A galling mite!

 

Eriophyes tiliae galls
Eriophyes tiliae galls

It must be galling to be covered in these!  Sorry for the schoolboy pun but they do not look very attractive do they?!  These so-called nail galls are caused by a very tiny mite in the Family Eriophyidae. Eriophyid mites are only about 0.2 mm long and up to 200 of them can be living and feeding in one of these galls.  They are so small that they can feed on a single plant epidermal cell for hours or even days (1).   Eriophyes tilae is the species which causes these nail galls on lime trees (Tilia sp.) but there are a number of different subspecies which are difficult to tell apart.

The galls are themselves are induced by a chemical reaction caused by the feeding of the mites, and they provide both a source of food and protection for the mites. When I looked closely at one of these photographs, after I had taken it and opened it on the computer, I noticed that there was a tiny yellow-green bug (perhaps a plant-hopper nymph) lurking amongst the base of the nail galls (see below).  This little insect is however, much bigger than an eriophyid (or eriophioid as some people say!) mite!

Eriophyes tiliae gall with planthopper (?)  nymph.
Eriophyes tiliae gall with planthopper (?) nymph.

After I has starting writing this article, and as is often the case, I found another excellent article on WordPress on the same topic!  (2)

1) Eriophyoid Mites: Their Biology, Natural Enemies and Control. Edited by E.E. Lindquist, J. Bruin, M.W. Sabelis

2) Galls on Campus 4: Mite galls on limes. http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/whiteknightsbiodiversity/2011/08/02/galls-on-campus-4-mite-galls-on-limes

 

 

Rhododendron ludwigianum

Rhododendron ludwigianum (Doi Inthanon, TH)
Rhododendron ludwigianum (Doi Inthanon, TH)

This beautiful plant is a Thailand endemic (only found there) which occurs towards the top of mountains, such as Doi Inthanon and Doi Chiang Dao, in northern Thailand.  The plant was first described in western scientific literature by a German botanist called Dr. Carl Curt Hosseus, who led an expedition to northern Siam, as Thailand was then called, in 1904-1906 (1).  I took these photographs near the top of Doi Inthanon in early February this year (2014).

Rhododendron ludwigianum (Doi Inthanon, TH)
Rhododendron ludwigianum (Doi Inthanon, TH)

 

1) THROUGH KING CHULALONGKORN’S KINGDOM (1904-1906): The First Botanical Exploration of Northern Thailand by Hosseus, Carl Curt.

Ria de Ortigueira – a special place!

Mouth of Ria Ortigueira
Mouth of Ria Ortigueira

A Ria is is a coastal inlet or flooded river valley.  The word ría in Galician and is related to the word río (for river). There are many Ria or rías in Galicia (north west Spain) and Ria de Ortigueira is one of the Rías Altas (or Upper Rias) in the very north of the province of Galicia.  Two rivers flow into the Ria, the largest being the Rio Mera on the west side; the other is the Ria Baleo on the east side which creates another lagoon near the village of Ladrido (1).

Mud banks exposed at low tide at Ortigueira
Mud banks exposed at low tide at Ortigueira

Ortigueira and the surrounding area is a very special natural place – not only because I was lucky enough to inherit an apartment there! – but also because it is an important site for over-wintering birds (ducks and waders). Large numbers of ducks (Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and so on) overwinter in the southern part of the Ria, and many waders (such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Oyster catchers, Curlew, Redshank and Whimbrel and so on) can be seen on the mud flats. This winter there were also six Eurasian Spoonbills in residence when I was there in March.  Yellow-legged gulls can be seen although the best site to see these gulls is at the nearby Punto de Bares in my opinion.  Likewise Dartford warblers, which are probably more abundant at other coastal sites in the area.

Mud flats at low tide by Ortigueira
Mud flats at low tide by Ortigueira

There are also quite good numbers of Cormorants and Little Egrets in the Ria; Shags can also be seen – sometimes on the rocks very close the the waters edge at Ortigueira.  It is also a good site for Sandwich Terns, which can sometimes be seen fishing off the small jetty in Ortigueira.  This area is also blessed with another very special site: a dune and pine tree ecosystem at Morouzos beach (a protected area and RAMSAR site).  There is a lovely path along the Ria from Ortigueira to Morouzos beach and the beach area is a grat place to see a wide range of passarines, including Cirl Buntings, Yellow Wagtails, Zitting Cisticola, Stone chats and so on.  The Yellow Wagtails are often lurking in the dunes in Spring and Autumn; Zitting Cisticolas are in abundance amongst the reeds and are particularly visible during the breeding season. I have also come across Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrests, Blackcaps and Rock Buntings (the latter on the island of San Vicente which can be reached from the beach at low tide).

