Saturday, January 12, 2019

10-Legged Spider found in Kent...

We start this update with a recent newspaper clipping...

Yes, this is the BIG news that I have discovered a ten-legged spider. It was a huge story right across all media...

Even made the main CNN bulletin!

Oh yes...I have become a huge celebrity now you know: you are no longer fit to tug at the hem of my garment.

However, as we have known each other for quite a while now, I feel it wouldn't be beneath me to share the full, unexpurgated story with you. Here goes:

There is no story! 

I just found a spider that looked as though it had ten legs. Like this...

So what is really going on here JJ? Well, this is a Buzzing Spider, no, honestly it is! Its scientific name is 'Anyphaena accentuata'. During courtship the male is known to emit a high pitched buzzing sound by vibrating its abdomen on a leaf, and that is the origin of the name. 

I think this one is immature, because when I found it, its room was a mess. might have been the fact that I found it under loose bark and the wonderful British Spiders website says this: Adults of both sexes are mostly found in early to mid-summer with females sometimes surviving through to the autumn. Immatures can be found in ground vegetation, leaf litter and under bark in the autumn and winter.

You have to admit though, those legs are a bit of a tangle and it takes a bit of working out to sort out which is which.

Here's another one that I saw the same day (because I know you were praying that I would share more spider photos). This one has a rather distinctively marked abdomen. Usually that central, dark design is shaped like 2 chevrons, or arrow heads, pointing forwards...

Meantime, back in the real world. Sometimes when I have been out walking in the woods, I get back home to find that I have brought home a hitch-hiker. On the day I found my 'special spider', I was sitting at the laptop, uploading the photographs, when this next critter ran across the table...

This is Scaphidium quadriguttatum - A Shining Fungus Beetle. can't beat a bit of fungus on your kitchen table! It belongs to the Rove Beetle family. I couldn't actually find much information on this species, even my usually trusty Collins Complete Guide has no reference. I do know it favours making its home in rotting wood, and so I made sure I relocated it suitably. Or should that read: I suitably relocated it?

As we are talking fungus, this might be a good point to share some slime mould I recently photographed. C'mon, it isn't as bad as it sounds: quite pretty in its own way...

Fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Trichia decipiens

I wasn't sure what these next objects were; eggs of some description perhaps?

Another thing that I found under a piece of loose bark, and probably hibernating, was this cool longhorn beetle...

Rhagium mordax (Lepturinae)
I say it was probably hibernating because I do usually see these quite early on in the year, and have found them out and about in February, although not January. Once again, I ensured he was tucked up safely before moving on. 

What do you think these are (pictured above)? They are not beetles; but are beetle larvae. Yes, the larvae of Soldier Beetles. There are several similar ones and so cannot be confident which species these are. 

As for this next one, well, totally confused by this; it looks very like some Darkling Beetle larvae I have seen. But also quite like other fly larvae...

I can't actually see any little legs in this photo, so maybe fly would be a better choice? Your guess is as good as mine though. In fact, better probably.

One last beetle find: I have more chance of knitting fog than finding an identity for this one. There are just so many black beetles to search...

I think my favourite recent find would have to be this beautiful...yes...beautiful, green spider...

Diaea dorsata - A Crab Spider (Araneae)

I would not be expecting to find one of these spiders in the middle of winter. This is a female; males are quite similar, but can have speckled, or spotted legs. Like this...

I have quite a lot more that I could share but I realise time is tight and so will save that for the next update. For now I will leave you with a tiny Collembola that I found in my garden...

Dicyrtomina saundersi (Collembola)

Friday, January 04, 2019

Publish and be damned...

This is a little extra update that I began working on before Christmas, but didn't get to complete until now. It is one that I was thinking I would probably not publish cos of its brevity and somewhat restricted subject matter. But then I thought, what the heck! I may as well let you be the judge. Go ahead, I can take the criticism, honestly. 

A few days ago, I cannot remember exactly when it was, because I seem to have done so much in the past weeks that my brain is frazzled, but let's say it was last Thursday, 'cos that's my best guess: Anyhow, last Thursday(ish) I had occasion to visit West Kent College in Tonbridge. Knowing that the Haysden Country Park is close-by, I decided to throw the bike in the back of the car and cycle from the college to the park.

I only had an hour to spare and that's not much more than 60 minutes (see...not lost it completely), so it had to be a very quick skirt around just one part of the park. In fact, what am I was just one corner of the first lake! Still, here are the photos that I did take...

Water off a duck's back?

Alright then, water off a Greylag Gooses back if you prefer.

Then suddenly a group of about thirty flew in...

Not sure what species all those were and my photography skills were such that there probably isn't enough detail here to tell. It was impressive to see though.

That unfortunately was all I had time for. Before I knew it, it was time to knock myself out riding my bike back to the college. I did spot this little grey squirrel in the car park though...

Can bees fly in zero gravity?

Yes, a tad late I know, but I am late for most things. Happy New Year one and all; here's to a year filled with harmony, peace, understanding and goodwill to ...I was about to write 'goodwill to men' as quoted in the bible, but that is no longer PC I guess.

Is 'Mankind' an acceptable substitute I wonder? I think so, after all that doyenne of knowledge Wikipedia (and I am for the purpose of balance making Wiki female) has this to say on the subject: Mankind refers to the human species, Homo sapiens, collectively.

With it being closed season for bug hunting right now, this will be a very different update. None the less entertaining and educative though.

IS it going to be about then JJ?

