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Notes from the Sticks: Finger food for biting bugs


I’VE always been rather smug about not having a lot of trouble from insect bites. Companions have sometimes been bitten all over while I remain relatively unscathed. Last week I had my comeuppance, being targeted on several occasions as I walked along the bank of the Ribble, and once in our garden, by an insect which I can’t positively identify, but the most likely candidate is the common flower bug (Anthocoris nemorum).

I felt the stings going in and was able to knock the offenders off, but not in time (and I did not study them in detail, which is why I am not certain of the identification). After a few hours the bites came up into lumps of quite astonishing itchiness, which even the miraculous Stilex Jel (which I wrote about here) couldn’t completely quell. This is one of them after four days.

I was reminded of Hamlet’s line about the deceased Polonius being at supper, ‘not where he eats, but where he is eaten’.

I had not even heard of this insect, but it is common throughout Britain and Europe. It is about 4mm long and feeds on aphids and other tiny invertebrates. As far as I can discover it does not rely on a diet of blood like other biting insects, so I don’t understand why it would sting a human. Maybe they like a snack of blood. Maybe they are just that way inclined.

I found this interesting information on the Rentokil website

‘Biting insects feed on humans and animals by piercing skin to tap into a blood vessel. They actively seek a food source by using their various senses such as heat, smell and sight to find a suitable host. Some insects make a quick feed and leave while others prefer to find hidden areas of the body to stay till they are gorged and can only drop off when they are swollen with blood.

‘Biting insects have a complex mouth structure that varies between species. It can include a needle-like part that pierces the skin and other parts that are serrated and saw through the flesh to find a blood vessel.

‘They also have a food canal to suck up blood and a canal that injects saliva containing anticoagulant and anaesthetic. The anticoagulant keeps the blood liquid to keep it flowing and the anaesthetic stops you from feeling the bite so you don’t disturb the feeding insect. [Obviously the ones that stung me hadn’t read this as I felt them very clearly.] The body’s immune system recognises the foreign material injected into the bite and produces histamine as a defence mechanism. This causes localised inflammation and itching.’


Still on an insect theme, on Friday evening I found two striking caterpillars tucking into a miniature buddleia I have in a pot near the front door.

They are mullein moth caterpillars (Cucullia verbasci). It’s not for me to criticise but many might agree that the adults don’t really measure up to the jolly juveniles.


Sheep of the Week

The Est à Laine, or Est à Laine Merino, is a continental breed but there are at least a few in the UK, as an online shop sells the wool (at a price) from a British flock. See here. 

The breed was developed at the end of the 18th century, when Merino blood was introduced into German sheep in the borders with France, producing a large sheep with very fine white wool and good meat. Large numbers were kept in Alsace and Lorraine, where it became known as the Est à Laine, which means East and Wool. Alsace-Lorraine is still the breed’s stronghold, and there are about 30,000 ewes in the region. There are also some in the US.

The breed has a long face, rather like a horse to my eye, and drooping ears. Unlike its Merino forebears, it has no horns and its neck does not have skin folds, making it easier to shear. It is described by the French breeding organisation France Génétique Elevage as ‘one of the most outstandingly flexible and adaptable breeds around’.

I could find only one video on YouTube, and it is in French. I think at one point a lamb is suckled by a goat.

I couldn’t find a breed society but you can read more about them on this French site (in English). 


Wheels of the Week

I spotted this gleaming Morgan in the car park at Lidl on Thursday.

I believe it is a 1796 cc Plus 4 (or +4) registered in December 2007.

Production of the Plus 4 ran from 1950 to 1969, from 1985 until 2000, and from 2005 until it was replaced in 2020 by the Plus Four (with the number 4 spelled out as Four; not in the least confusing).

The firm, founded in 1910 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, is based in Malvern, Worcestershire, and produces 850 cars per year, all assembled by hand.

In 1990, when the waiting list for Morgans was as long as ten years, the firm featured on the BBC series Troubleshooter. Presenter Sir John Harvey-Jones, the ebullient former chairman of ICI, advised management to modernise production. This went down like a lead balloon.

Ten years later Harvey-Jones revisited Morgan to find it in buoyant form.

However it seems that subsequently family infighting caused difficulties and in 2019 the Italian investment group Investindustrial became the majority stakeholder.

I thought Morgans had a leather belt round the bonnet, but obviously not all did. No doubt readers can provide info on that feature.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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