Zitting cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) early April at Morouzos beach
Zitting cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) early April at Morouzos beach
Morouzos beach (Playa) showing the salt marsh, sand dunes and pines behind the beach
Morouzos beach (Playa) showing the salt marsh, sand dunes and pines behind the beach

 

Male Cirl Bunting in early April
Male Cirl Bunting in early April

One of the pleasures of staying in Ortigueira, for me, is hearing the lovely tremulous call of the whimbrels as they feed on the mud plats; particularly on a windless night when the sound wafts across the Ria.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)  sitting on a rock waiting for low tide
Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) sitting on a rock waiting for low tide

1) Ortigueira-Mera: http://www.turgalicia.es/ficha-recurso?langId=en_US&cod_rec=16864&ctre=9

Feisty pheasant!

Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera)
I came across this bird when I visited Wat Tham Pha Plong at the base of Doi Chiang Dao, a lovely mountain north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was the first time I had seen a Silver Pheasant this close up; but this was no ordinary bird, it was ‘tame’ but highly aggressive. When I arrived at the top of the steps near the monks living (sleeping) accommodation it was busy attacking a couple of ladies who had retreated back down the stairs. It then lunged at me and I kept it at bay with my extended monopod! Doing a bit of ‘Googling’ it appears that this bird has been there for a couple of years (1). I think what it was doing was territorial; it was aggressively defending the patch where presumably it got fed, or received some scraps from the resident monks. Anyway, after a few photos I retreated back down the steps and left it alone to wait for its dinner!

Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera)
Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera)
Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera)
Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera)

1) http://norfolkbirderinthailand.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/silver-pheasant.html

Rainbow tree

Rainbow eucalyptus bark (Eucalyptus deglupta)
Rainbow eucalyptus bark (Eucalyptus deglupta)

The Rainbow Eucalyptus tree is a strikingly colourful eucalypt which originated from South East Asia (the native distribution covered: New Britain, New Guinea, Ceram, Sulawesi and Mindanao) (1). It is a member of the family Myrtaceae, and it can now be found growing throughout the tropics, because as well as being beautiful, it is a very fast growing timber species and is also used as a shade tree for growing coffee. The multi-coloured bark is produced by the shedding of patches of bark, which first reveal a bright green inner bark. This then changes to give blue, purple, orange and maroon tones as it presumably dries out and is eventually shed.

Rainbow eucalyptus bark (Eucalyptus deglupta)
Rainbow eucalyptus bark (Eucalyptus deglupta)

I am not sure why the colours occur; perhaps they are related to the essential oils which eucalyptus trees contain.   I took these photographs of a tree which was in the Headquarters of the lovely Doi Sutep-Pui National Park, located near the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Rainbow eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta) growing in Doi Sutep-Pui NP headquarters near Chiang Mai
Rainbow eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta) growing in Doi Sutep-Pui NP headquarters near Chiang Mai

I discovered another WordPress blog – Ink Chromatography – which features this tree and is well worth reading (2).

1) Eucalyptus deglupta. http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treedb2/AFTPDFS/Eucalyptus_deglupta.pdf

2) Trees in Polychrome. http://inkchromatography.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/trees-in-polychrome/

Dandelions are born survivors!

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are so common that they are easy to take for granted; but look closer and you will see an amazing organism (perhaps even a super-organism) so well adapted to reproduce and spread, it is hard to believe that they will not be here long after we have moved on!

Dandelion flower head(Taraxacum officinale): count the florets!
Dandelion flower head(Taraxacum officinale): count the florets!

Dandelions pop up each year from roots in the ground, up to ten stems from each little root. The dandelion head is composed of a composite of tiny little florets, over 100 florets per flower head. These florets are bisexual – the dandelion is a hermaphroditic plant – but although they produce pollen, funnily enough it is not necessary for reproduction of the plant. Dandelions are able to produce seeds without having to be fertilised – by a process called apoxixis (1). Some dandelions however, are sexual, meaning that they rely on being fertilised by pollen carried from one dandelion to another by insects such as bees. So there are both sexually reproducing and asexual – or apomictic – populations of dandelions mixed up together. Whatever way they do it though, dandelions produce masses of seeds – over 100 florets per flower head – which can add up to millions per hectare, all ready to be blown away on their little parachutes to some nice disturbed patch of ground where they can grow into a new dandelion on their own!

Dandelion seed head
Dandelion seed head

But remember, the asexual ones will carry the same genes as their parents, so they will be identical: a clone in fact. All of these clones could be seen as the same organism, or super-organism. Other authors have compared each individual plant clone to leaves on the same tree. So, although they may be separated in space and time, all the clones constitute a giant organism that is spreading and reproducing itself all the time.

1) Chapter 22. An Apomixis-Gene’s View on Dandelions. Peter Van Dijk, Hans de Jong, Kitty Vijverberg and Arjen Biere. In I. Schön et al. (eds.), Lost Sex, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-2770-2_22, 475, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009. http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/167win10/van%20dijk%20-%20an%20apomixis%20genes%20eye%20view%20of%20dandelions.pdfflower