Sunday, 12 March 2017

Honey, I Shrunk the Wildlife

Been out and about a couple of times the past few days, no great leaps in the 1000 Species Challenge tally although I'm fast approaching the 400 species barrier. I'll be there before the end of the month is out. First up, who wants to see some really, really tiny creatures? Good, here you go...

This is (probably) the young stage of a Daphnia, called a nauplius. Moves around in great big jerks. Very small.
This is a rotifer, probably from the genus Euchlanis or Lepadella and really very small indeed
This is a diatom, a unicellular alga that slowly motors along all by itself. From the genus Cymbella. Very very small.
This is another diatom (a unicellular alga) possibly from the genus Pinnularia. Ridiculously tiny.
And this is Meridion circulare, the smallest thing on my PSL by a long, long way. Ridiculously teeny-weeny!
All of these were from a single fingertip-sized clod of filamentous algae I pulled out of a shallow roadside ditch. Mostly I enjoy just watching them doing their thing, eyeball glued to the microscope  waiting to see what will swim into view next. I'm so far removed from their tiny microscopic realm that it almost makes me feel as though I'm a god or something! Watching the minute animals and alga interacting with each other (alga that move around all by themselves fer cryin' out), eating and being eaten, acting in bizarre fashions, all utterly unaware of my presence. Guess it appeals to the voyeur in me. (He feels like a god? And he's a peeping tom? Who is this fella whose blog you've been reading? Somebody needs to call the police...)

Meanwhile, back in the real world.... the flowers are coming up now, it's no longer just Daffodils and Lesser Celandines. I found a nice wee patch of Coltsfoot erupting from beneath dead grass. The flowers come up long before the leaves, which is fairly atypical amongst our wildflower flora. Seems to me that a large proportion of early Spring flowers are yellow. There's probably a good reason for this but I'm afraid I don't know it. Maybe an attractant to Diptera seeing as there aren't many other pollinating insects out just yet. I've still to see a bee this year.

Coltsfoot - a firm favourite of mine, host to various microfungi, moths and more.
The woodland here is in places carpeted with Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (yet another early Spring flower with yellow petals, though ridiculously tiny ones at that) and I've been keeping my eyes peeled for two microfungi that grow on its leaves. Finally my luck was in and I found several leaves infected by Puccinia chrysosplenii, a lifer for me. Apologies for the utterly soulless image that follows, I did take a few pics in the field but they were all out of focus. You're looking at the small pale patch, squint hard and maybe you'll see the dark flecks within. That's the fungus in question. Amazingly underwhelming huh? Well I was pleased to find it anyway. The second microfungus on this plant is far less impressive, yeah really!

Puccinia chrysosplenii in all of its staggering glory!
Sticking with microfungi for just a few more seconds, I found this covering many dead stems of Dryopteris ferns. It looks a lot like Bracken Map, but clearly the hostplant is different so the fungus probably will be too. More research required with this one

According to my Microfungi Book (Ellis & Ellis) there are quite a few possibilities. Hmmm....
Ok, so we've done microscopic stuff, we've done microfungi, so how about something big? I think so too. I thought I saw a Phyllonorycter mine in a dead Beech leaf laying squashed into the damp soil. I picked the leaf up (it wasn't a mine) and found this on the underside

Picture taken through my 10x handlens. I lied, this is very small too.
I recognised what it was straight away, Argonemertes dendyi. All I desperately needed was for it to not auto-digest/explode/implode/dissolve before I could pop it into alcohol, then to send off for confirmation. I think it may be the first record for the Highland Region, possibly even for Scotland. Back indoors I was pleasantly surprised to find it still very much alive and intact, I even managed a microscope pic to show the eye arrangement

I'm pretty bloody chuffed with this image!
And, before it had an opportunity to self-destruct in some shockingly unpleasant manner, I whacked it into a tube of alcohol. Judging by the fully extruded proboscis it didn't like the taste very much

Death by whisky, it's a regular theme up here on Skye
I didn't get out today but still managed to add Bullfinch to the list of birds I've recorded on Skye. I only heard it passing through, I was in the garage painting a picnic bench at the time. A flock of eight Rooks noisily careened across the sky too, only the second time I've seen them in NG3963. I heard Pied Wagtail several times, possibly the same bird flying around but also just as likely to be passage migrants. Had the first one quite recently, hearing them daily now. Might be able to sneak off for an hour or so tomorrow afternoon, hope the weather plays ball.

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