the tarsi (insect version of hands) from the off and to make matters worse, Harlequin's don't only eat aphids, they also eat other ladybird larvae too! Yes, their carnivorous which makes it even worse. Why someone didn't think about this before they were imported beggars belief. Another testament to the inaptness of our biosecurity.

Their spreading

They were first recorded in the UK in 2004 in the south east. Since then, their spread north and west has been rapid and aided by us and our movements of horticultural purchases around the country. This spread can be seen on the maps below provided by the Harlequin Ladybird Survey.

The spread of the Harlequin Ladybird H axyridis since its detection in 2004.
(Images from the Harlequin Ladybird website)

As you can see, it's quite alarming how this little invader has spread in 6 years. You can imagine the impact that it's had on our native ladybirds?

However, the Harlequin cannot be blamed for everything. Last year, lest we forget, was an awful year weather wise and the very wet conditions had an awful impact on a lot of species. Of the 4 species I've spotted this year, only one was a Harlequin. The others were:

7-spot Coccinella 7-punctata
14-spot Propylea 14-punctata
Striped Myzia oblongoguttata

So does that suggest that the Harlequin isn't at fault here? As many of you will know, my moth trap numbers have been extremely low this year compared to last years records. But then there's also the fact that bad years happen throughout history, yet, species always bounce back. Only problem here is that now with the new invader destroying native populations, couple that with a bad year and there's a chance some of our native ladybirds WON'T bounce back. Our 7-spot is already in decline whilst the Harlequin spreads further and further north. Nothing can be done to stop the invader either, any sprays would also kill our native beetles too. A friend of mine said he saw a Harlequin and crushed it, when I asked him how he was sure it was a Harlequin, he replied "Well it didn't look like a normal ladybird". Harlequins have over 100 pattern varieties, many very similar to our natives, I saw my first ever striped ladybird last week and I'm always looking for ladybirds. So there's a chance he could've actually killed a native ladybird because he'd never seen a ladybird like that before, which doesn't help. Secondly, killing one invader will be like a drop in the ocean and have zero effect to the spread. So if you think you've found a Harlequin, do nothing except record it. This is where you can help and it doesn't take a moment of your time.

I recorded all these sightings (including the Harlequin) on a free iPhone and Android app called iRecord Ladybirds. It's a brilliant, simple to use little app that lets you record any Ladybirds you find whilst doing your day-to-day stuff. It even helps you identify the ladybird you've found with simple things to look for and pictures to help you compare your find. You can even add your own photo to the sighting with the phones camera. Tap on location and using your phones GPS signal, it'll get your location (usually to within 5 meters) and link that to the sighting along with habitat you found it in and the number you found. Then a simple tap on the send button emails it directly to the UK Ladybird Survey and to the Biological Records Centre and your work is done, so simple, why aren't you doing it? Just go to your app store on your phone and type in 'iRecord Ladybirds', this should take you straight to the FREE app, just download and away you go! It really is that simple and if you're still not convinced, go to this BBC news report of the decline of our 7-spot ladybirds to see it in action.

If you want to learn more about our Ladybirds, I can highly recommend the following book:

'Ladybirds' from Pelagic Publishing. Highly recommended.
It's pretty much the only book you'll ever need if you want to get into ladybirds. It covers everything from life history, evolutionary biology, population and more. It also has a key to help you identify and a section on how and where to collect ladybirds for recording. If you like ladybirds, you'll like this book!

If you don't have a smartphone or are not sure on how to get the app, then try the UK Ladybird Survey website instead.

Munchkin update!

Well my little munchkins are (at the time of writing) still on  their 3rd instar. However, I did come across this whilst cleaning them out this week. 

From left to right; 1st, 2nd and 3rd instar emperor caterpillars.
A 1st, 2nd and 3rd instar all together. Strange considering that they all hatched around the same time that some are still so far behind in their development. Maybe you get runts in insects too, who knows? Some have also began to change their colours now opting for a brighter green colour instead of the deadly looking black with red spots.

A change of colour and a lot of frass.
Although I've been warned to give them plenty of space, which I have duly done, they still seem to like hanging out together, devouring the same leaf at times. As you can see from the above photo, an increase in appetite also means an increase in frass and it's getting bigger too!

