Monday 18 June 2018

Country Matters: Ladybirds in a child's hand-lens

BLOOMING MARVELLOUS: Ever-popular orchid flowers
BLOOMING MARVELLOUS: Ever-popular orchid flowers

Joe Kennedy

Before motorway construction began near Ardrahan, Co Galway, green-fingered volunteers removed nine species of orchids and replanted them safely elsewhere.

Orchids are delicate creatures. It takes seven or eight years for their seeds to germinate. And, what is described as pseudo-copulation, is a tactic of deception employed by bee and fly orchids to encourage insects to pollinate plants.

Such fascinating snippets are cast among the wild plant riches in a new book by Zoe Devlin, author of wildflower field guides and magazine contributor.

Blooming Marvellous records a year's activities of an intrepid wildflower hunter, on her knees, stuck in bogs, crouching on rocks and being distracted - orchids again - while in fatigues, mask and goggles on an office team-building exercise! The book chronicles month-by-month flower and butterfly trekking in all weathers and is jammed with the author's own colour photographs for readers to identify, understand and savour the life that goes on unnoticed beneath our feet.

Zoe's hope is that this will help preserve it. Think small, she urges. Help attract a young person's attention to the environment by giving a child a hand-lens and taking them outdoors to study a ladybird or a tiny flower. What marvellous advice!

Blooming Marvellous: A wildflower hunter's year: Zoe Devlin: The Collins Press (€16.99).

The Caribbean hurricane, Irma, ferociously preceding our own hammering, caused considerable environmental damage to many of the lesser-known islands of the Bahamas and other chains, an Irish photographer has informed me by text.

He was delayed on an island called Exuma where he had photographed a lemon shark and, last year, those amazing swimming pigs which will beg like puppies for tidbits!

Many beaches and entire island landscapes have been utterly changed by the storm. Wildlife has been wiped out. Further north along Florida's east coast, nests of sea turtles - leatherbacks, loggerheads and greens - were swept away, an incalculable loss. South of Cape Canaveral, 90pc of incubating loggerhead nests were destroyed, about 25pc of the season's total, according to Dr Kate Mansfield, a biologist at the University of Central Florida.

Meanwhile, much further away in the Solomon Islands, locals on Vangunu are singing a song about 'Vika', a giant, tree-climbing rat that can crack open coconuts with its teeth! An injured one was found by a wildlife ranger last week, the first clear indication that they still exist.

There is another unpleasant creature in the Pacific called a tree-lobster, an insect with a lobster-like exoskeleton which inhabited Lord Howe Island until it was made extinct by ship rats. Some specimens have now turned up on a nearby island and scientists hope to reintroduce them to Howe - until the rats return!

Some good news about those Antarctic penguins which have been starving: they are now "specifically targeting gelatinous prey", according to a researcher. At last, those shimmering jellyfish masses are providing sustenance.

Sunday Independent

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