Archive for March, 2018

Meanwhile back on the Ranch

March 27, 2018

Seth has helped me identify our very common millipede in the garden as Tachypodoiulus niger, known as the white-legged snake millipede or, more boringly, the black millipede.

Tachypodoiulus niger

A crane fly that seems to have emerged very early may be Tipula subnodicornis but it will need to be examined more closely in due course. Unfortunately it is a female which will not make identification any easier. Later: Turns out to be Tipula rufina.


Tipula rufina

Despite having put the moth trap out several times the haul has been limited to these three species so far:

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No doubt that is about to change.

The Plant-hunting Season Begins

March 27, 2018

Records are beginning to arrive

  • Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage) in flower at sea level on 18th (Roger).
  • Huperzia selago (Fir Clubmoss) in a bog in a new tetrad (Seth).
  • Pinguicula lusitanica (Pale Butterwort) – only the second record earlier than June in VC104 – and only the 9th March record on the BSBI database for all of Britain & Ireland (Seth).
  • Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson’s Filmy-fern) and a second site for Erica vagans (Cornish Heath) at Kinloch (Ro and Roger). This is interesting as it was not thought to spread this far north and the first plant could easily have been planted but the second in nearby woodland looks like naturalisation.
Wilson's FF - Kinloch - NG70950 15573 - 260318

Hymenophyllum wilsonii at Kinloch       Image R. Cottis

and they also found a female adder basking:

Female Adder Kinloch - 260318 - 1

Adder at Kinloch              Image R. Cottis

Next Friday, I have been tempted out by Seth – report in due course……

Fungi on Plants

March 25, 2018

I noticed leaf spots on cyclamen in the garden which Bruce tells me are caused by Septoria cyclaminis:

Septoria cyclaminis on Cyclamen

Septoria cyclaminis on Cyclamen hederifolium

and yesterday Murdo told me he was finding small black fruiting bodies on dead Narthecium ossifragum (Bog Asphodel). A quick look today confirmed that they all seem to have them:

narth ossi fungus

There are at least four fungi recorded as growing on this plant in the Hebrides, so I shall await Bruce’s verdict on this one. Later: Bruce says it “appears to be Microdiplodia narthecii.  I have not noticed it myself but I expect that it is widespread.  There are several records from further south a century ago.”

Musings on Mycoheterotrophs

March 13, 2018

The recent rediscovery of a plant called Thismia neptunis (Fairy Lanterns) in western Sarawak, 151 years after its only previous record ( leads me to blog about “mycoheterotrophs”.

Thismia neptunis

Thismia neptunis            Image from M Sochor et al.

These are plants like T. neptunis that parasitise fungi and generally have no or very little chlorophyll and therefore cannot make their own food. Until quite recently these plants were commonly called saprophytes – though there was never any experimental evidence to support the myth that these plants derive their carbon directly from decaying plant material. Even the New Atlas of the British Flora (Preston et al., 2002) describes the four higher-plant species of mycoheterotroph in the UK (Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s-nest Orchid), Corallorhiza trifida (Coralroot Orchid), Epipogium aphyllum (Ghost Orchid) and Hypopitys monotropa (Yellow Bird’s-nest)) as ‘saprophytic perennial herbs of leaf litter’.

Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s-nest Orchid) is recorded from Skye and Raasay in a few locations – seen here near Fiskavaig in 2009:

Neot nid Skye 2009 2

The mycoheterotrophs comprise over 400 plant species in 87 genera that are parasitic upon fungi, and exploit them as their principle source of carbon. In addition, there are estimated to be over 30,000 species, comprising approximately 10% of the plant kingdom, that depend upon mycoheterotrophy for establishment from dust seeds or spores. (Jonathan R. Leake, Mycologist, Volume 19, Part 3 August 2005 p113-122.)

So ….. never call a vascular plant a saprophyte!

A Mixed Bag

March 11, 2018

It is still a bit early for much botany but here are a few other items. This noctuid moth larva was in the greenhouse. They are difficult and I didn’t get a photo of the key bits. By the time I went back for another go, it had gone.

moth larva 180307 (2)

Possible Barred Chestnut Larva

A curious, perhaps exotic piece of tree that arrived on the shore:


or perhaps just strangely weathered.  Nearby was this fossil showing a small scallop-like impression on top of the ammonite:


Fossils on the shore

The Shore

March 4, 2018

Yesterday Skye Nature Group went to Broadford Bay at low tide. We found lots of nice things such as the following – thanks to Seth Gibson for the images (see his blog of the event here):

and the Eelgrass (Zostera marina) was looking good:

Zostera marina LR

So today I went to Eyre on Raasay at low water to see if I could find the source of Zostera wash-ups there. I found a nice piece with root (apologies for image quality):


Unfortunately, it was not attached to the substrate. Today the tide was not as low as yesterday and there was quite a strong onshore wind driving the tide higher and making waves that beat wellies. I suspect that if I had gone yesterday and been able to wade a bit further out I would have found the source.

Anyway there were other things like several seven-armed starfish (Luidia ciliaris), something we didn’t see yesterday:

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March 4, 2018

My contribution to the March edition of the Raasay Newsletter concerns bluebells and is available via a link here.