There was also a little incident of a predator trying to get into the tank and a predator found in the tank. Even though I give every cutting I take a damn good shake to dislodge such foes, it seems a young immature garden spider Araneus sp held on tightly and was only discovered on the lip of the tank as I'd just finished placing the new cuttings in there. It was swiftly removed and placed back in the garden. The second intruder was found when I removed a tip of a small branch that was looking droopy and had no caterpillars on it. I took it out so that water from the oasis wasn't being wasted on it, thus keeping the other leaves fresher. It was on one of these leaves that I found this:
Sorry for the blurry image, I was shaking in shock!
This translucent, maggoty like creature turns out to be the larvae of a hoverfly and known to eat aphids and other insects. Whether or not he would attack my 3rd instar caterpillars, I don't know, but I'm not taking any chances. He's now been removed to a separate container to see what species of hoverfly he'll (or she'll) hatch into. Hopefully, this shouldn't take long as it's gone into pupae stage now and should hatch in about a week I reckon.

Larvae has moved into the pupae stage.

I'll take a pop at an ID as the larvae is of the 'bird dropping' type and say it belongs to Meligramma species of hoverfly. We'll see.

Now hear (or read) this!

Every now and then, something happens that's like a breath of fresh air and it happened to me on Sunday, when, checking my blog I noticed I had a new follower by the name of 'Beetle Boy'. On further investigation it turns out his name is Jacob and he's 10 years old AND he has a blog which I can only describe as a joy to read. It's so nice to see someone of his age have such a passion for the nature that surrounds him and to share his experiences with us through this blog. Go there now and have a read then tell your friends to go there too. You can find his blog here Beetle Boy's BioBlog.
And one more thing, hello Jacob, my newest follower and welcome. Glad to have you aboard.

Also glad to have aboard is ANOTHER follower (my, I'm getting popular) Carole. Welcome to you too Carole.

Busy bees.

As I reported last time, I have a bush outside my home that is continually buzzing with the sound of about 50+ bees busy collecting food for their hives. Yes, hives. I popped outside the other day to see if I could grab some shots of the little fellows doing their work and noticed that they weren't all the same species. As far as I could tell, and I'm no bee expert, there appears to be about three species, possibly four, at work here. 
Coming in to land.
The picture above shows a Buff-tail (I think) Bumblebee Bombus terrestris coming in to land on a flower. But I've also spotted Tree Bumblebees B hypnorum and possibly a Shrill Carder Bee B sylvarum feeding and buzzing around the bush.

A possible Garden Bumblebee B hortorum

Not sure of this one

Nom nom nom
All these were taken feeding from the same bush, which I believe is a Cotoneaster, which I'm told is a highly invasive non-native species. It's something that's been outside our window from the day we moved in here and I'm quite prepared to leave it there considering how much the bees love it.

Moths on the increase

Well, not quite, but compared to the last couple of months, it's better than nothing. My Privet Hawkmoth Sphinx lugustri (love this latin name) revisited me this week and this time I took a picture of it.
Privet Hawkmoth S lugustri
Such a beautiful moth and I found it cuddled up next to a site newcomer. Yes, another Hawkmoth, but this time it was a Eyed Hawkmoth Smerinthus ocellata.

Eyed Hawkmoth S ocellata displaying its eye markings.
As you can tell from its name, it has eye markings, one on each wing. These are not normally seen and this can sometimes make for the mis-identification of it being a Poplar Hawkmoth Laothoe populi. The eyes of the moth are on the hindwings only and usually tucked up under the forewings. The markings are only displayed as a deterrent to predators such as birds and as actually been proved to work. When it displays the markings, the moth also rocks from side to side adding to the effectiveness of the deterrent.

Also on the increase, well, in my pond that is, are damselflies. Last week I showed you a picture of some Large Red Damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula mating. However, this week has seen a mass hatching of Blue-tailed damselflies Ischnura elegans from the pond. These damselflies are not all uniformly the same colour as they tends to be various forms and maturities.

