The Roots Of A Food Chain

John Grundy News, Revealing Reptiles

A short look into the complex web of life.

So, whilst out on a survey last Saturday, around Shibdon Ponds and the new Shibdon Meadow on the other side of the A1, I stumbled upon this splendid pile of dung swarming with insects. (pictured below)

It struck me as fascinating. Want to know why? Well, let me explain…..

Hundreds of flies clustered on a pile of poop.

This clue in the landscape tells you a lot of things about the animals that graze there. A firm stool like this is a good sign that the beast in question has not been treated for worms. A runny, sloppy pat is a death trap to insects. Any fly laying it’s eggs in a treated pat is condemning it’s offspring to a slow death.

A good place like this to lay your eggs is essential in a healthy food chain. Imagine the number of young insects that will emerge from this one dung pile. If each of those flies, in the picture, is female and each female lays a few hundred eggs, even with a naturally high mortality rate, the young will swarm from the depths of the dung in their thousands.

What does that mean for the greater good?

Food for the next links up the chain. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, bigger insects and arachnids will all benefit from this healthy glut of food.

A healthy environment is full of healthy animals and plants.

If farm animals are full of chemicals then this will directly effect the ecosystem in and around the land they live on. Traditional breeds of cattle and horses or ponies are hardier beasts than their hybridised cousins which require regular treatments against internal parasites etc. Dung full of wormer will not support any form of insect larvae. No emerging generations of insects = fewer predators.

It’s probably not something most people think about. I hope it’s given you something to think about…

Please record your reptile sightings from County Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Teeside here to help us build our reptile atlas.


John Grundy

John has spent more than thirty years honing his skills as a spotter of our region’s elusive and well-camouflaged reptiles. He can often be found wandering the moors of Durham looking for signs of life in the undergrowth. As the Revealing Reptiles Project Officer John frequently delivers reptile survey training to groups and individuals.

Report your reptile sightings here