With the world shut down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
Yesterday was my day off and I spent an hour of it lying flat on my belly waiting for Grass Snake to appear. It doesn’t look like I’ll be lounging around in the garden on belly my today. After 40-odd continuous days of sunshine our gardens are getting a much-needed watering.
On Day Five of my diary I ashamedly revealed that our garden pond had become neglected. Pendulous Sedge had grown so densely around it over the past few years that you could no longer see the pond (see the video here).
Well, since then we have done a bit of work to start restoring the pond. We couldn’t do much to the pond itself as there are animals living in it at this time of year that we don’t want to disturb – so we’ll save that task for the winter. But we've made a start at getting rid of that sedge. Now we can actually see the pond again and its been bathed in sunlight and warmth. It’s full of life – birds are bathing in it again and the sunny pond shores have attracted a sunbathing Grass Snake (see Day Twenty-nine here).
I even found this Common Frog sat on the bank two days ago. I don’t remember ever seeing a frog in the pond before.
Anyway, almost every time I walk past the pond I've glimpsed the Grass Snake wriggling away. So yesterday I lay flat on my belly with my little camera and waited in the sunshine for him to slither out of his hidey-hole so I can film him for you.
I was lying there for 40 minutes and that low-down snake never showed up.
But, while I was waiting, I was able to film this little bit of interesting animal behaviour instead. OK, it’s a bit shaky and I still can’t work out how to get the camera to focus so I’m not going to get that job as lead cameraman on David Attenborough’s next project just yet. If you don't know much about the sex lives of damselflies, you may need a little bit of background before you see it because damselfly intercourse is a bit, well, fiddly.
Around ponds competition for female damselflies is fierce. Once a male has found a female he becomes very possessive and doesn't want to let her go. Literally. At the very far end of his body his abdomen is armed with toothed claspers. He uses these to grasp the back of the female’s head where they interlock into a ridge of grooves. Now there’s no chance of her getting away or another male muscling in and stealing her.
(A male Azure Damselfly grasping a female. Photo by Roger Wilmshurst)
Now for the really awkward bit: mating. The body parts which transfer and receive the all-important sperm package are not in the same place on the male and female's body (in the male it’s underneath abdomen section 2 near while on the female its way down near the abdomen’s tip at section 8). So, these two bits have to link up. The female curls her abdomen underneath to form the classic ‘mating wheel’ position. I never saw that one in the Karma Sutra. Erm, not that I’ve read it of course.
(Common Blue damselflies in a 'mating wheel'. Photo by Alan Price)
So, there we are. Job done. Well, not exactly. The male is still anxious about ensuring his eggs are actually laid. What if his mate gets eaten by a frog? What if another male mates with her and dislodges his sperm package?
There’s only one thing for it – the male will have to hold on a little bit longer. So as the female travels around the pond the male keep holds of her in his tight clutches. While she is busy curling her abdomen under leaves and laying her eggs he’s on the look out and can whisk her away if danger approaches.
(The Large Red Damselflies in the pond)
Which is what happened when a predator approached at the end of this clip
SPOILER / ARACHNOPHOBIA ALERT: It’s a spider.