Eye Of The Spiger

‘Eye of the what?’ I hear you say, ‘Spiger! What the hell is a Spiger?’

This is a Spiger! Complete with stripes, bloody-great jaws, a span the size of your hand, eight legs, a burst of speed that would give Usain Bolt a run for his money, it’s a carnivore that hunts by night or day and it has eight, yes, eight eyes! What would you call it?

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generally, this is your first sighting of your visitor
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getting better acquainted

They hail from the Sparassidae family of what are commonly called Huntsman Spiders. There are more than a thousand different species in this family and they range from the size of your palm to enormous! Not bulky enormous, but like twelve inches leg-span enormous! They also display some interesting methods of locomotion which I’ll come to later. They are spread all around the world in tropical and temperate zones and ‘Yes, that includes the soon to be Disunited Kingdom!’

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beautiful photo – wish it was mine (anon)

Spigers are built for speed and agility. Their legs are a bit ‘double-jointed’ which enables them to take off at speed in any direction. They have eight eyes in two rows which mostly point forward giving excellent vision for rushing around or laying in ambush.  Spigers mostly feast on insects but are quite capable of snaffling the odd gecko or two.

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with a female Brown Bush Cricket
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this really is interesting – if you look carefully you will see a smaller male with the  female Huntsman and a locust for lunch

huntsman-threatThey use venom through their considerable jaws to immobilise their victims and to aid the digestion process. That said, they are generally not aggressive towards humans and any bite, whilst painful, is not a hospital job unless there is an allergic reaction. When bites do occur it is usually as a result of handling. The exception to the ‘non-aggressive’ bit is the female when she has eggs or young – then, if you mess with her, she will generally give you warning by adopting a threat pose (see left) before giving you something else to think about!

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female with egg sack and young

Apart from their speed and agility, Spigers have developed some interesting escape and evasion techniques. Cebrennus rechenbergi, also known as the Moroccan flic-flac spider, when threatened can beat a hasty retreat by doubling its normal walking speed using forward or backward flips similar to acrobatic flic-flac movements used by gymnasts. Whilst Carparachne aureoflava aka the Golden Wheel Spider, from the Namib Desert, will literally cartwheel away from danger at up to 44 rotations per second and speeds of up to one metre per second! I find myself wondering how many failures and how many twists and turns there were along the evolutionary road before this little ruse was ‘discovered’.

We have Spigers in and around our home here in Okçular. They tend to lurk in dark places or the corners between wall and ceiling as well as inside J’s bath towel! From time-to-time they hatch out a brood and then we have hundreds of the little devils all over the ceiling. When that happens I’m ashamed to admit that the death spray comes out followed by the vacuum cleaner.

As a rule, J and I will attempt to capture the intruders and re-introduce them to the big out-doors. Jam jars are generally too small and you’ll end up injuring the creature or else it will see you coming and take evasive action which will only result in another sleepless night for you as your imagination works overtime! Use an old ice cream container and a sheet of card – if you use paper I guarantee that the Spiger will escape and head for the first dark place it sees – generally up a sleeve or down your collar. Always treat them with care because if they get handled or caught up in your clothing they have a tendency to display a ‘cling’ reflex which often then leads to bites and a broken neck at best or, at worst, a right ear-full for breaking the Tupperware as per the following bit of video.

I don’t have any good photos of a Huntsman with young but here is a wolf spider with her young on board taken in my garden. Spiders may give you the creeps but you have to admit they are fascinating creatures.

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Sweet dreams!

Alan in Okçular

For Gawd’s Sake

. . not another walking and flowers post!

This is one of the really good things about blogging; we can get to bore the pants off everyone and, unless we happen to be a ‘stats freak’, never be aware of the yawns and glazed eyes! Bliss!

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So, yes, this is about a couple of back-to-back days of gentle wandering with a few impressions of what being a ‘Boffer’ in Okçular is all about. Well, not exactly ‘all’ because this time of year there are plenty of chores to be done like pruning trees and pressure-washing the fossils ferns embedded in the Muğla stone slabs in the yard.

Anyway, enough of all that. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . .

Once upon a time, by the edge of the forest, there lived this old geezer and his missus. They felt a great affinity with the trees and flowers and creatures of the woods and loved to go a-wandering, communing with Mother Nature and her off-spring. They whispered to the trees and the trees whispered back . .

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J whispering endearments

. . even the elemental spirits, hidden from the eyes of the sceptical, would appear to them from time to time.

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the Water Spirit – can you see it?

Spring has sprung – after a cold snap and a late start the buds are budding and the flowers are flowing and flowers are – well – flowering! Come and wander, it’ll do your spirit good!

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Asphdelus aestivus – Asphodels are everywhere
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Romulea tempskyana Sand Crocus and Gagea arvensis
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Giant Orchid (pale coloured from lower slopes)
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. . and this dark beauty from higher up the mountain
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the inevitable Algerian Iris – they are everywhere

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some with the richest of colour
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early stages of Coq au Vin

We thought he was a bold fellow until we noticed that he was securely tied in place. Now, a Southerner like me can make a joke here about Yorkshireites and their funny accents and title this as ‘Chicken in t’ wine’. However J, who is well known as a regional accent buff at Pedant’s Corner, Private Eye, has spotted this over my shoulder and insisted that I insert the following correction which is a direct copy from that illustrious organ:

Dear Ed,

Pedantry Corner:
To Farmer Geddon (Eye 1289), Peter Sharples (Eye 1290) and Charles Warwick (Eye 1291) I am obliged to say “Nay lad!”
Being South Yorkshire born and bred, (although now away many decades), in our area the ‘the’ was never a ‘t’ at all. The ‘the’ was and is an almost imperceptible hiatus between  two words. The nearest I can come to writing it is “trouble at ‘ mill” – the ‘ in place of the three missing letters of ‘the’. Or, a longer example, “Down ‘ Wicker weer ‘ watter runs ovver ‘ weir.” (three missing thes)
The important thing to remember is that to really represent the accent accurately you must definitely sound these examples out loud wherever you are.
I especially fondly recall ” ‘t i’n’t in ‘ tin” (only one the here).
Yours for ‘ society o’ ‘ preservation o’ regional accents,
Janet Surman.

Alan in Okçular Köyü and forest

Midnight Marauder

Snake-in-toiletJ and I are not just tolerant of having wildlife around, we positively encourage it – all of it! The odd snake in the toilet or under the washing machine does not result in panicky shrieking and rushing around in circles. (OK, we didn’t actually have a python in the toilet but there was a fair-sized black Whip Snake) That said, there was an occasion a few years back when I sat on a dozing hornet whilst getting into bed that resulted in all of the above plus some amazingly accurate usage of Anglo-Saxon expletives and a carpet slipper!

No, generally speaking, we go out of our way to provide suitable, upmarket accommodation and restaurant facilities to satisfy regulars and passing trade alike. So, we were a bit annoyed that some vandal or other was bent on trashing one of our bespoke fat-feeders for the birds. We were regularly finding it busted off its mounting, hurled around the garden and generally well chewed up. We had a fair idea which family of delinquents was responsible but, catching them at it was never going to be easy because they are clever, resourceful and very, very cautious.

In the end, patience and technology paid off with the little tow-rag caught infra-red handed . .

Marten’s Midnight Marauders from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

Alan in Okçular (salvaged from Archers of Okçular first posted February 2014)

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

Cast your peepers over this little gem! Gem being the operative word for Chrysis angustula a species of Ruby-tailed Wasp. This particular one is found across much of Europe and we get to see a fair number of them here in Turkey – if we look carefully because they are pretty small at about a centimetre in length. Throw in the ‘stinger’ and you can add half as much again! Those of you in the UK who go looking will find C ignita which is a little less spectacular in colouring. This specimen was found bereft of life on the windowsill so was easy to photograph – just look at those amazing colours, almost enough to make you believe in ‘Intelligent Design’ if you didn’t know better!

