When they’re good, they’re very very good

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Escot Maze triumph 14th Aug 2014

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Same bass player, stuck on page 1 of the manual?

Nick Cave, Tupelo

Sons and Daughters, Dance Me In

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River dipping again: messing about on the river 2014

A joyful sunny day down by the River Tale near Escot House, with youngsters and adults
engaged in all sorts of fun. My fun lies in looking in nets and buckets.

I like to try and identify what I see: I’m better with the big obvious stuff, to be honest, but I can tell the difference between a fox and a badger at least nine times out of ten…

There is a temptation on the part of youngsters to pull up a net and, if it hasn’t got any fish in it, to dismiss the net as empty. But if you look closer, and see what comes out of the debris at the bottom, you will find another layer of adventure and discovery. (And another one again, if you have some magnification to hand.)

The most spectacular insect we saw last year was also the first and last species I saw yesterday: a golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) came to inspect me as I stood on the bank at the start of the day, and escorted me off the premises when I left.

Other dragonfly varieties were spotted during Sunday, but I couldn’t identify them with any confidence: I would guess they were from the genus _Libellula_, the chasers. With a decent photo I might have visited http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/ or
http://www.surfbirds.com/dragonfly-guide.html which I am sure would have sorted out the species.

We didn’t see much by way of butterflies: some small whites and a tortoiseshell passed through during the day. I expect more butterflies were up at the main gardens.

Lots of bees: the white-tailed bumble bee Bombus terrestris and carder bees Bombus pascuorum(?), as well as honey bees and a sprinkle of small solitary bees. A plant I didn’t know was absolutely covered in common wasps (Vespula vulgaris), and a couple of their kin were chewing at the wooden posts to make their carton nests.

I know little about flies but was attracted by a little blond sepsid abundant on the burdock: they have spots on their wings and wave them slowly, in a manner that irresistably reminds me of ground crew signalling to aircraft taxiing on a runway.
http://moving-wildlife.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/insight-into-new-world. html

Neither
https://www.flickr.com/search/groups/?w=413853@N21&m=pool&q=sepsid nor http://www.ispotnature.org/search/node/sepsid were hugely useful in tracking it down and I couldn’t find a free key from
http://www.royensoc.co.uk/content/out-print-handbooks but a flick through the latest books by Chinery
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0002199181/ and
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007298994/ turned up
a grass or cereal fly of the genus Geomyza as a likely ID, and they are Opomyziids, not Sepsids at all.

There were several specimens of the showy Banded and Beautiful damselfly species Agrion virgo & A. splendens – sometimes called demoiselles or jewelwings. I discover these days they are properly referred to as in the genus Calopteryx, meaning beautiful-winged. They mingled all day with the raft-builders and dam-makers and gold-panners. Other species were around too, maybe the Blue-tailed or Variable Damselflies.

The damselflies were also a group which were found in the river itself, as larvae: we found three vaguely different-looking examples, but this time I expect we would need not just a photo but a lens or microscope to identify them properly. Some nice clues are to be found at
http://www.dragonfly-images.co.uk/

The star turns of the day for me were two juveniles of the water scorpion, Nepa cinerea. I hadn’t seen one for 30 years or more, so finding one was a joy, then someone turned up another. We didn’t catch any, but there were many pond skaters of around; there are nine species I believe, although http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/systematic_het.html lists only seven. Gerris lacustris is literally the Common Pond Skater, but others are common too.

Several whirligig beetles were brought in, fun to watch whizzing around like dodgem cars on the surface of the water. Joke of the Day: “Oh, that’s a whirligig beetle. I’ve no idea why they are called that”. (The Latin is as good: Gyrinus natator =”swims in circles” – yes, they do.)

We turned up another fine water beetle, which I think now might have been Agabus didymus as being the species of Agabus that is most often found in running water.
(H/T Watford Coleopterists Group http://www.thewcg.org.uk/ )

Snails were pretty abundant: the only ones big enough for me to risk a ‘spot’ were I believe _Lymnaea stagnalis_, the UK’s biggest snail, but the ones we found were hardly that.

Among the rest were a number of fly larvae: worms swimming with twisting movements, and maggots weaving through the detritus. With a hand lens I might have had a better go at the two water mites I spotted, but I would have needed a microscope to do anything with the ostracods. And creating a bit of a stir were two leeches: I believe many leeches are vegetarian, but I chose not to put our specimens to the test.

The greatest excitement, of course, was created by any find of fish.

