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Posted in Insects, Nature, Plants, Wildlife on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about insects first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.
Oak Apples and Gall Wasps
If you were to look closely at the twigs of an oak tree in September, you would probably find some peculiar, hard round balls, which look like marbles, growing there.
These ‘marble’ swellings are called galls and they are caused by the grubs of the gall wasp which live inside them.
The type of gall wasp which produces these galls reached Britain less than 150 years ago in galls imported for making ink, and it is about one eighth of an inch long.
For many years naturalists were puzzled by the strange life-cycle of this wasp. Every insect which emerged from the marble galls was female, so naturalists were led to believe that no males of this species actually existed.
Then, just a few years ago, they discovered that there are two distinct generations of these gall wasps born within the course of a single year, the first ‘brood’ consisting of only females, and the second, of both sexes.
In September the wasps, which are all females, emerge from little holes in the marble galls and fly away in search of Turkey Oak trees. There they lay unfertilised eggs on the buds of the tree, and these hatch out and begin to form small galls to protect themselves. The wasps which eventually emerge from these small galls are different from the ones which come out of the marble galls and are of both sexes.
The females from this second brood of wasps lay fertilised eggs on the buds of a common oak and the life cycle is completed. We are back at the beginning of the story, with the grubs inside their marble galls about to emerge as female adults.
But that is not really the end of this very complicated but interesting story. If some galls are kept in a closed glass jar the wasps can be examined when they emerge. But often, instead of the expected gall wasp, a small ichneumon fly emerges. This is an insect that deposits its eggs on the grubs of other insects.
The reason for this surprising occurrence is that after the gall wasp has laid its egg on the bud, a female ichneumon fly has come along, inserted its ovipositor into the gall and laid ITS egg on the grub of the gall wasp! When the ichneumon grub hatches it feeds on the gall wasp grub and kills it. So, instead of a gall wasp coming out of the gall, an ichneumon emerges!
There are other kinds of gall wasps, each insect having its own special kind of gall. In one species, females spend the winter in galls on the roots of oak trees and then climb up the tree and lay their eggs in the buds. Here the grubs cause round, rosy-coloured swellings which are often called ‘oak apples,’ from which, in July, both males and females appear. These ‘oak apples’ are not the same galls as the marble ones we have already mentioned, and are produced by a different kind of gall wasp.
Posted in Insects, Nature, Plants, Wildlife on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about insects first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Hide-away insects including the Flower mantis, cousin of the Empusa by A Oxenham
As it rests motionless, poised on the leaves of a plant, the Empusa looks as harmless, and almost as beautiful as the flower which it tries to imitate. Like its cousins, the Flower Mantis and the Praying Mantis, the Empusa is a deadly deceiver.
Known as the “Little Devil” in the Mediterranean countries where it lives, the Empusa can be distinguished from its cousins by what looks like a Bishop’s Mitre growing out of the top of its head. It has a light green body with touches of rose pink at the edges, with green and white stripes on the underside. With such brilliant colouring this wicked insect has little difficulty in deceiving its prey.
When it is hungry, the Empusa adopts its characteristic stance on the leaves of a bush or a plant to take on the shape of an anemone. This pose is not to protect itself from its enemies, as is the case with leaf-insects, but to mislead insects into believing that it is a flower so that it can entice them within reach of its vicious-looking legs. This means that instead of going in search of its prey, like most other creatures have to, the Empusa can lie in wait for its food to come along.
An unsuspecting insect passing by is instantly attracted by the colour and shape of the ‘flower,’ and as soon as it draws near, receives a sharp blow from the Empusa’s ‘mitre.’ Before it can recover from this shock, the Empusa lashes forward its fearsome forelegs, and the victim is trapped. Once caught in the Empusa’s deadly, unshakable hold, the insect is helpless, and is promptly devoured.
Despite its wicked way of catching prey, and its frightening appearance, the Empusa is not as greedy or as ferocious as its cousins, but it certainly deserves its nickname ‘Little Devil.’
