Wednesday 28 June 2017

The Ultimate Jigsaw Puzzle

We'll make our way up from the beach via the steps by the Porto Belissario hotel and then take a stroll up a track that will take us to the north east corner of the village.  

Now you may think that I'm puffed already, half way up the stairs but honestly, I've only stopped to admire this dragonfly. As you may already know, dragonflies and damselflies form a common group called the Odonata and you can tell them apart by the way they hold their wings at rest. Folded above the body: damselfly. Held out away from the body: dragonfly. There are 19 species of dragonfly on Crete in three  families and this is one of the Skimmers from the largest family, the Libelluidae. Nature is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle and being able to recognise a dragonfly and the family it belongs to is very much a first step; like the initial sorting of the pieces. 

The next part of the puzzle is fitting a few pieces together and if we take a look at these Globe Thistles across the road here we can do just that. As you can see they are being pollinated by a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and two different types of beetle. Incidentally the black and yellow beetle is a Chlorophorus varius which hasn't been recorded on Crete before as far as I am aware. It is the inter-relationships between species that start to show us glimpses of the big picture. 

If we trundle on up this hill a bit we can see the same thing happening on this Thyme, being pollinated by a Mammoth Wasp and two species of butterfly. Which links very pathetically into time being the fourth dimension of this puzzle. The insects we are seeing are all adults. In their juvenile states they may interact with a whole different catalogue of plants and not by beneficially pollinating them but by feeding upon them. Every gardener knows the damage that the caterpillar of the Small White can do to his brassicas and peach growers may well have reason to dislike the larvae of  Chlorophorus varius. 

So far we have been fitting the pieces together very simply; an insect interacts with a plant for food which may either harm or benefit the plant. Here beside the track we have some Lassius niger ants visiting some Fennel, a plant in which they have no particular interest per se. The sap of the fennel is of interest to those Black Bean aphids however and as they gorge on it they excrete the ant attractant sugar melezitose. Conventional wisdom has it that the aphids attract the ants for defence. However a recent paper has shown that this strategy may come at a cost [1]. So our jigsaw puzzle not only changes with time but it is a puzzle of many layers. 

Here we are at the top of the hill and by fitting all the pieces together we can see the panorama on the box. Apart from that cactus being pollinated by our Buff-tailed Bumblebee which shouldn't be in the picture at all. It is a garden plant that is spreading into the wild and in all likelihood pushing out native plants. This may have a knock on effect for the insects that depend on those plants and the birds, mammals and reptiles that rely on those insects as a food source. Nature really is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle; not only is it incredibly complex with over a million pieces, it is multi layered and ever changing. No wonder that it's so addictive. 

The Extra Bit 


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