Saturday 3 September 2011

Odd odes and beetle-mania

Recently, the Tense Towers Team paid a long overdue visit to Wicken Fen. What with one thing and another, we'd just not had chance to potter around this oldest of National Trust reserves in 2011.

A hot, sunny morning meant plenty of dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. The reserve staff are to be congratulated on managing the habitat and maintaining access to the water's edge, such that the wildlife can be observed unobtrusively.

This pair of Ruddy Darters, Sympetrum sanguineum, caught our attention. They had obviously mated and were ovipositing in tandem, just not over water! Were their offspring doomed?

A bit of research later and the mystery was solved thanks to Brooks and Lewington's Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Ruddy Darters may lay their eggs away from water, in areas that will later become inundated during winter flooding. The eggs are drought-resistant and do not hatch until covered by water. Phew!

Ladybirds aren't well known for their sense of humour, but I couldn't help wondering whether this Seven-spot, Coccinella 7-punctata, was being suitably ironic or surreal.

In folklore, they are probably best known through the children's rhyme: "Ladybird, ladybird, Fly away home, Your house is on fire, And your children are gone..." which, according to many sources, may refer to the burning of hop vines after the harvest in Mediaeval times, with the resultant death of many ladybird pupae. It is to their credit that they can still raise a smile after all that carnage.

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