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

Blue Heaven

oldest-chewing-gumIt’s more than two years ago since that class travel and blogging act Natalie Sayın sent me a photograph attached to a ‘what’s this?’ Now, Natalie has some seriously good camera skills, but this pic looked like a lump of ancient, peppermint flavoured chewing gum stuck on a rock! (I know about these things and att a photo of the oldest bit of chewing gum ever found – it’s from Finland and is about 5000 years old complete with Neolithic teeth marks!)

(saved from Archers blog and first posted July 2014)

Anyway, Nat’s photo looked a bit like a Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans, a creature that is supposed to live up to its name and stay in the Carpathian Mountains where it is described as endemic. I sent a copy of the photo and location to my good mate Murat who has made such creatures the study and passion of a lifetime. He also works out of the Dept. of Malacology at Harvard University, it’s safe to assume that he knows about these things!

Such was our joint excitement at Natalie’s find that we decided to mount a field trip to the area between Çamlıhemşim and the Ayder plateau to see if we couldn’t find some more ‘lumps of chewing gum’.

We were expecting to do a lot of scrabbling about under rocks and bushes before we got a result – if we got a result at all! It didn’t quite work out as expected. Shortly after we picked Murat up from the airport and brought him to our hotel the four of us, Murat and E, J and I went for a leg-stretch to explore Çamlıhemşim. With a population of 1500 and one street it didn’t take long! The town sits in a bit of a ravine – it’s vertical rock face; retaining wall; narrow street; row of shops/houses; river; vertical rock face!

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photo by ESR

We stopped to admire a flowering shrub growing out of the retaining wall when Murat said ‘Hey, look at this!’ and there they were – Blue Slugs – adults and juveniles! So much for the intrepid search for an elusive species that shouldn’t be there. Considering how easily these creatures were spotted it is astonishing that they have never been previously recorded outside of their range in the Carpathians from southern Poland to Romania!

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Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans adult (top) and juvenile (below) isn’t the colour wonderful?

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Later, we tracked down the route that Natalie had taken when she saw that first ‘lump of chewing gum’. The walk to Tar Deresi Şelalesi (waterfall) is a very pleasurable one and the waterfall itself is spectacular.

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aren’t they amazing!

Natalie had said that she saw her slug near to the waterfall and right on cue two were spotted and photographed. We saw a couple more near some rubbish bins in Çamlıhemşim but although we spent time searching other likely and unlikely places that was the extent of our finds. We spent the rest of our time exploring winding back roads, soaking in hot springs, eating fine village and roadside food and enjoying being together in a still beautiful part of Turkey.

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J and me and E
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this was for the dog (seriously) – it tasted great! (pic by ESR)

finally, something completely different

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Alan in Okçular

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)

Konya – Sahip Ata – Life After Death

dervisThere’s a lot more to Konya than Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlana Museum and the haunting sound of the ney. Konya has been around for a while and in that time it has hosted everyone from Neolithic hunter-gatherers and Hittites, to various Greeks, Romans and Persians. And then the Seljuk Turks rolled in and had their day before getting rolled up by the marauding Mongol hordes around 1243.

Anatolian_Seljuk_SultanateThe Seljuk Sultanate of Rum (as in Rome and not Capt. Morgan) was a pretty successful set up in its day. Covering much of present day Anatolia it traded across the Mediterranean basin and Middle East. It was powerful and wealthy enough to battle the Crusaders and foster art and architecture on the grand scale and Konya was its principle city for much of its existence.

So, where is this leading? J and I had been to the fabulous Neolithic site at Çatalhöyük and so a visit to Konya’s Archaeological Museum to see some of the stuff that had been excavated was a must. The museum is not far from the centre and is in the type of area that we love to wander around – a bit run down and lived in!

As we got close to the museum we were delighted to discover one of the unsung treasures of Konya – the restored Sahib Ata Camii and medrese. Named for one of the greatest builders of the Seljuk Turkish Empire; the Vezir Sahip-I Ata Fahrettin Ali.

Once this was a vast complex but only parts have survived to present times. What remains of the mosque is now simple and beautiful and lives on in everyday use. A fabulous restoration of the monumental gate with its stunning minaret and the medrese took place during 2006-7 with the medrese serving as a museum of Seljuk arts. The hamam and tekke or dervish hall are undergoing restoration.