Two variations of Blue-tailed Damselfly I elegans. A mature male top left and an immature male bottom right
Another variation is a pink-ish coloured one which could be a female form. They seem to be loving my Bullrushes and I can usually find them there sometimes all lined up along one leaf. At one point whilst plucking some leaf litter from the pond, my wifey told me that three of them landed on my back. When I turned around, she laughed saying there was one on my forehead. So they are quite friendly, which may be news to some people. 
I met a man last week on a walk who asked me what I was looking at when he saw me spying through the binoculars at the bank opposite. I told him I was looking at a dragonfly. 
"What, one of those big things with the long tail that quite give you a really bad sting?" he replied in disgust. 
"Yes, one of those, but they're completely harmless and cannot sting you as they don't have a stinger." I told him. He looked a bit puzzled as if I was telling him a fib. When I told him I was an amateur naturalist and I study insects he seemed a lot happier. 
"Oh, fishermen have told me that they're evil things that sting"
Which just goes to show, you shouldn't believe everything you hear. If you really want to know what's at the end of the very long tail of damselflies and dragonflies, I'll tell you. It's their genitalia, nothing more or less and nothing they can sting you with either.
When I told the gentleman this, he blushed as if I had said something rude. Really!
Even though I have these land on me all the time, they can be a bit bashful at times when it comes to having their pictures taken. However, it can be difficult trying to hide behind a bullrush leaf.
I can still see you.
I also got a question from my friend Mick regarding how to tell the difference between damselflies and dragonflies. The answer is quite easy, when they are at rest and not flying, damselflies will hold their wings back over their body whereas dragon flies hold their wings out at 90º to their bodies. Only (as far as I know) one damselfly hasn't read the book, or it's trying to be a bit different and that's the Willow Emerald Damselfly Lestes viridis. They hold their wings back at a 45º angle and they are a lovely metallic green too.

Just one more thing...

Before I go, I just thought I'd share one more picture with you. This Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae paid a visit to my yellow daisies yesterday.

Small Tortoiseshell A urticae a pleasure to see.

Hope you enjoyed

Till next time

Friday, 21 June 2013

Little munchkins and their instars!

Well, so far no-one's been able to ID the cricket from last weeks blog, which is a shame, because I have no idea either! I've looked and searched everywhere, but to no avail. So maybe it will remain one of my life's mysteries!
Now, cast your mind back some weeks to when my neighbour found an Emperor moth on her back door, and when I got home, I found it'd laid some eggs. I was going to be away when they hatched, but my good friend and county moth recorder, Tony Pritchard agreed to look after them for me. Needless to say, when I got back, Tony had a tub full of about 75 caterpillars about 4mm long munching on bramble leaves. It's important to point out here, that caterpillars don't just eat any leaf put in front of it, oh no. Their fussy you see. Each moth is reliant on a particular 'food plant' and will only lay its eggs on one of those food plants (usually). Luckily for me, emperor's have quite a wide range of food plants they like including bramble, apple and heather. Thankfully these plants are easily obtainable, so rearing them shouldn't be too difficult. Saying that, my emperor moth found itself in temporary captivity and needed to lay its eggs, so done it whilst in the box. However, maybe this was fate because as I'm now rearing the caterpillars to maturity for release on my local heathland, the chances that more will survive has increased. Now I know some may say that it's interfering, but when it comes to moths, being a truck driver I know that I find many a moth splattered on the front of my truck in the morning. Now if you consider the amount of trucks on the road and how many moths get splattered by these trucks (and other vehicles come to think of it), then that's a lot of moths that are taken out of the equation. So maybe I'm helping to balance that equation by making sure some of them make it through to maturity.
So what do these little fellows look like I hear you ask. Well here's a picture of one when I got back.
A newly hatched Emperor moth caterpillar.
As you can see, they're tiny. But they don't stay this way for too long and before you know it, they'll be quite a size. 

An introduction to instars

Some of you may not know what I'm on about here when I talk about 'instars' and that's a good thing because I'm about to explain it to you in a very simple way. 
Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and for the larvae to be able to reach adult sexual maturity, the larvae must shed it's skin towards making the change. So when you look at a fully grown adult emperor moth as seen here:

Female emperor moth Saturnia pavonia on wifey's hand.
Then compare that to the newly hatched caterpillar pictured previously, that caterpillar's got a long way to go. So each time the larvae sheds its skin, it's called an instar. So a larvae that has shed its skin (known as an 'exoskeleton') twice is on its third instar, this is where my little munchkins are at.

