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It is known that during the latest Pleistocene glaciations (2.59-0.01 Million years ago) the territory of Britain, as well as of Ireland and many other territories of the northern hemisphere, were covered by glacier and were uninhabitable for terrestrial fauna. During glaciations animals and birds either migrated southward or died out. Palaeontological and genetic evidence indicates that the majority of the contemporary fauna of Britain arrived from continental Europe dispersing across a land bridge that existed between Britain and mainland Europe during the short period after ice retreat and before it was submerged by rising sea level (ca. 0.45 Mya).

However, surprisingly, there are few British species that were able to survive the latest Ice Ages, for instance, the endemic Groundwater Shrimp (Niphargus glenniei; see on the photos below) currently known from cave ecosystems of Devon and Cornwall only. Another endemic species of the groundwater shrimps, restricted to Ireland, is Niphargus irlandicus. None of these species is known outside southern England and Ireland correspondingly.

Niphargus glenniei, the Groundwater shrimp that is adapted to live in subterranean environments. Shrimps are blind, lack pigmentation and have elongated appendages. Photo credit: Chris Proctor.

Niphargus glenniei, the Groundwater shrimp that is adapted to live in subterranean environments. Shrimps are blind, lack pigmentation and have elongated appendages. Photo credit: Chris Proctor.

As argued by McNerney et al. (2014), the most recent common ancestor of both species and all other Niphargus species (over 300 species distributed in cave ecosystems across Europe) was isolated approximately 87 Million years ago, i.e. during the late Cretaceous period (100–66 Mya). More importantly, that the two endemics (glenniei and irlandicus) should have been where they are now for at least 19.5 Mya and thus they have survived the entire Pleitocene period and many glaciations in the groundwater. This makes both groundwater shrimps the oldest known species of the British fauna.

This story is based on the paper by McNerney et al. (2014), The ancient Britons: groundwater fauna survived extreme climate change over tens of millions of years across NW Europe. Molecular Ecology, 23: 1153-1166; doi: 10.1111/mec.12664

 

 

 

One of the aims of our field work in Iceland was to visit the areas with the native forest of Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). We’ve visited several places with the birch forest, for instance, the site in the southern shore of the Lake Myvatn and the forest along Logurinn fjord in eastern Iceland. In both places the forests were full of edible mushrooms, and I could not help myself and collected some, which then we cooked and eat together. Here are the photos or some of those edible mushrooms we encountered during our trip.

Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus), or ‘Груздь’ in Russian, is considered a delicacy in Russia and some other countries of Eastern Europe when pickled in salt.

Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus), or ‘Груздь’ in Russian, is considered a delicacy in Russia and some other countries of Eastern Europe when pickled in salt.

Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), one of the most popular edible mushrooms; especially tasty when pickled.

Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus), one of the most popular edible mushrooms; especially tasty when pickled.

Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus).

Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus).

The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) is typically used in soups and also commonly added as a component of mixed-mushroom dishes. Very delicious when fried with onion in soared-cream, as we did in Iceland.

The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) is typically used in soups and also commonly added as a component of mixed-mushroom dishes. Very delicious when fried with onion in soared-cream, as we did in Iceland.

More information about each mushroom can be found online at the following links: Milky Mushroom (Lactarius resimus); Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) or here; The Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum) or here; and Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus) or here.

While travelling from the Town of Stykkishólmur to the Town of Grundarfjördur (road No.54, along the northern coast of Snaefellsnes Peninsula), about half-way, we came across a road sign depicting a shark (see on photo). The information desk below this sign said that there the place Bjarnarhöfn is named after Björn Ketilsson from Norway who settled in here around 900AD and also that there is one of the oldest churches in Iceland built up in 1856-59. Being puzzled we immediately turned to the place and were not disappointed.

