A tangled bank or two

A tangleed bank of mixed wild flowers and ferns (Galicia, Spain)
A tangled bank of mixed wild flowers and ferns (Galicia, Spain)

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of
many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting
about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these
elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon
each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around
us.” Charles Darwin

A stream bank with Umbelliferae, ferns, forget-me-nots and other wild flowers (Galicia, Spain)
A stream bank with Umbelliferae, ferns, forget-me-nots and other wild flowers (Galicia, Spain)

Little blue Spanish belle

Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa)
Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa)

I have been trying to identify this lovely little blue flower which I see all the time when in Galicia, Spain. At first I decided it was Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa), also known as Lithospermum diffusa (which is a synonym or alternative name), a species which occurs in the Iberian Peninsula (1). It is also widely cultivated. Originally, it seems that botanists recognised seven species of Lithodora (Griseb.), and some subspecies, which are mainly found around the Mediterranean Basin (2). However, a molecular study found that the genus was polyphyletic, meaning that there were different groups within it that needed separating (3).  So a new genus was established, called Glandora.  There is however, another species found in the north-western region of the Iberian peninsula, where these photos were taken, called Glandora prostrata, or to give it its full name: Lithodora prostrata (Loisel.) Griseb. subsp. prostrata SYN Glandora prostrata (Loisel.) D.C. Thomas! Not only that, it seems that there is a subspecies called Glandora prostrata subsp. lusitanica (Samp.) D.C. Thomas; could it be that one?! I just don’t know!  The wild flower book (1) does not include  Lithodora prostrata or any subspecies.  I have looked at images on Google, but they all look pretty similar, and it is a bit of a mess, do the photographers know any more than I do and just call it  Glandora prostrata subsp. lusitanica because they saw another photograph!  I guess somebody must know!  It seems to me that botanical names are a bit of a mouthful, so I am calling it my little blue Spanish belle!  Here are some other photographs of it!

Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa or L. prostrata) and gorse in Galicia
Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa or L. prostrata) and gorse in Galicia
Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa or L. prostrata) and gorse in Galicia
Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa or L. prostrata) and gorse in Galicia

1) Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (2004). Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean. A & C Black.
2) V. Ferrero, J. Arroyo, S. Castro and L. Navarro (2012). Unusual heterostyly: style dimorphism and self-incompatibility are not tightly associated in Lithodora and Glandora (Boraginaceae). Ann Bot 109(3), 655-665.
3) Thomas D C, Weigend M, Hilger H H. Phylogeny and systematic of Lithodora (Boraginaceae-Lithospermeae) and its affinities to the monotypic genera Mairetis, Halacksya and Paramoltkia based on ITS1 and trnLUAA – sequence data and morphology. Taxon 2008;57:79-97.

Broomrapes are funny plants

The yellow form of Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae)
The yellow form of Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae)

Broomrapes, or broom-rapes, are parasitic plants which grow on the roots of other plants, such as ivy, vetch or clover. They are native to temperate regions in the northern hemisphere and the family (Orobanchaceae) contains a single genus with more than 200 species. I regularly see two species when I visit northern Spain, Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae) and Red broomrape (Orobanche foetida).  The yellow form of Ivy Broomrape is rarer is some parts of it’s range but is only type I see in northern Spain.

Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae) yellow form
Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae) yellow form
Red broomrape (Orobanche foetida)
Red broomrape (Orobanche foetida)

Orobanche foetida is  widely distributed in the Western Mediterranean area where it is a parasite on wild plants (as show above in a patch of clover) but has also become a weed of legume crops in North Africa.  I see it when I visit Cabo Ortegal in Galicia, northern Spain, a spot which is rich in wild flowers (below), and certainly not Mediterranean!

Cabo or Cape Ortegal, Galicia, with wild flowers in June.
Cabo or Cape Ortegal, Galicia, with wild flowers in June.

