Sunday, 11 March 2012

Interspecific Relations

   Some time ago I was looking at a lizard and a lizard was looking at me. It (Lacerta vivipara) was on a south-facing stone wall in my garden, a favourite hangout for saurian types. They usually scatter whenever I draw near, but this one stayed put. Finding myself within arm's reach I felt driven, for some bizarre and atavistic reason, to make a grab for it and to my surprise suddenly found the bemused lizard in my fist. To somehow justify my impulsive act I decided to create a vivarium – the work of a few minutes as I often have old fish tanks in my cellar (I often buy old fish tanks with the intention of having a tropical fish collection. I still intend to have one. I will always intend to have one). I put flies, and once a spider, into the tank as food, but the lizard ignored them. The spider made a web and ate the flies. If there were no flies around nothing much happened in the so-called vivarium; the spider waited, the lizard watched. It was the flies that supplied the action and yet no one would think of keeping a fly as a pet, or, more correctly, almost no one;

This wasp (Eumenes pomiformis I think) was the pet of Sir Thomas Lubbock (1834-1913).

   The following extract is from “Treasures of the British Natural History Museum”.

   “ … Lubbock had learned to feed and stroke it without getting stung. He caught the wasp in the Pyrenees and kept it as a pet until its death ten months later. His account of its demise is touching. 'One day, I observed that she had nearly lost the use of her antennae, though the rest of the body was as usual. She would take no food. Next day I tried again to feed her; but the head seemed dead, though she could still move her legs, wings and abdomen. The following day I offered her food for the last time; for both head and thorax were dead or paralysed; she could but move her tail, a last token, as I could almost fancy, of gratitude and affection. As far as I could judge, her death was quite painless; and she now occupies a place in the museum.' Despite this rather eccentric (?. Ed) tale, Lubbock was a respected scientist, author, banker and Liberal politician. He improved labour laws and introduced the Bank Holiday Act, Wild Birds Protection Act and Public Libraries Act among others.”

P. S. I let the lizard go in the end. The spider had to be forcibly evicted. The flies are still around.