Author Archives: Bug Woman

Friday Book – Europe’s Dragonflies by Dave Swallshire and Andy Swash

Dear Readers, every month when I get paid I allow myself a small indulgence in the form of a book, and it will come as no surprise to regular readers that it’s usually something to do with nature. For June, I have gifted myself Europe’s Dragonflies. Why, you might ask, did I not go for one that was just about the dragonflies of the UK? Well, just lately I am filled with a great urge to travel (probably because I can’t), and I find myself dreaming of the bogs on the Hochgurgl path in Austria, or the sunlit, dusty gorges of southern Crete.

Hochgurgl path, July 2019

If I’d been paying attention in Austria, for example, and if it had been sunnier, I might have seen the Alpine Emerald (Somatochlora alpestris)  with its bright-green eyes and, if I took a quick trip to the Lech valley, I could find the only European representatives of the Siberian Bluet (Coenagrion hylas) – the remainder of the species are found, not surprisingly, in Siberia. It’s noted that this last species has rather more black on its body than other members of the genus, probably to help it warm up.

Siberian bluet

If I went to Corsica or Sicily, I might see the black pennant (Selysiothemis nigra), whose body is completely black. I am not sure how that fits in with the black-for-warming-up thesis, but most adult dragonflies don’t live for very long, and it’s only the male who is night-hued (in nature, males are often more expendable than females).

Black pennant

In southern Spain I might spot a violet dropwing (Trithemis annulata), surely one of the most colourful dragonflies of the lot. The males adopt what is known as the ‘obelisk position’ with their abdomen straight up in the air when it’s hot, maybe to limit exposure to the heat.

Violet dropwing

In southern Greece I might find the only example of the Greek Goldenwing (Cordulegaster helladica), which haunts the Castalian spring at Delphi. On Rhodes, I might find the magnificent emperor (Anax immaculifrons) with its blue eyes and six-inch wingspan. On Crete, I might stumble across the Cretan spectre (Boyeria cretensis), who prefers fast-flowing rivers, and who lays their eggs in moss or tree-roots overlooking the water.

Greek goldenwing

But if I went to the Azores, I would find the only population of parthenogenic dragonflies anywhere in the world: the citrine forktail (Ischnura hastata). The bright-yellow males are what gives the species its name, but these are not found in the Azores – presumably, long ago, a female was blown across the Atlantic from the Americas, where the species normally lives, and somehow adapted by being able to reproduce without mating. The females start off bright orange, but become duller over time. When the scientist in Jurassic Park suggests that ‘nature will find a way’, he had no idea how right he was.

Citrine forktail

So, this book is full of wonders. There are damselflies that look like dragonflies, dragonflies that migrate over the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean to breed in East Africa (the wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)) and who may crop up in Europe as their offspring make the return journey, and dragonflies in every colour of the rainbow. I am not surprised that many birdwatchers make the switch to the dragonfly (Odonata) family – these creatures are relatively easy to spot and identify (though don’t get me started on blue damselflies), and can be watched through binoculars. Plus, some of them are extremely confiding – I remember a common darter landing on my arm and using it as a perch for half an hour a few years ago.

There is also something about dragonflies that is unsettling (after all, H.R. Giger used the mouthparts of a dragonfly as inspiration for his creature in Alien). As I’ve noted before, when you’re circled by an emperor you have no doubt that you’re being observed and summed up. Some of them are large enough to be disconcerting at close quarters, and they are certainly too big to pop under a glass and remove from a room. They remind me that a lot of wildness can be contained in a small package, and I am very glad to witness and admire them as something that seems to sum up the spirit of wet and billowy places, of unpeopled woods and gently-bubbling bogs.




A Weedy Walk in Muswell Hill

Prickly sow thistle (Sonchus asper)

Dear Readers, today I walked over to the Halifax Building Society in Muswell Hill to finalise the last transfers from Dad’s bank account, so that I could tie up his estate. What a journey it’s been! I must have been on the phone for a full day during the past two weeks trying to find someone who would close his account so that I could distribute the funds and pay his final debts. Every single person that I’ve spoken to has been lovely, and none of them have been able to make it happen. How hard is it to close an account? Very hard, as it turns out, especially in the middle of a lockdown. So I walk over to my local branch, and the staff sorted it all out in fifteen minutes.