There is no better way to show you the worth and wonder of this place than to show you some before and after pictures – it’s one for your bucket list! First, a couple from the archive of that amazing woman Gertrude Bell:

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the complex and that part of Konya as it was in Bell’s time
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the monumental entrance and minaret before . .
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. . and after
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inside the medrese before
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. . and after
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the turbe of Sahip Ata and his family before restoration . .
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. and after
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medrese dome

There is a collection of beautiful artifacts that will delight your eye . .

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. . doors, and . .
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carpets, and . .
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beautiful, illuminated Qur’an’s
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the minaret that stands by the monumental entrance and much more

Finally, a link to a 3D view around the Monumental Entrance to the Sahip Ata Camii and website in English.

Alan Fenn, Okçular

Çatalhöyük

sadJ and I went off wandering again this past week – the Prime Directive was to visit Çatalhöyük near Konya and then tuck in a few other goodies as time and circumstance allowed. We both thought that the on-going excavation of this astonishing Bronze Age settlement was brilliant. I, for one, was fired up and set about trying to transfer that fire into a blog post that just might convey something of what we had seen. I was minutes away from posting when everything vanished; text, photos – the lot. There was nothing on the server where you would have expected the last auto-save to be and the auto back-up on my computer was blank! I have never experienced anything like it. Disheartened was not the word!

Anyway, enough of all that – let’s see if I can’t recapture at least some of that enthusiasm.

catalhoyuk-mound_1Picture, if you can, the vast flatlands of central Anatolia, dry and brown after the burning heat of summer. This land is the ‘breadbasket’ of Turkey, in some ways similar to the North American prairie or the steppes of Ukraine. Out of this flatness a mound some 21 metres high rises, topped by two alien structures – this is Çatalhöyük, the site of one the oldest human settlements yet discovered.

Now, let your imagination run loose because the area around Çatalhöyük was not always as you see it today. Let your mind drift back in time for 9000 years and you will be looking out over a landscape that is green and lush with forest; a river and waterways criss-cross that land and great meres or pools are dotted around. The rivers and pools and forest are alive with wildlife and the forest and meadows yield fruit and berries and roots and grain of every description. For the wandering hunter-gatherers of the time this was paradise – a cornucopia, and so they broke with tradition and hung around for a while.

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Çatalhöyük circa 7000 BCE – artist’s impression (my photos of paintings)

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Gradually their simple, temporary shelters were replaced by more permanent mud brick and timber structures. That what they were doing was a whole new experience in DIY might be gathered from the ‘interesting’ design of their homes – windows and doors were yet to make an appearance! Access was through a hole in the flat roof using a type of ladder. Access and egress to the settlement was via external ladders and I guess that with ladders hauled up a sense of security was gained from the unknown things that go bump in the night and just might be lurking out there!

Çatalhöyük’s houses were built against each other and there were no streets or alleyways; perhaps the rooftops provided thoroughfares and ‘plazas’ for gatherings and work. The life of a house appears to have been around eighty years after which they were part demolished and a new house built on the site using the old as a foundation. Over the course of around 1500-2000 years the mound as we see it today grew up.

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Çatalhöyük – reconstructed house used to test ideas and theories about life 9000 years ago

The dead were buried under the floor of the houses and covered by a small, flat raised mound which may also have been used for sleeping on. Why? No one knows. That the dead were respected is evident from the nature of the burials, particularly those of children.

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Çatalhöyük – child burial, note bracelets and beads

What are believed to be shrines of some sort have been excavated and effigies of bulls and bulls’ horns form an integral part of a religion of some sort.

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digital reconstruction of a shrine

Art played a significant role in the lives of these people with houses decorated and elaborate figures sculpted, many in the form of a female. It was once believed that worship of the female or some Earth Goddess was prevalent but this has changed as excavations and research has opened up new avenues. Today it is believed that men and women ranked equally in status and the lack of ‘public buildings’ points towards a more ‘socialistic’ or communal way of life with full sharing of the fruits of the community’s labour the norm.

