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Chios Nature - Autumn poster Spacer
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Autumn species list:
Bullet point Sandwich Tern
Bullet point Barn Swallow
Bullet point Wood mice
Bullet point Otter
Bullet point Hoopoe
Bullet point Hummingbird moth
Bullet point Hover fly
Bullet point Agama agama
Bullet point Locust
Bullet point Green toad
Sandwich tern [Sterna sandvicensis]
Sandwich tern - photo: Terje Kolaas Spacer You will not see a sandwich tern chick anywhere on Chios. These sea birds, rarely seen inland, visit the island's shores either on their way to their summer breeding grounds around the coasts of Northwest Europe, or on their way back to the coastal waters off West Africa and the Arabian Gulf where they spend the winter,
mostly at sea. By the time they are passing through the Mediterranean in the Autumn even this season's chicks will be close to their adult size of up to 43cms. Sandwich terns breed in very dense colonies on coasts and low-lying islands, where they rely for protection on bunching their nests close together or choosing to site their colonies near to other, more aggressive species (such as black-headed gulls) that take a more proactive approach to seeing off predators than the terns themselves do. They do not build nests but scrape out a hollow in the ground where they lay up to three eggs. Like the chicks when they hatch, the eggs are speckled and blend almost invisibly into their surroundings. The parents dive into the sea for fish from a height of about ten metres and bring food back for their young. Males also feed females as part of their courtship ritual. This includes a 'dance' which is performed on the beach - with wings a little spread for dramatic effect, the birds circle each other on their short black legs with their yellow-tipped black beaks held high.
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Barn swallows [Hirundo rustica]
Barn swallow - photo: George Reszeter
Barn swallow - photo: J Viana
Spacer The appearance in Chios of swallows each year is one of the signs of Spring. These small birds (only up to about 20cms long) will have made a long journey from their winter feeding grounds in Africa and will stay to feed, mate, nest and raise their young, leaving again in the Autumn. Distinguishable from other members of the swallow family by their deeply forked tails and reddish markings on their chests, throats and foreheads, barn swallows are, like the rest, wonderfully agile flyers that catch their insect prey on the wing. They can be seen dipping low over the ground as they feed, and skimming the surface of any body of fresh water to drink. Those individuals that are endowed with the longest tails seem to find it easiest to attract a mate, and once this is done the
pair will build a nest of mud high on any rough wall, at just below ceiling height. Other nesting pairs are likely to build in the same general location, forming a small colony. A supply of mud is crucial to the nesting process so, if the idea of watching these birds go about their lives is attractive to you, providing a tray of mud in an accessible outdoor location is one way of inviting them into your neighbourhood. If they can find it, the adults will incorporate straw or horse hair into the structure of their nest. Inside it will be made comfortable with a lining of grass or feathers. About five eggs will be laid and both parents will sit on the eggs and be involved in the rearing of the chicks, although it seems it is the female that usually works hardest! When the young emerge they will be almost completely naked and helpless, but by the time they are twenty days old they will be able to fly. The parents will care for them for another week or so, after which the first brood of the summer will sometimes help its parents to raise a second. These adolescents will join other members of the colony to defend the nestlings from possible predators, such as cats. They have been observed fearlessly dive-bombing both feline and human intruders, if they get too close! In the Spring of 2006 there was a large colony breeding in and around the buildings of Nea Moni. These individuals have become accustomed to visitors and seem quite untroubled by them.
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Wood mice [Apodemus sylvaticus]
Wood mice - photo: Arthur Grosset Spacer The life of a wood mouse is full of danger and usually short - if an individual survives into its second year it is doing very well indeed. Being nocturnal, wood mice have developed large eyes and ears, allowing good night vision, and sensitivity to any sounds a predator may make as it approaches. Unfortunately owls are very silent flyers, and they are not the only danger. Cats, foxes and snakes also think of a wood mouse as a tasty meal. Like the house mouse it is small - only growing to about 10cms long, with
a tail about as long again. As an adult its fur is a warm brown, in contrast to the house mouse's greyer coat, and there is usually a streak of yellow on its white chest. Its young are greyer than the adults, and can be more easily confused with those of the house mouse, but this is a field-dwelling mammal that makes its own living and nesting tunnels, and it does not usually invade human habitations. Its diet is based on seeds, nuts and berries, which it comes out to look for at night, relying on a highly developed sense of smell. It can locate newly sown seeds and dig them up with great accuracy - a talent that makes it unpopular with farmers. Wood mice will boldly venture into open spaces where other small mammals will not dare to go. If necessary they will climb to find their food, and are very active and athletic, leaping along on their elongated, kangaroo-like hind legs. When food supplies are plentiful, wood mice will collect any surplus and carry it back to their underground burrows where they make a store that will see them through the lean times. Insect larvae, pupae, small snails and other invertebrates are taken to supplement the diet when more desirable food can't be found. If it is well fed, a pair will produce several litters of up to nine young during the warmer months of the year, and these will be weaned by the time they are eighteen days old. Initially born into a special nesting chamber lined with leaves, grasses or moss, they are cared for and protected by the female who will keep the aggressive males away. But after about three weeks she will tire of her responsibilities and throw her young out to fend for themselves. Mortality is then high.
