Bumblebees, rare chickweeds and sundews

It’s been a very busy couple of months. We’ve run lots of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions and in Scotland and in France and I’ve been guiding up in Shetland, Skye, Galloway and Argyll for About Argyll Walking Holidays.

There’s been plenty of amazing wildlife encounters like otters, dolphins, eagles and ospreys but I find that a lot of my interest is drawn to the wildflowers and bugs at this time of year.

In the Pyrenees I managed to get these nice photos of a male Early Bumblebee. It’s rounded tail identifies it as a male. It has yellow bands on its thorax and abdomen and a has a red-orange coloured tail.

Notice the colourful thick hairs on the abdomen of the early bumblebee. These have three useful functions. First it helps to keep it warm allowing it to thrive in cooler climates, like in Scotland or high up in the mountains in the Pyrenees. The hairs are also branched and feathery allowing pollen grains to stick to it and help pollination. The bee actually builds up electrostatic charge as it flies so when it lands on a flower grains of pollen can actually jump a few millimetres to the nearest hair. Lastly the yellow black colouring of the hairs help to warn predators that they aren’t to be messed with.

In June I visited the island of Unst in Shetland. I visited the Keen of Hamar and found a rare flower called the Edmonson chickweed (see below). The Keen of Hamar (Hamar means rocky in old Norse) is a headland where there is lots of serpentine rock which creates a rare habitat with thin debris soil that is toxic to all but a few wildflowers. Serpentine is a type of rock formed from oceanic crust, in this instance the remnants of the lost Lapetus Ocean that once existed between Laurentia (north America and Scotland), Baltica (Scandinavia) and Avalonia (England and the north European plain). On this one site and no other place in world grows the Edmonson chickweed -making it  one of the rarest plants in the world.

Another ingesting plant I have been taking an interest in is the oblong -leaved sundew, a carnivorous plant that consumes insects like the midge. If you look carefully they can been found in boggy moorland habitats across Scotland along with Butterwort (another carnivorous plant with fly-paper like green leaves).

The sundew has thin red tendrils with a sticky dew-like droplets at the end that attract and capture insects. The sundew insect eating behaviour is an adaption to the nutrient poor soils it grows in. Next time you see one gently touch the droplets and notice how the gooey droplets stick to your skin.

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