I’m in tears at the end of it, partly with relief, but partly because this is it, almost the last thing that I can do for Dad. He and Mum were always so responsible with money – Mum’s idea of a ‘blow-out’ spending spree was to buy two teeshirts in different colours, or a packet of three Magnum ice creams. I think of how Dad would always insist on paying me for my train fare when I went to visit them, pulling out the notes with hands that were numb with peripheral neuropathy. The dialogue always went the same way:

Me: You don’t have to do that Dad, I love coming to visit you and Mum.

Dad: I know I don’t have to, but I want to. Here! (Shaking the money in my direction)

The woman who has been helping me asks if my Dad had been very sick, so I tell her a little bit about him, and notice that her eyes are welling up too.

‘I lost my Dad a year ago’, she says.

And we both stand there helpless. I suspect in another world we’d have hugged, but all we can do in this one is share a moment of fellow-feeling. Perhaps that’s enough, under the circumstances.

And on the way home, I find solace in the weeds, as usual. Nobody at the council has been out with the weed-killer, so there are a great variety of plants taking advantage of the scant soil at the bottom of the walls. The houses along Queen’s Avenue are splendid, but many of them were hotels, so now they stand empty and unloved, all the sadder because a lot of money has been spent on some of them over the past few years. I have taken all these photos on my phone, so please forgive the quality of some of them!

A positive ocean of Phlomis in the front garden of one of the hotels

Weeds seem to fall into a variety of categories. There are the usual suspects, such as the sow thistle in the first photo. Then there are Muswell Hill specialities, such as the mallow which seems to pop up around here, but in few other places locally – I suspect someone planted it in a garden and it’s been advancing forth ever since.

Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)

There is ivy-leaved toadflax growing out of the nooks and crannies. This is one of my favourite weeds, and it seems to be doing well this year, maybe because it doesn’t mind the dry conditions, being something of an Alpine plant in habit. The photo has overexposed a bit, but the flowers were much paler than usual.

Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)

And here we have a veritable forest of sow thistle. Although this has to be the most raggedy, insect-bitten sad-looking weed of the lot, it is such a survivor, and those yellow flowers turn into a mass of wind-blown seeds which will soon be populating the rest of the street.

I have always been very fond of sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) with its exotic acid-yellow flowers, and here it is, growing amongst the knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare agg.) I am not quite sure about the other plants, they look almost like tree saplings – does anyone have any bright ideas?

And here is some caper spurge, which I suspect has jumped the wall from the neighbouring gardens, alongside some nipplewort.

Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)

And here is another garden escape – one  of the multi-coloured decorative grasses that have become so popular over the past few years. I think that a row of these along the bottom of a wall might actually be rather attractive. What do you think?

And the most surprising bottom-of-the-wall plant of all was this one, a stone’s throw away from Muswell Hill in the rather classy Twyford Estate.

I rather think that this might be a baby false acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), self-seeded from its parent opposite. I seem to remember that a huge clump of these seedlings were turning into a small forest on the corner of the road, blocking the view of the drivers trying to turn left. I imagine that at some point this little chap will also meet with his demise.

Of course, fancy street trees are not the only trees that pop up in unexpected places. There are some sycamores finding themselves very at home on the alleyway next to All Saints’ Church, along with some cherry laurel and a smidgen of bramble.

And there is a small field of wall barley just along the way too.

And so, nature is cheerfully flourishing as the lockdown (more or less) continues. It’s a reminder that life goes on in spite of our personal griefs and problems. At some point the weed-spray man will reappear, with his tank of toxic chemicals and his lack of protective equipment, but in the meantime, plants are literally making hay while the sun shines. And I, for one, find it strangely comforting.

Wednesday Weed – Yellow Flag Iris

Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)

Dear Readers, round by the tennis courts in Cherry Tree Wood there is a place which is damp and muddy almost all year round. Some say that this is actually where the Mutton Brook arises before it makes its way through Hampstead Garden Suburb and eventually into the Dollis Brook. Whatever the truth of it is, I have never seen such a fine batch of yellow irises  (Iris pseudacorus) as are there this year. They are the colour of butter, and those strange flowers are decorated with faint landing pads to show the hoverflies and bees exactly where to go to pollinate them.

