Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ants (Formica rufa) gathering sunshine

I was in Broadwater Forest, just south of Tunbridge Wells (and just in East Sussex) on a beautiful spring-like day earlier this week. One very striking feature was the huge wood ants (Formica rufa) nests that are common along most of the rides.

The warm sunshine had brought the ants out into the open but, instead of running allover the nest and everywhere else as they usually do, they were clustered tightly together in dark patches around the nest entrances. As they were not engaged in any food gathering activity, it would seem this behaviour was simply to warm themselves up before going back into the dark. Maybe they take a little heat indoors with them; maybe, like some humans, they enjoy sunbathing; or maybe they are unaware that the sunlight if February is likely to be of short duration.

John Pontin in his excellent book The Ants of Surrey (2005) says the insulation provided by the nests "retains the metabolic heat of the ants' activity", so perhaps they are gathering sunshine.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)

Walking up Battle Road in Hastings the other day I came across a brick wall with many ferns in the mortar. There was the one above, maidenhair spleenwort, as well as hart's-tongue and black spleenwort.

Ferns like this are not all that common in walls beside busy roads in urban areas and I suspect there is something very fern-friendly in the mortar of this particular wall. Often it is that the cement is lime mortar rather than modern cement, but this wall does not really look old enough.

Anyway, long may they flourish.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Two galls (Andricus aries and A. lignicola)

Today I found two galls, the cola nut gall (Andricus lignicola) and the ram's horn gall (Andricus aries) on the same oak twig on the Pestalozzi Estate here in Sedlescombe. The ram's horn gall (fairly obviously) is the upper one.

The ram's horn
was first recorded in Britain from Parliament Hill, London in 1998 and has since been seen in Kent, Surrey, Essex and Berkshire, so it appears to be spreading rapidly. It was first found in Sussex (so far as I know) in 2001. Elsewhere it occurs in mainland Europe, but does not seem all that common.