Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Nature Nuggets

Things you might not know about the natural world...
 


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Yellowhammer

In 1946 Julian Huxley noticed that yellowhammers sing in different dialects. You can now contribute to a survey which allows comparison between yellowhammers in UK and New Zealand where they were introduced in the nineteenth century. Beethoven is said to have copied the yellowhammer’s song for the first notes of his fifth symphony but he did not record which dialect of German it was using or whether it translated as "A little bit of bread and no cheese." A good place to look would be on the Cheddar reserves, Black Rock or Long Wood for example.

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
 


Greater Wax Moth

He may not look very impressive but he has the most sensitive hearing of any animal. At your teenage best, you can hear sounds of 20kHz. and dolphins about 200kHz. The Greater Wax moth can hear sounds of up to 300kHz.. This recent discovery surprised scientists at Strathclyde University. It seems likely that this allows them to tune in to the echolocation sounds produced by bats and hide when they hear the bats coming. Studying the moth's ear may lead to improvements in audio technology but even improved hearing aids won't  rival this moth. This link to the website of the Somerset Moth Group will show you where these can be seen in Somerset. 

Photograph of Galleria mellonella courtesy of Wikipedia.


Bee

Insects are more attracted to plants which wave about and these plants produce more seeds. Moving flowers also attract a wider variety of insect species than more static flowers. But the plants shouldn’t be too wavy or the insects won’t be able to keep their feet. This is especially true in windy conditions.
However, many flowers have conical cells on the surface of their petals which make it easier for bees to get a grip. In experimental conditions, the bees chose the Velcro surface instead of petals which had flat cells. To find out more, look here.


 


Nurse web spider It isn’t just opossums that play possum. Some birds, frogs, ants, beetles and snakes also play this trick, also known as thanatosis, to avoid predators. But the male Nursery Web spider, Pisaura mirabilis, has a different use for this technique. He pretends to be dead while holding a love-gift of an insect wrapped in silk in his mouth. The female spider drags both the male and the gift around whereupon the male "wakes up" and attempts copulation at which he turns out to be twice as successful as those just offering the gift without playing dead. It obviously pay off to play possum. This BBC Nature video shows some of the animals using this trick to avoid predators in action and the picture of the Nursery Web spider is courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

Shield  bug The term BUG is annoyingly unclear. It is sometimes loosely used to mean all INSECTS (six legs, exoskeleton, three-part body, usually two pairs of wings). But the term TRUE BUGS is mostly used to mean Hemiptera. These are different from such insects as Hymenoptera (ants and bees), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), or Diptera (flies and mosquitoes). Hemiptera are insects which have beaks through which they pump saliva to liquidise food which they then suck up. There are about 2,000 Hemiptera in the UK. They include cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, shield bugs and bed bugs. If you can't find any in your bed, have a look on any of the Trust's reserves!               Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.
Cetti's Warbler

 

It is a happy coincidence that the Cetti's warbler (Cettia cetti) sings the name of  the zoologist Francesco Cetti after whom it is named. In other cases taxonomic labels are intentionally chosen to be punny and/or witty. To hear, and if lucky, see a Cetti's warbler, go to Westhay Moor. Meanwhile try these names which are more fully explained on this website devoted to taxonomic fun.

Heerz lukenatcha
Daphoenus demilo
Gelae baen
Gelae rol
Polychisme
Dolichisme
Pieza deresistans
Pieza rhea
Pison eyvae
Ytu brutus
Orizabus subaziro
Phthiria relativitae

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia


 


Globe Skimmers The migration of Monarch butterflies is well-known but did you know about the much more ambitious trip made by Globe Skimmer Dragonflies? The monarchs make a round trip of 7,000km from Mexico to Canada. The Globe Skimmers skim at a height of over 6,000m covering a distance of 14,000 to 18,000km in their round trip from southern India to southern Africa and back. In both cases, the migration lasts longer than the life-span of an individual, taking three to four generations to be completed.  Find out more from Charles Anderson's TED talk here.

Stink Bug

Quentin Wheeler is a happy man, having had a beetle named after himself: Eleodes wheeleri. This is the more surprising since it is one of the 250+ species of the genus Eleodes  which has the alternative name Stink Bug or Clown Bug. It apparently does a headstand and squirts a noxious chemical at its predators. It also has the distinction of appearing, briefly, in two Clint Eastwood films where it is either squashed or spat at. But Mr Wheeler is happy, as he explains here.

 


Bullfinches

Everything! They can learn and sing folk-tunes perfectly. They recognise individual humans even after a long gap. Captive males imprint on their owners and will attempt to feed them in the absence of a female. They are highly strung and can drop dead suddenly. They have tiny testes, perhaps because they mate for life, so without competition, only a little sperm is needed.

Information drawn from The Wisdom of Birds by Tim Birkhead, with his permission. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia


Star-nosed mole If you were a Star-nosed mole, that’s just what you could do. With a nose the colour and shape of a sea-anemone, this tiny mole might appear to be sniffing its way to its prey. It can smell underwater by sending out bubbles which absorb a smell and then sucking these in again. But in fact its nose functions more like eyes, the most sensitive of its eleven pairs of starfishy fingers allowing it to sense prey and act on this with its tiny front teeth in 25 milliseconds. This makes making it the world’s fastest forager. This is over 20 times as fast as our reaction when doing an emergency stop. Here’s a video to demonstrate all of this.

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