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Otter [Lutra lutra]
Otter - photo: Dick Klees Spacer It is rare to see an otter on Chios , but they have been recorded living on the east coast of the island, near Delfini. The European otter is the most widely distributed of all the otter species. In addition to Europe, it can be found in parts of Asia and Africa . However, in spite of its name, it is thought to be extinct in parts of Europe, and its declining numbers mean it is now considered globally threatened. Pressure on its natural habitat and the use of pesticides are both thought to have played a role in this.

Otters have webbed toes and thick tails that help to make them marvellously efficient swimmers. This means they are able to live
principally by chasing and catching fish. Underwater they can close off both their nostrils and their ears, while their sensitive whiskers help them to track the movements of their prey. They also hunt on land, and will take birds, insects, frogs, crabs and even small mammals. This opportunistic attitude to diet, and a readiness to adapt to their environment, means otters may inhabit almost any unpolluted body of fresh water, including lakes, streams, rivers and ponds - always provided that there is a good enough food supply. A healthy and well fed individual may live for up to ten years. Hunting mainly takes place at night, while the day is usually spent in some kind of shelter. When the female is raising cubs this might be the otter's holt, often a burrow in a riverbank which, for safety, can only be entered from underwater. But otters are adaptable and may also live along the coast, in salt water, making use of rocky crevices in place of their more usual practice. In these circumstances they still need regular access to fresh water so that they can clean their fur. This is a vital activity as their survival depends on it. The coat must be regularly groomed and oiled to prevent it from becoming waterlogged. If this ever happened the animal could drown. The coat has two distinct layers - the outer one is long, stiff and oily, while the inner one is denser, soft and fine, and provides insulation. The effect of the two combined is such that an otter's skin never gets wet.

Otters are strongly territorial, living alone for the most part. The range of one individual can be up to 40km, depending on the amount of food available. They will breed at any time of the year, with mating taking place in the water. After a gestation period of about 63 days, between one and four cubs will be born, and they will stay close to their mother for a year. Then they will leave her and take up the solitary life of a juvenile, as they do not become sexually mature until they are 2-3 years old. While they are young they are especially playful and have often been observed enjoying mud slides and chasing games, which they play with each other as well as their mother. Courting adults too seem to enjoy a good game, though the male does not linger long enough to play a part in helping to raise his cubs. If he can, he will find another female to mate with and move on once more.

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Hoopoe [Upupa epops]
Hoopoe - photo: Terje Kolaas Spacer The hoopoe is a confident bird that shows little fear of human activity so it can often be found living near towns and villages. The crest with its black and white tip is usually held flat but will be raised as the bird alights, or if it is excited. The flight is distinctive, with erratic, butterfly-like flapping when the
characteristic black and white markings of the bird's broad wings is displayed. Any appearance of ineptitude is deceptive, as the hoopoe is known to be able to evade the aerial attack of falcons, being particularly adept at gaining height quickly when it needs to. There is evidence that the annual migration routes see some birds that have spent the winter south of the Sahara crossing the Alps . Besides being strong flyers, hoopoes are also good climbers - a skill that comes in handy when they are investigating possible nesting or roosting sites. Hoopoes are monogamous and nest wherever they can find a suitable hole. This may be in a tree, wall, cliff, a crevice between rocks, or even on flat ground. A nest site may be used for several years. The male selects it and establishes his territory. After mating the female will lay between five and eight eggs. The young begin to feed themselves after six days, but remain with their parents for some weeks before becoming fully independent. Hoopoes are active during the day, roosting in cavities at night. They enjoy taking sand or dust baths, and forage mainly on the ground both among low-growing vegetation and on bare soil, where they search for their food, showing a marked liking for insect larvae and pupae, though they have also been recorded taking small lizards and snakes.

The hoopoe features in Greek mythology: Tereus was the husband of Procne but while escorting his wife's sister, Philomele, from Athens for a visit, he fell in love with her. When he was able to be alone with Philomele he declared his passion but, finding himself rejected, he raped her, and to ensure her silence, cut out her tongue and imprisoned her, telling his wife that her sister had died. Philomele managed to send a message to her sister, and together the two plotted their revenge. Procne killed Tereus' son and fed her husband the boy's flesh during a night of revelry devoted to Bacchus. Then she revealed what she had done. The enraged father attacked both women with murderous intent but the god of wine intervened, resolving the situation by changing all three into birds. Philomele was given her voice back by being transformed into a nightingale, while Procne was allowed to fly freely as a swallow. Tereus, the deceived husband and rapist, became the slightly comical hoopoe.