Pond skaters on the Rio Sor

Pond skaters (Gerridae) Rio Sor, Galicia, Spain
Pond skaters (Gerridae) Rio Sor, Galicia, Spain

I was first attracted to these insects by the dancing patterns on the river bottom as I walked along the Rio Sor (of which more in another blog) in Galicia, northern Spain.  The shadows were cast by the reflections of indentations or depressions in the water surface made by pond skaters (also called water striders). As these were Spanish pond skaters, so perhaps we should call them patinador estanque! As is widely known, pond skaters have the ability to walk on water, which they are able to do (without getting wet!) as a result of so-called hydrofuge hairs on their bodies. What I had not realised though, was the extent to which their tiny body weight depresses the surface of the water without breaking the surface tension.  I should however, say bodies (plural) because when I looked closely I saw that these pond skaters were mating, and the male was holding on atop the body of the larger female (below). It is said, though I doubt that anyone has watched for the whole time, that the males stay attached to their females for the whole of the mating season. They seem to fold up their legs and let the lady do the walking!

Pond skaters (Gerridae) showing the male ontop of the female.
Pond skaters (Gerridae) showing the male on top of the female.

These are not the greatest of photos – I want to return this year with a good close-up lens – but they do show what a remarkable arrangement this is.  The patterns themselves are delightful and dance about following the insects in a sort of loose pas-de-deux as they flit about the surface.

Pond skaters with reflections
Pond skaters with reflections

The site where the pond skaters were dancing along the banks of the Rio Sor (River Sor of Mañón) which flows between the provinces of A Coruña and Lugo, inGalicia, Spain.

River Sor of Mañón, Galicia, Spain
River Sor of Mañón, Galicia, Spain

 

Don’t eat me: I’m poisonous!

Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male upperside
Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male upperside

Some of the most beautiful colour patterns in nature are in fact, warnings. The yellow and black colouration of the wasp is a classic example. Another appealing combination of colours to our eyes, is black and red. These so-called, aposematic colourations are screaming out to would-be predators, saying watch out, I am poisonous! You will not like the taste of me! I might even kill you! No surprise then that soldiers uniforms used to adopt these colours; think of the Queen’s guards outside of Buckingham Palace in London, with their red coats, black trousers and black bearskin caps. Perhaps they are saying, don’t mess with us! Another, slightly more fragile animal, which uses the same colours to say ‘back off’ is the gorgeous Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis).  This tropical Asian species is relatively common in countries such as Thailand, and throughout south-east Asia. There are a number of different species in the genus Cethosia, all of which are a beautiful red or orange-red and black colour (1), although the females are less strikingly red.  There are also different subspecies.  The male Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) shown above (and in profile below) was photographed on Doi Suthep mountain, above Chiang Mai city in northern Thailand.  The underside is less of a warning and is more muted.  It is perhaps the ability to flash the red upperwings at predators such as birds and lizards, that is the main protective mechanism. 

Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male underside
Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male underside

These butterflies are poisonous because they contain cyanide! The can synthesise cyanide  from chemicals called glucosides, or cyanogenic glycosides, which when broken down release cyanide. They obtain the glucosides from feeding on their host plants (e.g. passion flowers and vines: Passifolia spp.) at the caterpillar stage.  The adults of Cethosia biblis visit flowers, such as those of Lantana camara, to feed on nectar.

Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male with wings half open
Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male with wings half open
Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male)
Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male)

1)  Pisuth Ek-Amnuay (2006). Butterflies of Thailand.

The Tawny mime is a mimic!

Papilio agestor agestor Gray, 1831 – Nepalese Tawny Mime
Papilio agestor agestor Gray, 1831 – Nepalese Tawny Mime

The Tawny Mime (Papilio agestor Gray, 1831) is a tropical papilionid butterfly with a wide distribution, from Pakistan across northern India, Nepal and Bhutan and down through Myanmar into south-east Asia as far as peninsular Malaysia. It is usually found in hilly areas, between 1200 and 2500 m, such as the foothills of the Himalayas.  I took these photographs in Arunachul Pradesh, northeast India, close to the border with Bhutan.