Well actually it will be like nothing on Earth; because this update is all about...

It was the amazing news of NASA's New Horizons encounter with 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule that got me started on this thought pattern. So many questions came to mind, more of that later, but for now, it eventually led me to wondering about which (if any) bugs have been launched into outer space. Any ideas? Well, this might help: let's explore this together...

Fruit Flies are the staple diet of scientists it seems: I don't mean they eat them! No, they are one of the most studied of all insects it seems. As scientific exploration turned towards the heavens, fruit flies were an obvious choice. Way back in 1947 the United States strapped a few hapless flies to a V-2 rocket, launching them into the limelight as the first animals in space.

I'm not sure of just what scientific information was gleaned from that very first foray, but the purpose of the experiment was to explore the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes. When the capsule returned the fruit flies were recovered alive.

In 2006 NASA launched the Discovery space shuttle with 15 fruit flies aboard.

It returned safely to Earth 2 weeks later with 3000 fruit flies on board: count 'em...3000! I wonder if anybody did.

To sum up the conclusions of this experiment. It seems that space-flight had affected the flies immune system and that larvae born in space were smaller than those on Earth.

The United States launched Biosatellite I in 1966 and Biosatellite I/II in 1967 with fruit flies, parasitic wasps and flour beetles. 

Parasitic Wasps

In 1968 the Soviet Union sent wine flies and meal worms alongside 2 tortoises. They became the first inhabitants of Earth to travel around the moon.

In April of 1972 Apollo 16 carried nematodes...

A Nematode

1973 saw Skylab 3 become the second manned mission to the space station. Aboard were the first spiders in space. Two garden spiders called Arabella and Anita. The aim of the experiment was to test whether the two spiders would spin webs in space, and, if so, whether these webs would be the same as those that spiders produced on Earth.

The spiders proceeded to construct their web while a camera took photographs and examined the spiders' behavior in a zero gravity environment. Both spiders took a long time to adapt to their weightless existence. However, after a day, Arabella spun the first web in the experimental cage, although it was initially incomplete...

The web was completed the following day. When a second web was constructed, it was more elaborate than the first. Both spiders died during the mission; possibly from dehydration. 

When scientists were given the opportunity to study the webs, they discovered that the space webs were finer than normal Earth webs, and although the patterns of the web were not totally dissimilar, variations were spotted, and there was a definite difference in the characteristics of the web. Additionally, while the webs were finer overall, the space web had variations in thickness in places: some places were slightly thinner, and others slightly thicker. This was unusual, because Earth webs have been observed to have uniform thickness.

In the 1980s the Soviet Union put stick insect eggs into space.

I know newts are not insects, but I included this next entry because I am not sure how I feel about it all: Bion 7 (1985) had 10 newts  on board. The newts had part of their front limbs amputated, to study the rate of regeneration in space, knowledge to understand human recovery from space injuries.

The last Soviet flights in the 1990s included sand-dessert beetles...

Through the 1990s the USA carried crickets, gypsy moth eggs and stick insect eggs.

2003 saw silk-worms, spiders, carpenter bees, harvester ants and nematodes all taking trips into outer space. Following the final, ill-fated flight of the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during re-entry, some live nematodes were recovered, having survived re-entry.

During their first day in space, some bees attempted to fly, but collided with the  walls. Miraculously, by the end of the seven-day mission, the bees showed complete adaptation to micro-gravity. Crew members noted that bees were able to fly from one place to the other, which suggests that bees are capable of learning.

A “super Florida mosquito” reached orbit as a hitchhiker aboard an Apollo capsule during the Apollo-Soyuz mission. There have also been insect stowaways on the Shuttle.

Finally, British scientists say that alien bugs may have been transported to Earth on space dust. Bugs might have flown across the universe and onto our own planet, scientists have said. And bugs from our own planet might have made the same journey, flying off of Earth and onto other planets elsewhere in the galaxy.
The theory could even help explain how life began here, suggesting that it was carried from elsewhere in space then flourished in Earth.
Returning to the New Horizons venture for just a moment before I take my leave. We have named this distant icy rock Ultima Thule, which a good friend who is a font of knowledge tells me means something like, the furthest distance, or furthest point. But what occurred to me is, what if  another civilization got there first and already named it something different. Would we be prepared to change? 
That led me to wonder about just how our planet came to be known as Earth: who named it? 
This from a website named Ask an AstronomerUnfortunately, I think it's pretty impossible to say exactly who first named the planet 'Earth'. Actually, I really doubt one person really named it intentionally; rather it developed over time as part of the English language. Earth is Old English and German in origin, related to the Old Saxon 'ertha', the Dutch 'aerde', and the German 'erda'. Terra is a French and Latin word, and so isn't part of the 'Earth' etymology. I'm not really an expert on words and word origins, but it seems likely that people used Earth to mean 'land' and then it was the natural thing to refer to all the land and the planet. I tried to look up more specific details about the specific usage of the word over time, but even the Oxford English Dictionary (online) admits:
"Men's notions of the shape and position of the earth have so greatly changed since Old Teutonic times, while the language of the older notions has long outlived them, that it is very difficult to arrange the senses and applications of the word in any historical order."
So, as with the names of the other planets that have been known throughout human history (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), it's difficult to say who first thought of the planet as Earth. The names were part of culture even before we really understood the significance of what planets are and where they are in space.
Live Science simply says: The handle's creator is unknown.

What we do know is that Earth is the only planet not named after a Roman of Greek god.