Already at 3rd instar and looking a bit chunky!
Here's another insect which has just gone through its final instar to change into an adult. It's a damselfly which freshly emerged from my pond today. The old exoskeleton can be seen on the leaf edge whilst the newly emerged damselfly takes cover beneath the leaf. It does this for two reasons. 1. The exoskeleton is just that, an outside skeleton. Unlike us who have our skeletons on the inside, insects have theirs on the outside and during this change, the exoskeleton is very soft making the insect  vulnerable to predation. The second reason is its wings. They are very soft and damp and like a newly emerged butterfly, they need time to dry off and stiffen to become of any use.
Newly emerged damselfly going through the final instar.
I hope that you have a small understanding of instars now and will know what I'm talking about should I mention them in future, pay attention, I may be asking questions!!!

Now, back to my little munchkins.
I currently have them housed in a small glass fish tank, but soon, they'll need to move to bigger premises. I'm feeding them on a mix of bramble and apple leaves at the moment, but I'm phasing out the brambles in favour of apple for three reasons. 1. The bramble behind my garden is no longer in reach. 2. I'm getting fed up of being pricked by vicious bramble stems. 3. The apple leaves are much easier and safer for me to obtain as I have an apple tree in my garden! However, when they start to reach their final instars, I'll get them onto heather as that's the main food plant of where I'll be releasing them.
I usually pick about 6 stems of food plant and stick them into soaked oasis blocks, which you can obtain from most florists for about £1 a block. This keeps the leaves fresher for longer and I don't have to replace the stems for 2-3 days. Each time I change the stems I also give the tank a bit of a clean out. 70+ caterpillars create a lot of 'frass', otherwise known as caterpillar poo! It's important to do this to stop any infections or fungus' developing in the tank which will in turn kill your precious munchers. 
As time goes by I will keep you posted on how the little one are developing, or if you're on Twitter and you haven't yet done so, you can follow me for regular pictures! (@SuffolkNature)

Temperature's rising

Yes, and with it come the various insects and wildlife. I had the moth trap out last week and caught my first micro moths of the season as well as my first hawkmoths, a Poplar Laothoe populi and a Privet Hawkmoth Sphinx ligustri made me a very happy man indeed.
Another favourite of mine that is beginning to show are hoverflies. I like these harmless little fellows and I hope to be able to show you their diversity as the season progresses. I think there's about 260+ different species of hoverfly in the UK and I recently purchased a new book which I reviewed here some weeks back. It's got a wonderful 'key' in it, which helps you identify the various species. Some of you might be thinking what's he going on about when he says 'key', but I'll cover that in another blogpost in the future. Something to look forward too!
Helophilus pendulus A male Hoverfly soaks up the sun on my pond.
I also seem to have a bee hive under the waterfall (or water trickle) by my pond. One day whilst feeding the fish, I noticed a small buff-tail bumblebee whizz past my ear and straight down to the back of the waterfall and fly down behind a rock. Some years back, when I was making the pond bigger and had to move the waterfall, I unknowingly disturbed a hive of buff-tails, who informed me, not by stinging me, but by head butting me! I soon realised what I had done and a quick call to the Suffolk Beekeepers Association helped tremendously. They told me to dig the hive out on a spade and place it under a hedge. I done this and placed a terracotta pot over it leaving a small gap for the bees to enter and exit through. They stayed there for the rest of they year not much worse for their ordeal. Well, it seems they're back again and obviously building their hive in the mouse nest which I've always had under my waterfall. A testament (thankfully) at how rubbish my cat is when it comes to hunting!
Talking of bees, since we moved to this house, we've had a bush outside our front window. It's nothing much, not very flowery and an evergreen. Yet this past two weeks it's been covered with an average of 50+ bumblers busy doing their thing (collecting nectar) for their hive (maybe the one in the back garden). The bush is audible humming at times, so busy are they. 
Another first for my garden is a solitary bee that's decided to use my bug hotel which has been hanging up for the past 3 years with no action.
Two of the blocked up bamboo stems show where the bee has laid its offspring.
Just one more picture to leave you with that I also caught on the pond this morning and that was of two mating red Damselflies and a jealous male who was trying to get in on the action.

The female at the bottom who has swung her tail up to engage the male
in the middle. On the top is the intruder who's trying to get the other male
off. Buzz off mate and get your own!!!
Just before I sign off, I would like to welcome my latest follower Bill Grant. Glad to have you aboard, you obviously like my blog and I hope you continue to do so.

