Thursday, 31 May 2018

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice?


A study with mice has demonstrated that the sensations of 'sweet' and 'bitter' are processed in the insular cortex of the brain which is connected to other neural areas, including the amygdala, where they are interpreted as 'nice' and 'nasty', respectively (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/30/desire-for-sugar-eliminated-in-mice-by-rewiring-brains). The authors suggest that sweet is interpreted as nice because the foods with this characteristic are high in calories. Using genetically-modified mice, they were able to photo-stimulate the responses without the mice ingesting anything (causing subjects to avoid rooms when the bitter sensation was triggered via the amygdala but to seek them out when the sweet alternative was selected). The mice also showed markedly increased ingestion of neutral water when the sweet area was stimulated. They suggest that it may be possible to re-programme phenomena like sugar craving, helping people to reduce their intake of this material.

Snakes Alive!


A fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, from the Dolomites appears to be a lizard-like animal that gave rise to all the squamates (lizards, snakes and worm lizards) of modern times. What is remarkable is that the fossil is from Triassic rocks lain down some 75 million years before the great extinction event that took out the dinosaurs and many other land and marine organisms (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/30/worlds-oldest-lizard-fossil-forces-rethink-of-reptile-family-tree). Prior to this study that combines fossil skeletal anatomy and DNA studies, it was assumed that the squamates evolved after the extinction event. It now appears that their characteristics (being generally small and, perhaps, in some cases, devoted to burrowing) meant they were in a position to survive the conditions of the extinction event. In that respect, their history is not too different from the mammals who also evolved in the time of the dinosaurs but flourished after their extinction. 

Seeing the Changes 1309


Joined, in Loughor, by a female Pale tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda).

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Seeing the Changes 1307





More Loughor flora and fauna. Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) in flower. One very tattered Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) but many Common blue (Polyommatus Icarus) and Cantharis rustica beetles abounded.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Seeing the Changes 1306








More items out in Loughor. Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea); Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta); Bramble (Rubus fructicosa) and Tower mustard (Arabis glabra) were all in bloom. Many day-flying Silver Y moths (Autographa gamma) zoomed around vegetation and a tattered Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) basked. Flea beetle (Phyllotrecta sp) larvae got to work on leaves.



Parking the Problem


A suggestion by the Minister for the Environment that England (the issue is devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) might get more National Parks after a review of existing provision (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/27/england-may-get-more-national-parks-after-protected-areas-review) needs to be unpicked a little. It sounds like a nice response to the burgeoning increase in the human population and the recorded declines in a range of important wildlife habitats but, I suspect, a) the review will take little account of the destructive effects of human activity within some existing parks; b) the possibility of 'green belt' being taken for home building will still be on the table and c) little cash or incentive will be available to move people out of any newly designated areas. Nice mood music?

Home on Another Range?

European bison were hunted to extinction on the continent of Europe in 1927. Reintroduction programmes of Bison bonasus have subsequently resulted in more than 7000 animals now living in European reserves and parks (often supplemented with food in the winter). Unusually, a small herd of 22 beasts is reportedly to be thriving in part of the Zuid-Kennemerland national park of North Holland (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/28/return-of-the-bison-herd-makes-surprising-comeback-on-dutch-coast). Their actual location is (atypically for the species) an area of dunes and ponds. The people involved in the programme believe that they have demonstrated that European bison are not an exclusively forest species. The herd seem popular with tourists who are asked not to approach them too closely and the animals feed successfully on the scrub vegetation. I suspect that the area will turn out to have a relatively small carrying capacity for this species and there might well eventually be problems with damage to the environment by these powerful animals. Still, nice to see them back. Tot zeins!

Seeing the Changes 1305



More Loughor flowers with Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) and Herb Bennet (Geum urbanum) emerging.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Seeing the Changes 1304




More flowers and critters. Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambric) in bloom in Loughor and Common blue damselflies (Enalagma cyathigerum) in flight in Penclacwydd.

Fruits of Our Labourers?


