Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Butterfly Bonanza (How to identify butterfly families)

The Five Butterfly Families of Crete
If you want to know a little more about the fascinating world of insects then you can't do better than to start with butterflies. They're colourful, reasonably easy to tell apart and they don't bite. What is more there are only six families, at least five of which are present here on Crete and if you are lucky, as I was recently, you can see representatives of all five in one day. So here's my guide to the five butterfly families of Crete.

1 The Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae family)

The Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra

I guess that we're all familiar with the Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae) and its little sibling the Small White (Pieris rapae) but next time take a closer look; you may be observing a Bath White (Pontia edusa) which has a mottled green underwing. On my trek around the hills near Tylissos to the west of Heraklion I came across two of the sulphurs: The Clouded Yellow (Colias croecus) and this one, the Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra) with its very distinctive wing shape.

2 The Swallowtails (Papilionidae family)

Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius

The Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) is a common sight of spring and summer here in Crete with its bold, bright black and yellow markings and its trailing tails, like those of the swallow but look out also for this one; the Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) with the zebra stripes.

3 The Four Footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae family)

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina

These are easy to recognise at rest as they appear to only have four legs. The front two are foreshortened; a bit like those of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) and Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) are in this group along with the vast majority of the brown butterflies that you are likely to come across (particularly the medium and large ones) such as this Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).

4 The Gossamer Winged Butterflies (Lycaenidae family)

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus

Another easy group to recognise on the whole as many of them are small and blue like this Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) but you have to be quick to photograph them with their wings spread as they prefer to hold them closed above their backs. This is a good thing however as often, the only way to tell them apart is from the markings on their underwings. There are some brown butterflies in this group too such as the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and the female gossamer wings have a tendancy to be a bit on the brown side but they are easy to tell apart from the Nymphalidae because of their diminutive size and rapidly flitting flight patterns.

5 The Skippers (Hesperiidae family)

Lulworth Skipper, Thymelicus acteon

Now these, I'll admit, you could get confused with the Lycaenidae as they are small brown jobs. Two things to look out for with these; firstly they very often hold their hind wings away from their fore wings like this Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon) but the clincher is their antenae – they have little hooks at the end which is unique to this group.

There. Now you know all the butterfly families of Crete. In looking through the photographs there were a lot of other interesting things that I saw that day which we can chat about next time (which may or may not be next week as we're on the hospital trail again for follow-ups).

The Extra Bit

The sixth butterfly family is the Metalwings (Riodinidae) which have metallic markings on their wings. These are predominantly sub-tropical butterflies but one species is known in Europe, the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Hamearis lucina, but I haven't come across it in Crete.

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so for details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


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LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Urban Wildlife of Agios Nikolaos


Unfortunately we seem to be spending a lot of time in and around hospitals at the moment; in fact Mrs D is collecting hospials and departments like cards in a game of old maid. At the end of March she collected Pneumology from Agios Nikolaos and while we were there samping the delights of their cuisine (one night it was just a plastic bowl of wet rice) I managed to escape a few times and find a bit of peace with the urban wildlife. Here are a few of my favourites:


Fumaria capreolata, White Ramping-Fumitory


I hadn't seen this one before. Apparently the quaint English name indicates that it is a white flower, rearing up, with smoky leaves.


Psilothrix viridicoerulea, Soft-winged Flower Beetle


These are very common over here at this time of year and just look at the amount of pollen he's transferring as he makes his way among the flowers.


Syrphidae, Hoverfly



Beetles, bugs and bees are not the only pollinators of course; flies such as this Hoverfly (here pollinating some Cretan Viper's Grass, Scorzonera cretica), contribute vastly to plant pollination (see The Far Side).


Polistes bucharensis, Umbrella Paper Wasp



Spring, of course, is nest building time and this individual is bosy building her umbrella shaped nest. I'm sticking my neck out a bit with the species identification but for all you hymenopterists out there here is a link to the relevant scientific paper: Revision of the West Palaearctic Polistes Latreille, with the descriptions of two species – an integrative approach using morphology and DNA barcodes (Hymenoptera, Vespidae)


Philaeus chrysops, Goldeneye Jumping Spider

With all these insects about it is no surprise to find a few preatory spiders about. These are both the same species; the one on the left sporting the long, hairy beard is the female and the colourful one on the right is the male.


