The very hungry caterpillar is quite fussy about its food
Is it the plant’s chemistry, structure, nutritional quality or parasite-free space that makes it fit so well, and that makes fuchsia, an alien shrub in these islands, an acceptable alternative? (For some British gardeners, indeed, the caterpillars’ appetite for fuchsia makes it a pest.) While blossoms themselves may play little part in the diet of caterpillars, it is the emergence of flowering plants (angiosperms) and their interaction with pollinating insects that has been credited with the great surge in the planet’s insect biodiversity. But in 1995 came the apparent discovery, in a petrified forest in Arizona, of bees’ nests and wasp cocoons fossilised into the trees and 100 million years older than fossil evidence for the earliest flowers, from some 140 million years ago.
Enough sober and prestigious American scientists were sufficiently impressed to put legs, so to speak, under the possibility that bees could have evolved before there was nectar in the world, or colourful petals to lead the insects in. Before the flowering angiosperms, the planet’s vegetation was the lush greenery of the gymnosperms, mostly conifers and ferns. Harvard’s eminent Stephen Jay Gould, always ready for a scientific challenge, was quite open to the possiblity that early bees were already pollinating gymnosperms. The angiosperms, perhaps, developed new ways of attracting their visits.
By 2006, a rival camp of palaentologists had inspected the Arizona fossil cells and declared them more likely to have been left by some Triassic beetle-like creature.
In any case, Dr Stephen Hasiotis, their discoverer, continues to lecture at the University of Kansas. One of his geology students describes him as wearing “a fanny pack, skin-tight jeans, a Hawaiian shirt and boots everyday” and being “fairly funny”. None of that, of course, makes him wrong.
Eye on nature
On a boat trip around the southern tip of Clear Island, about a mile offshore, we saw a huge, blue-black turtle on the surface, about equal in size to a cow. It began to swim after us with its head out of the water on a long neck with its mouth open.
Robert Henaghan, Galway
It was a leatherback turtle, which can be two metres long and weigh up to half a tonne. They make an annual migration along the south coast and into the Irish Sea, from tropical breeding sites, in pursuit of the barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), a favourite food.
I thought a recent visitor to my home was a moth. It was light brown, about 3cm across and looked like a stick.
Róisín de Leastar, Rosscarbery, Co Cork
From your photograph, it was the convolvulus plume moth, Emmelina monodactyla.
Recently I have been observing a black rabbit in my garden eating grass with a brown rabbit. A friend in the Kilbride area of Co Wicklow has seen black rabbits in that area.
Niamh Neumann, Newcastle, Co Wicklow
A very small percentage of the rabbit population is black. They tend to get picked off by predators more often than the grey/brown ones.
Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo, or email email@example.com. Please include a postal address