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Nature Other

Creepy-crawly goodness

If you like invertebrates (and who doesn’t?) check out the Circus of the Spineless at Burning Silo.

I take a casual interest in insects and other invertebrates, but one thing you quickly realise is that they’re really hard. I first really appreciated this when, quite pleased with myself for recognising something as a ‘scorpionfly’, I tried to look it up in a book and discovered there are something like 28 species just of scorpionflies in the UK. And that’s relatively modest compared to the beetles and things. So I mainly stick to birds.

Since I’m on natural history, check out the dioramas at Pruned; it’s worth clicking through the links in that post as well.

Categories
Nature

Adela reaumurella

How did we ever get along without the internet to help us scratch those little itches of curiosity? Admittedly, most of them seem to be along the lines of “What have I seen that bloke in before? Oh, I see, he was in [embarrassingly awful sitcom I couldn’t possibly admit to watching]”, but still.

Anyway, in the woods the other day I saw a curious-looking insect, and I just got round to looking it up. Starting by googling ‘day-flying moths uk’ and going from there I came up with Adela reaumurella:

(photo from the fabulous UKMoths website and © Charles Baker)

Like a lot of insects, no-one has bothered to give it an English name, but apparently there are a couple of families of moths with these characteristic antennae, and they’re generally referred to as ‘longhorn moths’. You can see the peculiar antennae above, but the picture doesn’t give the full effect, because when I saw them they were flying all around each other in a little swarm in the sun above a hornbeam, holding their antennae up in a V shape for maximum visibility.

I’m guessing the lady moths like a male with a long horn; that it was, in fact, a moth lek. A lek is where lots of males congregate to compete for female attention, either directly (i.e. by fighting for the best spot), or indirectly (displaying their plumage) or some combination. Insert your own Essex nightclub joke here.

It’s not quite as exciting as having lekking Black Grouse, Ruff, or even hermits (check out the video!), but I was pleased.

One example of lekking behaviour is actually very familiar, although people don’t generally realise what’s happening. On a summer evening, you’ll frequently encounter a swarm of midges flying round and round above a prominent object like a bush. If you walk past them, they often follow you and swarm above your head instead. They are in fact lekking. The males find a convenient landmark and form a swarm, waiting for the females to find them. I assume that in some situations it’s just more efficient to attract the females to one place and then compete directly with other males than it is to expend the energy finding the females individually. I have no idea how the female midges decide which males are the attractive ones.

Categories
Nature

a pensée

Although my own main interest is birds, I think if I was advising someone on a natural-history related hobby to take up, I might suggest flowers or insects. I think it’s a great virtue to look closely at the little things. You miss the real action if you tromp through the hills, admiring the view but not noticing the wild flowers at your feet.

You don’t have to pick just one interest, of course. I did much of my early birding with one of my teachers who was also keen on flowers and had a moth trap. He was the one who showed me that, if you look the wrong way through binoculars and bring them very close to something, they act as a powerful magnifying glass.

Categories
Nature

103 mutations of drosophila

act up (preferred name: capulet) adrift always early amalgam amnesiac anachronism arc archipelago argos armadillo armitage arrest arrow asense atonal aubergine aurora baboon bag of marbles bagpipe bantam basket bazooka Bearded beaten path bereft big brain blistered blistery boule brahma brainiac brakeless branchless breathless bric à brac Bride of sevenless brinker broad brother of odd with entrails limited bruno (preferred name: arrest) Buffy bunched buttonhead buttonless cacophony cactus cannonball canoe cap’n’collar capricious capulet castor (common alternative name: ming) caudal charlatan scylla and charybde chickadee chico chiffon Chip chromosome bows citron clift Clock clueless collier comatose coracle corkscrew courtless cramped crocodile crooked legs crumbs cup cut dachshund daughterless deadpan dead ringer Deformed Delta diaphanous diego diminutive dimmed Disabled discs overgrown discs lost dishevelled dispatched dissatisfaction dodo domeless double parked doublesex double-time dreadlocks drifter dumbfounded dunce