Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Alpine Stingers, Crawlers, and Flutterers

(Warning - contains many legs - but if you skip to half-way down there are pretty butterflies... awww)
I don't know much about insects, spiders and other creepy crawlies, but that doesn't stop me from finding them endlessly intriguing. This week on my holiday, I was happily skipping up a street in a tiny village on the river Passer - one of the glacier-fed tributaries of the Adige in Northern Italy. The sun was beating down and it was 35C, so I was wearing my "action sandals" (those outdoor ones with lots of velcro straps).

This was when I found the scorpion.

A scorpion is not something you want to meet when your feet are exposed, although this one was clearly dead. It was about 4-5cm in length, dark peat-brown, and had lost it's stinger. I'd never seen a scorpion outside of a zoo or pet shop, so I took pictures to show my Italian/Austrian family. They were perplexed - "a scorpion? No, we don't have scorpions." I showed them the pictures. "You found that here?"

This is probably Euscorpius germanus, a burrow dwelling scorpion that can live up to 2,500 metres altitude in the mountains. This one has lost it's stinger and was particularly big.. If you think my ID is wrong please get in touch, I am happy to be corrected by arthropod experts.
Turns out it's not just the locals who are surprised, most zoologists are unaware of the northerly European distribution of scorpions, especially those species living in mountainous areas such as the Alps or Balkans. They can dwell up to 2,500m altitude (this one was at ~600m), and the one I found - probably Euscorpius germanus - is the most northerly naturally-occurring* scorpion in Western Europe, having been found in northern Tyrol in Austria.
(There is a nice paper on European scorpions here)

Speaking of Arachnida, I am struck by the lack of spiders in the Alps compared with my homeland of Scotland. While reclining on my geranium-lined balcony, I marvelled at the heavy wooden beams of the building's construction. Back home, such a structure would be infested with spiders in every crevice, but not here. Why are there comparatively so few spiders in the Alps? The long winters? It certainly isn't a lack of flies...

Having said that, there were a lot of them on the slopes near the Jaufenpass (>2000m), where Italy and Austria share a border. These ones were like our wolf spiders and so sleek and fast I couldn't dream of getting a photograph. However, I did snap a few other arachnids on my travels. I tried to ID them, but admit to getting slightly nauseated (I'm a recovering arachnophobic). If anyone can help ID these little guys I would be much obliged (tweet @gsciencelady)

This guy tried to capture me in his web. I declined the offer, and draped him on a fencepost instead. A crab spider I believe, but what kind? (Tweet @gsciencelady if you know)
(24/6/15 - I've since identified this as a male Xysticus erraticus)

A leggy little dude who wobbled up a wall before posing for this shot. A harvestman of unknown parentage (if you can ID him, tweet me)

On a more fluttery note, the mountains were full of butterflies and moths.

Probably Phengaris alcon, the alcon blue.

Can you ID this butterfly?
(24/6/15 I now know this is not a butterfly, but a common heath moth, Ematurga atomaria)
A grizzled skipper, Pyrgus malvae? Common across Europe and fabulously fuzzy.

 The wildflower meadows were buzzing with crickets and grasshoppers. They are a pain to photograph, especially when all you have is a point-and-click like mine. However I will leave you with this stealthy wee dude and the meadow he lived in. Enjoy!

Alpine blogs still to come: geology and botanics!

*There are other species occurring as far north as the UK, but they were introduced by humans. Naturally occurring refers to post-glacial distributions.

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