Limax flavus, Cellar, Tawny Garden or Yellow Slug
Just because you are a slug doesn't mean that you can't make an attempt at looking pretty (in fact some of the sea slugs are prettier than any piece of jewelery). The top two tentacles are it's sight organs and the lower two are its olfactory organs. If the slug loses any of them through not pulling it in quick enough it can grow a new one.


The Extra Bit

You may be wondering where all the larger animals such as the urban fox are - well, the fox never made it to Crete. We have our own subspecies of Badger and Hedgehog but I didn't see any in the town. As for the birds, I didn't get to photograph any but I was serenaded by a beautiful nightingale as I slipped out of the hospital for a cigarette at four in the morning.


Next time: something for the butterfly lovers. See you soon, Steve.

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so for details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map

Friday, 18 May 2018

Full Circle



Here we are on the final segment of our walk around the Forty Saints and if you cast your mind back to the beginning you may recall that we saw some little Mirid Bug nymphs on some Asphodel leaves. I hazarded a guess that they may have been the young of the Orange Blossom Bug, Dionconotus neglectus, as we'd seen the adults before on Yellow Asphodels when we visited The Chamomile Lawn. However, it seems as though we have another contender because if you look closely, these Yellow Asphodels are being visited by another type of Mirid Biug, Horistus infuscatus. But what does it matter which bugs visit which plants? Simply, plants and their attendant insects move around over time as conditions on the planet change. They are climate refugees in a sense and by monitoring the direction of their migrations it helps us to predict where our future climate refugees will go as Earth temperatures continue to rise. The plants, the bugs and us all react to environmental changes in much the same way.




Now, who's for a nice hot mug of saloop? If you'd have lived in England in the 18th century you'd have kown exactly what I was talking about because this was what was sold on the streets before Starbucks and Costa or even Ye Olde British Tea Shoppe dominated the High Street. It was made from the ground up bulbs of certain orchid species such as this Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyrimidalis, down at our feet here. As it takes between one and four thousand tubers to make a kilo of orchid flour, or salep, this is rather taking its toll on the orchid population as it is still widely used, particularly in Turkey but also in Greece1.




You may have noticed these yellow signs during our perigrinations around the Cretan countryside. They are warning you that this is an official dog training zone - in other words; if you're molested by an unruly dog you can't take the owner to court (not successfully at any rate). So far I've never had a problem with an overenthusiastic hunting dog nor an overenthusiastic and trigger-happy hunter for that matter. Meanwhile, sitting on this piece of milky quartz we have a totally misnamed Gaudy Grasshopper. This particular one, Pyrgomorpha conica, couldn't be more camouflaged if he tried but some of the pyrgomorphs have very bright, warning colouration. Hence the group name.




We've nearly come full circle now and the path is lined with so called 'everlasting' flowers. They're very popular with flower arrangers because their colours hold for a long while after they've been cut. They're pretty popular with this cockchafer too who's having a good old feed on this one. Strange word, cockchafer. The chafer bit is late middle English meaning to rub abrasively, but against what I wonder? Cock, in this sense just means large or vigorous (sorry, you were thinking what?) so we're left with a large or vigorous abrasive rubber. As I say, a strange word.



And so we arrive back where we started and we're being sung home by a little chaffinch up on the rock. These are probably our most dedicated of song birds repeating their short phrase up to six thousand times a day. Back in Victorian England singing matches were held between cock birds, the winner being the one who sang his song the most times in a specified period. I was going to point out that there was no television in those days so people had to devise their own entertainment but given the state of British TV today with Bake-offs, Sewing Bees, and Pottery Throws then I wouldn't be surprised if The Great Chaffinch Sing-off wasn't already in the pipeline.


The Extra Bit


Although we have been all around the Forty Saints I am still hoping that we can have one last trip up on the top. However Mrs D is still requiring a lot of nursing and, as recovery is a long term process, I'm not sure when that will be. Stay in touch through Facebook, Twitter or by following the blog. All the best for now,
Steve

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so for details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Into The Valley


Into The Valley



In last week's Almanack I introduced you to Borage, one of the hairy guys in the family Boraginaceae. The name derives fro the Latin for hairy or woolly and their stems and leaves are covered in the stuff. This particular one is Cynoglossum creticum or Blue Hound's Tongue which is native to the Mediterranean basin and not just Crete as its scientific name suggests and the leaves do indeed look a bit like hound's tongue. Some of the chemicals in this are not particularly good for us or our livestock but caterpillars of some butterflies use it to harvest and store chemical defence weaponry whereas some female moths find it an alluring addition to their pheromonal perfume. One man's meat is another man's poison as the saying goes.