I have some of these plants in the garden too, and the flowers are fleeting, appearing in the morning and sometimes gone by late in the afternoon. Still, I am not complaining – this is only the second year that they have flowered, and they are better than last year, when I only had a single bloom. For all its delicate beauty, it can be a bit of a thug – it is counted as an invasive species along the whole west coast of North America, and in New England as well. You can see how a stand of this plant would soon squeeze out everything else.

In the UK, the plant has a host of vernacular names, including butter-and-eggs, ducks’ bills, queen of the meadow and soldiers-and-sailors. Regular readers will be delighted to hear that this is yet another plant that’s considered to be unlucky if you bring it into the house: Roy Vickery speculates that it’s because the plant grows in treacherous, boggy areas. However, in Guernsey it was used to strew the path in front of a bride as she made her way to church on her wedding day, so it’s not all bad. In Shetland, irises are known as ‘segs’, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for a sword, an obvious reference to the blade-shaped leaves. Biting a ‘seg’ meant that you would develop a speech impediment such as a stammer. Goodness knows what it all means, except that people do love a good story, and plants are so often vehicles for such things.

The roots of yellow iris can be used to make a dye: in the Western Isles the dye is said to be black, and sometimes used as ink, while in Shetland it’s blue-grey or dark green. The flowers can be used to produce a dye too, while the leaves made a green dye that was used to colour Harris tweed. In short there’s a veritable rainbow of potential colours in the various parts of this plant.

Medicinally, yellow iris was used as a cathartic – it contains chemicals which can cause dermatitis, and is said to be mildly toxic to cats and dogs. However, it’s been used for everything from toothache to cramp and, if ground into snuff, was said by one Dr Thornton to have ‘cured complaints of the head of long standing in a marvellous way’.

Furthermore, it is said to have cured a pig following a bite from a mad dog. With all these medicinal uses, it’s no wonder that the Roman word for the plant was consecratix, because it was used for purification ceremonies.

It’s often thought that the yellow iris was the origin of the fleur-de-lys, symbol of French kings and boy scouts. The Frankish king, Clovis, was said to have replaced the three toads on his flag with three fleur-de-lys as a symbol of Christian purity. Later legends have the name ‘fleur-de-lys’ being a corruption of the phrase ‘flower of Louis’, for King Louis IX. However, it might also refer to the River Leie in Flanders, where yellow irises grew in great profusion. For me it will always be a symbol of the scout movement. How I remember trying to join the Cub Scouts as a child because the Brownies seemed a bit wet. Oh, the shame of being rejected at such a young age!

Photo One byBy Bedford Master - This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. It is also made available on a British Library website.Catalogue entry: Add MS 18850, Public Domain,

King Clovis of the Franks receiving the fleur-de-lys (British Library, public domain)

Although Claude Monet was famous for his paintings of waterlilies at his garden in Giverney, he was not averse to yellow irises either: I love how, in the painting below, the citrus-lemon colour of the flowers is offset by the blue-green of the leaves. Although the painting is not photo-realistic, it gives a real sense of the coolness of the plant – whenever I look at them, I seem to smell the freshness of water and see the faintest glance of a dragonfly out of the corner of my eye.

Yellow irises by Claude Monet (painted 1914-1917) (Public Domain)

And finally, a poem. I think a lot of us are coming back to the sounds of nature during the lockdown, hearing the birds singing early in the morning, and the thrum of bees. Sadly, here in East Finchley the builders are back and the road (which was closed for some sewage works) is now open, so the rumble of vans is ever present. Nonetheless, things are still quieter than they were, and I find myself quieter inside too. I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

Glencolmcille Soundtrack by Moya Cannon

All day long, as I climbed,

in sunshine, up to the holy well,

then on to the Napoleonic watchtower,

and halted behind it, on a headland

tramped brown by sheep, to watch the sea

carve slow blue paths through cliffs and skerries,

May’s soundtrack played on and on-

bee-hum, the high meheh of hill-lambs,

the lifted songs of larks in warm grass

and later, near the court tomb in the valley,

the cuckoo’s shameless call.

