Creatures of London: South London Parakeets, Hairy Hungry Caterpillars, and Medicinal Leech Barometers

Creatures of London: South London Parakeets, Hairy Hungry Caterpillars, and Medicinal Leech Barometers

I’ve been labouring over my remaining documentation of archives and libraries in London, but right now we interrupt my series of posts on Serious Things with a rather frivolous digression about various creatures of London, including the show-stopping Parakeets! Miraculously fluffy Caterpillars! And Giant Medicinal Leeches!


South London’s Parakeet Invasion

A few weeks ago we made a merry afternoon’s excursion to walk around Richmond (meandering somewhere around the rather posh residential neighbourhoods of Sheen or Mortlake), and we reached the Thames and were sitting by a tree when a rather insistent squawking began issuing forth. There weren’t any birds visibly sitting in plain sight, but all of a sudden I spotted a small green face popping in and out of a small hole in the tree! It seemed both excited but also scared of us, and George took the very excellent picture you see above.

Yesterday in Lewisham (around Ladywell) whilst visiting a friend, I saw a family of about 5 green parrots flying past, squawking merrily overhead as they passed a beatific garden scene replete with summer’s blooms at their peak, gentle wind chimes, and an inexplicably affectionate black cat which decided to make my lap its bed for half an hour.

After some googling it appears that wild parakeets in South London are A Thing, and no less there are several juicy theories as to why they are so plentiful in South London!

BBC2 – The Great Parakeet Invasion
The Bogart Theory is that parrots imported from Africa to be used in scenes in the Humphrey Bogart & Katharine Hepburn movie “The African Queen” (shot at Isleworth Studios in 1951) somehow escaped and began breeding in the area. The Hendrix Theory is that Jimi Hendrix released two parakeets in the 60s on Carnaby Street, but its unlikely that two birds did this all. Finally the Escape Theory is that the noisy parakeets perhaps escaped from the homes of pet owners fed up with their voiciferous nature, or maybe that they escaped from some cargo at Heathrow Customs…

In any case, apparently these birds do not go very far from where they were born so whatever the case it was humans who were responsible for letting them loose in this part of South London.


Hairy Caterpillar Season

It seems to be the peak of caterpillar and moth season around here lately. I have learnt the hard way that one must keep the shutters down at night or else the moths will roost – or should I say, roast – in your high power halogen lamps!

Here are two very hairy caterpillars I found in the neighbourhood. Both were probably soon to become moths and seeking a location suitable for its merry business of pupating, as they were found rather inadvisably crossing the pavement – so I picked them up and put them in the bushes. I also used this visual chart to identify these caterpillars…

Sycamore moth caterpillar

Buff Ermine caterpillar

I was so amused by this little fellow that I took it home whilst I googled about what type of caterpillar it was. But George said I could not have a caterpillar as a pet and I couldn’t determine instantly what kind of host plant this type of caterpillar would eat, so I returned it to the bush nearest to the part of pavement I found it.

Also, if you look for information about “caterpillars in north london”, you end up with various terrifying stories about poisonous caterpillars in Enfield and KILLER CATERPILLARS. And if you google for “caterpillars and snails”, you’ll get stories about how a small percentage of caterpillars have evolved to eat insects as well as snails.

“Meat only, please” – apparently this caterpillar won’t eat its vegetables even when its starving…
Oh, the very very hungry caterpillar… they seem so misunderstood. Yet, just to be sure, lets not tempt fate by picking up hairy caterpillars with my bare hands and putting them in my snail tanks…


Merryweather’s Tempest Prognosticator / Leech Barometer

Whilst strictly speaking I haven’t had the pleasure of personally making the acquaintance of any delightful medicinal leeches recently, I encountered the story of the rather curious Tempest Prognosticator / Leech Barometer (aka AWARD-WINNING CUTTING EDGE VICTORIAN WEATHER PREDICTING TECHNOLOGY!) whilst looking through the Great Exhibition catalogue. Furthermore it has also occurred to me that the motion of leeches resembled that of caterpillars and snails, and I am somehow drawn towards these creatures…

So what is the leech barometer, you might ask? It consists of 12 leeches were placed individually in 12 bottles, arranged in a circle “in order that the leeches might see one another and not endure the affliction of solitary confinement”. (Aw bless…) (FOR ALL YOUR BAROMETER RESTORATION NEEDS!) has an excellent doc on CARING FOR YOUR LEECHES which extols the virtues of the medicinal leech as the ideal pet. I urge you to read it if you have ever wondered to yourself “Should I acquire some medicinal leeches to be my next housepet?”, or want to read of the 9 rules for reading the behaviours of leeches in bottles:

1 If the leech take up a position in the bottle’s neck, rain is at hand.
2 If he form a half-moon, when he is out of the water and sticking to the glass, sure sign of a tempest.
3 If he is continual movement, thunder and lightning soon.
4 If he seem as if trying to raise himself from the surface of the water, a change in the weather.
5 If he move slowly close to one spot, cold weather.
6 If he move rapidly about, expect strong wind when he stops.
7 If he lie coiled up on the bottom, fine, clear weather.
8 If forming a hook, clear and cold weather.
9 If in a fixed position, very cold weather is certain to follow.

I wish my snails were useful for weather prediction, for I often wonder and observe them, hoping they might be useful in divining something other than the presence of sliced cucumber in the vicinity.

Anyway, I soon became convinced that a leech might be a more suitable pet than a caterpillar, as it is apparently “low” in maintenance and reports are that a leech reportedly survived being in a cupboard for TWO YEARS. Not that I am advocating putting leeches in a jar in a dark cupboard for two years without food, but just acknowledging the extreme hardiness of the creature. I began to look for leech videos online, and promptly came across this excellent channel in which a Japanese youtuber seems to have bred some impressively gigantic medicinal leeches…

Source: spider huntsman: ペットの巨大ヒル2/My pet giant leech2

However, it soon became clear the level of total madness or sheer masochism involved in GIANT LEECH REARING. The youtuber who made these videos also notes that these gorgeous leeches got so big because they’ve been fed on his blood only – a touching or even charming prospect, until you read this knowledgeable commenter who bravely attempts to quantify the blood required in this procedure of keeping your bloodsucking pet alive on your blood alone:

A very good point, as shit is about to get real in the other videos…

Source: spider huntsman: ペットのヒル達/My pet leechs

Source: spider huntsman: ペットの巨大ヒル/My pet giant leech
Noooooooooooooooo I don’t want to be eaten by my pet…

You will be glad to know that for the time being I have decided against having a pet leech…

Also I was worried about spider huntsman so I went to his twitter to check that he is still alive. He is still active on twitter and feeding more leeches with his arm which has healed and is not scarred or bloodied or ravaged by his army of pet leeches. He also seems to be selling a whole range of colourful and extremely beautiful horse leeches… which eat SNAILS… Noooooooooooooooo I don’t want a pet which will eat my other pets…