Look Mum, I can see the sea! We've now come around the far side of Agioi Saranta, or the Forty Saints and we're going to head down towards that deep ravine before cutting back around the hill. The air down here is absolutely redolent with a sweet, almost blancmange like smell which is being produced by the tiny red flowers of these mastic bushes. The lumpy bits in among the leaves and flowers are the nurseries of the little Woolly Aphid, Aploneura lentisci, which we met and put under the microscope last year in the Milonas valley (see A Recipe For Life).


This is getting to be quite an olfactory outing as the musky scent of Greek sage is now beginning to pervade our nostrils. These orange and black bees are enjoying it too. Most of us are familiar with Honey Bees and Bumble Bees and we met a Mining Bee when we were up on The Orchid Hills but this one is a Leaf-cutter Bee, Megachile sicula, which gets its common name from its habit of neatly cutting up leaves or petals with which to build its nest. Like the Mining Bee, it is a solitary bee rather than a social insect and the female builds her nest alone.


Here's a wayside plant with a bit of history as well as a pleasant aroma. It's called Yellow Mignonette, Reseda lutea, and like its close relative, Dyer's Weld, its roots have been used to produce a yellow dye for about three thousand years. Small flowers attract small pollinators and here we have yet another, somewhat diminutive , bee of the Halictidae family. These are social bees (technically euscocial but we won't go into that now) with a queen, workers and drones and so on that build a communal nest, usually in the ground and they are generally know as Sweat Bees as they are attracted to our perspiration. Hope you remembered the deodorant this morning because although their stings are very minor if you find yourself walking through a cloud of them the cumulative effect can be most irritating. Fortunately there only seem to be a few about this morning.


That's enough bee-haviour for the moment as I can hear the sonorous cronks of Huginn and Muninn behind us so let's look back and see what they are up to. They would appear to be courting; flying around in tandem, almost wing to wing at times. Ravens start courting at a young age but it may take two or three years before they settle down to nest building after which they will stay together for life. Sort of like a long engagement before getting married and settling down. We'll continue to keep an eye on them while we're up here and see if we can spot them carrying nesting material this year. Meanwhile we have a choice of down into the depths on our right or up to our left. We'll leave the depths for another expedition and continue our circumnavigation of Agioi Saranta next time.



The Extra Bit

Sorry the blogs are a bit erratic at present but life is playing silly bugs at the moment. Hope to publish next week. Meanwhile the novel “The Magic of Nature/The Nature of Magic” has had a sniff of interest from a publisher in the UK. Nothing definite yet but if you'd like me to drop you a line when the deal is done just email me at steves.summer.book@gmail.com and type “yes please”.

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so for details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map



Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Crete Nature Almanack 2018 – Late Spring

“Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire.”  Virgil

African Queen, Danaus chrysippus
Yes, the month of May is here and yesterday's May Day dances and revels marked the middle of Spring which started with the equinox in March and ends with the Summer solstice in June. So what should we be looking for in the second half of the season? In the insect world, butterflies abound at this time of year. I went for a walk earlier in the week and photographed no less than seven different species including this beautiful African Queen (also called the Plain Tiger but I prefer the former).

Borage, Borago officinalis
As the weather begins to heat up in preparation for summer it is time to get inventive with salads. Try adding a few borage flowers and shredded leaves with their delicate cucumber-like flavour and look out for other herbs in flower, many of which can be found on the Cretan Flora website in the family Labiatae.

Sardinian Warbler, Sylvia melanocephala
This is also a great time of year to catch up on your bird call identification but how to go about it, especially if you are a beginner? Start by choosing two or three birds who's calls are very distinct such as the Chaffinch, Greenfinch and this Sardinian Warbler. Now turn your speakers on and follow this link: Sardinian Warbler. Scroll down and you'll find loads of recordings. This is the xeno-canto site where you can hear nearly 10,000 bird species from around the world.

Balkan Pond Turtle, Mauremys rivulata
Sunbathing reptiles can also be found around now such as this Balkan Pond Turtle. Look out also for lizards and snakes warming up in the mornings and Geckos in the evenings on house walls.

Ornate Wrasse, Thalassoma pavo
And finally... the sea has warmed up so it's time to get the cozzie out of winter hibernation and get down and swim with the fishes. We have some really beautiful fish around the Cretan coasts which will happily swim alongside you in a calm, unhurried way.


Enjoy your Spring.

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