The Snail That Built A Mountain

One of my favourite blogs is Crete Nature, written by my naturalist pal, Steve Daniels. It is always a good read, and even more so while I’m in the UK. Below is an excerpt from this week’s post and if you are intrigued I urge you to click the link to read the remainder of the post. There is an extra special reason for doing so this week, Steve has included a simple recipe for home made marmalade with a boozy kick. Oh don’t worry, I know he will have washed his hands after playing with the snails!

So, here’s an insight to Steve’s blog….

Forgive me if I break into song as we commence our walk into this gully but it’s such a beautiful morning – Sweet painted lady, seems it’s always been the same, getting paid for being laid, guess that’s the name of the game – that’s better; nothing like a bit of Elton John to start the day. OK that was not a bit like Elton John. 

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui  and Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

The reason for this sudden burst of exuberance is the orange and brown butterflies that are accompanying us, Painted Ladies, which we saw a couple of weeks back pollinating the ivy (Life in the Uplands). The red and black butterflies that are also joining us are Red Admirals and the two are closely related. The Painted Lady is Vanessa cardui and the Red Admiral is Vanessa atalanta. I find it intriguing that one should be named after a lady of the night and the other after a high ranking naval officer, a sort of lepidopteran equivalent of the actress and the bishop I suppose.

Italian Vipers Bugloss, Echium italicum

Last week we were chatting about Iron and how it travels from the rocks to our blood but this week I want to have a little look at another chemical element, Calcium. Take this knee high plant down here for instance called Pale Bugloss which looks a bit like an artificial Christmas tree. If you look closely at the stiff hairs on the leaves and stem (a characteristic of the borage family to which it belongs) then you are looking at calcium in action, the element which gives life its hard bits. In our case that means bones and teeth and it gives plants the ability to stand erect.

Snails of the Helicidae family

Snails of course, such as these of the Helicidae family which I’ve assembled on this bit of limestone, use it for shell building. This is recycling in its purest form as limestone, which is primarily calcium carbonate (calcium + carbon + oxygen), is formed from the shells of marine molluscs. When the sea bed was lifted to form these mountains, about 26 million ago, the calcium in the sea shells formed these rocks and the land snails are now taking it back by rasping away at the algae on the rocks and munching the plants that grow on them to make their own shells. And so the elements go round. There are 94 naturally occurring elements in all and nature re-uses most, if not all, of them in continuous cycles.


Come on, I’ve spotted a cave…

To read more, and find the marmalade recipe, Click Here

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