Baubles, Beetles and Bees

Sue Parker’s Christmas colours are both decorative and vibrant... naturally!

Based on an article by Sue Parker in Algarve Resident, December 2016. Algarve Resident is the leading English-language newspaper and the source of essential information for Residents and would-be Residents in the Algarve.
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Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing, jinga-linga;
Baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads...

Those old enough to remember the 1952 musical Kismet – or who in their youth met someone claiming to be old enough to remember it – may recall the opening lines of that Robert Wright-George Forrest hit song. The melody, ‘borrowed’ from Borodin, is something of a mind worm, perhaps due as much to its intriguing chords and key changes as to the many catchy versions and revisions by jazz players and singers down the ages. Those lyrics, I mused while planning my December shopping, seem to sum up the superficiality of an increasingly commercialised festive season in a materialistic world where what matters most is what you look like and what you own.

Some Algarve beetles


The Algarve’s beetle community includes many brightly coloured species. Clockwise from top left: 7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata, Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus, Metallic Wood-boring Beetle Anthaxia scutellaris, Swollen-thighed Beetle Oedemera nobilis, Green Tortoise Beetle Cassida viridis, Minstrel Bug Graphosoma italicum.

How different things are in the natural world, I thought. And then I thought again. What about the strutting peacock flaring his extravagant tail feathers, the stickleback flaunting his bright red throat patch, the newt flashing a fresh crest each season? This finery seems to serve no practical purpose other than to impress the girls.

Nature has her baubles - ornamentation way beyond the call of functionality – or at least so it seems to our superficial gaze. We see strange patterns – stars and stripes, ringlets and roundels – that to us seem pointless, but perhaps when we understand a little more we will marvel much more at Nature’s dastardly designs, her tricks and treats, her winning wiles. Then will we put less down to luck and credit more cunning to chance, more evil to evolution?

When decorating my tree with metallic baubles of many colours, I am reminded of the Algarve’s natural baubles, the thousands of different beetle species many of which have burnished wing cases (known as elytra) of red and yellow and green and blue that glint and glister in the sun. Metallic car paint was surely inspired by beetles. (Beetles, the driver of innovation?)

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock butterflies flash their bangle-like eyespots menacingly when threatened by predators.

As for bangles, Nature’s rings are everywhere, from the huge rings of microscopic particles encircling Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn to the sub-atomic rings and spirals of matter that matter only to scientists with planet-sized brains. They may be able to run rings around the rest of us when it comes to theorising, but we know what we know.

We know that where the fairies dance, rings of brightly coloured grassland fungi spring up overnight. Without even seeing them, we know that trees gain a new age ring every year. Without flying, we know how to enjoy the wings of the lovely Peacock butterfly, decorated with those huge eyespots. These bangle-like badges may be attractive to a potential mate, but it seems they serve an even more basic purpose: survival. The intimidating sight of those big eyes has been shown to reduce the chances of the Peacock butterfly being eaten by insectivorous birds. Go bother some other bug, they seem to say.

Algarve bee species


Bright shiny bees (and a wasp) without whose pollinating help many wildflowers would be lost. Clockwise from top left: Ashy Mining Bee Andrena cineraria, Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa violacea, Ruby-tailed Wasp Chrysis ignita, Wool Carder Bee Anthidium manicatum.

Beads are easy to find in the natural world. So many flowering trees have bright shiny seeds that ripen towards the end of the year, and the whole of the colour spectrum is well covered here in the Algarve. Meanwhile, the first flowers of a new spring are now coming out, and so also are their pollinators. While on your Christmas countryside walk this year, keep an eye open for any bauble-like beetles or busy bees that are not taking the day off work.

There is nothing like a brisk walk to work up a healthy appetite for Christmas lunch (or afterwards to work off a few of the extra calories taken on board). It may be a tad early for many spring-emerging beetles and bees, but at least with a bit of luck the sun will shine on those bright shiny beads... of perspiration.

Merry Christmas!

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