Turned out our Insect Hunt (really an Invertebrate Hunt) was on Weds morning, and what a treat it was. Our Park Ranger guide was Jessica, a delightful and knowledgable woman from the south of France, who had the most beautifully fluent, indeterminately accented but colloquial English language. J. was just wonderful in her knowledgability and communication of invertebrates, demonstrated on a 1.5 hr walk through some leaf-littered woods. Jessica helped us find and identify invertebrates from woodlice, milli- and centipedes (do you
know the difference?), hoverflies, aphids, honeybees, butterflies, bumblebees of at least two species, wolf spiders, beetles, slugs and snails, cranefly, earwig, a devil's cockroach. A spotted leopard slug and two hermaphrodic snails locked in a mating embrace (which made the girls giggle) were the catch of the day.
But it turns out other biota came up, when talking about and observing habitat. Jessica also helped us identify a wierd jellyfish fungus (Jew's Ear) on the rotting logs which were the invertebrates' palace. We found sticky willies (cleavis), creeping ivy, turk's heads, feverfew, nettles and dock (empirically), sycamore, hawthorn, hazel and beech. Beech mast, sycamore helicopters are everywhere in the locale just now- even on my suburban doormat.
The other six kids on the walk were younger than my two, but even adolescent Joe (who only declined to come along at the last minute) enjoyed himself immensely, like me. Jessica and I were talking behind the kids' backs about hermaphoditism in snails & slugs (molluscs, don't you know), and just who gets pregnant, 'Life in the Undergrowth', her tips to distinguish hoverflies from their mimics, honeybees.
The bright spark of the group was 5 yr old Harry, a slightly hyperactive, extremely curious and self-evidently highly bright handful, despite having an 'estate' accent. He concentrated on everything, and kept all the adults amused on the walk. It was he who found the 6 cm leopard slug, the day's prize catch. Of course Jessica made us release all our beasties back before we set off back home, and Harry complied because none of us wanted to hurt them- oh no. Once we'd walked back to the supermarket carpark, Harry must have been tired and started climbing across the platforms of reined supermarket trolleys, which were higher than him. His mum was patient- clearly a saint, but behind her remonstrances were pride. Go on Harry.
By the way, the language to denote bugs, insects, creepy-crawlies, critters, etc.- the small livers on the loam- is loaded and imprecise. 'Beasties'
, a decidedly Scots term, is more denotative of invertebrates than other term I know, and is to be endorsed.