Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nature Notes: Animals at the Botanical Garden

We used the gorgeous weather this weekend for a visit to the botanical garden and apart from lots of flowers (I'll show you next week), there were a ton of critters around.
Two mating hoverflies, maybe Eristalis arbustorum. You can see how the eyes of the males meet while the female has a gap between them, that's how you can tell male and female hoverflies apart.

Another hoverfly, Eristalis tenax - a drone fly. They imitate honey bees, but like all hoverflies they cannot sting. The larvae of this species live in mud and even in liquid manure, which earned the species the German names Schlammfliege (mud fly) and Mistbiene (Manure Bee).

The squirrels were very busy harvesting nuts and seeds and burying them for the winter.

A harvestman enjoys the sun (possibly Phalangium opilio). They are arachnids, but not spiders. Typical for them is the small hill with the eyes on top (although not all species have it). Harvestmen are omnivores and will eat anything from insects to carrion to plant matter. All species have scent glands and if disturbed, will secrete a substance with a peculiar smell. They cannot produce silk and they don't have venom glands. The myth that harvestmen are the deadliest animal worldwide is just plain wrong.
I quite like them, with their body suspended between those endless legs and their button eyes.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ABC Wednesday: K is for Kudu

This is a male Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), a big antelope species that lives in most of southern and eastern Africa. Only the males carry those horns and it takes about six years for them to grow into their final shape.

a female

Kudus prefer their habitat to be covered with trees and bushes for cover. They are not as fast as other antelopes and don't have the stamina to outrace a predator over a long distance, so they need cover to hide in. A hunted kudu tends to stop and look back over its shoulder when it has reached cover, which is often fatal when the hunter is a human. Other predators are lions, leopards and African wild dogs. Kudus can jump up to three metres high, that's twice their own shoulder height.


Kudu females live with their offspring in groups of up to 20 individuals, the males are usually solitary, although younger males may live together in bachelor groups. During mating season, the males will fight with their horns, mostly without hurting each other. Fights only occur when the males are of the same size, otherwise the smaller and weaker male will withdraw.

Kudu horns have been used as musical instruments by various African people. Robert Baden-Powell encountered it during a stay with the Matabele and used it at Boy Scout meetings and Jamborees. Yemenite Jews traditionally made Kudu horns into Shofarot, here's a photo.
On a weird note, there's a sport called Kudu dung spitting. Yes, really. I'm as sure as I can be with only online sources, at least. There's a world championship even. So far, this is the most odd thing I have learned while researching my ABC Wednesday posts.

Photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark and Burgers Zoo. Sources and further reading:
Honolulu Zoo
Ultimate Ungulate
Animal Diversity Web

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nature Notes: Autumn

A late rose.
Things go bump in the night in my street and I know autumn has arrived. The street is lined with oaks and the acorns make quite a noise hitting the cars parked there, especially at night. It's a bad year for chestnuts, though, there are only very few. But I have already filled my pockets with them.

a big Diadem Spider (Araneus diademantus), it had build its web tethered to a motorcycle and there were already two abandoned ones, I guess the owner doesn't take his bike out much

Orphan John (Hylotelephium telephium) is a good pee pasture, especially this late in the year. The many names of this plant made me smile: Orpine, Livelong, Frog's-stomach, Harping Johnny, Life-everlasting, Live-forever, Midsummer-men, Orphan John, Witch's Moneybags - one more fanciful than the other

I don't know what this flower is called, but I pass it on my way to work every morning and I always enjoy the lovely flowers.

huge mushroom, easily as big as my whole hand

A hoverfly sipping nectar. I think it's Eristalis interrupta, but I'm not sure. It was a big one in any case, larger than a honeybee.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

ABC Wednesday: Jumping Spider

This is a zebra spider (Salticus scenicus), one of 5000 species of jumping spiders (including the only mainly herbivorous spider). They don't built webs, but will hunt actively for prey, stalking it - a bit like a cat. They can also jump up to 10cm/4", that's about 20 times their own length (they do rely on a silk thread to keep them from falling).
Like all jumping spiders, zebra spiders have excellent vision. They can tell apart different insect species and will not try to catch ants or other insects with a bad taste. If you happen to meet a jumping spider and take a closer look, there's a good chance that it will observe you just as closely. They will turn to follow a finger (or a camera lens) and can even raise their head to look at you. Jumping spiders are completely harmless to humans.
unknown species, photographed in Florence, Italy
Jumping spiders have very elaborate courtship rituals. The males will perform a complex dance for the female and with many species, they will show off their beautiful, iridescent colours (not all of them in the visible range for humans). They also produce sounds, here's a video of that - the sounds are amplified, normally they wouldn't be audible for humans.
Deviant Art has many lovely photos of jumping spiders and here are some more videos of courtship dances.

