THE science classroom at my grammar school had some stick insects in a tank, and every holiday someone took them home to look after them, usually me. They ate privet, which was abundant in the suburbs in those days, so they were no trouble. I imagine they were Indian stick insects (Carausius morosus), one of 2,500 varieties.
Although you can see it clearly in this picture, they are astonishingly well camouflaged, bettered only by leaf insects such as this Giant Malaysian Leaf Insect (Pulchriphyllium giganteum) which is complete with brown bits round the edges. These are also commonly kept as pets.
Wonderfully camouflaged as these insects are, I would like to offer a candidate for the title of Hardest Creature to Spot from closer to home – the brown trout (Salmo trutta).
We have them in the stream which runs past the back of our house, and I can tell you that even when you know exactly where they are they are all but impossible to see. This is partly because they have the ability to alter their colour to a certain extent to blend in with their background. (Chameleons, octopuses and quite a number of other animals can do this too, but the mechanisms are many and various which may be why I can’t find a technical term for it.)
However with perseverance you can get your eye in. It also helps if the sun is out because their shadows on the stream bed can be more visible. If I look at them through binoculars I can see the beautiful spots on the sides. Our trout are only young ones, presumably on their way from the spawning grounds higher up to the Ribble about half a mile away. I think they hang about in our part of the stream because there is a small waterfall which oxygenates it (trout need oxygen-rich water) and below it a pool which is deeper than the rest of the stream. It’s very low at present.
The maximum size we see is about 12 or 15ins, but they can grow to 24ins or more. Occasionally I see a large one leaping in the Ribble.
The young ones mainly consume aquatic larvae and insects but as they grow they become voracious eaters and will even take baby birds or mice that fall into the water. One day I was looking at one in our stream when it casually moved a few inches forward and swallowed a smaller one. On Thursday evening there were a lot of midges, I presume hatched that day, and the fish were busy snapping them up from the surface. I wasn’t sure if this video of the midges would work but it has turned out better than I expected. (You can see them in the picture above too.) As I wrote here, they are not a nuisance because they stay strictly over the water and although we were enjoying a glass of wine on the bank a couple of feet away or less, they didn’t come near.
Sheep of the Week
The Jacob sheep must be one of the most easily recognised breeds, with its irregular black or brown patches on a white background. Normally it has a white blaze. Both rams and ewes have horns, often four.
The sheep takes its name from the story told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis of how Jacob became a breeder of pied sheep. You can read the full story here.
It is believed that pied Middle Eastern breeds of Biblical times acquired their horns from being crossed with Viking stock. The Jacob sheep was introduced to the UK from Spain as a fashionable parkland breed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Charlecote Park in Warwickshire has the oldest known flock, which arrived in 1756, and there are some great pictures on this website.
In the 20th century many parkland flocks disappeared. A small number of enthusiasts were determined to preserve the breed, and in 1969 the Jacob Sheep Society was formed with 96 members and 2,700 registered sheep. Today, it has more than 850 members and around 2,000 sheep are registered each year in the flock book. The breed is marketed as being easy to manage and good for meat production.
Here is a video of some lively rams.
Water avens (Geum rivale) is such a pretty wild flower but it can be hard to spot because its flowers hang down. I took this picture during the week and tried to get slightly below the blooms.
Around here it is found in the same places as greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), also known as ‘star of Bethlehem’ and ‘wedding cakes’, which is much easier to see. It is recognisable by the deep notches in each of the five white petals. The leaves are grassy.
This time last year there were two small patches of stitchwort on my regular walk along the road to the next village, but this year the verges are full of it. When the seed capsules are ripe they explode with a popping noise. I will see if I can get a video of this.
Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: email@example.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.
On Thursday Kathy was on Colin Brazier’s GB News programme and was able to mention the damage being done to insect populations by wind turbines, a threat that has only recently been recognised.