A Sealed Coffin – Eleven Spiders – One Egg!

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Nature is fascinating and beautiful, but can sometimes also seem terrifyingly cruel. I love nature programs, and I realize all creatures have to eat, but I really cannot stand watching a crocodile dragging down a thrashing wildebeest, or a hawk dropping on a rabbit. Killing in nature is necessary for creatures to survive, but sometimes some of their methods make me shudder.

Just imagine for a minute how it would feel to be captured, injected with a paralysing drug, and then dragged off and sealed up in a coffin. With you in the coffin are ten of your mates, all similarly paralysed. And lying next to you in the dark is an egg. It is the egg of a predator ominously waiting to hatch. When it does, you, alive and helpless will be its first meal. This is the story of the wasp and the spider – actually twelve spiders (baby wasps obviously have a big appetite).

A while ago there was a serious buzzing coming from somewhere at the back of one of the kitchen shelves where I keep various small jars and a few old wooden egg cups. I thought a fly was trapped and when I poked around at the jars something flew out in fast and furious style. Assuming it was gone for good I forgot about it, but later in the day the buzzing was there again in the exact same place. I examined the shelf contents and found a little pod attached to the base of one of the wooden egg cups. It was about an inch long, completely sealed, and appeared to be made from a sort of hard sandy material. Unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph this one.

I’ve seen pods like this before and I knew it was something to do with a wasp, but all the ones I’ve seen before have been opened and empty. Curious, I took it outside and broke it open. This was what was inside:

On the Inside

On the Inside 2

There were no less than eleven little spiders, and one small white wasp egg. I think the spiders were all the same type – tiny jumping spiders. I left them in the garden but sadly I expect they all died anyway. I then cleaned up the egg cup and returned it to the shelf. The next day I couldn’t believe it, Mrs Wasp was back beavering away in the back of the shelf sounding like a pneumatic drill. Cheeky sod! Prepared with my trusty flour sieve I flushed her out and caught her and popped her in a jar. It’s very difficult photographing a frenetic wasp in a jam jar so please excuse the poor shot.

Wasp

After her photo shoot I let her go with strict instructions to take her nasty egg-laying habit somewhere else, and not to come back. When I pulled out the egg cups I found that she’d already constructed a new pod, but this one was not completely sealed.

 

 

 

 

Coffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffin 2

 

 

When I broke the pod open just one little spider fell out and there in the shell was a new egg. I assume that Mrs Wasp must hunt down her victims one by one and reopen and then re-seal the pod each time. When she’s supplied her egg with enough bodies she makes a full seal and flies away.

Second Attempt

Poor little spiders! But is this type of death any worse than ending up in a spider’s sticky web and thrashing around until Mrs Spider tears over, injects you with her paralysis venom, wraps you swiftly into a neat parcel and hangs you in her larder until she’s ready for dinner? There is a saying us humans use: ‘What comes around goes around’, I’m wondering if it doesn’t sometimes apply to nature? In my next life I definitely want to come back as a squirrel!

 

 

 

Been Offline

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There are definitely fors and againsts to living in rural France. A week ago last Saturday a sudden summer storm presented us with the biggest clap of thunder and flash of lightning that I’ve ever heard and seen. At the same moment the phone made a loud ‘PING’ and that was that, phone and email down for a week while we sorted out a new modem router. It’s a bit of a strange feeling being completely incommunicado, except for a mobile phone that only works if you walk up the hill behind the house.

Being offline has meant no WordPressing, so apologies to all those whose blogs I follow. When I looked at my list of emails this morning the prospect of trying to view the multitude of new posts was just too daunting. So I’m starting afresh as of today. Thanks to all of you for any ‘likes’ that you’ve left for me. I have managed to reply to comments.

One positive to being computerless for a week was that the house looks considerably cleaner! I spring – (summer?) cleaned the kitchen and caught up with loads of jobs that had been gathering dust. 

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The Things You Read in the News!

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It does make you wonder about some of the scientific experiments undertaken these days. How will mankind benefit in the future from this one?!