See what else J stands for with ABC Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Tree of Life
Dick Walton jumping spider page

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ABC Wednesday: I is for Ibex

A male Alpine Ibex (Capra Ibex) - both sexes have horns, but they only grow that long with the males, up to 1m/40" and continue to grow throughout the ibex's life. It takes six years for a buck to grow horns that are impressive enough to have a chance in the fights during rut season. It's not uncommon to see males scratch their own backs with those horns.


Ibexes can jump severel metres from a standing start and they are incredibly surefooted, with hooves that are soft in the middle and cling to the slightest imperfection in the rock. You may have seen these photos before, but they really show how well Ibex can climb: Some spots on a wall show themselves to be Alpine Ibex and if you think that the dam doesn't look so steep after all, here's a another view. The photos were taken at the Diga del Cingino in Italy.


They live all over the European Alps, at elevations of 1800-3200 metres/5,900-10,200ft. Most of the year, the sexes live apart. Fermales and they offspring will gather in groups, while old males will remain solitary. Young males will also live in groups, with a very pronounced hierachy that is either judged by horn length or by fighting. Males remember past fights and will act accordingly when they meet a stronger or weaker male. During breeding season from December to January, both sexes live together.


Ibexes migrate depending on the season, they will climb up to greater heights in summer, when the snow melts. They feed on plants: grass, moss, twigs, flowers and they can feed standing on their hind legs if a plants is out of reach.


The Ibex was hunted almost to extinction. It was believed that Ibex bodyparts had magical qualities and could cure pretty much anything. At one time only 100 individuals were left and came under the protection of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, who declared the region where those animals lived his private hunting reserve. Some animals were stolen and brought to Switzerland and today, an estimated number of 20,000 ibexes populate the Alps. Adult ibexes have no enemies (except humans), but golden eagles are perfectly capable of snatching a kid.

See what else I stands for with Wednesday

Photos were taken at Wildpark Schwarze Berge, Hamburg.
Sources and further reading:
Ultimate Ungulate

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nature Notes: Autumn Colours

Summer is slowly winding down, I already put the first chestnut in my pocket where it will stay until next year. The tea crabapples (Malus hupehensis) are getting ripe, they will make good food for song thrushes that migrate down from Scandinavia. They are edible for humans as well, but they are better as apple jelly than raw.

water lily

rose hips...I wish they didn't have those hairy pips

I'm not sure what this is, it grew at the edge of a pond

reeds - it started to rain right after I took this shot

I'm hoping for a sunny autumn, there's nothing quite like a sunny autumn day with colourful leaves, mushrooms and chestnuts everywhere.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Wiids

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

ABC Wednesday: H is for Hammerkop


Hammerkops /Scopus umbretta) are also called Anvilhead or Hammerhead Stork. Although they do look and behave similar to shoebills, ibises, herons or storks, they are not closely related to any of them. Hammerkops are a family all of their own.


They feed on fish, tadpoles and frogs, but will also take insects. Sometimes a hammerkop will use a hippo as a lookout and waits for frogs ad other prey to be flushed by the hippo. Unless prey is plenty, they are usually found in pairs or alone. Here's a video of a group feeding on fish guts thrown away by fishermen - a photo cannot show how strange these birds really are.

During breednig seasons, bigger groups of hammerkops will take part in a sort of mating dance. Once a pair has bonded, they will build an enormous nest and sometimes more than one in one year. Other animals will share the nest or will take over abandoned nests, like weaver birds, owls and pigeons or even small mammals and bees. The nest is many times bigger and heavier than it would need to be for the adults and their 3-6 chicks and it's unknown why the hammerkop builds such huge structures. It enables the parents to leave the chicks alone for a long time since they are so well protected inside the nest. Monitor lizards still manage to rob a hammerkop nest fairly often.

See what else H stands for with ABC Wednesday
More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Photos were taken at London Zoo, Berlin Zoo and Frankfurt Zoo.
Sources and further reading:
Honolulu Zoo
Philadelphia Zoo
Internet Bird Collection