Stink Bugs and Steeples

Clink! Clink, clink, clank!  An insect was colliding with the ceiling light! My son, Tavi, and I were stoked!  Our first insect since moving to Romania!  We couldn’t wait to catch it!  We knocked it down and grabbed it before it could fly away… but instead of finding a “new-to-us” native Romanian specimen adapted to flying in mid-February, we found a painfully ordinary grey stink bug (Order Hemiptera: Family Pentomatidae).  (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

Still, it reminded us of a beautiful stink bug, Graphosoma italicum or Minstrul Bug, that we collected on a trip to Cocoş Monastery, back in April.  At the time we were visiting Viorel’s family for the Easter Holiday and traveling to monasteries and churches.  (One of our favorite Romanian past times.)

Stink Bug or M Bug
Stink Bug or Minstul Bug (Family Pentomatidae) The bright colours protects them from being eaten by predators, it a warning they taste bad.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

The Minstrul Bug is pretty common throughout Europe but to our North American eyes it was remarkably exotic!  The bug has beautiful red and black longitudinal strips and on the ventral side (bottom side) was red with black polka dots.  We learned there are two very similar species that can be found in Europe; G. lineatum, which has orange legs and is found in southern Italy, Sardinia, North Africa and the Near East.  While G. italicum (our bug) has black legs, and is distributed more towards the center and north of Europe (Ribes et al., 2008; Dusoulier and Lupoli, 2006).

Here you can see the red ventral side with black dots and black legs.
Here you can see the red ventral side with black dots and black legs.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

We found our bug in the meadow surrounding the monastery on a warm and sunny day.  The entire scenery and monastery was a sight to behold… And, while I’m not religious, I can’t help but enjoy the beautiful architecture and ancient history of these places of worship.

The Cocoş Monastery is located in Tulcea County, Dobrogea, Romania.  It was founded by three monks traveling to Athos Mountain in 1833.  When they arrived to the area, it was so beautiful they decided to end their travel and build a monastery.  The legend says that the Monastery was named after the sound of a rooster and a bell board that could be heard all  the way from the top of the hill, (cocoş= rooster).

Red cross marks the location of Cocos
Red cross marks the location of Cocos Monastery, Tulcea, Dobrogea, RO.
Cocos Monastery and surrounding area.
Cocos Monastery and surrounding area from the top of the hill from which it was named.  (On this day we did not see or hear any roosters or bell boards.)
Cocos church within the Monastery.
Cocos church within the Monastery.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

Thousands of pilgrims visit to Cocoş to bow their heads and pray to the relics of four martyrs/saints (dating back to 303-304) that rest at the Monastery: Zotic, Atal, Kamasie and Filip.  I couldn’t find much information (in English) on these saints, except that their remains were found by pure accident. A huge rain storm in 1971 uncovered the dome of their crypt which was located on Niculitel Commune Road.  Maybe some of my Romanian readers will help provide some information on the saints located in Cocoş, the spiritual centre of Dobrogea? (…Otherwise we will have to wait for my Romanian language skills to improve and that could be a long wait.)

Inside the Monastery's Church. It was crowded with pilgrims and the inside was remarkable!
Inside the Monastery’s Church. It was crowded with pilgrims and the inside was remarkable!  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)
The relics of the four saints... which the pilgrims lined up to kiss.
The relics of the four saints… which the pilgrims lined up to kiss.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

Romania is made up of 5 of the 10 biogeographic regions of mainland Europe.  The county of Dobrogea represents the only steppic region in all of the European Union (1%).  It is characterized by it’s low-lying plains and undulating hills, with an average height of 200-300 meters (Sundseth, 2009).  A great portion of the area along the Danube is included in Natura 2000 because it maintains it’s natural hydrology, hosting important areas of natural floodplain ecosystems. It is a unique area home to many small rodents, birds (up to 20,000 during migration!), no less than 8 rare bat species, and numerous insects.  Throughout our day trip Cocoş Monastery, we discovered many of these insects, including beetles (Longicorn, Dung, Flower Chafer), flies (Bee fly, Robber fly), butterflies and lots of rather large holes everywhere… which turned out to house tarantulas!

Macin Mountains
The image illustrates the Steppes, within the area of Macin Mountains, a small mountain chain- 20Km long and 500m (at it’s two peaks)-behind the Danube Delta.  Prime location for typical Steppic plants and animals.
Tavi looking for insects.
Tavi looking for insects!  He found a pretty cool looking ground beetle at the base of this tree. You can kinda see it (a little blur on the left of the trunk) running away.

Citations:

Dusoulier & Lupoli, 2006. Synopsis des Pentatomoidea de France, Nouvelle Revue d’Entomologie 23(1) : 11-44.

Ribes, J., S. Pagola-Carte, I. Zabalequi. 2008. On some Palaerarctic Carpocorini (Hemiptera: Petatomatidae: Pentatominae). Heteropterous Revista de Entomologia. 8(2): 155-169.

Simion, I. [Photos] 2014. Cocoş Monastery and Minstrul Bug.

Sundseth, K. 2009. Natura 2000 in the Steppic Region. European Commission Environment Directorate General.  Retrieved February 16, 2015 at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/biogeos/Steppic.pdf

 

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