Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 14, 2012

A Rustle in the Hedgerow

It’s been cold, cold, cold!.  Cold by our standards at any rate, down here in the south-east of England.  Cold enough certainly, to be mildly stunned at a fly nectaring on the massed umbel of white Hogweed flowers.  The sun was shining brightly, but the day barely got above freezing.  A hardy insect it must have been and fortunate too, to find this small floral bounty amid a winter landscape where no other flower may have been present for kilometres around.

Here is one small example of the tenacity of small things, which might get one to thinking about the tit flocks that scour the bare winter woods and the Blackbirds that rustle the browned, frost-crisp leaves beneath the hedgerow thorn or carpet the woodland floor, all in search of invertebrate sustenance.  How much do they actually find to eat?  More than we might expect?  Take the springtails alone: tiny grazers on the fungi that grow among the leaf-litter – ancient, wingless insects whose name is derived from the forked appendage folded beneath body that launches them into the air at the sign of danger.  I have heard estimates of 100,000 individuals inhabitating any given cubic metre topsoil.  That’s 100,000 organisms with no mention of the suite of other arthropods that inhabitat such environs.  And a bird’s eye misses little.  Much less vain seems the Blackbird’s tossing of leaves and watchful pauses.

at about 4mm, one of the larger springtails.  Ross Gardner 2012

Tomocerus longicornis – at about 4mm, one of the larger springtails. Ross Gardner 2012

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