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7000 year-old hand prints

‘Enough of this history!’ I hear you say, so let me add a bit about our visit to Çatalhöyük. Excavations go on for about two and a half months each summer and, much as we would have liked to see this underway, there is no way J and I are going to do the ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen (and women)’ bit! We prefer the cooler, tourist-free days, and so it was that we had the whole site to ourselves. There is no entrance fee and as nobody is allowed to wander the site unescorted we had our very own guardian/guide, Mustafa, to show us around – he was a mine of information and to make the most of him you would need reasonable Turkish.

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J with our personal guardian/guide Mustafa

James Melaart discovered Çatalhöyük in 1958 and carried out excavations between 1961 and 1965 before controversy closed the dig down. In that time he uncovered a relatively huge area of some 160 buildings. Work began again in 1993 under the direction of Ian Hodder. In the 25 years between the methods and techniques of archaeology have developed hugely. Hodder and his multi-disciplinary team has taken 20 years to painstakingly excavate just a few houses. The results have opened up the Neolithic/Bronze Age world in astonishing detail. Finds from Çatalhöyük are so significant that the majority are housed in Ankara with just a few in Konya Archaeological Museum. What follows are a few photographic impressions – don’t let the apparent ‘sepia’ tint turn you off – you are looking at one of the oldest and best preserved ‘cities’ ever discovered. Let your imagination go walk-about.

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 painstaking attention to detail
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earliest known fragments of cloth
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Melaart’s earlier excavations
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your first glimpse of the excavations – at this level you are looking back 7000 years!
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excavations have continued at Melaart’s original dig – down to bed-rock through 18 levels (9000 years)
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decoration on the original plaster wall of a house

. . and finally, the figure that has come to symbolise everything that Çatalhöyük has come to represent . .

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. . once thought to represent an Earth or Mother Goddess its meaning has been obscured by more recent studies. That said, nothing can take away the power of this figure from a lost world that is slowly emerging from the mists of time. A link to a recent Mail Online article about the world’s oldest painting.

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

Habitat

harborne-groundsFrom Archers of Okçular September 2013

Back in June of this year J and I were in residence for a Summer School at Fircroft College in Birmingham. Fircroft is one of those fine old houses that have extensive grounds with plenty of mature trees and shrubs – it’s a very pleasant place to be. So it was that as we wandered the gardens one day J spotted a strange-looking construction. On closer examination it proved to be a stack of wooden pallets stuffed full of all sorts of scrap building/household materials and garden waste. It had obviously been there a while as all sorts of plants had colonised it.

‘What is it?’ asked J. ‘A habitat.’ said I, knowingly. ‘I want one!’ said J. ‘Really!’ said I, filing that one away in the bottom drawer.

Izmir-mimosa-acacia-retinodesFast forward to this past week. We used to have a rather large Acacia retinoides, known locally as İzmir Mimosa – we rather liked it! We also rather like (amongst other things) Oryctes nasicornis – the European Rhinoceros Beetle which in its turn likes İzmir Mimosa. Last year the tree began to shed bark and looked decidedly unwell and so a week or so ago I began adding to our store of winter logs. As work progressed the culprits and their handiwork became apparent . .

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male and female Oryctes nasicornis – the European Rhinoceros Beetle
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the culprits and the crime scene
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fortunately wearing gloves – the business end of a rather large Anatolian Yellow scorpion that was sharing the grubs’ tunnels

As J and I stood and contemplated our own mortality where the tree once blossomed, she looked up and said, a bit too brightly for my liking, ‘This will be the perfect place for one of those habitat things!’ For someone who worries about the onset of dementia she seems to do remarkably well remembering things/projects I need to be getting on with.

A few days ago a tractor delivered five pallets and the project commenced . .

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always knew that builder’s stuff would come in useful one day
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Spike doesn’t like being photographed
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Spike’s basement flat
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high-rise des-res coming along nicely

There’s still a bit of work to do to finish off, frog and toad halls, mouse and shrew holes – that said, this has been a fun project for J and me. You too could create something similar to attract all sorts of beneficial creatures to your garden – with natural habitats vanishing or being sanitised you could add your drop to the bucket of conservation. Here’s a link to download a pdf from Cheshire Wildlife Trust that will get you started.

If you are not impressed by what you’ve just seen, then in the best ‘Blue Peter’ tradition, here’s one I made earlier:

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. . not true! This was made by Cheshire Wildlife for a RHS garden show

Happy condo building!

Alan in Okçular

ps in case you wondered where Spike’s place actually is . .

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