Wednesday 18 March 2015

Black Witches’ Butter and Pixie Cups

Cistus, Buckler Mustard and Bee Orchid on the Hidden Plateau

Here we are again, back on The Hidden Plateau and, as I promised, by missing out the caves I’ve  found us an easier route up. What with all the spiders, insects and other stuff we discovered last week we didn’t spend much time on the flowers but there really is an amazing variety up here. There are two different Cistus bushes with their showy flowers in pink or white, Buckler Mustard with its strange seed cases like ancient war shields and the beautiful Lesser Yellow Bee Orchids. I’ve just done a quick count and found no less than twenty different species in flower up here and the whole plateau can’t be bigger than a couple of football pitches at most.

Froghoppers and Ants above the South West Cave
Here at the south western edge it looks as though we’re on top of another cave. I wonder if that goes any deeper? A shame we can’t get down to it from here. Another time maybe. Meanwhile I’ve found a bit of a puzzle. Take a look in the base of this Asphodel. Do you see that little orange blob sitting in a sea of bubbles? That is the young nymph of a Froghopper (or Spittle-bug as they call them in the USA). They produce the froth for two reasons; one, to stop them drying out and two, to protect them from predators. Now Froghoppers are closely related to Planthoppers which are regularly attended by ants who, in their turn, are very partial to a sweet liquid called honeydew that the Planthoppers produce. However here we have an Ant and Froghopper combination that I haven’t come across before. I’m not sure how much success the ants are having though.

Crab Spider, Black Witches' Butter and Pixie Cup
This next bit is somewhat overgrown with bushes so there’s only one thing for it, we’ll have to get down on our tummies and slither through snake style.  It’s a bit uncomfortable but there’s plenty to see while we’re down here. (One thing you learn as you start to get old - if you're down on the ground don't get up until you are sure there's no reason to get straight back down again). There’s a lovely little Thomasid Crab Spider for instance, easily recognizable from the strange shape of his abdomen and some great little fungi growing on some moss covered dead wood. There’s Black Witches’ Butter and some Pixie Cups as well – don’t you just love fungi names?

Soldier Beetle camouflaged in Sun Spurge
Ah, it looks like we’re through to more open ground and we have an interesting little beetle wandering around in the Sun Spurge. These are called Soldier Beetles because one of the first to be described had a colour pattern resembling that of the red coats worn by British soldiers of the period. This particular one is a species of Malthodes of which nine have so far been described that are endemic to Crete. Those yellow swellings at the base of the wing cases mimic exactly the anthers of the spurge and if they sit quietly in the shadows then they’re very difficult for predators (and naturalists) to spot.

Rescued Beetles above Ferma Ponds
Here we are back at our starting point and I see that those little ponds above the village have filled up so that looks like a good place to explore next week. Meanwhile we have a couple of water storage tanks here and I see we have some suicidal beetles floundering about on the surface. Pass me a stick will you and we’ll rescue them. Two Tropinota Flower Chafer Beetles and a 7-spot Ladybird successfully saved from a watery grave; our small contribution to wildlife conservation for the day.

Until next week, happy hunting.

With special thanks this week to Michael Loizides at Mediterranean Fungi for his help with fungus identification and also to Cosmin Manci and Michael Geiser  at Coleoptera for their detailed comments on Malthodes Soldier Beetles.

Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

1 comment:

  1. Wish I'd known more about the place during my childhood visits...for mje it was always about fishing for mullet and bream with a handline, or watching the vultures above the cliffs on the Cnossos road


Recent Posts