Friday, 22 September 2017

A Song Unheard?


There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/21/scientists-discover-unique-brazilian-frogs-that-are-deaf-to-their-own-mating-calls). It is generally argued that actions, with costs, such as this auditory display would disappear from the animal's repertoire very quickly if they served no real purpose. It takes energy to call and the calls could attract predators (unlikely in this case as the animals seem to have no predators due to their toxicity) and/or parasites. It is argued that they might have only recently lost the ability to detect and respond to these sounds but this is an untestable hypothesis (and is not very convincing). Perhaps the persistent sound generation serves some other function such as visually confirming the vigour of the male?

Brainless Sleep?


The claim that identification of periods of quiescence in upside down jellyfish (who lack anything approximating to a brain) proves that that organ is not essential for sleep is somewhat contentious (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/21/caught-napping-snoozing-jellyfish-prove-a-brain-isnt-necessary-for-sleep). That only works as an explanation if you accept that the period of relative inactivity really equates with sleep in organisms with a more advanced central nervous system. It seems, to me, to be a rather large leap of faith.

Live Confetti?


I also wholly disapprove of the reported fad of buying containers with reared butterflies for the guests to use as confetti in weddings (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/21/wedding-accessory-animal-cruelty-butterflies). It is cruel as well as being somewhat Disneyesque. It may well also make life difficult for our already challenged insects (in terms of disease transmission et cetera). It seems almost as bad as religious and political figures releasing 'doves of peace' (often to be 'snapped up' by waiting birds of prey).

Friday, 15 September 2017

Rotterdam Natural History




In Het Park there were Little Japanese umbrella fungi (Coprinus plicatilis). In the centre of Rotterdam, well away from water, there appeared to be a Brown hawker (Aeshna grandis). The Park also featured active Grey heron (Ardea cinerea).

Sardinian Sojurn





















Some of the plants and critters from my recent visit to Sardinia in the area around San Teodoro and the coast near Alghero. The first item is a relative of the daffodil Pancratinum maritimum and then a weird flower I can't identify. The dragonfly is probably a Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum). A grasshopper and a bush cricket were also seen. A cicada final nymph stage case was found on vegetation below pines. Lepidoptera included a Hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum); a probable Brown argus (Aricia agestis); a Long-tailed blue (Lampides boeticus); a Geranium bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) and a possible Geranium argus (Eumedonia eumedon). Hymenoptera included Andrena flavipes; Xylocopa violacea; possible Melecta albifrons and definite Colletes halophilus. Temperature appeared to kill lots of riverine fish resembling Thick-lipped grey mullet (Chelon labrosus). There were also lots of Common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis). Birds included Little egret (Egretta garzetta); Hooded crow (Corvus corone cornix) and fishing Cormorant (Phalocrocorax carbo).

Way Down South







Apologies for the hiatus in posting but have been driving to a wedding on Sardinia with a side trip back via Rotterdam. These are some of the natural history high-lights on the trip down to Livorno (for ferry crossing). In Langres (France) there were masses of roadside flowers including Meadow thistle (Cirsium dissectum); Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) and Slender knapweed (Centaurea debeauxii). At a service station near Bourg-en-Bresse, there was an invasion of an unidentified moth (top and underside views shown). In Chiavari (Italy), home town of Christopher Columbus, spotted this neat Moorish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica).

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Pat Bateson


I have just noted the obituary of Sir Patrick Bateson 1938-2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/14/sir-patrick-bateson-obituary). I met him at a conference in Sitges (Spain) in 1982. He was an excellent scientist, a natural communicator and an all-round good guy.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Seeing the Changes 1231







Mixtures of rain and sun. In Loughor, more fungi appeared (possibly Blackening brittlegill Russula nigicans). Hairy tare (Vicia hirsuta) bloomed in Bynea, where clouds of Small white butterflies (Pieris rapae) appeared. Visited, in Loughor by a Sloe carpet moth (Aleucis distinctata).

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Great Welsh Bee-knap?


