Sea daffodils waiting for their hawk moths

Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum) with spider
Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum) with spider

The  Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) is a Mediterranean plant which also extends out along the Atlantic coasts of Portugal, Spain and France.  They typically grow on sandy soils such as on beach dunes near the sea.  They flower in the summer, producing a stong lily scent which is most aromatic at night.  The bulbs of this Amaryllidaceous species can apparently extend down quite far into the soil or sand, up to 80 cm.

Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum)
Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum)

One thing I did not know until I started to write this post, is that these sea daffodils are pollinated by insects, typically hawk moths or sphingids (1).  In some locations, the flowers are not able to pollinate themselves (and are self incompatible), so they rely on animals to carry their pollen from flower to flower.  In Southern France, the Sphinx convolvuli L. hawk moth  visits the flower to feed (1).  Another study in Israel, found that the pollination flights of the hawk moths only take place on still nights, when wind speed does not exceed 2-2.5 m/sec (2). This makes me want to go and sit by these flowers on a summer’s night, sniffing the night-time scent and waiting for a hawk moth to visit.  I must try it the next time I am on a Mediterranean beach where it will be warm enough to sit out; it sounds like a nice thing to do with a friend doesn’t it!

Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum)
Sea daffodill (Pancratium maritimum)

Other animals also pollinate these flowers, including a lizard on the Balearic Islands (1) amazingly enough!  Perhaps there is a shortage of hawk moths there.  I noticed an ant and a spider on the plants in my photographs, not sure what their associations are.  These plants were growing on  Morouzos beach at the mouth of the Ria de Ortigueira, Galicia, Spain in early July.

Morouzos beach at the mouth of the Ria Ortigueira
Morouzos beach at the mouth of the Ria Ortigueira

A  study by researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela on this flower, occurring on coastal sand-dunes in northwest Spain (3), has shown that the populations of flowers here – unlike the ones in Israel – ARE self-compatible, and therefore are capable of spontaneous ‘selfing’ (i.e. pollenating themselves);  so disappointingly these flowers may not rely on hawk moths to procreate.  Rather disappointing that hawk moth may not be needed in northern Spain, but scope for further research I would think!

1) FABRIZIO GRASSI, EMANUELA CAZZANIGA, LUIGI MINUTO, SIMONETTA PECCENINI, GIUSEPPINA BARBERIS and BARBARA BASSO. Evaluation of biodiversity and conservation strategies in Pancratium maritimum L. for the Northern
Tyrrhenian Sea. Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 2159–2169, 2005.

2) D. Eisikowitch and J. Galil (1971) Effect of Wind on the Pollination of Pancratium maritimum L. (Amaryllidaceae) by Hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae). Journal of Animal Ecology 40(3), 673-678.

3)  Medrano, M., P. Guitián, and J. Guitián. 1999. Breeding system and temporal variation in fecundity of Pancratium maritimum L. (Amaryllidaceae). Flora 194: 13–19.

A beautiful damsel in a lovely spot!

C. virgo meridionalis Sélys
C. virgo meridionalis Sélys

The Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis)  is a European damselfy which likes small, fast flowing streams and rivers.  The female has a metallic greenish-bronze body and brown or russet coloured wings.  The male is even more striking with a metallic blueish-green body and blue wings.  The males were much more flighty than the females when I took these photographs, and frustratingly I did not manage to capture a shot of one.  I came across this damsel in Spain near the beautiful Rio Sor, which flows northwards into the sea in the Province of Galicia.

At one particular point, called the Mirador (view-point) Agua Caida – quite a remote spot at the end of a small country road – there is a steep track leading down to the river.

 Rio Sor river from Mirador Agua Caida 1

There were quite a few damsels resting on vegetation such as ferns as I neared the valley bottom.

 Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female

This is a beautiful and isolated spot.  I am the only person I have ever seen climb down and back (!) so it feels rather magical and unspoilt when you get to the river at the bottom of the valley, although it is possible to walk in along the river from one direction on an old path (it is a walking path).

The fast flowing Rio Sor below the Mirador Agua Caida
The fast flowing Rio Sor below the Mirador Agua Caida

I must confess that I was not completely sure about this identification at first!  There is another similar species called Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) and a subspecies called C. h. asturica occurs along the north Atlantic coast of Spain (1). Someone has kindly posted a photograph of both of the females of these two species – on the same leaf! – on Flicker (2) for comparison.  One of the distinguishing features of the Copper Demoiselle, is a dark band which runs through the female’s hind wing tips and which is clearly visible when she folds her wings together (3).   None of my female damsels have any sign of this band, although it is not present in immature females.  Finally, I confirmed the identification when I came across an excellent paper by Outomuro et al. (2010) (1).  This paper has an excellent illustration of the wings of the three different  Calopteryx species in the area, as well as a distributional map, which showed that it had to be C. virgo meridionalis which they describe as occurring in cold, fast-flowing streams and rivers, with
abundant waterside vegetation, such as this site.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female
Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis) female

1)  Outomuro D, Torralba-Burrial A, Ocharan FJ. 2010. Distribution of the Iberian Calopteryx damselflies and its relation with bioclimatic belts: Evolutionary and biogeographic implications. Journal of Insect Science10:61, available online: insectscience.org/10.61

2)  Pablo Fernández https://www.flickr.com/photos/12525654@N05/3544933157/in/photostream/

3) http://www.dragonflypix.com/speciespages/calopteryx_haemorrhoidalis.html

Sea Holly

Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Sea Holly is a common component of beach-dune ecosystems in Europe.  I love the subtle colour combination of spiky green leaves and the lilac-blue flowers.  This plant says to me: ‘You see I have a lovely soft, blue flower, but come too close and I will spike you!’.  Photographed in Galicia, Spain.

Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Flower of God

Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)

I came across this lovely flower on a grassy promontory on the eastern side of a beach (Playa de Esteiro) in Galicia, NW Spain.  It is a site above some cliffs, with lots of wild flowers.

 Cliffs near Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, NW Spain

Cliffs near Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, NW Spain

I had not come across this plant before, which was flowering in early July.  It took me a little while to work out that it was a Dianthus (‘pink’) species called Dianthus monspessulanus.  At least I am fairly sure that it is this species, which seems to come in a variety of  different forms and shades of pink.  It is a flower which occurs widely in Europe, across northern Spain, into southern France, Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy (and beyond).  It is commonly found in grassy habitats, from sea level up to high altitudes (0-2,200m).  The Fringed Pink, to give it its common name, typically occurs in calcareous sites in mountains, such as the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)

There are a bewildering number of synonyms (different names for the same plant) and subspecies, which I do not pretend to understand. Floral taxonomy seems to me to be almost designed to be totally confusing! I guess somebody understands it all!  The Internet is awash with different taxonomic websites cataloguing all these different names, but very few have any descriptions or photographs.   Bring back Linnaeus!  He was the first person to name this plant (Dianthus monspessulanus L.) after all; so let’s just call it the Fringed Pink.

Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)

One interesting fact about Dianthus flowers is that they are polyploidal; meaning that they have more than two paired sets of chromosomes.  For example, it appears that the cells within this particular species (D. monspessulanus) can contain up to six separate sets of chromosomes, although subspecies with only one set – like us humans – are also known; other populations have four or six sets (1).  What does all this variation in chromosome number mean?  It probably has something to do with the evolutionary history of these plants, which have undergone rapid changes and ‘radiations’ (i.e. rapid evolutionary diversification into different species) during the  Pleistocene glaciations – the recent ice ages (2).  Being able to double, triple or quadruple up their numbers of chromosomes may have helped them to take advantage of the rapidly changing conditions, e.g. when the glaciers retreated and they could spread out from refuges (refugia) where they survived the long ages of cold.  Individuals with different numbers of chromosomes could perhaps hybridise with each other and thus create more genetic variation, which would enable them produce a range of different plant types, capable of surviving in different environments as the conditions changed.  In any case, being able to multiply up the number of your chromosomes is, it appears, a distinct advantage, and may explain why gardeners have been able to produce such an amazing range of Dianthus varieties.

 Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)

Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Cliffs at Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, Spain
Cliffs at Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, Spain

1) Weiss, Hanna, Dobeš, Christoph, Schneeweiss, Gerald M. & Greimler, Josef (2002).  Occurrence of tetraploid and hexaploid cytotypes between and within populations in Dianthus sect. Plumaria (Caryophyllaceae). New Phytologist 156(1), 85-94.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1469-8137.2002.00500.x/full

2) Ryan Folk. Polyploidy and Evolutionary Radiation in Carnations. See reference therein.

http://currenttopicsinbiogeography.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/polyploidy-and-evolutionary-radiation.html

An antlion ate my ice cream!

Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica) close up of head and thorax
Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica) close up of head and thorax

Well not really, but it’s a catchy title!  Antlions live in sandy places like beaches, and eat ants and other insects which have the misfortune to slip and fall into their steep-sided sand pits.  They might have a nibble at an ice cream!  The adults are more civilised and feed on pollen or nectar.  They are however, not easy to identify to species.  In the UK we only have one species (Euroleon nostras), and it’s only found in one location (in Suffolk) so that would not be too difficult.  But I found this one is Spain, where there are at least 20 species.  Luckily we live in the digital age and I managed to find a great blog on antlions on the Iberianature Forum website (1) listing all the Spanish species (and including links to photographs).  Thank-you Isidro, whoever you are (you must be a real expert), it enabled me to identify this species I found in Galicia, as Acanthaclisis baetica.  I would never have done so otherwise.  It’s only a photo ID, but there are no other species which look remotely like it, so I feel fairly confident about it.  And of course, we can always Google it on Google Images, for confirmation.  What an age we live in.  All of this was not even possible 10 years ago; Linnaeus would turn in his grave!  This was one that he did not manage to get to; Rambur, named it 1842.

Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica)
Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica)

This adult was resting on a wooden structure on Morouzos beach, next to Ria de Ortigueira, in Galicia, NW Spain.  It did not move or show much sign of life, but I assume it was alive.  It was in the same position when I walked past it again and the end of my walk. We should perhaps give it is local name, formiga león (Galician), or hormiga león (in Spanish).

 Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica)

Antlion adult (Acanthaclisis baetica)

1) http://www.iberianatureforum.com/insects-and-creepy-crawlies/what-am-i-solved-owlfly-bubopsis-agrioides/5/?wap2

 

Incidentally, the other great fact about antlions (I remember learning this as a student, much to my juvenile glee at the time!) is that the larvae have no anus!