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yes, that really is its stinger

The glittering, metallic Ruby-tailed Wasp is one of many species of solitary bee and wasp that can be spotted in a variety of habitat from walls to sandy quarries, rocky outcrops to tree trunks. These insects do not live in colonies like Honey Bees; usually solitary females will build a nest by herself, stock it with pollen and lay an egg within each cell she has created. However, the adults of the Ruby-tailed Wasp are a little lazier: the females will actually open up a nest to check the size of the pupae inside. When satisfied with the plumpness of the victim they lay their eggs, one to each larvae. They usually choose the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, especially Mason Bees. When the eggs hatch, these larvae eat the larvae of the Mason Bees and develop – this gives the Ruby-tailed Wasp its other name of ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

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amazing, or what!

This stunning ‘armour-plating’ is thought to have evolved as protection in case they are caught in the act of infanticide/insecticide!

I would have liked to put up more photos but lack of bandwidth is frustrating me. As for the post title – ‘Ruby’ for the wasp; ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Tuesday’ for the fact that I tried to get this up yesterday (Tuesday) but was frustrated by the bandwidth thing and so had to kiss Tuesday goodbye! Seems perfectly logical to me and it’s good for the search engines!

Alan in Okçular

Habitat 2.0

I got a bit excited about our new creature habitat and published a post before it was finished. That means there has to be a sort of post script to finish the job off and so here it is – the latest release complete with bells and whistles.

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my dizzy sister will be delighted to see her Meerkats have moved in (they’re concrete and she put them in my flight bag!!)

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I love this ‘thing’, it’s a bit like a cross between a roadside farmer’s stall and a Buddhist shrine in the Himalayas.

Alan in Okçular Köyü Nature Reserve

Even More Amazing!

As I said in the last post – ‘Amazing!’ is all around us – staring us in the face and begging to be noticed. ‘Amazing!’ is in our gardens, behind our cupboards, down the street or lane outside our houses. ‘Amazing!’ is everywhere – if only we are patient and take a few moments to observe – the ordinary becomes extra-ordinarily – ‘Amazing!’  That being the case, and not having got out much lately, here are some more photos, all taken in my garden, that are ‘even more amazing’ depending on how you feel about these things!

It is also an easy way for this lazy blogger to stick up a post without too much thought or effort – enjoy or not as the fancy takes you! Let’s start with something that should fill you with wonder . .

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this macro shows the ‘engine room’ of one of Turkey’s rarest dragonflies, Anax ephippiger – Vagrant Emperor
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this was a very inquisitive Chameleon
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I do like flies!

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copulating snails – snails are hermaphrodites, both sexes in the same body. Here you see an AC/DC couple having an intimate, slimy moment – when all else fails they can turn themselves on and, as the song goes, ‘Sisters Do It For Themselves’ or words to that effect!

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Ischnura elegans – Common Bluetail not a very good photo but a chance to see how delicate and ‘friendly’ some damselflies are
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Kirina roxelana – Lattice Brown, I think the sunlight shining through the wings is quite beautiful
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young Cone-head Mantis – Empusa pennata
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Laudakia stellio – Starred Agama

This guy lives in hole in the wall that is too small for him – every night his tail is hanging out. He is very shy and very entertaining and will have his own post the next time I don’t feel like doing much! I hope the photos made it worthwhile dropping by . .

Alan in Okçular

‘Amazing!’

‘Amazing!’ is all around us – staring us in the face and begging to be noticed. ‘Amazing!’ is in our gardens, behind our cupboards, down the street or lane outside our houses. ‘Amazing!’ is everywhere – if only we are patient and take a few moments to observe – the ordinary becomes extra-ordinarily – ‘Amazing!’

These shots are all from my garden – I don’t pretend to be much of a photographer or that these are great photos – it’s just that, for me, these are amazing subjects . .

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the amazing and very beautiful compound eyes of a fly
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eyeball-to-eyeball with a young Leopard Snake Elaphe situla often referred to as Rat Snakes they are constrictors that feed on small mammals and lizards
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Hyla arborea – Common Tree Frog these are the noisy little blighters that keep you awake at night and they can change colour very quickly
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Libellula depressa – Broad-Bodied Chaser common and found all over Europe – how often do we notice?
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A grumpy-looking Chamaeleo chamaeleon – Chameleon sitting on my hand whilst being transferred from kitchen to garden
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Robber Fly – Asilidae family sucking the life out of a hover-fly
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Saturnia pyri – Viennese Emperor Moth, Europe’s largest – this one has just hatched and is still pumping up its wings
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a detail of the wing of an emperor moth

. . and finally something with an ‘Ahhhh!’ factor for everyone . .

