A bit of a treat for us today, we’re heading up into the Thripti mountains with our old friend Steve Lenton. Not only is Steve good company and an accomplished botanist but more importantly he has a quad bike. This will save us a great deal of hoofing about and allow us to explore more habitats. I’ve arranged to meet him by a taverna in Pano Chorio, the sun is shining even if it is a bit blowy but we should get a good view from the summit of Afendi Stavromenos, Thripti’s highest mountain at 1476m.
|Ascending Afendi Stavromenos|
It would appear that the gods are not with us; although we’ve lost the wind there’s a bloomin’ great black cloud hovering over the mountain so bird spotting may be a bit difficult. No matter, hop on the back behind me – of course there is, plenty of room, just perch up there on the top box and let’s ascend the mountain.
So, here we are at something over 1,000m in a magnificent pine forest. Don’t worry about the quad bike quivers, your teeth will stop vibrating in about ten minutes or so and your softer bits a little while later. We’ll let Steve prod and poke about for interesting flora whilst we indulge in a bit of rock turning and see who’s sheltering from the elements.
Now here’s a nice Rove Beetle from the Staphylinidae family. This beetle family is easy to recognise as they all have short wing cases leaving their lower abdomens exposed. He’s not very happy at being disturbed and is raising his back end at us in imitation of a scorpion. This gives him one of his common names, the Cock-tail Beetle. He’s also known as the Devil’s Footman, Coachman or Steed. He’s probably giving off a foul smell as well but I’m not going to put my nose up his backside and check. For one thing he may turn around and give me a nasty nip with his pincers. He’s mainly nocturnal so we’ll carefully replace the stone and let him get back to sleep.
Here’s a bit of a novelty, a mushroom growing out of a fir cone. If we look up underneath the cap we can see that it’s a gill mushroom (from the same order as the ones you buy in a supermarket) and from the long, thin stem and the way the light is filtering through the cap I should say that it is a Bonnet Mushroom or Mycena after which, I assume, the ancient Greek Mycenaeans were named – people of the mushroom lands. We’d have to do a few lab tests to determine whether they are edible or not, some species are, others are toxic and most are unknown but the most interesting thing about Mycena mushrooms is that some of them glow in the dark, a phenomenon known as foxfire, pulsing on and off like fireflies. Imagine coming through here after dark and seeing that, the forest is eldritch enough in this swirling mist without mushrooms giving off spooky green light shows.
There’s little point in attempting the summit today and it’s getting rather damp up here so we’ll drop down a couple of hundred feet to where the cloud is thinner. Steve’s quartered the area pretty thoroughly and found an Allium tardans which has put a smile on his face so it’s back onto the four wheeled vibrator and on to pastures new.
This is a nice rocky area and just look at that fir tree, festooned with lichens. We’ve already met up with crustose lichen (A Kingdom in the Pine Woods) and foliose lichen (Gorgeous Gorge) but here we have a third type: fruticose lichen. Fruticose lichens are unlike the other two in that they grow out vertically from a central point and then hang down. It rather looks as if nature has started decorating her Christmas trees early doesn’t it?
Also around here we have a fair bit of heather in flower, little clumps of it all over the place. If you remember from A Kingdom in the Pine Woods we were discussing how heather and the mycorrhizae fungi attached to their roots have a symbiotic relationship; the fungi pass nutrients to the plants and receive sugars in return. But we’ve now discovered that the relationship goes further than that. The fungi threads spread a long way under the ground and connect the plants together. If one plant is attacked it will not only mount its own defences but also pass a message to all the other plants through this underground network so that they can mount their defences too. We used to think that we invented radar and sonar before we realised that bats and dolphins got there before us – now it seems as though plants and fungi have been using the Internet for about 460 million years. Nature never loses the power to amaze me.
We can really do some serious rock shifting up here so put your back into it and see what you turn up. Now there’s no need to go hooting like a steam engine; it’s only a small scorpion. He’s more frightened of you than you are of him, yes he is, he’s all scrunched up and not moving; trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. I’ll just give him a tickle with a piece of grass and see if I can provoke some movement. Come back! I meant the scorpion to move not you. Some people think that the smaller the scorpion the more venomous the sting or even that all scorpions are deadly. Neither of these is true. There are only about two dozen or so potentially lethal scorpion species out of the fifteen hundred or so that are known to science and, as far as I know, none of them live on Crete. This one, even if his stinger could pierce your skin which looks doubtful, would cause you less discomfort than a mosquito bite. But congratulations, that was a lovely find.
So it’s back to the boneshaker and down into the village where there’s a wonderful little taverna that does a marvellous meze and I think we owe Steve a pint for chauffeuring us about. Did you bring any money with you?
Until next week – happy hunting.
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