June 2014 - Walks by the River Yare
It is May, a wonderful time of year to investigate the varied wildlife that abounds by our local river. Walking along the side of the River Yare on sunny calm afternoons, I have noticed an abundance of The Drinker moth caterpillars, hairy and brilliantly coloured yellow, white, black and grey, voraciously eating the tall reeds and grasses; the name 'The Drinker' given because of their reported habit of drinking dew. Alongside The Drinker caterpillars are the less ornate, but still hairy Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars, feeding in groups on stinging nettles. Where would the butterflies be without stinging nettles? They are the food of not only the Small Tortoiseshell, but also the Peacock, Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Comma butterflies. There are many small, metallic blue Leaf Beetles which, if you touch them, 'hop' away, so are aptly called Flea Beetles. Unlike caterpillars they do not eat leaves from the edge, but start in the middle, creating a mosaic of holes. Mayflies are everywhere, touching down on the surface of the river to lay eggs and frequently becoming food to the river fish as they do so.
The wild flower Ragged Robin is evident. This plant loves boggy, marshy areas, and is becoming increasingly rare due to drainage of water meadows and development of sites for housing. Hawthorn or May is blooming everywhere. I read somewhere that Hawthorn is the food of 150 different insect species, which in turn feed other insects, birds and rodents. Cow Parsley, a tall hollow-stemmed member of the carrot family with large white umbrella like clusters (umbels) of white flowers, is in abundance. If you crush the leaves between your fingers, a strong, almost aniseed-like smell is given off. Cow Parsley is one of the earliest umbellifers to flower, collectively referred to as 'Queen Anne's Lace'.
Alkanet has brilliant blue flowers and is commonly found at this time of year, not only by the riverside. Apparently its tap root is the source of a red dye which was first used and described by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist and scholar, around 300 B.C. Wood Avens, or Herb Bennet is in abundance by the river, its tiny yellow flowers and straggly stems making a poor show against the larger and more beautiful Buttercups. The roots of Wood Avens have a clove like odour, and have been used to flavour the green-coloured liqueur Benedictine and some ales. The genus name for Buttercup is Ranunculus, the Latin for 'little frog', given supposedly because like frogs, many species of Buttercup favour watery environments.
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