When did I forget it,

mislay it or roll it up,

this tapestry of sound

which pleasures us

by spilling hawthorn hedges

in whin-scented summer,

as pools of yellow iris

are conjured out of wet fields

and late bluebells, vetch and fern

capture the ditches?







Sunday Quiz – Little Critters – The Answers!

Good morning everyone! I completely forgot to post the winners this week – just blame it on Covid Brain. So, congratulations to Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus for the best overall score of 9/16, and to Sarah for the best score on British mammals with 8/8. Well done to both! But next week I think we’ll do something plant-related. Watch this space….

Dear Readers,

Here are the answers to my most fiendish quiz so far.

Part One

Photo One by By Peter Trimming -, CC BY 2.0,

1) e)  Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Photo Two by Bouke ten Cate / CC BY-SA (

2) a) Edible dormouse (Glis glis)

Photo Three by Danielle Schwarz / CC BY-SA (

3)h)  Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius)

Photo Four by Dunpharlain / CC BY-SA (

4)c) Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)

Photo Five by Peter Trimming from Croydon, England / CC BY (

5)g) Water vole (Arvicola amphibius)

Photo Six by Bj.schoenmakers / CC0

6)b) Harvest mouse (Micromys minutus)

Photo Seven by Sandy Rae from Scotland, UK / CC BY (

7)f) Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Photo Eight by Soricida / CC BY-SA (

8) d) Common shrew (Sorex araneus)

Part Two

Photo Nine by By François Trazzi. - François Trazzi., CC BY-SA 3.0,

9)f) Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) ii) Alpine Europe

Photo Ten by By Gunnar Ries - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 2.5,

10) d) Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) iv) US great plains 

Photo Eleven by Alina Fisher / CC BY (

11). e) Vancouver Island marmot (Marmotta vancouverensis) i) Vancouver Island, Canada

Photo Twelve by © Hans Hillewaert

12) h) Cape ground squirrel (Xerus inauris) vii) Southern Africa

Photo Thirteen by By Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0,

13) a) Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) vii) Southern Africa

Photo Fourteen by By Karunakar Rayker - originally posted to Flickr as The Pika, CC BY 2.0,

14) b) Large-eared pika (Ochotona macrotis) vi) Mountain regions of Asia

Photo Fifteen by By The original uploader was Brian.gratwicke at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY 2.5,

15) c) Rock cavy (Kerodon rupestris) v) Eastern Brazil

Photo Sixteen by By Jason Pratt - originally posted to Flickr as Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat, CC BY 2.0,

16) g) Southern hairy-nosed wombat  (Lasiorhinus latifrons) iii) Australia

So, what did you think folks? Too hard? Too easy? Too many rodents? All feedback greatly received.



My Top Ten Favourite Blogs

Dear Readers, as most of us have a little more time to peruse the world of the blogosphere at the moment, I thought that I’d include a quick rummage through some of my favourite blogs. No doubt I’ll have missed some, so do let me know if your blog, or one that you like, is not included, and I’ll do a follow-up post at some point.

London Blogs

I have to start with a shout-out to The Gentle Author’s blog, Spitalfields Life. If it hadn’t been for this extraordinary writer, I’m sure that Bugwoman’s Adventures in London would never have come to fruition. Spitalfields Life has appeared every day  since 2009, in spite of the writer breaking his arm and having a bout of Covid-19. The pieces vary from rallying cries to protect London businesses and landmarks such as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, loving portraits of local Spitalfields characters, paeons to the cats that the Gentle Author has shared their life with (and in particular I recommend this eulogy to Mr Pussy, the Gentle Author’s beloved friend) and a whole range of posts on the strange, the wonderful and the heroic that make Spitalfields such an extraordinary place. If you have the slightest interest in London, or people, or indeed cats you should shimmy on over to Spitalfields life and sign up for your daily dose of wonder.