BBC News 5 Days ago:

 

Russia loses control of gecko sex experiment satellite

 

A Russian satellite containing geckos, fruit flies and mushrooms could plummet to earth if control is not regained, according to reports.

The engine of the Foton-M4 satellite, with several experiments on board, has stopped responding to ground control.

All other systems are intact, the Progress space centre stated, including “one-way” transmission of information.

The five geckos are in space for a study of the effect of weightlessness on their sex lives and development.

The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said the six tonne satellite could continue to operate on its own “for a long time”.


The two-month experiment involving the geckos included video-cameras and was a “study of the effect of microgravity on sexual behaviour, the body of adult animals and embryonic development” according to the IMBP website.

The lizard sex investigation was among several planned experiments, including other biological studies of plant seeds and Drosophila fruit flies.

 

I laughed so hard I nearly choked on my morning tea when I read this, and then of course followed various pictures in my mind of geckos trying to mate in weightlessness! This was the result!

 

Weightlessness and sex didn't work very well especially after consuming large quantities of mushrooms and fruit flies!

Weightlessness and sex didn’t work very well especially after consuming large quantities of mushrooms and fruit flies!

Very good news on the BBC this morning however. The Russians are back in control of the satellite! 

And the geckos are mighty relieved – but they said they’re sick to death of fruit flies!

 

 

 

 

The Wood Mouse

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Apodemus sylvaticus

(sometimes known as the long-tailed field mouse)

I hadn’t met a wood mouse until we came to live in France ten years ago. Their natural habitat is to live in burrows, and we live isolated on a wooded hillside where there is oodles of natural burrowing opportunity and a wonderful supply of berries, seeds, acorns, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts. Early on in that first winter we started to put out sunflower seeds on the window-ledge for the birds – blue-tits, great-tits, black-caps, nuthatches and more, and it was at dusk one evening when I noticed another visitor dashing back and forth to the seed tray. The wood-mouse!

A couple of years ago my hubby made this little video of ‘Mr Mousicles’  “Click Here”

I’ve been a great mouse-lover all my life, starting as a kid on the farm when I had pet mice. The discovery of a mouse on the widow-ledge caused immediate interest, especially when I realised it wasn’t a house-mouse. It was so pretty with its big ears and eyes, brilliant white chest and light-tan fur. He started to visit regularly and I looked out for him every evening.

A few years back we seemed to have a bit of a population explosion and the seed tray became extremely busy, not only with adult mice but babies came along too. Being so close it was easy to get some reasonable photographs. I just needed to keep the window clean.

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At this time we were also doing a lot of flying in our flex-wing microlight (ultralight in the U.S and ULM in France), and in the hangar we also encountered a wood-mouse who seemed incredibly laid-back and unperturbed by our presence. It gave me the idea for a story and ‘The Mouse and the Microlight’ was born. I had brilliant fun creating illustrations using a combination of photographs (of the window-ledge mice) and digital painting, using GIMP (my free image manipulation program).

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Dandelion

mousehole 640

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The Mouse and the Microlight developed into a many chaptered story about a mouse called Formidable who came to love flying. It was easy to combine aerial photos with mouse photos for those parts of the story.

Fearless e

Formid and Five

I ended up writing the story as a blog and putting up a chapter every week or two ( it can be found under Blogroll on the side-bar), and soon after a second story happened called ‘When the Hangar Came Down’. If you wanted to have a peek at the very beginning then go to Archives February 2011. I’m thinking seriously of making both stories into an e-book this winter.

A favourite pic from the story

A favourite pic from the story

 

I’d love your thoughts!

Lost in Space: Create a Space Scene in GIMP

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I recently entered a competition put up by GIMP (the free photo-editing software equivalent to Photoshop). I started using and learning GIMP a few years ago, it’s great fun for anyone who wants to be creative with graphics or photography. In this recent competition we had to create a space scene using paints, photos, or a mixture of both. I used some of my aerial photography combined with some biking pics and added stars etc with paint. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which one do you prefer?

First submission:

Spacebiker

Spacebiker

(click picture to enlarge)

 

 

Second Submission:

 

The Sunday ride-out went a bit off-course!