Posted in Birds, Historical articles, History, Nature, Plants, Wildlife on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Alfred Russel Wallace first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Loaded with their exotic catches, Bates and Wallace trudged home while their neighbours relaxed in their hammocks by Severino Baraldi
He was a thin, bespectacled, diffident young man, a land survey or by profession, and a botanist by inclination, who was most happy when he was pottering around the English hedgerows and country lanes, looking for specimens. Looking at him, you would never have thought of him as being a robust man, capable of enduring all sorts of hardships. If anything, you would have put him down as being rather a weakling. Which makes the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, all the more incredible.
It is quite possible that Wallace might well have led an obscure and uneventful life if he had not had the good fortune to meet and become the friend of a well known naturalist of the time, known as H. W. Bates. Wallace had an abrupt manner and a withdrawn nature, but there was something about Bates that broke down all his reserve. More than that, the friendship seems to have changed him overnight from an earnest but dull naturalist, into an adventurer who was to risk his life daily in a distant primeval jungle.
His imagination suddenly fired by some books of South American travel he had been reading, Wallace decided that he would like to go there in order to search for specimens. He approached his friend Bates, and put the proposition to him. Would he like to accompany Wallace on a scientific expedition along the banks of the Amazon? Bates agreed to accompany him, and in the April of 1848, the two friends set off on their journey.
Reaching the town of Para, at the mouth of the river Amazon, they rented themselves a house which they used as a base for their early expeditions into the forest. At first Wallace was only conscious of the luxuriant foliage and the immense size of the trees, which often rose to more than eighty feet before they spread out their branches like a vast canopy over everything below. The reckless extravagance of colour that Nature used for her plant life also astonished him as he trod daily along jungle paths bordered by rare orchids and mimosa growing as plentifully as weeds.
But this, as he was soon to learn, was only one aspect of the jungle. The other was ugly and cruel. In holes, only a little way off from the footpaths, great bird-catching spiders lurked. Snakes were everywhere, ready to strike out at the intruder’s legs. Hornets and wasps abounded, and crocodiles lurked on the river banks.
In the night the air was filled with venomous insects which penetrated the muslin sleeping nets and inflicted bites which turned into ugly sores. Most loathsome of all were the vampire bats, which settled on the horses and fed on their blood.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Legend, Plants on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
This edited article about Johnny Appleseed first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 558 published on 23 September 1972.
Johnny Appleseed, the American folk hero, was actually named John Chapman, by Richard Hook
Johnny Appleseed was born in Massachusetts in 1774. His real name was John Chapman, but over the years, due to his habit of carrying a sack of apple seeds and planting them on his numerous and long travels, his real name disappeared and he became known to all as Johnny Appleseed.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Johnny arrived in what was then the virgin territory of Ohio. This area was a wilderness of incredible beauty, rich in rivers and forests but inhabited, as is most unexplored country, by many dangers. Wolves, bears, wild pig and snakes abounded in large numbers, but these did not deter Johnny Appleseed from making many incredible solitary journeys into the wilderness, unaware of the dangers awaiting a lone traveller. Sometimes he would make use of the rivers and journey by canoe. At other times he would journey on horseback; more often than not he would walk. But always he carried the leather sack that contained his precious apple seeds.
The reason for Johnny’s obsession with apple seeds and their planting was due to his deep religious beliefs. He believed that fruit was the most wonderful of gifts given to man by God, and he took upon himself the task of planting small orchards in various carefully selected spots throughout the wilderness, thereby aiding the settlers who were moving rapidly westwards by ensuring for them a plentiful supply of fruit in the future.
In between each journey he would travel back to Pennsylvania where there were mills busy in the production of cider. The cider mills crushed and used the juice of vast quantities of apples and it was here that Johnny Appleseed obtained his much cherished seeds.
It is little wonder that Johnny Appleseed came to be thought of by the pioneers and settlers as little less than a saint. His own safety was of very little importance to him, but the happiness and safety of his fellow man concerned him deeply.
One story tells of a settler observing Johnny wandering barefoot in freezing snow persuaded him to accept a pair of shoes. When the settler saw him some time later, again barefoot in the snow, Johnny explained, upon being questioned on the whereabouts of the shoes, that he had wandered upon a poverty stricken family, had decided their need was greater than his and had given the shoes away.
There are many acts of kindness like this attributed to Johnny Appleseed, in fact his attire was at times what one can only describe as comical, due to the fact that he had given all of his more conventional clothes away. He is said at one time to have set off in the forests, barefoot, hatless, and wearing as his main garment, with holes crudely cut into it for his head and arms, a coffee sack.