One of the people that I met on the Gentle Author’s blog course back in 2014 has a wonderful blog of his own –A London Inheritance.  The author’s father lived in London and, from 1946 to 1954 he took many photographs of the city. The author used these photographs as a starting point for his blog, looking at what had changed, and what remained the same. His explorations of various London locations are full of interest, and it’s fascinating to see what he uncovers. Here, for example, are his father’s photographs of the Royal Festival Hall, taken after the closure of the Festival of Britain in the 1950s, and the same locations today. Not all the locations are so famous, though: I loved his post about the Westferry Road Newsagent, all boarded up and awaiting demolition. The author also a great passion for London’s transport network, and one can often find him underground, exploring Tube stations with the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London team. Here, for example, he is at Moorgate and having a very interesting time. Again, head on over and sign up if you love London. 

Blogs from Other Places

Something Over Tea is written by Anne, who lives in South Africa and writes about the animals and plants that she sees around her. She also writes about tea, though, like many of us, she also includes posts on whatever takes her fancy – recent pieces have included musings on South African English, the meaning of the word ‘diurnal’, and a particularly poignant piece about the last drive through town before lockdown. I always get a real sense of what it’s like to actually live in South Africa from Something Over Tea, and I find it endlessly interesting.

And if you fancy going somewhere mountainous, A Little Bit Out of Focus is written by Mike, who lives in Switzerland. This is where I go to get my Alpine ‘fix’, especially as this year I won’t be able to make my annual pilgrimage to Obergurgl. Mike’s photographs of the meadows with their flowers and butterflies almost makes up for it, and if you fancy some snow to cool down with, there’s plenty of it here. Much as the Norwegian Blue Parrot in Monty Python’s ‘dead parrot’ sketch was ‘pining for the fjords’ so I am pining for the Alps, but A Little Bit Out of Focus reminds me that they are still there, coronavirus or not.

Gardening Blogs

The Hospice Gardener is a wonderful blog written by Jim Nicholson, who has been gardener at the Wigan and Leigh Hospice since 2016. At the moment, Jim is mostly working on his own because of the need for social isolation, but how splendid the gardens look even so! And this has been a difficult year for Jim in other ways too. But I love to see how the gardens are getting on, and I hope that everything is going well.

The Cow Parsley Diaries is a new-ish blog by Claire, who is creating a garden on heavy clay in Sheffield. Her garden, like mine, is north-east facing, and so I am looking to her for inspiration! Her photos are lovely, and the blog is currently encouraging me to think about paeonies, and about increasing my small number of brunnera, which seem to be happy in the shade. I look forward to her posts with relish.


I have long been a follower of Andrea Stephenson’s blog Harvesting Hecate – like me, she aims to combine word and image, and her writing is intensely personal. I loved her piece about the coming of the lockdown, but all of her work manages to conjure a deep spirit of place. She is deeply attuned to the movement of the seasons, and to the signs that nature is constantly transforming. I especially loved her evocation of the long, hot summer that we had last year. This is a blog to savour, rather than to rush through.

I have been following Jacqueline Durban on her blog Radical Honey for several years, and I love the way that she blends the natural world, spirituality and political and ethical action effortlessly, almost as if they were the same thing (and who is to say that they aren’t?). She has written many, many beautiful pieces, but I would like to commend this piece, on dying alone in the time of coronavirus. It helped me so much in the days following the death of my father, even though I was lucky enough to be able to be with him. Sometimes a piece of writing takes wing, and this is one such piece. When you’ve read it, you might want to look at one of Jacqueline’s many pieces on the Crossbones Graveyard. There is some remarkable writing to explore on Radical Honey. I hope you enjoy it and find it as stimulating and thought-provoking as I do.

And finally in this Nature section, Miles King’s A New Nature Blog  is, as he describes it, about  ‘the intersection between nature, politics and the way we value nature (or don’t.)’ I find his posts interesting and informative. Here, for example, is a discussion on the way that footpaths are being closed during the pandemic, and where this way of behaving comes from. Here is a post on the pandemic and our food supply.  And here is a post on how the libertarians in the Tory Party primed us for the disaster that is the current handling of the pandemic. I don’t always agree with everything that Miles says, but oh what a change it makes to read someone who is informed and thoughtful. Highly recommended.


