Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Penguins 'shot down'?

Exmoor zoo's, reportedly much loved, Humboldt penguin colony (established when the zoo was first opened in the 1980s) has been been completely wiped out by an avian malaria outbreak (Https:// it seems likely that the birds were moulting at the time they were infected by biting insects (making biting easier and it more difficult for keepers to assess the health and vitality of the penguins?). This protozoan parasite fortunately does not infect Mammals (so keepers and visitors were never at risk) but one might ask whether changes in the climate are influencing the activities (and range?) of the insect vectors. Perhaps human malaria will return to the UK of its own volition rather than being an occasional consequence of an 'exotic' holiday?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Upping the Ante

It has now been suggested that some ant species may be sources of 'new' antibiotics to counter the development of 'superbug' bacterial strains that have developed resistance to traditional medicines ( It seems that some ant species (notably leaf-cutters) deliberately introduce particular bacterial species to their nests. The bacteria chosen produce powerful antibiotics that deter other species of bacteria from contaminating the nest. The hope is that clinically useful antibiotics can be developed from these cultures to which the superbugs would not have developed resistance (although the chances are that they would do so at a later time?). 

Seeing the Changes 1119

This Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) was a late visitor in Loughor.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A Sting in the Tail

It has been confirmed that the Asian hornet has arrived in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire ( This is bad news for the already 'stressed-out' honeybee, one of our most important pollinators of crops as well as the producer of honey. The much bigger hornet enters hives to 'steal' the honey and will will kill and eat honeybees. This alien invasive is likely to further decrease the viability of honeybee colonies in parts of this country and could have marked effects on agriculture. 

Love Rats

Rats have long been associates of human populations, thriving in the mess that we generally create. Although rats numbers are often over-estimated by media reports, this species has an impressive reproductive rate (a male/female pair could generate around 15,000 offspring in a single year- not that they operate as mum/dad pairs!). Rats can generate substantial losses of stored materials (they can climb and squeeze through very narrow gaps) but their most important detrimental effect on our populations is as carriers of a range of diseases (it has been estimated that these kill around 25 million people, across the globe, annually). Rat catchers (or, as they are now termed, pest control operatives) have tried to deal with rat infestations for hundreds of years but have generally been defeated by the animal's wariness of rat poison bait and the ability of their populations to rapidly 'bounce back'. A new technique has been advocated by the US startup company SenesTech ( This company, ran by a Dr Mayer, has developed a liquid they call ContraPest that interferes with birth control in the rodent. This has been shown to reduce some rat populations by 40% within a few weeks. They might well 'think it's all over' but there might be remaining problems. Bait wariness might mean that the reproduction inhibitor is not ingested by all rats, meaning that the populations could come back (perhaps with increased bait avoidance). The other problem is that ContraPest might end up inhibiting reproduction in some animals (humans?) we would not like to see affected.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Birder's Bonus 172

An interesting array of birds at Saint-Trojan-les-Bains (Ile d'Oleron, France) included White wagtails (Motacilla alba alba); Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis); a probable Spanish wagtail (Motacilla flava ibericae); Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus); Grey heron (Ardea cinerea); Little egret (Egretta garzetta) and Purple heron (Ardea purpurea).

Seeing the Changes 1117

Other insects of the dunes of Saint-Trojan-les-Bains included wood-devouring ants (Camponotus vagus); grasshoppers (Sphingonotus caerulans); bees (Xylocopa violacea); impaled hoverflies (Helophilus pendulus); Forest bugs (Pentatoma rufipes); ladybirds (Subcoccinella 24-punctata) and numerous dragonflies (Common darters- Sympetrum striolatum). Many of which, presumably attractive to Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis).

Seeing the Changes 1116

Also at Saint-Trojan-les-Bains there were decent numbers of Lepidoptera. By far the most common were Clouded yellows (Colias croceus) but there were smaller numbers of Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta); Painted ladies (Cynthia cardui); Small whites (Artogeia rapae); Grayling (Hipparchia semele); Brown argus (Aricia agestis); Common blues (Polyommatus icarus) and Wall browns (Lasiommata megera). There were also day-flying Hummingbird hawk moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) and Maritime pine trees had impressive 'nests' of caterpillars. The major disappointment was not getting a picture of a pristine Common swallowtail (Papilio machaon) which visited flowers as I returned from the swimming pool (minus camera).

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Seeing the Changes 1115

A few of the plants from the dunes around St-Trojan-les-Bains (Ile d'Oleron, France). There was lots of Harestail grass (Ligurus ovalus) and big Maritime pines (Pinus pinaster) shaded the area. Flowers included Viper's bugloss (Echnium vulgare); Sea stock (Matthiola sinuata); Slender knapweed (Centaurea debeauxii); Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum); Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias); White campion (Silene alba); Chichory (Cichorium intybus); Small-flowered evening primrose (Oenothera salicifolia) and Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus).

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Dozy 'Dinosaur'

We are used to thinking that the Age of the Dinosaurs was terminated by events outside their control and that they had neither the intellect nor the flexibility to deal with the climate change associated with a meteor strike. Birds (now viewed to be up-graded mini-dinosaurs) and the apparently more intelligent Mammals inherited the planet. But what should we think about 'dinosaurs' that a) refused to recognise developing climate trends and their responsibility for it; b) showed more concern about accumulating pieces of metal and sheets of paper than changing their behaviour? Welcome to the Anthropocene.

Seeing the Changes 1114

It appears that the weather conditions this year, in Loughor, have been perfect for Green liverworts.

Bee Bereavement?

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