Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Seeking Enlichenment

It's wet. It's grey. It's raining. It's cold. It's yukky out. Remind me, how did I end up on Skye in the wintertime? 

Anyway, that's enough of that ol' claptrap. There's places to go, things to see, species just waiting to be discovered! I hit the road and went exploring a new area of NG3963... But first up was an overdue return visit to that patch of Mentha down by the shore. As I recalled it had rather serrated edges to the leaves and smelled a bit like chewing gum. Going back with a copy of Stace and The Vegetative Key I soon sussed it as Spear Mint Mentha spicata, or possibly an almost pure hybrid of it. The teeth along the leaf margins seemed a bit less prominent than they ought to be, but essentially nothing else fitted. Plus it's already known from the area. Spear Mint is my 1091st species of British plant.  

Note the short petiole on these gorgeously spearmint-smelling leaves (you'll just have to take my word for that!)
After setting my mind at rest regarding the identity of the mint I headed into Uig Woods for another uneducated gawp at the vast array of lichens on offer. Seriously, I need some help with identifying these buggers! Many seem to change colour when wet, often quite radically. To the point where I fail to recognise it as the same species I was flummoxed with last time. Anyway, the rain certainly helped highlight one particular species that I've been on the look-out for. And nope, I haven't played around with the colour or contrast on this next image.

Lobaria virens - my first ever Day-Glo lichen!!!
Oh right, no mistaking THAT when you see it! At least not when it's wet. I had wondered if I'd been overlooking it amongst the masses of Lobaria pulmonaria that grows over many of the branches, trunks and wall tops around these woods. Guess not! So that's two Lobaria down and two to go...

A small road climbs the hill in the far north-east corner of NG3963. I hadn't explored that part of the square yet so off I marched keeping a sharp eye out for traffic (ha, not a single car went up or down that hill in the hour or so I was there!) There are some really sizeable Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) bushes fully naturalised along this stretch of road, be interesting to see if they are attractive to insects in the summer months. Unfortunately it doesn't feature in Ellis & Ellis so I shall restrict myself to checking any insect associations instead. 

Immediately noticeable amongst the ranks of Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) lining the roadside ditch were a great many Coleophora cases jutting out of the seedheads at unlikely angles. There are several species that feed on Juncus but only C.alticolella and C.glaucicolella have cases that look like this. 

So is it Coleophora alticolella or is it Coleophora glaucicolella???

Luckily the larva (which is hibernating within the case) would provide the answer. Or rather the shape and size and presence/absence of the sclerites on the abdomen would. Confused? Yeah, so was I but actually it's pretty easy to tell them apart, just need to wake the wee fella up and take a peek. Which is what I did back indoors (mainly due to the newly-appointed moth recorder's request for absolute proof - even though C.alticolella is decidedly common on Skye and C.glaucicolella has yet to be recorded). It was a good process to go through, and I'm really glad that he insisted on a 100% definite ID rather than a probable, even in the face of overwhelming odds. I suspect he's going to make a damn fine recorder. 

I pinned one end of the case and the larva (ever so slowly) emerged from the other end. Easy!

Mega crop of the same pic. I don't think he was very happy about being woken up in late December! 
So, as can be seen on the images above, the first two lateral sclerites (the dark patches on the first two body segments just above the legs) are noticeably bigger than the sclerite on the third segment and there isn't a dorsal sclerite (which would be on the top) on that same third segment. This conclusively shows that this moth is Coleophora alticolella, not glaucicolella, and the record has been put through as such. Now the local moth recorder is happy and I'm happy too. Not so sure about the moth, I shall put it on a fresh seedhead tomorrow. Phew, job's a goodun! 

As is my wont I soon found myself grubbing around beneath the trees, turning logs and boulders for signs of life. I added the odd myriapod and woodlouse, a few slugs and snails (still awaiting ID) but nothing particularly exciting. Lots of Yellow Brain Fungus Tremella mesenterica and White Brain Exidia thuretiana on dead sticks and logs. 

I did a bit of a mad scramble up a steep slope in order to shortcut back to the road above me. Using a low branch I hauled myself up one especially slippery section and almost came a cropper when it suddenly snapped off in my hand! I ended up doing a flying dive for the tree (somehow I made it) to save myself a naughty fall back through the bramble patch I'd just spent the last few minutes high-stepped through. Next time I'll just take the longer route. 

Back on the road once more I set off downhill (don't ask...) and returned to Uig Woods and its array of scary lichens. I have to admit that some of them are pretty damn swanky things when viewed through a handlens. Obviously you look a complete and utter weirdo to any passing members of the public (mummy, why is that man sniffing a tree...) (hello police? There's a perv hiding behind a tree...) (ambulance? There's a man super-glued his head to a tree...) which is why I keep an eye out for dog walkers, short-cutters and any other weirdos behind trees. Although finding a lichenologist would be almost too good to be true, I can but hope. Maybe I should join a lichen group, go on some outings and then get them to visit Uig. Hmmm. Anyway, I'm starting to get a feel for lichens and can recognise a few now. Big obvious ones anyway. Like Lobaria, Degelia, Peltigera, Pertusaria. 

Degelia cyanoloma - this is what I mean by 'big and easy'!!
A close look at a patch of Pertusaria pertusa, a pale grey crustose lichen, revealed a bleached patch of thallus. A closer look showed why - it has been parasitised by an invasive fungus which kills and bleaches the lichen as it spreads. The fungus involved is Nesolechia oxyspora, nationally it is very thinly scattered throughout western Britain but has its stronghold in this part of Scotland. Nice! Well, not so nice for the lichen obviously. 

Note the pale patch in the centre of the thallus, this is the area of fungal infection

Microscope pic - the small, rounded orange patches are the fungal fruit bodies.

Ok, just a couple more lichen pics to finish, these taken through the 10x handlens.

This I had down as Ochrolechia parella. Not so sure now... 
Not sure any more. It looked good for something earlier. My head hurts. Time for bed...

Right, and that's quite enough lichens for one day. They'll still be there tomorrow (curses...) On my way out I couldn't help but notice this wee chap sheltering on a gatepost.

Oligolophus hanseni - these are on the wall back home too. Lovely tubercules - ooh err missus!

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