As unusual and scary as this may be for us, these are not times to waste when it comes to our knowledge and appreciation of the natural world. As easy as it may be to overindulge in television, videogames, and other indoor pursuits, we can do more.
I have throughout my professional life, been interested in the small, the unusual, and often unloved aspects of the natural world. I was the kid turning over rocks and stones in the back garden to try and find that woodlouse carrying its eggs (or the woodlouse spider trying to eat it). It is true, that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it was my cup, and I drank it often.
Woodlouse spiders, often found in and around human habitation have a characteristic orange hue to them.
Woodlice are not insects and are in fact crustaceans – more closely related to shrimps and crabs we find in the oceans.
The term ‘taxonomic chauvinist is often used as a moniker for those individuals that overlook the smaller and less exciting groups in favour of larger and often hairier beasts. So with our worlds now slightly smaller than we are used to, I urge you all to not look outwards with a sense of melancholy and longing for wide-open spaces, why not look down, reconnect with that curious nature that inspired you as a child?
Admire the small and unusual, don’t be a taxonomic chauvinist. Overturn a rock in your back garden, see what’s living in that hole in the wall. We are literally surrounded by life, no matter where you live or how small or enclosed your personal space is.
Given the current situation, I have decided to familiarise myself with a new space, a new local patch. A term often used by birders and other naturalists to describe their local park or woodland, a site that they visit throughout the season, to be more and more familiar with the flora and fauna specific to that area. I have now got a new patch, a lockdown patch that is perhaps more local and modest than one might imagine. It is a small square of unmown grass about 60cm x 60cm in size. A small patch of wilderness. Small it may be, but insignificant it is not. Within this small patch I have seen various planthoppers and leafhoppers appear - arguably my favourite group of insects, that have a number of strange quirks unique to the group - moving from the tiny blades of grass just like they were superhuman beings jumping from tree to tree in a microscopic jungle.
I’ve also observed, fighting over the limited resources that they have, and springtails nestled into the undergrowth, a group that is quite fascinating, and primitive compared to their insect kin.
So yes, these times are strange and unusual and often scary, but they are not times where we forget about the natural world these are times where we can maybe take a look at it through a different perspective, a new lens. Look down, get close, and see what you can find.
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