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Hummingbird hawk moth [Macroglossum stellatarum]
Humming bird hawk moth - photo: Ian Hardy Spacer As its name implies this large moth might easily be mistaken for a hummingbird. Unlike many other moths that are active at dusk or after dark, this is definitely a daytime flyer. The splash of exotic colour - its hind wings are bright orange - adds to the illusion. It certainly exhibits similar feeding behaviour, hovering in front of flowers with an audible hum from its rapidly beating wings,
while it extends its long proboscis and sucks up their nectar. In Chios particular favourites seem to be jasmine and honeysuckle, but many other species will also be visited. Studies have noted that hummingbird hawk moths have a remarkable memory and will return to a particular flowerbed at the same time each day. The moth can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, migrating northwards as the summer approaches, but heading back south as the seasons change and colder weather comes. In Europe it cannot survive the winters north of the Alps . In Spring, once the males have located a female, using scent rather than sight as both sexes look alike, pairs engage in courtship chases, pursuing each other in flights that hug the ground, then sometimes spiralling upwards together. Two generations may be produced each season. The females use a variety of food plants on which to lay their eggs, and the caterpillars grow both large (60mm) and spectacular. They have either a green or reddish-brown body that is covered in small white dots. Running along each side is a pale yellow stripe that ends in a blue horn, tipped in yellow. They may be seen from June to October after which they will pupate. It is as a pupa that the insect overwinters.
Humming bird hawk moth egg Spacer Humming bird hawk moth caterpillar Spacer Humming bird hawk moth pupa
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Hover fly [Eristalis pertinax]
Hover fly - photo: Mike Taylor
Spacer There are hundreds of species of hover fly and they vary greatly in size and appearance. Some are black and tiny (5mm), while the largest of them are as big and colourful as bumble bees. All are true flies, having only a single pair of wings, in contrast to most other flying insects that have two. Within this large family is the Eristalis group, the fifteen species of which are difficult to
identify individually as the differences between them are small and really only apparent to an expert. The adults are a common sight in summer wherever there are flowering plants. This example is E pertinax which, like the rest of its close relations, has evolved not only to look like a worker honey bee but also to behave like one. Studies have shown that the time it spends visiting the flowers it feeds on in its adult form (gathering pollen and nectar) is closer to the behaviour of the honey bee, the worker of which it most closely resembles, than any other bee or wasp species. This mimicry protects it from predators that have learned to avoid stinging insects, even though none of the hover flies can, in fact, sting. Like other hover flies E pertinax prefers sunny and still conditions and has remarkable flying skills that include reaching speeds of 10m per second, in short bursts. Either sex can often be spotted hovering motionlessly close to food plants, while males aggressively patrol a small territory in shafts of sunlight. The adults are useful pollinators, while many of the larval forms feed on pests, such as aphids. Hover fly larvae are extremely varied, some living in plant stems or in plant litter, while others are aquatic. E pertinax in particular favours stagnant pools or puddles for its egg laying, and the emerging larvae feed on micro-organisms in water that can be so muddy or polluted (with cattle dung for example) that it has little or no oxygen content. The larvae have a solution to this potential asphyxiation problem, having evolved a breathing tube that they can extend from the rear end of their bodies. This they can position so that it breaks the surface of the foul water, like a periscope, allowing them access to the air. Their appearance has given rise to the name "rat-tailed maggot" even though the tube is not, in any real sense, a tail.
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Starred Agama [Laudakia stellio]
Starred lizard - photo: Jelger Herder Spacer At least five subspecies of this lizard are recognized. Laudakia stellio (which used to be known as Agama stellio) is widespread throughout the Middle East . Like all lizards, the agamas depend on the heat of the sun to regulate their body temperature, so they are most likely to be seen at mid-morning when they come out to bask on rocks, turning their backs towards the sun. Their well-developed claws make them very good climbers, and they also have an impressive set of teeth, but in spite of this they are relatively timid and will quickly scurry away to hide in a crevice if they are alarmed. Agamas are opportunistic hunters that wait for
passing prey species. Mostly, they feed on insects, such as crickets and beetles, but they have also been recorded taking spiders, smaller reptiles and even small mammals. This is not really surprising, as an adult may reach over 30cms in length. Males are territorial, and in the breeding season will fight to defend their patch. They use a range of different movement signals both to attract a mate and warn off any rivals. Shaking the head from side to side is a signal of aggression, while head-bobbing (that looks to us rather as if the creature is doing press-ups) is either a display of dominance or a courtship ritual - depending on circumstances. Mating lasts for about 2 minutes, after which the fertilized female will seek a suitable place to dig a burrow for her eggs. She may lay between three and eight of these. In some agama species the sex of the hatchlings will depend on the temperature of the embryos as they develop - the higher it is, the more likely it becomes that males will emerge. June is a common month for egg laying, and, during the sixty days in which the eggs remain buried, temperatures are likely to be high, but as agamas can lay three times a year (if conditions are favourable) this helps to even out the balance of the sexes. Young lizards are solitary for a couple of months, but after that 'family' groups form. These are presided over by a dominant male whose status gives him mating rights over all of the group's females.
