Artistic seats and the tiniest of giants – July 2017

Hello everyone! The QW workers have been very busy of late. Not only have we made and strategically placed several rudimentary seats around the wood, we have utilised the wood from fallen Chestnut and Birch trees to create a replacement for the pondside bench that finally gave up the ghost last month. This was quite the landmark occasion for the Reserve as the old bench was installed during the opening event back in 2002. It would be nice to think that our artistic creation will last as long. The timing is significant for another reason also. The venerable members of the Crowhurst Arties are planning another Woodland Extravaganza in September to mark their 100th Event, and it promises to be fun for all the family. More information to follow!

The location of our benches, both old and new, leads me nicely to the topic of this month’s scribble. Do you remember those Halcyon days in early Spring when life was bursting forth throughout the countryside and we had a pond worth talking about in our little reserve? A damp day in February saw Yours Truly wading in the shallows deliberating on the biodiversity of pond life; followed by a Team TQW telephone conversation that went along the lines of:

– Hello Lorna, can I call over for a few minutes, I have something to show you?
– Yes sure, see you shortly.
– Great, oh and Lorna, do you mind if we examine some dishes of filthy pond water on your work surface?

Thus, in the spirit of environmental science, the next hour found us peering into bowls of freshly sampled, rank smelling, pond water. What had caught my eye while paddling about, proving that my contact lenses work, were several tiny dots swimming with jerky movements among the leaf litter and sediment. A magnifying glass revealed our specimen to be a tiny animal resembling a miniature, bewhiskered, torpedo. It was in fact a tiny Crustacean, of the Genus Cyclops.

Students of Greek mythology will immediately recognise the moniker and will be wondering why a creature that grows to only about 2-5mm is named after a Homeric one-eyed giant. Clearly it was not based on size, but all 400 Cyclops species and the bane of Odysseus do have the same monocular feature in common, a single red or black eye in the centre of its head.

Cyclops are found in freshwater habitats all over the world, preferring stagnant or slow-moving bodies of water where they feed on minute fragments of plant and animal material. Studies have shown that they can survive times of drought, making them ideally suited for our QW pond! In some species, females tend to be more common than males as they reproduce for several generations without fertilisation and males are produced in times of stress only, usually, when the habitat is drying up! Our prize specimen was easily identifiable as female by the egg sacs either side of the body.

In the perplexing world of Taxonomy (see What’s in a Name, December 2009), Genus Cyclops belongs to the Subclass Copepoda, making them distant relatives of shrimps, crabs and lobsters. Their name derives from the Greek, Kope – oar, and Podos-foot, which, as with many classically-inspired titles, is a wonderful description of the animal. Their limbs and antennae move in unison to row them through the water, accounting for the rather twitchy movement that brought our Cyclops to my attention.

Copepoda is an extremely abundant division of the Crustaceans. Inhabiting both marine and freshwater environments, they are the major food source for animals ranging from Whales to insect larvae. As a group, they probably form the largest animal biomass on the planet. However, the title for the greatest biomass of a single animal species does not go, as many might think, to Elephants, Blue Whales or even to the ubiquitous Homo sapiens, but is claimed by another aquatic Crustacean, the Krill (Euphausia superba). It is a sobering thought that life on Earth began in the Oceans and they remain the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Clearly, this fact alone demands that we look after them!

So, back to our tiny female Cyclops swimming around on Lorna’s worktop, blissfully unaware of her importance in the scheme of things (we put her back in the water, by the way). Her marine cousins, several-times-removed, may be the staple diet of the Great Whales and other very impressive animals but, as far as we are concerned, this tiny giant plays an extremely important role in our reserve ecology. Great Diving Beetles, Water Boatmen, flatworms, newt tadpoles, frog tadpoles and the nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies all supplement their diet with Cyclops, especially when other prey are unavailable.

Tiny movement attracting hunters,
One eye roving murky waters,
A perilous life, all too brief,
For Poseidon’s tiny daughters.
– Anon

Talking of the ecology of our little reserve, Dragonfly Week is almost upon us! Between the 15th and 23rd July, the British Dragonfly Society is running numerous events around the country to increase people’s awareness of the importance of these magnificent insects and their role as indicators of the health of our freshwaters. There is lots of information on the BDS website, including identification guides, and we are doing our bit with a Crowhurst Dragonfly Walk, starting at Quarry Wood and heading down to the Marshes.

There you have it! Next time you are in Quarry Wood, relax on our lovely new bench and gaze out across the pond. Fully charged or not, there is a lot more going on in there than meets the eye!

Paul Johnson

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Image credits:

Images 1-5: original Quarry Wood photography by Lorna Neville

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