Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Hills Are Alive

Galatella (Galatella) and Autumn Squill (Prospero)

When faced with a valley leading into exciting looking mountains many people are tempted to grab the Nordic walking sticks and stride off towards the horizon. Naturalists, however, do not stride; they potter and probe and poke about which is what we shall do today by ignoring the peaks for the moment and turning due east to clamber up the side of the valley. It’s steep but not particularly high at this point although I’m sure that the views from the top will be worth the modicum of effort involved.

We have some nice little autumn flowering plants on the way up. This little yellow job with the strange projections is a Galatella; part of the daisy family which you will only find in East Crete, Karpathos, Rhodes and south west Turkey. The mauve flower on the other hand is a bit of a botanists nightmare as it comes in many different forms (known as a ‘cryptic species complex’). It’s an Autumn Squill and is closely related to the Sea Squills (see In An Octopus's Garden).

Sage (Salvia)                         Cistus (Cistus)
Whilst we’re on the subject of plants you may have noticed on our climb that we have stumbled over, round and through a number of cistus bushes, but down here by my foot there’s a little sage bush just starting out in life and, as you can see, the leaves are very similar. So how do you tell the difference? Touch and smell. The sage is soft and velvety with an aromatic smell whereas the cistus is rough and slightly sticky and, to my nose, odourless. Despite their similarities they are not even in the same family.

Plants of the same species that look unrelated and unrelated plants that look the same – who’d be a botanist?

Spiky Leaf Beetles (Hispella)
Meanwhile, sitting on a cistus leaf, looking as though they’re intently watching something going on below them, we have a couple of Spiky Leaf beetles. I haven’t come across these before, gently pass me one up would you and we’ll have a look at him under the hand lens. Apologise for disturbing him, we’re all part of Earth’s great panoply of life, so he’s a distant relation. Just look at those spines on the wing cases, a predator would think twice about picking him off as a snack. I’ll just put him back with his companion and let them continue watching whatever it is that they are finding so fascinating.

Mushroom (Russula), Millipede (Julidae), Scorpion (Euscorpius)
This looks like a nice spot to sit and rest our legs awhile with the autumn sun filtering through the trees and dappling the ground. There may not appear to be much going on but if we scrabble about in the pine litter at the base of the trees we may just find…ah, here’s one… a Russula mushroom. The trees and the fungi, as we’ve previously discussed (see A Kingdom In The Pine Woods) have a symbiotic relationship so there’s a strong connection here. There is another connection if you look into the base of this clump I’ve just unearthed, a host of Snake-like Millipedes curled up in the bottom. It would appear that they simply adore these mushrooms. You can’t take these things for granted of course, maybe the mushrooms repel would-be predators such as the scorpions you’ll find in those rocks over there and thus offer the millipedes a safe habitat. As far as I know the relationship hasn’t been studied.  It may seem tranquil here but there’s interconnected activity between plants, fungi, primary consumers and predators happening all around us if we take the time to observe it and there is still so much that we don’t yet know about the world around us.

Common Darters (Sympetrum)
It’s nice to see that the dragonflies are still with us so late in the season. Have you noticed how the males and females choose different places in which to rest? Darters like these are difficult to catch on the wing as their flying skills are superb but they are vulnerable when they land. The brick red male has lined himself up with the dead pine needles whereas the greenish gold female has chosen a dangling posture against a backdrop of drooping green leaves, both of them opting for camouflage suitable to their colouration.

There’s a bit of a view of the rest of the valley over here. We may well reach those chunky, exciting looking mountains eventually. It all depends upon what we find to amuse us on our way. This valley is as new to me as it is to you so who knows? Until next week – happy hunting.

See all the pictures including insets in detail on Flickr

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  1. Thanks for including insects into the article, so fascinating.

  2. I find insects fascinating too and always try to include one in the blog. The next blog (which is up today, Wed 18th Nov, shows why flies don't like Teflon.


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