Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Exotica

We started the day, looking out of the kitchen window and seeing a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) flying over the house. Native to the warmer parts of southern Europe, the Little Egret has moved steadily northward since the 1960's, reaching Britain in the 2000's. It has now become a regular breeder in this country, so lets hope they have spread to these parts too.
Later, on our 4.5 mile walk around Shipley Park, I was struck by the 'starburst' effect of the Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) flower heads and how they resemble the shape made by the seed heads or 'clocks' of the Dandelions.
The flowers of the Cow Parsley, as with most of the carrot family, are held in umbels which I always think resemble an exploding firework all radiating from one central point.
The Dandelion clocks have the much the same effect.
The seeds of the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) are held in these familiar, downy clocks and consist of the fruit with a long 'beak' attached and an umbrella-like pappus of hairs on the top designed to catch the wind for dispersal.
On Shipley Hill, the Rhododendrons are still flowering their hearts out. The reds and purples are opening now.
On one of the unopened flower buds, a nasty-looking creature lurked. It is a Harvestman (Opilio canestrinii) - also known as a Daddy Longlegs (not the Cranefly type).
Although these animals look like long-legged spiders, they are in fact, a different order of Arachnids altogether. They are also ancient animals, being known from the fossil record to have been around 400 million years ago.
There is a myth that these creatures are among the most venomous animals in the world, for their size. This is not true as they have no venom at all. They are omnivorous and feed on dead insects and other carrion as well as vegetable matter.
Look closely and you will see it's two eyes seemingly in the middle of it's back! Horrible.
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