Saturday, 10 August 2013

Dog daisies and dragonflies

 Poo Problems
Damsel flies - female laying eggs
     Some of our friends have taken to going on exotic cruises in different parts of the world. Venues like the Danube, Amazon and Nile aren't really to our taste, but my wife and I thought we should at least see what we were missing, so we pored through the travel brochures and eventually made our choice. We booked a trip down the Macclesfield Canal in a narrowboat. We're not really into exotic foods either, so this was ideal for us: a floating restaurant with an impressive menu of  tomato soup and a wide ranging choice of hotpot or beef pie.

      And so it was that we found ourselves eating soup in a stifling cabin and gazing out at the exotic Cheshire countryside as the ship negotiated the Straits of Bollington. The banks were lined with envious onlookers in the form Canada geese seemingly transfixed by the majesty of our passage. As we gazed out through the none-opening windows, I got the distinct feeling of being in a zoo in reverse, half expecting the audience to start throwing nuts. However, they were too engaged in their favourite pastime of defecating and I quickly came to appreciate that their glazed looks were due not to our majesty but to the bliss of relieving themselves. They do this with such abandon and quantity that it brought to mind that Benny Hill sketch where hundreds of people pour out of a phone box. Accuracy is also involved: their offerings are placed with unerring aim exactly where someone is going to put their foot.

      When it comes to treating the family, our generosity knows no bounds and Nick and Laura, who couldn't think up an excuse in time, came along with us. Initially there was much jocularity as terms like 'hoist the mizzen and 'heave to lads' were bandied. However, the fact that we couldn't actually see any water - the banks were about a foot away - rendered these nautical terms redundant other than when the cook clambered on board, causing the ship to rock, and eliciting a weak 'heave up, lads' from Nick.

      All of which reminded me of an incident in my working days: there was a big dog poo problem in Wythenshawe Park where I was stationed at the time. There didn't seem an easy way around it until I spotted an advert in a trade mag for a machine which was designed to pick it up. I rang the given number and asked if they could bring one to give a demonstration, then I got in touch with the other park managers to come round and see it.

      The big day arrived and I was waiting for the marvellous machine to arrive when I suddenly realised I hadn't got any samples for it to work on. With this in mind, and armed with a plastic bag, I wandered out into the park. Nothing. Normally you would step straight from the office door into something disgusting but, on this occasion, not even a brown stain. I wandered around the two hundred and sixty acres of Wythenshawe Park gradually coming to the conclusion that a major case of canine constipation had hit the area. Back in the office, in an effort to quel my rising panic, the receptionist suggested I had a word with Colin the park warden - 'he's very creative', she smiled.

      She was right. Colin got some clayish soil and rolled it into sausage shapes, lumps with drawn-out ends and  some curly ones. Then he got carried away and coloured the soil with sand. The result was brilliant. I coned off an area of the main drive and we laid them out ready for the demonstration.

      Eventually the bloke arrived with the machine on the back of a low loader.
       "It's called FIDO", he informed the assembled managers, "short for Feces Intake Disposal Operation". He seemed impervious to the smirks from the high powered management team as he proceeded to put FIDO to work. It was pretty impressive. FIDO was basically a golf cart with an added suction pump and a wide bore, see-through tube which went over the top of the vehicle and down into a storage box. The driver sat with one hand on the steering, while he manoeuvred the end of the tube over the poo.This it sucked up with a satisfying slurp and we watched it whizz through the pipe before being deposited in a large tank. If the target was hard and difficult to remove, a subsidiary pipe could be operated to release disinfectant onto it and this had the added advantage of a softening effect.

      "You can travel at up to twenty miles an hour doing this", the man informed us, "but if you want to go faster, we've got another machine called RALF. It turned out that RALF, which was also on the low-loader, was a motor-bike with similar suction  fittings and the collection box behind the seat. RALF, the man unsmilingly informed us, stood for 'Ride Along Lifting Feces'. My vision of an exuberant poo-picker hurtling through the park at 70mph was dispelled when he pointed out that the added speed may be of importance for moving between sites.

     "The thing you've got to be careful of with this", he said, "is that you don't put your butties in that saddle bag".
Dog daisies and other wildflowers surrounding a peacock butterfly on a corncockle

      While we're thinking about dogs seems a good time to bring up the subject of dog daisies. Also going under the names of ox-eye daisy and moon daisy, these are the plants much favoured in wildflower meadows and motorway embankments. We've looked at them briefly when considering wildflower meadows but they give such good value I feel they deserve a closer look: the Latin name is Leucanthemum vulgare (from Greek leukos, meaning white, anthemum - flower and vulgare - common)  and they are as happy in a herbaceous border as they are living rough in more natural environments. Being a native perennial, they attract a wide range of butterflies, bees and other insects. They have no way of spreading by runners or other vegetative means, so are reliant on seed regeneration. This means that other more dominant species will have to be controlled if you want to create a meadow with them, so that the seeds are allowed free, uncontested germination. How to do this is outlined in the link above. Richard Mabey, in 'Food for Free', lists their leaf crowns as suitable for use in salads, so that they are useful as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

Dragonfly laying eggs

      In a recent trip to a local park I was attracted to the antics of dragonflies and damselflies as they carried out their mating rites. The male has a pair of pincers at the end of his body and he uses these to grasp a female round the neck while she bends her body round to make contact with the point at which the male inserts his sperm. Stand stock still if you see this happening and listen carefully. You'll hear him, in best Morcambe and Wise tradition, muttering "gerrout of that".

      When mating is completed, the male often retains his grasp on his partner until she eventually lowers her ovipositer under the water and lays eggs on a suitable plant. Apparently the reason he keeps hold is that he doesn't want his sperm rendered useless in the event of  some other amorous male grabbing her before she's laid her eggs. The last one in is the one that counts. Women's lib doesn't seem to have made much headway in the world of dragonflies.

      People get a bit confused about the difference between dragonflies and damselflies and from what I can make out the answer is 'not much'. Dragonflies land with their wings open and damselflies land with them closed. Another thing is that a dragonfly's eyes touch, whereas there is a clear distance between those of the damselfly.

      Although we tend to think of the winged dragonfly as representing the main part of its life story, this is far from the truth. The nymphs which emerge from the egg can live for up to five years under water (dependent on species), fiercely predating on tadpoles, small fish and other pond life. They then emerge and burst into full winged glory, live about a month, then die. As the adult, they hunt mosquitoes and other insects, sometimes as large as butterflies, and are the fastest flying insect, reaching speeds above 40 mph. They can also fly backwards.

      Just thought you'd like to know.



No comments:

Post a Comment