The road sing and the building of the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland

The road sign and the building of the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland

What we found there was one of the most eclectic Museums I’ve even seen, the Shark Museum. The Museum contains all sorts of objects related to every-day life of a small fishing farm in Iceland: anything one can image from the kitchen tools or a gramophone of the early 20th century to taxidermy of Icelandic variety of chickens and models of Viking or more recent fishing boats. However, the main story was about shark fishing and the production of shark meat. The guests of the Museum are met by the friendly curator and owner, known as the famous ‘Shark Man’ Hildibrandur of Bjarnarhöfn. Details of the shark fishing industry (mostly on the large local Greenland shark – Somniosus microcephalus) in Iceland were shown on a big screen, and all the kinds of relevant fishing equipment, from the shark-fishing boat to harpoons and fishing nets, were exhibited on the walls and display cases. Shark-liver oil was once an important export commodity for Iceland. The shark meat was cured with a particular fermentation process to make the notorious Icelandic delicacy known as hákarl (see also here).

The boat and equipment needed for fishing the Greenland shark; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

The boat and equipment needed for fishing the Greenland shark; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

A variety of museum objects reflecting an every-day life of a shark-fishing village in Iceland, plus something else; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

A variety of museum objects reflecting an every-day life of a shark-fishing village in Iceland, plus something else; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

We were able to visit the drying house where shark and fish meat is hung to dry for four to five months before use. Shark meat (hákarl) and dried fish (harðfiskur), as well as nice pieces of traditional Iceland knitting, could be purchased from the Museum. We also found out, the owner offers individual/personal guided tours of the Museum. Unfortunately, as he does not speak English, a personal tour was not an option for us.

Drying of shark and fish meet; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

Drying of shark and fish meat; the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

One of the oldest wooden churches of Iceland built up in 1856-59; Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

One of the oldest wooden churches of Iceland built up in 1856-59; Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland.

We were more than impressed by the Shark Museum (and the old wooden church, see on photo below), as what we saw was a true authentic story of the life of an individual shark-fishing village told by those who have been involved in their family business for generations. I am sure that the content of this Museum sooner or later will become an essential part of a National Museum of Icelandic Culture and Lore, should such museum be ever organized in Iceland.

Dmitri Logunov (the Curator of Arthropods at the Manchester Museum) and the owner of the Shark Museum,  Hildibrandur of Bjarnarhöfn.

Dmitri Logunov (the Curator of Arthropods at the Manchester Museum) and the owner of the Shark Museum, Hildibrandur of Bjarnarhöfn.

During the field trip to Iceland, we have visited many places of interests, including of course pebble-beaches on sea shores made of  grey, smooth basalt pebbles.

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

To my surprise, the same pebbles can be found on shelves of many gift- or craft-shops that are available virtually in every hamlet, village or town of Iceland. However, the pebbles in shops are nicely hand-painted, representing examples of mini-artworks, often naive but always touchy (see on the photos below). In one shop the painted pebbles were crafted as ladybirds of various shapes and colours (from yellow and green to the traditional red-coloured beetles).

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

I don’t know whether it is indeed a national Icelandic tradition to hand-paint pebbles, such craft is suitable to everyone, from children to enthusiastic adults, allowing everyone to become a master of own mini-masterpiece. Someone called this the ‘beach stone craft’; further instruction and inspiration of this craft can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Han-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

Hand-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

On the second day of our field trip to Iceland, we visited the interesting site lying in the southern municipality of Reykjavik, called Garðabær, which literally means ‘Garden Town’. We walked around the beautiful Lake Urridavatn surrounded by boggy meadows full of sedge, dwarf bushes (like blue berry) and cotton grass (see on the photo).

Boggy meadow with cotton grass (left) and the blue berry bush (right) near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland

Boggy meadow with cotton grass (left) and the blue berry bush (right) near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland

On the meadow side of the path to the lake we found a plastic cup thrown by someone a few days ago. Incidentally, the cup, which was partly filled with rain water, became a deadly trap to insects and spiders. Having inspected the content of the cup I found two specimens of crab spiders (Xysticus sp.; male and female), one specimen of the ground beetle (family Carabidae) and one harvestman (family Phalangiidae). So, the cup ‘worked’ exactly in the way as true pitfall traps (see also here) that are used by scientists for ecological surveys. A poor thinking or maybe carelessness of someone who threw this plastic cup away instead of dropping it into a waste bin resulted in some casualties of minibeasts. Throwing a plastic cup (or any unwanted plastic item) away is hardly seen as a great deal or an action causing any threat to wild life. However, my short and simple story seems to say otherwise. In simple words, it reminds us that recycling waste is essential to both natural environment and humans, minimizing an unnecessary risk of damage to the environment and helping out our planet be a better place to live in. More about recycling can be seen here and here.

