Author Archive

10th March 2006, Friday

Thrush and snails

We have a very active and hungry song thrush in our garden who has been battering our resident snails on stones. Two species are favoured, the white-lipped snail Cepaea hortensis and the brown-lipped snail C. nemoralis. With luck some of the larger shells may be used as nests by solitary bees later in the summer.

A song thrush snail anvil, Sedlescombe

9th March 2006, Thursday

Swarming springtails

My grandchildren found a circular mass of swarming springtails today on some concrete just outside a stable in Sedlescombe. It must have contained thousands of insects. This particular species, Ceratophysella bengtssoni, is well-known for this kind of behaviour and swarms numbering millions of individuals have sometimes been seen. No one knows quite why they do it, though it is thought to be associated with mating. Usually the swarms last only a short while and are gone by the following day.

Ceratophysella bengtssoni

16th February 2006, Thursday


The picture below is of the minute earth-moss Ephemerum minutissimum a small colony of which was found growing on bare earth in my garden a few days ago. It is one of the smallest of British mosses with the plants less than 2mm tall and it has been quite widely recorded including, in our area, from Flatropers Wood. It is probably just overlooked in most places.
One of the ways in which I find things like this is by scanning the ground with close-focus binoculars from the comfort of a garden seat. I am normally looking for invertebrates, but quite often spot things like this which I probably would not otherwise notice. Identification can be quite challenging and, in this instance, though I thought I knew what it was, I had the identity checked by Howard Matcham, the Sussex bryophyte recorder.
Minute earth-moss

14th February 2006, Tuesday

Common seal at Rye Harbour

A friend of ours, Ian Saull-Hunt, recently took this picture from a boat of a common or harbour seal relaxing on a jetty at Rye Harbour. I thought it was worth sharing. Although one of the commonest seal species in the Northern Hemisphere, this species is relatively rare around the coasts of Sussex with only a few animals sighted each year.

23rd January 2006, Monday

Palomino Cup

It sounds like a horse race but, in fact, it is another of our local fungi that generally develop in the colder months. Growing on the ground, the palomino cup, Peziza repanda, is similar to one or two other species of this genus and one can only be certain of the identity by looking at the spores which are smooth in this species (see second picture), but warty in allied kinds. The flesh is thin and fragile and it appears not to have been tested for edibility – I doubt it would be worth the effort (especially if fatal). The example shown was photographed in my garden in Sedlescombe today.
Palomino cup fungus, Peziza repandaPalomino cup fungus spores

20th January 2006, Friday

Velvet shank toadstools

Velvet shanks, Flammulina velutipes, the winter toadstool with bright orange caps, seem to be doing well this year on old stumps and dead wood. A distinctive characteristic is the blackened, slightly velvety base of the stem. Thus species is edible, though not very exciting. It is cultivated in the Far East in darkness and comes out as white clumps of slender looking fungi sometimes sold in our British supermarkets as ‘enoki’. There are some poisonous species quite similar to the outdoor velvet shank, so make absolutely sure of your identification before sampling any.
Velvet shank, Flammulina velutipes, Sedlescombe

17th January 2006, Tuesday

Marble screw-moss

I found some tiny tufts of moss on the bark of a fallen branch in our garden here at Sedlescombe a couple of days ago and it was identified by Howard Matcham, the Sussex moss recorder, as marble screw-moss, Syntrichia papillosa. It does not seem to have been recorded from the 10k square TQ71. It is quite widespread but apparently very sensitive to pollution and, after a decline, seems to be increasing again.

This moss does not produce spore-bearing capsules in this country but reproduces by means of gemmae. These cluster like green marbles (hence the English name I suppose) towards the ends of the leaves. This makes the moss easy to identify with a powerful hand lens or under the microscope (as in the picture). The ‘screw’ part of the name is because each moss plantlet curls round its central stalk a bit like a screw when dry.
Marble screw-moss, Syntichia papillosa

2nd November 2005, Wednesday

Moon spit at Guestling

One of the more unusual plants I have come across recently in the Rye Bay area is the terrestrial blue-green alga Nostoc commune. I found large quantities of it recently scattered about on the mossy concrete surface of an abandoned farmyard at Guestling. Most of the plants were several centimetres across. It is rubbery, gelatinous stuff that swells up when wet and is the algal component of many of our lichens.

The plant is, apparently, eaten with relish in some parts of the world and is reputed to be good for reducing cholesterol levels. I haven’t tried it yet, but it probably resembles edible seaweeds to which it is closely related. In parts of France it is known as ‘crachat de lune’, which I think means ‘moon spit’.

It does not seem to be common in East Sussex and is more a plant of the north and west. In the case of the Guestling colony I suspect materials from one of our beaches had been incorporated with the concrete. My thanks are due to Simon Davey, the Sussex Lichen Recorder, for helping with the identity.
Nostoc commune at Guestling

16th October 2005, Sunday

Southern hawker egg laying

A couple of days ago I watched a southern hawker dragonfly, Aeshna cyanea, laying eggs around the margin of our garden pond. Instead of dipping her tail in the water as dragonflies often do, she carefully selected areas of damp moss a few centimetres above the water line and probed the eggs into these with her abdomen. I have seen this species do this before and also watched the drone fly, Eristalis tenax (which has aquatic early stages) laying eggs under a stone at the waterside. Maybe it affords them greater protection from predators.
Southern hawker laying eggs

12th October 2005, Wednesday

Goat moth larva

On Sunday 9 October we found a goat moth larva, Cossus cossus the size of my forefinger crossing a path at Northiam. This Nationally Scarce species used to be widespread but has not been recorded from West Sussex (so far as I am aware) since the 1970s and there are only a handful of recent records from East Sussex, all from the Rye Bay area.

The larvae bore in the wood of living trees of a wide range of species and take up to five years to reach full size. These trees, with their goat-like smell, attract a wide range of other insects, mainly beetles and flies, many of which are normally only found in association with the moth.
Goat moth larva, Northiam