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Locust [Locusta migratoria]
Locust - photo: Mike Taylor  Spacer The migratory locust is the most widespread locust species. It is found throughout Africa, Australia and Asia where, in years with good rainfall, several generations can be produced in a single season. The resulting numbers of insects can form themselves into vast swarms that travel long distances. As they can eat their own body weight in green food each day, a passing swarm can cause catastrophic damage to grassy crops such as wheat, barley, oats and maize. Migratory locusts used to be common in Europe but they are now much rarer here and no longer breed in large enough numbers to cause serious problems. Female locusts
lay their eggs in moist soil but if this dries out they will not survive. The long, dry summers of Chios can often limit the numbers of hatchlings. However in warm and moist conditions development is rapid and the eggs hatch in about two weeks. Locusts differ from butterflies and beetles in that they go through neither a larval nor a pupal stage. Instead, tiny, wingless versions of the adult (nymphs) emerge from the eggs, and these "hoppers" shed their skins as they get progressively larger, developing wings as they go. Only the adults can fly. The juvenile "hoppers" go through 5-6 changes before they become winged adults, and they can do this in 25-30 days, in ideal conditions. Once they reach adulthood, sexual maturity follows in about two weeks, and then they are ready to mate. Within their short adult life of just a couple of months, they may breed five or six times - depending on the amount of rainfall. The young hoppers are usually green in colour and solitary, if there are not many in a given area, but when numbers are high their colour and behaviour both change. They become yellow/orange with black spots and begin to band together, forming an army on the march. Then they may cover a distance of 500m in a day. The adults too exhibit this behaviour and can form large swarms of many thousands of individuals. Once on the wing they may travel 150km in a night, their direction being dictated by the wind. The swarm is not always successful in finding suitable new feeding grounds. The wind may carry it into barren areas or out to sea. In 2001, scientists from NASA were making observations from space of a dry salt lake in South Australia . They noticed strange dark lines on its usually white surface. Investigations on the ground revealed millions of dead locusts gathered there. The action of the wind had concentrated them into drifts kilometers long that could be seen from space. It is thought the reflection of bright moonlight may have attracted a large swarm to its death on the water.
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Green toad [Bufo viridis]
Green toad - photo: Aquaworld, Crete Spacer The green toad can live in many conditions. It inhabits both wet swampy areas and dry deserts. Unlike a frog which has smooth, wet skin, a toad's is dry and warty and although it needs to return to water to breed, it is not so dependent on being near water as a frog. Neither is it so choosy about the water quality of its
breeding pool; frogs require fresh water, but toads can tolerate a level of brackishness. Frogs have teeth but toads do not, relying on grabbing their insect prey with the quick action of their sticky tongues. The lumpy structure behind the eye is the parotoid gland. It holds a chemical substance that is toxic and makes the animal unpleasant to the taste. As it cannot jump as far or as fast as a frog, being heavier in the body and with shorter legs, the toad relies on this toxicity to discourage predators. Another defence mechanism, which people who pick up a toad have often experienced, is that it will urinate when it is handled. The green toad may spend a large proportion of its life on land, returning to water only to mate, lay 2-3 thousand eggs in parallel strings, and allow its tadpoles to develop. Once it leaves its nursery pond it may move a long distance away from any body of water. It can do this because it does not need to drink. A specially adapted area of skin on the underside of its body can absorb moisture from the soil it is in contact with. Nevertheless long journeys may have to be undertaken to find suitable breeding places, and it is during these that toads can most often be seen in daylight hours. Otherwise, the green toad is active mainly during twilight and at night, usually sheltering from the heat of the day by hiding under a stone. When the breeding season comes, the males cease to feed and travel to find water. Once there, they begin to call, amplifying the sound by inflating the loose skin around the throat, and the egg-laden females gather. Males will grasp a female firmly round the chest in a grip that may not be released for days - not even if they are disturbed - until all her eggs have been released into the water, and fertilized. The eggs hatch after about ten days, and the tadpoles are initially rather inactive, as they feed from the remains of the yolk sac that nourished them in the egg, but soon they are swimming and foraging for themselves, feeding on aquatic plants. They gradually develop legs and lose their tails and gills. By the time metamorphosis is complete, after about a month, they will be air-breathers. They will climb out of the water and begin to feed on insects. If they can find a plentiful food supply, and other conditions are also favourable, they may live for up to ten years.
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