The plastic cup that became a deadly trap to a number of minibeasts near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland. See also a short video below.

The plastic cup that became a deadly trap to a number of minibeasts near Lake Urridavatn in Iceland. See also a short video below.

 

Large Forest-floor Millipedes (Nyssodesmus python, family Platyrhacidae), a member of Flat-backed Millipedes (Order Polydesmida), are typical dwellers of moist and wet forests of the Carribean slope of Costa Rica and are very common in the La Selva Natural Reserve. Every visitor can see them day and night slowly crawling over forest leaf-litter or along foot trails. These are very large millipedes having about 20 segments (each with two pairs of legs) and reaching 10-12 cm in length and up to 2 cm in width. Adults are whitish brown with two dark longitudinal stripes along their backs.Yet they are absolutely harmless. The Millipedes feed on rotten plant materials (detritus, dead leaves, rotten wood) and thus participate in recycling the nutrients of dead organic matter.

Millipede crawling over a fallen log, Turialtico, Costa Rica.

Millipede crawling over a fallen log, Turialtico, Costa Rica.

An interesting biological feature of these Millipedes is that they are often encountered in pairs, with the smaller male riding on top of the larger female (see below on the photo). This way the male tries to stop the female from mating with other males and to make sure that its own offspring will be produced by the female with which it mated. Copulation may last a few hours. The matter is that copulation does not result in insemination right away. The sperm is stored inside the female until the time of fertilization. Therefore, having mated with a receptive female, the male usually spend up to 5-6 days riding on its back. One can only guess whether it is a leisure time or real work for the rider. Usually the female mates with several males anyway.

Male riding on top of the female with which it has mated, La Selva, Heredia, Costa Rica.

Male riding on top of the female with which it has mated, La Selva, Heredia, Costa Rica.

The rolled-up millipede, Turialtico, Costa Rica.

The rolled-up millipede, Turialtico, Costa Rica.

When disturbed or frightened, the Millipede rolls up in a ball and can spray toxic liquid containing cyanide on its attacker which can be ejected up to 30 cm. The only protection they have against their enemies.

For more information about this interesting species search online here and here.

Reference:

Henderson C.L. 2010. Butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates of Costa Rica. A field guide. Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 173 p.

 

 

Harvestmen (Opiliones) represent a diverse group of arachnids, with more than 6,500 species described worldwide; see here for a complete list. Everyone seems to be familiar with these animals which have an oval/round body and long-long thin legs; this why their English common name: ‘daddy-long-legs’. However, there are short-legged species as well. The harvestman fauna of the La Selva Natural Reserve (Costa Rica) consists of about 40 recorded species, half of which remain unnamed yet (Proud et al., 2012).

Image_01

A group of harvestmen (Prionoistemma sp.) on tree trunk, La Selva, Heredia, Costa Rica.

One of the interesting and commonest species of La Selva is Prionoistemma sp. (family Sclerosomatidae). This species has a small round pink body with black lateral spots and very long legs. Harvestmen usually spend the daytime on the trunk of large trees, at their bases, while during the night time they actively walk up and down the trunk and also over the undergrowth vegetation. When someone approaches them, the creatures begin to shake all over on their thin legs becoming almost invisible for a spectator.

The majority of harvestmen are omnivorous feeding on a variety diets, and seem to be effective predators. On the short video given below it is seen that this Prionoistemma male is feeding on a jumping spider (family Salticidae). The jumping spiders are very active and effective diurnal predators, with sharp colourful vision. Very few predators are capable of capturing them. How on the earth could this harvestman have seized the jumping spider remains a mystery. I’ve never observed this myself earlier.

Reference:

Proud D. et al., 2012. Diversity and habitat use of Neotropical harvestmen (Arachnida: Opiliones) in a Costa Rica rainforest. – ISRN Zoology, doi: 10.5402/2012/549765