Nepalese Tawny Mime (Papilio agestor agestor Gray, 1831) in Arunachul Pradesh
Nepalese Tawny Mime (Papilio agestor agestor Gray, 1831) in Arunachul Pradesh

The Tawny Mime is notable as a mimic of the Himalayan Chestnut Tiger (Parantica sita sita), which of course, it closely resembles. Despite the similarity however, these two species are in completely different families: Papilio agestor is a papilionid butterfly, whereas Parantica sita is a danaid butterfly.  This type of mimicry – where palatable (or edible) species mimic a poisonous (or inedible) one – has been known about for a long time, and was named after Henry Walter Bates who discovered it in South America (Batesian mimicry).  Indeed, Bate’s friend – and the co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – Alfred Russel Wallace, mentioned Papilio agestor in an 1867 paper on mimicry (2).

When a species such as Parantica sita has evolved a successful way of avoiding being eaten (for example, by producing chemicals which make it poisonous or disgusting to birds and other animals!), there will be an evolutionary advantage in looking like this butterfly.  So, P. sita is the model, and P. agestor is the mimic (or copier).  The closer it looks like the model, the better it is protected from predators.  But if the mimic becomes too common – and swamps the model – then predators with start to realise that it is not poisonous after all (!), and the evolutionary see-saw will swing back in favour of the real (inedible) species.

Remarkably there are a number of other species which closely resemble the successful model (Parantica sita) in different parts of its range: including Aldania imitans, a nymphalid butterfly only found in the Yunnan province of China; Hestina nama, another nymphalid butterfly found in South Asia; and Cyclosia notabilis (Zygaenidae), a type of day-flying moth (!), from Laos (3).  Interestingly, many of these mimetic species are relatively rare, for the reason mentioned above, and so are collected by ‘butterfly’ collectors, and are available for sale on-line.  I am not condoning this collecting!  Better to stick to photographs in my opinion.

There are two subspecies in India: (i) Papilio agestor agestor Gray, 1831 – the Nepalese Tawny Mime and (ii) Papilio agestor govindra Moore, 1864 – the West Himalayan Tawny Mime (1).  This butterfly is sometimes called Chilasa agestor agestor although other authors consider Chilasa a subspecies so use the Genus Papillio. Tawny mimes like mud-puddling; not splashing about in mud, but sucking up essential salts!

Tawny Mimes (Papilio agestor) mud-puddling behaviour.
Tawny Mimes (Papilio agestor) mud-puddling behaviour.

1) Anonymous. 2014. Papilio agestor Gray, 1831 – Tawny Mime. In K. Kunte, S. Kalesh & U. Kodandaramaiah (eds.). Butterflies of India, v. 2.00. Indian Foundation for Butterflies. http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/sp/600/Papilio-agestor

2) Alfred Russel Wallace (1867) Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances Among Animals.

3) Butterflies. http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Asia%20temperate%20-%20Aldania%20imitans.htm

Views from the top of the mountain

View from Doi Inthanon
View from Doi Inthanon

It was rather cold and misty when I visited Doi Inthanon – the highest mountain in Thailand – in early November (08/11/2013).  The mists were swirling around the mountain near the top on the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, where these photographs were taken.

View from Doi Inthanon on The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
View from Doi Inthanon on The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail

The mist (clouds!) were moving about and the scene changed from moment to moment.

Pha-Ngam Noi rock out crop
Pha-Ngam Noi rock out crop

When the sun came out the vegetation looked fresh and vibrant, albeit too early in the season for rhododendron flowers.

On the  Kew Mae Pan, Nature Trail , Doi Inthanon
On the Kew Mae Pan, Nature Trail , Doi Inthanon
View from Doi Inthanon
View from Doi Inthanon

More gibbon photos!

White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo
White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo

Posting a few more photos of this lar or White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) from Chiang Mai Zoo.  This gibbon must see hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of humans every day, so he does not take much interest in people as we stand there trying to catch his attention.  Only the click of the camera shutter seemed to catch his attention.  I was stuck by the large sensitive eyes and intelligent face, perhaps asking what are you doing?