I think that the mark of a book review is whether it’s a good read even if you’ve never read the book, and Gert Loveday’s Fun with Books scores highly in this regard. Whatever ‘Gert and Gert’ (actually sisters Joan Kerr and Gabrielle Daly) are writing about, it’s entertaining, and often laugh-out-loud funny. They are responsible for about 30% of my weekly Kindle bill, and that’s a lot, believe me. Recently, I loved their review of ‘The Chiffon Trenches’, Andre Leon-Talley’s memoir of his time as Creative Director at Vogue, which included the delightful snippet that:

‘Karl Lagerfeld travelled with a suitcase full of his favourite bread. When he was on one of his diets, he would chew it then spit it out. It did wonders for his weight loss.’

Sometimes the Gerts save me money, though. I wouldn’t bother to buy Lionel Shriver’s latest book ‘The Motion of the Body Through Space‘ after their review, though it was worth reading for their philosophy on exercise:

In spite of the title of this book, what is completely ignored by this writer (who herself is due for knee surgery and known to do the odd 500 sit ups) is the joy of moving the body through space. Walking, running, bike riding, swimming, dancing, skiing, ice-skating; many are the activities people do just because they love the feeling of it. Not to be thin, not to beat others or boost their flagging self-esteem, but just for the sheer joy of it.

The Gerts belong to this club, no other.’

With such good sense, who could resist hanging out with the Gerts?

So, I hope that there is something here for everybody to enjoy. And maybe it will inspire some folk who are still paddling in the shallow end to think about creating a blog of their own? You never know where this blog business will take you, but I can guarantee an interesting ride, excellent company, and the joy of sharing what you care about with others. You can’t put a price on that.



Sunday Quiz – Little Critters

Dear Readers,

In the spirit of getting everyone involved again, this week I am dividing the quiz into two parts. The first is a gallop through some of the little mammals that live in the UK. All you need to do is to decide what they are on a multiple choice basis. Easy, eh!

In the second part, I’m looking at little (ish) critters from around the world. Can you match the  mammal to their home, and can you decide what species they are? They are examples of convergent evolution – they all spend time underground, and so they are all adapted for a burrowing life. Have fun, and as usual, answers in the comments (but if you don’t want to be influenced by those who answered before you, write your answers down first 🙂 #oldschool.

Part One

Here we go! Match the photo to the species (listed below). So, if you think Photo 1 is a hazel dormouse, your answer would be 1)h.

Photo One by By Peter Trimming -, CC BY 2.0,


Photo Two by Bouke ten Cate / CC BY-SA (


Photo Three by Danielle Schwarz / CC BY-SA (


Photo Four by Dunpharlain / CC BY-SA (


Photo Five by Peter Trimming from Croydon, England / CC BY (


Photo Six by Bj.schoenmakers / CC0


Photo Seven by Sandy Rae from Scotland, UK / CC BY (


Photo Eight by Soricida / CC BY-SA (


a) Edible dormouse (Glis glis)

b) Harvest mouse (Micromys minutus)

c) Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)

d) Common shrew (Sorex araneus)

e) Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

f) Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

g) Water vole (Arvicola amphibius)

h) Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius)

Part Two

So, here are some mammals from around the world – all of them are burrowing animals of some kind or another. After the photos, you’ll see a list of a) species, and b) geographical location.

So, if you think photo 9 is a meerkat from Vancouver Island, your answer would be 9)a)i.

NB – Two of the animals are from the same area, so there are only seven geographical answers.

I think this week’s quiz is particularly fiendish, so have a bash and see how you get on! Have fun!

Photo Nine by By François Trazzi. - François Trazzi., CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Ten by By Gunnar Ries - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 2.5,


Photo Eleven by Alina Fisher / CC BY (


Photo Twelve by © Hans Hillewaert


Photo Thirteen by By Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Fourteen by By Karunakar Rayker - originally posted to Flickr as The Pika, CC BY 2.0,


Photo Fifteen by By The original uploader was Brian.gratwicke at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY 2.5,


Photo Sixteen by By Jason Pratt - originally posted to Flickr as Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat, CC BY 2.0,


Here are the species:

a) Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

b) Large-eared pika (Ochotona macrotis)

c) Rock cavy (Kerodon rupestris)

d) Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus)

e) Vancouver Island marmot (Marmotta vancouverensis)

f) Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota)

h) Cape ground squirrel (Xerus inauris)

And here are the regions where you might find these creatures.

i) Vancouver Island, Canada

ii) Alpine Europe

iii) Australia

iv) US great plains

v) Eastern Brazil

vi) Mountain regions of Asia

vii) Southern Africa

viii) Southern Africa

All answers by 5 p.m. on Monday please, if you want to be marked (not compulsory of course!)