There's rustling and there's rustling! A mass abduction of Honey bees has been reported (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/11/rustler-steals-40000-bees-britains-biggest-hive-heist-anglesey) along with a note that the value of a Honey bee brood with a queen has recently quadrupled to about £200 (bee keeping is getting more popular but bees are not thriving). The event occurred in Rhydwyn on Anglesey and presumably involved someone knowledgeable and equipped for the 'sting'. I would be surprised, however, if this event genuinely qualifies (as reported) as Britain's biggest hive heist. Occasionally (as in the above picture) broods become available for free.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bullshit?


Interesting news that a 'bullshit detector' is being developed to enable journalists to rapidly check for actual fake news, including fake, fakes (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/08/fake-news-full-fact-software-immune-system-journalism-soros-omidyar). The trouble is that there are masses of bullshit generators (including some journalists). In addition, it appears that people are often only too willing to believe fake news if it fits with their preconceptions, even in the face of masses of evidence suggesting their beliefs are erroneous (remember the anti-expert dialogue of recent times). I suspect that the identities of the 2 benefactors financing development of the detector software, will generate more fake news in certain circles.

Re-Cycling


There is news of the eventual reaction of a 12,500 bicycle garage under Utrecht Rail station (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/07/worlds-biggest-bike-parking-garage-utrecht-netherlands). Although this will become the largest facility in the world, Dutch cycle organisations are already claiming it is inadequate. Reportedly, around 43% of journeys under 7.5 km in the Netherlands are by bike. It (along with the very substantial network of cycle lanes, pedestrianised areas and protections of people on 2 wheels) makes UK provision for cyclists look paltry. Increasing cycling in UK cities would eventually improve our shameful air quality but there would have to be a sea change here.

Seeing the Changes 1230


Visited in Loughor by a Canary-shouldered thorn (Ennomos alniaria).

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Another Snake in the Grass


Professor Fritz of Germany has identified a new species of Grass snake, the Barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) which is distinct from the Common or Eastern grass snake (Natrix natrix) in the UK (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40853286). The new species has stronger dark markings on a grey background and lacks the distinctive yellow 'collar' of its cousin (as shown above). There are, apparently, reproductive barriers between the two species in areas where their ranges overlap (which is why they can be classed as species rather than local variants). This brings the number of UK species of snake to 4. 

Seeing the Changes 1229


Lots of Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is in flower between Swansea and Blackpill.

Seeing the Changes 1228


In Loughor, visited by a Lime speck pug moth (Eupithecia centaurea).

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Devilish Hot and Bothered?


There has been a great deal of press interest about the early August heat-wave (with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius) around the Mediterranean area with potential (and actual) mortalities, especially of older and younger folk (www.severe-weather.eu/med/follow-up-on-the-heat-wave-wednesday-august-2nd-2017/). In addition to its effects on human health, the event dubbed by the press 'Lucifer', has been linked to wild fires, agricultural losses, water shortages and environmental destruction. Many meteorologists reportedly believe that such 'exceptional' events in Southern Europe will become common features of the summer, perhaps making some areas 'unlivable'. At the same time, climate change also featured in an extremely scary article in the National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/07/antarctica-sea-level-rise-climate-change/), suggesting that the melting of the Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf is merely the beginning of an 'unstoppable' loss of the polar ice cap (perhaps leading to a greater than 5 metre increase in sea-level).  A bad deal for the USA (and the rest of the planet)?

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Right Carry-on?


Disturbing news that at least 10 Northern right whales have been found dead over a very short period of time off the Canadian coast (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/03/right-whales-10-dead-canada-endangered-species). As there is a world population of only circa 500, this represents a serious loss for the species. No one appears to have a clear idea of the reasons for the mortality but collisions with shipping, entanglement in snow crab fishing gear and poisoning by ingesting toxic algae have all been suggested as possibilities. The sooner scientists can get answers, the better the chances of conserving this critical species!

Seeing the Changes 1227







In Bynea, there were prolific displays of Slippery Jack fungus (Suillus luteus) and lots of sloe berries, fruit of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). In Loughor, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna); Bramble (Rubus fruticosa); alien Snowberry (Symphoricarpus alba) and Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) were all in fruit

A Song Unheard?

There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls ( https://w...