This August we had two full moons in the same month, so another incidence of Blue Moon. I had thought the next one (see last August blog) was not due until 2015. My facts were not well enough researched it would seem, I was mis-informed, though I try to cross reference my findings.
On a humid day, August 23rd to be exact, after having had heavy rain in the past 48 hours, I walked with my dogs up the glen from our cottage. As I crossed the wooden bridge over the burn, a cloud of flying ants enveloped me. It was Flying Ant Day! I had my camera with me so took a brief video of the action before me, hundreds of male ants busy trying to pursue a single virginal queen to fulfill their destiny to fertilise her before they die. This drama is played out annually, sometime in August when conditions are right. I sent my observation in to:
I was talking to a friend on the phone a couple of days later. As she watched out the window she also observed a cloud of flying ants, but she did not know what it was, having never seen it before. She was alarmed. She hates all insects. I explained to her how queens and males from different colonies use the annual event to strengthen their colonies and thus avoid interbreeding. Each queen stores the various sperm in a special organ, known as a spermatheca, which is within her abdomen. She will store it for her lifetime. This can be as long as 20 years, during which time the sperm can be used to fertilize tens of millions of eggs.
After mating the female drops to the ground and loses her wings and attempts to start a new ant colony. She will nurse the first brood alone until the worker ants emerge, then she becomes an ‘egg-laying’ machine.
As for the flying males, they literally explode their internal genitalia into the genital chamber of the queen and then die. As my friend is not too keen on many of the male gender, she quite liked that idea, and I think she wished it had happened to her male partner.
Back in the house I am aware the house spiders are also busy mating at this time of year. The males will come in from the garden to find a female who will be within her web, spinning pheromone filled thread to attract the right male. The females overwinter with stored sperm which enable her to produce more than 10 egg sacs, each containing 40 to 60 eggs,
We have the word ‘spider’ in our lexicon from the Old English word ‘spithra’ which means ‘spinner’. The spiders web can be used to heal wounds and staunch blood flow, something worth knowing when nothing else is to hand.
The large, hairy male house spider, tegenaria-domestica (for an excellent picture see http://www.arkive.org/house-spider/tegenaria-domestica/?gclid=CMLzvpqqlrkCFSGWtAodLSYAWA) is often found stranded in the bath, causing shrieks and cries for help from silly people in the household. The male spider has usually fallen off the wall whilst seeking out a female. Once he finds his sweetheart, he stays with her for weeks, mating with her repeatedly until he dies of exhaustion and becomes a nourishing meal for mum.
It took until the 26th August to see the Peacock butterfly emerging in quantity around our cottage. The thistles were their main food source, but many had already gone to seed.
The Butterfly Conservation President, Sir David Attenborough, is concerned there are now fewer butterflies in the UK than at any point his lifetime. As this much admired naturalist is 87 years of age, that gives us an idea of how long it has taken for this catastrophe to take place.
I like to use the Butterfly Conservation free app to send in my observations to help them gather data as to the UK wide figures. This year has been particularly bleak. I have seen a small number of Small Tortoishells, Green Veined White, and a large number of the beautiful Peacock butterflies.
I wrote last year about our local badger population. They used to be everywhere at night around our cottage. However, dramatic changes to the landscape to enable vehicles to access the fells has made them move to locations away from here.
My heart goes out to those who were being shot from the night of 26th August in a legal cull approved by the government and backed by the law, in Gloucestershire and Somerset. The cull will continue annually, between June and September, for 4 years. The goal is to kill 70% of the thousands which live in those farming areas where desperate farmers demand this method. Since the government is ignoring scientific advice this will worsen the spread of TB to cattle.
In October 2012, an extraordinary coalition of leading scientists called on the government to stop the badger cull. They stated: “As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of tuberculosis transmission mean licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.” Lord Krebs, the eminent Oxford scientist who designed the Labour government’s badger cull trials, described this cull as “mindless”.
Labour’s badger culling trial – a £50m, 10-year study on whether culling badgers helps reduce bovine TB – concluded: “The reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended, and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results … suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”
Mary Creagh, shadow Minister for Agriculture, said in an article in the Guardian:
“To bring this disease under control, we need stricter management of cattle movements and to prioritise badger and cattle vaccination. We should be building alliances in the EU to get restrictions on vaccinating cattle lifted.
The government should stop, listen to the scientific evidence and abandon the cull. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that must be stopped. This cull is not the way to do it.”
I signed the national petition against the cull which gathered more than 250,000 names but that has not prevented the government from siding with the frightened farmers who are at their wits end and taking their frustration out on the innocent badgers. These are grim times.