Wandering Wonders

Spotted a couple of caterpillars on walks near the house recently. Here’s a picture of the first, found under some soft rush in our field. Looking it up I discover it to be the caterpillar of the fox moth, named for its colouration at this larval stage. Up to 7cm long and commonly found on variety of grassland habitats across the country from June to April.

The second caterpillar encountered was much smaller and a more uniform brown. It was sashaying across the tarmac when we came upon it. When it changed direction to go up, as opposed to across, the lane I attempted to chivvy it gently with my walking stick towards the verge, away from obliteration by passing vehicles. However, it would not be interfered with and promptly rolled into a ball; then the breeze lifted and wheeled the little creature rapidly off and away, depositing it in the verge further up. This amused me greatly and prompted speculation. Do caterpillars deliberately harness the power of the wind to travel  distances, or was this just an instinctive emergency escape measure accidentally aided by air lift? The creature’s curled form and cushion of fine hairs make it remarkably light and aerodynamic, that’s for sure.  

Another small wonder of the natural world that made me wonder in turn occurred this week. As I’ve mentioned in these columns before we have a number of closed and open rainwater containers about the garden, from old wooden whisky barrels to plastic plant troughs. My eye caught slight movements in one of these low troughs as I passed. It was an adult palmate newt, floating near the surface.

Closer examination in the net used to lift it out with indicated this was a pregnant female. Had it migrated from the pond at the other end of the garden to get to an alternative water world? And if so, how had it managed to get into this particular container? Given the trough was low lying yet sheer sided with an extruded top the only way must have been by climbing the dense berberis bush, whose prickly stems reach over one end, then dropping in. The lone amphibian would have eventually perished for lack of food and inability to ever extract itself. I returned the wanderer to the shallow beach of the pond, where its dark still form merged perfectly with pebbles and water. Try again. Returning 10 minutes later it had disappeared. Better luck next time, I thought.

And finally…another small creature story to end with. Once a year in late August or early September Chris the landscape gardener comes to cut the mini-meadow, or Jungle as he calls it, being a no nonsense local man. Usually it’s just his trainee lads that turn up in the van to cut our garden sward with strimmers. This time around it was the boss himself who showed up to do the job, with just one helper to clear. They arrived with a ride on tractor to do the cut, as pictured.

At one point Chris stopped the engine, walked forward, leaned down and cupped his hands over the tall grasses. He then strolled across me on the sidelines with his catch – a small tortoiseshell butterfly. ‘You’re more of an old softy than I thought’ I said, as he smiled and released the delicate flutterby from his mighty hands.

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