There seems to be serious concern that some soft British fruit might well go unpicked because of difficulties in obtaining the usual seasonal migrant workers from the continent (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/27/uk-farmers-strawberries-migrant-workers-crisis). If this occurs on a large scale, it would result in farmers ceasing to grow such crops and the country having to import yet more fruit. This is likely to increase the 'carbon footprint' of foods we are actively trying to encourage people to eat to benefit their health.

Plastic Throwaways?


Under pressure from changes in public opinion about the environmental dangers of plastic waste (Blue Planet 2?), the UK Government has made a lot of positive noises about their enthusiasm for (eventual) reduction. There are now suggestions that they should at least follow the imminent EU legislation banning single use plastics in drinking straws, stirrers, plastic cutlery and cotton buds et cetera (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/27/britain-follow-european-ban-single-use-plastic). They might be quickly eliminated from the Houses of Parliament but everything else in the country seems to be manana!

With the Delicate Tang of Bleach?


The suggestion that the UK relaxes the EU embargo on American chlorinated chicken post-Brexit has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm. A laboratory study has now found that such washing  (put in place to counter the inferior hygiene of US poultry) does not eliminate bacterial infections with Listeria and Salmonella (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/26/chicken-health-fear-chlorine-washing-fails-bacteria-tests-brexit-salmonella-listeria). Although the meat could be rendered safe by thorough cooking, it does raise the strong possibility of cross-contamination by the raw chicken. Chlorine treatment also seems pretty ineffective in cleaning up vegetables like spinach.  

Seeing the Changes 1303


Visited by a Clouded silver moth (Lomographa temerata) in Loughor.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Seeing the Changes 1302






More activity amongst the local flowers. Long-headed poppy (Papaver dubium) in bloom in Bynea. In Penclacwydd, the Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata); Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) and Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) were flowering. In that location, the Common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius) operated their individual spittoons.

Fossilised Dandruff


Researchers have reportedly found fossilised dandruff in association with the remains of small, carnivorous, feathered dinosaurs (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/25/oldest-known-case-of-dandruff-found-in-125-million-year-old-dinosaur). They suspect that the presence of feathers forced such reptiles to modify their normal skin shedding in one piece, replacing it by losing small, localised items of skin (i.e. dandruff). Modern birds also produce dandruff but in a form that facilities cooling of the body (probably more energetically-demanding in modern birds due to their much longer flights, than in microraptors and the earliest birds).   

Friday, 25 May 2018

Obese Bonus?


I suppose there had to be some benefits of being over-weight? It has already been established that obese patients are more likely to survive heart operations than skinnier counterparts (although, coronary disease is likely to occur earlier in the former- it could be the case that slim people needing heart surgery are more ill). There is now another counter-intuitive finding as obese patients admitted to hospital with infections are more likely to survive than individuals with a more normal BMI (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/24/obese-patients-more-likely-to-survive-infection-in-hospital). This could be down to their body reserves giving them a better chance of countering the infection. Irrespectively, the overall benefits of not being obese are clearly much better in terms of the incidences of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Brain-jacking?


There is reportedly a technique termed 'neuro-marketing' that aims to take over the brains of children and other susceptible groups, twisting their preferences, in attempts to sell them junk foods (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/25/food-firms-may-face-litigation-over-neuromarketing-to-hijack-brains). A consequence, is that some sections of the medical profession, who are seriously concerned about the effects of obesity, are considering bringing court cases against the perpetrators on the grounds that they are causing wilful damage to their clients.

Learning to Fly (Again)


There is a claim that the giant meteor strike that eliminated the dinosaurs also wiped out the flying birds that had evolved from one of their branches (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/24/birds-had-to-relearn-flight-after-meteor-that-wiped-out-dinosaurs). This left only flightless, emu-like species that presumably scavenged in the debris until the forests regrew and re-assuming flight became of utility again.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Sikkim Favourites



































Some of my favourite pictures from my field trips with students to Sikkim (NE India on the Tibet border).

Amazon Burgers?

It has been claimed that some of the beef supplied to McDonald's and Burger King by a Brazilian company came from land where illegal ...