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there is a family of Syrian Squirrels living in a tree just outside the garden – they are regular visitors to the bird tables

That’s it for this time – more later.

Alan in Okçular

Your Worst Nightmare

Jim-Maxwell-and-GeoffreyThis is the time of year when those not listening to ‘Test Match Special’ with a beer or a glass of spritzer to hand are busy commenting on Facebook about the perennial monster ‘insect’ that spends its life inflicting life-threatening poisonous bites on the unwary or scaring the crap out of the rest of us as it scuttles by at about 10mph (16kph).

I’m talking about Wind Scorpions aka barrel spiders aka camel spiders, or sun spiders after its Latin name Solifugae, which means “those that flee from the sun”. There are around 1000 recorded species around the world. Wind Scorpions look pretty bizarre and pretty dangerous, they are fast movers and they hiss and act extremely aggressively if you happen to piss them off! All of which adds to the urban myths that surround them.

Size: the largest species are around 5-6 inches (12-15 cms) in total length and about 4 inches across the legs and not ‘nearly half a metre’ as indicated by your best friend after a nerve-soothing gin or three!

Speed: they are capable of moving at up to 10 mph (16 kph) which is about a third of the speed of a human sprinter – well worth bearing in mind next time you see one trotting along the balcony rail!

CamelSpiderBitePoisonous: despite what you read or hear they are not – with the possible exception of a species in India. That their bite is extremely painful and the wound liable to secondary infection is without doubt. If you are unlucky enough to get bitten or you suspect that your pet has been bitten get to the vet pronto! Well, you go to the doctor . . !!

Here in Turkey, should you come across one these creatures, it will be Galeodes araneoides, so let’s focus on this particular species. It hails from the same family/class as spiders and scorpions so it is an Arachnida although it sits firmly in its own group. Arachnida have eight legs but Wind Scorpions appear to have ten with the front pair carried off the ground and in front of the creature – rather like some ghoul or an extra in an early ‘Frankenstein’ movie! This impression is going to be reinforced because these ‘ghouls’ hunt by night and hide up in cool, dark places by day.

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Wind-Scorpion – Galeodes-araneoides

Camel-Spider-MawThese extra, front ‘legs’ are highly modified pedipalps (those little finger-like things in front of your average spider’s fangs). They are used primarily as sensing organs but can also act as secondary legs for hunting, fighting and climbing. They also have a sort of sticky-pad that helps entrap prey or grip smooth surfaces. The photo left shows the threat/defence pose.

The ‘jaws’ of these creatures are formidable – well able to pierce the toughest beetle case, chop through reptile or small birds’ bones and go straight through your thumb or toe nail! They are also used to make a ‘hissing’ sound that is a clear warning to leave Galeodes alone or face the consequences.

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I’m warning you!

The close-set eyes are worth a mention as they are anything but as simple as they look. They are well able to discern form and are capable of telling friend from foe.

Meanwhile enjoy a Family Photo Album

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Yellow Sun-spider

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Arizona Sun-spider

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a country picnic for our local Galeodes-araneoides

So, what should you do if you find one of these creatures sharing your home with you? First off, don’t reach for the tin of ‘death spray’ – it will not kill your average adult Wind Scorpion which will take off at a third of the speed of Usain Bolt at his best for some dark place that you will never think to look! Having had a good look at you, Galeodes araneoides will nurture a grudge and a deep, abiding hatred because you used chemical weapons and at a time of its choosing will sneak into your dreams and turn them into your worst nightmare!

Alan in Okçular

ps . . as for what you should do, I suggest you carefully shut the fellow up in a decent sized jam jar then, when no one is looking, sneak out and set it free in the garden of the neighbour you like least!

