Category Archives: Nature Notes

Impressive summer insects on the wing

There are many impressive flying insects on the wing during the summer months. Some due to their colours or intricate design and others are just large.

In this last category fall the Carpenter bee, the Hornet, the thread wasted and the Mammoth wasps.

Many people flap their arm in fear at these airborne creatures whereas standing still and observing them may be better practice, they are generally docile and quite attractive if viewed calmly. (Unless you are poking the hornets nest of course!)

The first Hornet activity this year out in the garden was in early spring. Several were actively hunting for bees which I would presume to be the newly hatched queens as all but the breeding hornets are vegetarian. They flew around the almond trees with heavily scented blossom and plucked honey bees out of the air.

They took the fresh prey to a nearby branch (gory bit – dissected and dropped the head) and devoured their meal. Hornets create a new hive each year from scratch, starting with a single queen.

Just click the Insect image title to read more about each insect over at the Grazalema Guide website.


Carpenter bees

Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la maderaCarpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la madera
Do not be alarmed by their size of up to 23mm, they are not aggressive and will simply go about their business of collecting nectar from flowers

imagine a bumble bee, double its size, paint it jet black in your mind’s eye and give it iridescent blue / violet wings. They are large, noisy, weigh down flowers with their bulk but can deftly avoid humans with their lumbered flight. If they enter the house it is usually to search for a suitable nest hole. They are solitary creatures and gained their common name due to their ability to make nest holes in dead would. Although they can do this they take the easier option of ready made holes in wood, metal, brick etc whenever possible.


The Mammoth wasp

Mammoth Wasp – (Megascolia (Regiscolia / maculata flavifrons) – Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.

A long black insect with two yellow stripes on the abdomen and a yellow face if female. This has a complicated lifecycle as the Mammoth wasp parasitizes a beetle larva. At the moment there are 6 or more flying around each large rotten tree stump in the garden. They all seem to be males and are probably waiting for the females to emerge. Later in the summer, when they have settled down they are much easier to observe feeding off flowers, with alliums being a favourite.


Thread-waisted wasp

Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)
Sceliphron spirifex are solitary wasps and are not aggressive, they do not sting unless mishandled. The sexes look very similar with the female being larger and with a visible sting.

Wasp like with yellow / black colours these creatures are also people friendly. They search out shaded, protected places to create their mud nests and the back of a picture frame seems an ideal choice. They carefully roll up a tiny ball of mud outside, fly with it into the house, deposit it, shape it and return with more tirelessly throughout the day. They produce a hollow tube and next to this they make another and another fanning the wet mud with their wings to assist the drying process.


Bees and wasps may receive bad press and cause unnecessary concern to many, especially as some of the species of Iberia can be rather large.

Hornets

Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.
Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.

Hornets were once common throughout Europe but are suffering decline due to the misconception that such a large wasp type creature would have a very dangerous sting. The fact is, they are no worse than a normal wasp sting, will again avoid human closeness and they have a fascinating life cycle.


We must not forget that this group are important pollinators of our crops. Also some wasps feed on caterpillars that may otherwise be a garden pest and flies do a necessary job of clearing up decaying matter.

Altogether they aid the biodiversity that is delicately balanced to a level beyond our perception.


The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/

Cutting wild flowers in Spain

Lets start by saying that Cutting wild flowers in Spain is illegal. Not only illegal, it is selfish and a very stupid thing to do.

Such a shame that a beautiful giant orchid that my children have been watching grow with fascination over the last few weeks has been cut and removed by someone who presumably wanted a “pretty flower” in a vase on their kitchen table. Sigh!

Just don’t do it people!

Read more about the Giant orchid and other orchids in Spain here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/orchids-in-spain/

Gian orchid in Spain
The Giant orchid flowers as early as January in Spain. This is the before picture.
Giant orchid with cut flower spike
The same giant orchid with the flower removed

If we could just fix the small ignorant and selfish things like cutting wild flowers in Spain that the human race does then imagine what the bigger picture would look like?