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Posted in Architecture, Country House, Historical articles, History, London, Plants on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Dr. Lettsom's House, Grove Hill, Camberwell near London
Dr Lettsom was a prominent Quaker who bought some two acres of land on Grove Hill in Camberwell in 1779. The following year work began on his new house, a plain four-storey villa with a reasonably sized garden. He added considerably to the grounds over the next two years, which by 1792 had grown to ten acres. These were laid out with flowerbeds, tree-lined avenues, orchards, ponds, statuary and the all-important greenhouses; for Dr Lettsom was one of the most important botanists of the period. Our unusual picture shows a revealing view of the garden at the back of the house. New wings to Grove Hill contained a library and a museum, and as a plant collector and horticulturalist his knowledge of flora was so extensive that his garden became a famous attraction for the scientific and social elite of the day, and poets wrote verses about its beauties. Grove Hill house was demolished in the late nineteenth century.
Many more pictures relating to Camberwell can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Nature, Plants on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about David Douglas first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 540 published on 20 May 1972.
David Douglas went searching in Canada for nature's secrets; during one of his expeditions he was surrounded by a group of heavily-armed Indians
The people of Scone were not to blame for failing to recognise in young David Douglas a person destined to become one of its most celebrated citizens. He was constantly playing truant from school or disturbing the peace of the village with all manner of high-spirited mischief.
“Something must be done about that lad of yours or he’ll come to no good end,” the schoolmaster told young David’s father. “His head is stuffed with nothing but fancy notions about flowers, plants, birds and such-like. He’ll not earn his living that way, Mr Douglas. In my opinion there’s only one thing to do and that’s to send him to Mr Wilson’s school in Perth. If Wilson can’t put some sense into his head, nobody can.”
The school at Perth was three miles from Scone, which meant that young David had a six-mile walk every day. But instead of being dismayed by this daily trek, the lad was highly delighted, for it gave him the chance to make new discoveries about nature and her ways. What his pockets contained on returning home from Perth each day was anybody’s guess. It might be anything from a rare wild flower to a wriggling grass snake!
It would seem that the formidable Mr Wilson had no more success in taming the “wild” boy of Scone than his previous schoolmaster.
In desperation his father took him away from school at the age of eleven and apprenticed him as a gardener’s boy in the nursery garden at Scone Palace. Young David’s joy knew no bounds. Here he would be working among flowers and plants, learning their secrets and all the time adding to his knowledge of the wonder-world of nature.
In old Mr Beattie, the head gardener, he found a friend indeed and the old Scot would often take the lad’s side in his high-spirited disputes with the other gardening lads, saying he “preferred a deevil to a dolt.”
There was no holding the “bad” boy of Scone now that he had found himself on the path he wished to follow. He read every book on trees and plants he could lay hands upon. It was also about this time he came across a copy of “Robinson Crusoe.” The story fascinated him and sparked off a burning desire to seek adventure in strange, far-off lands, looking for plants, trees and flowers such as the gardeners of Britain had never set eyes upon.
At the age of 19 David Douglas joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. His knowledge and enthusiasm very soon attracted the attention of the celebrated botanist, Professor William Hooker. He singled him out to accompany him on several botanical excursions into the wilds of Scotland.
One morning the great man called Douglas into his office and told him that the Horticultural Society of London (now known as the Royal Horticultural Society) were looking for a field collector to work in overseas countries hunting for new and rare species of plants and trees.
“I think you’re the very man for the job, Douglas. If you feel like applying for the post you can count on me to back up your application,” said the Professor.
A few weeks later the great news came – the Society’s choice for the post was David Douglas!
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Posted in Adventure, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Plants, Ships on Monday, 3 February 2014
This edited article about Louis Bougainville first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 537 published on 29 April 1972.
finally he took the soldiers around the ship so that they could see just how bad the situation was, by Graham Coton
No one spoke, and those who had essential work to do if the ship were to continue its voyage did so listlessly. The leather on the yards and on the oars had long since been stripped off and, until a few days previously, men could be seen chewing it mechanically, still hoping for some sustenance from the thin, dry strips.
As so happened, scurvy had taken its toll and there must have been many who were secretly convinced that they would never see France again.
