Sunday, 21 October 2012

"An elephant walks over it...." antelope round it and an ant through it” is an evocative summary of how different animals see the world, the “it” being a scrub thicket and the obvious trait being size. Humans are relatively large animals so we see the world through a mix of elephant and antelope scales. Up at the Bay this means we see fields and woodland, dunes and lagoons. Most of the Bay’s creatures are much smaller, so the world becomes much bigger for them and much of our familiar landscape invisible, just as the whole of Northumberland is to any one of us as we walk through it . The photo shows a pond at Hauxley from a water beetles’ perspective. Not that we know how beetles interpret the world but their subtle reactions suggest more than just dull ‘turn left, turn right’ mechanics. One species takes flight more often from ponds harbouring higher numbers of its own kind. This would make sense if the populations were so high that lean times beckoned as beetles overwhelmed their prey. Another species leaves ponds as the density of pond weeds increases beyond a tolerable threshold of tangles and stems, which suggests some sense of space and structure. For some predatory beetles a thicket of pond weed is both a baffle to their hunting and perhaps camouflage for their own predators to use. For invertebrates the underwater wetlands must feel much like the wall of a forest does to our senses. The world becomes a much more complicated shape at beetle size. There are many more ways to crawl and swim, hide and seek. Much smaller than 1mm though and the pattern changes, the world becomes simpler in many ways. The architecture of plants becomes insensible, although surfaces matter very much. Plants are revealed as corrugated or sheer, encrusted or furred.  I know nothing about the microscopic ciliates or algae of the Bay, although they sometimes twitch into view when I’m puzzling over larger creatures. Their world beckons to be explored.

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