I was first off the mark with a couple of bullheads (Cottus gobio), which as a boy I would have called a Miller’s Thumb, a flat-spread fish of stones and gravel, which is pressed to the river bed by the flow of water over its body and fins. Also, a bit of a British speciality, I’m told.

We also turned up a couple of stone loach (Barbatula barbatula).

Small three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) were found in in abundance, their little pectoral fins going nineteen to the dozen. We also pulled up a male and female of breeding size: a colourful red-bellied blue-eyed male and a grey pregnant female.

Other joke of the day: a young man proudly invited me to look in the bottom of his net, in which he had captured… a bubble. I explained that bubbles were quite rare in the river, but you could find them at this time of year as they migrate upstream to breed.

D

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Best traps yet

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An assassin bug killed a cow!

I couldn’t find that story online. I don’t think it’s true.

Here are some British assassin bugs:
http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/gallery/heteroptera/Reduviidae/reduviidae.html

They are not poisonous – that is, a cow wouldn’t die from eating one.

But they are venomous – that is, they inject deadly digestive saliva
into their prey – but their prey is other insects, and even if they can kill an insect bigger than themselves, a cow wouldn’t die if it was bitten by one.

Few insects are venomous, and those that are, won’t kill a cow, at least, not on their own. [A big swarm of bees could kill just about anything that didn't run away, I think, and the same with a colony of army ants.]

Some spiders are deadly, like the Black Widow spider:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_widow_spider

Some scorpions are deadly, like the Fat-tailed Scorpion:
http://www.orkin.com/stinging-pests/scorpions/deadly-scorpions/

One octopus is deadly:
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/interactives-extras/animal-guides/animal-guide-blue-ringed-octopus/2177/

Some jelly fish are deadly:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_jellyfish

I don’t think any insects are deadly.

What insect stings are, is painful. How painful? You measure the pain of an insect sting according the Schmidt Index, named after a man who having been stung hundreds of times in his career as an entomologist decided to write some notes on it.

http://scienceblogs.com/zooillogix/2008/01/29/the-schmidt-sting-pain-index/

According to his scale, the very worst stings of all are the stings of the bullet ant. Also very painful is being stung by a velvet ant (a type of wasp). The sting of a velvet ant is so painful that it is nicknamed the ‘cow killer’, as the sting is so painful that it was supposed it would kill a cow. It didn’t kill Schmidt and I don’t think one has ever killed a cow, but that might be where the assassin bug story got started.

http://lancaster.unl.edu/pest/resources/cowkiller.shtml

But there is one way an assassin bug bite could kill a cow. Insects that carry diseases can be deadly. I think the Anopheles mosquitos that carry malaria have killed more people than died in all the wars since recorded history. Still do, millions every year. And so tsetse flies and other insects that carry diseases of cattle, can kill a cow that way.

I mentioned Sir Vincent B Wigglesworth:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Wigglesworth
who studied a bug called Rhodnius. Rhodnius is an assassin bug http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodnius_prolixus
It feeds mostly on armidillos, but it can bite humans, and when it does, it can give them Chagas’ Disease, and you can die of it. In fact, these bugs can give Chagas’ Disease to about 150 different animals. So if a Rhodnius bit a cow and the cow later died of Chagas’ Disease, then maybe you could say that a cow died because it was bitten by an assassin bug. But it can take 10-20 years to get Chagas’ Disease…

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The great necklace-with-cross-ban hoax

Dear Mr Clegg

I was disappointed to hear you on the radio this morning, furthering the idea that at some time a person was forbidden from wearing a cross at work.

I believe there are two cases you may have had in mind when mentioning this, and in neither case was the cross pertinent. However, the cases have been used to promote a myth of Christian persecution in this country.

In the case of Eweida, she chose to contravene her employer’s no-jewellery uniform policy (since rescinded) by wearing a necklace (with a cross). In the case of Chaplin, she chose to contravene her employer’s no-loose-jewellery rule, by wearing a necklace (with a cross). Both women took their case to the ECtHR complaining that their rights to manifest their religion had been denied. Clearly nonsense in both cases. Chaplin was even offered the chance to wear a cross as a brooch, but no, it had to be a necklace.

http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/01/17/chaplin-eweida-ladele-and-mcfarlane-the-judgment/

If you ever find an example of discrimination against Christians I promise I will join you on the picket lines, but this one is a myth that has been mischievously used to create a false impression.

Meanwhile, I don’t understand why parents of any religion who want to indoctrinate their children deserve any help from tax-payers. State-funded schools should surely be entirely secular places, where religions (plural) can be studied from a neutral perspective.

yours sincerely

David Regis

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