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Legless lizard that craves the sun
2:45pm Monday 25th June 2012 in Ron Freethy column
Few animals have been saddled with a name like the slow worm which is neither slow, nor is a worm.
To look at it it would seem to be a snake but it is not this either. What the slow worm is really is a legless lizard. Like all cold blooded animals the slow worm thrives best in hot sunshine and so far 2012 has been something of a disaster.
I write these notes in mid June and so things do need to warm up fast.
The scientific name for the slow worm is aguis fragilis. This fragile bit indicates that if it is threatened by a predator it can break off part of the tail causing enough confusion for it to run away. This process is known as automy. In many slow worms the tail regrows but lacks the vertebra which it has lost in the first instance.
The scales of the animal are smooth and polished and when these catch the sunlight the slow worm seems to be fashioned of polished metal.
The males are usually a uniform colour but with the females having striped backs. They vary in size they seldom reach much more than 12 inches (30 cms) but specimens as long as 50 cms 20 inches) and are on record.
As with all cold blooded creatures slow worms hibernate but the warm spring days can help can wake them up to lie in the sun.
So far in 2012 there has been very little lying in the sun for many of us.
But I suppose we can live in hope.
beauty of graceful redshank
This week I was strolling alongside the Ribble near West Bradford Bridge when I saw a redshank followed by three of its offspring.
There are few birds which are so beautiful to see and to hear.
The original name for this bird comes from the old English Read which means read and scanca which means a leg bone. In the north of England it was once called the swat but I have not been able to find out why. Has any reader of the LT got a clue?
The long legs are the most obvious feature of this 11 inch (28 cms) wader but in the case of the young birds they have yellow legs which has led to some confusion. The “Tew-Teuk-Tew” call carries a long way and has led to the redshank being referred to as the “guardian of the marsh”.
The nest is made in a dry hollow on a wet moor or a marsh and lined with grass by the female. Both parents incubate the four pear shaped eggs for 23 days.
As soon as the young emerge from the brown and black patterned eggs and are dry they are led by to the nearest river. Parents have been observed to carry their young for short distances by holding them between their thighs.
sea holly's place in herbalism
This last week I had to visit Blackpool and had time to spare and so off I went to the sand dunes around Lytham St Annes. How lucky was I?
The sun was shining and the seaside flowers were beginning to look happy.
I saw the first signs of sea holly. This plant is slowly increasing because at one time its roots were eaten under the name of ringo and eringo.
The leaves of sea holly are as prickly as any common holly tree but it is actually a member of umbelli ferae family which is related to our parsley and carrot.
The flowers of sea holly vary from blue to purple and are bunched tightly at the top of a thick rigid stem which can be as tall as 2 feet (60 cm) Sea Holly is edible and at one time the young shoots were prepared and eaten in the same way that we enjoy asparagus today.
The roots were also known to have had a value from ancient times as a treatment from stomach ache and ‘flatulence’. Eringoes were made by boiling the roots in honey and then dried. The sugar was left as a white crystalline substance and hence the name of snow eringoes which were eaten in the same way that we eat sweets. The sea holly, therefore, has its place in the history of herbalism.