Wednesday 29 April 2020

In Praise of Key Workers

Polistes dominula visiting Scrophularia scorodonia
While the world is rightly applauding the key workers, who are risking their lives to keep the rest of us going during this period of upheaval, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to praise some of the smaller key workers that are also ensuring that life goes on. Insect pollinators, like this Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula complex, currently en route to a Balm-leaved Figwort, Scrophularia scorodonia, pollinate over 80% of plants, and that includes over a third of the crops which we depend upon.

Levant Blackbird, Turdus merula ssp. Syriacus

It is not only the pollen that needs to be transported, so do the seeds. So let’s hear it for the logistics crew. Burrs attach themselves to furry mammals; birds, such as this Levant Blackbird, Turdus merula ssp. Syriacus, distribute seeds through their gastrointestinal systems, thus manuring them as they inadvertently plant them; and some Harvester Ants cache seeds in pastures new. These are just some of the ways in which the plant and animal worlds interact on our behalf.

Dung Beetles from

All of these plants get consumed, not only by ourselves and our livestock, but by a host of other creatures as well, which produces an awful lot of dung. A big hand please, for the six thousand or so species of Dung Beetle around the world, without whom – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.*

Maritime Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina

The health workers need no introduction, from the fly maggots that are still used to treat festering wounds, and the blood-letting leeches, to the myriad plants and their compounds without which, we would have no pharmaceutical industry. Even this humble, and commonplace, Maritime Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina, is currently helping scientists with their inquiries into finding a cure for breast cancer.*

E. coli growth from
And finally, the smallest but most important key workers of all, the bacteria. They often only make it into the newspapers when they are doing us harm, such as an E. coli outbreak, but there are far more good guys out there. They are nature’s undertakers; laying the dead to rest and recycling the bodies so that life can begin again, with the plants that are pollinated by the etc. etc. etc. And without the bacteria in our guts, we wouldn’t even be able to digest the food that nature supplies.

So, a big thank you to all key workers, human and otherwise, that are helping to keep the rest of us going.

* Articles on Dung Beetles and the potential cancer treatments using Sunburst Lichen can be found in the facebook Naturalists group that accompanies this blog.

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The Eggs of Saramova
A science fiction novella for those who don't like science fiction. A fast-paced thriller that is, literally, out of this world (and it starts right here in Crete).
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A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Janet: If you are short on time but enjoy reading and are maybe not into long extended novels then Not Just For... Twisted Women provides readers with concise stories that stand alone and most certainly entertain with their ultimate twists. Loved it.
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Margaret: Each quick tale gives a glimpse into a character's life and has an often humorous twist at the end. I would love to read more.
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  1. Thanks for the latest blog Steve. It brought back two memories. Firstly, on our visits to Greece, while others lay on the beaches, Peter and I walked. I remember us stopping to observe a dung beetle, doing what dung beetles do but instead of pushing with its front legs, it was its rear end that was doing all the work. The second, relates to a girlfriend of our eldest son who had a holiday job at a local hospital. She thought they were having a laugh when she was asked to order maggots.

    1. Hopefully it won't be too long before you can come back and create some more memories.

    2. Fairly safe to say, our travelling days are over. Greece has had a profound effect on how we live our lives. Making our memories here now, in Norfolk.


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