More Damselflies, a Dragonfly and Checking In

Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

Dear Readers, the blue damselflies are still flitting about the pond, but yesterday they were joined by these two large red damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). At first glimpse one might wonder what on earth they think they’re doing? However, as usual it all comes down to reproduction. The one on top is the male, and he is holding onto the female around the neck with some claspers at his tail end. He has mated with her, and she is trying to lay her eggs. Unfortunately, if another male comes along and muscles in on the act, the eggs that she lays will be fertilised by the interloper, not by the original partner. And so, he hangs on for grim death while she’s going about the business of launching the next generation.

The large red damselfly lays its eggs on floating vegetation, and the nymphs can take up to two years to reach maturity. They are not as large and ferocious as dragonfly larvae, so my tadpoles should be fine, but any little invertebrate critters had better watch out!

At one point a massive water skater approached the damselflies, no doubt aroused by all the commotion, and it looked to me as if the male yanked the female out of the water to safety. However, as she’s the same size as he is, I’m sure she had to cooperate.

It takes a lot of energy to stay in this position for any length of time, and I’m sure that it makes both male and female more vulnerable to predation, but I’m sure that it’s a worthwhile enterprise. They will only live for another day or so, but at least they will hopefully have surviving offspring to emerge on a spring morning in a couple of years’ time.

In other dragonfly-related news, a friend of mine found this beauty on her birdbath – she lives right beside Muswell Hill Playing Fields. This is a female broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) – the males are bright blue, so it’s easy to tell the sexes.

Female broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) Photo by Linda Alliston

The behaviour of this species rather reminds me of bird like the flycatcher – it will find a favourite, sunlit perch and return to it time and again, hawking for insects or, if it’s a male, flying out to chase off any rivals. The female is a bit too beefy to be clasped around the neck and so the male defends her when she’s laying her eggs by hovering near her. However, it could also be that this particular female has recently emerged, and is undergoing a period of maturation: newly emerged broad-bodied chasers can apparently spend 10-14 days away from the water, presumably learning how to hunt and avoiding the attention of males until they are mature enough to start egg-laying.

Photo One by By Noushka31 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Male broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) (Photo One)

And, if there was ever an advert for having some water in your garden, the broad-bodied chaser is surely a good example. When my pond was first dug and filled in February 2010, I had no idea that in May I would be sitting beside it when a female of the species zipped into the garden and landed on my pendulous sedge. I could not believe that a creature that I had rarely seen in the wild had flown down the alley at the side of the house to find some water, and was now basking in the sun like some kind of tiny metallic goddess. Never was the phrase ‘if you build it, they will come’ more true. And the photograph of the female above shows that even a birdbath will do the trick!

And finally, today, I just wanted to see how we were all doing. Personally, I am still very up and down – I am frustrated that I still have no idea when we will be able to have a memorial service for Dad, I am missing my friends, and although the palaver of social distancing has become second nature to me, I fear that it is becoming a bit of an old story around these parts. What I don’t miss is the 6.30 a.m. commute, the sense of busy-ness for the sake of it, the crowds and the noise. Since the lockdown, I have walked out in nature pretty much every day. I have really noticed the comings and goings in the garden on a daily basis, and I have been around more to see the ephemeral visitors, like the damselflies and the blackcap on the playing fields. I am relaxing into the rhythm of the everyday, and it is good for my poor, battered old heart.

But how are you doing? What’s the state of the lockdown where you are? Have you been able to get what you need? What have been the good things, and what has caused you stress? I have been able to work, so I haven’t needed to worry about money, but I appreciate how lucky I am to be in that situation. My neighbours are lovely, but in other places that I’ve lived that hasn’t always been the case, and I can just imagine how disputes and problems can escalate when everyone is around, all the time, with no escape. We are all in the middle of a massive social experiment at the moment, and who knows what will have changed when we come out the other side?