Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Shining: Part One

Despite the worst depredations of the British weather this summer* I've seen some wonderful wildlife so far in 2012. We had some gloriously sunny days earlier in the year and woodland walks are a delight on a crisp winter's day. One such delight was a visit (on February 25th) to a Woodland Trust managed site, Park Wood near Chilham.

Park Wood is remnant ancient woodland and part of the larger Forestry Commission managed King's Wood complex. [Here seems a good place to note our government's recent, most welcome announcement that they won't be selling off publicly owned woods after all. What a shame it took public outrage, petitions and independent advisers to apprise them of the obvious foolishness of their original plan. Sigh.]

You never know what you might find if you peek underneath a fallen log and beneath one I found a real treat; a hibernating glow-worm larva. [You can tell it's a larva and not an adult because it has pale tips at the end of each segment - and the time of year is a giveaway.]

This little beastie was less than an inch long and unsurprisingly very lethargic. A few quick pictures and we put it back in the dark, damp leaf-litter under the log.

Glow-worms Lampyris noctiluca are our only resident firefly (although they are neither worms nor flies; they are beetles). Lampyris is from the Greek meaning 'shining one'. Noctiluca is derived from Latin meaning moonshine or night light. Although best known for the bioluminescent activity of the adult females, they actually spend most of their lives as larvae - about 2 years. The adults don't feed and only live for 2 weeks or so using stored energy reserves - they mate and die. The larvae on the other hand are voracious nocturnal carnivores hunting slugs and snails, which they first inject with a paralysing digestive fluid before devouring their prey using their specialised mouthparts. They hibernate under logs or in leaf litter. [Information on glow-worm ecology is from the UK Glow-worm Survey website.]

We reported the find to the Woodland Trust and Robin Scagell at the UK Glow-worm Survey. It appeared to be the first reported record for this site. Happiness :-) An unexpected encounter indeed. We planned to go back in the summer.......

As it happened the weather* has been a bit off so the return to Park Wood is yet to happen.

However, in late May, having just visited Park Gate Down for an orchid fix, we stopped for a late evening stroll through the Forestry Commission managed Elham Park Wood (part of Lyminge Forest.)

In the gloaming and within about 20 yards of the barrier we nearly trod on some small wriggling things making their way across the gravel forestry track.....on closer inspection....

......Yay!!! More glow-worm larvae :-) And far from lethargic this time.

This is another larva because of those pale tips to the segments. Glow-worms exhibit sexual dimorphism; males and females are markedly different. Females actually resemble the larvae and are flightless. A (small) picture showing the difference between the adult female and a larva is here. Males have wings and look like this.

The larvae have a curious and distinctive locomotion, not unlike that of Geometrid caterpillars (inchworms); using their rear ends for traction.

They moved surprisingly fast.

We continued on our way with great care and counted 20 individuals, all larvae, wriggling across the track in a 30 minute walk. Absolutely superb insects.

We'd never seen anything like this before. A revisit to Elham Park was agreed to be a MUST.

* Footnote: I hesitate to blame the weather for the paucity of blogging activity here as I'm well aware of Oscar Wilde's admonition that "conversation [...and one could include blogging in that...] about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative". I cannot ascertain where or when Oscar said this but it's copied ad infinitum on the web. I'm not sure I agree with Oscar on this point. Conversation regarding the weather oils social interaction, easing us into conversation with strangers, and has united us Brits in a collective misery at the recent vicissitudes of the wayward jet-stream. It's a decidedly British trait and should be included in the citizenship tests set by the Home Office.

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