Thursday 11 July 2024


Thagria (片叶蝉属).

In spite of their vivid appearance, I have not been able to discern the exact species.

In late June there were hundreds of these curious insects clustered together throughout the forests of Yuelu Mountain. They are not yet gone, but their numbers are fewer: the once crowded bushes now only expose several leafhoppers and soon it will be impossible to find any at all.

Thagria on Yuelu Mountain

The Ant

'The Ant'
Ogden Nash

The ant has made herself illustrious
By constant industry industrious.
So what? Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Eastern Horse Cicada Exuvia

Every day, more and more cicadas join the treetop chorus. Signs of their rising are new gaping holes in the sun-dried soil and the exuviae that litter the vegetation.
This is the exuvia of an eastern horse cicada (Cryptotympana atrata,  黑蚱蝉); outside the forests they are the most common.

Eastern Horse Cicada Exuvia in Changsha

Nature Will Try Anything Once

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2011; 1974), p. 66.

Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you’re dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there’s always room for one more; you ain’t so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Male Pied Skimmer

Pied Skimmer (Pseudothemis zonata, 玉带蜻. Male.

Summer is the season for dragonflies. There are of these medium-sized pied skimmers around by the lakes and streams. These are mostly black except for part of the abdomen, which is white on males and yellow on females.

Pied Skimmer at Xihu

Insects and Rain

Local sayings:

When dragonflies fly low, it will rain.

When ants move their nests, it will rain.

My translations.

Monday 8 July 2024

All I Want Out of Wines

"Mr. Barnes," answered the count, "all I want out of wines is to enjoy them."
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York: Signet Classics, 2022; 1926), p. 59.

Giant Robber Fly

Giant Robber Fly (Promachus, 蛮食虫虻属).

Comparing with descriptions in my trusty copy of Iconography of Forest Insects in Hunan China (1992), I think it is Promachus albopilosus. It is a real beast of a predatory fly: I have seen several over 3cm in length, perched in the lower parts of Yuelu Mountain.
Giant Robber Fly on Yuelu Mountain

Sunday 7 July 2024

Lysimachia fortunei

Lysimachia fortunei (星宿菜).

This loosestrife, with its green spires of star-like flowers, rises from the wet soil in March and blooms in summer. There are fewer wild flowers in July, but there are always a few of this on damp patches on the hills and mountains or by the waters.

Lysimachia fortunei in Wangling Park

Hope and Optimism

Hawai'i's snails are far from being alone in this regard. Indeed, this is the situation in which a growing number of other animals and plants find themselves today. Around the world, many individuals and their species live out their final days under human care in strange environments like zoos and captive breeding facilities, from giant tortoises in the Galápagos Islands and white rhinos in Africa to the diverse forest birds and snails of Hawai'i. With so many species at risk of extinction , as the situation gets more dire bringing all or some of the remaining individuals into these (relatively) safe spaces becomes an appealing option. But for many of them there will be no release. Reviews of reintroduction programs generally show that the majority of them fail for a variety of reasons, including an inability to secure suitable release habitat. In these cases, maintaining captive animals becomes less an act of conservation than one of slowly drawing out an extinction. Unable to halt the ongoing destruction of our time , the Anthropocene has become a period in which both the lives and deaths of other species are increasingly being shaped, more or less wisely and consciously, by the actions of (some) humans.

   What does hope look like in times like these ? What does it mean to continue to care for species in the face of ongoing , unrelenting processes of loss? Lesley Head reminds us that hope does not require optimism. We do not need to feel or believe that something is likely to come about in order to hope for it . Rather, hope is a practice of the possible.
Thom van Dooren, A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2023), p. 189.

Saturday 6 July 2024

The Very Secrets of Writing

It may be, then, that translation from one language into another may lay bare for us something of the very productive mechanisms of textuality itself—may figure as some kind of model or paradigm of the very secret of writing.
Terry Eagleton, ‘Translation and Transformation’, Stand, 19/3 (1977), 72-77 (p. 73).

Green Flash

Green Flash (Artipe eryx, 绿灰蝶). Female.

The hot dry season has started. Yesterday I walked in Wangling park, which was littered with fallen scarab beetles and stunned eastern horse cicadas; the latter I think were affected by gardeners watering the trees more than the heat. In the woods there were plenty of live insects to see: I was particularly taken by this butterfly, which I don't see very often, although in late fall and winter one often comes across gardenia fruits with holes burrowed into them by their larvae.

Green Flash in Wangling Park

Friday 5 July 2024

Formosana pacifica

Formosana pacifica (太平丽管螺).

On Yuelu mountain, they are a fairly common door snail: if the weather is wet enough, I can usually spot them on the trees or moss. Now that the hot dry season is starting, I don't suspect I will be seeing many more until next Spring.