Till next time, be happy and keep safe.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A naturalists holiday

Well, as some of you may know, for the last couple of weeks I've been incredibly busy sunning myself on Kos, a little Greek island not far from Turkey. However, it's not all been sun, sea, sand and sangria. Oh no, much to the amusement of my family, I've been busy bug hunting too. Yes, they have rolled around in fits of laughter as I've run around trying to catch (unsuccessfully) Swallowtail butterflies, creeping up on Egyptian grasshoppers and I've also had them shrieking and running away like big girlies when trying to show them cute little mole crickets (well I think they're cute anyway).

The preparation

I prepared myself for the journey by trying to pack only the essentials any good naturalist would need without the wifey getting suspicious of my intentions. I even managed to smuggle the bat detector into my bag without her knowledge, however, trying to find out ANY information on Greek bats or bats in Kos was next to impossible. I was also considering buying a portable moth trap and smuggling that over with me, but I thought best not to push it too far! So, I bagged my insect net, some specimen tubes, an eye glass and a general nature book for the area, for which, after many hours of trawling the internet looking for such a book I came across this one:

This is not the book you're looking for.
Now when I started getting into natural history I had the british version of this book and it proved very helpful on many an occasion. In fact, although hardly used nowadays, it's still on my bookshelf and gets the odd flick through occasionally. So, when I saw this and it being the only thing near to what I was looking for, I bought it. It's OK-ish, some of the photos are pretty pointless as they don't show enough detail to give a proper ID. However, the problem with this book is that, unlike the British version, the Mediterranean is a HUGE area and is such a diverse area as well, that it's impossible to cover in just one book! In fact, this book really should be had up under the trade descriptions act. Complete Guide to Mediterranean Wildlife. Hmm, I don't know if anyone's told Collins, but there really is a lot of wildlife in the Mediterranean area. In my first week alone I came across many common insects that were not in this book. At least 2 species of bird were also not present, I can't tell which birds they were as they weren't in the book! The guide to bats was pretty pointless too, unless you were actually catching the bats to hold in the hand to ID. There was no reference given as to what frequencies the bats listed echolocated at. Although, saying that, I only recorded two species of bat, a common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus and an unknown one being either a Nathusius pipistrelle P nathusii or possibly a Long-fingered bat Myotis capaccinii. I'm thinking it may be the former, but you'll have to wait until I've studied the recording in more detail.
As I mentioned, before I left for Kos, I trawled the net looking for details on Greek bats but found little info and the same can be said for Greek moths too. But, I have a cunning plan which I'm working on, so watch this space.
Anyway, I wasn't going to stop this lack of information in the 'information age' stop me from enjoying a wonderful 2 week break with the wifey and family. Our accommodation was a 5 minute walk from the beach in the middle of some farmland next to a rather large (dry) drainage ditch. That might not sound too pleasant to some, but to be honest, it wasn't that bad. It was quiet, no other screaming holiday makers children around, plenty of wildlife in the form of skylarks over the fields and warblers in the ditch and we could see the sea, in fact we could also see Turkey on the other side of the sea, so no complaints about the view either. The first thing any naturalist would notice on arrival, was the amount of Roesel's Bush crickets about, loads of them. Three different types of ant, all of three different sizes and not one of them in the book and quite a lot of garden type snails. There were swifts and swallows a plenty whizzing around in the skies above us and many butterflies flitting back and forth too, I was in heaven :)

Creatures of the night!

The night soon fell and after liberally slapping on the mosi repellent all over we sat down for some dinner outside. I left the bat detector on to see what it would pick up and it wasn't long before Common pips started passing overhead on the way to feeding grounds. There were also quite a few moths gathering around the outside light, but without a guide, I had no real idea as to what species they were.
Every night was pretty much the same when we ate outside at our apartments. I was under strict instructions from the wifey that when we ate out at restaurants, I was not, under any circumstances, allowed to jump up to chase/investigate/point at or comment on any passing insect that may fly by, crawl past or land next to me. This was very hard at times, especially when I saw a hawkmoth fly into the restaurant, over our table and out the other side.
But there were plenty more creatures to see on the way home including this wonderful Pine Chafer:

Polyphylla fullo The actual picture is better than this (bar the dodgy focus),
but Blogger seems to be playing up and squashing some of my pictures!