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

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Dangers of Pine Processionary Caterpillars

When in Spain many people may wonder about scorpions, spiders and venomous snakes and will not be aware that they are much more likely to endanger themselves and their pets by getting too close to an innocent looking line of caterpillars that can be found crossing a pavement, road or footpath during the first months of each year.

Here are a few dangers of Pine Processionary Caterpillars

The pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) will, during late winter/early spring, be coming out of pine trees and forming conspicuous snake-like lines. They will not be far from a pine tree, but that does not mean that you will only see them in large pine woods, they are just as likely to be found in villages and road side plantings in fact wherever pine trees are present. One of the first signs to be aware of is their white silken nests attached to a branch tip, these become most obvious around December to March. (These caterpillars are known as ‘procesionaria del pino’ in Spanish) Continue reading Dangers of Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Painting one turbine blade black reduces bird fatalities by 72%, says study

Sometimes the simplest solution is the most efficient!

Fascinating to hear that scientists in Norway have found that painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black reduces avian deaths by 72%.

In the paper, the scientists explain why birds are susceptible to flying into rotating turbine blades and why a single black blade helps them to perceive the rotor as an obstacle.

“Relative to humans, birds have a narrow binocular [eg, using both eyes to focus on one object] frontal field of view and likely use their monocular [using each eye independently] and high‐resolution lateral fields of view [ie, having eyes on opposite sides of their heads] for detecting predators, conspecifics [ie, birds of the same species], and prey,” the authors write.

“Within an assumed open airspace, birds may therefore not always perceive obstructions ahead, thereby enhancing the risk of collision. To reduce collision susceptibility, provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades, enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

It is thought that birds see the rotating white blades as a “motion smear” — the blur effect humans see when waving a hand quickly in front of their eyes — and do not perceive this blur as a moving object.

Painting one blade black is believed to create motion smear patterns that the bird perceives as a moving object, “as the frontal vision in birds may be more tuned for the direction of movement”.

Read the full article at Recharge….


Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!

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Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard

  • Spanish: Culebrilla ciega del Suroeste Ibérico
  • Scientific: Blanus mariae – (Formerly Blanus cinereus)
  • English: Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard
  • French: Amphisbène de Maria
  • German: Südwestiberische Netzwühle
  • Italian: Blano cenerino
  • Portuguese: Cobra-cega

Description

The Iberian worm lizard is a reptile that has adapted to life underground and looks very like an earth worm. Variable background colour from pinkish grey, reddish brown to brown. The cylindrical body is covered with quadrangular scales forming rings. The head is small and looks little different to the body, the snout is rounded. Their vision is vestigial, the eyes being two tiny black dots beneath the skin, while its sense of smell and hearing are highly developed.

Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard
Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard a sub species

They can reach a length of 250mm (10 inches) and rarely more. When they feel threatened they move rapidly and coil around whatever obstacle they can, be it a natural stick or something artificial. If caught they will give small, but strong bites. It is not venomous.

From early research it seems the examples from the Sierra de Grazalema area belong to the new species Blanus mariae. (Formerly Blanus cinereus)

Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard
Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard – Head and scales

Specialists in digging tunnels and in locating prey underground. They live under rocks and decaying fallen trees in small galleries preferring light, moist soil which allow easy excavation. They maintain an optimal body temperature by moving within the substrate.

Their diet is based on termites, ants and their larvae, also taking spiders, worms and millipedes.

Mating occurs between March and June. Laying between 1-3 eggs which are place under ground.

IUCN Conservation Status: LC Least Concern
Distribution: South western Iberian Peninsular (The examples from the Sierra de Grazalema area belong to the new species Blanus mariae. (Formerly Blanus cinereus)


Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!

http://wildsideholidays.co.uk/

Southwest Iberian Worm LizardSouthwest Iberian Worm Lizard
Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard in a hand

August flowers in the Sierra de Grazalema

August is a golden month, as most annual flowers have finished their colourful phase, produced their seed heads and dried completely to a straw colour. Although if you look in the right places there are still flowers to be found; watercourses, irrigated areas, animal watering troughs, damp meadows and high mountains will offer the best selection. However, this is also a good month to see insects such as dragonflies, mantis and bushcrickets! Continue reading August flowers in the Sierra de Grazalema