Bugs, boids an’ ‘ting’

A little preliminary bonus: the following snippet is ten words, totaling 45 letters between them 🙂 :

The average word is between four and five letters long

Now on to the serious stuff…

The six-minute walk to the local supermarket gives me my best wildlife spotting: it’s where I snapped the local goshawk that appeared in the book“,

The bulges in the wing trailing edges are more pronounced in the goshawk than in the sparrowhawk.

The bulges in the wing trailing edges are more pronounced in the goshawk than in the sparrowhawk.

though I do see it quite often on other trips. Apart from buzzards, it’s the most commonly seen raptor in the area, and it’s said to be taking direct action on the others, especially the sparrowhawks, though I would expect it to be pestering the peregrines on their cliff too, or at least thinking about it. But I have seen a sparrowhawk try for a pigeon by the river: once unsuccessfully, and then a couple of years later, successfully. It attacked and caught its target exactly like the peregrine I saw catching a pigeon on the Southampton dockside: it flew underneath slowly, turned upside down, and grabbed it from below. Every time I’ve seen a flock hunted by a raptor, the flock members always seem to fly as slowly as possible, though as close together as possible. If I were a pigeon with a sparrowhawk on my tail, I might be tempted to try to outrun it. Maybe though, once hawk and prey are flying close together slowly, the pigeon can’t make the most of it’s higher top speed (if it has one) because the hawk’s better acceleration (again, if it had it) would get it first.

The local heron and goosanders often seen on the walk also got into the book, along with both dog pics, and of course there was that glossy ibis that flew over my house a couple of years ago!

But something too spineless for the book surprised me a few weeks ago. I’d never seen an insect like it. A long and thin body was largely enclosed by two pairs of wings folded around the body in a half cylinder. Also, the wings seemed to be emerging from the third segment of the body, which can’t be right because wings always come from the middle segment, the thorax.

My stonefly.  It was just over an inch long - i.e. nearly 3cms.

My stonefly. It was just over an inch long – i.e. nearly 3cms.

My insect book, still in pristine condition after decades of non-use, revealed the mystery beast to be a stonefly.

Stoneflies aren’t flies, or beetles, or “ants/bees/wasps” (hymenoptera). They’re not butterflies or moths (lepidoptera) either. They’re just stoneflies. They live by water, and indeed mine was on the road next to the river. As soon as it saw my foot, it walked determinedly towards it. As it seemed likely that I would be the last human to see it and leave it alive, I snapped it with the trusty k750i. It’s useful for closeups, but has no zoom and the movies are blurry, so I was unable to record a big white dog I saw yesterday, chomping its way through some unblossomed daffodils or tulips in a council flower bed in Cardiff!

I’ve never remembered to check about earwigs before, whilst having access to a reference, but this time I remembered. No! They aren’t beetles, apparently! They’re just “earwigs”. There are three species in the UK, and usually have wings, elaborately folded, though the group has a tendency to lose them. They care for their young, which beetles very rarely do. The devil’s coach horse though, which looks like a black earwig, and lives on one of the Shell Motorists’ Guide To The Countryside posters, really is a beetle.

Lingering on the early pages of my insect book, I learned that a number of other insects I’ve never been able to categorise, are actually Bugs. It’s a huge group, and contains two subgroups which have been suspected to be “unrelated”. (I knew there were Bugs, of course, I just didn’t know anything about the group 🙂 . ) Greenfly are bugs. So are cicadas, and scale insects. I once knew an expert on scale insects, who told me they are a huge world food menace. A lot of things that at first sight look like they might be beetles, are actually bugs; but so are a lot of things that don’t look like beetles.

“All bugs suck. All beetles bite” – even weevils, which are still beetles and still bite despite their long thin “noses”. Both ends of an earwig can nip you. The name apparently comes from “wig”, referring to wiggle, and “ear” referring to the rear end, (hence the related arse-end), as seen in the bird “wheatear”, whose rear end has white bits. I’m not sure why the ancient saxons referred to the rear end though – I’d have thought all parts of an earwig wiggle!

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