This chafer is easily twice the size of our Cock chafer's back home, but still just as grippy with their little hook type feet. There was also an added bonus with these fellows too. When I tried to pick them off my hand, they would hunker down gripping even more and then 'hiss' at me! Cool! Beetles with attitude!
Another insect of the night that would often be found scampering around on the tiled floor outside our apartment was a mole cricket Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa.

Mole cricket G gryllotalpa taken by the Father-in-law.
This cricket is a fascinating insect who's front legs have evolved into powerful spade like instruments that allow it to dig through the earth.

A close up of the adapted front legs.

Another view to give an idea of scale.
Apparently, there is a small population of these in Oxfordshire which most likely arrived into the country via potted plants. Again showing how non-native insects get into the country through our governments non-existent biosecurity measures. The mole cricket is quite common in Europe, but rare in the UK.

Another interesting insect that I wanted to get a closer look at was the Swallowtail butterfly Papilio machaon. These occur in the UK but only in East Anglia. I think I saw one once, many years ago when I lived on a boat on the broads. But I was chugging along and was unable to stop to investigate. However, out here in Greece, they were passing me every 5 minutes along the dried up drainage ditch. this ditch seemed to be a haven for many insects as it provided a vegetation walled corridor that sheltered all within from the winds that blew across the open farmland. One morning, I was up early and decided to investigate the ditch. I came across plenty of Skippers Thymelicus sp, Common Blues Polyommatus icarus, Gatekeeper's Pyronia tithonus. There were also some large Harvestmen that I kept coming across, but again, they wasn't in the book so I can't tell you what species they were.
Lizards were also in abundance and I managed to spot a beautiful coloured Balkan wall lizard Podarcis taurica, an Agama Agama agama and a small Gecko which was far too fast for me to identify. 
Getting a look at the Swallowtail however, was going to be hard as they just don't stop. They are continually flitting all over the place. But my luck was in on one particular day when it was quite windy. My good old father-in-law spotted a swallowtail clinging to a bush and knowing I wanted a closer look, he crept up and gently placed his hands around it a brought it to me. Excellent!

Swallowtail butterfly. Rather worn and past its best, but it was blowing a
gale outside, poor thing.

Here's some pictures of other butterflies I spotted, which I must also add, that if it wasn't for my good friend Matt Berry of Greenwing's, I'd still be struggling to ID them.

Loew's Blue Plebejus loewii

Common blue P icarus

Wall Brown Lasiommata megera

Geranium Bronze Cacyreus marshalli

All about the observation

So as you can imagine, I'd seen quite a lot of foreign wildlife by now. But the wildlife I wanted to get to know more about was the one that was much harder to see, bats. Yes, until now, the good old (well, new actually) bat detector was only picking up Common pips, yet according to the (now dubious) book, there were a few more species about. Problem is, the book doesn't really say where I'd find these species. Doesn't even say what islands/areas these species are in, so I took the good old naturalist/adventurer approach and went off in search of bats. As I lacked any proper means of transport, my area of searching was limited, I was also unsure of Greek trespass laws and didn't want to find myself on the wrong side of the law (not that I had actually seen any police during the 2 week period). So I more or less kept to the main road that run by the beach. It also passed by some marshy reed bed areas which were full of the noisiest frogs I've ever heard as well as a strong population of mosquitos. However, the bats were nowhere to be seen/heard. Except for one bat that passed nearby on the beach and it's echolocation calls were similar to a common pip except lower in frequency, suggesting it was possibly a Nathusius pip. I did say earlier it could be a Long-fingered bat, but on second thoughts, that's a Myotis species and their call structure is somewhat different to that of a pipistrelle (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that one).
So, with no other bats in sight I wandered back to the accommodation to see the 45's whizzing past and watched them as they flew over the open farmland into the distance. It was then I suddenly realised that back home in the UK, our bats (pips especially) like to follow linear structures such as hedgerows, tree lines, etc. But here, there are no linear structures, no hedgerows or tree lines or walls and the bats were flying 10-15ft off the ground in the open. There were owls about and I often saw a kestrel flying till quite late, yet the bats flew in their same winding, weaving way as if the lack of cover, didn't bother them. Yet, back home, the destruction of hedgerows was linked to the decline in bats by marooning them in the middle of vast swathes of agricultural land. Are there any bat evolution experts out there who can help explain why these bats of the same species have adapted in one part of the world to fly in the open, yet not in the other?