White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) looking into the camera lens
White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) looking into the camera lens
White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo
White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo

White-handed gibbons are relatively common in some parts of their range in Thailand (1); Khao Yai National Park is a good place to see (and hear!) them.

1) Parr, J. W. K. (2003) Large Mammals of Thailand. Sarakadee Press.

Chiang Mai Zoo

Lar or white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo
Lar or white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo

Chiang Mai zoo is a large (200-acre) zoo, just north of the University in Chiang Mai, on the Huay Kaew Road which leads up the mountain (Doi Sutep). Apart from the caged animals, it is quite a good place to look out for wild birds and insects, or just to have a good walk (but it can get hot!). Like many people I think, I have mixed feelings about zoos. They are good places to see animals close up, but the creatures are caged, and for me, any sense of pleasure is tinged by a sense of sadness that they are no longer free. Depending on the zoo however, the animals can still have a good life, if it is well maintained and the enclosures are spacious and sensitive to the needs of the animals. The main purpose of a zoo should conservation and the breeding of endangered species. Making people aware of the plight of many endangered species in this ever more populous world is also a useful function of zoos. Chiang Mai zoo is not too bad in this regard, in my opinion, although there is a distinct commercial edge, with feeding the animals (such as elephants and rhinos) being a major theme. Having a shooting range in a zoo also seems a bit strange to me, but I guess some people like it! It just seems to be sending the wrong message somehow! They could do more in terms of information, and some of the birds – raptors in particular – look rather sad and could do with a bigger aviary. It is however, a good place to see some South East Asian species (see below) and also to photograph them in a way that is not easy to do in the field. Top of my list are the gibbons, and these have good open enclosures. Gibbons look painfully sad to me! But I think they look like that in nature anyway, although I could not help thinking how much they would love to be swinging the forests, rather than being on their little islands, albeit with excellent climbing frames and clearly a lot of dedicated care by the zoo staff.

Southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki)
Southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki)

There are three species of gibbon on exhibit: lar (of white-handed), agile and white cheeked.

Agile or black-handed gibbon (Hylobates agilis)
Agile or black-handed gibbon (Hylobates agilis)
Lar or white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo
Lar or white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) Chiang Mai Zoo

As well as the gibbons, there are some new monkey houses, where it is possible to get good unobstructed views of the animals, such as this Pig-tailed macaque .

Pig-tailed macaque (Macaca sp.)
Pig-tailed macaque (Macaca sp.)

There are two closely related species in this genus; I assume that this is the northern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca leonina).

Pig-tailed macaque (Macaca sp.) Chiang Mai Zoo
Pig-tailed macaque (Macaca sp.) Chiang Mai Zoo

I was also rather taken with the otters, which seem to live a life of constant ‘rough and tumble’ play!

Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) Chiang Mai Zoo
Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) Chiang Mai Zoo

Finally, near the exit (or entrance rather) there is an enclosure of Greater flamingos.  I watched these being fed, or rather watched them fighting over the pellets that had been put into their pond.  Unsurprisingly, the largest ones appeared to have first pickings and commandeered the best spot, although it looked as though they all managed to get enough food eventually!

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) - Chiang Mai zoo
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) – Chiang Mai zoo

There did not seem to be a lot of parental care going on, with the chicks hovering on the outside of the feeding melee, but even they eventually managed to get a look in and gather up some of the food, after the others had lost interest and wandered off.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) chick - Chiang Mai zoo
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) chick – Chiang Mai zoo

The one species I don’t have pictures of, and for which the zoo is probably most famous for now in Thailand, are the Giant pandas. I remember the great hoopla which occurred when the Giant pandas (called Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang) first arrived at the zoo on 12 October 2003. Apparently, they are on loan from China, but I don’t know if or when they are going back. They bred and produced a daughter giant panda in 2009, so perhaps they will return after they have produced a big enough family to enable them to return to the old country!