Showing posts from 2017

The Purple Ponds of Lithines

We'll make our way back to the main Sitia-Makry Gialos road to Lithines where there are a few interesting ponds to the north west of the village that are worthy of investigation not least of all for their intriguing colour at this time of year. We are still awaiting significant rainfall and the ponds are very shallow at the moment but packed full of nutrients and it is these that are responsible for their unusual colour. If you check them out under the microscope they are absolutely teeming with microscopic life with nematodes, desmids and the like flitting about at tremendous speeds all over the place. But before we get down to them lets see what we can find on the way.
The first signs of the upcoming change of season are here by the track with these Wood Sorrels or Bermuda Buttercups which will soon be adorning every roadside and olive grove. You can make a nice warming winter soup with these; just bring a pot of chicken or vegetable broth up to the boil, chuck in a handful of co…

Steve's Nature Quiz #29

Here's a butterfly that many of you will be familiar with, the Cabbage White, Pieris brassicae, but which of these is NOT a food plant for its caterpillars?

a) Cabbage, Brassica oleracea

b) Black Mustard, Brassica nigra

c) Caper, Capparis spinosa

If you answered c) Caper, Capparis spinosa, then up until the end of last month you'd have been correct but that was before the #CreteNature blog visited Sklavoi – Village of the Slaves. It was there that we observed the caterpillars of this butterfly happily munching away on Caper leaves and added a new piece of information to our knowledge of this very common butterfly. So now the answer is ALL are food plants for its caterpillars.

I can't promise you new discoveries every week but there's usually something to make you say "Gosh! I never knew that," as well as some beautiful scenery and a few laughs along the way. So why not join us as we stroll around the countryside of Crete poking our noses into bushes, streams …

Perivolakia – Rooftops and Pergolas

From Voila we'll make our way back to the main Sitia-Makrigialos road, travel south for a bit and then take the turn off for the village of Perivolakia. We could take a left at Etia and cut across country but I'm none too sure about the road surface and I'm a coward. Sometimes this village is spelt Perivolakia (which means pergolas) and sometimes Pervolakia (which means rooftops) and we have one of each on the left here. We also have a cascade of Mesembryanthemum flowing down this wall being pollinated by a couple of Hymenopterans. The big purple/black one is a Carpenter Bee and the little black one with the red legs is an Ichneumon Wasp. These wasps lay their eggs in the larvae of other living insects which troubled Charles Darwin somewhat. In a letter to Asa Gray, an American naturalist who spent much of his time promoting the idea that God and science were not mutually incompatible, Darwin wrote “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have d…

Steve's Nature Quiz #28

We found our first mushrooms of the season in this week's #CreteNature; these edible (if tricky) Mica Caps, but what percentage of wild mushrooms are worth taking home for the pot?

a) 4%

b) 14%

c) 40%

A tricky question as 'mushrooms' as we know them are part of the kingdom of fungi and the great majority of them have yet to be scientifically described let alone tested for their edibility or otherwise. However the American Journal of Wild Mushrooming gives the following answer subject to the given caveat:

50% inedible
25% edible but not incredible (like the Mica Caps above)
20% will make you sick
 4% will be tasty to excellent
 1% will kill you

So the answer is a) about 4%, the other 96% are best left to get on with the job of being mushrooms.

More nature facts and trivia in this week's #CreteNature Blog: Voila - Turkish Delight

Voila – Turkish Delight

What a beautiful late Autumn day. Just the sort of day for strolling around an uninhabited historic village and looking for wildlife. This one, called Voila (pronounced Vo-i-la as opposed to the French voilà) is Venetian in origin under the fiefdom of the Salomon family but when Crete was taken over by the Ottoman Empire[1] in the mid seventeenth century it became the headquarters of one Jen Ali, a famous commander in his day. Nowadays the tower, on which Turkish motifs can be readily discerned, are guarded by a small Cretan frog where armed janissaries once stood. I wonder if there are any bat roosts hidden within?
Unfortunately not, nor anything more remarkable than an old pigeon's nest. It was also rather chilly in there and as the sun is shining down magnificently on the south east side of the village I suggest we make our way over there, nosing through the ruins as we go, and see if we can find some more wildlife. That's better, the ground is covered in lichen covered ston…

Steve's Nature Quiz # 27

Continuing from the explosive start of this week's #CreteNature blog which of the featured plants has an explosive method of seed dispersal?

a) Autumn Squill

b) Autumn Crocus

c) Squirting Cucumber

The Autumn Squill has a very gentle method of seed dispersal; when their seeds dry out they are lifted by the wind and blown to pastures new. The Autumn Crocus, on the other hand, has its own delivery service; its seeds are taken away and buried by ants. The Squirting Cucumber is more self sufficient; those seed pods which you can see bottom right are filled with a mucilaginous liquid and when the fluid pressure reaches critical the pods explode squirting the seeds up to twenty feet away. So the answer is C.

More fascinating nature facts and tales of the Cretan countryside in this week's #CreteNature blog Sklavoi – Village of the Slaves

Sklavoi – Village of the Slaves

When you look at a map of an area there are often a number of exciting looking places to investigate but at first glance Sklavoi does not appear to be one of them. Which is why I want to go there for I often find the most interesting things where they are least expected. For instance the connection between this little church down here, grasshoppers and the bomb disposal squad. The church is dedicated to St. Barbara, a young lady of Christian persuasion who's father was an out and out pagan. When he learnt of her conversion he went at her with a sword whereupon the wall of the tower (in which he kept her) exploded. Babs finished up, unharmed, in a mountain gorge alongside two very surprised shepherds. Her father pursued her, one of the shepherds betrayed her and he was turned to stone for his treachery. Not only that, his entire flock was turned into grasshoppers (which seems to have been quite popular in the past – see Chrysopigi - Source of Gold). She was caught and tortured and …

Steve's Nature Quiz #26

In last week's #CreteNature blog we finished up in a taverna talking about mermaids. But from which country did the mermaid myth originate?

a) Syria

b) Greece

c) Iraq

If ever a quiz question was designed to court controversy then a question regarding myth origins has to be it. At the risk of being shot down in flames I will tentatively assert that the first mermaid was the Assyrian goddess Atargatis from around 1,000 BC. Like many a goddess before and since she fell in love with a mortal (this one was a shepherd) and accidentally killed him. Mortified, she jumped into a lake and turned herself into a fish. Even that seems to have gone off half cock as she only managed the transition from the waist down. It is somewhat comforting to know that even goddesses sometimes have days when things just don't go right. Assyria equates with modern day Syria and so the answer is A.

A little more on mermaids but much more on modern day wildlife can be found in this week's #CreteNature b…

Sikia Beach – Frozen in Time

In previous weeks we've been back in time 800 years and joined the Venetians in their hill fort at Monte Forte and 2,000 years with the last of the Minoans at their place in Praesos. This week we're going back over 20 million years into the geological past to a beach that you will no longer find in any good beach guide to Crete. Lift a little patch of this massive slab of rock with your fingers (which is surprisingly easy to do) and you can rub the sand away from the underside with your thumb. It's covered with various lichens on the surface but let's go up and see what plants have colonised the edges. Plenty of Heather, as you'd expect on a sandy soil, and down among the roots some beautiful little autumn flowering Narcissi. We also have some spherical heads of Alliums. Garlic, onion, chive and shallot are all Alliums and we have about fifteen different species growing wild here on Crete. As to which these are I'd have to check with our botanist friend, Steve …