Wednesday 14 May 2014

A Walk on the Hills Above Ortakoy

In the first week of April, 2014, I took a long and refreshing walk on the hills above Ortaköy, one of Istanbul's picturesque seaside neighborhoods. Although Ortaköy is surrounded by the masses of ugly urban sprawl, this certain hill was spared due to its proximity to a historical Jewish cemetery.

Spring was beginning to assert itself and scores of tiny animals were frolicking among the green grass and the blooming flowers. It was a welcome respite from the soul-grinding chaos of Istanbul's traffic and rude people. Here re some animals I encountered:

I was familiar with these fleet-footed spiders since childhood. My friends and I even had a name for them - to us the yellowish, improbably fast spiders that ran, jumped and hunted among grass blades were cheetah spiders. This was my first chance to take decent photographs of them.

The "cheetah spiders" were known commonly as nursery web spiders, Pisaura mirabilis. This individual was a male, as evident from its patterned back and boxing-glove-like appendages on its pedipalps. The males pumped these organs full of sperm and inserted them into the females' genitals when mating. I'm not kidding. The human equivalent of this action would be someone ejaculating into his hands and fisting his partner in order to get her pregnant!

Another beautiful arachnid I saw was this brightly-coloured jumping spider of the family Salticidae, sucking on some sort of fly while basking on the marble of a 30-year-old Jewish tomb. I love jumping spiders - their faces are adorned with cute, owl-like eyes and they have an incredible variety of rare species. Identifying them was an arachnologist's nightmare. I's never seen a jumping spider of this colour before, it could even have been a new species.

Two other spiders, from the crab spider family Thomisidae were displaying to each other, perhaps as a mating dance, perhaps as part of a territorial battle, or perhaps a bit of both.

These two dazzlingly-coloured flies, Diptera sp. were getting it on on a milkweed leaf. They sat without moving, mounted together in a statue-like embrace. They reminded me of ravers with colourful sunglasses. Note how the male's eyes had a touch of red, compared to the female's blue-green tincture.

There was a sudden rustle from the tall bushes behind me. I first thought it to be a cat, but then out came this old, friendly-looking tortoise, possibly of the species Testudo gracea. I felt very happy that such an animal could live to old age in the middle of Istanbul's concrete inferno. Perhaps all cities needed more cemeteries to preserve what was left of their wildlife.

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