Tuesday, 26 July 2016

nature's hidden world

For those of us fascinated by nature's astonishing diversity there have been some of those "I'n't nature brilliant" moments this week.
Mike invited us to join him for late night help in surveying Center Parks moth populations. 
As Jill and Mike do the technical bit, my role is highly-skilled 'moth wrangler' - catching the moths as they spiral around the mercury vapour bulb, drunk on light through a fog of midges and other smaller flying insects. I make tiny lassos out of spiders webs for the purpose. Or I use plastic pots. For the non-initiated, moths are attracted to a light, popped into a plastic pot for identification and released. I apologise for telling a friend that they were pressed between the pages of a book as children once did with wild flowers. And neither are they added dried to my muesli. And a very successful night with 43 species identified despite much ingress of small insects into the bronchial passageways. During the evening I sounded more like my grandfather coughing by the coal fire than at any time before.
The most exquisite moth caught was the delightfully named True Lovers Knot: the tracery of black and white on its wings a work of art. A new moth for us.
The Sexton beetle can't go anywhere without her mites ...
During the night we had visits from blundering Sexton beetles. These are nature's funeral directors, finding and burying the corpses of small animals. The beetles carry a cargo of mites during their prospecting journeys and we wondered what advantage this parasitic burden had for the overloaded Sexton beetles. 
Not surprisingly, the relationship is symbiotic (mutually beneficial) and not parasitic. After an Internet trawl, I found that the Sexton beetles chief competitors are flies who will seek out dead animals and lay their eggs on the corpse. This corrupts the stored dead body sooner than the Sexton Beetle can use it. The mites carried by the beetle leave their host when a dead animal is found and seek out and eat fly maggots, extending the period that the beetles buried treasure will be available as a beetle food source. That's a pretty fine bit of evolutionary development on the part of these two invertebrates.
Privet hawkmoth
And then, as if to give approval for our intrusion into their nocturnal world, the God of moths - a magnificent Privet Hawkmoth - landed. As big as a small bird, this mighty moth stayed for us to pay our obeisance allowing us to lift it and photograph it. A very special animal and another 'wow' moment.
We returned home with a renewed sense of awe at the natural world around us feeling immensely privileged to have had such first-hand encounters.  
And as a non meat eater, the evening will also be remembered for as large an ingestion of animal protein as I've had in many a year.

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