Wednesday 15 March 2017

To St. John’s Ford

Algerian Iris, Iris unguicularis
Here we are below the Milonas waterfall and the cataract is still tumbling down through the rocks sounding like a symphony of swirling streams. A veritable jungle of giant cane and oleander surround us and up among the rocks small flowers like this Algerian Iris are taking advantage of every crack and crevice that holds a modicum of soil.  Not only is it a ridiculously pretty little flower but its rhizomes - the underground stems - contain some useful compounds (Kaempferol and 8-Methoxyeriodictyol if you're into phytochemistry), both of which are important in the fight against diabetes and a wide range of cancers[1].

Tropinota beetle and Spilostethus Seed Bugs
It looks as though machetes will be needed to get through this next bit so I think we’ll take a detour up over the bank. With the temperatures now in the upper twenties Celsius and wall-to-wall sunshine the insects are anticipating next week’s spring equinox. The hairy Tropinota Beetles are all over the place and this one is gorging himself on a Cretan Cistus. Some insects, like the bees, flit from flower to flower but he’ll be there for an hour or more availing himself of every last bit of nourishment. Meanwhile the seed bugs are busy making more seed bugs. Unlike the Tiger Beetles who go for the direct mounting technique (see last week) Seed Bugs prefer the back-to-back method of mating. Not particularly romantic but equally effective.

Caddisfly larva, Trichoptera sp.
I can see a light at the end of the tunnel; if we just thrust our way through this bush… ah, we’re back to the stream. Let’s sit and peer into it for a bit and get our breath back. Pass me the net will you, I think there’s something going on down by that rock. Now why do you think that this little nymph is poking his head into that pile of sand? He’s not doing it voluntarily. That pile of sand is hiding a Caddisfly larva. There’s another one down there look. They spin a cocoon of sticky silk around themselves and cunningly cover it with surrounding materials; sand and grit in this case, then lay in wait and ambush unsuspecting prey. Our poor nymph is being eaten head first.

If you look at some of these rocks they’re covered with rather uninteresting looking brown slime. This is the next stage of the biofilm that we saw developing in A Recipe For Life. If you take the sampling kit – yes, that’s it: a screw top container and an old toothbrush. Just half fill the container with water, scrape the rock with the toothbrush and stir item 1 with item 2 – I’ll set up the field microscope and we’ll see what’s lurking within. Look at that, no less than nine species of diatoms; those minute life forms at the base of the food web. Fascinating aren’t they?

Spawn of the Green Toad, Bufotes viridis
Signs of civilisation, a vehicle track. If we were to follow it round to the left we’d find a waymarked path to the waterfall (but it wouldn’t have been as much fun as hacking through the undergrowth). To the right it goes down to Ferma Bay one way and up to Agios Ioannis the other. As I’ve said previously Agios Ioannis translates as St. John so I’ve always called this place St. John’s Ford but you won’t find it marked as such on any map. I see that the Green Toads have been busy. That clump of what looks like spotted snakes coiled around those reeds is toadspawn and the black dots are emerging tadpoles, there are a few swimming around look. You can tell that it’s toadspawn and not frogspawn because toads lay their spawn in long strings whereas frogs lay theirs in a jelly-like mass. Worldwide, amphibians are suffering deaths to the point of extinction in some species from ranaviruses[2] but thankfully I’ve seen no signs of it locally. However, we’ll keep an eye on them on our travels.

 Talking of which, I think we’ll call that it for today and explore downstream next week. Spring will have well and truly sprung by then so it will be ‘eyes everywhere’ to catch all that’s going on.

The Extra Bit

Those diatoms we were looking at under the microscope are interesting enough when they’re still but when you watch them going about their daily business they are absolutely mesmerising. Here’s a short video for you: 

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures at  (search - people-stevedaniels-observations)
The Nature of Crete  (Flipboard Magazine)


  1. I just don't remember seeing any running streams or rivers on Crete, but I would imagine most would dry up in high summer? It is very beautiful.

    1. Most are seasonal Simon but there are a few permanent rivers, mainly in the west.

  2. We've seen the signpost to the waterfall, but haven't got around to taking the path. I've put it on the "to do" list for April. X


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