Formosana pacifica on Yuelu Mountain

I am the very pattern of a modern Major-General...

Legati specimen conspicuum Stanlius est noui;
quidquid terra creat, gramen alit, celat humus, sagax:
reges scit Latii, scit ueterum proelia temporum,
quo sint gesta die, seu Marathon, siue sit Actium.
uix artem numeri Pythagoras ipse magis sapit;
non problema fuit quin breuiter Stanlius explicet.
fullonum tabulas litterulis hic Babyloniis
scribit; nulla sagi praeterit hunc bulla Carataci.
picturaque catus, Parrhasium Zeuxide separat,
ranarumque chorus quos sonitus fuderit haud latet.
quod quaeris? segetes, bestiolas, resque metallicas,
dux exercituum Stanlius est ut specimen nouum.
et cum quid iaculum fundaue sit dicere quiuerit,
uestalique dolis callidior uirgine bellicis,
ipas militiae primitias coeperit adsequi,
uix haerebit equo dux melior—namque fateberis.
Translated by T.W. Melluish.

In the metre of Horace, Odes I.11: ‘– u – u u – || – u u – || – u u – u x’

H. H. Huxley, Carmina: MCMLXII an anthology of Latin verses in the metres of lyric, epigram and comedy (Shrewsbury: Wilding & Son Ltd., 1963)1, p. 44.

Thursday 4 July 2024

Oriental Flower Beetle Protaetia orientalis

Oriental Flower Beetle (Protaetia orientalis, 凸星花金龟).

Common summer beetle, usually they are copper or metallic green or something in between those two colours. They are fairly distinctive, but one can distinguish them from other scarab beetles by the narrow white line on either side of the pronotum and the white spots on their backs (dorsal surface). They appeared in droves during the wet part of summer and their bodies litter the ground later in the dry heat. Fungivorous, but they seem to frequent a wide range of flowers and ripened fruits.

Oriental Flower Beetle in Changsha
Oriental Flower Beetle in Changsha

Cottleston Pie

A.A. Milne (1882-1956), Winnie Ille Pu, trans. by Alexander Lenard (London: sumptibus Methuen, 1994; 1958), pp. 52-53:

Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum cru
Cano aenigmata, canis ac tu?
Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum crum
Cerebrum meum est fatiga-tum.

Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum cru
Volitant aves, dic volitas tu?
Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum crum
Cerebrum meum est fatiga-tum.

Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum cru
Sibilo bene, dic sibilas tu?
Crustulum, crustulum, crustulum crum
Cerebrum meum est fatiga-tum.


A.A. Milne, 'Cottleston Pie'

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken? I don't know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fish can't whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Common Bluebottle

Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon, 青凤蝶).

As soon as the heavy rain left, hundreds of bluebottle butterflies became active. Here are three enjoying a drink in one of the many cool impromptu streams still flowing down Yuelu Mountain.

Common Bluebottles on Yuelu Mountain

Rich People

 Frank Rich, ‘In Conversation Chris Rock’, New York Magazine (1 December 2014):

[Rich:] Is it possible that they’re just angry, whether it’s anger at Obama or Washington in general, and they just want to lash out? If you’re angry, you don’t rationally consider what’s in your self-interest.

[Rock:] Maybe. But we had Bush for eight years. They saw what that was. Apparently a lot of people want to go back to that. A lot of people think rich people are smart.

Tuesday 2 July 2024


Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair. A fish flashes, then dissolves in the water before my eyes like so much salt. Deer apparently ascend bodily into heaven; the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say of vision that it is a deliberate gift, the revelation of a dancer who for my eyes only flings away her seven veils. For nature does reveal as well as conceal: now-you-don't-see-it, now-you-do.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2011; 1974), p. 18.

Serrognathus Titanus Patymelus

Serrognathus titanus ssp. platymelus (中华扁锹甲). Male.

A giant stag beetle, this subspecies is common throughout China and is fairly easy to find on wet (but not heavily raining) days in summer in Changsha. They are lugubrious and slow: carefully plotting their path with their jointed feather-tipped antennae before moving ahead. The male is much larger than the female and has large antler-like jaws, with several small teeth along the edge and two big teeth on either side towards towards the back.

Serrognathus Titanus Patymelus in Changsha

Monday 1 July 2024


 σέβας μ᾽ ἔχει εἰσορόωντα

wonder takes me as I look on

Homer, Odyssey, VI.161. My translation

Diversibipalium Virgatum

Diversibipalium virgatum.

A small land planarian. The species has recorded in China and is described as brownish-orange with five dark dorsal and lateral stripes, including a median dorsal stripe running onto the headplate. It was moving across a footpath on the south-east part of Yuelu Mountain after a month of heavy rains.

Diversibipalium virgatum on Yuelu Mountain