For all of them it was the disappointment which was so hard to bear. They had surmounted the difficulties of sailing in unknown waters, of negotiating with unknown savages, and of a ferocious 52 day passage from the Atlantic through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific. Now they seemed to be drifting towards death when they had achieved so much.
The following day, the question of food was still uppermost in the men’s minds, but the choice before them was grim. Should they eat the rats which swarmed in the ship’s holds or starve? Louis Bougainville brought his fists down on the table. Tired though he was, the strength of the blow sent the charts quivering. He spoke slowly and forcefully. “In just two or three days we must find one of these Dutch islands, the Moluccas,” he said, “And then our troubles will be over.”
Louis Bougainville was right to be hopeful. The next evening, pieces of driftwood and branches of trees were seen, indicating that land was very near. A coastline came into view and then a harbour. But when they moved slowly towards an anchorage two Dutch soldiers came aboard with the distressing news that no foreign ships were allowed there. Bouganville was aghast, then incensed. He pleaded, he swore and finally he took the soldiers around the ship so that they could see just how bad the situation was. They were no fighting force, but a tired, hungry party who offered no threat to anyone.
Finally, humanity won the day and the resident agent, relenting, invited Bougainville and his officers to a meal at his house. Bougainville described it as “one of the most delicious moments of my life.” In return, he agreed to tell the agent of their voyage so far. It was quite an adventure.
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Insects, Plants on Wednesday, 15 January 2014
The hookah-smoking caterpillar is the most laid-back anthropomorphic character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is because he is probably smoking opium in his bubble pipe, which would also account for his peculiar way of talking and his bizarre conversation, even by the standards of Lewis Carroll’s supreme classic of nonsense literature. Alice meets the three-inch long smoker after she has been shrunk to a tiny size by taking a pill, and she does not like him very much, being very unimpressed by his length. For his part, he gives her more disarming narcotic advice about eating the mushroom on which he is sitting; the meeting is described in Chapter Five, entitled ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’. It is during this encounter that the caterpillar asks her to recite the famous nonsense poem,”You are old, Father William”, which she does.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Plants on Wednesday, 15 January 2014
He first bought a tincture of opium from a shop in London's Oxford Street by C L Doughty
Thomas De Quincey was a famous Romantic writer whose seminal book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, remains the most unusual literary production of the English Romantic era. It fascinated and appalled its contemporary readership, and set a trend for later writers of so-called addiction literature. He remains one of England’s finest essayists, and along with his Recollections of the Lake Poets, the Confessions has earned him a unique place in English letters. His brilliant essays, ‘On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts’ and ‘The Mail Coach’, are classics of the genre. This unusual man at last conquered his drug habit late in middle age, a remarkable feat for a life-long addict.
Many more pictures relating to opium can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Historical articles, Nature, Plants on Friday, 25 October 2013
This edited article about plants originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 440 published on 20 June 1970.
The sunflower is a native of Central America and Peru and was carved on ancient Inca temples. It was also worked in gold by the Incas, who formed brooches and standards shaped like sunflowers, as they were sun worshippers.
It was a very popular flower at one time but, by the end of the 17th century, had rather gone out of fashion.
Most people, when they first see a sunflower however, are amazed at its size. Not only is it extremely tall, but its actual flowers are enormous, compared with the flowers of other plants. There are, however, many “tall” stories about its size which must have been a good deal coloured by the imaginations of the story-tellers. One in the Royal gardens at Madrid was supposed to have reached a height of 24 ft. and one in Padua, Italy, a height of 40 ft.
In fact, sunflowers are rarely taller than the tallest man – a little over 6 ft.
It is said that when the Mormons left Missouri, looking for a place where they could worship God in their own way, the men sowed sunflower seeds as they crossed the plains of Utah. The following summer, the women and children were able to follow the trail provided by the sunflowers.
Sunflowers are very useful plants. Their petals produce a yellow dye. The pith of the stalks is so light that it has been used in lifebelts. The leaves make excellent food for livestock.
The most valuable parts of sunflowers, however, are the seeds. As many as 2,362 seeds have been counted in a single sunflower head. They are rich in protein and calcium and are used for making edible oils for margarine and also artists’ oil colours.