Thursday, 31 July 2008

Getting Energised Over Energy

A hurricane of angry words (a 'perfect storm'?) are being generated (e.g. about the ratcheting costs of energy (gas, electricity and fossil fuels). One must remember that all forms of energy (even if generated with 'green' technologies) are finite and it is hardly remarkable that costs are increasing when more of the growing world's population wants the benefits of energy-hungry technologies (cars, air-conditioning, central heating, refrigerators etc). I wouldn't normally attempt to defend them but some of the allegedly obscene profits of major energy companies are essentially paper profits (as the prices that competing markets are prepared to pay for oil, natural gas etc increase, their holdings whether in storage or even in transit increase the 'bottom line' without actually doing anything new). There is no doubt that growing irritation with energy costs is worrying many people but there seems little that can really be done about this (although it may further encourage people to try to be more energy efficient as this will save money). Rather worryingly (,GGLR:2006-25,GGLR:en&q=BBC+fuel+costs&um=1&hl=en&sa=X&oi=news_group&resnum=1&ct=title), a BBC survey suggested that many people would be prepared to vote for whoever offered them the lowest fuel costs. I was deeply saddened to hear that drag racers were finding the costs of fuel for their sport excessive. I also think it's a strange time to be attempting to develop commercial space travel.

Don't Wear Flip-Flops

Yet another sad story on breakfast time TV of a young girl who was bitten on her toe by an Adder (Vipera berus) as she walked on a gravel path in a natural history reserve. It is very likely that the adder was making the most of the limited opportunities to bask in the present 'summer' and might have been a bit slow to remove itself after detecting the vibrations of the walkers. The snake certainly wasn't responding offensively (it essentially 'wasted' its venom). I suppose that the basic 'take home message' is to wear appropriate shoes in such locations (as well as not to go charging through any undergrowth)?

Animal Grooming?

We normally think in terms of grooming animals but the report ( that freshwater fish (Garra rufa) are being used in a Washington Beauty salon to deliver pedicures to people is an interesting development. The minnows in question normally graze on algae on stone surfaces but, in hot ponds, have been known to nibble the dead skin of bathers. They apparently polish the toes of people who dangle their pinkies in the specially prepared (clean water for every client) tanks. Do they have to be hungry to do a good job? If seawater was the preferred medium, one might get Cleaner wrasse to do a similar exercise (they normally remove parasites and dead scales from other fish who present themselves for grooming on the reef)? There are also cleaner shrimp (see above) who might well do a similar job with fewer animal welfare concerns (they are invertebrates). Where will it end? Monkeys would happily remove head lice and their nits from people's heads. Perhaps small sharks could be encouraged to use their 'sandpaper' skins to buff people's nails? They would, of course, have to be trained not to bite.

Do Turtles Have Carbon Footprints?

It was reported on the BBC ( that Newquay's Blue Reef Aquarium has been nursing Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) back to health (their main problem may have been the temperature of the waters around our coasts). One ('Flash') was found at Ogmore-by-sea but two others ('James' and 'Dink') have been claimed to be 'successfully released' (they swam off and didn't come back?) in the Canary islands. It's difficult to balance the energy economics of the exercise as the release involved flying the turtles, their keepers and a BBC film crew to the Canaries and one might argue that one could do more for turtle conservation by applying the cash to in situ programmes. However, the exercise raises publicity for the species, the aquarium and 'saves' two turtles. It does, of course, generate quite a bit of carbon dioxide (and, before anyone points it out, the animals shown above are Green turtles, due to be returned by air to the Caribbean from the UK).

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 124

In Bynea, Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) was fully in flower. The hips had appeared on the Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia). There was a leaf beetle (possibly Chrysolina geminata) on the Great willowherb and the flying ants were active (also in Oxwich) for several days until the recent torrential rains.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 123

Around the lakes at the National Botanical Gardens Wales, there was lots of Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus), Water mint (Mentha aquatica), Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and White water lily (Nymphaea alba) as well as Sharp-flowered rush (Juncus acutifloris). Above the flowers there were Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), Blue-tailed (Ischnura elegans) and Large red damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). The water yielded froglets and newtlets.

