Root: noun; ‘The part of a plant which attaches it to the ground or to a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant via numerous branches and fibres.’ (Oxford Dictionary).
Feather: Noun; any of the flat appendages growing from a bird’s skin and forming its plumage, consisting of a partly hollow horny shaft fringed with vanes of barbs (Oxford Dictionary).
I often come across discarded feathers when I’m out walking and try to guess which birds they’ve come from, though, unless they’re very distinctively patterned, that can be virtually impossible. Sometimes the feather just has to come home with me … like these three below. I think the bottom one’s probably from a Pheasant – not sure about the other two.
Cocoon: Noun; A silky case spun by the larvae of many insects for protection as pupae (Oxford Dictionary).
The cocoons in my photos are those of Burnet moths, both 5-spot (below left) and 6-spot (below right): you can’t tell the difference in the cocoons from the outside – I just know which moths were present in the locations where I took my photos.
After hatching from their eggs, the caterpillars/larvae of both moths feed on plants from the pea family; the 6-spot burnet is particularly partial to Common bird’s-foot trefoil, which is why I see a lot of these moths at Cosmeston.
When they’re ready to pupate, the caterpillars find themselves a suitable location, often high up on a sturdy grass stem (though I have seen them on other plants), and spin an oval-shaped cocoon. The cocoons pictured above are still occupied by caterpillars in the throes of metamorphosing into moths, a process which takes about two weeks.
These are the empty cocoons that remain once the adult moths have emerged (with the remains of the larvae’s pupae cases poking out the tops). The cocoons are quite sturdy: their yellowish-white papery structures often seem to last for a month or more after the adults have departed or even until the grasses themselves collapse with the coming of the wild winds and chilly days of autumn.
Fasciated: Adjective; (Botany) Showing abnormal fusion of parts or organs, resulting in a flattened ribbon-like structure (Oxford Dictionary).
The thistle in my photo is an example; instead of developing in the circular shape that is usual for this plant, the flower has, for some unknown reason, become distorted into a flattened and elongated, almost oblong shape.
Mnemonic: Noun; a system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something; from the Greek mnēmonikos, from mnēmōn, meaning ‘mindful’ (Oxford Dictionary).
I’ve found mnemonics particularly useful when trying to remember bird songs. Apart from the very obvious sounds, where the bird is, in fact, named for its song – I’m thinking here of the Chiffchaff and the Kittiwake – there are also some well-known phrases that many birders know, like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheeeeese’ for the song of the Yellowhammer, ‘chissick’ for the Pied wagtail, and ‘teacher, teacher’ for the Great tit. Do you have any bird song mnemonics you can share?
Ornithomancy: Noun; rarely used; divination by means of the flight and cries of birds; augury. From Byzantine Greek ὀρνιθομαντεία divination from birds, augury from ancient Greek ὀρνιθο- + μαντεία (Oxford Dictionary).
I predict that the person who eats fish and chips at the seaside will be attacked by gulls and is likely also to get pooped upon!
Binomial: noun; a two-part name, especially the Latin name of a species of living organism (consisting of the genus followed by the specific epithet) (Oxford Dictionary). I have just finished reading John Wright’s book about binomials, The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names (Bloomsbury, 2014), and it’s surprisingly entertaining. I’m not going to start doing book reviews on here but I thought I’d just share a tiny sample of the weird and wonderful binomials John writes about and, if that tempts you to read the book, then all well and good.
Senecio squalidus (Oxford ragwort) translates as ‘dirty old man’ and Primula vulgaris (Primrose) is ‘first common girl’. There are names derived from fiction: Yoda purpurata, a genus of deep-sea acorn worms, is so named because the large lips on the sides of its head are reminiscent of Yoda’s ears; and, under the influence of the Harry Potter books, a dragon-like dinosaur is named Dracorex hogwartsia, dragon king of Hogwarts. There’s a midge named after a rock band: Dicrotendipes thanatogratus translates to Grateful Dead; and a land snail named after Australian zookeeper and conservationist Steven Irwin: Crikey steveirwini. There are carabid beetles named Agra vate and Agra vation (say them out loud), and there’s a horsefly with ‘a perfectly round and golden rear end’ called Scaptia beyonceae. Enough … check out the book for more.
Phototaxis: noun; biology; the bodily movement of a motile organism in response to light, either towards the source of light (positive phototaxis) or away from it (negative phototaxis) (Oxford Dictionary).
I hadn’t realised that some creatures suffer from negative phototaxis but, apparently, cockroaches are repelled by light – I thought they were just scurrying away from the humans who want to kill them. The example of positive phototaxis (i.e. an attraction to a light source) that immediately springs to mind is the moth – I’m sure we’ve all noticed them fluttering around a bright light at night – though there are many other examples. One of these is the insect in my photos: it’s one of the large family of non-biting midges (Chironomidae species). I found perhaps 30 of them on a wall near a street light recently.
Aposematism: noun; from the Greek ἀπό apo meaning ‘away’ and σῆμα sema meaning ‘sign’; a term developed in the 19th century, reputedly by Edward Bagnall Poulton (a British evolutionary biologist), for the bright colorations or conspicuous markings that creatures use to warn or repel predators. Typical examples are things like bright yellow frogs or orange-and-black-striped caterpillars, whose colours serve as a warning to potential predators that they taste bad or might even be poisonous, and, butterflies, like the Peacock shown here, with big bold eye-type markings that make them look larger than they really are.