The Sunday ride-out went a bit off-course!

(click to enlarge)

 

9th Anniversary Poem

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The Anniversary Gift

On the fourteenth day of May (tomorrow)
We celebrate our special day
Special both for him and me
It is our anni-ver-sary.

I scoured Google, trying to find
What gift you have for year nine
And there it was upon the list
A present that should not be missed

Pottery is year nine
Isn’t that just so divine!
No, well actually it’s not
I just don’t want another pot.

I don’t want crystal, lace or feathers
Diamonds, jade, or fancy leather,
Don’t want jewels, or wool, or wood
Linen, silk, or tin’s no good

You get some bronze for year eight
But bronze is something I would hate
Six is sugar, very sickly
Down the list I move right quickly

Flowers
Cotton
Wax
And fur!
NO! I want a silencer!
Carbon-fibre, nice and sporty
Even if I’m over forty (and the rest)

On the bike with visor down
Making noise right through the town
Throaty rumble, mighty roar
Now that’s the gift I’m dying for!

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Our tendency to blame

Originally posted on Mindfulbalance :

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When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Feeling Sluggish?

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They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is definitely true. And isn’t it a good thing because otherwise us girls would all fancy the same guy and there would be a big problem. Beauty also comes in a world of different forms; nature, art, the physical body, dance, music, people, and of course inner beauty as well. But what about the humble slug? He is currently the bane of my husband’s life, regularly finding himself on the end of a trowel being catapulted into the woods. All he wanted was a nibble on the young tomato plants!
Yesterday I was called to the garden: ‘You should see the size of this one!’ Wow, says me, he’s a beauty! Let me get my camera! Grimace from hubby as trowel-relocating ejection systems were temporarily put on hold. Minutes later I was back with the camera in macro mode. Macro is just another world. There is so much going on and so much beauty in the minute detail of nature; so much that we never see, which fascinates me. Getting up-close to Mr Slug was a real treat. He’s a leopard slug, a really gorgeous gastropod. The macro shots clearly show his amazing ‘optic tentacles’ with eyes at their tips, his two shorter ‘sensory tentacles’, and his ‘respiratory pore’ (pneumostome) which he breathes through. Here he is, the beautiful Mr Slippery himself!

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I’m going to post a few more photos on my photo blog if you’re interested: https://judesphotography.wordpress.com/    (click picture to enlarge)

The Things You Find in a Stream!

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We had a wander beside the stream the other day which flows through fields below our house. I was hoping to see a little fish or a frog maybe, but no such luck, they must have all been hiding. We came to a shallow area where the water ran over silty mud into a little pool. Old willow branches had fallen in, and in the shade I noticed a glimmer; something reflecting the light. Of course I had to get a stick and give it a poke, and we could see that it was a small cylindrical object. It looked about the size and shape of a shotgun cartridge, but when I rolled it out onto the bank it turned out to be a little glass bottle, probably quite old. After we’d taken it home and cleaned it up we were able to read the embossed letters on the side: GRAINS DE VALS.

Grains de Vals 2

My French has never been up to much even though we’ve lived here for ten years, so we Googled it, as you do, and lo and behold found out that it was a medicine bottle, probably going back to the fifties, and GRAINS DE VALS are pills for constipation. They contain senna and are still sold today. Along with the information I also discovered some hilarious little You-tube videos that show you how well these devilish little pills work!

In this one called ‘The Past. The Present and the Future’    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nKgMVP9qIw   a man goes to a fortune teller. In case you don’t speak French the conversation goes something like this:

Fortune teller: ‘I see sadness, black moods, and melancholy. At the same moment you suffer. Your stomach and your liver work badly. But tomorrow you find health and exuberance!

Man: ‘Oh it is impossible!’

Fortune teller: ‘It’s because you are going to swear to take one tablet every evening before your meal.’

One month after: health and gaiety go together!

Man: ‘The fortune teller was right – Grains de Vals regularizing my functions returned me to health and happiness!’

So there you are, if you’re feeling sluggish go and get some Grains de Vals – but be sure to see your local fortune teller first just to make sure! 

 

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