Just for fun

Yes, just for the fun of it, I have a little competition for you. Can anyone identify this cricket I found up in the mountains of Kos? 

What species of cricket is this?

Like I say, it's just for fun, there are NO PRIZES.

That's all for now, but there'll be plenty more to tell next time.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The elephant in the room

Well, hi everyone. Hope this finds you all happy and well and I also hope that last weeks blog got you out and about doing something for nature, or got you thinking about doing something at the very least.
As we saw last week, the State of Nature report painted a very dire picture of our declining wildlife. There were many reasons stated for this decline: Bad habitat management, Fisheries management; wetland creation; Urbanisation; Water qualities; Agricultural intensification; Afforestation; Illegal persecution; Upland management; Climate change; Loss of semi-natural habitats and Invasive non-native species. Yet all this can be blamed on the rather large elephant sitting in the middle of the very small room, the one that everyone refuses to address and for very good reasons. It has huge moral issues and dilemmas that no-one wants to address, yet, where it’s heading doesn’t look good. The problem is Human population!
Yes, as I see it, we are the problem. We are the reason why nature is changing in a negative way. All the reasons listed above can be laid squarely on the doorstep of humankind.
It doesn’t take a genius to work it out (that’s most probably why I worked it out). Have you ever noticed the amount of fly splats on the front of your car during the summer months? How many cars in the UK, or the world even? That’s a lot of biomass that we’re removing from the environment just in our day-to-day lives. Hedgehogs whose population 40 years ago stood at 35 million, now stands at just 1 million! Yet, the amount of cars on our roads continues to increase as our population just keeps getting bigger and bigger and all we do is complain about the amount of slugs in our gardens (Hmm, strange that).
Our lust for consumerism also plays a major part. As the world gets smaller and smaller through technological advances in transport, goods are shipped around the world to satisfy our need for the latest TV’s/computers/game machines/phones made in a far away country, shipped in huge ships whose ballast tanks, filled in foreign seas are emptied into our waters introducing new invasive species to our waters. Or vegetables and fruits grown in European fields are transported by road to our markets releasing hitchhiking larvae of foreign insects or fungal spores of foreign diseases into our countryside. All this increase in transport throws even more greenhouse gases up into the air changing our planet’s climate.
Our own government is also backing the culling of 120 badgers per night over a 6 week period to apparently help farmers fight bTB (a complete whitewash), and the destruction of Buzzard nests and eggs to protect the release of 35 million non-native pheasants in the name of game hunting! All of this and much, much more has to have an effect on nature, you don’t need a degree in Environmental science to see it either.

So what do we do?

In my lifetime, the world population has more than doubled, a growth rate that cannot be sustained. I like to think that, unless something untoward is planned for me, I’m about halfway through my life. So I ask myself, how much more is the population going to increase in the next 40+ years? A frightening thought. But what do we do? This is the reason why the issue has become the elephant in the room. Who’s going to be the person who turns off the life support of a loved one because we need to cut down our expanding population? Who’s going to deprive people of much needed medications or treatment with the words “We’ve all got to go sometime!”? Who tells the starving in third world countries, sorry we can't help? These moral issues are just scraping the top of the iceberg and for these reasons alone, you can see why no one wants to talk about it. I for one couldn’t do the above things, nor would I want to see those things done either. Maybe we should take a leaf out of China’s book and restrict families to having only 1 child. Stop religions from banning contraception or we could stop giving people child benefit and maybe reward couples who DON’T have children! Of course, as I see it, there are two other options we could take 1) Start to love our nature more and do much more to try and preserve it, or 2) Destroy everything, and ultimately, ourselves in the process.
Unfortunately, I’m no time traveller (which really sucks), so I can’t say what the outcome for us will be. So should we sit at home worrying about it all, or should we get out there and start enjoying what we have and start to do what little we can to save it? By acting locally, we can begin to affect globally. No one person can save the world, but together we can go a long way to help it by enjoying and loving what we have on our doorsteps each and everyday. Who knows, we might even find a proper solution whilst we're trying.