In The Beginning Was The Word

Sixty years ago, in the middle of my newt, slow-worm and birds’ nesting period, I was ‘introduced’ to two amazing images that left indelible impressions and a passion that has lasted to this day.

alhambraThe first was of the classic view of the Lion Courtyard at la Alhambra and the second was of Arabic calligraphy. The impact of those images kindled a fire that smouldered over the years. I determined that one day I would spend time at the Alhambra and some ten years ago we had an emotional reunion. Here in Turkey, with its history and tradition of calligraphy, I have been able to enjoy and indulge my passion for the Arabic script with visits to exhibitions and some modest collecting.

J and I were in Istanbul recently to visit with friends and take in a couple of exhibitions, we added the Sakip Sabancı Müzesi in Emirgan to the list because of its fantastic collection of Arabic calligraphy and books. The museum is housed in and around the former family mansion and the rooms and beautiful gardens give a fascinating insight into the life and lifestyle of the Sabancıs.

The astonishing private collection of calligraphy and books is exhibited in an extension to the old house that brings you the very latest concepts in display – the Sabancı Museum is a very classy place indeed. There is also a classy entrance fee policy (in my opinion) which gives free admission to ‘wrinklies’ over 65 and there’s a classy restaurant to boot!

All-in-all this is a really worthwhile place to visit – here are a few full-frontal photos of my passion/obsession – maybe they will turn you on too!

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beautiful example of the calligrapher’s art
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‘Priceless’ in every sense
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illuminated Qur’ân
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iPad video showing the craftsman at work
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‘Besmele-i Şerif’ by Nesrin Şatır (my collection)
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by Tuğrakes Hakkı Bey (1873-1946) Fine Art repro from my collection
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tuğra of Sultan Muhmud II by modern master İsmet Ketin on raw silk (my collection)
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Berat or citation period of Abdulhamit II (my collection)
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original by modern master İsmet Ketin signed and dated 1992 (my collection)
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a naive tuğra of Şehzade Ahmed by young calligrapher Bahçet Dinger (my collection)

. . and finally the star of my collection – an original page of the Holy Qur’ân dated approx 1630-40.

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a precious piece of history

Alan in Okçular

A Rose By Any Other Name

r1Last week I was rambling on about wandering over the mountains and getting overly excited about a huge stick of ‘asparagus‘ that I’d discovered. In my sweaty, fevered state I’d convinced myself that it must be the biggest tongue orchid anyone had ever seen and vowed to return this week to check it out once it had flowered.

Two things came to mind this morning; well, three actually: 1 – I should check my reference stuff more thoroughly; 2 – I should keep my mouth shut until I know what I’m talking about (a point J makes often); 3 – J can be a hard taskmaster in an ‘Onwards and Upwards’ sort of way.

We’d determined to revisit the site on the very steep mountainside by approaching from a different direction. We knew there were no tracks and that footing would be precarious in places – the best we could hope for was a lot of sweat and a goat track to guide us. It proved to be a heart-pounding climb – even J suggested a couple of rests.

On the way we were looking out for other interesting stuff and here are a few photos to break the monotony!

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Orabanche aegyptiaca – Egyptian Broomrape (totally parasitic has no chlorophyll)
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Gladiolus italicus – Field Gladiolus
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Phlomis fruticosa – Jerusalem Sage

Arriving at the site of the ‘asparagus’ I knew right away that keeping ‘schtum’ and checking references (engaging brain before opening mouth) is a good mantra for there were indeed a few that were open including the one in the photo below.

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What we have here ladies and gentlemen is Limodorum arbortivum – the Violet Limodore or the Violet Bird’s Nest Orchid (for some obscure reason). This orchid is interesting in that it has no leaves, lives off decaying matter and is totally dependant upon, but not parasitic of, fungi of the Russulaceae family. It produces the largest seeds of any of the European orchids and the seedlings are very slow to develop staying below ground for 8-10 years before flowering! It is also fairly common and very widespread.

So, an interesting but disappointing find, especially considering the physical effort needed to get to it? Not at all, because there is a twist in the tail (or tale) – as you can clearly see from the photo it is anything but ‘violet’. We have violet near the house and in other places around the area – these specimens are pink. That means that what we have here is a variation or sub-species named Limodorum arbotivum var. rubrum which was only confirmed in 1997 and is spread very thinly on the ground only recorded at 20 other sites in Turkey.

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Now ask me if it was worth the blood, sweat and creaking joints . .

Alan in Okçular