Papillon All Gone?

The report in the Sunday Times ( that a number of bodies and celebrities are joining a campaign to prevent 'butterflies fluttering to extinction' is interesting. Certainly, this year appears to have been a very difficult one for UK species (it has been cold, windy and wet at the 'wrong' times) and butterflies are good bioindicators but, given what appears to be happening in terms of climate change, the idea that one can pick out species (based on their attractiveness?) for salvation seems a rather simplistic one. The odds are that we will have Chaos Theory (the movement of a butterfly's wing in the Amazon resulting in a hurricane elsewhere) in reverse (hurricanes etc 'blowing away' large numbers of species).

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 122

In Oxwich, Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ultmaria) were photographed down by the marsh. Six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) buzzed around the Ragwort, along with a cuckoo bee (Epeolus cruciger) and a slim hoverfly (possibly Melanostoma scalare). Lots of Great green bush crickets (Tettigonia veridissima) on the dunes, a male Thereva annulata fly and a Grayling (Hipparchia semele) butterfly. Some nice shots of Small skippers (Thymelicus flavus) and Small blues (Cupido minimus) were obtained. Lots of grasshopper activity in the dunes (e.g. this Slender groundhopper Tetrix subulata) as well as Snakelocks (Anemonia viridis) and Beadlet (Actinia equina) anemones in the rock pools. Lots of large, often dead, Common spider crab (Maja squinado) were washed up. In Loughor, visited by a Pebble hooktip (Drepana falcataria) moth and a weevil (Otiorhynchus clavipes).

Friday, 25 July 2008

Sperm Wars:Soya and Fertility?

It is hardly remarkable but it has finally been reported ( that the phytoestrogens (plants may generate these compounds as a protective measure against grazers) in soya (much used as a replacement for animal protein in our diet) reduces the sperm count in humans. These effects will probably make it harder for couples to conceive (perhaps, given the challenges of overpopulation, not a wholly negative effect?). It could, of course, if other policies prevail, greatly increase the bills for fertility treatments (perhaps, bizarrely, vegetarianism should be added to smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption as contra-indications for NHS funding of fertility treatments?). It does seem that some forms of vegetarianism might have some unexpected consequences. This is without getting into the issues surrounding the apparently inexorable spread of soya across the planet (in animal feed as well as directly into the human diet).

Birder's Bonus 30

A mini flock of 10-12 Little egrets (Egretta garzetta) descended on the estuary around Loughor bridge.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 121

Visited in Loughor by a Pale prominent moth (Pterosoma palpina). Later that day, a Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was active in the hedgerow where the Lords and ladies (Arum maculatum) was ripening. In Bynea, Haresfoot clover (Trifolium arvense) was in bloom.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 120

In Bynea, Water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) and Broad-leaved willowherb (Epilobium montanum) were in flower. There was also an interesting fungus. The Rhagonycha fulva beetles were busy mating.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Seeing the Changes 119

In Oxwich, the Sea stock (Matthiola sinuata) was in flower. There was quite a lot of butterfly activity in that location with the Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), the Small blue (Cupido minimus) and the Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) whizzing around. Also many beetles with Centiopus sulphureus and Rhagonycha fulva on the flowers along with lots of Bumblebees (probably Bombus terrestris and Bombus pascuonum). There was also a Hawthorn shield bug (Acanthosoma haemarroidale) and interesting tunnel-like webs of spiders. There was what appeared to be a skeleton (with the head gone) of a small Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) on the beach near Three Cliffs Bay.

Bee Bereavement?

Bees are very important insect pollinators. Some species are, of course, also commercially-important because they produce honey and bees-wa...