Meanwood Valley bioblitz's Journal

Journal archives for February 2023

01 February, 2023

Species Of The Week Number 19: Common Earthworm

When I was 6 I actually had an earthworm called Phillip, I kept him in a matchbox. I now know this was a mistake.

Earthworms' bodies are long tubes made up of ring-like segments called annuli which are covered in little hairs which the worm uses to move and burrow. You may notice a thicker lumpy bit in the middle of the adult worm's body. This is not scar tissue where the worm has been cut in half - but a thing called a clitellum where it stores its eggs.

All adult worms have a clitellum because they are hermaphrodite - ie they are both male and female (I told you it was a mistake to call my worm Phillip, I misgendered it). The clitellum is always nearer the head than the tail - which is handy as its otherwise hard to tell which end to talk to.

Earthworms are all heart. In fact they have 5 hearts. They also have light sensitive cells but no eyes.

Charles Darwin spent thirty years studying earthworms and wrote a book about them. He said "There are few animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world than the earthworm." This is because they break down organic matter, and give structure to soil so it drains better.

How many earthworms are there in the Meanwood Valley? Well. The lowest general estimate I can find is 250,000 per acre. I guess there are maybe 100 acres of undeveloped land in the footprint of the Meanwood Valley Bioblitz? So there could be at least 2.5 million here.

I miss 'Phillip'.

Posted on 01 February, 2023 16:15 by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

08 February, 2023

Species Of The Week Number 20: Common Snowdrop

Bringing a little bit of joy to Meanwood Valley in February is the Common Snowdrop or, to use its old Yorkshire name, the Snow Piercer. You cant miss these lovely patches of white reminding us that soon Winter will be on its way and Spring will come.

But there is more to our little Snowdrop than meets the eye.

A native plant in mainland Europe, it was brought to England a few centuries ago. It has now naturalised and can be found on verges, woodland and in gardens.

There are also over 2,500 cultivated species of Snowdrop but despite that proliferation it only ever comes in one colour - white*. Snowdrop fans are called Galanthophiles and if they get over excited at a Snowdrop festival it could even be described as a case of Galathomania.

It is illegal to collect the bulbs in the wild as they’re covered by CITES regulations – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. If you do happen to get your hands on the variety known as Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Tear’ then don't let it go - because in 2022 one sold on Ebay for £1,850. See - that's Galanthomania right there.

Not just aesthetically pleasing, the Snowdrop also has practical uses. The flowers can be used in salads (but not the leaves or bulbs which are toxic).

The plant contains galantamine which can be used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) galantamine is a "reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase and it also has nicotinic receptor agonist properties". Which just goes to show how much they know.

But my favourite Snowdrop fact is that when the temperature reaches 10°C the outer petals open up to reveal the nectar inside. 10°C is also the exact temperature at which bumble bees come out of hibernation. So which came first - the chicken or the egg?

*actually some have green bits on the petals.

Posted on 08 February, 2023 17:10 by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

12 February, 2023

Species Of The Week Number 21: Alpaca

This week we're deviating from our usual wild flora and fauna to highlight one of the more prominent mammals you can see along the Meanwood Valley: the alpacas at @meanwoodfarm

As you enter the farm through the main entrance or cycle path, the alpacas are usually the first animals you will see.

Alpacas are part of the camelid family which also includes camels and llamas.

In South America, there are 2 wild species of camelid: the guanaco, from which the llama descends, and the vicuña, from which the alpaca descends. Both of these species live at high altitudes.

Alpacas were originally domesticated in Peru for their meat and for their fleece and to this day, the vast majority of the world's alpacas are found there.

Around 90% of alpacas worldwide - including the Meanwood boys - are of the Huacaya breed, which has soft and fluffy fibre. The other 10% are Suri, which has long, straight fibre.

They feed on pasture grass as well as hay and they have no teeth in the top front area of their mouths!

Alpacas are commonly confused with llamas, who are much larger, with coarser hair (considered less desirable) and more elongated faces. Due to their larger size they are more often used as pack animals. Alpacas tend to be a bit more timid and gentle than llamas too.

The @meanwoodfarm alpacas are called Eric and Bertie, Eric being the smaller and Bertie the larger one.

If you visit this half term, there's an alpaca-themed self-guided trail for families that you can take part in!

Posted on 12 February, 2023 21:35 by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment

22 February, 2023

Species Of The Week Number22: Tawny Owl

Who doesn't love an owl? We share Meanwood Valley with these stunning nocturnal hunters and if you are out at night near the woods you have a decent chance of seeing, or more likely hearing, one.

In terms of hearing them, I'm sorry to disappoint but owls don't go 'Twit-twoo'. A male Tawny Owl has quite a deep 'whoo' and the female's call is a sharp 'kee-wick'. None of the other resident owls in the UK (Barn, Little, Short-eared and Long-eared) go 'Twit-twoo' either. Also, they can't turn their heads 360° - its another myth. They can manage 270° though, which is still quite impressive.

One local owl was quite a Meanwood celebrity as it regularly used a daytime roost which was easily visible (once you knew where to look) from one of the well-used paths in the Ridge. I've not seen it there recently though.

Tawny Owls lay 1-3 eggs a few days apart. This means that the oldest one will get most food and, in years when food is in short supply, at least one will survive.

Although their eyesight is not much better than ours, Tawny Owls have incredible hearing and their ears are placed asymetrically on their head which allows them to pinpoint their prey exactly, and drop down on it from a perch above. Rain therefore prevents them from hunting as the noise of the raindrops messes with the soundscape.

A Tawny Owl is never happier than when swallowing a small mammal, although they have quite a sophisticated palate and also sometimes dine out on bats, moths and lizards. By inspecting owl pellets we also know that their diet can extend to fish and even a mallard. I'm not sure which small mammals our Tawny's eat but am hoping to find out - as the good people from the Yorkshire Mammal Group are going to help us out with surveying and trapping them later in the year. If you want to volunteer to help out with the mammal survey let me know.

Posted on 22 February, 2023 23:16 by clunym clunym | 0 comments | Leave a comment