Sunday, 20 November 2011


Timing is very critical for our wildlife. Leaf miners need leaves which contain enough fresh green matter to keep them fed until they mature, so they can only exist in summer. Flowers need flying pollinators to transfer pollen from one plant to the next. Birds need caterpillars to feed their young. Sawflies need fresh leaves for their larvae to feed on. Frogs need warm water for their tadpoles to develop. Parasites need their target species to be present before they can be parasitised. All species need their pre-requisites to be in place in order to feed/pupate/hibernate/survive.

Some of these timings are pretty relaxed. For example a bird can find larvae of suitable species for all of the breeding season, which might be all of 6 months long. But other timings are much more critical. If you consider that many mushrooms exist for only a few days, then any dependant larvae must grow from egg to maturity in that same short timeframe. Taking that further, any parasite that needs the larva to be present must also be around during those few short days: their opportunity to parasitise might be as short as 2 or 3 days in a year. Synchronisation is crucial.

When I was considering all of this, I noticed a specimen of Lawyers Wig - Coprinus comatus - on my lawn. I know that these tend to last perhaps 48 hours at a maximum, so I thought I would try to capture the life and death of this specimen over time.

I set up a platform for the camera and took shots every 2 hours. Sadly, the days are very short now, so I didn't get as many shots as I wanted. I should also point out that lying in very wet grass for even short periods is not a pleasant experience.

This is the shot at 11am:

By 2 pm. things had moved on a little:

And by 4 pm the light was fading and I got this shot:

Next morning only the stipe (stem) was left.

The Coprinus family of fungi reproduce by liquidising the spore-bearing gills, dropping the spores very locally (and very quickly). This is a double-edged sword: the spores don't get distributed very far, but there is also very little time for a hungry larva to consume any of the spores.

Timing is again of interest in this shot of the December Moth:

December Moth
I took this shot on 16th November, which is two weeks before December. It is well documented that this moth now appears from late October until January, but it must have originally been named December Moth for a good reason: it appeared in December. Phenology (the study of timings of appearances of species) shows that species are appearing at times which vary from the recordings when the species were named 2 or 3 hundred years ago. This applies mostly to plants and insects, but bird migrations are also changing. This variation in species timings is one of the reasons that global warming was detected: it might not tell us why we're warming up, but it certainly confirms that it's happening.


Toffeeapple said...

I have learned two new things from you today, the Lawyer's Wig and the December Moth. I do like it when that happens, thank you.

Greener Greyhounds said...

Fascinating blog, so informative and the photo's are stunning. Will definitely continue to follow, keep up the great work and thanks